Some of my current customer service and customer experience education occurs during conferences I attend throughout the year. These conferences draw thousands of people who want to learn about the latest and greatest in their industries. As you can imagine, however, conferences in their traditional, in-person format have all but disappeared. But the alternative—virtual events—can be highly effective when properly produced.
I recently wrote an article about the comeback and future of conferences and meetings. I’ve watched my clients who usually hold large events pivot to virtual conferences. While they look and feel dramatically different, they often have just as much—and sometimes even more—impact.
One of the reasons they potentially have more impact is that the speakers are asked to cut down the length of their presentation to include only their A+ material—no fluff or filler. A great example of that in practice is Pegasystems, which held its annual conference, called PegaWorld, about two weeks ago. What is normally a three-day event packed with general sessions, workshops and even a rock concert was transformed into a two-and-a-half-hour event that was opened up to the entire world to attend.
I’ve attended PegaWorld for the past four years, and since much of what is covered falls into my area of expertise, I’ve typically written a “lessons learned” summary for this column afterward. Even with the shortened event, there were still plenty of lessons to be learned from this year’s virtual extravaganza. Here are a few of them.
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Alan Trefler’s Opening Statements and Keynote
The first lesson wasn’t so much about customer service or CX as it was about leadership. As usual, Pegasystems’ CEO and Founder Alan Trefler opened the conference. Of course, he discussed the reasons for the shortened conference and for going virtual—which have been accepted as the norm at this point. However, before the event even started, he took to social media to address the most recent event that’s changing our world—the death of George Floyd and the resultant nationwide protests. This was a passionate statement that was both emotional and heartfelt. All business leaders must consider following this example. Sharing emotions and being authentic—even vulnerable—is not easy. But good leaders don’t settle for “easy.” Opening up can create an emotional connection. Trefler sharing that he’s the son of a Holocaust survivor could not have been easy, but it let the audience know he’s part of a family that has experienced hate and destruction. His message was real. In times like these, all leaders must show compassion.
Shifting gears, Trefler addressed the theme of the conference, Build for Change®. “If you’re afraid of change, leave it here. Lots change. Change is hard. Some people fear change. Others harness that fear to drive change for good.” He went on to say, “Recent months have been filled with unprecedented anxiety and sadness, but also hope and encouragement.” This message is more relevant than ever. As new technologies are introduced and case studies are shared, the opportunity to embrace change is more important than ever. The past three months have hastened us into the future by at least three to five years. Companies are adapting to the changing world and adopting existing cutting-edge technologies that are moving them forward faster than ever.
The Great Customer Experience Divide: What’s Stopping Us?
One of my favorite presentations was from Andrew LeClair, senior product marketing manager at Pegasystems. He shared the five critical components of customer experience. Here they are, followed by my comments:
1. Elegant and painless interactions – In other words, the experience should be easy.
2. Adapting in real time – As customers’ needs shift, a company must be able to shift with them.
3. Customers must feel understood – This is a great follow-up to number two. Adapting is more than just moving with the customer, it’s also about empathy, understanding and proving to customers that we know them.
4. Relevant information – Whatever the customer needs should be easy to get and, as LeClair says, available “at their fingertips.”
5. A consistent and connected CX across all channels – This is a tough one, but it’s so important. While specific expectations for each channel are different (for example, telephone versus email versus messaging), the expected outcome is the same. The customer wants to be happy.
The Future of Customer Service
Jeff Nicholson, global head of CRM at Pegasystems, and Paul Greenberg, an industry expert and managing principal of The 56 Group, talked about how customer service is evolving and gave us their big prediction of what’s to come, which can be summed up in one concept: autonomous service. The comparison they used was autonomous vehicles. Zero autonomy occurs when the driver controls the vehicle, versus a completely self-driving vehicle that can operate without a human driver. Autonomous service involves shifting from complete reliance upon an agent to using AI and automation to support the customer. Fully AI-powered automation includes the ability to detect the need for service before customers know they need it—also known as proactive service. The technology allows for “preemptive and digital resolution when moments of need may be anticipated.” In other words, the customer doesn’t have to reach out for support about a problem because the company already knows the problem is happening—or going to happen—and steps in to fix it.
So much has changed in just the last few months. It can be difficult to keep up and keep adapting in such turbulent times. But we must. And the success of this year’s newly digital PegaWorld conference has proven that we can. Follow in this industry leader’s footsteps—constantly adapt how you support your customers while keeping them at the forefront of your mind. Adopt new technology-driven solutions. Strive to be authentic and—where appropriate—vulnerable. Even though it feels like everything has changed, your customers haven’t—they still want their problems resolved quickly and on their terms. In short, they want to be happy. Remember that you have the power to deliver that experience.