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Why Contextual Customer Data is Indispensable to Driving Superior Experiences

Paromita Mitra, Director -Digital Consulting, CX, BRIDGEi2i | Thomas Wieberneit, CRM & CX Evangelist, & Co-Founder, aheadCRM


In this podcast, Thomas Wieberneit shares some fascinating insights into how companies can only be successful if their customers are successful.

[03.28] What do organizations struggle with the most when it comes to providing superior experiences for their customers?

[05.46] Companies have routinely invested in CRM systems to drive customer engagement. Why are CRM systems not being able to provide this contextualized experience for the customers?

[09.14] Different departments in an organization have distinct goals and these goals are not necessarily connected to the goals of the end customer – what is the end customer trying to achieve in her customer journey. How are organizations waking up to this reality? How are they changing and trying to build this view?

[13:07] We see that a lot of enterprises have bought technology solutions for addressing different parts of the customer journey experience, which they’ve added over the years. How should these companies move forward, given they’ve already invested in so many different systems?

[17:10] How can enterprises get started on the journey of providing superior customer experiences, and how should they chart out this transition roadmap for themselves?

“So means different departments have very, not only a very different view on information about me, but they have very different information about me. And this will also be the birth hour of what we’ll see DPS, because that got recognized, okay, from a marketing point of view when they originated, but the intention was to consistently be able to speak to a customer in context based upon a holistic view.”

Paromita: So, hello and welcome to this brand-new episode of the ‘AI to Impact’ podcast where we’ve had the opportunity to hear from thought leaders across the industry as well as experts within Bridgei2i. We typically talk about a range of topics, all related to how enterprises are adopting AI, and how that’s relevant for them in terms of digital transformation. I’m your host for today. My name is Paromita Mitra. I lead digital consulting in the CX space at BRIDGEi2i, essentially partnering with enterprises to embed AI in their digital transformation initiatives to get them to drive better outcomes, accelerated benefits from their DT investment. Now, let’s talk about our guest today. So our guest today is someone whose work and thought leadership in the industry makes him a futurist, as well as an authority in the customer experience space. He has a nuanced take on CRM and customer journey orchestration, and we are very eager to hear from him.

I’m very pleased to host Thomas Wieberneit, a marquee analyst.

Thomas: Thank you.

Paromita: And a well-established name with over 25 years of leadership experience in the CRM industry that cuts across marketing, sales, digital innovations, customer engagement, as well as customer experience. He’s a long-standing CRM practitioner, and has helped many companies across industries realize their full potential through digital transformation initiatives.

He’s also the co-founder and the CEO of aheadCRM, a boutique CRM consulting firm, that helps client companies with technology transformations, as well as digital transformations through consulting around areas of CRM, customer engagement, business strategy, as well as process consulting. Let’s welcome Thomas. Thank you, Thomas, for joining us today in this podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you with us.

Thomas: Thanks for having me. It’s my pleasure.

Paromita: Okay, so Thomas, you have an outstanding track record of achievements, and you’re indeed an accomplished consultant and strategist. And I’m curious to know how it all started. Like, how did you develop an interest and passion for the world of CRM and customer experience and customer engagement?

Thomas: Oh, probably could say it started by accident. Back then in the day, last millennium, around 1995, I got hired by a little Salesforce automation company, or not so little then. I was one of the people at that point in time that distributed Salesforce automation systems. And since then, well, I found my passion there.

Paromita: Awesome. So Thomas, you worked with several companies, helping them with their digital transformation and consulting with them for the customer journey orchestration. My question was, what do you see most companies struggling with, today? Where are they lacking when it comes to the ability to provide superior experiences for their customers?

Thomas: Well, on a technical point of view, they all struggle with their data. So they have created so many siloed applications in different scenarios and different departments, that they have real challenges identifying you from me. And this, of course, impacts their processes. And this impacts their ability to serve me in a way that serves me, and hence them. Because if they don’t give me what I give, what I need, what I want, at that point in time, I go somewhere else, simple as that. I’m not married to any company. In fact, I’m not very loyal. Customers are not very loyal, unless they’re really hooked. And this hooking works by doing the right thing to them, with them, by them.

Paromita: Exactly. No, I completely agree with you. Absolutely.

Thomas: Yeah, half of the reason of that is actually the cloud. That made it too easy. Made departmental implementations of solutions too easy. And each of these solutions has its own data set. Hence, no consistency anymore.

Paromita: Absolutely, and can’t agree with you more on that. And we’ve seen several companies struggle with exactly the same problem, saying hey, my data is everywhere. How do I know which customer is which, and it’s the same customer coming, you know, in different channels or something like that. So, thank you for that. So when we talk about customer experience today, or when we talk about customer experience transformation, typically, the way we define it is being able to provide the customer contextualized experiences at every point in the customer journey, whether the customer has walked into the store or whether the customer has launched her app. So essentially, that contextualized experience is really channel-agnostic. And my second question is really about, most companies have some CRM system or the other…

Thomas: Or even some, and the other.

Paromita: And they’re falling short in in enabling this customer experience. So why aren’t CRM systems not being able to provide this contextualized experience for the customers? That was my question.

Thomas: This, again, has a bunch of reasons. One of them is that they have the one or the other, or the one and the other, means again, there is no consistent data sets, no consistent information about you and I. So means, different departments have very, not only a very different view on information about me, but they have very different information about me. And this will also be the birth hour of worldwide CDPs, because that got recognized, okay, from a marketing point of view when they originated, but the intention was to consistently be able to speak to a customer in context, based upon a holistic view. Now, whether there is this funny notion of calling it 360 or not, so I have my own opinion about that, as you know. What you want is a holistic data set, holistic information that is consistent in itself, that you can slice and dice, technically slice and dice, use in a way that is helpful, right in the moment. So it means you want to be in context, you want to be in moment, and you want to be real time, and you want to be consistent every time. And for that, it’s very helpful to have one giant set of information about the customers. And if you don’t have that, you have poor chances of achieving this objective, and hence, achieving any engagement that can be perceived as a positive experience by me.

Paromita: Right and the CRM systems that companies have today may or may not be able to achieve that holistic view of the customer because the data is sitting in different departments, not really talking to each other.

Thomas: It’s sitting in different departments, which are not talking to each other, this is one thing and the one other reason is, originally CRM systems are more, kind of, control systems, command systems. They are transactional originally, very transactional. This changed over time. Hence, the raft of new abbreviations that started with C and has something like an M or an X at the end, so this changed over time. So, what wasn’t needed as well was a system that helps engaging, and CRM systems do that/did that only partly. So, they worked on and off a transaction.

Look at the terminology of SAP. Erything is a business transaction, an activity is a business transaction, an opportunity is a business transaction, a visit is a business transaction, an order is a business transaction. So, the thinking is more about getting interactions and they are more interactions than transactions. A transaction is an interaction but not the other way around. So, when this comes more into the systems, then they will serve better.

Paromita: Absolutely. And my next question was actually kind of connected. One of the reasons that we see this happening is because traditionally, you know, organizations have different departments and each department has a goal. So, marketing will have goals around conversions, and you know, customer service will have goals or contact center will have goals around, let’s say, average handle time, right?

And these goals are not necessarily connected to the goals of the end customer. What is the end customer trying to achieve in her customer journey? And we do see a lot of companies are structured that way today, and a lot of them are realizing that they need to, you know, probably change. What is the trend that you are seeing in the market? How are organizations waking up to this reality? How are they changing and trying to build this view? What’s the trend?

Thomas: Well, there are actually two of them. One is, these objectives that these departments do have are often not even aligned to higher- level objectives. So I tend to look at them as a pyramid. So, you have this top level objective, and whatever is departmental or even individual needs to tie into the next higher level of objectives in order to get a goal alignment. So this is often not the case.

The second trend is that increasingly, companies are looking, well, outside in. Basically, they are putting customer objectives in there, that is actually my vision about it. The success of the company is the consequence of making their customers successful. Of course, in commercial limitations and boundaries, of course, I mean, after the end, they are there to make business make money, but this making money is a consequence of serving their customers. So, it’s not the overarching objective. I’m here to make 10% of revenue, or 20%, or 30% of profitability. I’m here to achieve this for my customers, doing the right thing by my customer. And as a consequence of that, I am able to make a good living.

Paromita: 100%, yeah. I agree 100%. Companies can only be successful if their customers are successful. In fact, the second trend that you talked about, we have quite a few on the B2B side, where we have seen in the last few years, they’ve set up a separate Customer Success department that can actually focus on customer success. They know that’s the only way forward or they will essentially lose to competition.

Thomas: Yeah, that already might be a kind of a misconception, because the separate Customer Success department makes it already challenging again. I’ve seen a few companies who did just the other way around- they merged, or they created a customer engagement department, which consisted of people who were doing customer success, but also sales and marketing. And so.

Paromita: Yeah, to take that holistic view of the customer.

Thomas: To create a holistic process view, procedural view, which then can be backed by KPIs, keys, matrix that headed towards that objective.

Paromita: Absolutely.

Thomas: Well, the next thing then is you need to have the corresponding culture. That’s a discussion on its own, I guess.

Paromita: It essentially takes an enterprise level initiative to essentially connect all the departments and take that outside-in view of the customer.

Thomas: So it can be started grass roots, but at the end of the day, it needs to be topped out.

Paromita: Absolutely, absolutely. Okay, my next question was a little bit about different technology solutions that companies have, and we talked about CRM systems; a lot of companies, you know, in the last few years, decided that, hey, we need to personalize action. And it’s not true personalization, but perhaps we need to personalize, let’s say, marketing action, so they would have probably bought a personalization engine, or they decided that we need a contact center technology, as well. So they have a lot of these technology solutions, which they’ve added over the years, and they are a little disparate, not talking to each other. And they are still trying to fix the CX problem. What would be your advice to these companies? How should they move forward, because they’ve already now invested in so many different systems?

Thomas: Well, that is actually very dependent on the company and where they are on their trajectory. So, I mean, if I find that I’m working with a couple of companies right now who are re-engineering and re-architecting their system’s architecture, because they have a, what I always call, a Zoological Garden of, of systems that are based on very different technologies that are not on the same platform and that, first of all, don’t feed from the same data pools. So, one key to success is creating this joint data pool. Cleansing it is one precondition for that because whatever you do, look at 20 customer records of Thomas, or 15 of Paromita’s. If they contradict each other, then there’s no way that this data is helpful at any point in time. So the data needs to be cleansed, it needs to be merged, so that it can be made useful. Then, at the end of the day, it’s quite irrelevant whether you put this merged data, let’s call it the Golden Record, into, physically into one database, or whether you keep it distributed, as long as you do know which part of the data record – let’s take the email address, which is the leading email address, the most reliable email address, you can take an educated guess there. If you have five of them, you still can, with this educated guess, choose this one that I am going to use till I know any better. You then can improve your interactions over- across channels, across departments to help your customer, again, in order to make the customer successful, which then in turn makes me successful. So, this is the strategy to go ahead here. And that often entails work, scrub some of the systems, get rid of some of the systems, replace them with some other ones, which then of course, often has budgetary constraints. Also, if you don’t have the best system, that’s fine. Use it as good as possible. And if you need to plug in another one, choose wisely. And there are a platform that has efficiencies and scale, it has efficiencies and its commercial efficiencies, because what’s the most expensive thing about it? It’s the integration. Yes, and if the integration is facilitated, then where the budgets are, can be used for something better than, than busy work.

Paromita: Absolutely, thank you for that. The Golden Record of the customer is really key to driving customer experience. It doesn’t matter that you have a Zoological Garden of different technologies. Okay, alright. My next question was on CX – the customer experience transformation. A lot of companies that we work with, who want to undertake a transformation journey to improve customer experience. So typically, the way we consult with them is that we partner with them to draw out the end state desired customer journey and kind of work backwards to say, okay, so therefore, what data do we need? What AI solutions would fit in? What technology do you have? And what is incremental that you might need? What does the redesign process look like? So that they can then deliver contextual experiences at every point in the customer journey. I just wanted to check with you, Thomas, and your advice on how can a company get started, you know, on this journey of providing superior customer experiences, and how they chart out this transition roadmap for themselves?

Thomas: First thing is observe, yeah? What are my customers doing? What are prospects doing? How are they behaving through the process? How are they navigating through the process? Which interaction points do they use? And I deliberately say interaction points, because it’s more than touchpoints, which is a marketing term again. So this is one – observe. Then try, not try- do. Get, get rid of friction, where it is not wanted and needed, or where it’s causing harm. Sometimes friction is good, yeah – so in some processes, take Disney, for example, as in, just never worked with them, but take them as an example. On a bright sunny day when you’re in an amusement park, you’re not alone, which is part of the excitement of the experience, but that also causes queues. So, there is some friction. Now you can cause a queue which is made out of a queue which has bad friction initially, because you want to get on the ride and don’t want to stand in this queue. You can make that part of the experience by engaging, by doing things, with people that are fun too, instead of just having them bluntly and blindly run around circles and back switches, U-turns in order to finally get to this ride, which is boring, nobody wants that. So, identify opportunities to turn bad friction into good friction. If you can’t avoid; you can’t often avoid it. So, another example is, well, these call center queues. Your call is important to us, please wait a little longer, right? And that can be done a bit smarter. So turn bad friction into good friction, this is one. And most of all, look at it outside in, and don’t design the journey for your customer. Your customers are designing their journeys themselves, they are; help them co-create it by offering them a menu of touch points, of interaction points, that they can choose at their leisure. They set the pace. What you need to be able to do is offer the right interaction points to them, which then in turn, collect the right data, consent given, collect the right data so that it then can be used in moment for the next interaction, which is in all likelihood, the kind of a micro interaction so be on our websites to click on the next link, the next piece of information. So that is my advice there. Look at it from the outside in, what do you, what do your customers want to achieve? How do they achieve it right now? How can I make it better for them, and then offer them ways and means to do so that are channel-independent. So that’s where we are coming from – where customer data or segmentation by a real time interaction to journey orchestration.

Thomas: Look at it like unwrapping a gift. It’s friction, right?

Paromita: It is the eagerness. Yeah, it’s part of the discovery of getting to the endpoint into the goal.

Thomas: Some vendors have mastered this art as well.

Paromita: Absolutely, absolutely. Great, great insights, Thomas, thank you for that. We wanted to touch upon a little bit, you know, beyond work as well, Thomas.

Thomas: Is there a life beyond work?

Paromita: Yes. And you had provided us with a very interesting fact about your personal life, your three daughters, each born in a different continent. I think that was fascinating. Germany, Canada and New Zealand, right? How was that experience for you? How did it impact your, you know, your life personally, professionally?

Thomas: Not necessary that the kids are born on three continents. So, the moves happened all professionally, by the way.

Paromita: I see, I see.

Thomas: So, the way it opens up to see vastly different, well, not that vastly but different societies, different cultures, different priorities that are there in different countries. Right now, I’m sitting on the west coast of the USA, because again, it’s different, again, different. So, people have their priorities. They have their roots, which cause different worldviews. And what’s really exciting is that all the kids don’t yet fully grasp that. Because it’s sometimes difficult for them as well. Right. But what that gives them is the ability to see and to learn from different points of view and to learn different points of view. And I think that that’s a unique chance for them, besides them being multilingual. Well, bilingual in that case, but if we had stayed in Montreal, they would have been trailing well.

Paromita: Yeah.

Thomas: But that’s a chance which they will learn about, with age. So the oldest is getting there, and the next, the second one, she too. The young one is young.

Paromita: How exciting is that! Okay. Thomas, I also wanted to ask you, you know, you’ve done a lot of great work. You are a published author, you’ve had several publications, you are a participant in various conferences. What really inspires you? What’s your secret recipe for this kind of motivation, for success? What really is your recipe for success?

Thomas: Have fun doing it. Yeah, that’s basically it. If you’re enjoying what you do, there’s a good likelihood that there is some success, yeah. And as I said before, my success is defined by the outcome. So if the customer is successful, then I’m successful. If the customer is not successful, I’m, well, I’m an expense for him. As easy as that. So well, make your customer successful. Have fun doing it.

Paromita: Yeah, have fun doing it. I think truer words have not been spoken. I completely agree with you on that one. Okay, Thomas, I think that brings us to the end of our little episode. And I think it has been very enriching, and very exciting conversation. And I really loved all the insights that you provided today. Thank you for making the time to talk to us.

Thomas: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Paromita: The pleasure was ours. Thank you so much, Thomas. Okay, for our audience, right. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of ‘AI to Impact’ podcast. It’s been a wonderful discussion with Thomas. And if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please do take a few moments to rate and review this episode. And also, don’t forget to hit ‘Subscribe’. Until next time, Bye. Take care and stay safe.

Meet the Speakers

Speaker Paromita Mitra

Paromita Mitra – Director – Digital Consulting, CX, BRIDGEi2i

Paromita leads Digital Consulting in the area of Customer Experience at BRIDGEi2i Analytics Pvt. Ltd. With about 18 years of experience in AI, she has straddled multiple roles across AI-based consulting, analytics-based business process reengineering, as well as AI-based product development.

Speaker Thomas Wieberneit

Thomas Wieberneit – CRM & CX Evangelist, & Co-Founder, aheadCRM

Thomas is an internationally sought after analyst and consultant with more than 25 years of proven track record of leadership experience in the CRM and CX industry. Being an experienced practitioner with a unique combination of development, quality management and consulting experience, he effectively translates business needs into technology solutions, bringing strong value to software vendors and their customers.

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