Podcast: Improving Customer and Employee Engagement (TKR)

Podcast Transcript

The following is a special presentation of Tony Kurre radio with Dr. Alex Heublein and Dr. Josh Klapow. This is Adapt or Perish.

Welcome to Adapt or Perish, along with Dr. Alex Heublein president of Adaptigent. I’m Dr. Josh Klapow. And today we are talking about engagement in the digital world.

Alex, this is one it’s near and dear to my heart, really on two levels. One from the technology company that I have been involved with our whole business process was focused on engagement.

If we couldn’t get consumers to engage, we didn’t get our business goals accomplished. The other piece, to be honest with you as a behavioral scientist, the whole concept of getting people to do things that we want them to do is absolutely fascinating.

Obviously we have seen in the headlines and just ongoing concept of the digital world, social media, making people engage, getting people to engage, and one of the questions I was really curious about, because I’ve seen this in my own work is, the definition of engagement in the digital world. What does engagement mean?

And then really the second question is, how does the technology come in from a functional standpoint to create engagement? Because again, a lot of us think about it as it’s advertising, it’s the front end only, but the front end doesn’t work without the back end.

So talk to me a little bit about engagement and how you and your company see the term engagement and then really where the technology is and what it does in this digital age we live in.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you look at engagement, I mean, there’s lots of different types of engagement, right? You can have to your point consumer engagement, where you’re trying to engage people that you’re trying to sell something to, or trying to engage them in a platform so on and so forth. Right. Because so it’s almost like that customers or consumer level engagement.

And then there’s a lot of topics around employee engagement, right? How do I get the people within my company to engage in the right things and convince them to do the right things and so on and so forth.

And so I think there’s many different levels that we can look at this at, but I think the real trick to it and the common thread to all of it is, “How do I look at it from an end to end perspective?”

You know, I’ve seen companies go out there and say, “We’re going to really engage with our customers and our prospects and consumers and so on and so forth.” The problem was they didn’t have that same level of engagement with their own people.

So to look at it from this front end perspective, yeah, you can go off and build really nice interfaces. You can build websites and mobile apps and all kinds of things to allow people to engage with you. But if you don’t have your own people on board with that level of engagement, that becomes a real problem, right? If you don’t have the people building the software so on and so forth, if they’re not engaged as well on the other side of it, then you end up with really just a one way engagement. And that doesn’t work really for anybody that’s not satisfying. I think for the vast majority of people.

And I think that’s part of the reason that a lot of these engagement with consumers with buyers fail a lot of times because they’re not looking at it from a broad enough perspective, right? It’s marketing people looking at it or it’s sales people or whatever, looking at it.

And they don’t have the rest of the organization focused on engaging with those customers and those consumers as well. And if you don’t have the end to end piece, you’re probably going to fall flat when you do it.

So, one thing that I hear a lot is, and we don’t have to necessarily get people define engagement the term, as you said, in so many different ways, I can think of consumer actually what I call, pull through behavior. They go to the webpage, or they go to the front facing interface, they click on something, social media, they click on something and if they click on something, then it’s defined as engagement.

But then the reality is we want them to buy something. So it goes from clicking on something defined as engagement to actually purchasing of the product or doing the behavior that creates money, et cetera, creates revenue.

But then I think about the back end, the people who are building these systems, the technology itself, are they thinking about it the same way? I guess what I’m asking is are the business processes and the developers and the people who are creating the software always in line in their understanding of, or their perspective on what engagement actually is.

Yeah. I think in really well run companies, you’ve got everybody engaged, right, end to end. You’ve got your consumers engaged, you’ve got your business people engaged, and you’ve got your technology people engaged. And I think that’s an ideal scenario.

But yeah, no, to answer your question directly though, and the vast majority of the cases, the answer is no, those constituent groups are not lined up in a lot of cases. and I think it’s more common to see the business focused people aligned with the consumer focused people, right? That’s a relatively easy connection to make, right? “I want these people to buy something for me or click on my stuff or whatever it is I want them to do,” the business gets that right. They understand the value of that. And so they’re really going to push that front end process to make that as easy and consumable as possible.

I think one of the challenges we see though, is on the back end, when you start looking at software engineers, development teams, IT shops there’s always been this Gulf, we call this it business alignment, Gulf.

And the challenge that you run into is oftentimes the business is trying to communicate what they want to do the developers over there trying to do it. But those two parties aren’t engaged in the right way. And if you can’t get those parties to line up, you’re always going to be building the wrong thing. And to some degree it’s always going to be wrong.

And that’s really where this idea of agile development rapid prototyping came from in the software development space is it’s not just the business saying, “Hey, here’s what we want to do to engage it with our customers, go build me something to do it,” but it’s truly an iterative process that you go through.

It’s not a big bang type type of thing. You’re iterating with the business and the technology organization. You’re building that level of engagement that really hasn’t existed there in some companies in a long, long time.

And the best in class companies are ones where that business, IT alignment gap is very, very small. You go to other companies and that business, IT alignment gap is enormous. And so a lot of it really, to me, is about reducing that gap.

Because again, the gap between the consumers and the business tends to be much smaller naturally, but the gap between and the engagement Gulf or gap between the business people and the people that are actually out there implementing the technology and make all that happen. That’s I think where a lot of people need to focus and spend some time and energy and invest in the right technologies to facilitate that entire process of engagement.

Yeah. I mean, what you describe is potentially, I don’t know if catastrophic is too strong of a word, but definitely inefficient. Right? So I keep thinking about the business side is focused on what the consumer wants, what they want to drive revenue, the tech, the development side is trying to produce that, but they may see it a different way, or they may not be communication.

And as a result, you can have iteration after iteration of if you will, the wrong thing or the thing, or the solution that’s not really the solution that they’re looking for.

And I was just wondering we’ve talked about in previous shows the idea of abstraction layers and what Adaptigent and what Adaptigent can do with legacy systems.

I guess I never thought about how that functionally works with a company that says, “Look, we, we want to improve our engagement. We want our consumers to be, we want our product to be more sticky, but not from a branding standpoint. We want people to use the technology more.” Where does an Adaptigent come in on that? Both on a strategic side, but also on a technological side.

Yeah. The way we do it is we’ve been proponents for over a decade now of putting the right types of solutions in place that allow the business and the developers to collaborate. So all of our technologies really are what we call no code technologies.

The developers aren’t writing code, they’re actually generating the code. And I think that’s important because the neat thing you can do with visual tools like that is for instance, I can go out and create an integration workflow, or I can create a business process automation workflow with visual tools.

So I can literally get on a zoom meeting with someone. If I’m a developer, I can get them on a call over video. I can share my screen. And we can both look at this visual environment to make sure that we’re doing the right things as a development organization, you can get literally real-time feedback by doing that thing, as opposed to going off and the business comes up with all these requirements, there’s a requirements, definition document, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then a bunch of people go write a bunch of code, and then they test it and then they come back and it’s just, it’s a mess, right?

It lengthens that process tremendously, but it also keeps that gap very wide between the business and the development teams. So being able to actually have the business people, business analysts, sit down with IT analysts and go build workflows, go build process automations, and do that work in real time.

Because a lot of times the challenge you run into with a lot of IT organizations and a lot of developers is that they don’t actually understand the context of what they’re building. They don’t understand the context of the data that they’re processing. And so the business people though have the context behind that they can say, “No, look, this is what this data element real means to us. And this is why we need to get it back faster than some other data element, because we’re going to present it in a way that’s valuable to the consumer.”

So I think being able to use solutions and technologies that allow the business analysts and the developer type analysts to really sit down and collaborate in time so that the business people understand the limitations of the technology that they’re using and the developers understand the context of what the business people are really trying to get done on behalf of engaging the consumers on the front end.

I think those types of tools, and that’s really what we specialize in, is building tools that allow our customers to have that level of collaboration and to get things done very quickly. But I think the other nice part about it is that it also lets them change things quickly.

So you may take something, put it out in the marketplace, you’re trying to create customer engagement or consumer engagement. And you find that whether there’s this one feature that really, really isn’t what we need. Being able to go back and change the backend processes and change the backend integrations or automations to do that. If you can do that very, very quickly.

Now, I’ve got closer alignment between my consumers, the business, and the IT and development organizations and we see that ability to change and adapt those processes and those automations quickly, that’s one of the key ways of being able to do that.

How do you all come in again? You’ve referred to this a couple times in large organizations, right? There is the business side or business sales. What have you side? and then there’s the IT side.

And we talked about the gap and getting those to be able to sit together or closer together within an organization. But companies like Adaptigent represent a, yet an it’s an outside company that’s coming in with the software or software solutions.

How do you all function there? Because you’re not the company’s IT, you’re not the company’s business, but what you have should help both. So how does that process work, where you all get yours, where you all insert yourself either technologically and or if you will physically into the companies that you’re working with.

Yeah, it’s typically through what I’ll call system integration partners. We’re very rarely the entire solution, but we tend to be a big part of the overall solution that we ultimately end up getting delivered to our customers, right?

So we work with consulting organizations that can really go in and their expertise is looking at these end to end processes, right. And making sure that they’re going to be streamlined, making sure that they’re going to be efficient, but more importantly, making sure that that whole end to end cycle is ultimately going to deliver the right business value to the business people and the right value to the consumers that you’re trying to engage with.

So we find ourselves in that position a lot of times, right, where it’s the consulting firms that come in, they do a lot of that upfront work. It’s great work for them. And it really helps the business, understand the business context of everything.

And then we come in and help them understand, “Okay, now that you know what you want to do, let us show you how you can do that with our software solutions.” So we tend to spend a lot of time doing what I’ll call, train the trainer type stuff. So they’re ready to go off and do these things. Now we really sit down with them and show them, we’ll build out several use cases sitting next to them with them, or at least before the pandemic, it’s a little harder now, but we do it over zoom or whatever.

But yeah, but it’s really that idea of being able to empower them to go do this themselves. Like we help them with the first project and then they go, “Okay, we got it. We understand how to use the technology to implement these processes and implement these integrations. Now we’ve got it.”

And then those consulting firms oftentimes stay engaged throughout the project then you see a lot of these really, really big digital transformation projects happening today. And they tend to be very large. They tend to be very broad in scope. And the key again is looking at things holistically and being able to understand that end to end process. And then also what that’s going to mean to the people within the company as well.

Because a lot of times when you go through these transformation exercises, they’re again, we’ve talked about this before. There’s this huge cultural element of doing that. Your company’s culture has to support that level of innovation. And I’ve seen so many projects get torpedoed because people had these grand visions, the consulting firms came in and said, “Look at what you can do,” but they couldn’t get the people within the company that really needed to be engaged. They just couldn’t get them behind it.

And so it very, very slowly didn’t deliver on the business results because there was that huge gap between the culture of the company, as well as this gap between the IT and the business. So it’s really about solving all of those problems and not just looking at it from one perspective, but looking at it from a variety of perspectives so that you’ve accounted for everything.

And that’s one of the biggest parts of change. I don’t care if you’re talking about digital transformation or any change within a company, getting people on board with that change, making sure they understand the value and the criticality of that initiative to the business. That’s a big part of the battle.

So I think this is interesting, and this, I may tap into your academic roots here, so you’ve got this potentially disruptive, but positive opportunity. You’re going to come in, we’re going to create greater engagement for our customers. It’s going to produce XYZ revenue, and it’s going to be wonderful. And like you said, and the consulting company, “Oh my God, the sky’s the limit, and this is going to be fantastic.”

And then at the next level, though, you definitely have within the organization, depending on who it is that means change. What does that mean for me? And particularly around technology, if the majority of the company is reliant on that technology, this fear of, “How is my day going to be different? How am I going to inter interact with these systems?”

And I guess I wonder is your experience that sometimes the project gets either killed or not moved through because there is a misperceived fear that internally our employees will don’t get this. They won’t be able to use this. It’s not going to work forget what the business opportunity is, but that internally we’re not going to get engagement amongst our employees so it’s not worth it to move forward. That maybe an inaccurate perception or fear based that this is not going to work internally even if it could work externally.

Oh yeah, definitely. And I think the situation in a lot of cases is even worse than that. So it’s not just the individual contributor level people getting them on board, but a lot of times companies will create what are known as perverse incentives that actually take some of their mid-level executives and because them to oppose things. They don’t necessarily oppose them explicitly, but they’re not going to get behind things because the metrics and the goals that they have been given by the company don’t line up with the new initiative.

So you’ll have people looking at it saying, “Wait a minute, my bonus is going to be reduced this year because of this exercise, and so I’m not going to support that, right. I’m not going to get behind that.” So I think it goes beyond just engaging your individual contributor level employees, or maybe even your first line managers. It’s really about getting your mid-level executives engaged.

Because if there’s a gap between what the senior leadership wants to do and the gap there is that middle management middle executive layer. If they’re not on a board with these things, either because they view it as a fear of change, they have reverse incentives that because them to look at things from their own personal perspective, their own personal financial perspective, and say, “This actually isn’t aligned with what you’ve told me to go out and do, and what you’ve gold me on for the year or for the quarter or whatever.”

So yeah, you’ve got to be able to overcome the cultural aspects of it, the fear of change, but you also have to go in and make sure that your incentive programs are actually incentivizing people to make the changes and it’s not going to cost them a whole bunch of money or cost them a promotion or whatever if they get behind the change.

And I’ve seen this happen over and over and over again at organizations and everybody’s scratching their head like, “Well, the individual contributors and the first line managers, man, they seem to be really engaged. The senior executive team seems to be really engaged,” but nobody’s actually gone back and looked and said, “What are, have I really incentivized people to make this change, to go through this digital transformation exercise.”

And again, if you don’t have those layers of management, all on the same page, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. And it’s very, very difficult to garner support for really taking it through to its natural conclusion.

Okay. So how does a company like Adaptigent? I’m thinking about this here you all, you’re sitting essentially on the outside. I mean, before there is a deal you’ve described everything that you’ve literally just described this to be the case. And I can envision you and Adaptigent watching this thing go awry with misinformation and incentives not aligned.

And yet you have a software potentially can help these companies. I mean, how does a software company navigate this without being, not apathetic, but just say, “Hey, look, we’ve got a product that can solve your problems. Once you all get your act together then, and or if you get your act together, then we can be really helpful.”

How do you stand to watch this as the president of this company, when you see what’s happening in the organization and you know that obviously it’s going to affect your company, but it’s also going to affect theirs.

Well we see it a lot of times in the sales cycle you’re always going to when you, when you try to sell a complex product or a sophisticated product to a large enterprise there’s always different various factions and some of them are supporters, some of them are detractors.

So I think it actually starts in the sales process itself, right? We try to identify your champions that are in the account that are really focused on making this happen, making it work, then there’s going to be people that are neutral that say, “Yeah, okay, whatever one way or the other.” And then you try to find the detractors that say, “Nah, this is a terrible idea. Whatever happens to be.”

And you’ve got to deal with all three of those groups, right? You can’t just go to the people that are championing the initiative and say, “Hey, this is great,” they’re going to believe you. But being able to go out and challenge the status quo, being able to go out and engage with the detractors, the people that don’t see this whole initiative as a good idea, and work with them to show them, “Here’s what we can accomplish. This is how it’s going to make your life better.”

And really when you, when you get down to it, people will support things. If it’s going to make their lives better. but most people in the world look at things from the perspective of, okay, what’s in it for me, right?


Not just what’s in it for my company, but what’s in it for me personally and right, wrong or indifferent. I think a lot of people think that way. So being able to show the value, not only from a company perspective, but also be able to show people how this is going to make their lives easier. It’s going to enable them to accomplish their goals more effectively and efficiently, get there faster and ultimately hopefully make more money. That’s a critical success element in these, in these transformation projects.

But yeah, it can be really frustrating, right? You’ll go into these accounts and you’ll just sit there and scratch your head and chuckle like you guys are never going to figure this out. It doesn’t matter what technology platform you pick. You guys aren’t going to figure this out ever until you solve some of these organizational incentivization issues, you don’t solve those, doesn’t matter or what technology you pick. That’s just the implementation of it. But if you’re not aligned, you’re probably not going to succeed.

Do you see companies in the industry that maybe your competition or a lot a like, like what Adaptigent is where there criteria for engagement with another company with a potential customer is not, there’s not the right kind of a criteria.

I guess what I mean by that is, “We have a solution and this is a great financial opportunity for us,” and so doing everything you can to convince the organization, but systemically you have this feeling that the organization is, not ready.

Have you ever been in that situation where, whether it’s KPIs that you’re putting in a place that there’s a misperception about what your product can and should do, but instead of pushing you away they’re already to buy in, but you’re seeing that their expectations for what the software solution is, are not accurate.

Does that ever create a problem, because again, I’ve seen that in the industry that I work with it’s the magical [adaptogen 00:28:00] solution and it’ll do everything, including making our personal lives, happier, our marriages better and all our revenue. Do you ever see, do you see that? And how do you all deal with that to set, level set with expectations from clients or potential clients who are ready to buy?

Well we do it right up front. I mean, I’m a big believer in setting the right expectations. Right. Under promise over deliver. So we don’t get in into that too far down the road, as we go into the deep buying cycle or we go into actual implementation, I think we do a pretty good job of setting expectations appropriately.

We have, we within our company have a corporate culture of openness and honesty and transparency, and that’s really important for our employees. But we also to try to practice that with our customers and our prospects, right. We’re very, very open about what our products can and cannot do.

And I think setting that expectation up front to where you’re not overselling things, that’s tough, because there are salespeople out there that will try to oversell what you’ve got. Yeah, “This thing is magical. It can do any thing.”

So we try to be very, very careful, right from the very beginning to explain what we do, how we do it, the business value you’re going to derive from it. And we don’t, we don’t over promise on those things. And I think that’s a critical success factor, but yeah, we’ve gotten into situations where the expectations weren’t aligned or the customer really wasn’t ready to do things and those deals tend to go south pretty quickly.

So I think it’s all about making sure that everybody’s aligned with the right expectations. But to me it’s all about making sure that everybody understands the business value. They’re going to derive from these sorts of things. It’s not about the technology value. It’s not just about cost savings or whatever. Those can all be elements of it. But at the end of the day, we have to connect with the business value that the company’s going to get.

And in many cases the personal value that the buyers are going to get, we’ve got to set the expectations around that very well. But we also have to articulate those benefits very clearly and very effectively. And that we found is the recipe for success.

You know, I was thinking, again, our topic today is engagement in the digital world. And I know that we’ve at least I’ve brought us more to the internal side of this, but I was thinking of about refinements and engagement. so business practices or targets can change over time.

And so a company engages with your company and things are going well and you got the consumer engaging, everything is going well. And then there is a shift or there’s a desire to shift what the engagement targets are. We want our front end users to do this versus this. We need our employees now to make a change. We need them to interact with the system this way, versus this way. I know you’ve talked about automation and essentially not having to write code the ID, IT Sys, departments don’t have to do that.

But what role, if any, does an [adaptogen 00:27:51] play when there is a shift or a change in engagement targets either externally, the consumer or the business or the end user or internally amongst employees, is it that your software is able to do it enough or so well that the IT department can do it themselves? Or are you all brought back in to consult with the consultants, et cetera, where do you step out and where do you stay in and how does that work with Adaptigent?

You know, we really try to make the implementation of these things as seamless and as efficient and as flexible as possible. So one of the things that we really engage in when people want to change something, when they want to change their target markets, or they want to change their engagement model so when and so forth, typically those integrations and automations have to change and sometimes they have to change very quickly.

So we provide a platform that really lets you go out and make those changes very rapidly to systems that traditionally have been very, very difficult to change. And we’re not organizational psychologists. We don’t go in and give a whole bunch of advice about how to better engage your employees.

But what we do is we make sure that when they’ve decided on what they’re going to do and the changes they’re going to make, we try to make the implementation of those things as fast and as flexible as humanly possible. And that really helps them drive to a situation where you’re seeing close to real time feedback.

It’s great to go make decisions about changing things, but if the decision to change something is going to take you a year to implement a year from now, it may change again.

So I think this idea of change in being able to adapt very quickly, it’s one of the reasons we call it. We rebranded the company to Adaptigent, is we want to make that adaptability. We want to facilitate that and ultimately empower these it departments to go out and be able to move as quickly as the business wants to move or change.

And I think that’s a critical success factor because no one wants a situation where they’re waiting a year to see the results of a change when they really need to make that change in a week or a month. So we facilitate that process very nicely, I think.

You know, how ironic to end on this note, I was thinking about it from a human behavior standpoint, from a behavioral science standpoint, we know that the longer the latency is between what the organ is used to doing and then the disruption, the more difficult their time is in terms of adaptation, that the quicker and the easier that the change is than the more easily the organism is likely to adapt and engage, which I think is just, it’s really interesting because I think a lot of what you’re talking about, both at a software standpoint and a culture business practice standpoint, is this ability to be nimble enough that you don’t slow everything down so much, that we don’t get the engagement, whether it’s on the external side or the internal side.

And it sounds like Adaptigent is a real player there in terms of making that at least possible for these organizations. I fantastic discussion today. Again, engagement is near and dear to my heart. Definitely sounds like Adaptigent is a major player in this.

I look forward to our next discussion, that’s all the time we have today. Want to thank everybody for joining us with Adapt or Perish, make sure you stay tuned to Tony Kurre radio network for the next episode of Adapt or Perish.