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Oracle president Hurd says new customer experience revolution is coming.

Having followed the contact center and contact management space since 1982 I have seen countless changes in the market. Perhaps none was more profound than in the mid-1990s when the term CRM started to be used to refer to solutions in the customer relationship space.

CRM quickly gained acceptance and CXOs were happy to sign multimillion dollar purchase orders. A crop of new entrants entered the market and soon thereafter M&A became rampant.

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But there were detractors as well. One argument they made was that CRM meant everything to everyone and subsequently nothing to anyone. We also heard some complaints regarding the complexity of the field making it impossible for deployments to be successful. Moreover, other naysayers complained that systems were expensive and ROI was tough to determine.

Now of course we see that period as a pivotal one for the market--and few if any companies today don't have CRM systems in place. Those who waited to implement even fell behind.

Of course CRM was just an extension of contact management systems from the early 1980s from companies such as Salemaker and Telemagic, the pioneers in the space. But the simple acronym and the industry coming together to support it meant many billions of dollars were spent by companies to improve their customer relationships. An entire new market was spawned as a result, employing many tens of thousands.

At a recent Oracle Customer Experience analyst event in New York, I queried company President Mark Hurd about the state of the customer experience market and if it is transforming today in a similar manner to the time when CRM became popular. He said he does believe we are on the cusp of another revolutionary change in the market--one which could be similar to what took place some fifteen years ago.

This time, though, the industry is grappling with many more factors. In a conversation with Oracle's Vice President of Application Product Marketing Jon Ekoniak, he said we are in a customer experience revolution as a result of the fact there are few other areas of differentiation left in business. The point is with information at our fingertips, we can all find low-cost suppliers, and we can all outsource our products to lower cost areas. So we can't really compete on price effectively.

Moreover, the web makes it simple to find the lowest price on virtually any product and mobile apps can scan a product bar code and recommend the lowest priced way of getting that product. So for retailers, getting potential customers in the door could actually be costly because they can drain your sales resources by asking questions and then go to another store to save a few percentage points.

Moreover, marketing is less effective as social is becoming a new asset for people to utilize before they purchase. Oracle Customer Experience keynote speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, author of the Thank You Economy, made an interesting observation along these lines. He said most of the people who you see who are driving are texting at the same time. He got a good laugh out of the audience when he said something to the effect of, "You think they are looking at billboards? They aren't even looking at the road!"

We all know Apple charges more for its products and part of this has to do with the superior customer experience it provides. Amazon, too, does an amazing job of interacting with customers and subsequently garnering tremendous loyalty.

Oracle's future goal is to take its products and a combination of seven recent companies it has acquired and deliver solutions dubbed its CX Suite of Products. The goal is to provide products and services in the cloud, on premises and every conceivable variation in-between and apply them to companies in a way that enables them to provide world-class service. It wants to help you turn into Amazon, Apple or any other company such as Zappos which is known for providing great service. And this extends across social to retail and every touch point you can imagine such as mobile and contact center.

Specifically, Oracle's customers will be able to leverage customized websites by device, a knowledge-base with guided search and navigation, BI, real-time recommendations, marketing integration, social engagement and customer retention solutions.

This is the first Oracle event of this nature I have attended. The company spent a good deal of money wooing the press, analysts, as well as customers with this strategy. The Customer Experience event wasn't very strong on specifics; in fact, this is an area where I expected more.

But it allowed the company to beat its chest and say, "We are substantial. We understand where things are going, and we have assembled a best in-breed organic/acquisition portfolio of seven companies, which will allow you to provide multichannel sales, service and support like no other company." The pitch also explains that these solutions will be sold in digestible pieces allowing companies to roll them out as they see fit.

This new, or perhaps evolved, strategy at Oracle coincides with this magazine's rebranding to simply "Customer" from "Customer Interaction Solutions." At he end of the day, companies are in business because of their customers, and in an age in which the competition is a mouse click away, it seems this publication (which is celebrating 30 years in existence) is perhaps more important now than ever in its quest to help decision-makers select tools and IP communications technology to keep their customers happy and coming back for more.

The question now is do we need a new term to rally around which explains to companies the need to service, sell to and support customers in a multichannel way--something like an evolved CRM from year's past. Hurd believes Oracle is the only single company positioned to help companies across all its channels, which leads us to believe we shouldn't expect the industry to coalesce around an acronym any time soon. Still, I sense that companies are beginning to understand the need to deal differently with customers in this new social world, and although I am not predicting any massive changes to budgets in the customer experience market today, it seems there is great potential for the space to flourish over time like it did the last time companies realized they needed to find a way to better deal with their customers or risk losing them.

Rich Tehrani, CEO, TMC
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Title Annotation:Publisher's Outlook
Author:Tehrani, Rich
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:1070
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