For many organizations, the promise of great experience and service is an elusive and challenging goal. In this conversation, Oracle’s Senior Vice President of Global Marketing, Nate Skinner, explains how your company can create unforgettable customer experiences.

About Nate Skinner. For over 20 years, Nate has been building, executing, and leading marketing & sales programs for B2B technology companies, including Oracle, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, Campaign Monitor, Embarcadero Technologies, and Borland Software.

Transcript

This transcript was lightly edited.

Customer experience at Oracle

Michael Krigsman: What is customer experience, and how do we get there? We're speaking with Nate Skinner, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing with Oracle. Nate, tell us about your background in customer experience and tell us about what you do for Oracle.

Nate Skinner: I started as a seller (back in the late '90s) of software technology, and I've been focused on customers ever since. I spent ten years in the field working with customers doing sales. Then I did sales engineering, product management that ultimately led to a marketing career in product marketing, and then marketing, which I've been doing for the last ten years. Now, in my role leading the marketing team for our customer experience solutions at Oracle, we are bringing to market, to customers, the technology that allows them to realize the promise of extraordinary customer experience today.

Michael Krigsman: Your role with Oracle, what does that encompass?

Nate Skinner: I'm responsible for marketing the solution we have here, sometimes referred to as the front-office. It's our customer-facing application, so sales, customer service, marketing, commerce, advertising. All the products that Oracle brings to market for those capabilities are all under the portfolio that I'm responsible for marketing. I lead marketing for that portfolio globally.

What is customer experience (CX)?

Michael Krigsman: Nate, customer experience has become such a prominent buzzword. When we talk about customer experience, tell us what it means (in practical terms).

Nate Skinner: It is the experience we impart on a customer when they engage with our company, our employees, or our brand. How we do that in a consistent way—whether that engagement is through a social channel, whether that engagement is through a customer service call or chat, whether that engagement is through an interaction with a seller (a sales rep), or even how the engagement might feel to a customer who is on a commerce site trying to buy something in a self-service way—all of those touchpoints represent the customer experience.

Professionals focused on making that as extraordinary as they can are looking at ways to do that in a digital fashion, taking advantage of the technology that's available to impart the best experience they can no matter where the customer starts their interaction. That, to me, is what it means practically. All of those different touchpoints for a customer need to be as good or extraordinary as you could make them. Technology can help make that happen.

Michael Krigsman: Nate, why is customer experience so important that everybody is focused on it right now?

Nate Skinner: Customers have so many choices. At the end of the day, you and I know we can browse to a website, not get what we want, not have a great experience, and immediately open another tab and go somewhere else. The power of choice is in the hands of every customer. More than ever before, we need to make sure that their experience with our companies is as good as we can make it.

Our attention spans are so small these days that if we can't capture your imagination about how whatever we're offering can help you (Mr. or Mrs. Customer) in a few seconds, we probably don't have a customer. That's why I think it's so important and such an imperative today.

It's no longer something nice to have. It's a must-have. It's kind of a tier-one strategy for many companies today.

How to create excellent customer experience?

Michael Krigsman: Historically, customers would go into a retail store. They were surrounded by the environment. They were there in the store.

Now, as you say with digital, a customer defection is no farther away than a click; that customer choice, as you were describing. To summarize—attracting customers, customer loyalty, ultimately maintaining your revenue streams—those are the benefits of customer experience, but how do we get there?

Nate Skinner: The interaction that has the most volume is customer support. If that's true, then I would focus on trying to make sure that you're employing a great customer experience at the moment of need with regard to support or the customer call center. On the other hand, if you're a high-volume sales organization and you have thousands of sellers out there, you may want to focus your customer experience efforts on the sales process and technology such that your sellers are assuring the best possible experience for that customer.

I think the answer around how you get going is to pick what is causing you the most problem. What's the hurdle you'd like to overcome the most, whether it supports, whether it's the commerce website for your company, whether it's the customer support channel? Maybe it's your social media and your marketing channels where you're trying to reach customers, and they're engaging, but you're not getting conversion rates. That could be a place to focus your customer experience efforts.

What I would not suggest is that you try to do it all at one time. It's so many things to so many companies. The best approach is to kind of pick the problem that you know you can really dive deep on, solve for that, and then move on.

Michael, if I could add one more thing, does not do any of those in a silo. If we focus on customer service—you know, when Michael calls or chats us in our customer support channel—what's that experience like for the customer? We don't want to disconnect that experience from what it's like for a customer who wants to buy from us, what it's like for a customer who gets a marketing ad or a campaign. We want to connect them, and the connection is the interaction itself.

From a technology point of view, having data at the center that connects all those engagements across any one of those touchpoints is a critical component to realizing the ultimate promise of customer experience across those touchpoints. Don't fix for one and forget about the rest. Think about them in the context of an orchestration.

Michael Krigsman: Is data the key to breaking down the silos, as you were describing?

Nate Skinner: I think the data if it's not the key, it is the long pole in the tent. If you're not flowing information about that customer's engagement, interaction, and interests across those various touchpoints (between service, support, sales, and marketing), you're not going to achieve the customer experience that you'd like to on behalf of your customers. Data is a centerpiece, but the data we're talking about, it's all centered on the customer.

From the support channel, how many cases do we have with this customer? Have we resolved them all? Are they happy? It's an input that we need for the selling motion and the sales process, which is an input that we need for how we market to that customer to get them to buy the next best product we have to offer to continue to expand that customer lifetime value.

All of those meaningful interactions that the customer has had with our need to flow seamlessly between those functions within your company. In that regard, data is essential. Taking advantage of it is another thing. At Oracle, we provide solutions like this to companies of all sizes and all industries around the world who are starting to recognize the power of doing this well and (you mentioned it earlier) the benefits to their business of getting this right.

Technology and personalization to enable customer experience

Michael Krigsman: Nate, we've been discussing the components of implementing a customer experience program, and we've talked about data. We just spoke about technology. Are there other pieces involved?

Nate Skinner: The question that I get asked a lot is who owns this problem, like who owns solving this problem. A lot of people assume it's the marketer, but that's not true.

Getting to the issue is the other pieces involved are people. Honestly, technology can solve a lot. If you have a vision and have the incentive to get this fixed, you can fix it.

The processes could be mapped. You can look at ways to flow data between sales, service, marketing, commerce, and advertising. But if the people aren't invested in making those things seamless and recognizing that we're doing this in service of customer loyalty and value to the customer, it will fail.

I've seen that happen. Everybody gets myopic about, well, "All I care about is my number," you know, the sellers. Marketers: "All I care about is my conversion rates and lead funnel." Support people: "All I care about is case deflection and reducing costs." Well, not a single one of those things I just said had the customer in them.

Customer experience puts the customer in front of all of those things and says, "Hold on. Every one of us needs to work together—technology as an enablement layer—to make this different for our company." Those that are doing this well are exceeding every expectation of their shareholders and their stakeholders.

Michael Krigsman: Nate, where does personalization fit into this customer experience universe?

Nate Skinner: Personalization is right in or thereabouts the center of the issue here (or the challenge). I personally believe that personalization has distracted a lot of companies and a lot of professionals—who care passionately about the customer experience—from getting something done.

What I mean by that is, it's all the rage, right? Personalization: The right message at the right time to the right audience. Of course, that's what we all want and aspire to, to deliver. But don't let that paralyze your effort.

This, Michael, I think is what people often miss is that customer experience is not a marketing thing, a service thing, a commerce thing, or an advertising thing. It's all of the above. If you take on personalization and try to attach that to every one of those touchpoints, you could be talking about it for years and never have made a step forward.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us what Oracle is doing with customer experience.

Nate Skinner: We are making a lot of investments on the product side around this area. I mentioned earlier; I'm responsible for marketing the customer experience portfolio from Oracle.

  • It includes advertising capabilities, our product line around Moat.
  • It includes Eloqua and our responses products for marketing automation and email marketing and a lot more – loyalty management system.
  • There are lots of data elements and data capabilities.
  • We have sales products and service products.
  • We have a technology solution for the front office, and I call it the front office: the sales, service, marketing folks, and even advertising and commerce to a certain extent.

We have products that solve a lot of these problems for those users and those teams. Then the better news is that we have an underlying platform that unifies them all so that we can indeed move data between every one of those touchpoints about a customer to assure that their experience is as good as you could make it, all built on Oracle Cloud infrastructure for the scalability, elasticity, and trust – the most secure platform on Earth.

Future of customer experience: Machine learning and AI 

Michael Krigsman: Nate, you're thinking a lot about the future of customer experience, where it's going, as well as the types of products that need to be developed. Tell us about the future. Where is this going?

Nate Skinner: A big part of where it's going is the application of machine learning and AI, a lot of the scenarios we described. We have all this data, again, that tells us about what our customers bought, what they own, and their experience with our brand to date, whether it was through cases, they've opened or calls they've made to our support team. Using machine learning and automation to construct a story, a narrative for that customer that's unique to them is a big part of what the future is all about. That's one.

Michael, another one, another future kind of evolution of customer experience is what we see in the convergence of marketing technology and advertising technology (MarTech and AdTech). What we're seeing is that when you're marketing and trying to grow customers, find new customers, and find leads for sellers or generate revenue through direct to consumer, the effort to do so is highly dependent on advertising and reaching the right audience with the right message, making sure that your brand is safe. When you're doing ads on a particular publication, they're not ads that are inappropriate for what's currently being discussed in an article or the news.

Those capabilities are starting to come more together where we're looking at ways to drive compelling and engaging advertisement to the right person at the right time with a message that's appropriate, given where they're looking at this ad. Then turning that into a lead, turning that into nurture that we bring that customer along for the experience to continue to grow. That is another direction we see happening, and we're taking a lot of energy and investment internally at Oracle to bring that to live even more so going forward for our customers.

Michael Krigsman: Nate, we've been talking about customer experience, what it is, what the components are. How does somebody listening get started?

Nate Skinner: Ultimately, the advice I give the customers I speak to who ask me that very question is always, let's talk about where the clearest opportunity for you to apply technology and process alignment can elevate the customer experience and increase lifetime loyalty or lifetime brand affinity with that client.

The second part of that conversation, Michael, is always, how will we measure if it worked? Marketers are notorious—and I'm one, so I can say this—at talking about generating all kinds of things: impressions, leads, and traffic. But very seldom do we talk about the implications of what that did to our company.

Pick a problem that you know you can kind of attack and solve, but also one that you can measure because, if it's not measurable, you won't be able to use that as a business case for doing more of the things we've talked about it already.

Michael Krigsman: Any other tips or advice for folks as they're beginning this journey?

Nate Skinner: I'd say two things. One is, don't be paralyzed by the complexity. This stuff is hard. Any vendor out there making this sound like it's a no-brainer and easy is, frankly, fake news. This is hard. Companies like Oracle have invested millions and millions of dollars in building products that make it easier, but even then, you have to have smart people at the table willing to put in the effort to make this work.

The second thing I'd say is, take a step. Whether it's to affect the sales process, to affect the customer service support process, or to affect your marketing investments, do something to start to address this for your company. You'll see the benefits come in customer retention and customer experience levels that go up. Then you can start to look for other ways to increase the angles at which you attack the problem.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Nate Skinner, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Oracle, thank you so much for speaking with us about customer experience.

Nate Skinner: Thank you, Michael, for having me. Appreciate it.

This transcript was lightly edited.

Customer experience at Oracle

Michael Krigsman: What is customer experience, and how do we get there? We're speaking with Nate Skinner, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing with Oracle. Nate, tell us about your background in customer experience and tell us about what you do for Oracle.

Nate Skinner: I started as a seller (back in the late '90s) of software technology, and I've been focused on customers ever since. I spent ten years in the field working with customers doing sales. Then I did sales engineering, product management that ultimately led to a marketing career in product marketing, and then marketing, which I've been doing for the last ten years. Now, in my role leading the marketing team for our customer experience solutions at Oracle, we are bringing to market, to customers, the technology that allows them to realize the promise of extraordinary customer experience today.

Michael Krigsman: Your role with Oracle, what does that encompass?

Nate Skinner: I'm responsible for marketing the solution we have here, sometimes referred to as the front-office. It's our customer-facing application, so sales, customer service, marketing, commerce, advertising. All the products that Oracle brings to market for those capabilities are all under the portfolio that I'm responsible for marketing. I lead marketing for that portfolio globally.

What is customer experience (CX)?

Michael Krigsman: Nate, customer experience has become such a prominent buzzword. When we talk about customer experience, tell us what it means (in practical terms).

Nate Skinner: It is the experience we impart on a customer when they engage with our company, our employees, or our brand. How we do that in a consistent way—whether that engagement is through a social channel, whether that engagement is through a customer service call or chat, whether that engagement is through an interaction with a seller (a sales rep), or even how the engagement might feel to a customer who is on a commerce site trying to buy something in a self-service way—all of those touchpoints represent the customer experience.

Professionals focused on making that as extraordinary as they can are looking at ways to do that in a digital fashion, taking advantage of the technology that's available to impart the best experience they can no matter where the customer starts their interaction. That, to me, is what it means practically. All of those different touchpoints for a customer need to be as good or extraordinary as you could make them. Technology can help make that happen.

Michael Krigsman: Nate, why is customer experience so important that everybody is focused on it right now?

Nate Skinner: Customers have so many choices. At the end of the day, you and I know we can browse to a website, not get what we want, not have a great experience, and immediately open another tab and go somewhere else. The power of choice is in the hands of every customer. More than ever before, we need to make sure that their experience with our companies is as good as we can make it.

Our attention spans are so small these days that if we can't capture your imagination about how whatever we're offering can help you (Mr. or Mrs. Customer) in a few seconds, we probably don't have a customer. That's why I think it's so important and such an imperative today.

It's no longer something nice to have. It's a must-have. It's kind of a tier-one strategy for many companies today.

How to create excellent customer experience?

Michael Krigsman: Historically, customers would go into a retail store. They were surrounded by the environment. They were there in the store.

Now, as you say with digital, a customer defection is no farther away than a click; that customer choice, as you were describing. To summarize—attracting customers, customer loyalty, ultimately maintaining your revenue streams—those are the benefits of customer experience, but how do we get there?

Nate Skinner: The interaction that has the most volume is customer support. If that's true, then I would focus on trying to make sure that you're employing a great customer experience at the moment of need with regard to support or the customer call center. On the other hand, if you're a high-volume sales organization and you have thousands of sellers out there, you may want to focus your customer experience efforts on the sales process and technology such that your sellers are assuring the best possible experience for that customer.

I think the answer around how you get going is to pick what is causing you the most problem. What's the hurdle you'd like to overcome the most, whether it supports, whether it's the commerce website for your company, whether it's the customer support channel? Maybe it's your social media and your marketing channels where you're trying to reach customers, and they're engaging, but you're not getting conversion rates. That could be a place to focus your customer experience efforts.

What I would not suggest is that you try to do it all at one time. It's so many things to so many companies. The best approach is to kind of pick the problem that you know you can really dive deep on, solve for that, and then move on.

Michael, if I could add one more thing, does not do any of those in a silo. If we focus on customer service—you know, when Michael calls or chats us in our customer support channel—what's that experience like for the customer? We don't want to disconnect that experience from what it's like for a customer who wants to buy from us, what it's like for a customer who gets a marketing ad or a campaign. We want to connect them, and the connection is the interaction itself.

From a technology point of view, having data at the center that connects all those engagements across any one of those touchpoints is a critical component to realizing the ultimate promise of customer experience across those touchpoints. Don't fix for one and forget about the rest. Think about them in the context of an orchestration.

Michael Krigsman: Is data the key to breaking down the silos, as you were describing?

Nate Skinner: I think the data if it's not the key, it is the long pole in the tent. If you're not flowing information about that customer's engagement, interaction, and interests across those various touchpoints (between service, support, sales, and marketing), you're not going to achieve the customer experience that you'd like to on behalf of your customers. Data is a centerpiece, but the data we're talking about, it's all centered on the customer.

From the support channel, how many cases do we have with this customer? Have we resolved them all? Are they happy? It's an input that we need for the selling motion and the sales process, which is an input that we need for how we market to that customer to get them to buy the next best product we have to offer to continue to expand that customer lifetime value.

All of those meaningful interactions that the customer has had with our need to flow seamlessly between those functions within your company. In that regard, data is essential. Taking advantage of it is another thing. At Oracle, we provide solutions like this to companies of all sizes and all industries around the world who are starting to recognize the power of doing this well and (you mentioned it earlier) the benefits to their business of getting this right.

Technology and personalization to enable customer experience

Michael Krigsman: Nate, we've been discussing the components of implementing a customer experience program, and we've talked about data. We just spoke about technology. Are there other pieces involved?

Nate Skinner: The question that I get asked a lot is who owns this problem, like who owns solving this problem. A lot of people assume it's the marketer, but that's not true.

Getting to the issue is the other pieces involved are people. Honestly, technology can solve a lot. If you have a vision and have the incentive to get this fixed, you can fix it.

The processes could be mapped. You can look at ways to flow data between sales, service, marketing, commerce, and advertising. But if the people aren't invested in making those things seamless and recognizing that we're doing this in service of customer loyalty and value to the customer, it will fail.

I've seen that happen. Everybody gets myopic about, well, "All I care about is my number," you know, the sellers. Marketers: "All I care about is my conversion rates and lead funnel." Support people: "All I care about is case deflection and reducing costs." Well, not a single one of those things I just said had the customer in them.

Customer experience puts the customer in front of all of those things and says, "Hold on. Every one of us needs to work together—technology as an enablement layer—to make this different for our company." Those that are doing this well are exceeding every expectation of their shareholders and their stakeholders.

Michael Krigsman: Nate, where does personalization fit into this customer experience universe?

Nate Skinner: Personalization is right in or thereabouts the center of the issue here (or the challenge). I personally believe that personalization has distracted a lot of companies and a lot of professionals—who care passionately about the customer experience—from getting something done.

What I mean by that is, it's all the rage, right? Personalization: The right message at the right time to the right audience. Of course, that's what we all want and aspire to, to deliver. But don't let that paralyze your effort.

This, Michael, I think is what people often miss is that customer experience is not a marketing thing, a service thing, a commerce thing, or an advertising thing. It's all of the above. If you take on personalization and try to attach that to every one of those touchpoints, you could be talking about it for years and never have made a step forward.

Michael Krigsman: Tell us what Oracle is doing with customer experience.

Nate Skinner: We are making a lot of investments on the product side around this area. I mentioned earlier; I'm responsible for marketing the customer experience portfolio from Oracle.

  • It includes advertising capabilities, our product line around Moat.
  • It includes Eloqua and our responses products for marketing automation and email marketing and a lot more – loyalty management system.
  • There are lots of data elements and data capabilities.
  • We have sales products and service products.
  • We have a technology solution for the front office, and I call it the front office: the sales, service, marketing folks, and even advertising and commerce to a certain extent.

We have products that solve a lot of these problems for those users and those teams. Then the better news is that we have an underlying platform that unifies them all so that we can indeed move data between every one of those touchpoints about a customer to assure that their experience is as good as you could make it, all built on Oracle Cloud infrastructure for the scalability, elasticity, and trust – the most secure platform on Earth.

Future of customer experience: Machine learning and AI 

Michael Krigsman: Nate, you're thinking a lot about the future of customer experience, where it's going, as well as the types of products that need to be developed. Tell us about the future. Where is this going?

Nate Skinner: A big part of where it's going is the application of machine learning and AI, a lot of the scenarios we described. We have all this data, again, that tells us about what our customers bought, what they own, and their experience with our brand to date, whether it was through cases, they've opened or calls they've made to our support team. Using machine learning and automation to construct a story, a narrative for that customer that's unique to them is a big part of what the future is all about. That's one.

Michael, another one, another future kind of evolution of customer experience is what we see in the convergence of marketing technology and advertising technology (MarTech and AdTech). What we're seeing is that when you're marketing and trying to grow customers, find new customers, and find leads for sellers or generate revenue through direct to consumer, the effort to do so is highly dependent on advertising and reaching the right audience with the right message, making sure that your brand is safe. When you're doing ads on a particular publication, they're not ads that are inappropriate for what's currently being discussed in an article or the news.

Those capabilities are starting to come more together where we're looking at ways to drive compelling and engaging advertisement to the right person at the right time with a message that's appropriate, given where they're looking at this ad. Then turning that into a lead, turning that into nurture that we bring that customer along for the experience to continue to grow. That is another direction we see happening, and we're taking a lot of energy and investment internally at Oracle to bring that to live even more so going forward for our customers.

Michael Krigsman: Nate, we've been talking about customer experience, what it is, what the components are. How does somebody listening get started?

Nate Skinner: Ultimately, the advice I give the customers I speak to who ask me that very question is always, let's talk about where the clearest opportunity for you to apply technology and process alignment can elevate the customer experience and increase lifetime loyalty or lifetime brand affinity with that client.

The second part of that conversation, Michael, is always, how will we measure if it worked? Marketers are notorious—and I'm one, so I can say this—at talking about generating all kinds of things: impressions, leads, and traffic. But very seldom do we talk about the implications of what that did to our company.

Pick a problem that you know you can kind of attack and solve, but also one that you can measure because, if it's not measurable, you won't be able to use that as a business case for doing more of the things we've talked about it already.

Michael Krigsman: Any other tips or advice for folks as they're beginning this journey?

Nate Skinner: I'd say two things. One is, don't be paralyzed by the complexity. This stuff is hard. Any vendor out there making this sound like it's a no-brainer and easy is, frankly, fake news. This is hard. Companies like Oracle have invested millions and millions of dollars in building products that make it easier, but even then, you have to have smart people at the table willing to put in the effort to make this work.

The second thing I'd say is, take a step. Whether it's to affect the sales process, to affect the customer service support process, or to affect your marketing investments, do something to start to address this for your company. You'll see the benefits come in customer retention and customer experience levels that go up. Then you can start to look for other ways to increase the angles at which you attack the problem.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Nate Skinner, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Oracle, thank you so much for speaking with us about customer experience.

Nate Skinner: Thank you, Michael, for having me. Appreciate it.