It's that time of year - beautiful days in New York, flowers, clear skies… and Smarter Commerce in the air. A year ago I was in Madrid at the IBM Smarter Commerce Summit - I haven't been the same since! It wasn't the protesters teaming in the streets calling out the effects of austerity on youth unemployment, or the luxurious resort (in fact, just another airport hotel) setting for the Summit. It was the conference content...
The keynote was the most interesting presentation I've ever seen at a technology conference (and I have been to many over the past 25 years)! To signal something special was coming, the lights in the large auditorium were turned down. A hush fell over the otherwise bustling room as two people gingerly made their way up onto the stage. One was clearly bind and it felt a bit awkward to watch him feel his way up multiple steps and across the open space. This was clearly not going to be a standard set of Powerpoints...
Over the next half hour the blind presenter on stage held the audience spellbound. His role concerned customer experience management at ING, the Dutch bank. He started off with a simple statement of the problem he faced: since the financial crisis started in 2008, customer trust of banks had hit an all-time low. But without trust, how can you have active, and growing, banking relationships?
It was not the blind leading the blind. This fellow could see clearly that for businesses to thrive, to acquire new customers, to retain existing customers, business didn't need technology that could reach further into a customer's wallet, but a perspective on the customer which focused on creating an individual customer experience... for every customer. Although this was a technology conference, he hardly spent a minute, and not a single slide, on technology.
The focus was on the customer… The presenter told the story of a customer who gets distracted by a phone call while withdrawing cash from an ATM - and walks away leaving the cash in the machine. Apparently, this happens thousands of times a year. As the presenter pointed out, this aborted transaction leaves a lot of anxiety behind. When the customer finally realizes what they have done, a minute, an hour, or a day later, the first thing they want to know is, "where is my money?" Of course, the bank knows: for years cash machines have sucked the money back in and re-deposited it. But the customer doesn’t know that and is left in the dark.
The solution - the customer-centric solution - to this problem was easy: send the customer a text: "Sorry you missed withdrawing €150 from our ATM at X branch - come back again when you can, as we have safely re-deposited it into your acct."
"Easy" conceptually, but monumental for the bank. Why? Because branch and ATM services, although they have access to account information, do not have access to customer contact details squirrelled away in account management and customer service systems. Addressing this challenge requires a willingness to break down long-standing barriers between data silos in the bank.
As I listened to the presentation, it dawned on me what Smarter Commerce was all about. It means engaging with customers in a way that makes the customer feel special, because they are individuals, rather than just a number or one of many.
My head was swimming by the time I walked out of the auditorium. After so many years of focusing on document imaging and capture, I could now see that the value we are offering our customers is not just improved productivity, but the opportunity to help our customers serve their customers better!
I'll share more on this topic soon, but for the time-being, the 2013 version of the Smarter Commerce Summit just finished last week in Monaco. You can follow @IBMSmarterCommerce. And here's a perspective on the conference from someone who started thinking about these things a long time before I did - Buy Sell Market Service - When did ECM become a Monte Carlo Celeb?