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Business, Customer Experience, Retail, Service Design

WHITEBOARD: In Pursuit of the Services of Things.

May 27, 2013
Whiteboard image of Services of Internet
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I am starting a new section for the blog called, WHITEBOARD. It dawned on me that there are frequently very interesting topics that show up on whiteboards during (and after) working hours and I suspect that many are blog-worthy. 


Today the topic is how The Internet of Things, all those myriad of devices that connect through the internet, is now becoming dependent on The Services of Things, as it is being called.

[VIDEO: STEPHAN FERBER – Director of Communities & Partners Networks, Bosch Software Innovations. Besides doing a very good job of explaining the concepts behind the Internet of Things and Services, the gentleman can write backwards astonishingly well!]

The thinking behind this shift is that for many of these devices it is not enough to simply connect to the internet, they need to provide a demonstrable service that adds value over time and in a variety of contexts.

What got me thinking about this was a post by Pascal Portelli, called The Internet of Things Needs a Mother Tongue. We recently installed a Nest in our home, the internet-enabled thermostat which is exponentially cooler than my description would lead you to believe. Sure, it certainly looks sweet  (not trivial) but it also learns our behavior and adjusts heating and cooling to the most efficient way possible and it does it across time and in differing circumstances and contexts. That’s a service, not just a product and consider the astonishment Honeywell must have felt when they witnessed someone enter their market with a product + service offering! Nest is a game-changer and a harbinger of things to come. Product manufacturers will need to look at attaching services to these products rather soon.  So, yes, the product does connect to the internet so it is part of The Internet of Things but it also is a learning system, a service which makes it part of the Service of Things. And, yes, I also use Jawbone UP, Withings scale and blood pressure monitor, Ambient Devices Weather Station and several other products that also have begun to offer something looking very much like services. San Diego Gas & Electric has embraced the Green Button open data initiative which allows customers to engage in a level of service management never seen before from a utility company. If you start connecting the dots between the Green Button initiative, Nest thermostats and a cornucopia of desktop, mobile, tablet, and television screens, you begin to see the Services of Things coming to life.

To further clarify the importance of understanding of the notion of service think of an insurance company. They offer what they call “insurance products” but are they really in the product business? I would say no, they certainly have specific products they offer but from a customer perspective they are a service business. How do I become educated on the insurance you offer? What is it like to buy from you? What happens when I have a problem? And what is the experience if I file a claim with you? All of those are service touchpoints that can be fumbled by a company believing that they only sell a product.

Perhaps this is a good time to point back to the discipline of Service Design because when talking about The Services of Things we are talking about consistent and cohesive interactions over time  and regardless of touchpoint or device. So, in essence, this is where Customer Experience, Service Design, and things like customer journey maps become centrally important because we are really looking at products that provide services rather than just a product that has the ability to connect to the internet.

Stefan Ferber notes, “In the field of mechanical and plant engineering, consider the advent predictive maintenance. When a machine is filled with sensors, it can know what condition it is in and, whenever necessary, initiate its own maintenance.”


Tim Walters, writing in The Digital Pulse of the Digital Disruption says, “Whatever three letters you use to name it – WCM, WEM, WXM, CXM, CEM, or WTF – the time has come for a fundamental paradigm shift in how we envision and talk about relating to customers and prospects via digital assets. And most importantly, how we organize to make it happen.

Let’s jump back to Pascal Portelli’s article on the need for a universal mother tongue, “The Internet of Things will stay restricted if it does not transform itself into what we call the Services of Things. In the end all these connected objects must communicate and share information, content, and status with each other to deliver intelligent and ambient operations that really are the future of the connected home. This is really exciting because devices can be more than connected – they can all be interconnected and speak with one another”.

But interoperability is a gating factor here. Portelli correctly points out that there are currently connected devices using disparate and oftentimes competing technologies, operating systems, and language protocols and this is starting to become a problem as we anticipate the service requirements people will demand in the very near future.

OK, so what do we have here? I am a consultant so, naturally, I believe that everything can be explained with either a venn diagram or a 4 x 4 matrix. Just kidding. Not really.

Venn diagram of devices and services


If my hunch is correct we are at the dawn of a lot of work for a lot of people. The intersection of the venn diagram, above, means that as people get more and more internet-enabled devices in their homes, their cars, at work, and heaven knows where else, they are going to insist that these devices are not just products they have purchased but services. And that, in turn, means that the whole outside-in revolution where companies look at their products and services from the outside-in, like a customer (customer experience) suddenly comes front and center as does the need for content management systems and data integration programs that support all this…and the crushing need for something somewhere that somehow provides seamless interoperability between all these devices.

Portelli mentions Qeo when talking about creating a software framework for connected devices. [Their site explains the concept well.] These are still early days but by using a publish/subscribe protocol any Qeo-enabled object or application can share its status, its actions, its content or anything else that has been decided to be published to others that have subscribed to it. He uses the example of a video doorbell that can share its camera so that a visitor can be seen by any active screen within the home, or even your mobile screen, when it rings. Or imagine that you received a video call on your tablet and then transferred it immediately to a video screen. But beyond that, there is the possibility of connected objects to services that aggregate useful information during the day, interpret them and propose automated task. That’s not just a product, that requires services.

Tim Walters encourages us to think about experience. The concept is derived from the notion of learning by doing and by testing – knowledge gained by trial. Experience takes place across time and in various places, or at least, in differing circumstances and contexts. Think about yourself as customer, are you looking for a consistent and cohesive interactions over time and regardless of touchpoint or device? Do you seek context and task-appropriate assistance? Do you want real-time social support? Yes, of course you do and that is what customer experience, service design, and design thinking are all about.

According to a study undertaken  by the Institute of Technology Management at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, the services attached to these devices create a value an order of magnitude greater than a device alone. Ferber remarks, “Consider the example of a paper making machine, they note that the sale of the machine itself generates a margin around one to three percent, while selling a related service yields five to ten times as much.”

There is much work to be done.


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Business, Customer Experience, Retail, Service Design, Shopping, User Experience

Making Customer Experience Personal. One Person at a Time.

May 19, 2013
Photo of young plants growing
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These are early days for Customer Experience.In the same way a gardener is sometimes surprised at what bursts forth from the ground, customer experience is beginning to take form in front of our eyes. We are still figuring out what the difference might be between customer experience, user experience, usability, omni-channel, cross-channel, and multi-channel so we have to take care not to wander too deeply into the world of buzzwords and biz speak when we try to talk about the very human relationships of customer experience.

Where I work we have created a slide that takes a position on each of these topics just as a conversation-starter with prospects and clients. This serves two purposes; 1) It let’s us know how our client thinks about such things and 2) It gives us all a common, shared lexicon when discussing these things.

So, for the purposes of discussion, here are some definitions:

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a brand over the duration of their relationship.

USER EXPERIENCE involves a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service.

USABILITY is the ease of use and learnability of an item. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool machine, or process.

OMNICHANNEL weaves the touchpoints of products and services of the brand into a seamless fabric of all phases of the customer’s brand experience.

CROSS-CHANNEL has the ability to see all of a customer’s information across all channelsand enables more personalized offers based on their brand relationship.

MULTI-CHANNEL is simply having multiple channels through which you buy, market, sell, and fulfill.

Not perfect, perhaps, but certainly a good way to level-set a conversation around customer experience.

Speaking with Human Beings.



In a recent keynote speech, Micah Solomon did a very nice job of talking about customer experience in a refreshingly conversational manner that helps us remember this is about relationships with real live human beings. What I like about this presentation is the personal, conversational tone that supports the subject Micah is presenting. It is, at once, a presentation that is a personal sharing with the audience…much of what a well-executed customer experience strategy aims to achieve.

Customer Experience Keynote Speaker: Customer service speaker Micah Solomon on customer loyalty

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Business, Customer Experience, Startups

A CIO and a CMO Are Locked in a Room and Forced to Do Battle. Who Wins?

February 26, 2013
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Mike Troiano has had an enviable career so far, albeit one with a mandatory need for lightning fast reflexes, the ability to see the future and course-correct amidst the chaos, and by definition, a rather strong stomach. In my experience, these are the best ones to learn from.

Chief Marketing Officers have long had a difficult job. It can be a fun career choice for the right person, certainly, but the CMO’s challenges have changed dramatically over the last decade. Gone are the days when “We ran great TV” was enough to have everyone in management leave you alone. Along the way the CFO…and then the CEO started asking pesky questions about return on investment. Most CMO’s had no good answer for many of their programs beyond the tepid, “oh, it’s all brand awareness”. Brand awareness and many other marketing programs were generally declared unquantifiable…until the world changed and the CEO…and the business…said that would no longer be so.

One of the reasons I like Mike so much is that he always seems to be in the right place at the right time which makes his stories exponentially more interesting than, say, mine. I was a Creative Director for Mike when he was CEO of Ogilvy Interactive in New York in the mid 90’s, right at the time there was a seismic intersection of old and new media colliding.

Ogilvy & Mather had a Direct Marketing group at the time that created and mailed out direct responses pieces and compiled the results several months later, as was the custom of the day. On the other side of the third floor of Worldwide Center in NYC, the nascent Interactive group was publishing banner ads and calculating results overnight. This incredibly short time-to-market and ridiculously fast response time was, of course, summarily dismissed by the traditional Direct Marketing group and then history promptly went on to prove them delightfully wrong. Funny when that happens.

When asked about those days, Mike told me, “It’s important to understand that medium reflects hierarchy inside ad agency culture. What I remember most about those early days was the change in culture that took place. In the beginning, “interactive” (as it was called) sat somewhere below bumper stickers and t-shirts, below direct mail, newspaper, outdoor, magazines, radio, and – of course – television. After the Netscape IPO things seemed to change, though, and when digital became a shiny object, the big guns wanted in even if they didn’t really know what they were doing. Working and iterating at digital speed was part of what they really needed to learn but was also the most difficult for them. In the end I think our lasting impact on Ogilvy was that it got on that learning curve earlier than most.”

The Interactive group had data and they understood a customer experience that, while rudimentary, was a well enough defined loop to be useful. These were early ugly days but the insanely short duration communication-response-optimize process that is the Googleized world was born of those days and there was a great thrill in going home for the night and thinking, “I’ll see how that did in the morning and make it better by lunchtime”.

The Interactive group was a brilliant but scruffy upstart group that was nipping at the heels of a Very Large Global Agency. And while O&M was very comfortable with the traditional advertising they did so well, they were nonetheless a little worried about these crazy interactive kids who didn’t seem to be playing by the same rules.

Indeed, those early days birthed the exact moment when technology integration and customer experience appeared at CMO’s bedside, calling them from sleep, a torment that continues until this day.

About five years ago there were some very dramatic and lively discussions in corporate board rooms as the CEO informed the CIO and the CMO that they needed to work closely together because it was critically important to the business. But these two had never had to play together. In fact, as a general rule they avoided each other on general principles. Now there was a corporate mandate to work collaboratively but, man, they didn’t even speak the same language. Try saying, “non-trivial” to a CMO and see what happens. And collaborative project planning between IT and Marketing? Well, cats and dogs describe that situation best.

Over time things improved…not without difficulty and sometimes seismic eruptions that sent admins running for cover…but reluctantly the business world came to realize that marketing was going to either live or die by technology and it was going to take a village for it to work. Beyond that, it started to become clear that a CIO or a CMO was also going to become something of an interpreter and translator for each other.

Fast forward to 2013 and Mike Troiano is CMO at Actifio, a four year old data storage startup in Boston. So, what keeps him awake at night as CMO these days? You guessed it, data integration and a unified customer experience. With a marketing spend about two to three times the technology spend, clearly these two things are high priority to the strategic growth of the company.

Fortunately Mike has always had a good relationship with technology people so he is different than your typical CMO. My opinion is that his experience as a CEO put him in a position where he needed to focus on solutions first and then consider the chemistry required to get it done. This makes him one of the most pragmatic CMO’s I know. When I asked him about the typical CIO/CMO dynamics he has experienced over the years, he responded,  “I think historically there’s been this right brain / left brain divide, and both sides were the worse for it. If you look at why most CIO-led technology projects failed, you’d find more of the human factors that CMOs understand. And if you’re a CMO trying to communicate effectively in 2013, you need to know what’s possible with the latest technology, as good CIOs do.”

Out of general interest I did a Google search for “data integration unified customer experience” to see what would come up, expecting thousands of results as people clamored to solve this problem that Mike mentioned and the same one that I have seen across industries in my consulting work.

Astonishingly little. Almost nothing. One, actually. How is it that there is just one result that had data integration and user experience in the same thought?

So, if data integration and unified customer experience are all but ensuring sleep deprivation for CMO’s where are the solutions? I know it’s not a tool and I suspect it is more of a methodology or, at least, a process of sorts. More likely, it is a type of person who is trusted and is able to translate and interpret CMO to CTO and back again while being the advocate for the customer.

Ever the diplomatic pragmatist, Mike tells me, “Both jobs are about managing change. CIO’s are trying to change the flow of information – the “means,” if you will. And CMO’s are trying to change perception – the “end,” in that same sense. It seems almost inevitable that the two roles would converge, and the Internet really drove that convergence. It both made the technology easier to use, and softened the boundaries of the organization.”


Mike Troiano serves on the boards of several Boston-area startups, and is an award-winning blogger ( and counted among the top 1% of the most influential people on Twitter (@miketrap) and a pretty awesome guy, if you ask me.

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