Salesforce Connections 2019 was all about the so-called "connected experience." Process continuity trumps discrete clouds. Customer experience is exposed by your weakest link. Moving data silos to the cloud is not going to cut it.
The potential of "AI" and personalization is undermined by data integration problems. CX vendors must now roll up their sleeves and ease data integration - if they want to live up to their connected customer story.
That explains the rise of the Customer Data Platform, and the key role of CDP in Salesforce's Connections announcements.
I looked at how this changes customer service in Salesforce Connections 2019 - customer service is now in the growth business, not the cost business. But the impact on commerce might be even higher. Customers want to conduct business on their channel of choice, not the one you might be pushing - and Amazon is always looming to capitalize on retailers' process failures.
"Only 51% of customers say companies understand their needs/expectations"
Immediately prior to the show, Salesforce released a fresh batch of relevant data in their third annual State of the Connected Customer report (free with sign up). A few points that jump out:
- 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services – up from 80% in 2018.
- Only 51% of customers say companies understand their needs/expectations, but 73% expect them to.
- 54% of customers say companies need to transform how they engage with them.
Process continuity gets a lot tougher when you consider:
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of customers have used multiple devices to start and complete transactions.
Meanwhile, Amazon is pressing on. You can't just solve for customer intelligence, you also have to address speed through your logistical operations:
- 57% of customers won’t buy from a company that can’t ship quickly and cheaply and 59% will take their business to Amazon if a company can’t match their shipping speed and cost.
After the keynote, Commerce Cloud CEO Mike Micucci told me Salesforce customers need their help with two critical pursuits. The first? "Premium experiences." Micucci:
What we talked about in the keynote is one: customers are looking for this product called premium experience. They need to show their brand, front and center, and have that represented to the customer, and really know the customer when the customer comes in. It's not just the shopping part, it's going to be from the second they interact. They may want to carry that experience everywhere they go.
The problem is thornier than data integration. It's about using that data in real time across channels. The State of the Connected Customer report came to the same conclusion:
- 71% of customers expect companies to communicate with them in real time.
But: if that communication is tone deaf, and doesn't personalize to the customer's needs and history, then I'd argue "real time" doesn't matter much. If you annoy people, real time communication may do more harm than good.
Addressing speed across customer systems - where Mulesoft fits in
Micucci says the second big customer need is speed. Not an easy problem to solve. Salesforce believes Mulesoft can help here - thus this conference announcement on the Commerce Cloud Mulesoft Accelerator. Salesforce lays out the speed problem:
- Today's customers use an average of ten different channels across apps, social, web and more. Ergo, customer data is everywhere.
- To pull that data into a personalized, real-time response, IT teams must manage and connect an average of 39 (yes, 39) different systems - if they want to connect data from merchandisers, marketers, sales, etc.
Micucci told me:
Without something like Mulesoft, you quickly get into a corner. You might get it done the first time or the second time, but when you are on rev four, five and six, your speed is overweight on tech depth. But Mulesoft will isolate this down, so you're not overburdened on the tech depth. That's a big advantage when you're trying to move fast.
The amount of legacy companies are trying to manage - their systems just aren't representing the brand, and things they want to do. This will end up as in the results.
Micucci cited a stat from his keynote: Commerce Cloud customers are seeing 21% year-over-year growth on their sites, and in their stores. Micucci believes this is the main contributing factor:
It has a lot to do with freeing up a lot of their technical resources from maintenance, so they can focus on innovation - and how they want to represent their products and brand.
Embedded commerce - behind the Party City and Pinterest demo
I'd argue that finding the right commerce niche, and building a culture of urgency against the Walmarts and Amazons, is just as important. But you can't stop there. Via on-stage demos, Micucci and team unveiled scenarios that put more power in the hands of business users. "Clicks not code" was one of the show's big themes. Micucci explains why:
We are only at the very beginning of what we can do. You saw a good glimpse of that today. Building that app on stage, which we call it build a ball [with Spalding] - it's a simple Heroku app.
Building an app in front of a live audience is a neat trick, but Micucci says it's more than a trick. It's about being able to deploy apps wherever consumers live:
The subtle part was when we exposed the app inside of the new commerce pages on there, and you can just drag it on the page... I could have put that app inside the community builder, and put it on a portal. I could have put it on app builder and dropped it into a sales file. So it's a really a build once - and then you can put it in all different experiences.
I told Micucci I was impressed by the Pinterest demo with customer Party City. Given I have never been on Pinterest in my life, why would I care about that?
- Because embedding commerce into communities where people live and interact is powerful. But it only works if you do it in an intuitive way that adds to their experience without bugging the heck out of them.
- Taking personalized commerce off of your web site/app and onto new platforms is the tougher haul.
The flow: search Pinterest for party pics. The Party City app uses Einstein to match pinned images back to Party City inventory. Then you can build a party supply shopping basket from the "pins." Go where your customers are - sure. But it only works if you can to it in a fluid, data-savvy way. In Party City's case, moms play a key role. Micucci:
The moms are starting their journey on Pinterest, and they are curating these boards and party themes. By bringing it into the shopping experience, we have removed a lot of back and forth in guesswork.
I think we have a lot of preconceived notions about what a shopping site is. But a lot of shopping doesn't necessarily start with a product recommendation or a search box. It's going to start with an act that you and I maybe don't even know about today.
At the NRF Retail Big Show in January, I wrote about how personalized product recommendations are proving themselves in e-commerce settings:
Consumers who clicked on a product recommendation powered by AI had a 14 percent higher average order value than those that did not. For Salesforce's Garf, that's a change he hasn't seen in 15+ years, going back to his analyst days. He calls it "discount chicken" - a perpetual pricing face off between the retailer and consumer. Too often, the end result is a race to the bottom. But now there's another option.
However, the risk is that companies will pursue a quick win in an area like recommendations, or even narrower, like shopping cart abandonment, without consideration to the overall data platform they are building on - or not. Both considerations are important - otherwise you will end up building new data silos, and fresh IT headaches. Though I don't believe Customer Data Platforms are the answer to all our omni-channel woes, I do like this messaging better than just talking up "AI" and personalization for its own sake.
But there are plenty of barriers. In some ways, the technology is now ahead of the people, a big topic in my talk with Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan on granular marketing.
That brings process pitfalls to the forefront as well, a topic I got into with Constellation's Nicole France in an onsite podcast: Pesky CX questions - live from Salesforce Connections with Nicole France of Constellation Research.