I had interesting chats with customers and colleagues recently that I wanted to capture and share. The context was enterprise collaboration technology but I also wanted to expand a little on the increasing business of technology’s influence on culture more broadly and vice versa. It probably raised more questions than answers.Continue reading “The business of culture change in the tech industry”
I wouldn’t be the first to jump on the Corona Virus bandwagon, if that’s what I was trying to. No, I’m simply observing the ways I see others doing so, with varying degrees of success, and for good and bad reasons. Mostly it’s a way to conflate the unintended impact it is having, or where it is catalysing efforts and could impact several areas I personally have an interest in.Continue reading “Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI”
I’ve just come back from holiday where I read Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.
It focuses on many things and chiefly the direction is forward looking, as opposed to his first book, Homo Sapiens, which looked backward from whence we have come.
One aspect I was fascinated by was his account of the recognised decoupling of consciousness and intelligence and how this might play out in the future given the rise of “machines” and their impact on humans.
With machines and technology getting bad press of late, I thought it would be useful to highlight the positives that I see.
It’s very much in line with my take on Dharma Hacking – more below.
I created a #daneldoodle of course, to summarise my thinking. Here it is:
And some added notes to elaborate:
Why the Dharma Hacking in the title? There is more here on what it is but essentially it is based on the the interplay between humans finding our way, developing our mental capacity (especially consciousness) and using technology to help.
We have only just scratched the surface in terms of expanding our known mental states and utilising our super consciousness.
Technology, far from being the bogey man that it currently is, can greatly help us get there.
It plays its role (intelligence), we play ours (consciousness), in a unique cosmic dance of creativity.
In this past post (The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation) I think I was somewhat deluded in my belief of what will distinguish humans based on their unique skills in the future. Intelligent technology will be able to master these skills and are already (see next point) but it will be advanced levels of consciousness (super consciousness) that will be our unique differentiators.
AI and Super AI is already doing credibly well with being creative and innovative. Check out the comments in this video I uploaded a while ago of famed theoretical physicist and futurist, Michio Kaku (you’ll need to view the video on YouTube for that). He also it appears, was deluded.
How technology will help us develop our consciousness and to what ends is outlined in some of the elements I position in the doodle. Essentially it is between the island on which we currently find ourselves with our known mental states and the antipodes of the mind as I call them. I’m not sure what these supporting roles and end states all are yet but I will be exploring further – watch this space 😊
Ready is an annual employee focused event run by Microsoft and Inspire is partner focused. We generally run them in July and present some really cool demos and content and so here is some public facing material I can share and my favourites from a bunch.
Notice in the case of the Teams in the Classroom demo, how rich the scenario is in terms of the technology being put to use to achieve really useful outcomes for the lecturer and students. And don’t let the Classrooms in the title put you off, this shows how Teams can be used to drive learning in any organisation. Its a great example of the approach described in this previous post: Beyond technology adoption – business scenarios with Microsoft Teams.
Adoption hacks are little tips and tricks you can use to stimulate adoption of technology. Actions that can include any number of activities, all designed to get users learning about, understanding and using features of a technology to get new value from it.
Activities can be anything from communication, learning components, social proof (showing how others are getting value) all the way to mandating something. All is fair when it comes to adoption hacks :)
I’ll start documenting what I am doing and what I learn about from others in the way of adoption hacks in posts like these.
At the moment, at Microsoft, I am focusing heavily on Microsoft Teams adoption. Teams is is seen as a platform play because it is the front end to a lot of other tools in the Office 365 technology stack as well as those outside through various integrations.
Teams is extensible and customisable so that you can reach users in their chats, channels, notifications and personal workspaces. A single app can provide one or more capabilities.
They enable users to make decisions and take action faster. They reduce context switching on important tasks. They create opportunities for collaboration around external content. They make for the perfect adoption hacking tools in other words 😁
Teams apps come from different publishers. 1st party apps are developed by Microsoft for Office 365 or Office workloads as mentioned and enable better together scenarios. 2nd party apps are those not built by Microsoft and are popular work applications enabled in a central location (the store you can access in Teams). Custom apps are built by your organisation to meet specif business needs. Just some examples below:
- Bots help users get tasks done in conversations. I’m using https://zoom.ai/ a lot at the moment in Team channels and in direct conversation with the Bot and its great for things like setting reminders to follow up on actions that stem from conversations.
- Tabs surface rich content within Teams. For example, O365 activity usage reports from PowerBI that can be discussed and actioned right from within Teams
- Connectors allow you to post rich updates from activity in other applications into your Team feeds.
- Actionable messaging adds rich interaction to your connector cards so you can act on new information you receive from ☝
- Compose extensions allow you to query and share rich cards in conversations.
Conversational AI and the new dynamics of computer assisted collaboration and automation to aid adoption
One key learning we’ve had at Microsoft is that Bots, custom line of business applications that integrate business processes, and ‘ready to use’ applications integrated into Teams = stickiness and relevance that keeps users coming back every day and drive company-wide adoption.
One very specific example of this I am making use of with my customers to support end users is combining Teams and the Microsoft Bot framework to create Q&A Bots. Users can query the Bot and get answers to questions on Teams as well as other applications. In my case I am focusing on other O365 related applications but it could be used for any.
Here is documentation on some Bot service templates which can be used to get started building Bots and includes one on to build a Q&A Bot.
Dentsu Aegis Network have done a great job with this and you can read this article to find out more: Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) builds Teams chatbot to drive internal adoption of new technologies.
This is such a great example of using new technology to support adoption of technology which I am hugely motivated by. I’ll be sharing more as I learn in this super interesting space.
There’s a long list of traits prevalent in the explorer, people that are naturally inclined to overcoming challenges and seeking new discoveries in any field, place or time. Those traits that stand out for me are the joy of mastering new skills or knowledge, an insatiable desire for uncovering truth and new things and stoic perseverance.
No matter how you define it, you sense whether you have it from an early age. I remember as a little boy, wondering the savannas of Southern Africa where I grew up, feeling like Livingstone even though I was only in open fields (veld as its called) immediately surrounding my home. In the early days few houses had been built where I lived and it was more savanna than suburb.
And far from new lands, wild animals and indigenous peoples it was ants nests, puddles with tadpoles spawning, old ruins and early constructions of the new house being built in the twilight hours, after the builders had left for the day, that I was exploring.
I spent hours there. In the holidays it stretched into days.
The joy and thrill I felt has never left me and I know I am not alone in this feeling.
It has guided me in everything I have done since. Leaving the country of my birth to explore London with my new wife a month after we married. A changed career from advertising to technology supported by new studies there. Again leaving for new lands, this time The Netherlands, for new work opportunities and to build a family, three wonderful children all born there. Then after 7 years, back to the UK starting my own business which I ran successfully for a similar time period. Since then it has been forging new paths in customer success management, in itself a new career type.
Being an explorer is part nature part nurture. From a work point of view, my experiences transcended into making me an accidental intrapreneur.
I’m not sure we (as workers) have a choice any more.
I remember reading an article back in 2013 by John Hagel, John Seely Brown, Tamara Samoylova called Unlocking the passion of the Explorer.
It resonated powerfully with me. It captured the essence of what I was and how I approached things. I’m an explorer. I’m passionate.
It captured beautifully the era we live in and the shift we are undergoing, especially in the world of business.
In my mind, the shift refers to the transition between the industrial era into the one we are now in, the digital era.
The Digital Era
Digital explorers have advantages over our industrial era forebears. In the digital era, things can be measured more easily (response and feedback loops are immediate and traceable). It’s all manifested through data. Insights are the outcomes you achieve once you have sifted the data tea leaves. The digital world is more open to more people and experimentation is rife. Experience is more malleable and accessible to more people.
Oh what a joy to be a digital explorer 🚀
I put this daneldoodle together to characterise some of the different traits I think are important. Other than the traits needed, whatever you think they may be, the one other factor that you need to consider is speed and agility.
So get cracking fast or face extinction. Being a digital explorer has to be a given in today’s business world if you want to be successful.
And build the capabilities of the explorer that will allow you to discover your place in the next era.
The Next Era
We are well into the digital era and feeling the early impact of the next era.
The next era will be characterised by intelligence, automation and creativity.
The intelligence will be artificial. The automation will be machine led.
The creativity will be human led.
Explorers of all era’s but even more so in future, will have to rely on their imagination, their passion, their humanity and most importantly, their creativity. Things machines are not great at.
I’ve written more about that here: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation
Customer success teams were put in place in technology SaaS and subscription companies to ensure that customers are successful in their use of the technology they invested in. They have become a core part of ensuring the customer derives long-term value and ultimately stays with the vendor (in other words renews the subscription).
But has the vendor and customer become too reliant on them?
I am a customer success manager. Far be it for me to be talking myself out of a job. But actually that is the point. If I could get to it (that point) I would have done my job I think.
Especially with technology products you would think that the technology itself would play a major role in helping users use it and get value out of it. And with the advent of AI, machine learning and automation, even more so.
Enterprise technology is quite a different beast though. The complexity of organisations means that technology use and adoption is not straightforward. It’s dependent on many environmental factors. Like culture, organisational complexity and maturity, etc.
Factors that technology is not good at dealing with but humans are. These have to be factored in, so to speak, in terms of how you ensure use and value creation of a technology in an organisational context. So I don’t see human effort going away anytime soon.
Still, lets look at how technology can and should help to alleviate burdensome tasks best left to machines.
In my mind, a lot of the help technology provides is ultimately geared towards the user being able to self help or serve. And its not just about the end user but also those responsible for end user adoption – the people customer success managers typically work with. I’ll call them adoption managers for sake of clarity. They are typically the ones served by Customer Success Managers most directly but as you will see in the next section, I certainly am driven to make them as self sufficient as possible too.
By this I mean two things:
- What role the technology itself provides with things like built in help and support from onboarding guides to a help manual that can be contextualised with key features as well as be generally available to users.
- What role any other technology provides to support the end users and adoption managers. For example, as part of recent hackathon efforts at Microsoft where I currently work, the team and I all won first at a local UK level and then at a global level, for a solution intended to support customer success managers and adoption managers. We called the solution Journey because that is what adoption typically is. Here are a couple of slides from our pitch deck which hopefully explain:
The origins of the idea and also current manual efforts are documented in this post I shared on LinkedIn: Co-owning success with Office 365 customers
Validation has come from winning the hackathon awards (at the global level we won in a field of over 24 000 competitors and 5 000 entries). We also received solid validation from customers we are working with on the current manual efforts mentioned and all new customers we introduce it to.
So it seems there is appetite for this gap in the market. You can watch a very short demo of what we pitched and won with and answer 3 short questions in a follow up survey here if you like – it would help with further validation.
AI and Automation
The future of customer service is about giving customers more control and better access to operations, so they can build their own experiences in real time. To do this, in addition to investing and moving customer service to cloud-based operations, they focus in on how to work better with automation.
I am totally in agreement with this as I wrote in this post: The Future of Customer Success is Not Human. Even though the context of the study above covers customer service trends which is very different to customer success, it is still broadly applicable. The domain is the same.
I think these activities are going to continue to expand in use and value, especially to alleviate customer success manager efforts where they are overloaded and too much is expected of them and where bureaucracy has crept in.
Technology can help reduce bureaucracy
In the post where I wrote that the future of customer success is not human, I quoted a study on bureaucracy. It has customer service, in which again I would suggest customer success falls, at the top of the rankings of roles and fields where bureaucracy has crept in (list of rankings pasted again here). Being a practitioner I would concur with that and the point I made then and again now is that technology can help avoid this.
Of course a large portion of the problem stems from overzealous management ptractices which is not something technology can help with. But by and learge I see it as a valuable counterbalance.
What needs for human intervention will never go away?
Assuming that technology can take up a lot of slack and reduce bureaucracy, what does this leave the customer success manager and those responsible for adoption to do?
Well it will be to focus on those intractable problems that I mentioned earlier technology will not be able to help us with and will become increasingly needed. Thorny problems and challenges that can be overcome to improve the customer experience. Those that require and will take imagination, creativity and innovation and will focus on the challenging art of managing people.
I have two separate posts on these topics that elaborate on that if interested.
It’s a pretty provocative statement, I know. To be clear, I’m not suggesting humans won’t be involved any longer or that there won’t be a need for them.
If anything, humans will be liberated to carry out the high-touch, heavy lifting work we are uniquely qualified to do and should be focusing on instead, like complex and creative problem solving, relationship building, strategy setting, and more.
The work that is repetitive can be automated and managed by AI, bots, etc. Things like onboarding new users, growth hacking (tracking use and suggesting amplifying or mitigating actions) and general product optimization, will be able to be programmed and managed by these advances.
This is particularly relevant when faced with the increasing burden that a growing rate of bureaucracy places on individuals in organizations, especially those like CSMs, who are most directly involved in creating customer value.
Based on this HBR study (see chart), you can see that customer-facing roles have the highest rates of increase in bureaucracy. Mitigating the increase in bureaucracy for these roles by implementing tools with automation and AI capabilities could be an ideal solution.
To provide some context, this research will be a part of my new eBook – I’m exploring this angle in a chapter (see point 8).
My heading is not so alarmist when you consider the claims that robots and AI are going to be the drivers of productivity in just about anything in the near future. Lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, and programmers are all going to be affected. In my opinion, Customer Success as an infant profession is not going to be immune either and it’s the way it should be.
To reiterate, I’m not saying humans won’t have a role. I’m saying they can and will, but it will be a smaller one and much more focused. I’m not sure to what degree – maybe the 80 / 20 rule will apply? If that is the case, there is still the potential that humans can play a disproportionately large role in daily CS operations.
The human’s role notwithstanding, in this post and indeed, in the chapter, I want to explore how AI and automation are already starting to play a role and how that will be enlarged over time. Another factor to keep in mind is the function of the product itself.
The product’s role in customer success
To explain my last point briefly, I am referring to the role an excellent product plays, one with superb usability, that delivers critical business benefits, etc. No amount of AI or automation is going to solve the issues that emerge when a product is convoluted to use, and creates mountains of arduous and unnecessary work for users. Metaphorically, it’s like pushing a proverbial boulder up a hill and this is made worse when there is no clear business benefit.
To take it one-step further, people have even anticipated “anti-active usage” products. From this excellent article, The Next Generation of SaaS Won’t Optimize for User Engagement:
“With anti-active usage products, you don’t necessarily need to use the product to get something done because the product (1) understands the problem, (2) works out a solution and (3) outputs a result. Anti-active usage products don’t need human interactions at any level of their value-chain.”
I mentor startups, and several of the ones I have worked with are already moving into this space. TIQ probably best illustrates this premise – their software facilitates time tracking by connecting to the tools you use to get your work done. TIQ automatically creates an overview of the time you have spent on separate documents, emails, meetings, and other activities, and all you do is confirm (tick off) what gets logged. The objective is to spend less time on the function AND using the tool, reducing the need for manual inputs entirely.
Current state of activities
My interest in this whole area was piqued when I listened to Derek Roberts, the Director of Services, Strategy, and Operations at HubSpot, speak at Pulse 2017 (the annual Customer Success conference) earlier this year. I documented my learnings from the event, including a summary of his talk, here: State of Customer Success – Learnings from Pulse 2017. (Here are his slides and audio, if you’d like to see more details).
I then, coincidentally, bumped into the folks at Strikedeck, who are in the Customer Success space as well, and are doing an excellent job in this area. I arranged for a few conversations, and a demo of their tool, so I could find out more.
There are two things Strikedeck focuses on, amongst many others, that I wanted to explore in detail, that are relevant to this whole area.
Integrations, Data, and Dashboards
Strikedeck seamlessly integrates with at least 50 connectors already, and is architected to easily be able to build out more, as long as the other systems have open APIs, web hooks, etc.
They integrate with marketing automation, CRM, event trackers, call centers, billing systems, and many other data applications so you can reach out to customers at just the right moment and see all their information in one place. Connecting to Salesforce, Marketo, Zendesk, Google Analytics and more is entirely self-service, and done in a few clicks. Each integration can be completed in less than 20 minutes.
This is fundamental to be able to start some of the necessary automation work, and because you need access to the data on product usage to be able to act on it.
It is all presented in easy to view and modify dashboards – screenshot below:
In my mind, the three steps I outlined in the sub header are the critical setup to follow sequentially and have available as features to carry out the necessary work.
In the demo, I also noticed that customer experience can be tracked in terms of progress across predetermined paths. It can be taken from other systems (renewal data from CRM), but can also be included manually from input into the tool upfront.
This last area above fits nicely into the role I see Customer Success Managers playing in determining the optimal customer experience that I cover in my eBook. After all, to properly affect optimal customer experiences, you need to be able to map them and track progress on the path.
Detailed segmentation is also possible in Strikedeck, with relevant slicing and dicing of views. This then leads naturally into the next important area in which automations are activated and set up.
Workflow, Tasks, and Playbooks
An automation workflow allows you to activate email campaigns, survey series, slack & text messages, schedule meetings and calls, activate in-app notifications for your customers, create tasks for your Customer Success teams, update customer data objects in any of the target sources (CRM, Help Desk etc.) based on the trigger criteria set (support ticket, product usage, stakeholder role change, billing information, and more). This functionality can be customized to display the triggers that are critical in your business use cases. Some screenshots below:
Playbooks are another area that support CSMs in how they automate their activities. Playbooks are essentially an execution script of tasks, notifications, and escalations with relative dates and dependencies. Playbooks ensure consistency and standardization of best practices across the organization.
The best way to think of a playbook is to see it as a set of automated workflow actions that are launched as soon as the first trigger is activated. You can specify if the workflow is a task or action, set priorities, determine dependencies, and create timelines for completion.
Playbooks can be used in situations like:
- Dissatisfied Customer – Triggered by a low NPS or support ticket
- Product Usage Drop
- Account Renewal
- New Customer Onboarding
AI, Bots, and Beyond
I asked Strikedeck about these areas of functionality in their product, and they have some really exciting features coming up:
Coach: A Bot that lives inside the product and is a coach to the users of the product, helping them get more ROI from the product. Based on how a user is utilizing the product, the Strikedeck ‘Coach’ will automatically suggest what the user can do to improve usage. This can be activated through a ‘Coach Me’ button inside the product. The ‘Coach’ is rule-based initially, and over time learns to give better suggestions.
Zen: A Bot (initially on Slack and Gmail) that provides information on a customer. Anyone in the organization can ask a question, like – what’s the revenue for Customer A? or When’s the renewal due for Customer B? or Which customer could be a good reference advocate for telecom industry? – and the bot will search the database for the correct answer so CSMs don’t have to do the research themselves.
I can see a combination of trends coming together to facilitate how a user will get value from a product and how this will allow Customer Success Managers to expedite help for the user.
What do you think – future or fantasy?
As we approach a fourth transformation (according to Robert Scoble and Shel Israel it’s How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything), we face some challenges and questions.
- Will machines master humans, especially in the work place?
- How will we coexist with machines that begin to outstrip our intelligence capabilities?
- What are humans uniquely positioned to do in a new world dominated by robots and super intelligence?
I cannot see into the future so its pointless prognosticating. Others far more knowledgable have done and at least concluded that No, the Experts Don’t Think Superintelligent AI is a Threat to Humanity.
Nevertheless it’s safe to say that software is already eating the world and robots and AI are going to play a massive role.
I am writing my next trend report on a related subject (post on that here) but am deeply embedded in the here and now. I work with some of the worlds largest companies and have been for many years trying to help them make sense of and drive value from their technology investments.
I am constantly thinking about technology in the here and now in making mine and my customer’s work world better? One thing I come across time and again is the misalignment of focus and priorities.
The technology and increasingly the data around its use is held in thrall. I’m not innocent of the many mistakes made. Here are some examples below of the kinds of ways in which I think we go wrong:
- The features and functions are exhorted over the outcomes they are intended to support or problems they are intended to solve. Great post on that here: 12 signs you’re working in a feature factory.
- Growth in usage data is also driven without giving thought to the outcomes or value being attained
- Technology is prioritised without giving thought to the humans and the behaviours around it – mindset, culture, etc.
I believe usable and useful technology that solves real problems is critical for driving adoption and deriving business value, especially in the more complex world of enterpise technology. But I believe you can get further when you address the mindset behind technology use and I am far from alone in this view. Ultimately tackling both in healthy doses is best.
A call to arms!
In addressing human factors, when it is done at all, are still often wrong. Organisations typically address it from a change management perspective. It’s become an industry in its own right.
Call me a cynic but most change management efforts I’ve been involved in or observed have often seemed shrewdly calculated to meet the ends of a chosen few. Not the user or a better way of working.
Often it’s simple humanity that is missing.
In the enterprise technology business we sometimes miss what I think Steve Jobs alluded to when he said “technology alone is not enough”.
To quote him in full he said:
“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
As robots and super intelligence increasingly play a greater role I want to avoid becoming one (a robot :).
I want to celebrate my humanity and the difference I can bring. This goes beyond what Steve Jobs was referring to. I’m thinking of a real caring and nurturing that is authentic and deeply rooted in our collective wellbeing.
I see our innate creativity as an essential human expression of being, hence the subject of my new trend report.
Creativity is what drives us. It’s essential to all progress. Sometimes at the expense of what we leave behind (read disruption). We are always on the march to creating new possibilities. It’s the way we grow.
I want to embrace new technology because I’m a tech geek and I trust my techno lust but I still want my heart to sing.
There is thrill to be found in technology that works and enhances my productivity and the way I live my life. This is momentary though. It does not penetrate the deepest recesses of my being.
It is in the way that I am empowered as a fully alive human being, constantly evolving, that makes my heart sing.
Most of all it is when I create something of value and it is appreciated, in even a small way, that my spirits rise. Progress and all of humanity is founded on the principle of creation. Of ideas and new possibilities and setting out on adventures to achieve them.
Organisations can play a big part in nurturing this. Here leaders have the greatest responsibility. They can choose to nurture our humanity and provide the freedom for our greatest creative expression and output. Failing that organisations and people will wither I believe and die soulless or go off and find it elsewhere.