How to avoid having your social media team become a “social switchboard”

Andrew Grill is a Global Partner in IBM Interactive Experience, responsible for social business. He is also the former CEO of influencer platform Kred, and author of

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t called a switchboard for

Some of the millennial readers of this blog may not even know what a switchboard is.

A quick primer: when telephone networks were first introduced, you couldn’t directly call a number, so you had to have your call manually connected by an “operator” who would literally patch your call from one phone to another, via the switchboard.

In business, the switchboard for a long time became the focal point of the company, and to reach anyone, you had to call a central number, then be transferred to the right “extension” by the switchboard operator.

I am sure that companies still maintain the switchboard function, but on pretty much every business card and email signature I come across these days, there is a direct desk number and a mobile number – even fax numbers seem to be disappearing [read what a fax machine is here].

Which brings me to the point of this post.

After many years, the telephone switchboard is becoming less useful, however in the social media space, it seems like many companies are developing a social media switchboard.

I believe the switchboard analogy is fair, as if you tweet a company’s @name, then in most instances, a person on the “social media team” picks this up, and then they have to decide the most appropriate person or department to respond to the tweet. In some cases the tweet is copied into an email (yes really!) and sent onto another department for action.

Now I am sure that some people reading this will by now be screaming at the screen saying “you are so wrong, we answer all the tweets ourselves”. Continue reading

The importance of starting with “Why?”

By Julie Schwartz, Jon Wiita, and Adam Shatzkamer

IBM Interactive Experience’s Strategy Team was recently enlisted by a US insurer to help advance its customer experience strategy for the retail channel. The client has been the global leader in providing insurance and protection plan services, but is facing stiff competition from a start-up.

One interesting lesson we learned was the importance of starting with “why?” Just as Simon Sinek suggests in his popular TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action,” in a typical customer experience strategy engagement, we help the client develop the answer, which provides the impetus for serving the customer in the manner that we co-create.

One phase of the project was split into two workstreams – web chat and IVR. In one, we began the requirements analysis process with a visioning workshop to help the client define the “why” of what they wanted to deliver to their customers in that channel as summarized in a vision statement and enabling objectives for the channel. In the other, we proceeded in a more traditional manner, gathering and documenting requirements based on the current state, desired end state, unmet needs, and leading practices.

In both workstreams, the client constantly asked “why?”: Why are we doing something in a certain way? Why are we recommending a particular expenditure? and so on. When we pointed to answers such as leading practices, cost reductions, and gains in efficiency, our answers would be received well but always required explanation and in some instances the development of business cases. But when we were able to point to our co-created vision statement, we were always met with client executives signaling their understanding, quickly agreeing with the recommendation, and moving on to the next bullet point.

Related: Digital convergence: Are you ready for mobile?

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IBM Interactive Experience ranked as a leading firm in Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Agencies Report for 2014

Recently, Econsultancy announced that IBM Interactive Experience was ranked as the 2nd largest digital agency in the UK in their Top 100 Digital Agencies Report – 2014. IBM Interactive Experience was ranked #2 in their lists for the overall largest agencies and the largest marketing agencies.

First launched in 2002, for this year’s report, Econsultancy noted that “agencies are profiting from the skills, knowledge and experience they have built up over the past years as brands look to invest more heavily in the face of continuous customer change and digital disruption.”

Econsultancy highlights how digital has created a demand for agencies with the scale and expertise to help envision experiences for the world’s largest brands – demonstrated by big players taking the lead over small, nimble firms. The firm notes that this is especially evidenced by the growing presence of large consulting companies with agency capabilities in the digital space, highlighting IBM Interactive Experience.

The report found that the most common market sectors targeted by digital agencies in the UK are financial services and retail – both with 77 percent of surveyed companies saying they target this space. Other key sectors were travel and leisure, and consumer goods both at 75 percent.

Following the release of the report, we checked in with Econsultancy senior research analyst Andrew Warren-Payne, who said, “the Top 100 Digital Agencies Report, established 12 years ago and keenly read by brands and suppliers alike, is a Who’s Who of the most successful agencies in the UK and an important barometer for the health of the digital sector as a whole. According to financial data collected for this year’s report, the 100 largest UK digital agencies have increased their annual fee income by 23% to £1.48bn. We are delighted to see established agencies continuing to thrive, as well as newcomers establishing themselves near the top of the pecking order.”

This continues strong momentum for the practice following the news earlier this year that Advertising Age (AdAge) named IBM Interactive Experience the largest digital agency worldwide in its Agency Report for 2014, an evaluation of more than 900 advertising, media and marketing services agencies. Additionally, in April, IBM Interactive Experience’s work with Jaguar Land Rover was recognized as the 2014 Innovation Project of the Year by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), the representative body for management consultancy firms in the UK.

For banks, it’s the user experience which must now differentiate and dominate

Richard Berkman is an Associate Partner with IBM Interactive Experience

Significant user experience innovation in financial services is happening outside of banks. Mint, Venmo, Square, LevelUp, Google Wallet, and other services are heavily shaping customers’ expectations of the user experience surrounding their finances. It largely doesn’t matter where the users of these services bank; banks are quickly being relegated to mere infrastructure to support these more innovative user experiences—developed by businesses free of the complex and rigid regulatory requirements to which banks are subject. None of these entities are banks and it is unlikely that Google will become a bank in the near future. However, as even consumer-to-consumer transactions are becoming cashless and more digital, these companies are playing a much larger role in the financial user experience landscape. In order to compete, banks need to better position themselves through nimble, interdisciplinary teams in order to deliver in rapid release cycles.
Most banking products haven’t changed much in recent history. Accounts, mortgages, and other banking products have become commodities where little innovation is happening in the product itself.

We’ve learned from other industries that once products or services reach this commodity state where they sufficiently fulfill user needs, it is the user experience that differentiates and dominates.
The closer a layer of the solution is to the customer, the shorter the release cycle needs to be and the more agile the product team or development team should be. In order to achieve a shorter time to market, it is critical to decouple the UX layer from back-end core banking systems and services that require elements of a solution to be subject to regulatory requirements, complex integration, and the requirements of legacy systems. Speed and agility have to become priorities in order to compete with smaller, more nimble businesses looking to take part of the financial services business.
For more on this subject, read the new IBM whitepaper: Integrated teams: Delivering ninety-day user experience evolution for financial services 

Importance of Brand Insight in Digital Execution

Brett Wachter leads the Chicago Lab for IBM Interactive Experience

Global and diversified brands have a significant challenge in their ability to maintain authenticity and meaning across customer touchpoints.  The complex nature of a brand’s relationship with its customers often drives chaos when a brand seeks to execute marketing communications, commerce, and relationship marketing within digital channels and through additional touch points with their enterprise.  This is often due to the fractured nature of their organizational model and divisional responsibilities for executing their customer experience.  All too often, in these cases, brand becomes a term for visual consistency in communications rather than the ethos and tenets by which an enterprise differentiates itself in the customer experience.

In a cohesive digital ecosystem, brand drives much of the relationship and interactions across media and throughout the sales funnel.  As a customer interacts with a company through his or her touchpoints with the brand, the minimum ask is consistency in styling, nature, and tone of interactions.  The consistency component needs to meet customer’s needs to anticipate and recognize the brand and feel comfortable that they are doing business with one entity.  This is the table-stakes type of communication and consistency that is often difficult to maintain in a global enterprise with multiple business lines contributing content and creating aspects of the customer experience.

More importantly, specific moments of customer interaction that further solidify the brand’s promise must be conceptualized and enabled through the features and functionality in the experience.  These moments are the point at which a brand’s strength goes beyond table-stakes.  Recognizing across the enterprise that brand does not drive only visual styles and content creation, but also features functionality and wholly interactive aspects of the customer experience that are in alignment with the brand’s promise is key to fostering customer activated enterprise with a rich system of engagement.

To create engagement impact on this scale, strong organizational governance and customer centric frameworks are important for the brand to drive creation of key elements of the organization’s interactions with customers.  As this must occur in any aspect of customer experience planning and execution, often brands seek external help from their digital agency of record relationships to ensure digital media such as online advertising, mobile and on-site experiences and Rich Internet Applications, all power and further the brand relationship.  Today’s most advanced agencies, with strength in organizational design and operations, are now furthering that penetration into not only more traditional marketing channels, but also call center, fulfillment and other touchpoints that wield influence over the brand promise.

Some examples of brands realizing their full strength in their customer relationships above and beyond their visual styling include Zappos and Sallie Mae.

Zappos as a brand is based on being easy to deal with as a company . As an online retailer of products (shoes) that can be a challenge to ensure the right fit and feel, they must have an entire system of engagement in place that is driven by that brand promise.  If a shoe doesn’t fit or is not right for the customer for any reason whatsoever, the customer must have the most simple and unimpeded experience in returns, exchanges, etc – regardless of channel they engage through.  The entirety of this experience at the core of Zappos brand promise is often facilitated without a customer extensively being exposed to the visual styling of the brand.  In fact, the real heavy lifting is in Zappos’ order management and fulfillment processes.

Another example case is Sallie Mae.  In 2010, Sallie Mae suffered from both customer and regulatory scrutiny of its lending practices and shifted its customer engagement model to one of collaboration with student lenders, rather than relying on students without the wherewithal or desire to ensure they had the right portfolio of education financing to pursue their college education.  One key aspect of this shift to collaboration was for Sallie Mae to create the “Education Investment Planner”.  The Education Investment Planner is a relationship marketing model based on rich internet applications that help students and parents model their education financing expectations and needs.  It served as the foundation of a longitudinal marketing program designed to build business relationships with students and parents around the concept of a plan for education financing.  By providing a common understanding of the customer’s plan for education, the right products and services could be aligned to support the planned objectives and ensure that the customer’s education financing is done in as responsible a manner as possible.  This effort from Sallie Mae was highlighted during Forrester’s customer experience forum as a leading means of engaging customers through experiences.

These two examples demonstrate that operations and functionality can and do drive an enterprise’s brand, above and beyond the look, feel, logos, and content styles.  This principle that brand engagement is built on interactions is often lost on less mature brands.  It is a fundamental aspect of a brand’s customer experience that brands must strive to get right and drive action across their large, distributed enterprises.

Taking Back the Customer Relationship

Brett Wachter leads the Chicago Lab for IBM Interactive Experience

The Need for Rich Systems of Engagement

Parent brands within the consumer products industry, and across industries in general, have a significant brand challenge in the digital age. Historically, their customer relationships have been facilitated by their individual child brands – the product brands that the consumer is purchasing. The challenge is that the isolated engagement and customer information backbones underlying these child brand relationships provide little visibility across the parent brand’s portfolio of businesses. Without that shared customer information and an underlying system of engagement to foster it, parent brands cannot anticipate when a customer’s needs will evolve from one brand to the next – and help the existing customers they’ve worked so hard to win graduate into new product or service relationships.

That opportunity left on the table is doubly magnified as child brands deploy competing marketing resources to the same customers – customers who are increasingly informed and aware of parent brand identities. This is forcing parent brands to take back their customer relationships by creating digital systems of engagement to deliver value to customers above and beyond the transactional product and service relationships, while capturing information to deepen customer relationships.

As brands invest in these systems of engagement, they drive increases in overall customer lifetime value and efficiencies in their marketing spend. IBM’s Center for Applied Insights 2013 Global Marketing Survey found that, as a group, business armed with forward-thinking engagement platforms have three-year revenue CAGR that is more than 40% higher than that of other companies, and their gross profit is growing at a rate double that of their peers. These top performers lead with marketing platforms founded in giving customers information they need beyond the product and service, and doing so on modern technology platforms that deliver contextually aware content and messages to customers across channels such as social media and mobile.

State of Marketing 2013_

For example:

  • The retailer consolidation trend caused downward pressure on P&G’s pricing and profitability. In response, P&G consolidated many of its brands’ marketing spend into their “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign – leveraging not only their scale, but a common communications platform and positioning to help drive consumer choice for P&G brands in jumbo-retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.
  •  Frequent customer switching opportunity has driven one of P&G’s mega-brands, Pampers, to establish itself as the authority on “Baby Stages of Development” to keep moms engaged throughout their child’s lifecycle with Swaddlers, Cruisers, Easy Ups and Feel ‘n’ Learn products. This platform has helped Pampers further deepen relationships with moms in an industry with frequent and ample switching opportunities as a child grows from one diaper line to the next
  • Untapped customer information resulted in Coca Cola elevating data and insight into individual customers as a key priority. In partnership with IBM Interactive, Coca Cola is leveraging its My Coke Rewards program to develop one-on-one experiences deepening the relationship with consumers, including its popular “Share a Coke” program that lets customers have their own name in Coke’s iconic script on their Coke cans and bottles.
  • Self-cannibalization thrust Hilton into focusing its marketing investment on its parent and HHonors brand to help avoid competing marketing spend in the same brand portfolio targeting the same customer. Hilton is now working more collaboratively across its nine individual hotel brands in a more consolidated messaging and contact strategy.

 Reclaiming Relationships

So how does a parent brand find its way amidst such a confusing landscape of not just marketplace and customer imperatives, but also complex technology required to ensure a consistent and contextually aware brand relationship with its customers? The start is to formalize senior executive sponsorship and evangelism with participation across child brands. By prioritizing senior-level dialog of how one brand’s customer relationships can further strengthen the others, any silos existing within the organization can be brought together under common purpose.

The next key is to ensure that a hybrid marketing and technology partnership is driving the initiative – marketers without a hands-on perspective of how the enabling technology works will be unable to create a programmatic means of engaging customers across channels. On the flip side, nor will technologists with objectives and measures that don’t include developing the length and breadth of customer relationships. Should that cross-disciplinary insight be unavailable in the organization, tapping a partner strong in both omni-channel marketing strategy and integrated technology implementations can help ensure alignment of technology solutions to the customer engagement vision.

Create a nexus of hybrid marketers and technologists with an understanding that it’s not a technology platform or a marketing platform, but the symbiotic relationship between the two that will power the next generation of systems of customer engagement for parent brands.



Establish user experience transformation as a continuous evolution

by Richard Berkman & Marvin Klein

 We do not consider a user experience—whether a mobile application, a website, or a multichannel solution—a completed product, but rather a constant cycle of capturing information, gaining insight, and optimizing user interactions. Through the accelerating proliferation of a variety of devices and customer touch points, any detailed multi-year transformation strategy is completely out of touch with reality without continuous adaptation to external forces. Consider that Apple’s iPhone did not exist merely six years ago. For financial services firms, the not-so-long-ago battle cry was “We need to get an app out to market.” Then it was: “We need remote deposit capture” and “We need to connect to Twitter, don’t we?” and “We need to actively listen to our customers across all our channels” “We need to incorporate social media.”

Many enterprises have committed to and invested in large digital transformations; they now need to understand that these transformations are merely the first iteration of a continuous cycle. The most successful enterprises recognize that digital initiatives are never complete—they evolve.

The dictionary defines evolution as “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.” The key to digital evolution is a constant adaptation and innovative approach to delivering value to customers in releases with incremental features, not through the monolithic approaches that lead to scarce big-bang releases.

Establishing a foundation for continuous UX improvement with an end-to-end governance process and structure across an entire enterprise is critical. A key step in the process is to start with the right team and the right mix of skills that help establish a program to drive the success of an enterprise’s digital transformation. Our recommended approach to drive this model and the resulting evolutionary development typically involve visioning workshops across the business and IT communities where an overall vision can be determined and articulated, often depicted in the form of a journey map based on prioritized user profiles.

For more on this subject, read the new IBM whitepaper: Integrated teams: Delivering ninety-day user experience evolution for financial services Banking

Second screen and sport: put ME in charge of the action!

At the Mindshare Huddle on November 8th IBM Interactive hosted a lively session on how sporting events can use digital platforms to extend their global reach. Ably supported by Alex Willis (Editorial Content Manager from the All England Lawn Tennis Club) we looked at the challenges she faces in delivering on a global stage and how common those are.

Sport is a very broad topic but despite the range of events on offer there are some common challenges: how to interact with the action at home or live; how to understand the strategies unfolding in front of you or how to make the stadia year round commercial propositions, digital has a major role to play.

We identified some key themes that all major events need to consider when looking at how to make the most of their digital platforms. Whether you are F1, the RFU or Wimbledon we identified that sports fans are looking to digital solutions to give them three key things:

1) A way to engage socially with the event and the competitors. If they can’t get there they want to feel part of the action. Interestingly there was a strong consensus that the aggregated views of the many are more important to know that those of individuals – even if they are famous. This allows people to connect with other fans and engage in a debate.

2) Second screen interaction is a must but let me decide what I see. Fans want to tailor the data they look at, like SlamTracker at Wimbledon, but they also want to choose camera angles for replay and interestingly also which commentators they listen to. This is being seen as a must have for fans at home to add to their experience.

3) And let me use my device in the stadium – please! Network bandwidth can be an issue but this is high on the list of must haves. Whether it is pre-ordering my half time drinks or being able to get access to a live stream for the action I missed. Connected stadia is making in roads in the US and those events that lead the charge over here will be seen as the sporting market leaders.

For more ideas on how clubs and tournaments can connect with their fans, visit []

Huddle Title – The Sports Fan experience goes Digital

Reporter Contact – Sam Seddon (

Even More Truth about Customer Experience


In both the Pay TV and Auto Insurance Industries,  McKinsey has been able to show a correlation  between improved customer service and increased revenues

In both the Pay TV and Auto Insurance Industries,
McKinsey has been able to show a correlation
between improved customer service and increased revenues

By Anthony Butler and Adam Shatzkamer

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article titled ‘The Truth about Customer Experience’ (HBR, September 2013) by Alex Rawson, Ewan, Duncan and Conor Jones, Partners with the global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company.

As customer experience professionals, we applaud both McKinsey and the Harvard Business Review for raising the profile of what we do for a living: The end-to-end approach to evaluating and optimizing customer experiences is the bread and butter that we do every day. We also like McKinsey’s approach on using regression analysis to identify which touch points have the greatest effect on customer satisfaction measures­­ and determining which touch points are in need of optimization. At the same time, it would be remiss of us (as a customer experience professionals) to let a couple of issues raised in the article pass without comment:

1) The authors often refer to what companies and customers think of as a great ‘customer experience’. There is one small problem with that. Customers don’t think of their interactions with you in terms of ‘experiences’. That is, unless you are interviewing them for a study on customer experience.

What customers will tell you, unprompted, is whether they got what they needed to continue doing business with you… Is your product/service reasonably priced? Were they able to find someone willing to resolve an issue? If you provided information on your products and services, how easily could they find that information, and most importantly, did that information make sense to them? Continue reading

Digital convergence: are you ready for mobile?

By Adam Shatzkamer, Jon Wiita, and Julie Schwartz

In 2010, Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker wrote a prescient report ( predicting that mobile internet usage would surpass desktop usage by 2015, resulting in the below infographic.

Mighty Mobile!

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

The IBM Interactive Customer Experience Strategy Practice, examining a recent client, a US Insurer’s, own web analytics found something remarkably similar:


Anonymized client data, N=~200k in 2011 to ~350k today

Three years later, with real-world data, as Ms. Meeker predicted, convergence is coming.

Many of our clients are assessing their readiness for the mobile paradigm shift and are designing systems to ensure that mobile capabilities can deliver contextually-appropriate consistency and continuity for those customers that choose to interact via mobile. In our client work, we have found that it is crucial to understand your customers’ needs and develop a rational omni-channel strategy to meet these needs and deliver on your customers’ expectations for each touch point and channel. All channels must provide relevant functionality: asking a customer to switch channels just because your business is not omni-channel capable has a negative effect on NPS and CLV. In the case of the insurance client, their customers are demanding the ability to do business in any channel. With the support of IBM Interactive’s customer experience, web, mobile, and contact center experts, the client is working to extend the full functionality of their web and voice touch points to mobile. This business is preparing for digital convergence, are you ready for mobile?