Brian Solis of Altimeter Group: The Irony of Needing Machines to Be More Human at Scale

Brian Solis of Altimeter Group: Personalization at Scale - The Irony of Needing Machines to Be More Human at Scale

I have the honor of co-chairing CRM Magazine’s annual event, CRM Evolution, alongside friend and leading independent CRM analyst Paul Greenberg.  The conference takes place next month in Washington, DC, and features a host of influencers and thought leaders in areas like customer engagement, artificial intelligence, blockchain, conversational interfaces, and other key technologies and strategies.

One of the keynoters of the conference is Brian Solis, whose talk is entitled Designing Customer Experiences that Matter to a New Generation of Accidental Narcissists.  So, with a title like that, I had to ask Brian for a sneak peek of what he’ll be discussing. And I also asked Paul to join me in the conversation.

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of the conversation.  To hear the full conversation, and I really do urge you to check it out, watch the video below, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player.  There is so much ground covered here that you have to watch the video to take it all in.

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Small Business Trends:  Most of the narcissists I know are not accidental. Maybe you can tell us exactly what an accidental narcissist is?

Brian Solis:  I thought it would be fun to present on a topic that just moves people, not as employees of company trying to work against a roadmap and a plan, or IT investments or what have you, but just maybe look at why these changes are taking place. I think it’s a topic that regardless of industry and regardless of job role, we’re not spending enough time really examining our relationship with technology.

And I call it accidental because I’m a hopeless optimist, so I want to see the good in everything. The reality is that, in the last three years I’ve been doing some really hardcore research with Google that’s been almost stealth in a way. And this year’s the first time we’re really going to come out in a very public way, by looking at just the extent of which mobile devices for example have completely changed how people make decisions. Secondly completely changed how people operate through life.

And if you play that back into things that, for example if my role is in an aspect of CX or any touchpoint within that journey, everything that we’re doing is probably for the wrong reasons. I think that getting in touch with the humanity of that is going to not just guide technology investment, but hopefully change business strategies for the better going forward.

Paul Greenberg:  What is getting in touch with humanity mean when it comes to that though?

Brian Solis:  For example when people look for information, their value system has completely changed. Right? So it used to be that they might go into the journey with four to six companies and they’re looking for the best product and they’re comparing features, before it even gets there, they’re looking for people like them. They’re not even searching for the type of keywords that you think they’re looking for. They’re asking questions as if there’s a human being on the other side of the search box and Google. Really trusting the content that comes back is their peers and what they value and what they look for and what they ask, they’re really human. I mean like people want things personalized. They’ll even add words like, “What’s the best SUV for me?” We see crazy things like, “What’s the best toothbrush for me?” Who searches for toothbrushes? That’s up 200% in the last year.

They expect personalization at scale; we’ve been talking about it for a long time. But then what happens, and here’s to answer your question, is what happens when the person on the other side of the screen isn’t who you think it is?

Small Business Trends:  What percentage of the folks that customers engage with, through their interactions with companies, are narcissist’s? In terms of, they’re really still focused on their self interest as opposed to what’s best of for the customer.

Brian Solis:  The reason why I focus on the human side of the story is that, narcissist was just a way of being very compelling in the title. When you have access to all of these tools that are very empowering, that are very … personal, whether it’s Tinder or Uber or any of these apps, you don’t just go to work and say, “Okay I understand that those are the types of services that I can use in my consumer role.” You’re bringing those mindsets, efficiencies, conveniences, personalization into just the expectations that are ingrained in your subconscious, your second nature now.

I think what we’re really talking about is re-imagining customer journeys and experiences. Even policies and products and services, for a generation that just expects things to be like everything else. That’s where, we’re not just challenging convention or status quo, what we’re really looking at is how does what my value proposition is and all of the infrastructure to support that, align with the expectations and values of someone as they change.

I think the exploration of that is where the magic happens. That’s where just even seeking out these questions and the answers to those questions, allows us to find opportunities to remove friction, to innovate, to introduce things that connect the dots in ways that we just thought we didn’t have to do before but now it takes center stage.

Paul  Greenberg:  So you are dealing at scale. One of the things that always … interests me on how engagement worked was, you’re dealing with let’s say at Citigroup, which has 300 million customers. Right? And each one of them is expecting exactly that some level of personalization at least, and going back to stuff you’ve written about, I’ve written about, Brent’s written about too, it’s not really just the millennial thing, it’s all generations now pretty much. As you, I think we all used to call it actually, is Gen C, right?

Brian Solis:  Yeah.

Paul  Greenberg:  So it’s about that grouping, right? Who are saying look, “I know you have 300 million customers, but I don’t care about the other 299 million, 99 thousand 199, you’ve got to take care of me.” At Citigroup they’re a company so they’re limited by birth. At birth they’re automatically limited, right? They’re constrained. And they can’t delight every customer all the time either or they’d be long broke. So the question becomes,  what’s a realistic expectation of trying to personalize with that number of people? Personalize the interactions and experiences that that number of people have with you?

Brian Solis: I think, one of the things when I study this question is, looking at whether or not a company, regardless of who it is or what it is, whether they could even answer what personalization looks like. What does someone expect, and it’s … I’ll give you an example.  In the last State of Digital Transformation report that I ran, which was recently, it has a bent towards customer experience, because that tends to be the catalyst where people can come together and find collaboration across functions. I always ask the question, “What’s driving this?” And they’ll say, “Customer experience.” “What are your top challenges and top opportunities?” And they’ll say, “Trying to understand the digital customer and getting in front of them.” And then I’ll ask, “Have you studied your digital customer? Do you know who they are, what their preferences are?”

This year the number of companies that said yes was only 34%. That’s down from 56% the year before, and it’s going the wrong way. So there’s that part of the answer and then the second part is it’s really fascinating to where I started to see things like AI really jump in.

So we have a friend, a mutual friend, Sameer Patel over at a company called Kahuna, that is scaling AI around marketing engagement and personalization. I got to work with him last year on this and we found that the irony of that was we have to use machines to help us figure out how to be more human at scale. I think what we’ll start to see is AI for marketing, AI for employee engagement, AI for all of these different platforms that at least scale personalization within their respective funnel. Before we get it across the journey.

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.

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.