Customer experiences of the future will be more relevant, convenient, and intelligent, according to Amy Fuller, chief marketing and communications officer at global professional services firm Accenture.
The driving force behind these better customer experiences, she predicts, will be artificial intelligence (AI), as well as a keen understanding of consumer expectations in our digital world.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Fuller talks about the impact she believes AI will have on business and society, the biggest challenges and opportunities with getting the customer experience right, and the skill sets she looks for when hiring customer experience professionals.
CMO.com: What’s your definition of an experience-led business? Is this something your customers are prioritizing?
Fuller: Being an experienced-led business is a top priority for many organizations. The shift over recent years has been the acknowledgement of the importance of experience, and that the increasing diversity of connection points—such as the marriage of bricks and clicks—makes planning and delivering the best experiences a complicated endeavor.
CMO.com: What are some of your priorities for 2018, externally for the Accenture business and internally for your marketing and communications team?
Fuller: My mission at Accenture is to drive brand differentiation and growth, to tell the story of Accenture innovation and the value we can realize for and with our clients.
We’re all currently dealing with disruption that requires transformation, driven by factors with a high degree of complexity and uncertainty: How do you transform your business without jeopardizing your core? How will AI change the world, and what does it mean for growth and employment? Increasingly, clients are trying to balance business and people with machines. When we talk to clients about unleashing the potential of AI, it’s about shifting ideas, shifting thinking, shifting models and relationships. We’ve got to have the ability but also the willingness to work through ambiguity because there’s a lot of it right now.
Against that context, the culture and organization of my team is a major priority. For me the question is, what are the ways to make life better for my team, to make their time in the workplace better, more fun, a place of continuous growth and learning? It’s in the works!
CMO.com: So clearly you are paying very close attention to AI.
Fuller: I’m focused on AI—and beyond its current impact on business and society. At Accenture, we see AI as the future of growth, unlocking entirely new sources of value. So we’re focused on designing intelligent services that completely rethink core business processes. But we’re also focused on the need to keep people at the center of the AI revolution. It’s not about replacing humans—it’s about augmenting work and freeing people up to focus on higher-level efforts, including innovation and decision-making. It’s human plus machine.
There’s also an emerging AI ethics component. We’re just beginning to understand that for AI systems to operate as unbiased, contributing members of society, the systems have to be “raised” to do the right thing—much like an adult has to teach a child to do the right thing. That’s an extraordinary responsibility for businesses and leaders. It’s playing out now with self-driving vehicles and how they respond in collisions. We’re definitely in a new era of ethical analytics.
CMO.com: What do you think the “customer experience of the future” will look like?
Fuller: It will be more convenient, more relevant based on individual choice and preference, and more responsive. More intelligent processes will lead to more precision in connecting with customers and understanding their needs. The marketing challenge will be continuing to understand and adapt to human behavior as it changes.
CMO.com: What’s the biggest challenge with getting the customer experience right that no one talks about?
Fuller: Most customer experiences are now built around technology, which has changed how people get information, how much time they spend with it, and how they make decisions. The core of marketing is still fundamentally about human behavior—but it’s also now about how human behavior has been changed by technology and interacts with it. Attention spans are way down, impatience is way up. We have more opportunity to find our targets and see their immediate responses, but our use of new platforms requires us to be continuous students of new environments, to understand the norms and conventions of those environments.
At the same time, that ultimate competitive driver—creativity—may be losing value. I recently reviewed some work that, in a different era, I would have dismissed for being direct but utterly uncreative and at risk of gaining no attention. Yet we know from metrics that the work is performing well in the marketplace. And that speaks volumes: Clarity, accuracy, and sophisticated understanding of targets, their issues, and where to find them currently matter more than enticing appeal, especially in B2B.
CMO.com: What skill sets and personality types do you look for in new hires?
Fuller: I look for creativity and collaboration, which are linked. I spent much of my childhood on a remote island, where I built fires, slept on rocks, and endlessly dislodged our family boat from shoals. The experience taught me to be creative, and to this day I look for creativity in others, especially new hires. Being creative is a skill set and a personality. And collaboration is a competitive advantage that works especially well at Accenture and helps fan the fires of good ideas.
When I’m hiring, I’m also aware that for the first time in the workforce we’re employing four different generations of workers simultaneously. It’s an area where Accenture leads, not just for our own people but for our clients, advising them how best to attract and develop diverse new talent so that no one gets left behind. I hire with that balance in mind, along with an important finding from recent Accenture Research: Companies that don’t ask their workers to conform—and in fact, allow and encourage them to be themselves—are the places where workers are more likely to advance and be satisfied. That’s very important.
CMO.com: How do you like to work? Can you share any simple insights of getting the job done in increasingly fragmented work environments?Fuller: I’m a planner. I like to see work early, ugly, and often. For most of our work, I plan and replan on an integrated, consistent basis, long before a project becomes final and precise. We all know there are times you must do things last-minute because of crises, changes, and other wildcards, but I’ve found that planning gives you freedom and space to do the best work and find all the right connection points.
One thing I’ve experienced throughout my career is that there’s never enough of anything, including information, budget, and time. So I’ve learned to ask the right questions to get the missing info, to make sure that marketing decisions are always business decisions, and to reassess time itself—do I really not have enough of it (yes, often!), or do I just need to crisp up and focus (yes, often!)? I believe creativity frequently outplays most all limitations. Great ideas are fragile and come from everywhere. I love to foster them. I tell my teams all the time: If you have an idea, wherever you are, bring it!