Business needs to be agile and customer centric if it is to avoid the coming customerpocalypse – Interview with Alan Trefler, CEO of Pegasystems

Today’s interview is with Alan Trefler, who is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pegasystems, the publicly traded American software company which has several products that focus on customer service and predictive analytics. Alan joins me today to talk about his new book: Build For Change, which argues for a complete overhaul of how businesses think about and use technology to create customer-centric organizations.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Successful innovation doesn’t have to involve a massive breakthrough in technology – Interview with Adrian Collins of bac< and Ziggurat Brands – and is number 117 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Build For ChangeHighlights of my interview with Alan:

  • Alan describes himself as a recovering software architect.
  • Whilst we may be familiar with the idea of Gen X and Gen Y, in the book Alan introduces a couple of other variations: Gen C and Gen D that he believes that companies need to be aware of, and adapt to, if they are to thrive in the future.
  • Gen C, sometimes known as millenials, are the always connected generation and they, generally, form strong judgements about the companies that they do business with but, in many ways, are much more forgiving as they have a different set of expectations. They expect to be advertised to, they expect service to be ‘so-so’ and when things go wrong they tend to be more passive aggressive than anything else.
  • Now, Gen D is emerging, where the D can stand for a number of things including Discovery. This generation doesn’t want to be sold to, they want to discover things and they want to feel that they are in control.
  • However, the D has other manifestations too.
  • For example, if they find a brand that they like then they will ‘Devour’ it, applaud it and share it with all of their friends and family.
  • On flip side, however, if they have a bad experience with a brand they can ‘Demonise’ that firm and may go so far as to actively try and ‘Destroy’ that firm using the digital tools that they have.
  • This generation underpins a concept in the book that Alan talks about: the coming ‘customerpocalypse’.
  • Given the impact of Gen D and their different set of expectations, lack of patience and potential behaviour, many firms will struggle, Alan believes, if they don’t fundamentally change how they do business and serve their customers.
  • Alan cites the recent Comcast story as an example of this.
  • To adapt, companies need to start thinking end to end, that all experiences are joined up and that the experience is the same across all channels.
  • Experiences need to be organised, respectful and effective.
  • However, most companies have not thought through how they are going to get that end to end experience to work.
  • To accomplish that companies have to bring together three magic elements: the data about the customer, the judgement about how you want to engage with the customer and the process (the muscle) by which you can operationalise all of this.
  • There are two failures that stop firms adopting this new type of approach. One is a failure of organisational set up and culture and the other is a failure to understand and utilise technology to its full extent.
  • The best firms are bringing their technology and business teams together to work in a joined up way.
  • When asked where companies should start on all of this (people, process or technology), Alan believes that all elements should be handled contemporaneously. But, obviously, if you don’t have the right people then it won’t work.
  • Companies that don’t embrace the change and make the changes are in danger of getting ripped apart by the customerpocalypse.
  • It’s amazing how quickly firms can now move from positions of dominance or success (Nokia, Blackberry etc) to positions of destruction.
  • Even if you change then there is still no guarantee of success as the recent cases of Netflix and Lululemon demonstrate.
  • Only if you learn to look at your business differently will you be able to build a business that can deliver to Gen D and thrive in the future.
  • Do it well and you’ll not only improve customer engagement but you’ll also simplify the business and save money at the same time.
  • However, this requires a fundamental commitment to agility and customer centricity.
  • Earlier this year Forbes named Pegasystems one of America’s 100 most trustworthy companies.

About Alan (adapted from his Pegasystems bio)

Alan TreflerAlan Trefler is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pegasystems. He also serves as Chairman of the Pegasystems Board of Directors.

Alan’s recent book, Build for Change, describes a new generation of customers that have unprecedented power to make or break brands and the changes businesses must embrace to succeed in today’s digital world. A best-seller on 800-CEO-Read, the book has been reviewed and featured in national media outlets including Forbes,, Computer Weekly and 1to1Media.

Alan has consulted extensively in the use of advanced technologies and work automation. In addition, he has been named the inventor of five issued patents for Pegasystems’ distinctive Inherited Rule-Based Architecture, which provides the framework for Pegasystems’ solutions.

Alan’s interest in computers originates from collegiate involvement in tournament chess, where he achieved a Master rating and was co-champion of the 1975 World Open Chess Championship. His passion and support for chess and the game’s community and current champions continues to this day. Alan holds a degree with distinction in Economics and Computer Science from Dartmouth College.

You can grab a copy of Alan’s book here, find out more about Pega here and say Hi to them on Twitter @pega

6 comments On Business needs to be agile and customer centric if it is to avoid the coming customerpocalypse – Interview with Alan Trefler, CEO of Pegasystems

  • Adrian,

    I wonder if the “Gen #” label is really a useful one. I may not like or want or do the same things that others in my Gen do. Wouldn’t personas be a better way to think about customers? Gen seems like such a broad category that doesn’t provide enough useful detail for anything.

    Annette 🙂

    • That’s a great point and question, Annette.

      I believe that Alan wanted to highlight the behaviour rather more than anything else. However, I’ll ask him and invite him to respond in his own words.


  • Adrian, an interesting interview.

    Like Annette I pick up on the Gen issue (although it is a minor point).

    I wonder if we don’t all have elements of each generation within us. I have just had an interesting experience with a builder and I am feeling pretty Gen D about despite my advanced years.


    • James,
      I agree that I too see this sort of behaviour in many more people these days. I wonder if it has as much to do with changing context and ability as being generational. I’ll ask.


  • Your readers’ comments bring up a valid point. When Facebook was founded in 2004, no one understood the power of it and its social media brethren to fundamentally alter the customer-business relationship. Generation C, or Millennials, who were first to adopt social media, saw it as a fun way to communicate with an ever expanding network of “friends”. As social media matured, the newest generation of consumers, what I refer to as Gen D, recognized its potential to shape interactions with companies. They have evolved from Gen C, using social media not just as a tool for friendly communication, but one that can be leveraged to get what they want. Gen D has discovered that it works—that businesses will indeed respond to posts and tweets. And the rest of us have taken notice. Across generations, we now see the mindset that companies should address our specific needs and interests and woe betide those that fail to do so. We have all learned to use social tools to voice our opinions without reservation. So, Gen D may have started the 3-D trend to discover, devour and demonize, but we are all becoming equally adept at engaging in this behavior.

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