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Russel Berg: Welcome to Episode 12 of DX Talks my name is Russel, I’m your host and today we’re talking with Liam Delap. Liam, is a customer experience automation and conversational AI evangelist who has worked with many Fortune 1000 organizations to transform their customer’s digital experience. We have a quick message from Quantan and then we’ll start today’s conversation.
Liam Delap: Thanks for having me.
RB: Perhaps for context we can start, if you want to give us a little bit of an overview around who Pypestream are and what problem you help businesses solve.
LD: Absolutely. So Pypestream was actually created to do something that sounds quite simple. If you think about over the last five years big companies that were born in this digital economy; companies like Uber, Netflix, Amazon, Lemonade insurance – these digital-first companies came into the world about five years ago and cannibalized and took millions and millions of dollars of market share away from big companies. And what’s happening is those legacy companies they’re still trying to catch up and figuring out how they can create digital self-service that’s amazing, kind of like Uber or Netflix, and do it in a way that all their legacy systems can be connected.
So, Pypestream is actually created out of the fact that businesses needed to be more like Lemonade and Uber and Netflix in terms of how easy it is to digitally self-serve and they need a full end-to-end technology enterprise professional services team to deliver that. And so we provide the services out of the box to transform legacy companies into digital-first companies in just a matter of weeks.
RB: You’ve raised a really, really interesting point – you talked about legacy companies having to transform to a digital-first approach because they’re having to compete with businesses who were born in the digital-first environment. Are you seeing businesses successfully transform themselves and successfully make that leap or are you seeing businesses held back struggling to overcome that.
LD: Yeah, it’s a great question. We see a little bit of both, some organizations they want to take, what we call, a crawl/walk approach, but other organizations are ready to move forward and go all-in on this transformation. Technically, we’ve done it, we’ve done it for a number of companies who just want to lean in 100% and transform their brand digitally. Others wanted to put their toe in the deep end and maybe try out automation of a specific business unit and then based on the success of that have grown slowly over time. You know, the building blocks that are fundamental to having successful automation that are outside of our control are typically the businesses propensity to expose data, to make data available to these AI companies, Pypestream being one of them, because automation is really just as good as the data that it can consume.
By the time a customer picks up a phone, you’ve likely failed them.
Director of Enterprise Solutions
So, one of the biggest issues or roadblocks that we’ve seen to full transformation is a company’s ability to provide real-time access to data. Because at the end of the day the reason why a customer would pick up the phone, in my opinion, by the time a customer picks up a phone, you’ve likely failed them, unless their reason for picking up the phone was something very personal or empathy required and by the time they’ve done that what they’re really doing is calling somebody who’s accessing some data when really the best solution would be enabling that customer with their own data in a way that’s branded, in a way that’s personalized and that’s a really big challenge for a lot of companies.
RB: I think that’s a really great point and for anyone who’s listening to this episode for the first time perhaps jump back one episode to a conversation with Ken Grohe where we were talking exactly about that challenge of making data accessible. If I come back a step, you said that there are companies you believe who are successful in making that leap, in becoming digital-first; one of my observations recently is that the businesses who, at least that I’m talking to, who seem to stand a chance of doing that, the consistent factor for me is that they all have massive transformational visions and part of that massive transformational vision they are prepared to disconnect from the current operating model, they’re not stuck on that model, they’re going this is what I’m here in this world to achieve and the difference I’m going to make and I’m prepared to completely change what I do in order to achieve that. And those are the ones who seem to be moving at a faster rate towards transformation. Is that an observation you share?
LD: Absolutely, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Honestly, so many customers that I work with, they think about automation and artificial intelligence through the narrow lens of cost savings, which I think is a mistake because really you should make the investment in automation and artificial intelligence because it’s actually going to make your customer experience better and more intelligent and faster. And if you can crack the code on that the savings will come, actually, more importantly, the revenue will come. You will be able to competitively differentiate yourself so much that you’ll be able to drive new users. Again, going back to the Uber example, people use Uber because it’s easier than calling a cab, at the highest level that’s really the reason, it’s simple, you hit one button and it’s there. How do we transform the painful phone call to your cable company or internet provider to make a payment or get a bill explained by turning that into a tap or turning that into a swipe gesture or some sort of visually compelling experience that can be pushed to everybody’s device, wherever they are, 24/7/365. That’s the way we’re thinking and at the end of the day that’s what customers want, that’s what they’ve come to expect from the businesses that they work with.
And listen, the whole CX journey has its moments for humans but it has its moments for artificial intelligence in which the AI will outperform the human. An AI can query millions of data sets in a millisecond, it would take me a week to be able to figure that out. So, there’s certain times where you need to look at your journey and decide where is this type of technology going to help my customer experience and drive meaningful engagements and where is it not.
RB: Let’s start bringing this back a little bit more to conversational AI. So conversational AI, it’s not a new technology if we think about natural language processing, it’s actually been around since the 70s or 80s, it’s been in business since about the 90s in basic and evolving forms. Probably the way that the market is most familiar with conversational AI is in the form of chatbots.
And so when we think about chatbots I have two questions: how has conversational AI evolved beyond chatbots and why is that fundamental? And as a flow on from that where do you see conversational AI going in the future?
LD: It’s a great question. You know, at Pypestream we consider the word chatbot kind of like the word Voldemort and the reason why is because most people or most companies that have quote unquote chatbots haven’t taken the time to build them and integrate them in a way that drives true, meaningful self-service. And what I mean by that is, any of the listeners can probably relate to the fact that if you go to any retail clothing website or any retail eCommerce site there’s typically a chatbot in the corner but all it’s really doing is conversationalizing publicly available data that’s already within the website itself. And at the end of the day my generation, generations before me, and even generations after me don’t need help navigating a website, they need help with something that requires more meaningful design and meaningful integration aka where’s the status of my order or do you guys have this shoe in size 11 in red or, you know, can you guys give me a refund or can you send me the return shipping label. All these things 99% of the chatbots out there are not able to do. And so, why would you want to create a technology that can’t solve most or 90% of the problems your customers have.
Things need to be completely personalized and completely relative to the customer.
Director of Enterprise Solutions
That’s where we’re evolving to and that’s what Pypestream focused on is this concept of things need to be completely personalized and completely relative to Liam, to Matt, to Jimmy, to John, to Jenna, who ever it is, everything we do needs to be focused around who they are and what data we have about them and how we can create an experience for them and make it super effortless and easy to accomplish whatever the task may be. So, we know that Liam ordered a pair of shoes last week and now he’s clicking on the chat and he’s already authenticated, we should say ‘Hey, Liam are you here check on the status of your order?’ because there’s a 95% chance that’s probably why I’m there. And that’s going to delight and create this amazing experience that you’re going to want to keep coming back to because no one wants to spend 10 minutes figuring out the answer to this problem, they expect it to be instant, in the same way they do with all those digital first companies that we’ve mentioned many times.
So, that is where I – I call it the difference between knowledge-based bots and transactional bots that leap to transactional, to integrated, to personalized is where – if you’re not investing in it now, your business is at risk because Silicon Valley is pumping millions and millions of dollars into startups and companies that are already doing this and they’re taking away your customer every single day simply because it’s easier to do business with them. And that is the ultimate litmus test, Matt Dixon and the Customer Effort Score is how easy on a scale from 1-10 was it for you to complete your task? And everything we do is laser focused on making it easy. And the other point to hear, to keep going if you’d indulge me, is this concept of natural language understanding, almost every customer I work with they look at it only through the lens of natural language understanding, meaning how does your chatbot or how does your chat understand a long sentence? It’s actually the wrong question to ask, you shouldn’t even force your customers to have to type out a whole sentence, you should actually have a button that they can just hit that almost reads their mind and, not to sound creepy, but typically there’s one of ten reasons why someone is calling your contact center, its order status or payments or submitting a claim or moving money, so, if you have the ability to do the right design and leverage insights and data integrations and analytics to be predictive, you can make that a button instead of forcing them to type out a question. I mean imagine if every time you ordered an Uber you had to type out a whole sentence requesting what you wanted, no, it’s way easier than that you just swipe once and your car is there. So, that’s a huge leap from what a chatbot does to what real, integrated conversational AI companies are doing.
RB: I think there’s some really awesome points in there, one of the ones that I want to drive is that when I think of conversational AI, like if you think about a chatbot, and chatbots a swear word – agree with that – historically, when you think about the channel and the capabilities of having a conversation were merged and what we’re talking about now with conversational AI is that we’ve got a capability which is around the interaction and around the conversation that’s completely agnostic of the channel. Yeah sure, put a chatbot through emails, put it on Facebook Messenger, go put it onto IVR if that’s what’s relevant to your services, so what you’re building is the capability to automate conversations and experiences but where you put it depends on what your business is and what’s relevant to your audience.
RB: There’s a great, another great point in there, and you talked – I’ve said this many times before and it comes out really frequently, that customer experience is now a strategic advantage for businesses. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that but I think that what people are starting to wake up to is that competition is now, number one, no longer local and it’s also no longer necessarily within your own sector. And what I mean by that, so obviously, if you’re a taxi company Uber who is a global company they’re your competition but the other piece of that is the customer experience for your organization won’t be measured by your direct competitors, they’re measured by best in class. So, if people are getting a better experience in a similar kind of a process somewhere else, they’re question is going to be, well why is it so hard with you, why can you not do this better over here? And I think that’s really, really important for businesses to understand. It’s a nice kind of segue into another question – so when we’re talking about conversational AI we’re talking about automating customer and conversational interactions but we’re also talking about automating the customer experiences.
So, what would be some of the key factors that people have to be aware of when they approach conversational automation?
LD: Yeah, it’s a good question and it’s part of the reason why, personally, a key business model and strategy that we have is to not just leave technology on the doorstep and walk away. We refuse to do business with someone who wants us to just sell them technology, we only will do it if they also are willing to let our team of experts come in and help them with that strategy, the strategy you just mentioned, which is how do you think about customer experience? What is the plan and strategy around where we’re going to have our customers access this type of solution, how they’re going to access it, and when in some instances. Sometimes you want to complement an existing website or digital customer journey, sometimes you want to replace it, it really just depends. And that’s the same question for omnichannel – should we expose this to Facebook Messenger? Should we expose this to Google Business Chat or Apple Business Chat or should we do it on text message or should we do it on IVR? All these things come down to proper planning and proper customer and user journey mapping. Understanding who is the key demographic, if you’re selling women’s clothes you don’t need to build a solution for Gary who’s an 80 year old man, you want to build it for Linda who’s a 45 year old woman with 3 kids. And you want to make sure the tone of the conversation and the way it comes off is all in the interest of that person.
What specific experiences are going to transform and really make this a memorable type of experience?
Director of Enterprise Solutions
Then furthermore, if we can use data and be compliant with GDPR and other requirements to be even more custom, then that also needs to be brought into the fold. It’s really about looking at the business from a very high level and then zooming in business line by business line, department by department, customer by customer, on what specific experiences are going to transform and really make this a memorable type of experience, then mapping all of that into the design of ultimately what you have to create. If you don’t, if you skip that step then you’re just another chatbot, you’re just another bad IVR that you’re trying to press 0 and get out of, no one wants that, that doesn’t help the business, it doesn’t help the customer, it doesn’t help anyone, it’s actually just bad, bad, bad. And so anyone who says ‘hey you can turn this thing on in one day and it’s ready to go’ I wouldn’t trust it because nothing that is really good is going to be that easy but that said experts who’ve done it many times, who have the technology that’s already been trained on the top 100,000 different things people say will be able to give you some shortcuts but it still needs to be completely customized and designed for the specific and nuanced needs of your business.
RB: Yeah, a lot of great points in there and I really liked the one around starting with the helicopter view, nothing works in isolation and, to be fair, I agree with your point if people are broached by that you’re probably doing at best limited success, at worst case scenario would be doing more damage than good.
I’m also of the view that general technology is becoming more accessible for businesses of all sizes – so my question would be what would you say is the minimum scale for businesses to effectively leverage conversational AI technology?
LD: It’s such a good question, you know, I think my answer, to be safe, is there is no limit, but – the big but – the big but is – here’s the thing if you’re a very a small business and you’re a startup you have a tremendous advantage because you’re now building your organization on technology that is probably best in class and most technology that you’re building it on it’s very flexible, it’s API-driven, you can turn on third party solutions with the flick of switch. Versus if you’re a company that is maybe very small and has been around for 15 years and you’re still on systems that were built 15 years ago, it’s going to be a really hard journey for you to completely replace that entire way of doing business with more progressive and mature technologies that will allow you to benefit from conversational AI. So, to go back to my point originally, if you’re doing all of your business in Microsoft Excel and it’s not in a Customer Relationship Management database that we can access in real time we’re not going to be able to driven very meaningful experiences if we can’t access that data, and Excel isn’t really best practice as it relates to hosting data.
So, it really just depends is my answer, but I think if you’re a startup that’s growing you have a unique opportunity to benefit from it because there’s so many $5 a month, $10 a month, Customer Relationship Management tools that have APIs that we can, not we – when I say we I mean any conversational AI company – could hook into and could provide these experiences for. But, ultimately, from an enterprise perspective I think the question becomes how much would a reduction of 25% of phone calls and emails, what would that mean to your business? Asking yourself what would a 25% reduction in phone calls and emails mean to my business? What would it mean to my business if I could make it extremely easy for people to make payments or check on statuses or look up different inventory? It’s hard to quantify to the exact dollar and cent what that will be but certainly 99% of people would agree that if it’s really hard to do that now certainly making an improvement will value the business. And then in our space we’re looking at if you have 30,000, 40,000 calls a month then there’s a huge opportunity because most people would agree that half or more of those calls are simple, easy to automate use cases that really should be automated. So, I know it’s not an exact answer for you but the truth is that it just depends.
RB: A loop back to a point you made earlier, I think that one of the most important questions businesses can ask is what would happen if I made my services and my products available to customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? What would happen if I gave my customers the ability to order those services and products at 2am because that’s what works for them? And the answer is really, new growth. You’ve already said it, I’m just re-hitting on that point, I think that’s the true opportunity for businesses.
LD: Yeah, I agree.
RB: The thing I would note, if you’re a, relatively speaking, a smaller business and even large businesses – you’re often, they often have flatter hierarchies and necessarily less bureaucracy, they can make decisions fast, they can make decisions easier. So if you are what you might think of as a small or large business underneath the enterprise scale I would say the advantage those businesses have, even if they’re still working on Excel or even if they’ve got some of those inhibitors, it’s the ability to change them faster.
One of the great points which came out in the last episode from Ken Grohe was it’s no longer big, it’s small, it’s fast, it’s slow, if you can change your business fast, if you can leverage these technologies you’re going to gain a real strategic advantage.
Business isn’t about getting customers, it’s about getting customers and keeping them.
Director of Enterprise Solutions
LD: You’re absolutely right, in fact, a customer came to me – we typically would say they’re very small – and he was willing to pay premium price to get this technology because he knows he’s using it as a growth strategy, not as a cost saving strategy. And I think if you’re thinking about this investment as a growth strategy, that’s exactly where you want to be because it needs to be that way, because the benefit of generating more customers – I mean, I was reading Shep Hyken’s Cult of the Customer and business isn’t about getting customers, it’s about getting customers and keeping them. And so, by making it easier to do business, by making it personalized and giving people access to information that they want whenever they want it, you’re going to do that. And you can maybe make an investment that may be a little bit larger in the beginning knowing that it’s a critical component to your growth strategy.
RB: If a business is stepping onto this journey and I think in general, the term AI has been around for a while but fundamentally it is still new for a lot of businesses and how do businesses go about building capabilities, how do they go about starting to invest in resources and driving that change in their business?
LD: Yeah, another question we have to face a lot. It depends on what you mean by resources, I think the real debate we find ourselves in the middle of is the debate of should I build this technology or should I buy this technology? And for, I’m sure, most listeners on the phone are familiar with the concept, it’s pretty straightforward, but it is extremely important to figure out where you lie.
From my experience buying the technology – not because I’m in the sale or anything – but simply because why not leverage what a company is doing with 100 people dedicated to it everyday, versus trying to pretend and start from scratch and do it on your own? I mean at the end of the day it’s not about what the technology can do, it’s about how am I going to get the best business results in the fastest amount of time. Time and time again we have so many customers come to us after they’ve tried to build the technology on their own and they failed and they say you know what, we’re going to completely shift our entire operation to you. We’re going to have you guys own it, we’re going to have you guys build it, we’re going to have you maintain it and it allows us to do what we do best, allows them to do what they do best and create really nice harmony.
But, all that said, businesses should invest in customer experience resources, I don’t think they should invest in conversational AI specialists, I think they should invest in people who are thinking about the business and thinking operationally about customer experience, it’s importance to the business, the journey that’s required for their customers, if it’s not already it will become a C-suite level role. A lot of companies have Chief Customer Experience officers in their executive ranks and it’s because they are really one of the most important positions in the whole company. The representation of how customers experience your brand, how they live your brand, how they talk about your brand at the dinner table are all things that are extremely important and ones that are worth investing in. And as part of that they will help design the strategy of conversational AI and look to different vendors to fill that gap for them as they identify that opportunity.
RB: I look back to where you started, I think one of the most important questions that businesses can ask themselves is, whatever sector you’re in, am I an XYZ business who is enabled by smart technology or am I a technology business who happens to do XYZ? Because, to me, that’s the difference between do I build it or do I go and find people who already have great products? If we listen back on this conversation and it has compelled our audience to drive transformational change with conversational AI what three pieces of advice would you give them?
LD: Yeah, I mean, I think number one is before you even look at technology, focus on your strategy. No one should ever tell you that they know your business better than you do. You know it innately, you know what your customers are like, what they want, what they don’t want. Think about your business, do a little research, do a little bit of homework and get comfortable with what technology can do. And then with that knowledge set up a committee meeting with some folks that say hey, we just did an analysis on 50,000 phone calls and 70% of them are people asking this one question, how could we possibly be spending all this money handling these phone calls if we could just enable them with that information in an easier way? And then start over time collecting what are those reasons, those main, high volume, low value, reasons why people are calling or emailing or chatting with you. And using that come to vendors with that insight, with that intelligence because by that point you’ve already figured out the business case, you know the value, now it’s up to the vendors to sell to you on exactly how they can fill that void, exactly where they’ve been proven successful in your industry on that specific use case. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’re about to make an investment with someone that’s proven to do it already and you’ll be much more mature in your strategy and exactly what you want to get out of this investment versus just starting from scratch.
The second piece would be, leverage your data. Obvious, but even the most small companies have really valuable data on their users and on website traffic so as you craft that strategy lean heavily on to your data to make informed decisions on where this type of technology makes sense and what business results you anticipate it to deliver.
Ask questions, always stay close to your customer and ask them for the feedback.
Director of Enterprise Solutions
And then third, survey your customers. Ask questions, always stay close to your customer and ask them for the feedback. They’re going to be the ones that tell you clearly and pretty honestly about where there’s opportunity, where things can be easy, and where you can fill the void. And they’ll very much appreciate you asking them, they’ll feel emotionally attached to the brand and keep coming back for business. So three somewhat similar but different and distinct pieces of advice for you.
RB: Love all those points, that’s very sage advice. I particularly liked the comment on data, it’s a strong theme we’ve seen coming through and the other point I would add to that is don’t just focus on that data you have, ask yourself what data don’t I have but I could access. Because that’s often where a lot of the gold is going to start coming through. So, we have mentioned throughout this that you are from Pypestream do you want to maybe tell us a little bit more about Pypestream and also where people can reach out to you or where they can find Pypestream if they’re interested in learning more.
LD: Yeah, so Pypestream is an all-in-one solution to a lot of the business challenges that we outlined today, not by design, but that’s really what I’m specialized in so, yeah! Ultimately, it’s a full end-to-end platform that incorporates anything you would possibly need to become a digital-first organization and allow your customers to self-serve across any channel, wherever they are. It also includes a team of professionals that are responsible for delivering this technology, integrating this technology, designing this technology and then over time and forever, improving this technology. It’s technology and professional services and all-in-one success based platform that aligns our incentives with our businesses incentives. So, that we can only be successful when you’re successful. And this has really been a proven methodology to delivering the best business results in the fastest amount of time. To learn a little bit more I would encourage you to check out www.pypestream.com, lots of rich assets in there, lots of videos to click on and play with. Give it a look yourself, if you like it you can contact us, we’d be happy to share a little bit more detail with you.
RB: And people can reach out directly to you on LinkedIn, Liam?
RB: We’re going to put those links into the show notes, if you want to watch the full episode you can find a link to the original recording also in the show notes. Liam, one last time, thank you again for your time today.
LD: My pleasure, thank you all.