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Customer Engagement

Q&A: Salesforce’s Chief Innovation Officer Simon Mulcahy on Competing for Customers’ Attention in a Digital-First World

Simon Mulcahy

Salesforce recently released its fourth State of the Connected Customer report, which details insights from 15,000 consumers and business buyers. Based on brand new data, the report details how the events of 2020 have accelerated longstanding trends in digital-first engagement, shifting customer expectations and the role of trust and values.

To better understand the report’s findings and the state of brand-customer relationships, we interviewed Salesforce Chief Innovation Officer Simon Mulcahy, who explained how the report shows a need for businesses to re-think all facets of customer engagement in a digital-first, values-oriented world.

Q. According to the survey, 69% of customers want companies to translate existing products into new formats. What does this mean for brands?

We live in a world now where the ability to build great products has largely been commoditized. What companies compete on is no longer the ability to build and distribute a product, it’s the customer’s attention. When this attention is the most valuable commodity, the question becomes, “How do we make it easier for the customer to get what they want?” The product is no longer enough; it becomes about outcomes. The important thing is how that company pivots to customer centricity and delivers what we call in the software world, “the job to be done.”

Q. So, how should companies think about ‘getting the job done’ in 2020?

Digital engagement is a big part of it. Our survey respondents certainly feel that way – 88% expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to the pandemic. But it’s not as simple as flipping the digital transformation switch. Many businesses fail at this because they pour new technology over old thinking. Most systems were designed in a world that was analog and product-centric. Now, the world is digital-first and customer-centric. You can’t simply digitize the analog and expect major transformation to happen. You have to reimagine and reinvent it. True digital transformation is when, bearing in mind everything you know, you rethink things from first principles. What you end up with is very different from the old analog and, in many cases, a much better experience. That’s what’s going to happen in every industry.

Q. The report tells us that for 80% of consumers and business buyers, the customer experience remains as important as a company’s products. How do you keep customers coming back?

Getting a customer to come back is a crucial way of thinking about the problem. A customer that has two of your products is five times more valuable to you than one who only has one. The type of experience you deliver makes a difference though: Multiple, integrated experiences are more important than any individual “moment of glory.“ Customers will tolerate less than perfect experiences if they get the overall outcome they want. In the past you had the sales person knocking at your door, while the marketer was slipping advertising under the door, and all of that while the service person was calling you on the phone. Simply supercharging each of those individual experiences might make you more productive, and may generate great moments for the customer. But it is not enough unless you’re connecting things to solve for the customer’s ultimate job to be done. It’s the outcome that matters.

The single-most important currency you have as a business is trust.

Simon Mulcahy, Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, Salesforce

Q. Based on our survey results, there seems to be a real opportunity for businesses to evolve how they interact with customers. How should they go about that?

Simply put, it’s about orchestrating effort around the customer based on what you know their needs are. To do this, you have to integrate. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to better understand the customer’s needs, explain to them how you can help, sell to them and solve for any errors as you do that. In that sense, being able to make and sell a great pair of running shoes is not a win unless you know they fit and the customer is using them. This requires a way of checking post-purchase satisfaction. It requires a service recovery process for if they didn’t. If you have this, you have a repeatable way of getting a customer from interested to satisfied. You can then capitalize on that brand satisfaction, understand their next “need” and reach out with the next offer. Doing this in an integrated way gives you an engine to grow high value customers. This implicates everyone in your company: your product people, marketers, service people. They’re all one team, aligned around the customer, operating with a unified, single source of customer truth.

Q. How does trust play into all of this?

The single-most important currency you have as a business is trust. The level of customer engagement I’m talking about requires a lot of data, so your customers need to know that you will protect the data you receive from them, use it wisely and provide value back. It also means you have to be much more open and transparent in what you say and admit to being wrong when you are. You also need a set of values that you not only talk to, but can prove that you live by. Organizations that don’t do that will instantly lose trust and face a real uphill battle to rebuilding it. Trust allows you to maintain the ability to both win the war for talent and attract customers. The moment we’re living in now is particularly critical in this regard — 90% of our survey respondents said a company’s actions during a crisis reveal their trustworthiness.

Q. You mentioned values. How vital is it to be seen as a good corporate citizen?

Business earns a license to operate from society. In the past, all you had to do to earn that license was to make a good product, provide jobs and pay taxes. That’s not enough anymore. Every company is effectively being judged. People are asking, “Is this a company I want to be seen with?” That’s evident in the rising interest in ESG investments but also in customers’ day-to-day decision making. More than 60% of our survey respondents told us they’ve stopped buying from a company whose values didn’t align with theirs. Businesses who maintain the old mentality of serving only their shareholders and staying neutral on the broader issues society faces will lose their licenses to operate.

Q. How will employees need to enhance their skills to best engage with customers in a digital-first world?

You can argue that every person in the company is becoming a salesperson. A commonly held belief is that everyone is going to become swamped in technology and this will lead to a technical, impersonal organization where your interpersonal skills become worthless. It’s actually quite the opposite. There’s clear proof that every employee must be better communicators – ask questions, listen, tell stories. And they’ll have to leverage really powerful digital tools to create that really human interaction. Importantly, companies can’t just blanket people with this technology. They have to be able to provide the perfect minimal amount of information at the perfect time, and that takes design. I think we’re going to see huge developments in interaction design that will really revolutionize how employees engage with customers. It’s going to be fascinating.