It seemed for a while that this pattern would be followed at the MuleSoft Summit, held this week in London’s Brewery conference centre - but there was salvation, and a real context, towards the end of the day’s proceedings.
MuleSoft, of course, is one of the players in the business of managing APIs, the glue that can build business delivery systems based on collaborating applications.
The company has recently sponsored a survey, conducted by Opinium Research, of 4,017 European adults aged 18 and over, who use online services as a growing part of their everyday lives. The MuleSoft definition of what constitutes an online service, according to the company’s Marketing Manager, Simon Goddard, is `an organisation knowing a customer’s preferences across all channels which can provide them with access to needed information in a timely manner’.
The idea behind the survey is to identify the top consumer pain-points when making any transaction, across four of the major business sectors: banking, public services, insurance, and retailing.
Don’t connect the silos, disconnect the customers
The key context that emerged from the results is that all these businesses face a common problem as they transform from old-style, face-to-face customer interaction towards becoming mainstream online businesses. This is the risk of customers suffering experiences that leave them feeling disconnected from the vendor, which in turn leaves them less than keen to continue with a transaction.
The survey showed that there is considerable scope for improvement before any of them can claim to be getting things right. Indeed, one of the few high spots came from the banking sector, where 71% of respondents found the provision of personalised services good and effective. By contrast, the retail trade only impressed 45% of them with its abilities with personalised services.
At first sight this looks bad for retailers, but in practice it is more likely to show how banks have already accumulated more customer information. Banks need to know a good deal more about their customers than the typical retail outlet, of course, though the low approval does suggest that retailers could do more to exploit the customer data they do hold by connecting it better.
Much of that data, of course, is held in discrete silos - and the silos are rarely allowed to mix. This is the underlying problem of most of the factors leaving customers feeling disconnected from an online service.
For example, there is what we call `data input déjà vu’, where users find themselves re-inputting the same data time and again because the data silos within a business are so isolated.
Another silo-based wedge between customer and business shown by the survey came from the fact that call centre staff are often not allowed access to relevant information about either the customer or the contract. Some 37% of respondents complained about this one, while 25% admitted they had given up on a transaction because of difficulties in sharing data.
Younger consumers are the most likely to do this.
And there can be real benefits in both directions in sharing data. For example, 37% of insurance sector customers said they would be willing to allow much more sharing of their personal data if the result was lower premiums on their policies.
Indeed, the survey showed that, overall, consumers are now starting to feel much more benign towards the concept of data sharing, so long as they get something of value in return. This is most likely the result of many respondents being people bought up with social media services as their normal environment. It is a trend that must be expected to continue and grow.
And the big data-sharers have another benefit – they tend to be easy and convenient to use.
Evidence of this can be seen in the 28% of respondents saying they would be open to the idea of companies the like Google and Amazon offering banking services, purely on the basis of convenience.
The alter ego of this is that well over half of all respondents stated that they would consider changing a service provider if the service left them feeling disconnected. The lesson here is that the likes of Google and Amazon have grown, at least in part, on their ability to share customer data across the silos – even if it is only of the 25% of customers who bought `that’ also bought `this’ cross-sell variety.
Feeling disconnected is now one of the great levers driving customer loyalty, and providing greater personalisation in the services delivered really does help. There is little excuse now for enterprises not to give their staff access to the right information in order to improve these two.
And even AI-based services may exacerbate such problems, for the chances are there will be times when the Bot will not be able to service a customer’s requirements, and the customer must not be left having to repeat information once connected to a human handler.
While data sharing across the many silos that enterprises build over time can help them deliver services that make customers feel a part of a process servicing their own specific needs, this does depend on those enterprises having the tools to build the necessary collaboration between the silos and their disparate applications.
It’s about enablement
This is where MuleSoft is hoping that its Centre For Enablement – neatly tagged as C4E – will have a role to play. This is designed to focus development effort on how businesses need to consume their data assets, so that they can then create the appropriate networks of applications to deliver against those needs.
The Summit audience were given an example of how this works with a little case study about health care products company, RB, which is behind many well-known health home and hygiene brands such as Durex Dettol and Nurofen.
As a large company it had the standard mare’s nest of point to point interconnections between different applications, and was finding this approach increasingly difficult to work with as traditional models of doing business have started to fade away as online trading takes over.
So building an operation infrastructure based on hybrid integration became essential so that it could link the back office legacy business management applications with the millions of mobile devices its customers are using to try and place orders.
The company found that even using an Enterprise Service Bus had limitations in this context, such as maintaining governance and standards requirements, as well as the cost of its implementation. So went the MuleSoft route and used APIs to build a network of application. It has even gone so far as to take the C4E model developed by MuleSoft and built its own in-house to help speed the development process.
This way it has been able to provide local and project-specific integrations, with a smaller investment, plus getting better development speed and time to market.
That context – of businesses understanding that appropriate technological solutions can allow them to transact whatever is needed with customers in ways that the customers want to operate – would seem to be blindingly obvious. But it is still often the missing piece in the story that tech companies want to tell when their history tells them that their technology is wonderful: a ;point that is still so often forgotten.