Credit: Jaren S. Wilkey/BYU Photo

It’s 10:30 in the morning, and her Jawbone buzzes. Jane is notified that she’s been sitting too long, and her meeting is ending anyway. She rises up from her booth at the coffee shop, bids her associate good bye, and walks through the mall towards the parking lot. Her device reminds her that she’s walked 1,430 steps today (and has only 6,070 to go until she reaches her daily goal).

She’s digitally prompted to visit a new boutique that three of her friends have visited recently, and offered a coupon for 20% off if used during the next three hours.

As she walks into the boutique, she’s greeted and invited to take a look at the latest winter fashions. She tries on a few outfits and gets real-time video input from her two friends vacationing in Vail and mom, her greatest advocate, and critic.

With unanimous feedback from her trusted circle, she chooses a luxurious new sweater, but before purchasing, she does a quick check to make sure that the same sweater is not available from other merchants for a better price. She finds one, and is automatically offered the best market price by the boutique. With a confirmation on her phone, her account is debited and the additional 20 percent discount applied. She shares her new treasure with friends in her digital networks, and watches the boutique amplify her message to their larger audience. She’s excited to find out how much money she’ll earn this month based on her product referrals.

As she drives home, she’s prompted to take an alternative route, not only to save twelve minutes due to a traffic jam on her normal route, but also to stop by the store and buy her groceries, which she’s reminded that’s she’s a couple of days late on from her normal routine.

The fictitious scenario above paints a realistic view of the near future, powered by the exponential growth of several simultaneous tech innovation trajectories. As more and more of our lives are transitioned into a digital landscape, more details become measurable. Anything digital can and will be recorded, archived, analyzed, and shared. Cisco chief futurist, Dave Evans even proposes “We’ll be able to record, playback and analyze our entire lives by 2020.” Startups like Narrative make this stark vision seem possible.

With the blending of the physical and digital worlds come new habits, expectations, opportunities, and challenges. With the growth of digital, even with laser-focused targeting and personalization, is it possible to create the same bond and experience at scale, devoid of a meaningful 1:1 human interaction?

CRM at its finest

Last week I suggested to a colleague that we meet at a local coffee shop. It was a boutique shop, with good character, and a partial ocean view. He immediately responded with another suggestion. Head up the hill to a world renowned 5 star resort with less people, an infinitely better view and service. I obliged.

The experience was so good that I came back this morning. The attendant said “Welcome back. Glad to see you again.” I was impressed.

We each have experiences in our lives that stick with us and make an indelible impression on us. One of mine involved “Mr. Boyd,” my college football teammate who was well over 300 pounds, had the largest head in the Western Athletic Conference, and had been a given an American Express card by his parents to buy discretionary food in addition to what was covered by our three meal a day scholarship.

When we went into Jack in the Box, the orders would be called; “Number 34, your order is ready. Number 35, your order is ready. Mr. Boyd, your order is ready.” We laughed, and then found out that he averaged about $400 a month in Jack in the Box spending. CRM at its finest.

Both of the scenarios above illustrate the idea of being known, and having a service provider respond with something that resonates. In each case, the experience was enhanced because of a small but personal gesture of familiarity, one of several ways to make a meaningful connection with a customer. This sort of service and experience between customer and service provider has been happening since the dawn of commerce, built on the foundation of human connections.

But what does CRM look like in the digital age?

The writing of The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999 signaled a coming change that large, inauthentic and inhuman corporate voices were falling on deaf ears, and vulnerable to revolt. The authors presciently saw what was coming a decade before it really did: A connected human network that communicates in real time.

Now, as boundaries between humans crumble, and the Internet gives everyone the capability to be a “publisher,” “filter failure” becomes a significant challenge. There is an increasing premium being placed on context and relevance. We are collectively immune to offers, messages, and content that aren’t immediately relevant.

Over the past several decades, mass marketing gave way to increasingly segmented marketing. We are now beginning to witness a shift towards “momentary marketing”, where marketing begins to attempt to align their offers with very specific individual context (location, network, interests, activity, and behaviors). The growing amount of digital breadcrumbs that are being created are allowing a more detailed understanding of context and intent in real time. The “network” becomes more aware of ambient activity. The collective increase in available processing power and new frontiers in artificial intelligence and deep learning are allowing us to not only collect, but also make better sense of those details leading to a greater understanding of our customers.

Extreme technological innovations are allowing us to do what we’ve always done, only better, faster, and on a broader scale. Early innovations in tools that help to provide deeper customer understanding and contextual relevance will continue to refine customer expectations, converting early innovations to table stakes within a few years.

Organizations who are able to effectively gather and leverage deeper customer understanding will have a leg up. Those who are able to leverage the deeper understanding to conceive and enable great customer experiences for their customers will truly lead the way into the next generation of commerce. In a world where real time access to anyone or anything from anywhere is a possibility, customer experience may indeed be the last bastion of competitive advantage.

This post was sponsored by SAS Institute, Inc and originally posted on the SAS Knowledge Exchange. The opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own and don’t necessarily represent, nor have they been influenced by SAS’s positions, strategies or opinions.


  1. Andy Heppelle says

    Thank you Brian for sharing the great information. Narrative – very interesting idea. I work with Utility companies, the world over, who are all trying to plan, build and deliver to very best possible customer experience for the people that use the energy and water that they provide. One great source of inspiration for what the future world could look like comes from British Gas. . Imagine Jane driving home with her new sweater and upon arriving finding that her home is at just the temperature she likes as she alerted the house that she was coming home, with her phone, and it warmed up based on the drive time calculated by traffic patterns and her location when she decided to go home. As she pulls inter her garage, she parks her car on the recharging mat and her phone tells her that she is at a 60% battery charge in her electric car and that she is scheduled for a recharge at the best possible energy rate at 3am. She can accept it or start the charge but her phone shows her the calculated total difference so that she can decide. She also sees that her home battery is at full charge as it was a cloudless day and her solar panels have topped up her home energy store as well as selling enough energy into the grid to offset some of the price of her new sweater.
    I love that so many companies, entrepreneurs and individuals are working to build things that will help us all have a better experience and to make a better impact on our planet as we work, shop, travel, live and manage our daily lives.
    Thanks again for sharing the ideas Brian.
    Andy Heppelle, Toronto, Ontario

    • says


      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I love the scenario that you presented as it displays yet another scenario where surplus all around us is being better allocated and the experience for the individual is better. Energy is such an interesting place because there is such significant potential, but regulation and state owned bureaucracy stands in the way quite often. However, Toronto’s esteemed mayor evidently has proven an ability to cut through political tradition, so perhaps he can help speed things along. :)

      Best wishes on your journey, and please keep sharing your thoughts. If I can ever be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

      Kind regards,

  2. Stephanie Hastings, Loyal Joe says

    LOVE this series of posts. Everything than can go digital, will go digital. I’ve been working with businesses to create digital referral programs – sort of like the one you hint at in your story. It has been very timely and a lot of fun! Feel free to check out my work at Loyal Joe dot com.


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