How to convert your customer service from a “cost-center” into a profit driver
Co-Founder and CEO
Today on the show we have Tomer Suarez, Co-Founder and CEO of Interai.
In this episode, we talked about Interai’s mission to bring consumer technology to enterprise companies, and how they use visual data mapping to bring together an organization’s legacy tools without a single integration.
Tomer then explains the process B2C enterprise companies need to take in order to achieve a 360 customer view, the problems they may face, and ultimately how it impacts retention. Finally we discussed how customer service can shift from being cost center to a profit center.
[00:01:29] Andrew Michael: Hi Tomer. Welcome to the show.
[00:01:31] Tomer Suarez: Hey Andrew to be here. Thank you so much for hosting me.
[00:01:34] Andrew Michael: It's a pleasure for the listeners. Tomer is the co-founder and CEO of inter AI, helping you turn your billing ops, admin and back-office systems it's apps inside your CRM and just days without any API integrations needed.
Thomas started his career as an investor in special projects manager for the Israeli ministry of defense before funding peach education. So my first question for your time. What does an investor in special projects manager work on for the Israeli [00:02:00] ministry of defense?
[00:02:01] Tomer Suarez: That's a great question, actually.
So basically the ministry of defense, like many other enterprise companies under, so that they need to start doing innovation exists outside of defense. It exists within startups and academic research. And basically they took me to lead the innovation center which means that I had to take.
All the challenges that existed in the ministry of defense, technological challenges and find innovative solutions within startups, in academic research outside of the ministry of defense and invest money into those 50 ventures and bring them in. So I had the privilege to invest money and lead projects with amazing startup companies, doing crazy innovation, the world of brain science and microbiology.
Very cool. Saifai project. Bottom into the minister of defense and bring the innovation. Very
[00:02:49] Andrew Michael: cool. I can imagine some exciting and interesting work being done in those fields. Exactly. Cool. So fast forward to today, talk us through a little bit more about inter AI. What is it that [00:03:00] the company is actually does and yeah.
[00:03:03] Tomer Suarez: Yeah, definitely. Basically Interai first a mission was to bring the consumer technology to the enterprise and especially to where the enterprise is meeting their consumers. So in the world of customer service and sales we saw how crazy it is that for me as a consumer of a bank I have all these self serve tools.
If I need to ask for a loan or change something in the app, so easy for me to do it, but when I'm actually calling the customer service of the bank, the rep on the other side is using all these legacy systems, juggling all these systems to basically try to help me as a customer. When we started investigating, we saw that whereas you have all these amazing CRM tools that consolidate all the interactions with the customer, all the operational aspect of the customer, like their billing, their transactions, their purchases, their subscriptions, their services, their orders, or shipments you name.
It depends on the business. All of this information exists [00:04:00] in back office admin systems, ops systems that sometimes. Very legacy systems built in a homegrown manner or by some system integrators and are not connected to the CRM. That's why the rep on the other side of the phone, they need to open the CRM and see my profile, but then juggle all these other systems to get a full view where my other class.
And today, when you think about enterprise companies, when you want to change your systems, it's usually an it and business project altogether. So you put the money and effort to migrate systems, whatever that would be and integrate the systems. And then in three years or five there's the business gets a new system, the ideas, the infrastructure, everyone's happy.
We thought that this is bling. It doesn't have to be the reality. We should be covered that. And we should enable the business units to keep the infrastructure as it is, but build their desired system on top of the existing infrastructure. So if they want to create this single customer view and all the [00:05:00] business logic and.
Retention and upsell policies of customer. They can do it in this new obligation layer on top. And so the entire AI basically product is to enable business units and customer service and sales to build this new customer centric app will double their existing infrastructure without any integration API.
That's just taking words for no idea, R and D involvement and effort.
[00:05:28] Andrew Michael: How are you making that possible without any integrations or it documents I'm interested.
[00:05:34] Tomer Suarez: So when we started thinking about that, We said what, so all these systems, all these back ops and ops systems, if I mentioned are not uniform, like you go to bank a and bank B, and it's got to be two different systems or three different systems because usually it's homegrown, et cetera.
So we said integrations is not possible to use. So what is common to all these applications? And the answer was very native. They are all human rights. They have a [00:06:00] user interface. And that's when we started asking if humans are right, the reps are using those systems so we can write from them why can't a computer.
So we've built a technology called visual data mapping, meaning we're using a computer vision. We actually use image processing to look at the existing user interface of those systems and understand the structure and the schema, the label, the form. And then we enable our buyers to basically map the data from, into those system.
Just based on how the user interface looks like that's applicable to any system works without prior knowledge. And it's the fact that technology in the.
[00:06:43] Andrew Michael: That sounds very cool. And it's definitely an approach I haven't heard of before. But it makes a lot total other sensors that you can typically see information architecture of any app by just looking at the UI and then being able to map that back into sort of what the tables and databases look like.
[00:07:00] And then on the other end, how would the, how does the mapping work there? Because I still don't know. Dan, like if there's no integrations. So I get that. You can basically get the model, but how are you then making sure data is getting into that database or a schema that you defined? Yeah.
[00:07:16] Tomer Suarez: Perfect question.
So it's a, what we call a human supervised process. So let's say a company wants using AI to build a customer 360, again, all the transaction and shipments and orders. So what they do is they basically upload the screenshot. Of course recording of the existing systems. The interface engine is extracting the schema and then in a human pro supervise way, the person who's basically building their 360 view by saying, I want this data point and this data point, and again, just describing the business logic around it.
So in a very, a low-code no-code map. To build and that's basically no ensures that it's just going to work. There was no guesswork the automatic part is the mapping, but then they can build whatever they [00:08:00] want. With those data properties, let's call them that.
[00:08:03] Andrew Michael: Yeah, but you still need to integrate them to the source itself, whether that is coming from the integration
[00:08:08] Tomer Suarez: is not really to the source because we, again read and write from a, to B the UI of the systems and that translates to the database.
[00:08:16] Andrew Michael: So they never really ever need to replace the existing legacy systems. All right. Very interesting.
[00:08:22] Tomer Suarez: Not rebasing, not storing data.
[00:08:25] Andrew Michael: Cool. Nice. Before the show, we had a quick discussion and you mentioned as well, like through this process yourself you've been doing a lot of research when it comes to what creating a good customer experience means for some of these businesses and how that impacts like general attention.
So I'm keen to dive into this a little bit deeper. What has been your process that going out over the last few years, building art into AI and we just have some been some of the big learnings that you've been seeing them on.
[00:08:49] Tomer Suarez: Yeah, for sure. Happy to share. So as I mentioned also, before we start the interview I came from consumer technology, my first venture wasn't education tech and I had my experience with building a consumer [00:09:00] company and we've actually built tools for charter schools that was booming in the U S in 2016.
And that we started, figuring out how do you The reserve, how you preserve customers, how do you retain customers? How do you increase their lifetime value? How do you give good support? So we had to basically to handle. Deal with all those challenges. Eventually we're education venture did not work out part of it.
We saw a part of it closed that just very difficult market, but then we was very obvious for us. And the next thing we're going to do is from the perspective of consumer technology and consumer experience, we want to bring. To the enterprise and we want to bring in those consumer like experiences to where enterprises meet their consumers.
That was basically how we started talking to customer service and sales teams. And then when we started doing that, we saw basically customer service is at the heart of great customer experience at the heart of retention. I mentioned after you sign a customer, most of their interaction with the company.
Especially the human [00:10:00] interaction is the other customer service. And it's, it's easy to say, especially on this podcast, that retention is king and you see everyone moving to focusing on lifetime value on subscription. Everyone understand that the acquiring a customer is much more expensive than retaining a new one, but we have the the privilege of seeing how this evolution looks like from, let's say, behind the scenes from the systems.
And basically what I wanted to share is how we segmented the market by working with dozens of customers, both a legacy giant Teleco's and banks in the U S but also very modern company tech enabled e-commerce very cool companies of how that process looks like, because it's similar between those companies.
And so what happens is that on day one of customer interaction, it's only customer support. It's very cost. It's a cost center, very efficiency focused, only killing tickets. One size fits all. [00:11:00] If I reach out to ask for a refund, if you reach out it's for a refund, we both get the same treatment.
That's the one basic support. They don't really know who they are. And you feel like it's on a personalized experience that was back in the days. Many companies are still in day one, but when company starts to basically move from day one, it's that when they start to optimize their costs and start to focus on their customer satisfaction, this is what we call them.
Day two. It's not customer support. It's more customer care. It's more segmented support, more experts before. And the last thing after you have this already up and running, you basically move to day 3. They freeze your customer experience is knowing the customer and it's making every interaction evaluate interim.
Which means you are not just solving something for the customer, like in day one. It's and it's not only means that you solve it in a particular way to the customer, like in day two. And by that, I mean in day two, when you have this customer notion, I'll talk about that in a moment. And you [00:12:00] can say, Andrew gets a refund policy, a calmer gets a refund policy because there are different customers.
So it's on only these two things, but also you can add value in a way. That's for example, in, during the interaction, you can prevent the next contact. Let's say I'm calling my bank and I'm asking about a transaction. Regardless of that, the agent can tell me, Hey, you know what? You're going to basically hit your credit limit in two weeks.
You want to extend that? So that's added value to me as a customer and it's preventing my next. This is one example. Second example for value is upsell and cross sell. If I'm buying the glasses from an online glasses company and they can basically recommend that with glasses, they can get contact lenses at a good price, or maybe better.
I'm calling for glasses and they tell me your lenses, your chronic lessons stock is about to finish because you bought the last one six months ago. So that's basically more value to them, but also more valuable. And third is really more around product education for [00:13:00] adoption. If I can do more with the products I bought to have, and I'm not using it the right way and they can recommend me and how to do it and get more valid.
Then the adoption is increasing, but I'm also getting more value. So that's day three of pure value it. So this is really how we look at the market from day one to day three, from pure support to care, to experience. Now the backbone of it, we think about the systems works also as follows in day one.
You have again, basic CRM and you have all these opposites. All around. And it's really hard to build a customer view. It's really hard to know who this customer is because their data is scattered all around. I guess I'm not going to surprise you if I would say that in some systems they have your profile under your email in another system, it's under your phone number.
These two are not connected. So profiles existed. And in order to move from day one to day two, you need to build this customer notion. We need to be able to bring all the [00:14:00] information about the customer, even if the identifier is very into one place, when you pick up the phone or when you enter the chat, you know who this customer is.
So this is really the prerequisite to get from day one to day two. And after you have that, Invade to where you can start segmenting your customers. So you can bring, as I mentioned, more expert, more segmented type of support because you can segment your customers high LTV, low LTV, our user, not our user.
And again, the last part is on top of VA, the customer is segmenting. The customer is also understanding what can be another value to the current. And this is basically how we look at that, but the systems problem and the it dependency is a big part of why companies are not able to move from day one to day three are not able to give service that is much more personal life, much more tailored.
And to me, this is basically how you retain customers by giving them services. [00:15:00] Highest quality and also very personalized. And there are all these researchers, like in quote on how customers with a experience willing to spend more retaining more. So this is a high level how we see the markets.
[00:15:16] Andrew Michael: Yeah. And I don't think there's any need to quote any studies on where attention is good for your business. But yeah, let's talk about that a level deeper as well. Also, essentially what you're alluding to here is that most companies, especially like we're talking specifically in this case today about B2C enterprise companies, they, in order for them to offer a better service to their customers, to ultimately increase retention, they're locked into these old legacy systems where data is scattered all over the place in the first instance.
So they don't have a good picture of the customer. The next phase, they managed to some are, bring things together, this getting a slightly better picture. And then the final phase is really once they're able to start segmenting and getting great understanding of who this customer is to offer a differentiated experience for them.
Let's talk a little bit [00:16:00] about the process of moving from one. You're a company you've got legacy systems all over the place, and you want to start to bring together this 360 view. So you can have an understanding of who you're speaking to on the other line or how you're servicing them better.
What are some of the steps you're seeing organizations take to get there? What are some of the hurdles that you're seeing or blockers that are stopping them from actually getting to that?
[00:16:22] Tomer Suarez: Yeah, and you've articulated this very well. Basically today there's a rush to customer 360.
Everyone talks about that, especially in consumer company and the traditional way to do it is to start from the ground up is saying, let's take all of our systems. Some, we need to migrate some, we need to replace. We need to basically build a system on top of it. That speaks in a data model that works with each and every one of those systems and can consume all this information in the data integration level to build this customer view.
So you build a new data model, you do it in a very deep data integration [00:17:00] level. This is a classic it project. The issue with that is that it can take a lot of time. Not all the money and a lot of efforts to do. It's usually a very much of a waterfall approach. And one of the projects, because only after a few years, you get to see the results of what you did just because the customer view is an all or nothing.
If I need to, if I have 5,000 service agents, that's not a lot, the large banks, it doesn't have thousands and they're using. 20 systems to basically handle customer requests and talk to customers. If I wanted to do something new, this customer view, it's not enough to cover up the coverage just to visit and out of it or three systems.
It's an automatic thing. So it's a very much a waterfall approach. And so customers they start these large innovation projects. Usually, sometimes can be like a product like a Salesforce, 360, but you need to work with some system integrator, can Accenture [00:18:00] or any one of those giants to actually do all of integration and customization work, but just modeling all different.
Customer profile segments and building a model that talks to all to each and every one of those and rank systems and actually building, it takes a lot of times. So what happens, unfortunately, in many cases, and we saw it with some of our largest clients ones that already started the Salesforce project the skyline after four or five years the project either died.
Just because people, the people changed. There was no budget anymore. Things are way behind the timeline or the end up with just yet another system. So there is a customer 360 not really a quasi 360 that our reps are using in addition to all the other systems that they still need to use.
Or they moved from one vendor like Salesforce, one other events. Like Microsoft dynamics. But the traditional way of doing it makes it impossibly hard [00:19:00] for enterprise companies to actually achieve this single customer. Because again, the way they look at it is from the ground up, they to do it from scratch, it has to work in all of the stack from that integration to again, user interface.
And that's, I think it's a long time. So that's what we see in the markets today, when it comes to traditional ways of playing. Yeah,
[00:19:22] Andrew Michael: I think as well, like this is why companies like segment, have been so successful in as well because they enable some of the complexity like reduction and allow you to bring in various sources.
I see them playing in the same spaces at what you're trying to do. Like in your case, your Alexa, the no code version that allows Anyone in the team to do these things, where segment is, it still reduces a lot of the overhead and complexities of integrating multiple systems into one and allows you to get there a lot faster.
But I see like you servicing different markets in the one since
[00:19:55] Tomer Suarez: Segment is a phenomenal company. And, they got a pioneer, the CDP, the customer [00:20:00] data platform. But they're touching the customer 360 from the marketing perspective. So they're bringing all the quality attributes and multitask attributes you have with the customer to one place.
And what I'm talking about is more from the internal systems, internal processes of the company, for example manifests in customer service where, you know, for a bank so they can use segments to bring all the information about the customer, from how they, to talk to their chat bot and how they use their website and our mobile app.
So all these kinds of analytics, tools and communication tools and all the channels they can bring along with them to segment. Then they can get a lot of. And the customer and an amazing view of the customer, but still all the information. Maybe I'll take out an insurance company, the policies you've purchased maybe 10 years ago or more, or five years ago, all your different family members, the services you would have to go to.
All of those things that exist in the. Back office internal systems. This is gold, but it's [00:21:00] really hard to mind. And and, in, at, and T for example, just to give a sense, eight, we have 4,000 systems JP Morgan has 7,000 systems. The majority of those are those. And admin systems for all their kind of a subject matter, like phone TV, loans, credit cards, all the subject matter services and products, all the company.
And this is something that is really hard to unlock, but if you unlock it, there's amazing potential in it. So it's like the segment from the internal. Yeah.
[00:21:32] Andrew Michael: And that's super interesting. And as I get it's clear to me as well, where it fits in offer that is that you can really have them working together as well.
At the same time. It's not necessarily one or the other, it just becomes a new source. Cool. So these are some of the blockers we mentioned getting from step one to step two What do you see some of the companies doing well? Once they're graduating from step two to step three what are some of the interesting things that you've seen customers do when it comes to creating better customer [00:22:00] experiences and ultimately like retaining customers?
[00:22:05] Tomer Suarez: What is the worst thing about that? And we sound like a cliche is that when you move from day to day three, you actually get to an amazing win-win situation because by creating this amazing customer experience where you know where the customer you're talking to, and you have personalized policies for this customer, and you can add value in every interaction with the customer, then you're obviously increasing retention and LTL.
And we have examples of some clients of ours that reduce churn by 50% by moving from day one to day three. But also what happens inside the company is even more interesting. The customer service departments, which again, started as a cost center, very low on resources. I don't know. If you site ever from an inside of the company, but it always gets some the lowest priority that's, by the way, also the reason why it's so hard to [00:23:00] innovate and deploy changes to the system, it to be hard to get the RNB roadmap to inserts on the customer service things, because again, always lowest priority.
So what happened is that in day three, customer service becomes from profits from a cost center. It becomes a profit. And it becomes part of the revenue generation engine of the company and they get more resources and then it can invest more into customer experience and you create an amazing flywheel or how you increase the X.
We also increase revenue and then you'll become, zap also Amazon, all these amazing companies that bring amazing customer experience, but it's a win-win they get more money, they have more loyalty, so they can get more money for their customers, invest into CX and the fly will just become. Super-interesting and expansionary growth.
And I think that's what we've seen. Day three,
[00:23:48] Andrew Michael: we discussed this topic as well, previously with Mariah, from help scout. And I think they coined the term at some point was support driven growth where essentially you have. What's typically seen as a cost center, like you [00:24:00] say now becomes a center for growth where you, as you were talking about previously, like being able to drive upsells and think, Hey, you're calling in to buy a pitcher's glasses, but we have your subscription yen.
That's one aspect like driving sales, but the other thing is also rolling people into new use cases and pointing them towards features that they may have not been used. And having that ability in having that view really allows you to do something like this. And I think it does become extremely powerful and the same thing applies even in the customer success space.
Is that the typically like these two. Teams within the company are seen as cost centers, but really when you can give them the tools and the data, they need to effectively do their jobs they can really become like growth engines for the business. And they should be from really from day one
[00:24:45] Tomer Suarez: and, mentioned it customer success.
I think that B2B is much more advanced than B2C in, in the sense that when B2B changed the terminology and call it customer success. Everything changed, they got more budget and more resources, and they [00:25:00] already associated with the team that brings more revenue from existing customers.
And I think that in consumer, we're just moving there. So in customer success, you'd have health co-health scores for customers and all these tools for retention and and preventing churn and consumer. I think it's just the beginning of it. Because consumer used to be a, a massive.
Operation to handle customer requests, very simple, very straightforward and cost center. And now I think companies are doing this transition to looking at the customer service or support eventually it's customer success because consumer can also be a customer. You can make more successful. You can get more from their lifetime value to the company.
So I think B2B is more advanced than B to C. Let me think about.
[00:25:45] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I see that in most of my interactions with B to C companies and banks specifically that is just not where it needs to be when it comes to some of the experiences that have been delivered in B2B call. I see we are running [00:26:00] up on time.
I wanna make sure I have time for a couple of questions. Ask every guest. Let's imagine a hypothetical scenario that you join a new company and tryna attention's not doing great at this company. And the CEO comes to you and says, Hey, tomorrow, like you're in charge. You need to turn things around. We need to do it fast.
You have 90 days. What do you do? But the caveat is you're not going to tell me that I'm going to go and speak to customers and understand the biggest pain points and start there. You're going to choose something that you've seen in effective in the past. And run with that as a playbook bluntly.
What would you pick?
[00:26:34] Tomer Suarez: . So I think the two things that I'm going to look at is obviously the systems is how service agents what are they using the systems and how they basically handling the customer interactions. And the second thing I want to look at the company's policies and what I want to S what I want to see in those two things is again, how personalized is the customer experience in the systems, how, how well is the notion of the customer [00:27:00] and how tailor the policies per customer segments.
And then what I will try to do, I will try to segment the customers both in the systems and in the policies. Very quickly customers when calling us will feel like they're getting a much more personalized experience to them. That's what I would do if I had 90 days I would focus on personalizing and giving the right tools for the agents.
Again, systems wide voices wise, to be able to
[00:27:26] Andrew Michael: do that. Nice. What's one thing that, you know today about general attention that you wish you knew when you got started with your.
[00:27:36] Tomer Suarez: So it's funny, but when I started this company although it sounds some trivial, I was very much focused on acquiring new customers versus investing more into my current. I thought it's, it makes more sense to show growth in new customers and, that's a good health metric for the business, but soon I realized it's not the case and I felt myself [00:28:00] how easy and necessary.
It is to invest more into your current customers and to expand them and to make them happy and retain. It's just a whole different strategy for our business. When your customers are really attached to. It makes a lot of friends and it helped me in various aspects in front of investors and for other customers in internally in the company.
So although, I can quote the research. I had to fill it, myself. To see the power of it to
[00:28:31] Andrew Michael: it. Yeah, for sure. I think this is definitely a very big topic that comes up time and time again is like early stage startup with a biggie, having overemphasis to focus on growth. And at some point, like to action the shoulder and says, Hey you really need to start focusing on Shannon and attention.
Sometimes. Focus on it way too late. Others that realize how important is like
[00:28:52] Tomer Suarez: managed say
[00:28:53] Andrew Michael: it's been a pleasure chatting today time. Is there any sort of final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with? Anything they should be aware [00:29:00] of from your side?
[00:29:02] Tomer Suarez: Yeah. First of all, it was also Mike beggar. And thank you so much for seeing me. I wanted to leave the listeners with.
Three quick dips in a we're approaching the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022. And I think when everyone's building their CX strategy for next year, and again, the CX to me is the enabler for retention. I want off of these kind of three quick tips just about uh, summarize what I said is the first one.
I want companies to push to really build this kind of a customer notion. The single customer notion that every agent has that in the product development rents, not talk about that. Not having know five-year-old now, but actually build this our customer 360 notion. The second is to leverage the. To find a way to personalize and maximize the value from every interaction.
So again, build those segmentation and policies around customer types to give more holistic service. And three is to tell all the, business listeners of ours to not [00:30:00] let the their systems to get in, into. There was a lot of tools today local no-code injury. I, one of them to basically keep your existing infrastructure, the bill on top of it.
So you can get to your KPIs in a much more agile and fast way without competing technology adventure. And I want eventually to say that you need to remember that your CX is as good as your operations and they are as good as your. So I will stop there. This is what I want to leave the best listeners.
[00:30:26] Andrew Michael: Yeah. Very nice summary. Then obviously we'll definitely make sure to leave in the show notes links into AI and the other thing we mentioned today but yeah, so Matt, it's been a pleasure chatting today and thanks so much for sharing the learnings that you've had so far and wish you best of luck now going forward.
[00:30:38] Tomer Suarez: Excellent. My pleasure.
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My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.
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