Episode #32: Back to the Future of Customer Experience

Grad Conn

December 12, 202011 min read

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Today is “Pretend to be a Time Traveler” day. So, we’re going to do just that. What would a time traveler from, say, 125 years ago, think of some of our customer experiences? What would surprise them? What would delight them? And what could we do differently to recapture some of the personal, one-to-one connections that modern customer experiences too often lack? It’s a look back…or forward…or sideways, to a time when customer connections meant everything.

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Today is a special day on the CXM Experience. I’m your host, Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr, and we’re all about experience. In fact, we love experience so much, it’s in our title twice as the keen eyed amongst you like to point out. So the Customer Experience Management Experience is a podcast all about understanding customer experience in the emerging field of CXM, because CXM is going to follow CRM. And CRM’s an innovation from about 30 years ago. It was the last really big idea in the front office. The next big idea is CXM.

We have a unique point of view at Sprinklr on CXM. Our point of view is that CXM needs to incorporate the discipline of listening to what people are saying and there’s a lot to listen to out there now, because people are posting publicly, every millisecond. You need to be able to learn from what people say, you need to be able to use AI to aggregate those comments in an actionable form. And you need to love a customer who has said something about you, positive or negative. So listen, learn love. It really is all about being able to act on the things that you hear, and being able to aggregate the things you hear in a way that you can take guidance from it. So that is our unique point of view on CXM. Don’t be fooled by companies that say they’re CXM but they’re really customer feedback management. Feedback alone is not enough. You’ve got to be able to fix the issue. If I say I’ve got a problem, I don’t want you just to know, I want you to fix it. That’s what customer experience management’s all about. Emphasis on the word “management.”

Alright, so today’s a cool day. So a special day. So as many of you know, as some of you know, as maybe a few of you know, I am the proud owner of a time machine, also known as a 1981 DeLorean. And mine is not fully tricked out as a time machine. But I do have three flux capacitors. I have the main Flux Capacitor that you would have seen in the movie, where it is in the movie. I have a backup Flux Capacitor on the equipment door right behind the driver’s seat. And then I have a tiny, tiny super backup Flux Capacitor good for just one trip stuck into the cigarette lighter. Because you don’t want to be stuck back in time without a working flux capacitor. And I have a Mr. Fusion in the front trunk that allows me to power all the devices. So it’s a trimmed down version of a time machine.

But I’ve had plenty of fun with it. I’ve seen all sorts of things. And yes, I do know who won the Super Bowl in 2025. But I’m not telling. Just suffice to say it’s not the Seahawks. Anyway, so but they got really close as usual. And by the way, the Mariners, no, no. The Mariners, they never win a World Series. I’ve gone as far forward in time as possible. The Mariners never win, ever. So you can take that to the bank.

All right, so let’s talk a little bit about time travel, because today is time traveler day. Today is the day where you pretend to be a time traveler. It’s kind of like Pirate Day where you talk like a pirate all day. Today’s time traveler day. Isn’t that cool? I love that every day’s a day, I still think, and I’ve said this before on this podcast, there’s a great business in there, which is someone hooking up through an API all the days and all the months and all the years of all the different charities and runs and events and special events. And I think there’s a really interesting opportunity there. And maybe if I keep talking about it long enough, maybe I’ll end up doing it. But it’s still I think it’s a great idea. So someone’s got to turn that into a service.

So anyway, let’s talk about time travel. One of my favorite time travel stories, and this is going back to when I was a pretty young kid, is the book, which I think is the way I first consumed it, which is the book The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. It was originally published in 1895. And it’s generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel, using a vehicle or a device to travel forwards or backwards in time. So the term Time Machine coined by Wells is now almost universally used to refer to such devices. So pretty cool. I mean, I always love like, I always love situations where someone came up with a thing that we all talk about now. For example, the Ferris wheel was invented by someone… yeah, named Ferris for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. And so it’s always fun to see things get invented. And he invented the concept of the time machine.

So I read the book, I was a big H. G. Wells fan, I devoured everything that he wrote. And then it was made into a movie… a couple times, there have been radio broadcasts, as well. But the movie that I think is famous, and so the one that I’ve seen and love the most is a 1960 film. It was made in Hollywood. And it was called H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. It starred Rod Taylor at the height of his powers, Alan Young, if you remember him, he was pretty cool. And then one of my favorites, Yvette Mimieux, who is also one of the stars of The Black Hole, which I just saw the other day, it’s now on Disney+, The Black Hole. It was produced and directed by George Pal, who also did the original H. G. Wells, the War of the Worlds film in 1953. And it won an Academy Award for special effects. So, great movie, and there’s a scene in it, actually, you have to get the uncut version. So in the unedited version, there’s this great scene where Rod Taylor is watching the year turn over, the century turn over. And he decides to do it by sitting on a park bench and watching the century turn, which I always thought was wonderful. And I had wanted to do that in 2000. Been my long term dream. But with Y2K and everything it was seemed more practical and responsible to be at home with the family with guns and candles. But you know, it was fine.

So anyway, then also, Rod Taylor has this awesome, awesome outfit, just fantastic suits, these great knit suits with matching capes. And I think if I ever moved to London, I’m going to get my whole wardrobe made like that and just walk around the streets and a matching cape and suit. It’s a cape and a suit jacket, and a vest and a shirt and pants, all matching in some tart patterns. Fantastic.

So anyway, why am I talking about time travel and time machines? Well, I want to do a little quick thought exercise. I’m going to have a bit of fun with this for just a second, which is what would it be like if someone time traveled in the marketing world? And I think the thing that would be more interesting would be… what would happen if the H. G. Wells Time Machine story was true? What if Rod Taylor or his little doppelganger from the book, what if he came forward in time? What would he think about the world we have today? And you know, there’s three observations I’ll make, and they’re all related to customer experience.

The first thing that he would be amazed by, is the anonymity of the shopping experience. And he would come from a world where people were talking to their local clerks and shop owners and shopkeepers and butchers and etc. And they had a one-on-one relationship with these people. And you’d go in, they would know the kind of meat you liked. Or they would know the kind of bread that you normally got, and they would have it set aside for you. Maybe you’d have a chit or a bill that was ongoing, that you clear up once a month. They’d greet you by name, they’d be happy to see you. You talk about the weather, you talk about the neighbors, and then you would go on your way. I think he’d be shocked at the anonymity of the shopping experience. And then he’d try Zappos. And the Zappos person would spend a bunch of time on the phone with him getting to know him and he would say, Aha, Zappos has still got the shopkeeper attitude. But I would say that most of the time, we don’t. And I think that’s a big miss.

I think there was something about what we do with commerce that’s a very human action. To a certain extent, everything we do in modern life is somewhat voluntary. Like, we don’t really need any of this stuff. We could all live in huts on the shore and pick bananas. We don’t really need this stuff that we have right? Now, I’m glad we have it. So I’m not complaining. I’m not suggesting we live on the shore. But why do we have it? And I think that commerce, shopkeeping, retail, etc, is an expression of the social fabric of humanity. And in this expression of the social fabric, we essentially make and sell things to each other in an effort to connect with each other. So when we’re selling and making things for each other and not connecting socially, we’re missing part of the contract. And it’s interesting how over and over again, brands prove and show that when they add the social component into the shopping experience — that personal connection — that people flock to them. Flock to them. But surprising or interesting to me is how infrequently companies do that.

So what else would our, our time traveler find? I think that our time traveler would be duly impressed by the variety of payment methods we have. Of course, credit cards… credit existed, but credit cards and Apple Pay, and pay by swiping and, Bitcoin, all these different transactions and currency types we have would be somewhat unknown. They’re living in a cash world. So I think that would be really cool, maybe a little hard to understand and be a little hard to understand how to set up all those transactions, it would take a little bit of education. Think about it. Imagine educating someone on our banking system from scratch, that they’ve never actually experienced before. It would be quite interesting.

And then, I think the third thing, which I think would be very interesting would be the entertainment experience. And the entertainment experience, again, from the time that this traveler would have come, late 1800s was very much a social experience. Theater was dominant. Theater was where everyone saw everything. And there’s a lot of entertainment in shops and cafes, and restaurants and street corners. There was like, entertainment was all around you. But it’s a very social experience. And the idea that you would sit down in front of a glass screen, and have entertainment delivered to you somewhat anonymously, is, I think, also surprising.

And then he would discover Netflix, and say, aha, Netflix knows what I want. Netflix can sense what I’m looking for. Netflix is got an understanding of the experience that I’m looking for, and the social connection I need. I want you to know my needs and interests and be able to address them. And yet, shockingly, most entertainment doesn’t follow the Netflix model. And most of it is still reasonably anonymous. And I think he’d find that surprising.

So those would be my little time traveler observations from today, which is time traveler day. If I ever got to time travel, I know I would go backwards to a couple of specific dates, and try to fix a couple things I did incorrectly at the time. But I would stay within my own timeline, which is what they do in Quantum Leap, which is my other favorite time travel show.

And with that, we will move back to the present and stay here, feet firmly planted in the 21st century. For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and I’ll see you, maybe, next time.

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