Salesforce World Tour: it’s all about people (and cute robots)

SUMMARY:

Instead of a raft of product announcements, the focus at Salesforce World Tour in London yesterday was on what technology can do for people.

ABB Yumi robot at Salesforce World Tour © Kevin MoranAs previously mentioned in our report of government minister Ed Vaizey’s visit, the Salesforce wagon train rolled through London yesterday. Unlike other Salesforce events in other cities, there wasn’t much news to announce to the thronging crowds at the ExCeL exhibition center. There was an inevitable investment in the vendor’s continuing growth in EMEA, along with news that UK broadband provider Virgin Media, part of the Liberty Global cable group, has implemented an omni-channel customer experience across multiple Salesforce clouds — more on that later.

So instead of a raft of product announcements, the event was able to focus on what technology can do for people. This came through in several different ways.

Customer intimacy

An illustration of how technology can support highly personal customer service came in the story of luxury car brand Aston Martin, which has scaled up its production in recent years as part of a corporate turnaround plan. As the carmaker has expanded production from around a hundred cars a year to several thousand, Salesforce has brought automation to its customer engagement processes to support a wider reach. But the ultimate relationship with each customer is still highly personal. As CMO Simon Sproule puts it:

It’s technology powering those relationships but it’s real people delivering them. That’s the real breakthrough.

We’ll have more detail on the Aston Martin story next week, but the high-level theme here is that the technology is not replacing people. It’s augmenting their ability to manage highly attentive relationships — helping them do more, better.

Robotic collaboration

Power and engineering giant ABB discussed its use of Salesforce to deliver more accurate and timely field service. The segment included a demonstration of its friendly dual-arm YuMi robot, pictured above, which as its name suggests, is designed to work safely alongside human beings, unlike earlier generations of industrial robot that have often been caged off from human operators for safety reasons.

This is not a robot that’s built to replace humans but instead is designed to work safely alongside them, with features such as sensitive force control feedback that allow it, for example, to gently perform a high-five with a human. Rather than needing coding to learn an operation, its software lets it acquire new functions through teaching.

It’s a physical manifestation of the same principle that allows Aston Martin to tailor a highly personalized service to its customers at scale — using the technology to amplify the capabilities and reach of its people.

Diversity and philanthropy

That amplification of human potential comes across most strongly in the commitment to diversity and philanthropy that, as is usual at Salesforce events these days, were strongly featured in London.

The early part of chief adoption officer Polly Sumner’s keynote highlighted how Salesforce fulfils what she called its “obligation to give back to the communities that we live in.” Among those initiatives, she highlighted the 1% Pledge, which encourages businesses to emulate Salesforce’s corporate philanthropy, and which diginomica proudly joined earlier this month. She also reiterated the company’s commitment to stand up for equality:

It’s not just good enough for us to promote equality in terms of diversity etcetera inside of our company. We’ve got to take it out to the communities that we serve. It’s been those kinds of effort this year that’s our commitment going forward to continue to do that, in communities around the world — to promote gender and race diversity and to make equality part of everything that we stand for.

As Sumner noted, the technology itself does not discriminate. Technology has traditionally been seen as a largely male pursuit, as was evident from the overwhelming numbers of men at yesterday’s show. But the preponderance of women on the keynote stage made a notable contrast to the gender imbalance among attendees — Salesforce is doing its bit to redress the imbalance by example.

Sumner was joined on stage by Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder and CEO of STEMettes, a UK foundation that aims to inspire girls into pursuing science, technology, engineering and math, and which Salesforce has supported with its software and by sponsoring coding camps. Speaking to media later on, Imafidon emphasized the importance not only of creating educational opportunity, but also making sure that young people are empowered to follow through when they make their career choices.

[At STEMettes] we focus much more on the need to have those connections and understand how these things work. There’s a lot more that needs to be done on that confidence and how empowered they feel to take on those roles.

Also it’s about recruitment practices. If you don’t intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.

This notion of intentional inclusion is especially powerful now that the technology allows any of us to augment our natural capabilities and acquired skills with machine-aided automation. It spares us wasted time on repetitive tasks and lets us focus on the personal relationships and adaptive decision-making that humans do best.

My take

In the past, communication and collaboration were so imperfect that many organizations relied on harmony of background in a misguided attempt to compensate for those failings. Today the machines are so adept at eliminating barriers to interaction that enterprises are empowered to draw on all the rich experiences of a truly diverse workforce.

But taking advantage of today’s advanced collaborative capabilities puts even more emphasis on achieving the right corporate culture. While I don’t wish to rain on the parade of that Virgin Media omni-channel announcement, I have to confess reservations about what it’s really going to deliver.

Yes, it will be good that Virgin Media customers will now get a more joined-up service at the first point of contact because call agents will have a 360-degree view of the customer’s history and interactions. But based on the experiences of diginomica’s Derek Du Preez, and my own earlier experience, that’s not all that’s required to enable this or any other company to deliver a first-class service to its customers.

Efficient, joined up systems operated by committed, professional individuals are not enough on their own. There must also be a culture that supports going the extra mile to serve customers. Whatever systems an enterprise puts in place, what really matters is empowering and motivating the people that represent the brand.

Image credit - ABB robot via Salesforce © Kevin Moran

Disclosure - At the time of writing, Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner and paid my accommodation costs to attend its the World Tour event in London.