This post originally appeared on Chatbots Magazine.
A lot of people geek out about what the future will look like.
I generally get more excited about lunch, but hey, that’s just me.
In the last few weeks two visceral examples of broken process have strengthened my conviction why there will be a mass consolidation of the front end interfaces of your tech stack(s) on top of your messaging platform making it the defacto UI for business workflow.
One was a process breakdown that could have put our product prioritization at risk, which can mean doomsday for our company at our stage. #scary
Before I tell you about it, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.
What’s Happening In the Market
There has never been more tools to drive productivity in the workplace.
The average sales rep has 13 tools in their sales stack. And that’s just for functions unique for their workflow.
Other parts of the organization like Product, Customer Success and Marketing are also using their own specialized tech stacks. Even though I might not rely on tools within these parts of the organization daily, I often need to view information within them in collaborative one-off instances.
Very quickly you can see how in order to be a successful, informed member of an early stage company driven that’s driven by product and customer success, you’ll need to interface with more systems than just your immediate stack. In my case, this means going beyond our sales suite.
As a seller, access to outputs from these systems & tools, like usage data or upcoming product designs, are fantastic for driving more informed conversations with customers. However, building a habit of using them on top of all the things you already have to do comes with its challenges.
All of these systems and data, mean that I have more places I need to log into in order to do my job.
Is it realistic to think that you can monitor 8 tabs in real-time, or even at all?
Probably not. From our own behavior and talking to managers daily, it’s more realistic to expect that the slightest bit of friction will result in failure to do something.
How We Almost Misinformed Our Product Roadmap
Let me give you an example so you just don’t think that I’m full of hot air.
Currently I take all my notes from customer calls about Troops within Evernote.
I use Evernote because it just works for me which means that I’ll actually take notes.
At this point in our business, notes on what customers are saying are HUGE.
Why? Because the most important thing we can do is prioritize product development correctly which requires an intense focus on the customer’s needs and the dissemination of that information to your product team.
Up until recently, I shared all my customer notes with the team within a notebook using Evernote’s sharing functionality.
I’d review the patterns I was seeing each week during our Monday morning weekly war room as well as make everything available to the entire team.
“If you guys want to see all the notes, they’re all in Evernote.”
Despite the fact that massive decisions about our business were being made from the contents of these notes, I had no idea if people were actually looking or not.
Stumbling Into A Test That Might Have Saved Us
A few weeks ago, I found out about Slack posts.
It’s basically a way to share a note in a Slack channel.
As a mini experiment, I created a new channel called #sales_call_reports. I invited the entire team to it and started copying my call reports into the channel using Slack posts.
Within the first day of doing this, I got the following reception:
At first I was surprised by this response….
“Dude…these have been in Evernote the whole time. Why are you acting like this is the first time you’ve seen these!!!”
Then it clicked, AGAIN. People don’t want to log into another system. So they don’t end up doing it…and less informed decisions ensue.
I just want to pause for a moment and repeat on this point.
People do not want to log into things to view information (click to tweet)
This will only become more challenging given the increasing number of disparate signals required to do your job. As a result, centralization of these signals within real-time, collaborative interfaces like messaging is the inevitable future.
That same day, I had another instance of this paradigm shift hit me squarely in the face.
I have a legacy information product business on the side that still kicks off cash. Specifically, I created a bunch of online education products which sell on sites like Udemy and others. The cash is still meaningful, so I have a VA manage this entire thing.
The biggest maintenance outside of ongoing promotion, is customer support questions which are surfaced within their dashboards. You can get email notifications, but in order to respond to them you need to actually log into the system and enter them there. Turning on notifications also means you now have more crap in your inbox.
Between email overload, the friction required to logging into a system to perform the directive task, and the low perceived value of system notifications compared to real-time messages from humans, I just never took action on these notifications. This presented a problem since my instructor engagement score is factored into their recommendation algorithm which affects sales $$.
Self awareness of this forced me to create a workaround where my VA answers everything she can and then aggregates all the questions she can’t in an email I get once a week.
I respond to the questions directly in a reply email and then she logs into the system and pastes the answers in accordingly.
I’ve been using this workaround for 2+ years…
As I was answering these questions that evening, I realized that this was yet another example of where the disparate push and pull of information across systems breaks.
Logging into a 3rd party system outside my existing workflow was so hard for me, that I was literally paying someone to send me email summaries of it that I could take action on within line.
This was the only way I would actually comply with the necessary workflow.
What This Means For Enterprise Workflow Looking Forward
Whether you’re a VC looking for the future or a manager looking to increase process accountability, the writing’s on the wall…
There is going to be mass consolidation of the frontend interface of the software stack. It‘s already happening.
The number of tools and signals will only increase as insights become more readily available and an increased focus on customer success will require more external facing teams to interface with data from different systems.
People will get excited about taking advantage of this and then fail because it’s too hard to manage it all unless they adapt to the tools people like spending time in like Slack.
Forward thinking companies will invest in ways to port this functionality into one place in order to remove all the friction from workers actually taking advantage of systems they use.
This will be the first step(s) of what eventually will evolve into a more“Jarvis for work” user experience.
There will be and already is a group of people who resist the consolidation.
“Can’t you already do that in [insert some place you need to login]”
Yes, you can. The question that I ask you is:
When you look at all the systems and data you are supposed to view to drive action, do you and your team actually use them with the frequency and consistency you need to in order to maximize your effectiveness? Moreover, do you have any visibility into this question??
Perhaps you might be in a similar place that I was in when I was hoping that people were looking at the customer notes that drive product, instead of definitively knowing they were…
I used to wake up and open my calendar app, then Apple weather, ESPN, and Spotify. Now I just talk to my Amazon echo while I’m getting dressed. Four separate applications have been made accessible into a singular a voice interface which streamlines the experience.
The same will happen for the enterprise and the real-time nature of messaging platforms will become the operating system where these interactions take place.
What do you believe the future of enterprise workflow looks like? How is your company already making steps in that direction?