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The Road to Success is Paved with Feelings: Thoughts from the SAPPHIRE NOW Show Floor

May 20, 2016 by Jack Dyson 37

What’s inside the box is just as important as what’s on the outside – you might be surprised at how many tools you already have.

Picture the scene: The keynote for SAPPHIRE NOW, the largest global business technology event. Over 2 million square feet of prime Orlando convention center, packed with thousands of delegates from all around the world; hundreds of thousands more watching the live stream; row upon row of people in the auditorium, their faces reflecting the ghostly blue light of myriad laptops, tablets and smart phones. The data streams of ones and zeros flying around are almost palpable, yet when the keynote starts Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, tells us that true success boils down to one thing: empathy.

For many people watching, this was a proper bit of disruptive thinking. If you’ve painstakingly built a business on numbers, where do feelings come into it? Give it a moment. Empathy for your peers and colleagues creates efficiency, for your customers it means great service – and most important of all, it takes you out of a B2B mindset because if you can put yourself in the end-consumer’s shoes, you can give your customer the best tools to service them.

For content creators or those more firmly in the B2C world, it might be less surprising. You can’t make meaningful, engaging content or contact without understanding what your audience wants to watch, listen to or read. But then, we all know what an assumption makes, and like Ferris Bueller says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.” You might think you’ve got a good handle on the best way to engage with your customers and their needs, but how do you know?

Navigating these waters is tricky. Like the swamps of the Everglades, there’s a bewildering amount of what-ifs and options – and for the unprepared, some of them end up in dead ends. If you want to get from A to B, what you really need is the right perspective. Whether that’s a birds-eye view, a map that lets you look ahead, or simply a local guide to help you through each stage, understanding the entire journey is key.

For tiny businesses it’s quite straight forward. Let’s say you sell fruit by the roadside. End-to-end customer care is simple and essential. You know the supplier by name and have a personal relationship. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to get a handle on peak times and seasonal demand. Plus you’ll have repeat customers who come to you for what you do best, and you can anticipate that business too.

In order to show a customer you care – about them, personally – you need to improve their life in some way right now, not next year, or someone else will get there first. If finding a new way to do this represents disruption, then you can’t afford to be late to market. The problem is, once businesses have scale, knowing the customer becomes much harder. This is where not just harvesting data, but knowing what to do with it, becomes essential. For the fruit seller, it’s instinctive. But in a longer chain it’s much harder.

It’s one thing having tools, but it’s quite another to use them. Too many of us are “all the gear and no idea,” buying stuff in the hope it will somehow fix a problem. Often the solution is already in our hands, but again the challenge is perspective.

I’ve always found motivational quotes something of a guilty pleasure, so I’ll defer to Rumi who sums it up sweetly: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” This is just as true in business is it is in personal development – and it’s clearly not limited to the business model alone. Change needs to include process and people. Understanding (or being empathetic to) your other teams. In the grand scheme their challenges, after all, are yours too.

The need is to reimagine how you engage with your customers at every point, from awareness to after-sales care. Innovation is key, of course. There are always new possibilities out there for sources of revenue and profits. New ways of improving your brand by offering better value. So to this I’d also add one very important thing: think inside the box.

Whether you use it or not, or whether it’s even controlled by your team, all companies have data. One big question to ask is are there any ways you could look at what you already have to improve your understanding of and engagement with customers? How about by combining it with publicly available data? For example, if a retailer has customer location, they might combine this with climate data to send more relevant communications (i.e. don’t stock shops with toboggans in places with no snow).

There’s one important caveat though. We need to be wary of the expectations we place on our data – it’s too easy to make a sweeping request that sounds simple but is actually far too technical to be practical. An  interesting perspective on this comes in a fascinating SAPPHIRE session with Dr. Christoph Meinel, Director and CEO of the Hasso Plattner Institute.

Social media data, he says, is very unstructured, leaping between channels and user accounts. Not only that, but it also depends on photos and videos which can’t be analyzed in the same way as text in a Google search. It’s with exactly this in mind that the Hasso Plattner Institute developed BlogIntelligence, which does content-related analysis for content filtering, opinion detection and trend analysis.

In tracing how information moves through networks, the Institute uses infection trees to see how it ‘infects’ users and who is linked with whom, visualizing it so that users can get insights from that, too. Best of all, the information can be converted into leads and users can react quickly – because the speed of the reaction shows the potential customer that someone is taking care of them.

It all comes back to looking after people. One of the great things about being at SAPPHIRE NOW this year, is that among all the 1900 various sessions and demonstrations, there are thousands of delegates, all of whom are looking at their data and wondering what else they can do with it to improve people’s lives – and that future is exciting.

This story originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.

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