Dreamforce, Salesforce’s big tech conference/party, has attracted some 170,000 people to downtown San Francisco this week. In addition to the company’s launch of Salesforce Einstein (integrated “artificial intelligence for everyone”) and $700 million purchase of cloud-based data management firm Krux, the cloud company—and high-profile customers like Farmers Insurance and Bank of America—paid a significant amount of attention to maximizing the digital customer experience.

At New Relic, of course, we welcome the growing recognition that as more and more customers interact with companies via online and mobile, all companies are software companies. And for software companies, the digital customer experience becomes the dominant channel in which they interact with customers.

“The age of the customer”—Marc Benioff

Tying together everything from the cloud to mobile to AI to the Internet of Things and more, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff used his keynote address to tell the assembled throngs that behind it all is “the opportunity to get closer to the customer” via a single view of all customer interactions across platforms and across the company.

But perhaps the most compelling testimonials came from Salesforce customers, both large and small. In particular, the Financial Services Keynote: Getting Smarter in the Age of the Customer focused on how even the biggest companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated at delivering a great digital experience.

In a huge conference hall set up as a presentation-in-the-round, some 3,000 people heard Keith Block, Salesforce’s vice chairman, president & COO, explain how bankers and insurance companies need a 360-degree view of their customers and must deliver a seamless, high-touch, personalized experience.

Of course, that means tracking all interactions with the customer, but Block said it also must incorporate the data that customers broadcast via social and other channels. 

Farmers Insurance understands the importance of customer experience

Digital experiences are becoming the dominant channel for all companies—not just digital-only brands—to engage with their customers. So it was sweet confirmation to hear that mainline financial firms are working hard to replicate the kind of high-end experiences their customers are getting from other industries. Tech has really inverted our world,” admitted Farmers Insurance CEO Jeff Daily. “We used to compare ourselves to our insurance industry competitors, but now it’s Apple and Google and Facebook.… This is actually really important for us,” Daily added, noting that not so long ago, bringing 40 people to a tech conference would have been unthinkable for an insurance company.


As proof of its commitment, Farmers demoed the First Notice of Loss mobile app it created with Salesforce, designed to ease this often-traumatic experience. “When you need insurance, something bad has happened in your life,” Daily acknowledged, so the app is designed to ease the worry by putting the customer and the agent in charge of the process, which has brought costs down while dramatically improving the quality of the experience.

Bank of America wants a complete view of its customers

At Bank of America, meanwhile, the focus is on getting a 360-degree view of the customer to find ways to deliver the best possible experience. Not just the customer’s relationship with the bank—transactional data (e.g., an increase in direct deposits), the products they have, their lifetime value—but also listening on social channels (e.g., a change in job title on LinkedIn) to recognize the appropriate products and services for each customer’s particular situation. And then making sure the employee they’re referred to has access to the rich data needed to make follow-up an effortless experience.


“Customers want to connect how they want, when they want, and where they want,” said Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology officer for BofA, “We have to deliver a seamless experience across all the ways they might want to connect [on the web, in an app, via email, or text] … and also across all our brands.”

Digital customer experience is a team sport

Of course, it’s not enough to capture the data about your customers; you have to make sense of that information to enable action. “Information is OK,” Bessant said, “but insight is what we need.”

Similarly, the biggest issue in building a great digital customer experience isn’t the technology, Daily warned, it’s the culture. The key is starting with the customer and thinking about what they need, not what you want to get from them. It all about “wanting to take care of customers,” Daily said.

That makes sense. As New Relic founder and CEO Lew Cirne likes to point out, “digital business is a team sport,” requiring “participation from developers and operations, sure, but also from the line of business and marketing and customer service right on up to top execs.”

Clearly, getting the entire team to play well together is critical, so it’s important to have a culture of sharing information and focusing on the customer. We’ve learned that delivering a great digital customer experience requires gathering the right data about everything from how your apps are performing to how your customers are using them … and then making that data and analysis available to stakeholders across the company. We believe that’s the key to great business outcomes, and we’re thrilled to see that understanding being embraced by companies across many different industries.


Photos by Fredric Paul for New Relic


Fredric Paul (aka The Freditor) is Editor in Chief for New Relic. He's an award-winning writer, editor, and content strategist who has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite, AllBusiness.com, InformationWeek, CNET, Electronic Entertainment, PC World, and PC|Computing. His writing has appeared in MIT Technology Review, Omni, Conde Nast Traveler, and Newsweek, among other places. View posts by .

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