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Reaching Customers Through the Cloud
The way products are designed, launched, and serviced will never be the same.
Posted May 27, 2010
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For many service professionals, their connection with cloud computing has been a way to transform internal business processes using tools such as salesforce.com and other cloud-based CRM systems. However, the cloud has far stronger potential to transform the end experience for customers and change the way products are designed, launched and serviced. For service professionals, this largely untapped potential of the cloud is powerful, though they need to work closely with product designers and marketers to ensure that products leveraging the cloud are designed for success.

Product designers and marketers are just beginning to understand the power of the cloud. The combined rich immersive interface and countless services available in the cloud provide the potential for a digital product that is groundbreaking and can be developed at a fraction of the cost and time it took just a few years ago. A few companies have delved into this new way of marketing. These organizations have leveraged the cloud to deliver new experiences to customers and bring services to market quickly.

For example, Varian, a manufacturer of electronic measurement devices, decided to forgo the annual industry conference and instead create an immersive Web experience entitled The Varian Experience (www.thevarianexperience.com). This type of Web application has unpredictable volume with high spikes that needs to be deployed globally and immediately. Varian hosted the application on Amazon's EC2 cloud and got the stability and scalability it needed.

Nystrom, the industry leader in classroom maps, needed an electronic map offering to compete in the digital age. After assessing the time and effort necessary to create its own mapping interface, the company instead created an application that sits on top of Google Earth utilizing its open application programming interface. Nystrom used Google Earth for basic mapping functions and created an overlay application that displays the company's educational maps and content. The product was brought to market in less than six months and the company now focuses on content creation versus basic mapping (www.stratalogica.com).

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors is utilizing cloud computing to create better in-car experiences for customers. In the Tesla Model S there are two LED screens where the instrument panel and center console are in most cars. The center console itself is a 17-inch multi-touch display. Whereas electronics in today's automobiles are proprietary and obsolete before they even leave the showroom, the Tesla experience will be constantly updated, heavily leveraging cloud-based services from Internet radio to GPS. Tesla added a mapping service to the prototype car recently simply using Google Maps and a $40 GPS thumb drive. Try adding anything to your Mercedes in-dash system. To experience this dash for yourself, view a video at www.teslamotors.com.

As these examples illustrate, there are significant benefits to using the cloud to reach, and ultimately to serve and satisfy, potential and existing customers:

  • Scalability. Using the cloud markedly reduces the infrastructure and scalability problems that can plague new products, particularly temporary campaigns which can sap resources.
  • Adoption. In many cases, cloud-based products are presenting functionality, such as Google Earth, that are familiar to end users. This familiarity increases adoption and lowers service costs.
  • Training. Utilizing the cloud reduces training costs for service professionals for the same reasons as above: the products are largely free of scalability problems and easy to use due often to familiarity.

Despite the many benefits of using the cloud, there are some risks service professionals should be aware of and possibly need to mitigate:

  • Third-Party Integration. If you are using a third party product through the cloud and it has a problem, you need to also own that problem and find a way to address it. There may be fewer issues than in the past, but diagnosing them is tricky and telling a customer that it is not your problem and you can't help them is never a good option.
  • Security. Technology professionals are beginning to develop a backlash against the security of cloud-based products and services. Much of this is hyperbole. In fact, cloud-based services are more secure than a typical Web site. However, acknowledging and responding to customer concerns is critical and it will pay off to be well prepared to address this issue.
  • Training. While training may be easier, it is different. Service professionals must not only understand your product, but also be very familiar with third party products you are leveraging.

Like any new technology, cloud computing can provide early adopters with a significant competitive advantage. By working with the technology department early on, products designers and marketers can ensure that these advantages are realized and that customers are not just excited but also highly satisfied. 

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About the Author

Jeff Maling (jmaling@roundarch.com) is chief experience officer for Roundarch, a digital consultancy that designs and implements digital experiences. He is responsible for establishing the user experience vision that drives the development of Roundarch's service offerings, methodology and vendor relationships. Maling has 16 years of experience shaping interactive and multichannel strategies for clients that include The Hershey Company, United States Air Force, MCI, Centers for Disease Control, CIBC, The State of California, Pitney Bowes, Cable & Wireless, Mutual of Omaha, and British Telecom. Maling was previously with the CRM strategy group at Deloitte Consulting and served in Accenture's Boston office. 

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Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" below.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the May 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

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