Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Digital Transformation: A CXO's Guide

10 customer experience lessons from a CRM pioneer and trailblazer

Eighty-four percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. Michael Maoz, a senior vice president of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce, has been researching the science and art of delivering world-class customer experience for decades. He shares his insights on how companies can develop a differentiation strategy based on customer experience.

How Salesforce builds loyalty by investing in the success of its developers, admins, and customers At Salesforce TrailheaDX 2019, Sarah Franklin spoke with TechRepublic about what makes the company's relationship with developers, admins, and customers.

In the age of the connected customer, customer experience (CX) is as important as the products or services that companies provide. Here are key findings recently published in the State of Connected Customer 2019 report: 

  1. Extraordinary experiences raise the bar for customer engagement: 73% of customers say one extraordinary experience raises their expectations of other companies.
  2. New expectations shift the digital transformation playbook: 75% of customers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences.
  3. Trust becomes more important, yet more elusive: 54% of customers say it's harder than ever for companies to earn their trust.
  4. Corporate values sway buying decisions: 73% of customers say a company's ethics matter more than they did a year ago.

IT research findings for 2019 also show that 83% of IT leaders believe AI is transforming customer engagement, and significantly, 69% say it is transforming their businesses overall. Sixty-two percent of customers are open to the use of AI to improve their experiences -- up from 59% in 2018. AI adoption is projected to grow by 95% over the next two years, with customer experience as one of the key drivers for adoption. 

Customer experience (CX) is rewriting the rules of business success. Eighty-four percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services, according to Salesforce 2019 research. Sixty-six percent of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience. Research also shows that more than two-thirds (69%) of customers expect a connected experience when they engage with a company. 

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Salesforce 2019 Research: Customer Experience Industry Trends

To learn more about how trailblazer companies leverage emerging technologies and new processes to deliver high-quality customer experiences, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of Constellation Research, and I invited one of the world's foremost CRM, Customer Experience (CX) and Customer Engagement Management (CEM) experts to join us on our weekly video show DisrupTV. Michael Maoz is the senior vice president of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce. Maoz was one of the creators of the CRM space and a member of the first global CRM software company. He joined Salesforce from Gartner, Inc., where he was a founder of the CRM practice and held positions as Research Vice President, Distinguished Analyst, and Gartner Fellow. Michael is also a Board Member at Rutgers Center for Innovation Education. 

Maoz is a CRM/CX pioneer, first to work on a global CRM system, and a trailblazer, guiding others to blaze a trail as a pathfinder and trusted visionary advocate. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best and brightest CRM and CX pioneers, influencers, bestselling authors and thought leaders in the world, and Maoz is one of the smartest, and nicest, people that I know in this space. His depth and breadth of CRM/CX knowledge may be second to none. 

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Michael Maoz is senior vice president of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce, the world's largest provider of CRM software and services. 

Here are 10 customer experience (CX) lessons based on our conversation with Michael Maoz: 

  • Technology may be the answer, but what is the question. Maoz talked about new emerging technologies that exist today, redefining how companies use a combination of technologies to improve the customer experience like data visualization technologies, combination of sensors and machine learning with emotion and voice detection technologies that measure tone and sentiment, identity, location and voice-driven systems including smart chatbots and AI, ambient technologies and extended realities with augment and virtual reality. That said, many companies are still trying to find ways to develop a meaningful relationship with their customers, even in the presence of these new technologies.  A lot has changed, but a lot hasn't -- business leaders need to think beyond technology to design a better customer experience. 
  • Customer experience leaders have a strong direct connection with their customers. With all of this concern about ethics, trust, environment, privacy, how does the enterprise, whose shareholders want profit get the safe space and time to build better customer experience processes, which may lower short term profitability? According to Maoz, If the CEO lacks clout with the board, you are not going to go far. Some CEOs go past the shareholders and go directly to their customers to share their vision and core values. Maoz gave examples with Apple, Salesforce, Southwest Air, Starbucks, and Amazon as examples: He spoke about Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO who famously shared his vision with customers and stakeholders directly, ignoring shareholder feedback about cost and profitability. A strong connection with a customer is key to delivering to the brand promise. Maoz also talked about the incredible operational responsibilities that CIOs have that, in some cases, prevent them from leading the innovation strategy, unless they are empowered by the CEO and company board of directors. 
  • "How are you going to get there from here?" Maoz is a strong advocate that business leaders need to spend time and sit with customer-facing staff, directly engaging with customers, and first-hand identifying and better understanding and areas of improvement -- tools, processes, workflows, guidelines, and talent. Maoz writes: 

"Isn't it time to sit in front of the systems that we provide our customer service or field service or tech support teams? And isn't it time for the senior IT leader to take on that role for a week and be the one to engage customers the way that our customer support agents do, every day? (These ideas frighten all but a few greats, and I have been in support centers where everyone -- everyone -- in IT associated with Customer Support can fully function in the role of support agent, as a part of their keeping their job.) Then restart the discussion about Employee and Customer Success with a new understanding.

The goal of our enterprise is to be customer-centric. To understand the customer intent. To be our best selves. Go sit with the customer care or tech support or billing or returns folks -- the ones you need to accomplish that goal of delivering a great customer experience. Ask yourself: how do we get there from here?"

  • Improving the customer experience is a team sport. Maoz said that the CIOs job is very difficult. He said that delivering better customer experience is a team sport, and CIOs who are successful with driving change must be collaborative and empathetic.  "When we look at the dreamer, the bold CIO who puts customer experience at the core of Digital Transformation, it is almost always because the CEO and Board have placed their faith in the initiative and they have partnered with CX teams. That enlightened CIO, focused on employee and customer success has, on average, likely been at the company or in the industry for a longer period of time, and is committed to a longer-term and evolving customer journey," said Maoz.  He also notes, "outstanding CIOs are far more likely to align the broad term Digital Transformation with a series of iterative, tactical IT projects across the enterprise designed to create the best CX short term and over the long term."
  • Knowing every facet of the customer experience you offer is a must and not an option - Maoz works with some of the biggest companies and government agencies around the globe. "Across the globe, there is an indisputable shift in customer expectations -- from great service to great experiences. It's why we hear the concept of the "experience economy." The companies that provide the best experiences are also, on average, the clear winners in their industry and market. And their success is growing by ever-widening margins. Being number two might be good; being number one is great. The difference comes down to excellence at translating a customer-centric business transformation vision into a well-defined strategy -- and then develop relevant tactics to support that strategy," said Maoz
  • Digital transformation should be code for better customer experience. According to Maoz, the key to delivering a better experience is dependent on customer journey maps. 

Maoz writes

"What do the best companies do? They live the ideal of good customer support by keeping the customer journey mapped, and available, as a visible, living document for all to see. It is their key to transparency and progress. As is identifying the process owners and the priority for tackling each weak process. Great companies never rest on their customer engagement journey. They listen to customers, they empower employees to come up with creative ways to solve problems, and they communicate internally and externally on what they are doing well today, and what they will do better, tomorrow."

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  • Successful companies obsess about their customers, not competitors. Maoz emphasizes the importance of taking a step back and ask: "Are we sure that we have our customer success priorities straight?" Is the data, right? Did you ask your customers? Did you ask your partners? Did you ask your competitors customers? Are the priorities aligned with the customer personas that matter? Job No. 1 is connecting and engaging with your customers and partners to understand their needs better -- they will tell you everything you need to know. The people, process and technology design and improvement is hard work -- measure, sustain, and motivate is all about execution excellence and alignment. Maoz reminds us that it is not 'them' and 'us,' it's just 'we'; co-creation of value for all stakeholders. 
  • CX leaders can answer the question, "Who is the 'they'"? Maoz reminds us of the importance of business leaders understanding who are the customers we serve. Equally important is answering "who is the we?". Maoz said that companies that deliver great customer experience talk to their customers, understand what success looks like, develop customer-centric metrics, and then measure outcomes. A practice of radical transparency is key to continuous improvements. Companies that deliver solid CX baseline their capabilities and performance manage against their desired key performance indicators. Radical truth is key to identifying blind-spots and challenging assumptions, starting with your own. Maoz recommended a book titled 'Principles' by Ray Dalio. Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.
  • CX leaders know the jobs to be done. Maoz had interviewed Harvard Business professor Clay Christensen about his book 'Competing Against Luck' and how the book is aligned with the research Maoz leading around the intent-driven enterprise. Maoz asked: What is your intent? Maoz spoke about Apple understanding their buyer's intent -- building the brand of me. When companies can understand intent, they shift from competing against luck, and instead define the jobs to be done and execute accordingly. 
  • Getting the 'customer experience journey right starts with the customer experience audit. Maoz consistently talked about knowing the jobs to be done, the practice of radical honesty and transparency, and measuring progress along the way. He has written about the customer experience audit. "The customer experience audit exposes the true health of the relationship that brands have with their customers. The companies that do this best are usually the ones where the CEO believes getting the customer experience right is urgent," said Maoz. 

I encourage you to watch our video conversation with Michael Maoz to understand better how customer experience trailblazers are delighting their customers. Maoz listed numerous customers around the globe that are gaining market share and growing their businesses based on their customer experience strategy. You can also follow Maoz on Twitter at @mimaoz and benefit from his incredible shared wisdom and CRM/CX/CEM thought leadership.