Sense Making, Customer Success

Balance customer success at scale with high touch when new demand spikes

I’m extremely lucky to work in a space that supports remote working, where demand is booming. COVID-19 has driven demand in the opposite direction for many, effecting their very existing. For the lucky few, it can also be something of a double edged sword. Supporting your customers the right way regardless, is crucial.

Continue reading
Customer Success, Future of Work

Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI

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.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson

Corona has provided the punch. The world has stood up and taken notice and its plans are being put to the test. Reactions vary from the predictable to the bizzare.

Not to make light of a serious situation but who would have been able to predict that toilet paper would have been one of the highest items on the stockpiling list. My local grocery store shelf this morning > 🧻 ⛔ I wonder how public and commercial toilet facilities are coping.

I’m sure someone, somewhere in the pandemic planning world probably foresaw this. I cannot find evidence of it but it makes good sense for predictive planning systems to anticipate precisely these kinds of things. Especially with the help of AI these days but more on that later.

Or, to come back to the Mike Tyson quote and a real story based on it, after being punched in the face, you react with an effective riposte. Small aside, Buster Douglas did precisely that after a Mike Tyson uppercut in the 8th downed him. He recovered and came back to win in the 10th. He is one of the few opponents ever to beat Tyson, let alone recover from one of his fearsome punches – watch the incredible fight here.

The makers of Corona beer have had mostly bad fortune but their reactions have been questionable at a time when sensitivity is heightened. Good account of it here: Corona hits back at ‘misinformation’ about brand damage from coronavirus.

So what has this to do with the three related topics. Lets dig in.

Teamwork

Matt Mullenweg heads up Automattic which is the company behind the development of WordPress and he is a founding developer of the platform. He has long been a proponent of remote work, he calls it distributed work.

Automattic is a fully distributed company, not a single employee works from an office. They ceased renting office space some time ago although they still focus on regular physical meetups. A key element of distributed work is how to enable remote teams to be productive – to work together as a team.

WordPress is also one of the most successful open source platforms ever built. A large element of this depends on synchronising the efforts of remote and distributed contributors that don’t formally belong to the core organisation or team.

Technology and organising systems play a large role but no amount of technology is going to help teams that don’t want to or are not naturally inclined to work together as a team. Good outcomes management is also critical which I wrote about here: Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it.

Matt writes a fantastic summary of how Corona is catalysing a trend that he foresaw a long time ago and has been working on perfecting a strategy for: Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For.

The main point is that remote teamwork is going to become a really important aspect of the future of work. We would all do well to learn from the likes of Matt and his distributed company 👏

Customer Success

Nick Mehta who heads up Gainsight, one of the leading vendors of software that customer success professional like myself use, gets it too: 5 Positive Things SaaS CEOs And Leaders Should Do To Get Through COVID-19.

Number 4 of his 5 points is: “Success for All” means customer success has NEVER been more important.

They are all good points but point 4, alongside effective remote teamwork coalescing around the customer, plus add a splash of AI (see next point), are going to be the things that sets not only leaders, but companies apart.

This also takes an understanding that there is no single owner of the customer. Success has to be a “all in” thing. We are not yet there but I relish the day software facilitates this better as Gainsight are trying to do. More importantly, that warring factions within organisations over who owns the customer and customer activities cease.

Advance notice to old school Account Managers out there and if you are of the same mind, Tweet about it:

To old school account managers: the customer is not your sales target but our collective livelihood. You do not “manage the customer” and we can all take responsibility to lead them to successful outcomes, dependent on the right moment, skill and activity.

AI

If ever there was a moment for AI to shine, this would be it.

When we need to work better as a team, how can it help us do that? At Microsoft where I work, its no secret that AI is infusing everything and especially the platforms we offer to support Teamwork: The future of meetings – using AI to improve team collaboration.

Coming back to more effective teamwork around the customer and their success with your technologies and their business. Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Customer Insights helps teams have a single view of the customer and work better together on customer activities and their needs. It is infused with AI throughout.

Last but certainly not least. In fact this could be the most important use of AI to support our efforts around combating the virus. When we need to use AI to understand, predict and respond there are probably lots of things going on but I found this great account. Its mostly in a video although I cannot embed it here. Head on over to the ABC news site to find out more: Coronavirus research: Menlo Park lab using robots, AI to find COVID-19 medication.

Future of Work

Microsoft Teams Live Events and the new channels of work

I’ve just come off a week of successfully helping a customer run a Microsoft Teams Live Event for an annual event they run. The nature of the event they ran last week was to showcase innovation by the IT department to the rest of the organisation. This was the 5th such event being run in as many years.

This specific event was actually part of a broader effort. It was a test of the Microsoft Teams Live Events function ahead of further potential use. The context was an executive sponsorship program with the CIO as a lead executive from the customer.

We had started this executive program a few months previously. This included senior executive involvement from Microsoft to match the customer executive and provide mentorship based on Microsoft’s success with related activities.

The Executive Sponsorship program was itself a subset of the customers Digital Workplace program. The purpose of the Executive Sponsorship program is to connect executives with employees and to help drive the culture change needed for the new Digital Workplace program to succeed.

Supporting the innovation event by live streaming key elements of it was seen as a good test case for use of new technologies. It could also broadly be seen to be a test of the following:

In most ways I would say the customer nailed it and these broad objectives. There were some exceptions. Not because they were tried and failed but because they were omitted on this occassion.

For instance, the event was successfully live streamed but there was no discussion or interaction during the live stream. This was consciously left out only because it would have added an element of complexity which would be better handled at a later stage of proficiency. Once again, at Microsoft this is a key component of our Live Events and broader efforts at culture change (see part way down this article): How Microsoft Builds a Sense of Community Among 144,000 Employees.

We had superb feedback from many of the employees and participants. The next stage is to consider doing an all company live event with the CEO engaging with employees.

Lessons learned

1. Professional broadcasting equipment and capability. We used a Microsoft partner, Comworks, who brought their own equipment and they most definitely brought some hard core capability. The capability was both from a Microsoft Live Event point of view (the actual running of the event using the tool) as well as filming. These are both important especially the latter when you consider quality of the footage (video and audio) and wanting to use the recorded footage for other purposes as we did. You can run a Live Event with just a PC and its limited video and audio capability – it just depends on the purpose of the event.

2. The core streaming interface: Microsoft Teams Live Events. There is a lot of documentation on this so I’ll just point you to a good starting place. This page shows how Live Events can be started from multiple applications (Microsoft Teams, Yammer or Stream). For this article and indeed the test case I am writing about we focused on Microsoft Teams as the Live Events interface. In terms of core streaming technology, the underlying platform is Azure.

Important to note: include a test event before the first real live event as we did. We ran into some administrative/permission issues which were quickly resolved. And in terms of availability to users who may not have access to Microsoft Teams or any of the other tool interfaces, you can run a public event as we did to overcome that (more here).

3. Important supporting technology: Hive Streaming. The customer partnered and integrated Hive Streaming technology to scale and offer frictionless video delivery and end-user experience.

Hive Streaming offers a unified SaaS solution for Live, VoD, testing with advanced reporting and analytics such as Hive Insights and Hive VI engagement index capabilities with network offload up to 99%. Some generic screenshots from them below

4. A good agenda for the live streaming part of an event. A pretty obvious point for any event. Here I make it specifically in relation to events that are happening in a physical location and only part of that is being live streamed as we did. There is a limit to the duration of Microsoft’s Live Events to be aware of (4 hours) when there is an all day event.

But I am speaking more about what part will be of interest to viewers and how live streaming will make that come alive for them. For instance, in my event last week there was an opening ceremony with short speeches from the CIO and other executives and then immediately a dive into interviews and demo’s of the main innovations being showcased. At the end there was a wrap up session. This was live streamed and included brief interviews of the main innovators in terms of the feedback they received from visitors and executives.

5. Cost saving

By this I mean can you establish whether something like Live Events from Microsoft can save you money. This applies to the software part especially. If you are paying for O365 already, of which Live Events is a part, then you can avoid costly expenses from using third party software that non Microsoft partners may be using to help run your live events. Check out licensing requirements here if interested. This was the case in my customer example.

Hoping this was of value. I may add to this over time as I plan more such activities with customers. Hit me up with a comment if you have any queries.

Future of Work, Sense Making

Effective Meetings and Collaboration at work and Microsoft Teams

I’m often frustrated with how meetings are misused and ineffective at work. I know I’m not alone 😬

I think a whole lot more thought needs to go into things before a meeting is held and included in that is whether virtual collaboration could do the job in place of a meeting.

At some point a meeting may very well be necessary and even a face to face one at that, which is best for driving certain outcomes at times.

By virtual collaboration by the way, I am also thinking of effective working out loud.

I read a really good article on Harvard Business Review: Do You Really Need to Hold That Meeting? It had a great decision flowchart which you will see in the article.

I decided to take that a little further and extend that into how Microsoft Teams which I am currently using heavily at work (in my work and in supporting customers to use it successfully) can be used. Here is the result below:

Click to view larger image

Not sure I’ve quite nailed it yet. So in the working out loud spirit, if you have any feedback that you think would make this better, please let me have it 🙏 😆

PS: the definition of Hell in the featured image is mine and I’ve created an entry on Urban Dictionary for a laugh – vote for it if you agree (but mostly for some irreverent fun😜 ). Find the entry from here.

Future of Work, Sense Making

Thought Rocket: State of Enterprise Collaboration

As the title of this post suggests, this is a very quick thought on the state of enterprise collaboration, mostly captured in the form of a DanelDoodle – the one above. Some added thoughts/considerations:

  • In my view, each new phase supplements the last, not replaces and all products and forms of activity still exist and have a place today. But there is a natural, progressive emphasis.
  • There are many other products, I have just highlighted the major ones, no offence to the ones I left out 😁
  • The penetration & value axis is wildly subjective and not intended to be accurate. Also because it conflates two characteristics it will be difficult to judge accurately. It’s just a stab at plotting what’s important.
Sense Making

Thought Rocket: The Conversation is the Collaboration

Workplace chat is something I am heavily focused on at the moment, i.e. my customers use of Microsoft Teams. Either through lack of knowledge or legacy thinking, I’m faced with initial confusion. This quick video aims to tackle that.

I’m trying to emphasise that it’s not about the many things I get asked to address first. After doing a demo, often the immediate questions are around how to structure files and folders, Teams and the different environments themselves, how to organise Teams and Channels, Tabs, etc.

I try get to the essence of a tool like Teams. For me it’s first and foremost about the conversations – in channels or chats. That is where the essence of teamwork and collaboration happen. Get that right and then the structure will flow – that is the right order and based on getting the hard but most impactful stuff done first.

That is the essence I am trying to distil in the short video which is a play on Marshall McLuhan’ famous view on the Medium is the Message. So since this is a thought rocket, a super quick view on things expressed in a short video, doodle or blog post, I’ll leave it at that and for you to make of it what you will.