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Yet again, I was delighted to have chaired this year’s Customer Engagement Summit – over 700 professionals in the room looking to learn, network and be inspired.

And I suspect a few were just a little blown away with the innovations and ideas being presented, not least by the BBC’s Spencer Kelly and his ‘tech futures’ view on the service landscape, automation, drones and artificial intelligence. Fascinating stuff.

It was stimulating, interesting and not a little unsettling to be close to the views and experiences of the speakers. Great content was the norm. The themes I noted as the day progressed included the following – some not necessarily rocket (or robot!) science, but often useful reminders for us practitioners in the industry:

  1. Engaged employees perform better, and drive better outcomes for the organisation (3.4 times more than disengaged ones apparently) – and although this was a consistent powerful theme for the day, Mars and Travelodge were standout case studies for me. Travelodge were also strong in their belief that all change had to be customer driven; though when I challenged whether this might stifle latent opportunities and innovations that the customer wasn’t perhaps aware of, they conceded that the idea was more about how you get the Board on board.
  2. Engagement needn’t be expensive – just see what the NHS did with only £13,000. (I won’t mention the other £115 billion that they spend) to change staff perceptions in one of their underperforming Trusts to turn it around.
  3. In working with customers and staff, powerful emotional and subconscious factors come into play and can work for or against you – knowing how people feel about your business can prove to be particularly useful when trying to get the Board to support your investment requirements.
  4. Big, stable corporates are now threatened by agile, disruptive businesses – we see it with Uber in taxis, with Dollar Shave Club in shaving products – in fact, we see it everywhere. An interesting question raised was who the future prospective employee would rather work for? How do the big corporates compete for staff – assuming that it is not just robots that will be hired!
  5. British Airways talked about breaking down silos in driving change – a constant agenda theme – and offered some useful, practical ideas for this.
  6. Brighton & Hove Albion FC again had a brilliant story of their rise from despair to glory, and how important engagement had proved to be – across customers and staff – and how they lived by positive choices rather than values per se.

Throughout the day, my own colleagues at Ember were conducting our annual ‘Investment Priorities’ survey for the forthcoming year, and it will be intriguing to see whether the delegate votes reflect the key themes of the Summit – whether there is a continued focus on staff, skills and engagement or whether the likes of omni-channel or analytics are taking the lion’s share of investment funding. Results will be shared soon.

Bank of  Facebook?

There was, of course, lots of debate and thinking around ‘where next?’ for this industry. How does social media change our agenda and what is the role and plans of the social platforms? Will we soon see the Bank of Facebook? What is the future of payments in a Bitcoin and Blockchain world? Will the millennials be seeking the fame of Twitter or the anonymity of the DarkNet? What is the future of work when A.I. does what we do – but better? And what is life like when Google or Uber drive cars driverlessly better than we do?

All have implications for the way value is created (or indeed destroyed) from the way we engage with customers. It was Stephen Hawking that suggested that A.I. is the biggest threat facing mankind. In our small way, at this Summit, we were very much at the heart of this debate and its implications.

An impression I was left with at the end of the day, apart from the rather contented feeling of having a beer in my hand and the sound of the Choir with No Name #choirwithnoname, the event nominated charity for people affected by homelessness, was a thought I had started the event with and shared with the audience – that little moments can create big movements.

Just think about the power of one (a person, an idea, an action) and how this can drive huge change for good in a complex organisation, sector, industry or economy. The sentiment that Volume 48 and the Choir built on – with great power comes great responsibility – and called upon us all to to dig deep, support charity and get our employees engaged for good causes, whilst still also feeling good about the business.

Everything is OK … until it isn’t

And through the day my other opening thoughts kept coming back to me as I saw how organisations had or hadn’t dealt with challenge, change and adversity, but understood the engagement and customer experience imperative. As Laird Hamilton, the astounding big wave surfer, stated ‘Everything is OK… until it isn’t’.

The stark warning in just these six words of the dangers of complacency, change, disruption and risk. And above all, Walt Disney’s mantra of ‘just give people such a great experience that they will come back. And bring their friends’.

Powerful thoughts for the customer engagement professional.  I am sure you will have gained some inspiring ideas and insights throughout the day that have helped to shape your own investment priorities for 2016. I will be back next year, and I hope to see you there.

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