What a trip....the most amazing and possibly the most disconcerting trip I've ever made - and one I would do again in a heartbeat.
Last week, I traveled to Bogota Colombia, to be one of the keynotes in a 2-day CRM gala event - the number 1 CRM Conference in Colombia, and possibly in all of South America- run by Rafael Rodriguez, a managing principal of Focused Management Inc., a CRM guru in his own right, a genuinely nice man, and a good friend and coordinated by the meticulous event planner, Diego Ramirez of Practica - easily the most organized event I ever attended.
Prior to coming to Bogota, I have to admit I had some trepidations. I mean, the stories of kidnapped Americanos and drug lords in Medellin and Cali didn't exactly excite me . But I really wanted to do this conference. I had planned on doing it last year, but there were some parental issues that took me out of the picture for that event.
So I went.
I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised and at the same time, the security was DEFINITELY top of mind of the entire country.
Let's get this part out of the way.
Signs of Security
- From the moment you arrived at the Bogota airport to the moment you got back into the building, armed and unarmed uniformed security was ubiquitous. I mean it was everywhere. Security was as common as the visitors to this lovely country. There was such a contradistinction between tree lined boulevards and peaceful conversations and striding, walking, standing security that was clear and visible everywhere. I saw it at the airport, standing outside my hotel, the lovely Casa Dann Carleton, standing inside the hotel, at the conference door, on the streets randomly - though I'm sure not actually randomly.
- The first night we went out to eat at Club Colombia. The food was excellent. I had a seafood stew made in coconut milk that was fantastic. We had a wide selection of Colombian dishes including their versions of empanadas and varying meats. We had desserts. We had a Chilean Casa Lapostelle that went well with whatever anyone ordered. All in all an amazing meal. BUT prior to the meal, we came to the restaurant in an armored car and I saw two truckloads of armed Colombian soldiers patrolling the streets in the 15 minutes it took us to get to the restaurant.
- When I registered at the hotel, I was given my room card and all the requisite little advertising brochure/cards. One of them was a "be careful" set of reminders on how to act in Colombia to remain "secure."
- When I left, I was given a card with the name of my taxi driver (Humberto - a wonderful guy) and his phone number and a bunch of other info. He had my info. The reason? It wasn't safe to just hail a taxi in Bogota, given the propensity of a small percentage of drivers to take you to places you probably don't want to go.
- Finally, at the airport, there wasn't the single security point to go through but four of them - first, before you got to the ticket counter, then the standard security that we're all used to, then once you've passed through to the gate area and are walking down the corridor to the gate, there is a carry-on check and then at the gate before you can go sit in the gate lounge area, there is another security check. Four. Quatro. 4.
Okay, that's out of the way. Oddly, you feel quite safe because Colombia is taking its security situation seriously and I never once, other than observationally, thought about it. I didn't worry a bit, once I got there.
But the conference, ahhhh, the conference.....
CRM/CEM In Bogota: La Conferencia Fue Increíble (in English: The Conference Rocked!)
This was easily the best conference I ever spoke at, no insult intended to any of them in the past. There were 200 attendees - most in their 20s and 30s, some in their 40s and 50s - all with an electric intelligence that was manifested in multiple ways throughout the conference. There was constant discussion, serious interest in how CRM was changing, what the customer experience was like, how to measure all this. The questions were restless, they were well thought out, they were lively.
The format of the conference was a major speaker, then a case study, another major speaker, another case study and then a panel of the speakers from the day. It went for two days. So the lead speakers were Naras Eechambadi, President/CEO of Quaero, who I have spoken on extensively here; Bob Thompson, CEO and founder of CustomerThink, formerly CRMGuru, the world's largest online customer-centric community (150,000 subscribers), Rafael Rodriguez, the founder of FMI (see above) and arguably one of the, if not the, leader of CRM efforts in South America; Jay Curry, a pioneer in CRM and measurement, also, apocryphally the father of Adam Curry, creator of the podcast; and me. There were case studies from IBM and Grupo Aval, one of the largest bank groups in Colombia.
Each of the primary speakers had three hours. Seems like a lot but, personally, I ran out of time!!
What was amazing wasn't just the speakers - all of whom had a lot to contribute, but the intelligence of the audience. It was a nonstop question fest for two days. How do you measure the customer experience? What impact do customers have on the supply chain? Who would you say are the vendors who actually get the new world that we're moving into? How does one focus this around financial services? Does a CRM implementation take the new tools into account? Does workflow have an impact on measurement when it comes to how productive the managers and staff are with their customer-centric goals?
This was also the best looking group of humans in a single place I ever saw. The women were gorgeous and the men were handsome and they all exuded an individual confidence that was both staggering and heartwarming to behold.
Which highlighted a really peculiar irony.
While it wasn't unusual to see a stunning young woman in her late 20s who was in a position of influence at a major Colombian corporation, or a 35 year old man running his own successful company in Colombia, there was this what we used to call a "little me" sense of national identity, though not of personal identity. The refrain I heard both days was, "well, Colombia is so far behind" or "all these new technologies and new business models are for aficionados, not for us generally." This attitude was prevalent.
After thinking about it, I decided to take it on head on in my presentation on the 2.0 world and the business models that are appropriate to it. I used Threadless as the polemic. Basically, my comments were along these lines.
"I've heard for the last two days that Colombia is 'behind' and that 'this new model is for aficianados.' I don't mean to be disrespectful, but that's not true. First, you complain about the infrastructure. Well, I'm using EDGE here in Bogota with my Blackberry and that is no different that what I have available to my Blackberry in the U.S. So the infrastructure is there. Second, Threadless, as I pointed out was formed by 4 college graduate students with an Internet connection. I've shown you that you have the Internet connection. Are you telling me you can't come up with four graduate students in the entire country?....You are the most electrifying intelligent audience I've ever dealt with, bar none. And, I'd have to say, the best looking. Thank you."
In a condensed fashion, that's what I said.
The fact is that the size of this conference, the enthusiastic interest shown by the 200 participants, and level of questions asked by this crowd points out the amazing possibilities for providing the customer-centric culture that will be necessary to lead Latin America to providing the kind of human "service excellence" committed to by only Singapore to date and by various individual agencies of government in the United States and the UK among others.
Colombia is ripe for Business 2.0.
But Then Again...So Is All of South America
And there is a coalition to prove it. While in Bogota I met with Eduardo Sanchez of Mass Digital, one of the largest interactive marketing firms in South America (I think he said second largest, though don't hold me to that). Oddly, Eduardo happened to work at El Tiempo, Colombia and one of South America's leading newspapers on their web presence seven years ago - and worked with Rafael Rodriguez there. Weird coincidence....though I've seen weirder --- stories for another time another place and another dimension. Eduardo is also the Colombian representative of a coalition of companies called CustomersForever that is providing CRM and social media services as a coalition throughout Latin America and also has an annual CRM Conference, CRMC CALA each year. They are a BPT Partners business partner for us in South America and represent a cutting edge for the Latin American nations CRM initiatives.
In other words, there is a lot of advanced CRM activity going on in South America and its exciting, vibrant, intelligent and very pretty too.
I hope they invite me back.
Soy un gran, muy gran, fan.