Adam Bosworth of Salesforce on Customer-Centricity and the Internet of Things

Last week during Salesforce’s massive Dreamforce conference, they officially announced their Internet of Things (IoT) Cloud to help organizations leverage the power of connected devices – and the information they can provide – to create better real time experiences throughout the customer life cycle.

Adam Bosworth, Salesforce’s Executive Vice President of the IoT Cloud, shared with me the importance of understanding what the IoT has to offer businesses, how it impacts customer engagement, and why becoming a connected company doesn’t make you customer-centric on its own.

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customer centricSmall Business Trends: What is your description of the IoT?

Adam: Companies are trying to become customer-centric. They’re hearing very clearly from customers that they’re not about the customer, and they’re not up to date with the customer. And they’re not proactively helping the customer to take advantage of opportunities or solve problems. They’re going to lose that customer to another company. So they’re trying to become customer-centric companies.

Part of that is becoming connected. And not just selling a good anymore but selling a service. Not just selling a HVAC but selling a connected HVAC. Not just selling a car but a connected car. Part of their arsenal of transforming their companies to become connected is adding an IoT component to what is already a pretty connected world. Because the mobile phone is already a very connected way to interact with and learn about your customers.

Small Business Trends: How difficult or how different is it to leverage Internet of Things compared to the Internet when it comes to building customer relationships?

Adam: I don’t think it’s the Internet of Things that actually makes it harder. It’s got significant volume. Most of our customers actually have up to a billion to 10 billion events a day coming in. So while the scale is big, and sometimes a little daunting, I don’t think that’s the main issue. The main issue had been how do you take advantage of it? We talk to a lot of customers that have spent tens of millions of dollars wiring themselves up and writing their own big data, or on their own army of very expensive, hard to keep people they’ve hired, only to look around and say “Have we transformed our business? Are we customer centric? Are we delivering a different customer experience?” And the answer is no.

Something went wrong with their “Field of Dreams” mentality. Build it and they will come. And that’s really been the issue that we hear very consistently is that people are starting the wrong way around. Instead of asking themselves how do I transform the experience my customers have with me, and my employees for that matter, they’re saying if we connect everything will be solved. I’ll give you two stories just to explain the good and the bad.

My wife’s car is connected, and the engine light went on the other day. She expected the dealer to trigger automatically an alert in her app to say, hey I’ve looked at your calendar because it’s on the phone, we see times you are free, we know that your car is having a problem, and here are some times you could bring it in. Click once to pick the one you want, we’ll have a rental ready.

What she actually got was a call, got on the phone, was put on hold, the dealer said I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with your car, you have to bring it in, we are two weeks away from having an appointment. Meanwhile she’s got a four-year-old kid who has to go to school and a car with an engine light saying do not drive. That gap in expectations is enormous, and it came out of them having a connected car. In fact, the moment you do connect you set those expectations. So that was a bad experience, right? There was a company that had a huge divide between what they knew and what they were doing.

Conversely, she had a birthday two months ago, and she was reading a really old book I had given her and the pages were falling out as she read them. And I got online, rushed a book to her from Amazon to come in on her birthday on Tuesday. Came home early Tuesday afternoon, checked Uber because we don’t drive here anymore – to get to the restaurant – checked OpenTable because I had the reservation at Kikari. Go outside to look for the book. No book. Now I’m kind of shocked. And I look down at my mail on my phone and there’s this piece of mail saying “we’re really sorry, your product was damaged in shipping. We have rushed you a new copy and it’ll be there tomorrow morning.”

I think about that, and that was device-to-device. What happened is a driver recorded on some device, FedEx or UPS, this was damaged into shipping. A signal goes up to Amazon, and a smart piece of software catches that signal. Some software checks my lifetime value, which is pretty good, looks to see if the book’s in inventory; it is. Given my lifetime value it figures out the fastest way to deliver it to me, because it creates a moment that delights. And sure enough, incredibly, at ten o’clock the next morning the book is there. And so even though it wasn’t there on her birthday you couldn’t be angry. They solved my problem before I even knew I had a problem. I didn’t have to get on the phone, I didn’t have to wait. I didn’t even have to click a button.

Every one of our customers wants to deliver that experience. But heretofore it’s been really hard for them.

So the IoT problem to me has not been how do you instrument, how do you connect, the problem has been what are you going to do to change the relationship you have with your customers, and your employees, because not infrequently you will also need to bring an employee in the loop if your car breaks down on the highway. Not only do you want the dealer to say that but you want the dealer to say – or someone to say we’ve organized a truck for you and here’s …

Small Business Trends: Somebody’s on their way.

Adam: And you can see how far away it is, just like you can with Uber, and by the way, we’ve organized a ride for you. Right? And we’ve connected to your insurance company. So that change in expectations gives you a huge opportunity, but it also gives you a huge responsibility.

Small Business Trends: And a huge need to make sure you’re meeting the growing expectations of customers as they get used to having those kind of scenarios.

Adam: And I think that’s what gets lost is people’s expectations track what’s possible. And until it was possible they didn’t expect that. Until it was possible they expected to be on hold, they expected to be queued up at the airport asking how to rebook. But once it became possible, everyone doesn’t expect it – just as before we had mobile phones we didn’t expect you could reach us at any time and now we do.

Small Business Trends: So how does the IoT Cloud help businesses create those kind of experiences that customers are expecting today?

Adam: Number one, we looked at what do you need as context. If you’re going to make decisions like the one that Amazon did, you need a lot of context. You need to know what’s the lifetime value of this customer. Are they trending up or trending down? If they’re driving the car is the engine running hot and trending up or trending down? Whatever those issues are, you need to have a 360 profile about everything. And that 360 profile needs to be relatively up to date from all the signals that are coming from mobile events, they’re coming in from mobile location, and they’re coming in from IoT, as well as web clicks. So you need to have essentially big data, because you’ve got billions of these a day coming in and potentially we have some customers with two and a half billion profiles and they want to keep those up to date. So the first thing we did is made that easy.

Secondly, we couple it up to a very high speed rules engine that can process those 5 billion events a day in real time, taking as context those 360 degree profiles, taking as context what’s already happened.

Back to the connected car example, the car is great, and then ten signals in a row come in from the car saying it is actually bad and getting worse; Act fast! Open the case, alert the driver, and potentially even tell them to pull over.

We gave you not only a very powerful rules engine but one contextual and smart about which rules should run. And extensible in the sense that programmers can extend what you do and configure the logic for proactive engagement.

Then we plugged all the rules engine directly into everything you can do in Salesforce so that you can effortlessly create a case, you can effortlessly start a process flow in our App Cloud, you can effortlessly send mail or text or WeChat or whatever through our Marketing Cloud. If you’re reaching out to my daughter it’ll be over Facebook Messenger, if you’re reaching out to my son in Beijing it will be WeChat, if it’s me it would be email or SMS; you have to know. And then we built enough profile information there that you can learn which engagements are working and you start to connect to the right people in the right way.

Small Business Trends: What are the best ways for companies who are more traditional the way they’re interacting with their customer base, what are some of the best ways that they can actually get started in putting this to work for them?

Adam: You want to ask how can I run my business more efficiently? How can I have happier customers? And there’s usually some pain point. There’s some area where the employees are not well informed, where the customers are not well informed, or both. And usually where it’s both it’s particularly bad because it creates very expensive processes where your employees are tied up, the customers are tied up, and nobody’s happy. So normally I would say start with those. Start with the worst pain points. Start with those things where simultaneously people have to synchronously communicate with each other, it’s really hard and it’s a frustrating process.

Small Business Trends: How long do companies have today in order to meet the expectations and deliver on some of the things that you talked about?

Adam: Companies I’m talking to feel under the gun because there’s more money going into more startups to try and disrupt these companies than ever before. And those companies are not hampered by legacy; those companies are moving very fast. If you’re bank you’re looking at any number of startups that are now starting to help people move money around without the bank, and you’re very alarmed because suddenly they’re delivering a better level of customer service than you can. I mean, for example, when I go and use Apple Pay at Whole Foods, boom I see on my email what I just did. Or I use Square in my taxi. Boom, I see that on my email. That level of proactive notification is very impressive – so financial companies are feeling this. If you’re a health company you’re starting to ask questions, getting really hard questions asked, because patient satisfaction is starting to be something that you’re measured by as a provider institution.

They’re is a ton of very bright people with more money being given to them right now than ever before. And also much more velocity, because there’s so much software sitting out in open source now and the cloud is such a prolific and powerful way to build scalable software, so fast, the speed, and, actually, even the cost with which you can build something that disrupts even a really big company’s business model is startling. Uber didn’t exist five years ago. Now it’s a $50 billion company.

It’s happening really quickly, where if you don’t figure out how to be the connected company and a customer-centric company for your customers, at best you’ll be an aggregating service supplier in the customer experience someone else controls. And at worst, you won’t even be a player, so there’s a lot of pressure.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.