When companies invest so much time and effort in the development and delivery of products and services, they cannot afford to lose business by providing a customer experience that falls short of expectations. Jim Banks speaks to Des Cahill, head CX evangelist at Oracle, about what senior executives can do to ensure this never happens.
Customers do not see what goes on behind the scenes at a large company because they only know whether what they requested of that company is provided on time and as expected. These days, customer experience (CX) is king and, in the age of social media, any bad experience is shared instantly with a global community.
The importance of CX means that the decision on technology investments that have a direct impact on how customers interact with a business is no longer one that can reside purely with the CIO. Now, CX is a matter for the CEO and other senior executives.
"For the past seven years, we have offered a strong set of cloud-based products, so we are approaching many customers about cloud and SaaS-based models," says Des Cahill, head CX evangelist at Oracle. "Usually, we sold technology to the CIO but now the heads of business lines buys the solutions. In CX, that would be the head of sales or marketing."
Cahill has only been at Oracle for a few months, but from his time as a technology marketer at Apple and at start-up companies in Silicon Valley, he knows just how important the quality of CX is for driving a business forward. "I am a storyteller, and it is my job to simplify the message about our products and make it relevant to our customers. That includes an internal focus within Oracle, which has over 130,000 employees who must understand the shift from a technology-based model to a customer-centric model for selling solutions in the era of the cloud. We are seeing a lot more interest in CX among large organisations because it is seen as a competitive differentiator, even though it is really just table stakes," says Cahill.
"We are in the era of the empowered customer. People are tech-savvy, use smartphones and social media, and they are used to efficient online ecommerce service. So, they expect more from the brands they deal with. Those brands with unified CX are the ones gaining the competitive advantage. According to research by Gartner, CX is now the number one technology investment companies are looking at over the next ten years - ahead of digital marketing - and retail is seen as the cutting edge."
Reach for the cloud
Oracle's proposition in the CX space is based not only on the development of its own technology, but also on the acquisition of leading brands in recent years. In 2012, for instance, it launched a new CX offering that brought together the capabilities of companies such as ATG, Endeca, RightNow and Vitrue. The result was a cross-channel customer engagement, fulfilment and service capability designed to work with its on-premises Siebel and cloud-based Fusion CRM applications.
In 2014, Oracle bought Datalogix, which provides digital marketers with data on offline consumer spending to help track the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.
Since those initial acquisitions, Oracle's customers have turned in growing numbers to cloud-based applications, and that is where the future lies. Oracle's CX cloud suite is a modular system that includes applications such as B2B cross-channel marketing solution Eloqua and Oracle Sales Cloud for customer relationship management.
"We may sell to a department looking to solve their own problems but it will also want to be able to extend the solution to other teams in order to have a single set of customer data. CX is about how you deal with your customers, so it is a matter for everyone. Industries may differ in areas like the length of the purchase cycle or the workflows that enable customer service, but we can apply lessons from one industry to others," says Cahill.
"Take financial services, where there is a need for a blended agent for example; if a customer calls a bank service centre about a loan or mortgage, then the blended agent can get the information from the sales teams' CRM in order to have a better understanding of that customer. The agent can then offer complementary or upgraded products. Service and sales are blended in order to improve both, and problems can be solved without transferring the customer to someone else."
The versatility of interconnected systems is enhanced when they are cloud based. The cloud offers faster deployment times, lower capital costs because of the subscription model, and the ability to deliver innovation quicker. Whereas a traditional enterprise suite may typically have a three-year lag, cloud-based solutions are usually updated every six months.
"The Oracle CX cloud suite has incredible breadth and depth. Clients can buy sales or marketing solutions, for instance, and have them talk to each other through a common interface. They share data and have common BI capability. Customers want a high-quality experience at any touchpoint and having separate systems creates silos even if they are very efficient on their own. Our strategy is to have the most complete suite and the best innovation process, so we have a suite of connected best-of-breed applications," Cahill explains.
"Our customers have become much more informed and it is no longer a question of if the cloud is an option, but a question of when they are going to implement it. Some companies have deep investments in on-premise applications and ERP systems, or they may have a customised application for a particular supplier or manufacturer, so they may want to amortise that investment and replace it in a few years. We live in a hybrid world and we will do for some time to come. Oracle is super-deep in the on-premise world and we can integrate our cloud suite with any on-premise or cloud software. The journey to the cloud is a process," he adds.
The company certainly has a comprehensive offering in the cloud space. Oracle Service Cloud combines web, social and contact centre experiences to provide a unified, cross-channel service solution. Its aim is to rid the world of bad CX, which are all too common. Nearly every consumer will have had a bad customer service experience at some point in their life and these experiences typically have a negative impact on the brand the consumer has engaged with. Today, any bad experience can be quickly shared on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, so empowered consumers have made it more important for companies to prevent these poor experiences.
CX, however, is about much more than managing the risk of lapses in customer service. It can be leveraged by forward-thinking customer service organisations to differentiate a brand from its competitors by building a strong connection with consumers at the very beginning of the sales cycle. With its Service Cloud, Oracle is aiming to help companies deliver world-class customer service that sets it apart from the crowd.
Stay ahead of the pack
From a brand's perspective, there are many compelling reasons to move CX and other capabilities to the cloud but, inevitably, there are also some concerns. Security is, perhaps, chief among these and there is a great deal of sensitivity around data protection in the cloud, which has not been lost on technology vendors.
Oracle's response to the issue of security is manifold. Its data centres, for instance, are located across the world rather than residing solely in the US. Using its 19 sites, it can manage the location of data storage within specified regions in line with customers' preferences. Application can be deployed in the public cloud or, for additional security, in a private cloud. It is also possible to implement solutions that encrypt and decrypt data at the firewall. Data can, therefore, be stored in encrypted form on the public cloud and the customer - not the technology vendor - holds the key.
Clearly, it is up to vendors to keep pace with the changing landscape of cloud technology - in terms of the challenges and the opportunities - to deliver efficient and versatile cloud-based solutions that address every aspect of CX. Oracle is one vendor that fully understands that the need to innovate will only intensify.
"The next game-changer will be intelligent, data-driven CX. Using our data cloud enables our customers to use consumer data to inform and measure their marketing processes. We have access to anonymised consumer data from over one million websites and billions of customer profiles. This can help build a truly 360° view of customers - not just on your site but also in the real world - by matching publicly available data. You can segment and personalise offerings, which is not only exciting for marketing, but also can be applied more in the context of sales and service," Cahill observes.
The future of CX seems to lie off site in the cloud, which means companies will be able to innovate faster and build a truly rounded view of their customers. The only decision left to make is when to make the jump.