Dialogues In Digital Transcript
Javaid Iqbal: So, Peter, thank you for joining us.
Peter Coffee: It is great to be here.
Javaid Iqbal: This is my 10th Dreamforce where I have come in the morning at the kickoff and seen inspiration from you. And I look forward to that every year, not only the morning, but also what you do throughout to make this happen and teach us the way that you do. It is much appreciated.
Peter Coffee: I am coming up on 13 years at Salesforce. When I joined the company, I thought it might be an interesting five-year gig, and every two years I say, “oh, well now we can finally get started”. As long as I keep feeling like every two years there is a chance to really get started, I don’t know when I would stop doing this.
Javaid Iqbal: Well, we hope that you never do.
Peter Coffee: Thank you.
Javaid Iqbal: Tell us what was new about this Dreamforce, that you thought, especially from the announcements, since Salesforce is obviously a pioneer in the customer space. Where do you think the space is headed, and what do you think Salesforce’s role is going forward?
Peter Coffee: Well, it is kind of obvious that a major new element of Dreamforce this year was the presence of Tableau on stage and the opportunity to talk about that acquisition. And the degree to which there’s a one plus one equals three relationship, where Einstein Analytics is about making power accessible. Tableau dramatically expands the portfolio of powerful analytic tools available to our customers, is the chance to take these tsunamis of data that are arising from the Internet of Things and mobile devices and start to find actionable insight that is accessible not just to the analytics or statistics professional, but to line of business people who just want to know what is the next best action and the next best offer. And I actually did an internal essay saying if only we could redefine customer relationship management – because our relationship is kind of a static idea to customer action management – because what people really want to know is what is the next thing I should do to delight my customer, to differentiate my offering to resist the pressures of commoditization that are such a challenge for people in every sector today.
Javaid Iqbal: That’s a very interesting piece you put up because I believe that depending on the culture you belong to, the action or the offer is very different and is very relative.
Peter Coffee: And that’s a matter that requires sensitivity. We have an internal comment recently by one of our senior managers that among the challenges for Salesforce is to embrace the challenge of being a global company, not a San Francisco company with branch offices, and to deliver the appropriate kind of engagement that is culturally sensitive, that is sensitive to a five-generation workplace where there are different norms of what constitutes appropriate levels of service and the nature of interaction for each. This is something where we have to become ever more sophisticated.
Javaid Iqbal: The experiential side of where things are headed eventually, like Mark always says, behind every interaction, behind every technology, there’s a human at the end – or the customer for this matter – that is consuming this information. How well do you think the innovators – which would be all of us – understand what is needed by the collective intellects of humans that are being evolved out of the next-generation technologies? And how are we getting them ready for this revolution?
Peter Coffee: There is a dangerously attractive direction where the water flows downhill for people with a great idea, to fall in love with their idea and invention. Dan who was with us said if you fall in love with your solution, you may have one success. But if you fall in love with the problem you solve and the need, you can have an endless string of successes because that way, you’re always up into the possibility of a radically new way of solving that problem. Peter Drucker famously said it only becomes an innovation when an invention achieves adoption. And, so, understanding why people aren’t adopting your brilliant idea is not a distraction, it is the job, and understanding what norm am I violating, what hidden assumption have I failed to refute. Getting inside the head of the customer isn’t an irritating obstacle, it is the essence of being a successful innovator. So, the more you can do that and measure people’s behavior and infer their intentions and their desires, the more likely you are to achieve the outcome of innovation, which is behavior change.
Javaid Iqbal: I think if you look at the social platforms, they’re doing a fine job of learning the human pieces that you just mentioned as well. The enterprise software space – or enterprise in general – seems to be lacking behind. What do you think is the reason for that?
Peter Coffee: Well, I’ll begin by challenging your suggestion that the social media platforms are doing that because what the social media platforms are doing is understanding their user enough to make them addicted and increase the amount of eyeball time they collect. Social media platforms don’t exist to make their users happy; they exist to keep their users engaged and keep their eyeballs on the platform, and to that extent, the user is the product in those situations. At Salesforce, our customers and the outcomes that they achieve with their customers those are the products and that is why we have to charge for our services instead of giving them away. Because the customer isn’t the product. The outcome is the product. That’s an important distinction.
Javaid Iqbal: So, understood that the customer is the product and you’re not paying for it [in the case of social media], and in the case of enterprise software, you are. But the adoption aspect and the stickiness are the same even in the enterprise space, especially in the subscription model, where the renewal is more important than even the selling itself.
Peter Coffee: Well, the renewal is the outcome. That’s a good point. And among the reasons that Mark Benioff founded Salesforce in the first place was his observation that somehow things like Google, eBay and Amazon achieved adoption by people who’d never taken a class on how to use them, who didn’t get angry when those things improved, even though that meant they had changed, but instead embraced the opportunity to learn the new capability. Enterprise software seems stuck in a time warp where it was 1960 and time was running at a slower pace because every change required training costs, and you asked, what is the difference? So, Salesforce has always been designed to achieve discoverability and an ease of use that leads to superior levels of engagement.
Javaid Iqbal: And I think the engagement levels are even faster today. Especially if you look at what Mark and Tim Cook talked about Salesforce and its features, what do you think about that?
Peter Coffee: Well, what I often point out is that fiction shows us what we wish we could have if we didn’t know the technology enough to know what wasn’t possible. And so, when Tony Stark in an Iron Man movie walks into his house, he doesn’t walk over to the wall and start tapping out icons on a touch screen. He talks to the house, and the house talks back. The average app that is downloaded onto a phone in the United States today is used 1.1 times before people encounter its limitations and its difficulties. And the next most used feature on any app is to scroll as far down the menus as you need until you find the “Contact Us” button and then find an actual telephone number where you can talk to a human being, so, moving to a conversational interface as opposed to an app type interface is a high priority. It is how people prefer to engage and instead of dozens and dozens of apps on your phone, one conversational channel on which all of your service providers seem to somehow manage to come to you. In Alexa, things are not called apps, they’re called skills and continuously expanding the portfolio of skills that your personal assistant provides, that is the new model as opposed to “there’s an app for that.”
Javaid Iqbal: So, you know, I understand apps should be on their way out. How were they able to just completely change this dynamic?
Peter Coffee: The ability to understand spoken language without training to a specific speaker was thought to be tremendously difficult until we realized that if you know the domain in which the conversation is taking place, e.g., if you’re in traffic or ordering meals and so on. Roger Shane called it the frame problem. If I know that you’re in a restaurant, I know that certain words mean certain things, if I know that you’re at home or in a car, it can dramatically shrink the domain of possible meanings of a phrase. This is how we simulate a genuine understanding of natural language: by knowing enough about the context that we can narrow the possible range of possible meanings. And so, conversation requires context, and now mobile devices give us tremendous amounts of contextual information because we know who it is that is on the device, we have a good idea of where they are, where they’ve been, where they’re going. If we all are allowed to see calendar information and other behavioral data, we can get a tremendous amount of guidance as to what out of a universe of possibilities is the actual thing they’re trying to get done. This is why conversational interfaces that have been a toy and a stupid distraction for literally decades are suddenly coming into their own. It is the combination of mobility and connectivity that gives us the context that disambiguates people’s intentions.
Javaid Iqbal: So why is phone a dependency still or will a phone stay a dependency? Because that interface can go in your car or anything else.
Peter Coffee: The phone is what I call the flashlight era of connection. Imagine if every time you walked into a room, you weren’t sure there’d be a light switch, so you had to carry a flashlight everywhere. When you walk into places you can’t be sure there’ll be connectivity, and you have to carry a phone with you everywhere. But eventually – and I mean in single-digit years – you’ll be able to expect to walk into a room, which will detect from a very small token of identity that you carry on you. This is an idea I stole from Scott McNealy when he was still at Sun. What you really need to do is carry an identity or an identity token, and once it knows who you are, will proactively serve up the information that you need and the menu of actions you might possibly want to be taking, and this is a direction that we’re going in very rapidly. Some of this work was presaged at Xerox PARC under the term of “ubiquitous computing”, and that is no longer a fantasy notion. We can achieve that in many environments today.
Javaid Iqbal: Some of that has been taken away by the likes of Amazons and the Netflix of the world. And with these kids, they’re going to have intelligent toys to play with as well. What do you see happening in terms of evolution dynamic between man and machine, and how do you think these kids differ from us?
Peter Coffee: Well, since I have grandchildren of my own, this is a subject of deep personal interest for me and the way I look at it is this: the kind of creativity that will be available to them will be the kind to say “I wonder what would happen if pi were three, I don’t know what would happen if friction behaved differently”. They’ll be able to conjure up simulations and explore alternative realities with a degree of mathematical rigor combined with artistic creativity that was really not available before. To say that it is going to constrain their creativity is going to say that the things we used to call creative efforts will now be much easier to do and to be worried that it means they won’t develop creativity. But on the other hand, the kinds of creativity they will be able to explore in areas like becoming composers of music and creators of elaborate visual arts will now be available to children in grade school, and this is the actual dynamic I’m observing with my own grandchildren. It is not constraining their creativity. They’re doing things now at the age of seven that I didn’t hope to have a chance to do in school until I was twice that age. And that’s why I’m quite optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future of creativity and machine intelligence world.
Javaid Iqbal: Well, this is going to definitely produce some interesting humans going forward. Peter, as always, it is a pleasure. Thank you for being with us.
Peter Coffee: You bet. Great to see you tonight. Absolutely. Thanks, guys.
About the speaker(s)
Peter Coffee is the VP of Strategic Research at Salesforce, where he has spent time with customers and partners to predict what’s next in technology since 2007. Prior to Salesforce, Peter spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues. Peter holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University.
Javaid Iqbal is the Co-Founder & CEO of TransformX . He has previously served as a Customer Success & Engagement Leader at Salesforce and held various leadership positions at multiple consultancies including EY and PwC where he spearheaded large-scale complex business transformation efforts for global Fortune 100 clients and Federal & State and Local governments across North America, Europe & Asia.
About Dialogues In Digital
The rampant pace of technology and its impact on the environment often makes it near-impossible to take a breath and realize the countless upheavals affecting organizations, industries, and societies in real-time. Events and breakthroughs with widespread repercussions can go unaccounted for and their potential lost forever. TransformX’s Dialogues In Digital Series is one attempt to assemble business leaders from a wide cross-section of industries and geographies to share their insights on such disruptive developments and highlight the role that key stakeholders in the leadership ranks can play in their sphere to become a crucial cog of their industries and ecosystems. Catch these conversations on our YouTube channel and follow us on our social feeds for the latest and greatest in the world of digital innovation.