Tag Archives: Customer

Customer data platform tools top priority list for big vendors

Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle released their own customer data platforms in 2019 to compete with roughly 20 CDP vendors that had been serving their users for several years. Salesforce and SAP plan to follow with their own CDPs in 2020.

Those large customer experience (CX) platforms face challenges in the marketplace. Customer data platforms, which unify data across marketing automation, customer service, sales and e-commerce applications, solve a problem the big vendors created: A lack of data flow between CX applications, according to David Raab, founder of the CDP Institute.

“Nothing else has solved it; nothing comes close to solving it,” Raab said.

That data is siloed, typically, because the vendors built their CX technologies via acquisition and continue to have difficulty integrating the marketing, sales and service clouds comprising their platforms. But users demand it, as they see value in real-time access to customer data from all channels at once. They want machine learning and analytics running with those systems, pulling data from across the platform in order to create one-to-one customer offers, in real time, to drive sales and marketing campaigns.

Tech buyers must choose big vs. small CDPs

The question is, as many B2B companies are just starting to digitally transform their commerce, will they purchase new tools from the big vendors like Oracle and Microsoft, or go with more established and technically advanced CDPs from the smaller companies, such as Lytics, Lotame, Arm Treasure Data and RedPoint Global?

“Buyers are within their rights to be skeptical [of the big-box vendors],” said Gartner analyst Benjamin Bloom. “That vendor who might not have delivered the thing that you were looking for — or [caused] unintended challenges or consequences — now they are exactly the ones who are telling you how to clean up the mess [with their new CDP].”

Smaller CDP vendors tend to be nimble and more responsive to customer needs for features and integrations with analytics tools and outside applications, Bloom said. He sees them keeping their users for some time to come, as the larger platform vendors play catch-up, which Raab agrees with.

Graphic showing value of customer data platform technologies
Customer data platforms unify data from applications tracking customer web behavior, sales, e-commerce and other sources to create personalized marketing profiles and drive revenue.

Yet another option has become available for technology buyers tasked with building customer experiences: the digital experience platform. These typically arise from cloud content management vendors that are moving into customer experience. Acquia acquired CDP vendor AgilOne earlier this month to assemble a marketing automation and e-commerce platform with more sophisticated web content management than all the large CX platform vendors, with the exception of Adobe.

One of Acquia’s main competitors that also offers a CDP, Episerver, is moving more deeply into digital experience. It expanded its B2B e-commerce offering by acquiring InSite Software this month, and hired former SAP CX platform lead Alex Atzberger as CEO to oversee its digital experience technologies.

So many companies are building B2B e-commerce operations from scratch, said Gartner analyst Jason Daigler, that it doesn’t surprise him to see content management vendors challenge companies like Oracle and SAP for customers. He sees the appeal of combining strong content management with e-commerce.

Having the right data in the right time is really important to delivering a good customer experience. Does that require a single database? I don’t think it does, but it does require good understanding of data, where it is, and how to put it together.
Nicole FranceAnalyst, Constellation Research

“Most commerce platforms were not built with the best content management systems out there; they’re not known for their digital experience capabilities,” Daigler said.

Salesforce takes a different approach

Other experts wonder whether or not CDPs are the answer to collecting real-time data from disparate sources such as social media, sales and marketing channels. Because this data is always imperfect and the customer golden record is a mythical concept, said self-described CDP skeptic Constellation Research analyst Nicole France, the CDP may be a “fool’s errand.”

Salesforce is coming out with “a CDP that’s not a CDP,” as the company described it in analyst previews, France said. Salesforce may be solving problems that require customer data platforms to fix with upcoming features in Those could amount to integrations and APIs connecting data and unifying customer profiles with Mulesoft tools, instead of a whole new database itself.

“I do think that having the right data in the right time is really important to delivering a good customer experience. Does that require a single database? I don’t think it does, but it does require good understanding of data, where it is, and how to put it together.”

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Qualtrics XM adds mobile, AI, information governance

Qualtrics XM added AI and information governance tools to its customer and employee experience measurement platform this week and gave its year-old mobile app an infusion of dashboards to put data into the hands of front-line workers on the go.

In some ways, the new features reflect the influence of SAP, which acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion a year ago. The new features, such as mobile dashboarding, likely reflect a step toward making Qualtrics data relevant and available to customer-facing employees who use other SAP applications, in addition to marketing and research teams, Constellation Research principal analyst Nicole France said.

Getting such data into the hands of front-line employees makes the data more likely to be effectively used.

“Simply making these tools more widely available gets people more used to seeing this type of information, and it changes behaviors,” France said, adding that new features like mobile dashboards subtly get more people involved in using real-time performance metrics. “It’s doing it in almost a subliminal way, rather than trying to make it a quick-change program.” 

A number of Qualtrics competitors have also slowly added mobile dashboarding so employees can monitor reaction to a product, customer service or employee initiatives. But they’re all trying to find the right balance, lest it degrades employee experience or causes knee-jerk reactions to real-time fluctuations in customer response, Forrester Research senior analyst Faith Adams said

Qualtrics XM mobile NPS dashboard
Qualtrics XM mobile-app upgrades include dashboards to convey real-time customer response data to front-line employees responsible for product and service performance.

“It can be great — but it is also one that you need to be really careful with, too,” Adams said. “Some firms have noted that when they adopt mobile, it sometimes sets an expectation to employees of all levels that they are ‘always on.'”

Both France and Adams noted that the mobile app will help sales teams keep more plugged in to customer sentiment in their territories by getting data to them more quickly.

BMW, an early adopter of the new mobile app, uses it in dealerships to keep salespeople apprised of how individual customers feel about the purchasing process during the sale, and to prevent sales from falling through, according to Kelly Waldher, Qualtrics executive vice president and general manager.

AI and information governance tools debut

Qualtrics XM also added Smart Conversations, an AI-assisted tool to automate customer dialog around feedback. Two other AI features comb unstructured data for insights; one graphically visualizes customer sentiment and the other more precisely measures customer sentiment.

Prior to being acquired by SAP, Qualtrics had built its own AI and machine learning tools, Waldher said, and will continue to strategically invest in it. That said, Qualtrics will likely add features based on SAP’s Leonardo AI toolbox down the road.  

“We have that opportunity to work more closely with SAP engineers to leverage Leonardo,” Waldher said. “We’re still in the early stages of trying to tap into the broader SAP AI capabilities, but we’re excited to have that stack available to us.”

Also new to Qualtrics XM is a set of information governance features, which Waldher said will enable customers to better comply with privacy rules in both the U.S. and Europe. Qualtrics users will be able to monitor who is using data, and how within their organizations.

“Chief compliance officers and those within the IT group can make sure that the tools that are being deployed across the organization have advanced security and governance capabilities,” Waldher said. “SAP’s global strength, their presence in Western Europe and beyond, has strongly reinforced the path [of building compliance tools] we were already on.”

The new features are included in most paid Qualtrics plans at no extra charge, with a few of the AI tools requiring different licensing plans to use.

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Partners need to target SAP SMB market for cloud transition

SAP SMB customers make up a large percentage of SAP’s overall customer base. Most SMB customers rely on SAP’s extensive partner network for sales and implementation of SAP systems. And SAP, in turn, is relying on its partners to help transition its SMB customer base from traditional on-premises ERP systems to the next-generation SAP S/4HANA Cloud ERP platform.

In this Q&A conducted at the Innovate Live by SAP event in November, Claus Gruenewald, SAP global vice president of Global Partner Organization portfolio management, discusses the roles that SAP partners play in selling to and servicing the SAP SMB market. Gruenewald explains that partners who have been successful in selling on-premises SAP systems will need to change their strategy to become successful in the cloud.

Why are SAP’s partners important for the SAP SMB customer base?

Claus Gruenewald: The SMB market is one which SAP predominantly serves through and with partners. So the partner business is a very important one for SAP SMB customers. Most SMB sales are driven by partners, and most of the partners are local. Sometimes we see the global partners in the SMB space, particularly Deloitte, but we don’t see that often. It’s a very local business. These partners really know the market space; they are also trusted by their customers because the name of the brand is known in the local space.

How many partners are currently active?

Gruenewald: There are a little over 800 active selling partners for SAP S/4HANA on-premises, and there are 300 partners that actively work on cloud with around 100 partners actively closing deals for SAP S/4HANA Cloud. There’s such a difference in on-premises because the sales and service cycles are longer compared to cloud. If a customer decides to go for on-premises on purpose — and there are reasons for this — typically the partner needs a little longer in the sales cycle, and partners are able to do one, two or maybe three projects a year, depending on the size of the partner. So it’s not a volume business, it’s a value business for the partner.

Claus GruenewaldClaus Gruenewald

What are some of the differences between on-premises and cloud implementations?

Gruenewald: The sales cycle and the project scope is shorter for the cloud, and it’s more often led by best practices. In on-premises, you sell an ERP on-premises license and the customer comes with precise requirements about what it wants to solve with the ERP implementation. The partners can then make a customized, on-premises ERP that’s specific to the customer, which makes the sales and implementation cycle longer. One strategy for customers is that they can differentiate in their industry with a specific customized ERP, so they may choose on-premises. However, another customer strategy is to say that almost everybody in the industry already has ERP, so the strategic differentiator … is fast rollout and using best practices in the industry, so they may choose the cloud.

What are some of the differences in the ways partners approach on-premises or cloud implementations?

Gruenewald: The on-premises partner typically doesn’t do more than three to four projects a year because it needs the resources and it only has a given amount of consultants. With the cloud, the partner is successful if it has a fast go-to-market [strategy], which means going after many customers. The cloud business model only works if a partner has four to six customers a year. The money from the cloud customer comes in quarterly fees, so the partner has to cover a cash flow dip in the beginning. But if it keeps the customer for one and a half years, the cash comes back. So the partner does well if it has four to six customers in the first year. The first year of cloud business for everyone is an investment business, but after one and a half or two years with six or seven customers, the profitability and cash flow curve is super steep. That’s if you don’t lose customers.

How can partners who have been successful with on-premises implementations focus more on cloud business?

Gruenewald: We have trainings for that but it’s also a mind shift to get into that business. Make the customer understand that it’s best to take it as is, it’s a best practice in cloud. So don’t sell feature functions, sell best practices. Once your customer accepts best practices, then it’s a cloud customer. The customer will be happy almost forever because in ERP, a customer usually doesn’t change the vendor because [ERP is] mission-critical for them. They usually don’t do it because the switching costs are simply too high, whether it’s cloud or on-premises.

What are some specific ways partners can sell their customers on the cloud?

Gruenewald: The partners understand ERP very well but if the partner just goes in with too many feature functions to a cloud-minded customer, that will not succeed. The partners have to help customers understand that SAP has a pretty good understanding of their industry, and that these are the best practices. For example, here are the best practices that matter in consumer goods or component manufacturing — and that’s pre-configured in the system. You take it to your customer with a demo system and show them the software, show them the nice [user interface], show them what has improved using machine learning and AI, show how much automation has to be put into the system. It’s not the original ERP system anymore where everything was done manually, which was nice for a professional user 20 years ago. Now, the ERP application has changed and is much more automated. It’s not made for these super professional users for only that system. This saves them time, which they can use for something else, because the system automatically gives them not a decision, but a decision proposal. It’s not just a system that you have to feed all the time with master data and transactional data, it’s basically automated now and all that process stuff is going away.

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New Salesforce Customer 360 aims to unify data sources

SAN FRANCISCO — Salesforce’s new customer data and identity platform released this week connects data across sales, service, marketing and other departments within an organization to provide users with a single ID for each customer.

The platform, Salesforce Customer 360 Truth (also called Single Source of Truth and SSOT by Salesforce executives) is considered by many to be a customer data platform (CDP) — though that is only one component of the new platform.

Whatever one calls it, Salesforce Customer 360 Truth resembles competing CDPs from Oracle, Adobe and Microsoft in functionality. Customers, analysts and partners said the new feature bundle solves a problem endemic to many CX platforms: reconciling customer IDs and data across sales, marketing, e-commerce and customer service platforms to a golden record.

Features in Customer 360 Truth — which come at no extra charge to Salesforce subscribers — include customer data management, identity management and privacy tools that are available now. Salesforce plans to release a unified customer profile, the most significant feature, in 2020.

The capabilities, taken together, will not only aggregate updated customer data from one base like a CDP, but will be able go further than CDPs, typically used by marketing and advertising teams. Customer 360 Truth features can route it and push actions and personalizations to sales, service and support teams dealing with an individual customer, the company said.

Customer data will be structured on the Cloud Information Model open standard modeled by MuleSoft and developed jointly by AWS, Genesys and Salesforce for The Linux Foundation.

It’s all long overdue, IDC analyst Neil Ward-Dutton said.

“Salesforce should have done this five years ago. If anything’s surprising, it’s that they have managed to not have it until now, because many customers have more than one cloud and there’s been no easy way to get a view of individual, unique IDs,” Ward-Dutton said. “It’s instructive that it’s free. I think that’s the only thing they could do. If they would have charged for this, it would have been a really bad mistake.”

Salesforce Customer 360 Truth includes a Data Manager component.
Customer 360 Truth connects customer data across Salesforce clouds and non-Salesforce systems and matches that data to individual customers to create a common profile and issue a single Salesforce ID.

Customers, partners take stock

Customers generally reacted positively to the news of Salesforce Customer 360 Truth at Dreamforce here this week, with some wondering what data and process housecleaning outside of Salesforce will be required to use the tools.

If anything’s surprising, it’s that they have managed to not have it until now, because many customers have more than one cloud and there’s been no easy way to get a view of individual, unique IDs.
Neil Ward-DuttonAnalyst, IDC

That’s the case for e.l.f. Cosmetics, CIO and CTO Ekta Chopra said. Her company runs Salesforce marketing, sales, service and e-commerce clouds, and also is an early adopter of Salesforce’s order management system, processing about a million transactions a year. While Customer 360 Truth features look promising, her company will have to evaluate how to manage different types of profiles such as customers versus wholesalers.

“We have to make sure we’re gathering all that data in the best possible way,” Chopra said. “We’re not just a direct-to-consumer business.”

Hyland Software is both a Salesforce customer and a partner, with its OnBase enterprise content management system integration available on Salesforce’s AppExchange. Salesforce Customer 360 Truth is a move in the right direction to reconcile conflicting customer data, but the process will always require a mix of different vendors’ tools to nail it all down, said Ed McQuiston, Hyland executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

“There is no one, ubiquitous platform that gives you 360,” McQuiston said. “Salesforce plays a critical part for us in terms of understanding the customer, our interactions, et cetera. But we use our own product with it, because I want to see the contracts we have, the support information. I want that complete view.”

Patrick Morrissey, general manager of Salesforce partner Upland Software, said he thinks Customer 360 features will help Salesforce customers use Upland’s Altify revenue management tools more effectively.

“Customer revenue optimization intersects quite nicely with Customer 360,” Morrissey said. “The problem is that the data and processes don’t connect. The vision that Salesforce has around Customer 360 is fantastic, because it brings the data together for the customer and reduces friction.”

CDPs can only go so far

Salesforce might not call Customer 360 Truth a CDP because its capabilities extend beyond what competing CDPs do, said Joe Stanhope, analyst at Forrester Research, who watches the technology closely.

“Salesforce was talking quite a bit about CDPs in the early iterations of Customer 360,” Stanhope said. “But I think, over time, the scope evolved and expanded. Ultimately, Customer 360 is about more than a CDP, and even more than just marketing. Customer 360 is the key to enabling the Salesforce ecosystem with data.”

Arizona State University’s CTO of EdPlus online learning, Donna Kidwell, sees the Salesforce tools as a good start to wrangle sprawling data. Her team is building a blockchain ledger to track accomplishments of the university’s learners, which comprises students pursuing degrees, professionals earning certifications, high schoolers attending camps and others who interact in some way with the university.

The ambitious project involves Salesforce CRM data and Salesforce Blockchain as a spoke of a much larger wheel that ultimately will enable data sharing across educational institutions and employers.

CDPs in general — and Salesforce Customer 360 Truth in particular — may help consolidate data that can be fed into the ledger at some point in the future. But ultimately, managing customer data across learning systems, HR applications, Salesforce and other contributing systems is a much larger problem than a CDP can solve.

“I’m definitely tracking the CDPs,” Kidwell said. “I’m hopeful that Salesforce will ease some of those concerns, but I can’t imagine they’ll be the single source. There’s not going to be a single source of truth. We’re actually going to need data strategies, and our technologies will help implement those strategies.”

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Salesforce Trailhead to roll out live training videos

Salesforce is promoting customer success by rolling out two new Trailhead features that will be available by the end of this year.

Salesforce will introduce live video trainings on Trailhead Live and new features to Trailblazer.me, the online resume feature designed to help job-seekers show off their skills and accomplishments using Trailhead.

Trailblazer.me already features badges and certifications achieved using Trailhead. The new version will also highlight a person’s activity throughout the Salesforce ecosystem, such as contributions to user groups, what apps users download from the Salesforce AppExchange and reviews that users have posted.

Trailblazer.me should help employers that want to be able to quantify whether job applicants have the skills they say they have, said Maribel Lopez, founder and principal analyst at Lopez Research.

“People used to be able to just say, ‘I know Salesforce,’ on their resume,” Lopez said. “I think one of the hardest things for employers is to understand whether anyone they hire is actually qualified in the things they say they are qualified in.”

Trailhead Live brings video instruction

Trailhead Live offers a new way for Salesforce users to learn with additional elements of community. Like other Trailhead courses, Trailhead Live courses are free.

The initial set of courses will include live coding and Salesforce certification preparation for administrators and others. Within two months of launch later this year, Salesforce said it expects Trailhead Live to offer more than 100 live and on-demand training courses. This will also include courses in so-called “soft skills,” such as how to interview for a job and public speaking.

Salesforce Trailhead screenshot
Salesforce plans to roll out live video training on Trailhead Live by year’s end.

Salesforce plans to have a big Trailhead presence at Dreamforce in San Francisco from Nov. 19 to 22, where the new Trailhead features will be on display.

Salesforce is doing this an acknowledgment that people learn differently, Lopez said.

“There are multiple ways people like to engage,” Lopez said. “It used to be you had a whiteboard and people took notes, but now we’re in a much more visual era and you want to be sure you’re reaching everyone.”

Inspired by Peloton

Salesforce said the design of Trailhead Live was inspired in part by Peloton, the company that offers live on-demand fitness courses via an internet-connected bicycle.

Seeing how people can engage with others without having to go to a classroom was an inspiration.
Kris LandeVice president of marketing, Salesforce

“We definitely looked at consumer applications like Peloton,” said Kris Lande, vice president of marketing at Salesforce. “Seeing how people can engage with others without having to go to a classroom was an inspiration.”

There is a community aspect to Trailhead Live, as users will able to see who else is taking the class with them, Lande said. It’s also more personalized, as the instructor verbally welcomes each participant by name.

Like Peloton, which features certified trainers, Trailhead Live will feature experts in different topic areas from the Salesforce community. If you miss a class or need more time to complete different skills tests, each class will also be available online. If there are 15 people taking an hour-long course on how to create Lightning Web Components, the instructor will give a set period of time for users to complete tasks in their own virtual workspace. The user can return and learn in an on-demand review of the course if he or she needs to finish any parts of it for certification.

Earlier this year, there were 1.2 million people using the Trailhead platform, according to Salesforce. That number has grown to 1.7 million and is expected to grow to 1.8 million by Dreamforce, with a total of 17 million badges earned since its launch. Trailhead users earn badges each time they show mastery of specific skills.

New Salesforce Trailhead trainings introduced this past year include cybersecurity and Apple iOS.

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Microsoft challenges Amazon with Dynamics 365 Commerce

Microsoft filled a major gap in its customer experience stack with the Dynamics 365 Commerce online sales platform, giving customers that own physical stores more technology to drive bottom-line revenues. The e-commerce platform is joined by another new app, the Dynamics 365 Connected Store, which combines data collected online with data collected at brick-and-mortar stores.

The idea is not only to enable online sales for traditional retailers, but to also help customers continue their online shopping experiences when they set foot inside a store location, said Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president for business applications and global industry at Microsoft, in a blog post.

Together with other new AI features and data tools added to existing Dynamics 365 applications, Microsoft is giving retailers a strong alternative to Amazon’s platform — but more importantly, it’s challenging integrated CX stacks from Salesforce and Oracle, said Forrester analyst Kate Leggett.

“You can’t support the customer through their end-to-end journey without an e-commerce pillar,” said Leggett, who added that Dynamics 365 Commerce might not be a great leap forward as an e-commerce platform, but it catches Microsoft up to the pack. “It was a real hole in Microsoft’s portfolio.”

Microsoft is focusing its e-commerce platform for B2C retailers for now, Leggett said. Technology vendors sometimes have separate e-commerce platforms for B2B and B2C customers, but Microsoft said it plans to build the B2C side and add B2B-centric features later.

Dynamics 365 Connected Store adds data insights

Dynamics 365 Commerce paired with Connected Store creates a platform for AI and machine learning for behavioral data analysis that can trace customer journeys from online research to their movements through a physical store as they shop. Moreover, Dynamics 365 Connected Store helps store employees personalize their interactions with individual customers by showing them, for example, what the customer was looking at online before they came in.

You can’t support the customer through their end-to-end journey without an e-commerce pillar.
Kate LeggettAnalyst, Forrester Research

Connected Store’s data tools can help optimize store operations on a day-to-day basis by, for example, summoning clerks via phone notifications to help check out customers during busy times. It also analyzes video and inventory data to report on longer-term buying patterns to promote inventory and merchandising efficiencies within a store or region.

“It’s about real-time insights, connected data and analytics — having that data available to deliver outcomes you need,” Leggett said.

Also previewed by Microsoft were related new features for existing applications, including Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, which aggregates IoT data from goods such as connected kitchen appliances that contain sensors transmitting data back to the manufacturer. Another was a set of tools within Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent for Customer Service to make Microsoft chatbots easier to customize and deploy.

Dynamics 365 Connected Store currently is in private preview, while Dynamics 365 Commerce is in public preview. A Microsoft spokesperson said the general availability date would be revealed in the “coming months,” as well as pricing information.

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SuccessFactors customers to see big Qualtrics impact

LAS VEGAS — At the SAP SuccessFactors customer conference, SAP’s $8 billion Qualtrics acquisition seemed like the tail wagging the dog. Employee experience was such a central theme that SuccessFactors may rebrand HCM as HXM — Human Experience Management.

It may have been a lot for SuccessFactors customers to take in.

Some SuccessFactors customers are measuring employee experience with deeper analysis of employee behavior, such as time to complete certain tasks. But others, who were not Qualtrics users, were still assessing its capabilities.

What SAP made clear is that Qualtrics is important to the future of SuccessFactors.

Qualtrics “allows us now to really rethink almost every transaction in every application that we’re investing in,” Greg Tomb, president of SAP SuccessFactors, said at a meeting with press and analysts at SuccessConnect 2019.

Qualtrics sells an “experience management” or XM platform. It captures and measures employee experience (EX), product experience (PX), customer experience (CX) and brand experience (BX). The platform can combine experience data with a company’s operational data. 

The use of sophisticated employee experience measuring was illustrated by Hernan Garcia, vice president of talent and culture at Tecnológico de Monterrey, a university in Mexico. Garcia’s team studies employee experience as well as the efficiency of a process, including the time it takes to complete something.

“We measure both how they feel, how they interact, but also how much time, how many clicks, how many people they need to touch” to complete something, Garcia said during a press and analyst meeting. The school can improve the experience of employees by directly making changes to processes that affect it, he said.

The university was awarded SAP’s annual 2019 Klaus Tschira HR Innovation Award on Tuesday, which is named after an SAP co-founder. The university has about 31,000 employees and 160,000 students.

SuccessFactors is delivering some Qualtrics integrations, such as with employee records. It is also building capability to integrate with SAP Analytics Cloud so that companies can include both “X” or experience data and “O” or operational data in their analytics programs, said Amy Wilson, head of products and application engineering at SuccessFactors.

The SuccessFactors and Qualtrics integration work will continue into next year. For now, SuccessFactors and Qualtrics are separate applications, but “seamless,” Wilson said. SAP’s ultimate plan is to embed Qualtrics into SuccessFactors, she said.

But the employee experience discussion can’t just focus on X and O data. It must reconcile with the major workforce changes looming, said Vera Cuevas, a SuccessFactors user and HRIS senior manager at a technology firm she asked not be named.

“There’s probably going to be a lot of jobs across a number of different industries that might go away, that might be automated,” Cuevas said. “It will be interesting to see how you retain that employee engagement while at the same time you are moving employees in different jobs, or in some cases eliminating industries.”

Another attendee, Catrena Hairston, a senior learning professional at a U.S. government agency, said the ability to use both experience and operational data makes sense and may be useful. But she will have to see it in action. “I’m not into vaporware, so I’ll have to see if it works with our data,” Hairston said.

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Oracle CDP moves beyond marketing data

SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle has entered the customer data platform market, but some observers wonder whether the category is already headed into obsolescence.

The Oracle Customer Data Platform (CDP) joins Adobe’s, released earlier this year. Salesforce and SAP have their own CDPs in development. While they attempt to solve a difficult technical problem — matching, updating and deduplicating customer records across marketing, sales, service and e-commerce systems — CDPs are difficult to explain to c-suite leaders who sign off on large IT purchases.

Moreover, for CIOs, a CDP represents another tool to support and secure in already complex cloud enterprise application stacks.

No one disputes the need for B2C and B2B companies to aggregate customer data to drive faster, more precisely personalized sales and promotions, said Paul Gaynor, a technology consulting leader for PwC, a tax and audit services firm based in London. But when selling clients on CX initiatives, he said, his team leaves the CDP discussion to the developers, instead focusing on outcomes and bottom-line potential.

“We don’t make it about the data,” Gaynor said. “The data is the currency, a really important part of the equation, for sure. But the infrastructure and how it has to pass from platform to platform to drive AI- or human-based decisions … that’s just part of workflow.”

That said, he sees potential for the Oracle CDP to derive more specific, usable insights from many more data sources than customer experience platforms , even reaching into supply-chain systems to shape personalized customer offers.

Oracle EVP Rob Tarkoff presenting at OpenWorld.
Rob Tarkoff, Oracle EVP, delivers the CX keynote at Oracle OpenWorld.

Oracle CDP goes beyond marketing

When Oracle talks to customers in advertising-heavy sectors, those users believe that CDPs are the technology answer to melding customer data from third-party advertising platforms with their own marketing data, said Oracle EVP Rob Tarkoff. In other sectors, CDPs are less important, Tarkoff said.

Yet Oracle bills its CX Unity platform as “more than a CDP,” able to reach past marketing systems and draw deeper insights from ERP and other peripheral data systems. In Tarkoff’s mind, current CDPs tend to be limited to marketing automation. Yet in conversations with some customers, CDPs “are coming up all the time,” Tarkoff said.

Whatever the platform is called, profile veracity — the ability to dedupe, normalize and resolve different data sets to real identity, at scale — is a big challenge for these data platforms.

“That, and in every industry, there’s a different schema for how you want to represent a customer profile,” Tarkoff said. “A bank has a different set of attributes than an insurance company, a communications company or a retailer.”

Data wrangling to remain difficult

Some observers, such as Deloitte Digital Principal and CTO Sam Kapreilian, believe that despite the difficulty of easily explaining CDPs — let alone their value — customer data platforms will become bedrock technology to garner data insights and drive revenue in the years to come. Rather than headed toward obsolescence, Deloitte’s customers see the potential of new versions of the tool like Oracle CDP.

[CDP is] an ongoing project, it’s going to take years. It’s like the journey to self-improvement — it never ends.
Michael KrigsmanAnalyst and founder, CXOTalk

“This stuff wasn’t possible two to three years ago,” Kapreilian said. “It just wasn’t affordable.”

Michael Krigsman, analyst and founder of CXOTalk, said whatever future platforms perform the processes currently assigned to CDPs will have to solve the same problem: Figure out how to find and track revenue in data that often is far removed from the final sales process, aggregate it in a single platform and ultimately assign a value to AI-fueled data personalization.

“It’s an ongoing project; it’s going to take years,” Krigsman said. “It’s like the journey to self-improvement — it never ends.”

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Nectar launches Customer Experience Assurance platform

Nectar Services Corp. recently launched Nectar Customer Experience Assurance, a customer experience testing and monitoring platform for contact center and interactive voice response team, promising to eliminate the need for legacy network monitoring platforms.

Nectar said Customer Experience Assurance offers a range of capabilities, including auto-discovery, voice recognition and simulation, dynamic call automation and load testing. These features enable contact center DevOps teams to test and discover network issues in a timely manner and to save time when launching new platforms or making configuration changes.

Nectar’s Customer Experience Assurance also offers perpetual monitoring that performs testing in regular intervals to monitor platforms for service availability and configuration changes, the company said. This enables contact center management teams to alert and carry out historical reporting based on factors affecting customer experience (CX) metrics such as service availability, functionality and call quality.

Nectar CX Assurance includes the following features:

  • Auto discovery enables reverse-engineering of calls flows that speed up interactive voice response (IVR) and provides accurate and timely customer experience monitoring. 
  • Real-time alerting notifies companies via email and/or text when issues are identified.
  • Voice automation provides text-to-speech and speech recognition that, in combination with call recording, enable a high level quality control and monitoring.  
  • Voice quality scoring identifies clicks and noises, artifacts, intermittent gaps and jitter due to packet loss in audio during playback.

Nectar said Customer Experience Assurance is the first product to apply its experience in unified communications (UC) monitoring, diagnostics and reporting to the contact center environment. It is built upon Nectar’s core products, network and endpoint operations for UC and provides cloud-based CX testing for enterprise contact center and IVR operations.

In the CX monitoring market, Nectar competes with Oracle, Clarabridge and Integrated Research, known as IR. Oracle CX Cloud Suite offers a full set of applications from marketing to sales, and commerce to service. Clarabridge’s product stresses AI technology that provides audio transcription of agent-customer interactions, along with sentiment, tone and voice analysis for customer service conversations. IR’s Prognosis for Contact Center offers complete contact center ecosystem from Cisco and Avaya, and the underlying UC systems with one platform.

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Adobe brings graph database to customer journey touchpoints

Identity resolution is a difficult technology issue for marketers to solve, because current customer experience platforms have a hard time understanding when the same person contacts a company from multiple devices. Adobe’s Customer Journey Analytics, announced today, tackles the problem with a graph database.

Customer Journey Analytics is a feature subset of Adobe Analytics, itself a part of the Adobe Experience Platform. It features an interface that closely resembles Photoshop’s layers, the UX model familiar to  marketers and designers who typically use that application somewhere along the way creating marketing and sales content.

Combining a graph database — which makes more connections between data points than traditional relational databases — with analytics is a new way to solve the problem of identity resolution in the case of multiple customer journey touchpoints, said Nate Smith, Adobe Analytics product marketing manager.

Instead of creating new records when a customer who typically uses a smartphone app switches over to a desktop computer, for example, the graph database can connect the dots.

“It will tie those devices together to a unique ID,” Smith said.

Adobe Analytics dashboard screenshot
Adobe Analytics adds deeper insights to its platform capabilities for mapping customer journeytouchpoints.

Data science for marketers

It’s the latest chapter in a technology trend where customer experience platform vendors bring more data science capabilities to marketers, who aren’t typically data scientists. Using the metaphor of the customer journey, the features track the various stages of customer interaction with a company, from discovery to shopping to completing a purchase.

It’s the latest chapter in a technology trend where customer experience platform vendors bring more data science capabilities to marketers.

The idea is to subdivide the transaction process in order to find more opportunities for additional sales, upsells or retargeting. This becomes a more complex proposition as new customer journey touchpoints, such as social media mobile apps or even smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, become popular among a company’s customers.

Smith said the “layers” approach enables customer experience teams to look for new potential revenue opportunities by mixing and matching different data sets, such as brick-and-mortar and website sales. Teams can also analyze trends to determine what’s behind issues such as customer attrition problems.

For customer experience teams employing data scientists, Adobe Analytics includes an advanced data analysis tool, Adobe Experience Platform Query Service.

The graph database component of Customer Journey Analytics pairs well with Adobe Sensei AI, according to Forrester analyst James McCormick. Together they can automate deduplication of records, a time-intensive manual task, closer to real time. The Photoshop-esque interface will help customers dive into the analytics tools more quickly, he added.

“These are iterative moves towards Adobe vision of creating a uniformed user experience across a fully integrated Adobe Experience Cloud,” McCormick said. “This common approach will really help Adobe customers work with, and across, multiple products.”

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