Hey Esteban, What About the Physical Channel?

Anthony Nemelka is a long-time veteran of the CRM industry, having previously served as a senior executive at both Peoplesoft and Epiphany and most recently co-founder and CEO at Helpstream.  This is the second in his series of posts this week on “The Last Mile of Social Collaboration.”   And ending months of speculation, he’s finally letting us in on his next big venture…..

In my blog post earlier this week, I asserted that in order to really transform how businesses operate, social business collaboration faces one more big challenge. I called it “The Last Mile of Social Collaboration” and described it as follows:

“At the end of the day, business is all about getting the right stuff done. If the right work doesn’t get done, you really haven’t accomplished anything–whether it’s shipping a product, closing a sale, or fixing a bug. Making sure the most important work actually gets done is the biggest challenge for social business today. It’s the “last mile” in enabling social collaboration to transform the way businesses operate.”

After coming to this conclusion several months ago, I began to think about the skills, processes, and technologies needed to pull this off. Somewhere in the back of my head I kept hearing two voices. One was the voice of that delightful Yankees fan (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron), Paul Greenberg, who time and again has pointed out to all of us that the social part of CRM is all about engagement—engaging with the customer on his or her terms. The second voice I kept hearing was that of my Argentinean friend, Esteban Kolsky, the esteemed host of this blog. Esteban’s voice kept drilling into my head that online social collaboration is nothing more than a channel for CRM, not a replacement for CRM. To do CRM right you need to be effective across all channels, not just the so-called social channel.

(See, Paul and Esteban, I do listen to you guys, despite being a Dodgers fan—God help me–and preferring Chinese over Spanish)

These two critical insights led me to wonder that if the social side of CRM is all about engagement and online social collaboration is simply one channel for that engagement, what’s going to happen to the physical channel?  You know, that’s the face-to-face, voice-to-voice channel that in the old days was considered the only social channel. Somehow we’ve forgotten all about that channel, yet it’s the one that defines what it means to be social.

Is the physical channel doomed to extinction, permanently replaced by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Sharepoint? Are we going to find a way to integrate the physical channel with what we describe as social business? Or are we destined to abandon the very core of what it means to be social—live face-to-face interaction?

The answer lies in a comment made by @CobraA1 (whoever he/she is—how social is that?!?) in response to one of Paul Greenberg’s recent posts:

“The best CRM is a friendly smile and a great attitude.”

Wow, @CobraA1 is a genius!  And if he/she is correct, then the physical channel is alive and well. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that as long as we’re human it will always be the primary channel.

So what does all this mean, and how does it relate to the questions I posed in my previous post?  Where is all this social business collaboration activity taking us, and how are we going to address The Last Mile of Social Collaboration?

I believe the answer lies in going back to the roots of what it means to be social and applying some proven tools for effective management. From a methodology point of view, that means

  1. enabling face-to-face engagement,
  2. embracing and extending physical means of communication,
  3. integrating online social collaboration with how people work in the physical world,
  4. modifying how people interact with existing computer systems and business processes, and
  5. making it possible to constantly deliver “a friendly smile and a great attitude.”

From a technology point of view, by far the most promising technology I’ve come across that’s capable of addressing each of these requirements is commonly referred to as immersive technology. The goal of immersive technology is to pull people into virtual environments that mimic the physical environment they’re accustomed to. And, after spending a lot of time looking into it, I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing immersive technology do for business what James Cameron’s “Avatar” did for the movies. We’re about to enter a whole new world. If you want to begin to understand what that world will look like, I strongly recommend reading Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge. This book has quickly become the blueprint for immersive technology innovation by companies around the world (and will forever change the way you think about your retirement).

After reading this book you’ll easily understand why I’ve decided that my next big venture will be in the immersive technology space. And today I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve accepted the position of President and CEO of Teleplace (www.teleplace.com), one of the leading immersive technology vendors in Silicon Valley. Together with other immersive technology companies like Proton Media, VenueGen, On24, and others, Teleplace has been quietly engineering the underlying technology required to enable large enterprises—both in the commercial and public sectors—realize the efficiency and effectiveness gains derived from integrating immersive technology with the people, processes, and technologies they depend on to effectively run their organizations.

As a veteran of the social business software community, my vision—and passion—is to apply this same technology to the challenge of bridging “the last mile” of social business collaboration, enabling enterprises of all shapes and sizes completely transform the way they do business and deliver “a friendly smile and a great attitude “ to every customer they serve. Thank you @CobraA1, whoever you are.

Yes indeed, it’s great to be back!

My Two Cents (Esteban): I talked to Anthony about Teleplace before, saw and discussed the product,  and chatted about the vision – it is so very cool!  I am very excited, and of course — as a disclaimer — they are not a client, and Anthony is a friend.

14 Replies to “Hey Esteban, What About the Physical Channel?”

    1. I’m thrilled to hear that Ann.

      One interesting impact of immersive technology is that the entire customer experience goes through a major redesign. We’re working with a large banking customer that’s in the advanced planning phase of deploying virtual branch offices for consumer banking. From an operational perspective, the most important thing they have identified is making sure the right person is in the office at the moment of customer need. That’s where the virtual space really shines. It’s very hard to do that in a physical branch office, but is relatively easy in a virtual branch office.

      Lots of exciting stuff to look forward to.


  1. Anthony,
    I wish you the best in your new venture and look forward following your success.
    I have put “Rainbow End” on my reading list.

    I too think constantly about the “physical channel” and having the benefit of growing up in the “Andy Griffith” age as well as being involved in the technology advancements it preys on me that we are getting away from that physical aspect.

    I witness my teenage kids interact with this technology and social channels but nice to see that they have the ability to have the physical connection as well…that is on us as parents.

    Just today I needed assistance from an e-mail marketing tool and going to their “help” section I mulled over how I wanted to engage and opted for the “Live Chat” over a phone call or e-mail.
    I was immediately responded to and the support person engaged and successfully addressed my issue.

    I could sense their smile and I made a point to pass along mine with a Thank you :-).

    It is possible in person as well as “immersive technology channels”

    The end result is success right?


    1. Thanks Michael. I’ve received a lot of feedback similar to yours. With 3 teenagers of my own, I’m starting to sense a weariness with text-based communication and a yearning for the physical. But then teenagers will be teenagers, right? 🙂


  2. Anthony:

    Thank you for the interesting posts. It’s great to see the focus of social on the end product (“At the end of the day, business is all about getting the right stuff done…..”. !!)

    In my earlier research at IBM, I designed technologies to support collaboration and presence awareness while team members were doing their work. It was technology that floated around the tools people had to use to complete their stuff, so the work and collaboration occurred simultaneously.

    I seems like immersive technology goes even further down this path. It has to potential to support collaboration that allows the right people (within and across organizational boundaries) to complete their work/case/transaction. Immersive technology looks to be particularly powerful for ‘adaptive’ situations (e.g. see http://www.xpdl.org/nugen/p/adaptive-case-management/public.htm) where BPM and traditional CRM are too rigid to bring the right people and expertise together to solve problems.

    This is very exciting. Perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to chat in real time in the near future.

    Best of luck,



  3. Hey Anthony

    An interesting way to look at the problem of last mile as far as customer is concerned but i guess customers are looking more at real folks which can respond to their issues, empathize with them, I am not sure how much an average Joe will be inclined to interact with virtual characters,also a lot will also depend on the demographics and psycho graphics of the user , i guess companies need to evolve a model with the right mix of technology and human touch especially when you are in a touch mode with customer , because u might end up rubbing the wrong way, also different customer issues will require a different treatment,problems like customer complaints essentially requires some human touch , while others like , new product demo or product tour might not .

    Cheers, Sarab


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