• February 10, 2021
  • By Nate Skinner, senior vice president of global marketing, Oracle

Quarantining With My Kids: A Customer Experience Lab in My Living Room

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When I first started my career in sales and marketing, I travelled constantly, meeting with customers and prospects. I missed many of my children’s milestones, sporting events, performances, and parent-teacher conferences. I forged our relationships over the phone, during check-in calls each evening, and on weekends.

More recently, because of the pandemic, I’m working from home, where the kids are attending school online. The opportunity to watch my children close up as they use technology is like running a customer experience lab in my living room, where I’m watching the future of CX unfold. Here are a few lessons my kids are teaching me.

1. Be aware that our customers often know more than we think. My oldest, Jackson, 17 and a high school senior, is a digital native who practically grew up with a device in his hands. He and his other too-cool-for-school classmates attend online class all day with their video feeds turned off. When he visits your websites, he’s still operating in “stealth mode.” He wants to get in, grab some information or make a purchase, get out, and get on with his day. If he ever does need to reach out to an agent, he expects to talk to someone who knows as much as he does.

2. Clear customer roadblocks. My daughter Allison, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, spends the school day steeped in technology. While she watches her teacher in a small window in the corner of her screen, she keeps several Chrome tabs open so she can do research, work on homework assignments, and stay in constant touch with her friends. She works at warp speed, taking notes in a Google doc, typing 60 words per minute. Nothing keeps her from class: If she can’t find an internet connection, she creates a hotspot. If we’re being too noisy, she slips on her earphones. If she goes to your website and it’s gated, or it’s not logically laid out, she goes elsewhere. If she encounters anything or anyone who doesn’t meet her expectations, she declares them to be “stupid,” and she has a long memory; she won’t be back.

3. Keep your customers engaged. If you’re going to interrupt your customers with marketing pitches—especially during the pandemic, when they are likely to be frazzled keeping the home fires burning while juggling their jobs—you’d be smart to keep them entertained. My youngest child, Silas, is only 6 but he’s amazingly adept using his iPad. Before I can even say “Do you need help?” as he’s getting ready for class in the morning, he has launched Zoom and Canvas and is ready to learn. His school has a policy that students must leave their video feeds on during class. Silas likes it when the teacher calls on him by name and offers engaging content with embedded pictures and videos. To me, his reaction reinforces the idea that we should know our customers’ interests and not put them to sleep with our content.

Watching my children in action, I sometimes ask myself, “Who are these people?” When I was growing up in the 1980s, we didn’t have a home computer, our only phone was hanging on the kitchen wall, and I did my homework using real books in an actual library. I am the very definition of a “digital émigré,” someone who came late to the party. It sometimes strikes me as the height of irony that “older” people like me are directing the kind of experiences our younger customers should have with our companies when my kids would say we don’t have a clue.

I do think we put too much emphasis on grouping our customers into artificial generational buckets, randomly named after the letters of the alphabet. I’d like to introduce you to a new group of consumers who may be sitting in your living room right now. Let’s call them “Generation S” for those young super-users who are smart and savvy and will be our customers before we know it. 

Whatever we call them, we should use all that customer data our companies are collecting to create profiles that accurately reflect their individual skills and interests.  Offer your customers only goods and services they need—perhaps even before they realize they need them. I envision a time in the near future, once these young consumers have their own credit cards, when they will be purchasing everything from cars to houses online. If you need help imagining this future, just ask those young people who may be sharing your home.

Nate Skinner is senior vice president of global marketing for Oracle’s advertising and customer experience management applications, which include sales, marketing, service, and commerce applications. In this role, Skinner is responsible for go-to-market strategy, including field marketing, digital marketing, and demand gen. He was named one of the 20 most important executives shaping the future of marketing technology in 2020 by Business Insider. Skinner has spent the last 20 years building, executing, and leading marketing and sales programs for some of the largest technology companies on earth, including Amazon Web Services and, most recently, Salesforce.

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