Why Can’t Customer Service Technology Be Simpler?
Dan Gingiss: Cameron Weeks is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Edify Labs, a customer service technology company. Tell us a little about Edify, Cameron.
Cameron Weeks: Sure. We built Edify to really bridge the gap from what is available in our personal lives when connecting with friends and family members to work through problems, to make those same tools available to us to connect to major brands and enterprises. We think it shouldn’t be any harder than calling your mother when calling a company that you bought a piece of technology or a piece of software from.
And the same tools and abilities that you have to connect with your friends and family should be the exact same tools you have when texting with a brand, regardless of its size or location in the world. And we found it’s not that brands don’t want to make it easy to engage with customers. It’s that the vendors they have to purchase from just really made this difficult and nearly impossible to do. So we’re bringing technology that we take for granted in our personal lives all the way to the enterprise of the market and making it super easy for everyone to leverage and use no matter where they are in the world.
Dan Gingiss: So let’s talk broadly here. Do you think technology drives customer experience, or does customer experience drive technology?
Cameron Weeks: Well, this becomes a bit of an opinionated position for me. I would argue that for the last 20 years, no one’s been driving, and the steering wheel has been tied to the side of the door, and we’ve been driving in a circle going nowhere. But I think that in a perfect world, customer experience would drive technology.
Now, we have a tagline here at Edify that I really enjoy a lot. It’s called, “We’re customers, too.” The idea is that we define this thing as “this customer over here” and we’re always dealing with it, positive or negative. It’s always a thing we got to deal with. And that’s not really the reality.
I buy things. You buy things. We both need help when we buy things. This is us we’re talking about. This isn’t some foreign concept. How do we want to run the world? How do we want to solve problems? How do we want to collaborate? How do we want to set expectations for things? I think the power needs to be with the customer, needs to be with us, needs to be with the company. It does not need to be in the hands of 20-plus-year-old technology companies.
Dan Gingiss: That’s a great point. Not only is it important for people to be customers of their own company, but I would say now more than ever, we are all experiencing the same thing together. If you can’t show empathy right now, I’m not holding out a lot of hope for you.
Cameron Weeks: You’re probably not going to figure it out.
Dan Gingiss: We know how our customers are feeling right now because we’re going through the same exact thing. I also think this about marketing, too. But I definitely think it about customer experience. Sometimes we make it too complicated. And it really is just about getting into the shoes of the customer and understanding what they’re going through and trying to make it easier on them because that’s what we demand when we’re consumers as well.
Cameron Weeks: I used to be quick to blame the company for making it too difficult, for not walking a day in the shoes of the customer and doing their own journey, mapping and experiencing it. Over the last couple of years, we really dug deeper into this and examined what the root of the problems is, because obviously the problems are really important to us. Is this a problem with our customers not really using the technology available? Is it an operational issue, or is it a technology issue? What is the core problem?
We actually found the problem was that the tools available to the people on the front lines trying to do this work just don’t exist. If you cut through the marketing hype of all of the features that are supposedly available, it’s all nonsense. The tools really don’t exist to empower the CEO to be successful.
And they’re desperate for them. They want to make people’s experiences better. They want to make this easier. We have to find a way to bridge that gap. We have to solve this technology problem that is really holding this entire multibillion-dollar public industry back from actually doing what it wants to.
Dan Gingiss: Give me an example of a tool that didn’t exist for the agent.
Cameron Weeks: The easiest example that we can all relate to is omnichannel. Omnichannel is the biggest bag of hot air in this industry. I’ve never bought an omnichannel mobile phone, but I sure as heck wouldn’t pay Apple a thousand dollars for this thing if it couldn’t do a phone call and send text messages at the same time. The average contact center deployment is, what, half a million to a million bucks? We’re paying that. And it can’t do a phone call and a text message at the exact same time? But for a thousand dollars, everybody has one in their pocket.
It’s the easiest way to really visualize exactly what we’re talking about here, that you and I could be talking on the phone like we are right now and I can text you a link to something. I can put it in the chat. I mean, these are just things we take for granted in every part of our lives. But they’re not a part of enterprise customer service.
Dan Gingiss: That’s fascinating. So, Cameron, I was looking at your website earlier, and I noticed that in the product overview, there were three different groups of connections that you talked about. I wanted you to walk us through each of them. First there was the “connecting businesses with customers,” which is the part that you just explained. Then we get to “connecting employees with each other.” Help us out with that.
Cameron Weeks: I’m going to take a step back and give a frame for all three of these ideas. The theme of Edify is to charge down this new idea of not seeing our contact center as a platform or unified communication (UC), but to pull these things together is really where the value can be unlocked.
To do that, we created a new category which we call BCaaS, or Business Communication as a Service. The idea here is that these things shouldn’t be siloed. The contact center shouldn’t sit over on this island completely separated and isolated away from the rest of the organization. If we do that, we’re set up to fail. The general business communication tool certainly shouldn’t be isolated from the contact center.
What if a customer could call into the contact center with a problem? Someone says, “I have an issue.” Maybe it’s a real technical issue. Maybe the agent who answers isn’t capable of solving that very detailed technical problem or isn’t the best suited person for it. But to have the best possible experience for the customer would be to reach across the enterprise and pull a product manager from a different department live into the conversation with the customer. What better experience could you possibly have? How would you feel as a customer if that happened to you, all in real time?
When we start bringing the workforce together, both the contact center and the general workforce, and putting them all in the same piece of technology, we’re at least bridging that technological gap. And now that scenario is completely in the realm of possibility. Clearly, there are other operational issues to work out and to make decisions on. But we’re at least removing that hindrance of the technology not allowing these people to just be in the same place.
Dan Gingiss: That’s awesome. It actually reminds me of my first job out of college. I worked for a collectibles company called Danbury Mint, and we sold high-end plates, dolls, figurines, sports paraphernalia, classic car replicas, etc. I was on the marketing team, and my job was to create and execute marketing plans to sell these products. During the holidays, they would often grab marketing folks to handle the phones in the call center, even though we had zero training.
One day I got a call from a woman who was talking about one of my products. As you were saying, Cameron, what if you could talk to the product manager? Well, there I was. I happened to be the one that answered the phone. She happened to be calling about one of my products. That was super fun for me. I chatted her ear off about it. It was a fantastic conversation.
I made the sale and hung up, thinking, “Man, am I good at this!” Then I got a tap on my shoulder. It was the head of the contact center. I looked up and said, “Wasn’t that good? I got the sale!” She said, “Well, you know, we’re trying to keep our calls below two or three minutes. You were on for fifteen!” But it’s right for the customer, if you could actually talk to the person who has the answer.
I often get asked about bots and AI, and my answer is always: I’m much more for that technology being used to help agents become better than to try to help replace agents. Anything that helps an agent become better is going to end up, in my opinion, a better customer experience, because we still want to communicate with humans.
Cameron Weeks: The most ironic thing, I think, is that the entire industry is based on the idea of asking and answering questions—that’s what a call center does. However, when we go to serve as a call center or manage a call center, we do very little question-asking ever. Instead we build features that don’t solve the problems of the contact center by any stretch of the imagination.
Chatbots are a great example. We wanted a way to make conversations more efficient in the call center. We wanted to reduce human activity and do something that was more scalable. So someone comes along and pitches this idea of chatbots, and we don’t need humans for them. But no one really stops to say, “What problem will this create? What issues are we going to have?” We just steamroll forward with this plan.
What ended up actually happening as a result of pushing chatbots out so aggressively was that we took an issue that was already growing in size inside the contact center and we wildly compounded it. Attrition has always been one of the biggest issues in almost every contact center in the world. If you dive back even deeper on what causes attrition, it’s really around coaching and training and educating a workforce to be able to solve a customer’s problem, and find empowerment and success there.
Long story short, what we did with chatbots was we ripped out all of the really easy questions that agents could actually answer and find success with on a recurring basis throughout the day. And we left the really complicated, hard problems that agents don’t have the training to solve, which meant we didn’t train the bot how to answer those questions. And so we took an issue that we were trying to solve for, which is to make agents more efficient and be able to scale the team better, and we had the exact opposite effect at a macro scale across customer service.
So employing the machine learning and chatbots for your customers is not a bad idea, but it’s not the first thing you should do. We have to first focus on empowering the team, empowering the agents, empowering our workforce to be successful. And the machine learning can have a huge impact there. And when we’re successful at that, then we can go and look at enhancing our customer experiences and finding automation there.
Dan Gingiss: I love that your headline says, “Connecting Bots and Humans,” which to me is exactly the answer. Any company that’s starting off with the concept of, “Let’s bring in bots so we can save some money and close down our call center” is really missing the long-term play. They’re getting excited about the shiny object in the technology, and they’re missing the big play.
I do think that connecting bots and humans is exactly what has to happen for the most efficiency. I always imagine the agent sitting next to this black box, whether it’s Watson or whatever it is, that can beat anybody at Jeopardy! and knows the answer to every question ever, and how smart that agent now feels. And how confident they feel because they know that they’re not going to have to be searching for an answer or calling anybody, because the answer’s right there.
Now they can just focus on doing what I think the computer can’t do, which is to have a human interaction with another human.
Cameron Weeks: We so often remember and think about the frustration we feel when we contact somewhere and the person doesn’t know the answer. Sometimes we even get frustrated with that person.
If we take a step back and look at the situation, it’s very much not that person’s fault. It’s the company’s fault. It’s the management’s fault. From our research, the people who are actually working inside contact centers love helping people solve problems, and they’re very, very good at it. It’s that when they’re not empowered to be able to answer the question, they’re not given the data, they don’t have access to information because no one wrote it down… that’s where things fall apart.
We put these people on the front line and tell them to figure it out. A lot of times we don’t properly support them, and that really has to change.
If we’re actually going to have an impact on customer experience, it’s not going to be from any fancy new feature that we built if it’s not for the purpose of helping agents become more successful.
Dan Gingiss: Fair enough. So obviously, contact centers around the world have had to completely change their operations and become almost entirely remote. How has that affected what you do? What are you hearing from your clients in terms of what’s really working?
Cameron Weeks: The Edify solution from a very technical standpoint was really well-suited for this. “Cloud” has been a buzzword now for way too long. But unfortunately, a lot of times it’s more of a marketing term than an architectural one.
With Edify, we actually mean the cloud native architecture. The Edify platform itself lives in 37 regions around the world, and we use the word region purposefully in that it’s not a single data center. Every region actually has at least two to three data centers operating inside of it. So if we blow that up, that’s like 75-plus different data centers for us globally.
The more important thing than just the number of facilities is the fact that all of our data centers in all of our data regions are sharing information in real time. So in less than a hundred milliseconds, we’re able to distribute data out to all of our regions, no matter where they physically are in the world.
Now, why this really matters for this topic that you brought up is the issues inside of voice-based call centers: call quality, latency, packet loss, and all the stuff that goes into making a phone call be effective. Across the public Internet connection, when we’re in a physical building, these things are still important. But there are lots of things IT can do to protect and secure the conversation. When we take away that corporate infrastructure, all kinds of chaos happen.
Because of Edify’s architecture and because it’s wildly different from everyone else’s in the market, we’re able to get much, much closer to that end user, even if they’re at their home, which means that we can have a much, much higher quality of connection and nearly have a guaranteed call quality, even on public Internet connections and residential Internet lines.
The outcome of this is that customers have an incredibly good experience, even on a global scale. Customers in the Philippines, throughout South Korea, and Australia—everyone went home. It wasn’t just the US that went home. The whole world shut down. We’re not talking about managing call quality here in the states from Indiana to Ohio. We’re talking about doing this throughout Europe, throughout Asia, all around the world. And that’s because of the platform and the way the architecture works.
This just wasn’t a thing we even talked about or considered. It just occurred, and no one had to think twice about it.
Dan Gingiss: You know, sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. And as it turns out, I think that this was much-needed technology right now.
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How does your company help an agent build a relationship with the customer instead of only completing a transaction?
Cameron Weeks: There are lots of ways you can address this. One of my favorites is the journey mapping tool. This isn’t just a predefined “how a customer comes into the contact center and how they get connected with an agent.”
It’s also around the idea of exposing an entire customer lifecycle to the agent in real time. So, Dan, if I were to call in and you were to be the person who answers the phone, how cool would it be if you were able to see my entire order history over the last two years? Here are the products that I bought. Here are the pages of products that I’ve looked at. Now here’s my general interest profile for the organization, and you can get up to speed very quickly on that.
I’m working with customers to implement some really cool ideas on how we actually can start using that metadata about a customer from a routing standpoint.
Obviously, this is throwing a wrench into the workforce management world. But from a customer experience side, I think it’s really, really cool that we actually can start matching similarities of customers with similarities of agents and reinforcing that personal connection between people.
You know, by this point in time, we have the technology and the ability to do that from a data processing standpoint. Now, how do we operationalize that and work it into the mix?
I think there are lots of ways we can move people from a transaction into something that’s a relationship, which obviously, as we all know, has a lasting impact on the customer’s overall relationship with that company going forward.
Dan Gingiss: It’s such a cool idea to be able to capture the data from your agents, if they are willing to provide it. I could see when they get hired, filling out some sort of a personality or lifestyle form. Just knowing if you’re a cat lover or a dog lover could help you match up with a customer.
I always talk about the human aspect of working with an agent, but I never thought of using their human uniqueness as an advantage of being able to connect them with somebody they can relate to more.
I was talking with somebody earlier today about how there are so many generations together in the workplace now, especially in call centers. And it might work, for example, to have a baby boomer talk to a baby boomer and a millennial talk to a millennial, just so they actually can communicate better with each other.
Cameron Weeks: The realm of possibilities is really open. I think it’s an untapped opportunity for rethinking how we make decisions. The start of that is getting to a platform again that really unlocks that ability. If we’re still tied to a box of metal down the hall, our ability to do integrations gets a bit limited. Once we actually reach the cloud and have access to all of the data that exists in it, then we get to use some cool stuff.
Dan Gingiss: So obviously it’s hard to predict where we’re gonna be in a month at this point. But let’s assume a post-Covid-19 world. What do you see happening next in your space, and what are you most looking forward to?
Cameron Weeks: This was something we had talked about years ago, this idea of leveraging machine learning inside the company versus externally. I’ve seen that trend dramatically increase over the last six months. I think that idea is really catching on.
People are really looking at how we use these tools to empower and make the team internally more effective and efficient. How do we empower the people who are on the front lines who are responsible for the customer experience? How do we make them more successful? We’ll see a lot more conversations around that, and we’ll see a lot more tools come out around that in next few months.
Dan Gingiss: I think your technology’s really, really cool. Keep doing what you’re doing because you are connecting people to people and making the whole interaction from both a customer perspective and an agent perspective a lot easier.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Watch the full interview on YouTube.