Combining apps to build a better way of doing CRM

Q&A with Michel Feaster, CEO of Usermind.

usermind michel feaster

Usermind CEO Michel Feaster: "As a company, you need to understand their history so that, in an ideal world, you can personalise that engagement and respond in a contextual way."

Image: Usermind

Describing itself as a "customer engagement hub", Usermind's software aims to connect your CRM, custom applications, SaaS apps, and databases into a cohesive whole. A new company, it only emerged from 'stealth' funding -- which brought in $14.5m -- in March last year and is currently building up its workforce.

The company's co-founder and CEO, Michel Feaster, told ZDNet how she plans to make Usermind indispensable.

ZDNet: The goal of Usermind is to help companies create a seamless customer experience. How do you aim to do that?

Feaster: When you think about us as customers, when we go to do any interaction with a company we can interact through so many different channels now. We could be on a mobile app, on the web, on social media, through transacting with our bank, we could be on the phone. With that, our expectations have gone up.

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When I interact across all those channels, I want the companies to track who I am. When I am handed off from a web interaction to a call centre, I don't want to have to repeat everything I've done. From the customer side the bar is raising.

On the flip side, it's a really hard technology problem. So many companies today are grappling with trying to work out how they can improve that customer journey. They have to reorient the way they work internally so that they can better support that customer experience.

That is what we mean by customer experience: what is that customer getting when they engage with a company? And as a company, you have to think about how you are going to deliver that experience, that journey.

You have just published a report about user experience.

We surveyed about 500 CRM owners. One of the things we have observed as we have researched the customer experience is that it has changed dramatically from the old days when the customer experience was defined by CRM.

Then, when companies thought about the customer experiences, they would turn to the CRM team. So we wanted to engage with those teams and understand their perspective: what are the challenges? How do you deliver a world-class customer experience?

From that we heard that within those companies, CRM spanned many teams and systems so the customer experience has to do the same.

In almost every case, the CRM team was the anchor team who had to bring everyone together to collaborate on delivering. Often there were 7 to 10 to 20 touch points where other systems were involved in a journey and there was a ton of collaboration required.

Now, these days customer data is becoming all important, but what we found was that the customer data was often siloed. Call centre interactions are stuck in the call centre, my web interactions have to be viewed by marketing but the mobile team might have a view of them and so on.

Quite often when companies interact, they plan individual outreaches to the customer without the full history of that customer's interaction. In a lot of the contacts, because of the misalignments, you have these strange moments when a company outreaches me for marketing without realising that I was just on the phone complaining about a problem.

There is a real context gap that has emerged in companies. As you get to the heart of that CRM problem, you are getting to the heart of what will be the next generation customer experience. To make the most of that, you need two things.

You need to create and maintain customer contacts: "Who am I and where am I on my journey when I engage with you as a company?" And the second thing you need is to understand that the customer does not want a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter reaction to them. As a company, you need to understand their history so that, in an ideal world, you can personalise that engagement and respond in a contextual way.

Are you talking about something that goes beyond how a standard CRM system works or something that can work in tandem with it? Or is it something completely different?

Our strategy is to go in and create a context-cloud around the system.

Usermind essentially does three core things. First, we connect to those applications so that you can create a Connected Customer Record, which means that we can say, 'you have all this data about Michel scattered through all these systems but we can bring it all together so that you can see all these different things about Michel across all of the systems'. And then we orchestrate it.

We have this customer hub that goes into all of their existing investments and hopefully makes them more valuable. In short, we take people from where they are to where they want to be without having to rip and replace everything.

We call that the Customer Engagement Hub and the hub connects to all of those exiting systems and then does two things: map the customer data together and then drive what we call journeys or orchestrations (which are workflows) across all those systems.

How do you get past all the IT managers who will say, 'Oh no, just what I don't need is another piece of software'?

I have spent most of my career building software for technologists. I worked at Mercury Interactive [now part of HP's software division] and then I worked on software automation with other companies. I know that people buy software when it's adding a big value or solving a big pain. Now that is a very interesting dynamic because most user experience projects are jointly owned by IT and the business.

So when we work with our customers we quite often have a stakeholder from marketing or sales or the digital team who is spearheading the business priorities around customer experience.

IT companies always have IT involvement in these processes because IT has to navigate through all the different technology touch points that are involved. So we find that when we start a conversation, we don't get a pushback like, 'Hey. Why another tool?'. We just spend time de-mystifying customer experience. If they are interested in Customer Experience (CX) they will ask me, 'What are the problems?'.

People trying to solve the problem with point-to-point integrations to move data around -- now that's extremely brittle and it's very hard to maintain. That's not as good as what we can do.

Some companies try to build their own, homegrown system, and that's just super-expensive. I don't hear push-back, I hear, 'What's the goal of the CX project?'.

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