Which Comes First Engaged Employees or Customer Success

Customers, customers, customers, customers, employees.

When you look at the spending on business technologies, that's roughly the emphasis that companies place on one side of the sales wall versus the other.

On one level, it makes sense. Customers spend the money and, as we've all heard, they're always right. Then again, there's nothing that can improve the customer experience more than employees who serve customers face-to-face, in customer service centers, or even behind the scenes in technical or management roles.

Remember that flight attendant who watched your screaming kid while you took a sanity break? How about that waiter who served a joke that lightened a miserable  day? Or the bus driver who stopped where she wasn't supposed to because it was raining? Do we have the technological cart before the proverbial horse? Gartner Research Director Yvette Cameron thinks so. 

How to Get Work Done

CMSWire sat down with the 27-year IT veteran at yesterday's Achievers Aspire Executive Summit in San Francisco, where the shifting technologies for employee recruitment, engagement, collaboration and success sparked thoughtful conversation.

Cameron, who holds a degree in math and statistics, has an evangelical focus on enterprise human capital management (HCM) processes and technologies. Before her work with Gartner, she spent 14 years leading HCM product strategy and marketing at SAP, Oracle, Saba, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards.

Murphy: There are a lot of new enterprise technologies for employee engagement, employee success, customer expectation, customer success and more. Where should a company with a limited IT budget begin?

Cameron: It's a good question. With any strategy, I think the answer is to start small -- pilot programs, small programs to test success -- so you can evaluate the results and start again. This idea of failing fast and learning is really the hallmark of how we're going to achieve technology success in our organizations.

I would say, first and foremost, you want to have tools to help employees get work done. Those tools are no longer the HR systems of performance management and compensation -- those don't help to get your work done. What we're seeing is heavy adoption of work management tools, task management, collaboration, file-sharing and so forth. People need tools to connect, to share knowledge, to build community and culture and, ultimately, to get their work done, which is about serving customers.

Murphy: That whole chain of systems I mentioned before aren't interconnected at this point. Should they be? And, if so, when will they be?

Cameron: There is a tremendous amount of spin on the consumer side. Spending on customer relationship management (CRM) enterprise software is almost four times the spending on HCM software. With the workforce costing about 70 percent of what a company spends, that seems lopsided. The point is that organizations are spending a tremendous amount of money to understand their customers and to engage them. We need to do the same thing on the employee side, starting small as I said earlier.

I don't think those two types of systems -- CRM and HCM -- and the components within them are going to become one solid system. They will be discrete systems. I think the long-term answer would be, yes, it would be great if they were [a single system]. But the reality is that we're probably going to have a series of well-designed, purpose-built tools for customers, for employees, for aspects of the customer-employee relationship that eventually do need to plug in and connect. But it's going to be about integration. And the integration point -- data, process flows, etc. -- the most critical point is going to be understanding the profile of the individual. So, if the question is will they be connected, yes. They won't necessarily be on the same system, but they will be connected on the single most important point, the data, the attributes of the individual.

Murphy: Social business seems like a great concept, but it doesn't seem to be gaining traction in the workplace. I hear a lot about companies trying to collaborate on an internal social network, and they have some initial experiments, but the conversations die and the employees never feel like it's Facebook at work. What's your view of that?

Cameron: I think the biggest challenge for social software in the enterprise is its name. When you put "social" in front of it, by its nature, it feels superfluous and frivolous. It's not business software.

Murphy: Would it be better to call it "collaboration?"

Cameron: Absolutely. The reality is that it's one of the most fundamentally important tools that an organization can bring in. Another reason for its failure is that it's been deployed in a siloed instance. To your earlier question, you can bring in stand-alone tools that do some interesting things. But social, to be effective, has to be integrated into the way people work -- integrated into the daily conversations, the daily process flows and the other productivity tools, whether it's Outlook or a CRM system, so that I can get work done in the way that I, personally, choose to conduct my business. If social technologies are deployed as a place I go -- like going to a refrigerator and get the box and then go to the social network and have a conversation -- that's not going to work.

Murphy: A lot of social tools, like Achievers' Connection or Yammer, look at lot like Facebook.  The younger generation -- Gen Y and the sub-millennials -- seem to be shying away from Facebook. They're not doing what big sister and big brother are doing. Are we going to see an evolution of social business tools so that they look more like Twitter or exist only in mobile?

Cameron: That's a good question. I would say technology in general is moving to mobile. Applications are going to stop being a URL that you key in and will literally be an app on your phone. I think we're looking in the future to the componentization of large modules into app-like processes. Achievers actually fits in well to that. Underlying all that is the importance of integration. As far as the user experience, people are looking for information, decision support and recognition or engagement -- that ability to identify with friends and have friends identify with them, whether it's at work or personally. There's a total blending there.

The user experience of Facebook might be a little much in the long term. I think we're already seeing that paring down of the data. But the ability to see a face, to have the geo-location so I know where a person is, who's near me, so I can share information or fun, that's not going to change. In fact, that's going to become more foundational to even how enterprise software is working -- more intelligence. So yes on the mobile. Frankly, I think all applications are going to be mobile, and all applications will also be moving more towards this engaging, immersive, personalized, contextual experience. The Facebook apps and the Achievers apps have that. They may be a little wordy in some cases, and I can see that paring down. But we can't lose the focus, which is engagement -- engagement with each other, information and content.

Murphy: I'm not sure if this came from Gartner, but it's often said that this is the "Year of the Customer." Do you think the customer experience is really changing? Or is that marketing hype to push software?

Cameron: My focus is primarily the employee side, human capital management. So I'm not as in tune as far as the nuances of the changing engagement with customers. But what we have seen clearly is that the power has shifted from businesses to customers. The spend in customer relationship management software is the highest of all the categories of enterprise applications. Certainly, if this isn't the year, next year will be. It has truly flipped on its head.

We need to apply that same thinking to our employees. The idea that we know more about our customers than the employees who are serving them doesn't make sense. I think that if we truly want to make it the year of the customer, we have to make it the year of the employee.