Another Cloud Podcast

A podcast designed to bring you stories from the smartest minds in IT, operations and business, and learn how they're using Cloud Technology to improve business and the customer experience.

Chat BOTS and the Ninja Quest with Adam Ferenzi

with Alex McBratney and Aarde Cosseboom

Don't have time to listen? Read the full transcription.

Alex  00:00

Hello, and welcome to another cloud podcast podcast designed to bring you stories from the smartest minds in it, operations and business and learn how they're using cloud technology to improve business and customer experience. All right, well, welcome to another cloud podcast.  Today we have Adam Firenzi. He is the VP of customer success at Big Commerce based in Austin, Texas. Give a big yeehaw. But Adam, great to have you on the show today. Yeah, thank you for having me. Absolutely. And of course, we've got my co pilot partner in crime Aarde Cosseboom,  on the hook as well. Already. Good to see you again, buddy.

Aarde  00:41

Adam, Alex. Pleasure, as always, Adam, thank you for joining the show. Looking forward to the conversation. Why don't we get started Adam with you talking a little bit about Big Commerce and what you guys do there?

Adam  00:55

So BigCommerce is a software as a service software provider for e commerce merchants. So you know, we really try to put out a piece of software that can allow merchants to, you know, sell both on the storefronts that we provide, as well as you know, across channels at any stage of growth. So you know, try to really provide them the tools to be successful, whether it's, you know, a small mom and pop type, you know, startup or side business, things like that, up to you know, we have some of the largest brands in the world, you know, and large internet retailer 1000, fortune 500, and those types of companies, but all the way down to, you know, Joe in his garage, trying to pick up the T shirt business or whatever it might be.

Alex  01:41

Yeah, absolutely. That's, that's an interesting business model, because I could imagine just being on the customer success side is that you have enterprise clients, they have development teams, they have tons of resources and build things out. And you have the guy in the back of the house bill, making t shirts, as a huge like discrepancy as far as skill set goes, how to how to even start the process of getting, you know, success to work for both sides, when it's such a big variety of customers.

Adam  02:10

Yeah, it is certainly a challenge. I think for us, there's the, you know, there's sort of the the model of our business has been able to kind of lend itself to the model of customer success. So, you know, what, when I started with the company that really was just a technical support group, and that was, that was all we did. And that was all all of us did, we were relatively small. And we served small businesses, as the company has changed over the years, and our, you know, CEO is come our current CEO, Brent Belen, who can't believe came in 2015, if I remember correctly, you know, kind of changed the direction of the business a little bit or augmented, perhaps is a better way to say it. And really leaning into that element of a disruptive technology, we kind of grew up market. And that allowed the support and services to do the same. So slowly, we built out professional services groups, which my counterpart runs, and, and more technical groups in the higher end of our support and things like that. But you know, as a, as a tier one tech support agent, you know, you still may, at any given moment, get somebody who's incredibly sophisticated, and maybe it's a partner, maybe it's in house developer, you know, asking very technical questions, or you may get somebody who is absolutely brand new to anything like this, and is just like, you know, Hey, can I have a tour of the entire platform? Because I just don't even know where to start?

Aarde  03:37

Am I let's, let's talk a little bit about your background. So your origin story, or, you know, your career as the past till now? What is the history of, you know, your interest in customer success and how you made it there? And how was it? Did it stem all from post college or during college? Or was it sooner before that, or after that?

Adam  04:02

Well, you know, I've worked many different jobs through the years when I was when I was in high school and college and I got a Master's as well and, you know, oftentimes was working several jobs at a time, but I was kind of geared towards the music industry. So I worked in a lot of different small labels and you know, internship studios, anything you could get your foot in the door with, and it was really just a byproduct of moving to Austin, Texas. So I'm originally from the Chicago area, my wife and I moved down and I was actually more on the on the customer and at the time of running my own small music business that was, you know, in the same kind of space, ironically enough, so it was really kind of selling music and merchandise on behalf of, you know, independent labels and musicians. And as we moved down, it was just sort of Well, let's You know, get settled and have, you know, a place where I can go and get started. And it was really sort of supposed to be a temporary job, I started as a tier one agent, my wife needed to be recertified as a teacher in the state of Texas. So it was just, you know, to kind of get our feet on the ground. But you know, I want any capacity, you're always working with customers in some form or fashion, even if it's internal customers, and, you know, and in running my own business, it was a lot of the same, it was learning how to deal with, you know, people in a distribution warehouse or a record label, or, you know, just some small band trying to get out there. And, you know, you deal with a lot of different things. So, you know, I just tried to do my my best and help the customers who were in my position, I can certainly relate to them a lot. You know, and I really just kind of fell in love with the people at the company and the culture and what a great sort of idea it was in this industry that it was in and how fast moving and exciting that was, and dealing with all kinds of different merchants and partners and, and things like that. So I just, you know, I kind of reached a fork in the road at a certain point, and really decided I wanted to kind of change my career path a bit. And so I decided to lean into big commerce. And, you know, just kind of moved along. That way eventually became the leader of a smaller team within the company. And then beyond that became the director of our technical support group. And eventually, not now I'm the VP of my purview is our technical support groups, which, you know, have various tiers and things across, mostly in Austin. But we do have team members in London and Sydney as well. And then we have our technical Account Management Group and a couple of other areas that are that are kind of in my purview.

Aarde  06:51

I love that humble beginnings, you know, joining as a tier one learning raising from the ranks, it started in the contact center industry, but started as a tier one, I guess you could call and then went to a tier two, and then what we used to call as a guru, and then to a team, lead manager, then senior manager, and director, senior director. And it's a it's definitely interesting, as you kind of rise through all of those different levels. You know, your, your roles and responsibilities, obviously change, but also leadership becomes really, really important to those to those middle and higher tiers. So talk to us a little bit about what your leadership model is, what your leadership practice is, if you're overseeing lots of team members, and lots of, you know, individual direct reports that oversee other direct reports, potentially oversee team members, what's your philosophy and what has worked over the last, you know, X amount of years?

Adam  07:53

So I, you know, that's a, that's a really interesting question probably worthy of you could devote entire hours of discussion just to that topic. But, um, so, you know, we have a lot of tears in, you know, levels throughout the organization, and the roles can be very, very different. So, you know, our product support engineer group, you know, their, their workflow is going to be a lot different than a tier one, taking phone calls or chats. So, we've obviously evolved over time and done a lot of things differently. But when I kind of took over as a leader in the organization, I just kind of did that through osmosis on post, it was like, you know, you just sort of do your job, the best that you can do it, and I kind of competed with myself and competed with some of the veterans and would just try to be really a product expert. And, and it led me to a position that required that sort of expertise. And as I started, delete other people, it was really, you know, I'm a big believer in you have to focus on the health of the organization. So it's our job to make sure that we are in support of the mission of big commerce. But I think, you know, coming from an internal move, you kind of have that luxury of people understanding that you know, how to do this job too. And you know, the stresses and the pressures and the difficulties that come with it. So there's a bit of a mutual respect there. And I think one of the toughest parts is as your scope gets larger and larger, and your team gets larger and larger, and now all of a sudden, you've got, you know, so many different teams and I'm managing layers.

Alex  09:40

It's not the first time dogs barked on the podcast

Adam  09:44

I'm sure it's I'm sure it's not so you know, as you kind of get through those, those varying layers of of management and things like that, it's making sure that that's still there's still that trickle down of understanding and and Kind of mutual respect of we know what it is you're going through. And we, we want to do you know what the best thing is for our customers and for big commerce, but we want to do it in a way that is friendly to that agent level, where they really feel like they're they have a voice that's heard. And they have input, not necessarily always the decision making that they want to have. But they have input. So you know, we've we've tried to do a, we do a lot of different skip levels and a lot of different, you know, mentorship programs and growth programs to try to really highlight successes. And I always I like to have a nugget that I always like to talk about, and and I talked about with all the new hires, I visit every new hire class. And it's that, you know, you are entering into a group of people that, you know, however many employees we have now, 1000, you know, there's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1010 to 12% of those employees used to be a tier one tech support agent. So we're kind of the foot in the door that helps you grow your career, learn the ins and outs of the industry, and maybe different areas of the industry. So we ended up really being a, you know, a bit of a pipeline for people in all different areas of the organization, engineering product, design, it sales, I can't think of an area that doesn't have somebody that came from technical support. Yeah,

Aarde  11:26

I know, Alex, you're gonna ask the question, but I just want to do a quick comment.

Alex  11:30


Aarde  11:31

Oftentimes, I speak at events and went back when events were in person. And in a group of usually, like 100 people or something like that out, the first couple of questions I'll ask is, you know, everyone, raise your hand, if you're a in senior leadership of a contact center, some sort of customer service role, and everyone puts their hand up. So I mean, that's the audience of people. 

Adam  11:52


Aarde  11:53

And I say, keep your hand up. If you started out, taking calls, you know, your tier one, level one. And it's very, it's non surprising to us, but very surprising to other people that 75% of the people keep their hand up, then of course, I asked some pretty whimsical funny ones after that, like, how many of you still drink alcohol? Or have a receding hairline? Or wake up in terror in the middle of the night? Because you think you're answering tech support calls? But yeah, it's it's pretty funny, there's a pretty large amount of us who have kind of home grown from tier one all the way up. Alice, I'll throw it over to you. I know, you have a couple questions.

Alex  12:33

Well, I was just gonna,  jump on top of that, because a lot of the people that we talk to, especially on the podcast, we talk about leadership a lot, because it seems to be a topic that rises to the top, but the majority of the customer success, customer experience, leaders that like are you say they came from a lower tier tier one, but then they have programs in place to really find that talent to see, okay, where are they going to be a fit, this person is gonna be great for sales, this person is gonna be great for you know, with product development, and it's really, like you said, it's an avenue for them to go and grow their career. And starting at tier one coming out of college, or even sometimes not college, it doesn't matter, like what your degree was, right? Everyone's in the same boat, taking support calls, and you can really take your career where you want to go. There's just, it's really just finding out how hard of a worker you are, and how well you play with other people to make that happen. So how do you see that playing out now? Like, it's hard losing good people to other departments? I'm sure. But you know, it's kind of like a double edged sword on was in a good way. Right? So how do you look at that? How do you develop people to find those spots that they might be able to be good fits in?

Adam  13:47

Yeah, it's, it's a really, it's a tall task to you know, maintain your own staffing and your metrics and things like that, because, you know, your, your newer people are just not going to be quite as strong yet. A lot of it comes through experience. And so for us, it's, you know, it's, it's a balance, and we have to really work with our cross functional stakeholders to on timelines and things like that, you know, I was in the unfortunate position, actually, earlier this year where I had to freeze it for a bit. And I had to tell, you know, other leaders across the company, I've got to push the pause button, you can start ticking folks again soon. But I've got a, I've got a lot of roles to fill. So I got to catch up a little bit. And, and we try to, you know, be very disciplined about our budget, but in a very thoughtful way. So when we know we've got maybe some higher tier positions coming, you know, let's hire ahead of the game a little bit at the lower end, so we can let those people get released earlier into those promoted roles and things like that. But we also really partner quite tightly with our l&d organizations and and, you know, different different folks across the company to do some there's some You know, a little bit looser kind of mentorship type of things. But there's also very kind of clear cut learning paths as well that we try to build out. And we want to continue to expand, but particularly within our own groups, like, you know, from tier one to tier two and, and that sort of thing. And even within tier one, we have, you know, what we refer to as, like the ninja quest internally for since before my time, the agents were always called ninjas. And, and So way back when it was referred to as the ninja quest, but it is an essence, you know, let's, let's put you on a very prescriptive path to get better and better with the product, and better and better with different soft skills and processes and things like that. So you kind of come in and you reach certain levels, and you get paid mumps with those levels. And so we don't really even consider tier one completed, fully completed with training until they're about seven months of employment about six months on the floor, because we want that ongoing training path to really allow them to, to ramp up and not have to just kind of hit the ground full speed. And then that generally, by the time we're, you know, getting through that path, and they're really starting to polish up their skills as a as a, you know, tier one agent, they're starting to see what's out there in the company, and say, Oh, those growth coaches over there, that seems like a job that really interests me, I'm gonna go off and learn a ton about SEO and search engine marketing. Or I really want to go this technical path, I'm going to keep diving down API's and our central storefront learnings and become a product support engineer because eventually I want to go into engineering organizations so that they start to self identify a little bit when they've had an opportunity to just kind of breathe a little bit as they ramp up and work on their core knowledge

Aarde  16:50

of that ninja as a term. that's a that's a pretty good on. I've heard a couple in my, in my tenure for the last couple decades, I've heard technical support guru, because it's someone who's you know, been down the path who can conduct Sherpa you down that path from a support standpoint. Ninja is a pretty good one. I've also heard one, which is a little interesting because instead of like a tier two, it's a T twos all of them were like terminators, you know, like T one, T two. So that one was always good too, especially in the like, very nerdy techie world. And for you guys who are listening, we're recording this on on Cinco de Mayo, but yesterday was May the fourth so it's very like Star Wars II type day for us. So anyways, transitioning a little bit into the kind of, you know, nerd side that I love, which is technology. Tell us a little bit about your technology stack what you don't you can say what brands or what tools you're using today. But how are your agents armed technology wise, in being able to help support your customers? Are they using, like cloud based tools work from home? Is it robust ticketing systems? Are there bots in place? Is the agent assist things? Tell us a little bit about your technology ecosystem?

Adam  18:13

Yeah, there's areas we're kind of a, an interesting ecosystem, I think because, you know, in my experience in going to, you know, various contact center conferences and things like that, there's so many things that I found out early in my career when I would go, you know, because again, I was never really affiliated with the contact center industry, necessarily, and going in meeting peers. And I'm like, wow, there's so many things we do, that are so far ahead of the game, and we seem frustrated by them. And, and they're really pretty, pretty unique. But But then there's other areas where, you know, now we're playing a little bit of catch up. So we kind of have this mixture of everything is cloud based for one thing. So we we've never had the the call task, as I understand it, of really going from that on prem to cloud. But it's it's very much, you know, it fits kind of aligned with where we sit in the e commerce ecosystem. It's like no moving to everything is SAS products. And so we use, you know, a, when I first started, it was a lot of scrappy sort of bootstrap stuff. We had a open source Ruby on Rails to left any system that was not very robust, but it you know, it served us well for that time in place. And eventually, we moved over to a, you know, SAS based telephony system and changed from an old legacy ticketing system to kind of a more robust CRM where, you know, we case every call and it ties into knowledge. We have internal and external versions of our knowledge articles and a lot of, you know, Agent assist type of things, in turn, consolidated information. We've got our communities product and that sort of thing. But what ended up happening at that time was, you know, kind What we were just talking about what that agent growth and identifying that talent is my boss, we actually is going to be retiring soon. But he's he's a long, long standing veteran of the contact center industry. He's the kind of the opposite of me. And he's done this for many, many years, very successfully, really knows this stuff, great, great mentor to me and many, many others. But he kind of came in and looked at it and said, Okay, well, first of all, you guys just can't measure him enough. You know, your, your systems aren't letting you get the measurement you need. And you know, what, you know, terrible agent experience, they can't really see what's going on, you got to get them more visibility, or how do we go work on these things. So we had a very technical agent in our in our upper tier, who was did a lot of our API support and things like that. So we kind of tasked him with a challenge and a side project and said, go build us a call board. So he looked at the telephony systems API's and some open source charts and graphs and things and built a call board. And that started that was the seed of what we now refer to as the tool belt, which Mike, my counterpart over our workforce planning and analysis group, or senior director over there has built this thing and kind of product managed it through many years. And so it's a really, really robust, he's never been happy, he's looked at a ton of different Workforce Solutions and different things like that. And he's never quite been happy with what they provided. So he's just slowly built it. So we've got it's sort of like half data warehouse, half workforce management, at its core, but it really it's, it's got a ton of different systems of, you know, pulling in an aggregating data from our ticketing systems, from our jiras, from our telephony, chat, all of those things, and letting us really get a full view anything, anything we want to see and kind of get historical views on all of that. And, and so that in that sense, we're really have a pretty high level of sophistication. And we continue to kind of build that out and iterate on it, and do a lot of different things. All the scheduling is run through their vacation requests. So one on ones are tracked in there, you know, everything. But then, you know, on the flip side of that, as we were kind of beefing up our core technology in the CRM and telephony and what have you, there were some areas where we really didn't have we wanted to do and we've been making some strides to catch that up a little bit. So we're evaluating chat bots right now, actually, because we needed to level up our chat tools in order to even do that, because our chat was kind of antiquated. And so we need to kind of get up to new versions and bring our chat, a little bit more omni channel and a little bit more sophisticated and routing and things like that. So now we've kind of got that baseline, and we're working on some, some different sentiment analysis tools and call ingestion, working on some chat bots, and multilingual translation tools. Those are kind of the big projects, I would say it's kind of in flight right now loving that side of ecosystem.

Alex  23:09


Adam  23:10

 that's rambling. But I hope that answers the question.

Aarde  23:13

Totally does.

Alex  23:14

I think it absolutely does, you know, and that's where we love taking these conversations is towards bots and towards AI. I was just get I just had a call this morning with one of our suppliers that does cloud contact centers, they're like, yeah, half the customers we talked to, we asked them, What are your customers calling in to complain about? Or like, you know, they just get a blank stare? Because they don't have the data? Like you're saying, right to be able to say, Well, what are they and now that you can get real time recording and transcription done, and have the have the AI see what, you know, see the trends? And then they can, so they can look at, you know, a week's time, quarters time, a year's time and see these trends on winner? And why are people calling in and for what problems and it feels like, you know, if you're not part of that are moving that way, you're just gonna get eaten alive by your competition.

Adam  24:03

Yeah, and but unfortunately, your, you know, your statement is exactly what I found in, in talking to a lot of my peers it, you know, some of the contact center conferences and gatherings and things is, you know, if I went and turned around and tried to put in some of these tools a year ago, or two years ago, I would have very expensive, you know, doorstops, or very expensive items that had me confused and chasing shadows, because, you know, if you don't have that foundational component, you're really just spinning your wheels and one. Like I I've kind of led some conversations on chat, for example, in some in some of these conferences, where people are like, Well, how do you measure this and where do you guys go with that? And my answer is kind of half jokingly, what we measure everything because it's accurate. We try to anything that has an endpoint, we want to measure But oftentimes we're like, let's just measure it and put it in a data table. So we have it. But let's narrow down our focus to some of the things that are really impactful and meaningful, and everything for us, we really consider ourselves an outside organization. So everything starts with what's the customer telling us. So if, if I didn't, so we're like, we have, you know, a survey tools in place, and we pulled out to the API. And if I didn't know what that was telling me, and I tried to put a sentiment analysis in place, I feel like that would lead me down a weird place, because I don't have the baseline, at least of what the customer is telling me. Now I can take that baseline of what the customer is telling me and say, all right, for everybody else that chose not to leave a survey now what is that advanced technology telling me and filling in the gaps. So I think there's a danger in it to where you can kind of rush ahead a little bit, and you need to sort of get the right things in place, you can figure out what are the right things that I need to measure, and that are impactful. And then I can start to open that up a little bit and broaden that scope, and get meaningful data out of it. Um, it you know, there's a, there's a tendency sometimes to just chase the shiny new toys, which I totally get, because I want all the toys, but you got to make sure that you keep the the core, get the core components where they need to be, or you're really not going to get value out of those tools, and even core personnel. So that from that standpoint, like what I'm finding with sentiment analysis, we're kind of bootstrapping it a little bit to prove some ROI. But it really needs like a full time analyst. That is an incredibly large undertaking, and it no matter how much, you know, things say they have AI or machine learning or whatever, there's only so much those things can do. There's a lot of human building out of logic and reports and subscriptions. That can only be valuable if you've got somebody in there showing you what's valuable, if that makes sense.

Aarde  27:02

Yeah, you hit it right on the head. Yeah, um, communication, AI and machine learning, natural language processing, intent, mapping, confidence rates, these are all pretty complex things. And I think I heard it best at a conference where we were talking about it and talking about the the huge chasm there is between doing nothing in doing something, because doing something doesn't mean you're doing the right thing. And you can try five chatbot kind of pilots, and fail at all of them and, and get defeated as an organization, and spend a lot of time energy and resources and even to your point following throwing a lot lots of data into it. And following these kind of shadows or following false positives. The best analogy I've heard, it's like, trying to, like figure out a garden in your backyard, and not having the right information about that garden. So is it going to have enough sunlight? Do you have enough water? Is it winter time right now. And then once you get your garden going, you have to go in there and pull out the weeds you need, you need humans to go out and make sure that the machine learning is learning correctly and not going down the wrong path or the sentiment is not trending one way or another way just because that's how the model was set up. So it's it's a lot of human interaction that has to help maintain this post post go live, which most people they're like, Oh, yeah, chatbot that was the cool like topic. 10 years ago, when finally the technology's there, I'm just gonna pay a bunch of money, deploy one and then set it Forget it, they come to find out six months down the road, that they never trained it for words like pandemic, or social distancing, or COVID. And it has no idea what to do with those types of intents. Whereas if you have someone kind of managing and maintaining that you can push those types of conversations down certain paths. So I think you hit it right on that.

Adam  29:06

Yeah. Or have you been cleaned up your data sets enough for to effectively ingest it? does it know both sides of the conversation? You know, do you have? Do you have standardized headsets for your phone agents that a, you know, audio ingestion tool can adequately, you know, understand the audio quality? You know, there's, there's a lot of thought that goes into it. And, you know, I like evaluating a chatbot is a great example because that's the other part too is that, you know, there's sort of the A lot of them are very, very different from each other. And a lot of them do take a lot of manual building, it's really it's people conflate machine learning and AI. And they're, they're very different. And, you know, and then just simple automation, which is neither of those things. Really, you know, when you've got you going in and setting if this then this rules is not Ai or machine learning, it's a human beings setting a set of rules for it. So some chat bots do that some do use, you know, NLP to, you know, guide people to different resources and things like that. So the tools themselves can be really, really different. And, you know, we've been in evaluating a lot of them and I had sales reps probably just hate me when I'm shopping for a vendor, because, you know, I'm just kind of coming in and going, like, let me just have you pump the brakes for a moment, because I know, I've sat through enough of these where you're going to come in and tell me, you know, it's going to do everything, but mow the lawn, and you know, I'm gonna knock down my contact, I'm gonna deflect 30% of my contacts, which, you know, our product is complex enough, we're number one, I do not believe that in the slightest, particularly given we have spent years doing that manually, we've we've improved self service and measured our contact ratios over the years, which I think you have to do if you want to talk about contact deflection, it's not about deflection, I think that's a pejorative word in the sense that we view it as the customer should be able to choose any channel that they want. And I believe that most customers want to just be able to go and look at an article or look at a video and solve the problem themselves. So when you figure out what's driving contact, okay, it's this, let's take that improve, you know, use a knowledge centered service sort of model, go and improve our knowledge. So that they you know, that they have the option then at that point of choosing selfhelp. But we've we've done that very well over the years, and, you know, always want to get better, but we've done that pretty well. So you don't know what you're starting off with, when you tell me, you can reduce it by this much. It's like, you know, it's like saying you can trim this amount of fat off of my Texas brisket before I throw it in the smoker. Well, you don't know how much I've trimmed yet. So you can't tell me that. And, and ultimately, my goal is not to deflect it is to give the customer the choice that works for them. So I don't want to go into this conversation with you trying to sell me a return on investment. pitch that isn't really my goal, or accurate to my needs. I want to talk about how what's the bet that'd be the best tool for me to say, Alright, yeah, we might deflect, you know, two or 4%, that'd be great. But if we can say in 10% of the contacts, I'm reducing the need for an agent by a minute, because the bot has gathered the information that has reduced the need for the agent to go back and forth with questions. You know, that's material to me, because if you took a minute off of that handle time that a human being has to be engaged, you know, spread that across hundreds of 1000s of chats, and now you have something that's really meaningful to me. So it's, again, I think you kind of have to understand the foundation of where your technology is at, where's the sophistication of your users are at. That's the other thing too, is you factor in, you know, your agents know how to use this thing, are you going to disrupt their day, by throwing this in there, and you're gonna have a bunch of, you know, miserable, unhappy, you know, I want to know how it's going to impact my culture and my age and happiness.

Alex  33:10

Yeah, and the last thing you want are agents that are unhappy, because that just is gonna directly translate to the customer, you know, how they feel. And, and that whole thing, it is funny, because when you talk about, you know, sales reps and whatnot is true, it's like, oh, my thing can do everything, you just sign here. And here's the moat, mow the lawn, too, right. But you know, it's interesting, because, you know, you really try to find a solution that's going to be a good foundation that's going to work for the company. And I'm curious to find out already, because you've done a lot of chat bots in your past, like, how has it worked for you? How, like, how can you take what Adam saying and like, add some color to it based off your experience with chatbots? And yeah,

Aarde  33:51

 Great question. I think Adam, you hit on 80% of the maybe 90% of the topics around it, you know, cautioning people, you got to do it, right. Don't do it wrong. Take your time. It's not like an overnight easy button, you push the button and voila, you know, find some sales rep at some conference to sell you the platform, you know, you push the button to go live, it's not going to go live and be perfect. You also have to think about your customers, certain Cust groups of customers or cohorts of customers. One don't want to use self service that there are certain types of people that will never shop at IKEA, because they don't want to assemble the things themselves. They want to deliver, you know, they want to, they want furniture done right and delivered to their house like glove service. You would never want to force someone who doesn't want self service into that self service. We call that the Self Service prison or the IVR prison. We want to get them out of that prison as soon as possible, or even identify them ahead of time and don't even offer it to them. Also, I think Adam, you hit it right on the head. There are certain types of conversations that just don't make sense for self service, things that are more complex things that require human empathy, listening. You know, there was I was on a call with someone is almost a year ago now. And we were talking about contact center and technology. And then we're like, you know, Hey, guys, are you guys interested in chatbots, or self service, and their target demographic is people over the age of 65. And they said, Sure, we could do self service. But it's, you know, only like 2% of our contacts are people who are even interested in going down that path, our demographic, they would hate to have to talk to a robot. And we realized that they're selling medicine to people over that age. And no one wants to like go through an IVR bot to like reorder their prescription of medicine, especially if it's like their heart medic medication, or something that's crucial for them living and they're running out, they want someone to pick up the phone, so that the they feel like they're the company or the brand has some level of empathy with the situation that they're going through. So yeah, that's, that's what I've seen, I've seen people try to go fast. With deployment of bots seen people go slow, I take maybe a combination of both is good. Maybe try to go fast, but pilot it use a lot of data and just maybe try like a very small portion of your, your user base first. Or maybe just one or two intense, don't try to boil the ocean, just try to do some simple things like password reset, or look up a status of where an order is something like that, as opposed to these huge complex, you know, 20 question chat bots that collect tons of information and open a ticket, and then a live agent has to answer the call anyways. So yeah, that's, that's why I'd recommend

Adam  37:05

 I think the, thing you hit on there, too, is like being able to jump to an agent, you know, I've never come across any instance where, you know, the kind of obfuscating how you get to a human being, is a good idea. So I think, you know, your point about, you got to understand your customer base, obviously, the New Year, if you're talking to people over 65, versus talking to, you know, predominantly teenagers, you have a very different experience. But in either of those scenarios, there's gonna, you know, there's, I don't view it as very customer friendly to just, again, not give them that choice. Sometimes somebody just wants to jump through and talk to somebody. And you know, that, to me, that's just more data. You know, if you're finding that 98% of the time somebody isn't even listening just goes, give me an agent, then you're not presenting them with options that they care about. So it allows you to take the tool and improve upon it and iterate on it. You know, rather than just making the assumption, or making the kind of forceful decision for them that they need to go through this whole path.

Aarde  38:18

And there's some simple tricks you could do like in a chat bot, it says something like, how may I help you? Oh, thank you for contacting Acme co How can I help you, if they ever curse, immediately put them to a live agent, they ever say the word operator or live agent or the word zero, or type the number zero, because we've been programmed in our heads, you know, when we call into a call center, and you hear the IVR, it's like, press one for this, press two for Spanish for sales, or press zero at any time to speak to an operator. You know, people are just programmed just like hit zero as soon as possible. Like, I don't want to talk to the robot again, talk to him. And so there's, there's little tips and tricks. Also, if someone if you ask them how they help you today, and then they type something and doesn't understand. it'll it'll repeat and says, I'm sorry, I couldn't get that. Can you try it again? Or what can I help you with? And if they fail twice, then definitely get them to a live agent don't get them into this, like infinite loop where they can't get out of this, like, single question. That's where we see a lot of frustration.

Alex  39:20

Yeah, well, you know, one of the things that we see is a lot of, you know, SAS companies and cloud based companies, tech companies, you know, barely even offer the voice option, right? I know, it's like 5% of our, of our support, you know, when it comes through. And so it's good to hear a technology company such as yourself, I actually using a lot of the voice, right, but trying to make it that on the experience because call deflection is great. But like you said, you just want to open the channels for your customers to have that good experience, to be able to choose the channel that they want to fix, fix the whatever the problem is. I'd be curious to learn a little bit because you've been there for, I think, almost 10 years now with big commerce and it's going on up to 1000 employees when you first started, about how many employees Did you guys have? And then how's? How did you manage this the tech the transition as it grew, and there's a lot of leadership changes, there's a lot of change management, and how things are structured. How did you navigate those roads over the past nine years?

Adam  40:18

You know, this is a topic, I get a lot of support leaders reaching out to me to, you know, have coffee or something to talk about this, like, we're at that tipping point, how do we go 24 by seven? Or how do we add chat or whatever it might be? Or a lot of people are starting with chat, and they want to add voice? You know, wherever you kind of started from, and and it is, it's tough, you know, it, there's a lot of kind of tests and learn, you know, that's I go back to, you know, our chief Services Officer, Paul vallencourt, right now has been my boss for I guess, eight years now. And has done this many times before, right? He, you've worked B support Comm. He brought that from, you know, zero to 5000, or something like that. When he took over that role. He was into it before that, and he's kind of done the dance before. So yeah, you know, a lot of guidance work that experience can give us of how to kind of test and learn across some of these things. So I remember being an agent when I came on, myself and one of the guys in my training class, which we were a huge trading class in time, all three of us. Because I want to say in Austin headquarters, I think I was like employee 35 or something like that. So we were pretty small, I would say at that point, we only had Sydney and Austin, the one Austin office. And I think between the two, we might have been 5075 range, maybe something like that. So that, you know, the support team itself, it was like tier one might have been 1015 people. And myself and this other gentleman were the first ones kind of testing out Sunday, we had no Sunday support. So we would go into the office and work phones from about I think it was 9am to 2pm. And then the phones would shut back off. And we would work cases the rest of our shift. And it was just starting to measure. Okay, well how many people are starting to call in, and then how many people are starting to go? Well, let me try it later. I called before and I got somebody. So how many people are starting to learn that you might be broadening that and measuring who's coming in and not getting through and starting to expand that because inevitably, you know that some of that will peanut butter spread a little bit people start to learn, okay, they close it to a better call, It's one o'clock and you would see a bit of a spike. But it doesn't mean that once you open that back up, and they learn that you're always going to get a spike at one o'clock. So it's kind of a lot of that type of learning. And then it was a couple years later that we pulled the trigger and went full 24 by seven. And there's, you know, a lot of complexity to the scheduling and coverage and all of that. But just generally speaking, you know, if you can kind of solve like, Alright, what's the personnel that I need and factoring in shrink and all of that? I've got that now, how do I roll it out, so that we're not just turning on the fire hose? You know, because what we might find is, once people start to learn, you know, the overseas customers are just gonna come flooding in. And so we kind of went through that until we were ready to just flip that switch. And the I think the thing that makes it a little bit even, you know, more complex in terms of its unknowns are the way while you're doing that, and while you're learning your customers are evolving to and culturally, we're evolving. So I think over the years, more and more people have come to prefer text based options. You know, we don't we don't have SMS right now, but I know a lot of a lot of software companies do. I think our product is complex to the point where I don't know if we can do that or not. But I can tell you that more customers have started to choose chat. And particularly as we've gone up market, more of our mid market and enterprise customers prefer the chat channel. As we've expanded internationally, a lot of people prefer the chat channel. Some some of them because they don't speak English well, and we're currently our unvoiced, we're an English, primarily English support team. I think some of them also is just culturally, that's the way their local support tends to work. So you start to as you expand your customers and regionally or in terms of your overall, you know, kind of segment, they start to tell you, where you need to make changes or where you need to grow things and expand ours. And, you know, so for us, it was like we went, we went to the exercise of the course of a long period of time. We've been 24 by seven for many years now. But now it's like Alright, well what about we look at like partner and agency support as a separate entity. So now how do we start to expand and grow that out? We need to be able to tell who they are and route them to the right people and all of that. So we're kind of going through that exercise on top of it all over again. So I think it's just a lot of, you know, you got to be a little bit patient, and you got to be willing to learn and pivot a little bit due to what your what your customers are telling you and what your internal stakeholders are telling you.

Aarde  45:16

Well, Adam, it's been a absolute pleasure having you on the podcast today. I know we're coming up on the hour, but we always like to ask our, our guests one last question before they go. And this is this might put you on the spot a little bit. So I'll give you a little bit of time to think of an answer. If not, we'll, we'll jump in and throw one in there. But so we're all consumers of brands, and we're all customers of companies. And it's very easy for us to remember the the not so great experiences. But the good experiences we'd like to highlight on our podcasts. So if you could come up with one good experience that you've had in the last, I don't know, six months or a year or even two years. Tell us a little bit about what made it a good experience and and what it was and then, you know, maybe Alex or I can share one as well to Alex, I've got one if you don't have one after this.

Alex  46:10

Yeah, well, Adam, thanks really quick, I'll just do like that quick one, I think I've maybe I've said this one before, but when I was getting new tires for my car, I was actually dealing with two separate companies. One was the online Tire Rack where you buy the actual tires from, but then they have a list of providers that will come out and mobile delivery slash like install the tires on your car. And so they came it was the easiest process, click the provider, I looked at reviews, they all look high and five star, the guy comes out has the whole mobile van set up, jack the car up on one side. So both tires are off, gets the tires off, puts them on, and does it for the whole car and he's in and out of there within an hour. I just keep working away in my office like nothing ever happened. Learn the past, he always had to go down to America's tire you had to drive down there, wait there, go through that whole rigmarole get dropped back off to pick up the car. So it was a very, very easy experience and good experience for me.


 I deal with a lot of actually quite good support. I think, you know, in a lot of local Austin retailers and restaurants, which is great or dish is a service sport, but are both really, you know, which I always, you know, appreciate waitstaff and things like that. That's a tough job. And I frankly, I'm always looking for those. It's a boy, if you know how to deal with that really? Well, you probably do great. And yeah, what I found is some of my some of my best people came from the restaurant industry. But I can, one that sticks out to me is and I'll try to condense this down. But it was just a one of those classic, you know, back and forth, nobody really cares or wants to help. And it was dealing with two banks, it was something to do with my mortgage. To make a long story short, I was like, had this last lump sum to pay on a financing change and everything. And it was like they, you couldn't just pay it like you pay your normal bill, you had to wire it. So I called my bank, I said, Well, I got a, you know, they're they're sending this like, invoice to pay off this balance before everything transfers over to the one thing, this is the remaining little nugget of money that I need to pay off and it has to be wired. And I called my bank and like, Well, do you own that account? Like, no, it's the bank's account, I'm paying the bank. It's not like my checking account? Well, you you can't wire it. What do you mean, you can't wire it? No, we can only wire to accounts that are yours. And I said, well, that kind of defeats the purpose of a wire, doesn't it? Why do I need to wire myself money? The point is I need to, but this makes no sense to me. And like you can, the only time you can do it externally is if it's for a down payment on a home, we can wire it to a bank, and I can just give you the bank's info, you know, can't be done right call back to them. And I went back and forth. And I don't know why the last person told you that you can't do it. That's no good. And I spent over the course of three days, I probably spent three hours on the phone. And I finally got one from my from my bank that I was trying to wire from like my checking and savings account. And she sounded like she almost fell out of her chair. She's like, What? Why would anybody tell you that? They're telling you you can't do this? That makes zero sense. We do this every day, 100 times a day? I don't know. And like I tell you, yeah, I'm like you're you're preaching to the choir, I'm just telling you what you're telling me and she's so we were looking to get a cashier's check or something. And she's like, Well, before I do that, let me try a few things. And you know, let me put you on a quick hold on very briefly, went and talked to a bunch of people tried a couple different like little backdoor routes to try to make it simpler for me, didn't end up successful but like made the effort and actually empathized and, you know, was really respectful, you know, didn't knock anybody or anything but it was just like, I don't know why this is such an issue. Let me see if I can solve it for you. Alright, we didn't And up there. And by that point, I was just tired. So I'm like, let me just get the cashier's check and be done. So we, you know, she ended up solving, you know, the, the ultimate problem that I was trying to get solved, but tried to do it the easier way first, it was just, it was great. It was everything I would hope my agents would do in that situation of stop pointing to the third party, stop pointing back and forth, stop, you know, treating that person like you don't care about their problem at all. empathize with them, see what you can do, and, you know, try your best to get them on, I always we have a phrase that my predecessor used to use, it's like, you don't always solve everything, but try to get them on a path to success. If you do that, you're gonna be in pretty good shape most of the time as a as a support agent.

Aarde  50:42

I love that story. Yeah, you know, the buck stops here, like, I may not be able to fix it, but I'm not going to pass the buck to someone else. Like we're gonna we're gonna knock you off this phone until we figure this out. So that's, that's a great, great story. All right, I'll do one really quick. We were furniture shopping. And we went to this. We went to multiple different furniture stores, and it's during COVID. So full mass the whole time. It's kind of hot and warm here. So it wasn't a pleasant experience. You know, at a furniture store, you're kind of looky loo browsing for a pretty long time. And then, after you get through a store, all of its inventory, kinda have to go to the next one. So there's some like travel in between. And it's a whole day thing. By about the third shop, we were getting pretty hungry, and thirsty. And we were fairly exhausted by the whole process. We go into this company called Mathis brothers, Alex, I don't know if you've ever been there. But the one here is like, I don't know, they have a room that probably has 300 sofas in it. It's massive. And they're not stacked on top of each other. They're like full living room setups everywhere. We go in, they greet us we do the temperature checks all this stuff. And they're like, You guys look exhausted? Would you like something from our kitchen? They have like a bar in there with drinks and food. And we're like, you know what, we're starving. We need something to drink. So we got some waters we got, I think my wife got some wine and I got a beer. And we're fully expecting to pay. There's like a menu with pricing. You know, I've got my credit card out. Like we're just kind of not in a great mood. And a sales rep comes off the floor walks over and says no, no, no, you guys don't pay here. Thank you, we'll, I'll cover it. I'll be your sales rep for the rest of the day. And then he walked us and of course, we bought something from him. But you know, buying us a little snack and getting us through the hump of the day and helping us out. And also it afforded us to be able to take the masks down while we were drinking a little bit and get a little bit of fresh air as well. Yeah, it was it was a great experience. And this was during the pandemic in Orange County when indoor dining was not allowed. But we were indoor shopping with the drink in our hand, just pretty, pretty amazing. It's probably one of the

Alex  52:57

 Yeah Lucky!

Aarde  52:58

 feelings in that whole, I would say three months span. But yeah, it's such a great experience. And something as little as just you know, recognizing that, me as the customer, you're obviously exhausted. This is not going to be a good experience unless we reset and do something for you. Which was very, very awesome and amazing. But yeah, I just want to thank you, Adam, for joining us today on the podcast. And Alex. Thank you, of course for co hosting. A great episode, great learnings from this. I'm really excited to post this one live in the in the very near future.

Alex  53:36

Thanks, Adam.

Adam  53:37

I really appreciate you guys having me on. I could sit and geek out on this stuff all day. So it's always fun to sit down with a couple of folks who you know, get as much enjoyment out of out of it as I do and just talk about this stuff and spitball back and forth. So anytime really appreciate it and really appreciate y'all reaching out and set it up 

Alex  53:57

That wraps up our show for today. Thanks for joining. And don't forget to join us next week as we bring another guest in to talk about the trends around cloud contact center and customer experience. Also, you can find us at Adler, LinkedIn, or your favorite podcast platform. We'll see you next week on another cloud podcast.