What can we learn about customer experience in the age of coronavirus?

A conversation with Tiffani Bova, Salesforce's Chief Growth Evangelist

Tiffani Bova specializes in looking at business trends and uncovering the patterns that lead to growth. She talked with us about customer relationship management, customer experience, artificial intelligence, and what community financial institutions can do to better serve their clientele as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Short on time? Jump straight to the key takeaways.


Kasasa: Tiffani Bova, thank you so much for joining us. We're really honored to have you participate in our virtual Kasasa Nation event as we're figuring out how to handle this virtual conference idea in the midst of a global pandemic.

You said you think of yourself more as a data anthropologist. Can you talk a little bit about that process and how you've developed your identity in that?

Tiffani Bova: Sure. Of course, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. I work for a company called Salesforce and they really created a position for me to be able to travel and meet with customers around the world. And find out what are best practices on growth, innovation, customer experience, selling, and marketing and what those activities are that those high-performing companies are doing.

I like to say that I'm looking for patterns in behaviors from brands and sometimes it's a little bit of expertise from various companies. So, "Wow, I think this company does customer service really well, but this one has nailed marketing, and this one is doing some really innovating things when it comes to selling."

I'm looking for pockets of excellence and sometimes you get brands that do it all really well. But that's really what I hope to do is to find those opportunities where I can share compelling stories that would apply to others. 

I love that you said anthropologist, because one of the questions I had was, what's the oldest form of customer relationship management (CRM) that you're aware of? It sounds like you've done a lot of research in this space. 

Yeah, I have. I like to call myself a recovering seller, meaning that I use to carry a quota and carry a bag and sell technology for almost 17 years before I switched hats, and during that 17 years I ran sales, service, and customer service and marketing. And then I spent a decade at a company called Gartner, which is the biggest tech industry analyst and consulting firm in the world. So that's where I learned my research chops if you will. And now I've been at Salesforce for four [years].

I don't know the exact technical history of customer relationship management, but my first experience with it was the Rolodex that sat on my desk, right? Because it was business cards and I would spin my Rolodex and wherever it stopped that's who I'd call. And it was all about the hard copy, if you will, of those business cards and stacks of them you'd get at tradeshows. And then I moved to a single user version of Act! and Goldmine along the way, and then it was Excel spreadsheets and then WordPerfect, and then I became one of the beta clients of Salesforce early on. And so I feel like the very first CRM would have been business cards, right? The stack of them and then the Rolodex of them. 

That totally makes sense. So are we using an advanced technology like Salesforce to accomplish the same thing we were with Rolodexes, just faster, more efficiently — or is our usage starting to transform as we move forward? 

Yeah, I'd actually say that's a great question and when I hear brands or companies say, "Yeah, CRM or Salesforce is just a glorified Rolodex," I know we're in trouble. That would be like saying that a Ferrari is just something to get you to the store. And you're like, "Hmm, no, it's so much more than that, right?"



“When I hear brands or companies say, ‘Yeah, CRM or Salesforce is just a glorified Rolodex,’ I know we're in trouble. That would be like saying that a Ferrari is just something to get you to the store.”

And so if you're using it as just a glorified Rolodex or a digital Rolodex you're missing out on all the power that now is behind customer relationship management and CRM as a category, especially as artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, prediction, all those things start to come into play, the value and benefit is really the output of what you can get out of a system if you're putting really good quality data in the system.

And I don't mean just from humans, I mean information sources could be third parties, could be from other parts of the organization, could be manual data entry and now we're moving to voice entry and unstructured data being mined and analyzed in order to look for next-best actions, and telling a salesperson, or a marketer, or a customer service representative, "Here's what we think you should do next, based on this particular customer who's had this particular experience with you." And there's no way as a human you would go, "Look I've got thousands of customers I have to take care of, I can't possibly remember all the things that I have to do," right?

So while the Rolodex was good for name, address, phone number (at the time it was phone number, not email[or] social media handle, you know it wasn't 98 ways to find somebody). Now it's things like, what industry are they in, how big are they, what was the last thing they bought, when was the last time they called into customer service, when was the last time we went and visited them, did we do a mailer to them? Oh, they met the CEO at a tradeshow. All that kind of information that helps you shape in some form or fashion a better experience because of the insights you have. You have to have a place to put those insights and put that data.

It seems to me like what you're saying is that with a technology CRM, you can actually start to enhance the customer experience in meaningful ways, and I don't think anybody could really imagine doing that with business cards, right? So that is a leap in terms of how we're using this technology.

Yeah, and I'll tell you, when I started using CRM many, many years ago, there was this massive promise of what we thought it could do, and I'm going to date this, like 20 years ago, it's been a while, if not 25. And if I think about that, I really truly believe, not just because I work at Salesforce, but I feel like technology has finally caught up with the promise of all the benefit that CRM could bring a business as it relates to this conversation around delivering a customer a better experience because of the fact that you're using technology to do it. CRM is one of them. But not the only one.



“Technology has finally caught up with the promise of all the benefit that CRM could bring a business as it relates to this conversation around delivering a customer a better experience…”


And what I mean by that is, I feel like finally the intelligence and the analytics and those kinds of tools are this new powerful foundation underlying CRM as the interface that the user would see. All that's happening quietly in the background all the time, that I think that the most successful organizations are those that use the human and the technology as an "AND" not an "OR." And humans have to start trusting what's coming out of the technology may actually be of benefit to them and not meant to be a replacing action for something they used to do as a human. That it could actually free you up to do things that you're not capable of doing if you're not using a technology, but you're doing it all by business cards and post-it notes.

We're definitely in a space where the only way we're getting some types of work done is through technology. This is something that a lot of the community financial institutions that we're serving are experiencing. They're used to working face-to-face and really have built a lot of momentum around creating a great face-to-face experience, suddenly that was taken away and now they have to figure out how to do it in a virtual way and how to create that trust using tools that they picked up last week.

So it seems like if you have something like a more advanced CRM, you might be able to transition to that a little bit easier, even if you're talking to somebody on the phone, and you can look at their profile and see meaningful intelligence about their accounts. I don't even know all the stuff that could be contained in something like Salesforce. But it just strikes me that now more than ever we're seeing how that can be a really pivotal tool in the survival of your business. 

Absolutely. And I would say this is a wake-up call in many ways to organizations and industries and companies that have been pushing back on this digital transformation and embracing the tools that we have now. So I want to have a conversation with my wealth manager, I have to go in person, or I don't want to do it over the phone. Now I want to do it over video. It's so much more efficient for me.

We now have highlighted the fact that in our personal lives we've been able to find our way to connection working from home, educating from home, seeing doctors from home. Now is it perfect? Is it equal all around, specifically in the U.S.? No, we still have 18 million people or so who don't have access to highspeed internet, so how are they going to do all these things that we're talking about? And you have this entire unbanked community that doesn't have access to banking. And now the loans are happening from institutions, so they don't have the ability to get direct deposits because that's not how they bank. I mean there's just so much complication to this.

We cannot ignore the fact that we have to digitally transform as businesses, regardless of size, to serve our customers and our communities in the way they want to be served. Now we've exposed so many people to the power of digital it'll be interesting to see if they're like, "Look, I used to want to go use a wealth manager, I used to want to go to my branch, and now I'm comfortable doing it over video." 


“We cannot ignore the fact that we have to digitally transform as businesses, regardless of size, to serve our customers and our communities in the way they want to be served.”


Financial institutions have gone through a fair bit of transformation since the global economy has been put on pause. What strikes you most about how people might be making their financial decisions? Is it that new comfort with things being virtual, or is there something even deeper psychologically than that? 

I think it's a combination. I'm going to go back to that "AND" again. Do I think that everyone is going to go, "Oop, I'm never going to a branch again?" No, I don't think that's going to happen.
But what I actually think is interesting is there may be higher levels of service that the financial community and industry can now provide, because you could only handle so many people in a branch that want to have a conversation. You know what I'm saying?

There's only 4-5 people in the branch and only 2 people in the branch that can talk home loans or refinancing, whatever it might be, credit cards applications. It used to be that you had to go to the branch to do certain things, and even today you still have to go to the branch to do certain things. I mean, signature cards as a great example, like, "Oops, you have to come to the bank, because otherwise it's a canned signature which doesn't match your signature." And unless they have the ability for you to sign a computer screen or your iPad or iPhone, well not everybody has that.

What are the things that we have to do at the branch and what kinds of things have we just always done at the branch, so we're going to continue doing it at the branch? So those are the ones where I think there's plenty of opportunity — whether it's video, whether it's digital signature or now you can actually scale and we're going to have a wealth seminar via whatever your video conferencing of choice is. You won't know who each other are, you don't have to turn on your video, but we're going to get everybody together and then you can ask questions like, "I'm a small business owner, I want to know this?" So now I can do [that] at scale with 50 or 100 people where I could never do that as an individual at a branch. I couldn't see 50 or 100 people in a week. 

We've all been trained to have these new kinds of communication in a more intimate way, remotely. And if done well, you will feel as close as you can to if it had been face-to-face, in a physical sense. And so that's that experience you really want to drive towards — how do you make it compelling, how do you make it valuable, how do you make it seamless, how do you make it easy? The answer cannot be, "They have to drive to the branch," and the answer cannot be, "Well, it's the way we've always done it." Because now the way we've always done it is eight weeks ago, [and] we've all forgotten how we used to do it.



"And so that's that experience you really want to drive towards — how do you make it compelling, how do you make it valuable, how do you make it seamless, how do you make it easy?”


Maybe the best way to use things like AI and technology is to make more seamless the banal transactions, and the stuff that nobody actually likes to do and to find ways to better connect account holders to a real human being because that's where that trust resides. You don't trust your bank's AI in a conscious sense. It just does its job if it's there at all. 

Well it does its job and I think people don't also understand that in some ways, they're already being served by AI and bots, even on financial brands and banks' mobile apps. Those are already like, "[open] chat, here's three messages for you, what can I help you with?" That's all AI. If you're on the website and you're on for so long, it may say, "Hi, I'm Erica, how can I help you?" And it's a bot. And it's looking for "how much can I solve quickly in a very seamless way. And if, IF, I need to hand to a human, here's the process to do that." Where for me, I feel like I got a great experience.

Do I care if it was a bot, AI, a human? Nope. I'm looking for a great experience. And so, let the technology answer the 80 percent of questions that are really knowledge-based, FAQs, quick question, quick answer, and then 20 percent of questions, let humans do the more complex, "I need to set something up in your account, you need to give me [information]..." The things that need a human to touch, and I think many [consumers] are just not aware that they interact with AI all day every day. They may think it's humans.

Your book, Growth IQ, reads as this series of case studies about companies that most readers may be aware of, but I don't think, have ever seen as close-up as you get. I was repeatedly amazed at the amount of investigation that went into every single one of these chapters. There are these cold hard numbers, but you tell them in a really compelling way. Do you have any recommendations, from looking at these other businesses in such an in-depth fashion, where banks and credit unions should be looking to learn from? What other industries should they be digging into to gain knowledge from?

I always ask people to tell me the last best customer experience you had; what brand wowed you? And I do it at our executive dinners and our executive round tables and what's interesting is, I try to take the ones that are the default answers, like, don't say Amazon, and Starbucks and Nordstrom, and like, let's not pick the ones that you're not really thinking. I really want you to think, so people are like, "Oh, a pest control company, they went way out of the way for me and here's what they did" to "the gas company." I really want people to think. And then I want the answer of, "Okay, you've given me a brand, now tell me why it was so compelling. What stood out to you?" And I keep going why and what, and why.

And then I look at them and I say, "Okay, I want you to absolutely honestly answer this question: If I were sitting in another room, and I asked a room full of 25 people, would they say your brand [had a great customer experience]?" "Do you think somebody would gush about your brand, like how you guys just gushed about this brand that went above and beyond, they did this, they did that, it absolutely endeared me to say I'm so much more loyal to them.” Do people feel that way about your brand? And you watch their facial expression go, "Eeeesh, I don't think so." So.... 

Radical honesty.

Radical honesty, right? Well said. I think that that's where you start. That's where you also start to realize that [you shouldn't] just look to your own industry. You should look for where you yourself have had a compelling experience and then take your entire team and ask them the same question and create a running list on a white board, or now it'd be a virtual whiteboard, where if you have 10 people and you're on a team call, and you write down the 10 company names. And then what you do is assign each person to go experience that brand that was told by somebody else, but don't let it be the same person. Then come back and find the commonality, going back to your very first question, that anthropologist, that deconstruction, the overall things that you can pick out of that, the patterns. And say, "Okay, if we net it all out, here are the three things that were consistent among those 10 brands."



“Look to your own industry. You should look for where you yourself have had a compelling experience and then take your entire team and ask them the same question and create a running list on a white board.”


And it could be something tactical, like it was one click to buy on their website, on our site, it's nine clicks to buy. "Oh, there was an FAQ that was very quick, well it was a chatbot and we don't have a chatbot on our website. Maybe we should add that." This is the way that you can find excellence, by sharing personal experiences. And right now because we have so many in the digital world, over the last few months, don't lose this moment in time to capture those, because come eight or 10 weeks from now as we start to lean into getting back to work in phases, let's say, 12 or 18 months from now when hopefully everyone is back to work at scale, that we will forget this moment in time. This is the time to say, "What are those digital experiences you're having?" put out an article last year saying essentially, we can build a rocket to go through space, but we can't get our boots clean. That seems to me like an underrated challenge. What do you think the underrated challenges are for business today?

Do you mean right now, today?

It could be right now, but this isn't going to last forever. So maybe it's something that's bigger in scope than the pandemic.

Yeah, so there's two things I'd say. I'd say, we covered a little bit on what are the things that you've been avoiding to do or put on the back burner, or didn't think was that important, that has now been exposed as really important, and has needed to be fast tracked. For example, you know, I have a retail storefront, I did not have it online. Boom! The retail storefront is closed, how do I keep selling my stuff? And if you're not online, that's not possible. Or I'm a restaurant that doesn't have any delivery business, I don't even have my menu up online, and now all of a sudden no one can come see me. And I want to get my menu up online, and I want to connect with UberEats or whoever it might be. Have my chefs and my people still do this. Am I open for business? And it's sort of like changing the tires on the car while it's going around the track. Versus things you would have had in place before this happened.



“People want to get educated and if they can't get themselves to school, or they can't afford to get there, can we educate them remotely?...closing that gap and some of the things we know we now can do because of digital, and the internet.”


In a perfect world, everyone would have been there. That's what I mean by, it's exposed some things we probably needed to work on. So I would say, I hope this never happens again, but there are things that you should say, "Maybe we were too exposed, that if [something] 100% required a human to do it with another human, then I might be at risk." What if the building burned down or what if something happened that the block was closed off for a week? You know what I'm saying? Whatever it might be.

And secondarily, I think, the whole concept of, "We're all in this together," and how businesses have really stepped up for their communities and employees and how do we carry that forward and just be better stewards of the planet, it's kind of like, the people are quiet, the animals are coming into cities and towns and doing things because we're quiet. The air has never been cleaner, the ocean has never breathed this much. There's all kinds of goodness here, I hope we don't go back to the way it was. Because the way that it was, was a Ferrari towards a brick wall. So, what can we take with us?

And even education, [this] exposed the fact that people want to get educated and if they can't get themselves to school, or they can't afford to get there, can we educate them remotely? Or telemedicine. I don't drive anymore, I don't have access to it, but I need to talk to a doctor. That's where this equality for all and closing that gap and some of the things we know we now can do because of digital, and the internet. I hope that those are the two things that businesses take out of this. 

Key takeaways:

  • Customer relationship management is a must-have, especially as more and more of the customer experience moves into the digital realm.

  • Embracing digital tools can open up opportunities for community financial institutions to reach even more people than they ever could reach physically (i.e. webinars on investment, finances, etc.).

  • Using tools such as chatbots should create a better customer experience, not just reduce the burden on human staff. Make it easy for consumers to speak with a real person if they want to.

  • Model the customer experience on the experiences that are memorable to you and your staff — look beyond the banking industry for inspiration.

  • Examine your organizations for vulnerabilities that don’t appear on the balance sheet — forming a disaster/crisis response protocol should be high on your list of to-dos as the economy starts to normalize.

Tags: Marketing, Industry