Alan Trefler’s swashbuckling approach to Pega’s competition — especially Salesforce, although he has many harsh words to say about IBM’s AI efforts too — is entertaining and attention-grabbing. I needed to find out how Pega is backing up his words: What solutions it’s actually offering to customers, and the results they’re getting.
Adapting to the Moment
In separate interviews with Jeff Nicholson, VP of CRM, and Matt Nolan, director of product marketing, about differentiating factors in Pega’s marketing, sales, and service offerings.
Nicholson began by sketching the main features of the customer engagement suite. At the center is the Pega Customer Decision Hub, created about two years ago with Chordiant software fully integrated. This is the locus of the AI-powered complex event processing (CEP) which informs the satellite offerings: Pega Marketing, Pega Sales Automation, and Pega Customer Service. Customers can select à la carte from the latter three solutions, but the power of the Decision Hub — which, after all, is where Pega’s differentiating value lies — comes with all of them.
CEP is self-explanatory, by the standards of this space. It refers to analyzing events informed by multiple data sources, finding patterns which prompt NBA recommendations (next best action, if you missed yesterday’s article). Using AI, Pega derives the NBA from countless complex events, and does so, Nicholson explains, in real-time: “Not using scores that were batched up the night before.” It’s the only way to reach the customer “in the moment.”
I asked how potential customers could tell which of the many AI offerings from marketing and customer engagement tech vendors were the real deal. “It has to be in the proof,” he said. “The AI we have has been ours for a long time. It’s core to everything we do, and has been for years. We’re already standing where everbody else is trying to get to.” The same goes for Chordiant’s long-term involvement in decision management and NBA software. (Prior to Chordiant, Trefler admits, “we always had this idea of rules engines. We didn’t really have adaptive or predictive analytics.”)
“There’s a lot of hype out there,” said Nolan, when I asked him the same question. “In a market where everyone looks and sounds the same, do they have customers willing to stand up and share hard statistics on ‘How Pega has helped my business’?” In that respect, PegaWorld impressed, with senior figures from General Motors, Coca Cola, Scotiabank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Sprint, presenting success stories on the main stage, in breakout sessions, and directly to press and analysts.
Pega Retail Advisor (see announcements below)
A Different Vantage Point
Focusing on how Pega differs from the competition, Nicholson refers, of course, to BPM, which operated “across complex systems, at scale, without the need for any coding skills. “We found that customers were using our platform to solve service and sales automation problems.” The customers were sending a signal about their needs.
The problem with traditional marketing vendors, says Nicholson, is that they come from a narrow campaign management or marketing automation focus, whereas customers touch all parts of a business. “You have to completely up-end how you think about interactions,” he insists. “What does this individual need right now?” — a question which applies, of course, to sales and service as well as to marketing. “Can you empower your [system] to wrap experience like liquid around a customer?” Nicholson argues that customer engagement is not a campaign management problem. It’s not about populations and segments, but about an individual customer’s needs.
“Pega comes at this from the opposite angle,” Nolan agrees. “It has a very narrow client set,” but with clients like the Royal Bank of Scotland and Sprint — large B2C enterprises using multiple channels — there’s lots of data to do AI, and do it well. He cited Scotiabank too as an example of client harvesting vast quantities of IoT-type data from ATMs and card swipes. Pega turns all this data into almost immediate NBA decisioning, allowing brands to “not just react, but wrap [the insights] into their core customer strategy. It’s beyond traditional marketing.
Pega doesn’t just seek to go beyond segmentation. Although it attracts clients using multiple engagement channels, it seeks to drive them beyond that perspective too. “We offer brands the chance to become channel-less,” says Nicholson. “Our customers have tended to be large enterprises with complex problems,” he says. With its BPM muscle, the Pega system “is designed for complexity.” As channels became available — email, social, mobile, and so on — brands ran to them, he explained: “They built new, disparate logics [for each channel],” he says. “It simply can’t scale.” Pega’s centralized “logic” doesn’t derive from any one channel (it didn’t start life, for example, like so many marketing automation hubs, as an email marketing vendor).
The kind of processing and analysis which occurs in the Decision Hub doesn’t have its origins in any specific engagement channel — not email, not social — which makes it effective not only for any existing channel, but for channels as yet unborn. This is what Trefler and Nolan both described to me as “future-proofing” the software. “Most marketing and CRM is built around a channel, outside in,” Nolan elaborates. “Pega builds inside out,” with the Decision Hub surfacing recommendations across channels. “It’s less critical what the channel is, because it’s delivering the same insights everywhere.”
Sprint to Success
Roger Solé became Sprint’s CMO less than two years ago, with the brand facing major challenges. The network wasn’t good, customers were turning away (highest churn in industry), and the business was “burning through’ $4 billion per year: an unsustainable situation. The five year plan to turn things around featured network improvemens, of course, and also hiring the former Verizon “Can you hear me now?” spokesman.
But it also included implementing Pega to tackle the “disconnected” customer experience.
Solé was convinced the brand needed to turn away from the world of broadcast offers and promotions, to one of personalized customer journeys, but automated in an efficient way. Pega offered one-to-one customer engagement, and “real-time decisioning they had perfected through NBA.”
Director of NBA, Mike Nevels, was involved in the implementation. “The three companies were committed: Pega, Sprint, and Accenture [implementation partners].” Including integration with the existing Sprint back-end, implementation was “particularly fast,” he recalls. “Three months is kind of a record time.”
Sprint’s initial use of Pega was in the call center — a key customer engagement channel for a telecomms brand. It’s now being extended to Sprint’s retail business, and the final implementation will be in digital marketing. “Customers now understand something is personalized for them,” says Solé. Sprint has already seen a 50% increase in net promoter score, and significant improvements in a churn rate which was formerly worst-in-industry.
“It’s never done,” says Nevels. “Every day we are adjusting and learning.”
We Want to be Friends with Some People
One recurrent theme I found in speaking with customers is that many have yet to embrace all of Pega’s current customer engagement offerings. It’s clear that Pega is viewed by some as the reliable BPM vendor which — surprise — can help rationalize service and sales engagements too. And in any case, Pega isn’t trying to be a comprehensive suite of customer success or customer experience tools. “We don’t have to do everything,” says Trefler. Some partnerships are okay with him: “We want to be friends with some people. We even have slews of Salesforce customers: We’ll mash right into Salesforce. In many places, that’s an inevitability.”
What’s critical right now is raising Pega’s profile outside the world of BPM. “There’s now a solid investment on the brand side,” says Nolan. “We’re exposing ourselves, and you can really see the jump in awareness. When we show the market where our value is, we can be in the conversation with Adobe and IBM.”
Not to mention Salesforce.
Among the product announcements at PegaWorld 2017:
Pega Retail Adviser: A tablet-ready app bringing insights to the hand of retail agents to enable personalization of a customer’s in-store journey.
Microsoft Azure Partnership: In addition to AWS and Pivotal, Pega now runs on the Microsoft Azure Cloud, extending Pega’s cloud choice initiative.
AI Studio: Create and control predictive models from one location, including an ability to specify degree of “deep learning,” a powerful but high risk (when unsupervised) AI capability.
Paid Media Manager: Leveraging AI to serve more relevant digital ads.
Pega also announced enhancements to its Robotic Automation offering.
Pega covered DMN’s expenses to attend PegaWorld.