Problem-Solving Your Business Through AI: Strengthening Your Customer Support With Dave Seaton
Business owners sometimes forget that customer support makes up the majority of the interactions with the customer. They are the reason why people continue to use your product or the reason why they left your product. Their influence is much bigger than you expect it to be. Learn how to focus on the front-end of business with your host, Chad Burmeister, and his guest, Dave Seaton. Dave is the Founder of Seaton CX. He believes that customer experience and customer support are key to selling a product. Discover how customer support can help your business grow. Learn how AI will change the future of chatbots and back-end analysis.
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Problem-Solving Your Business Through AI: Strengthening Your Customer Support With Dave Seaton
I'm with Dave Seaton and he's been with his company since June 8, 2021. Obviously, fifteen years’ experience within nThrive and before that, 7 or 8 years with Tektronix. We're going to dive into AI and customer experience, customer support and all those good things. Dave, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Chad. It’s great to be here.
It's interesting because I've been talking to many people, whether it's healthcare or biotech. I talked to someone who has an AI on a phone app that when you go around the car, let's say, at a rental car company, if you're buying a car, it will tell you if there's any damage to the car through a 3D app powered by AI in the backend. The level of AI being deployed is underrated and just being developed out there like crazy. I'm going to be very excited to dive into where it's being leveraged in customer experience. Before we do that, I'd like our audience to get to know you by asking the question, what did you love to do when you were younger or when you think of your early years, 7, 8, 9, 10? Where'd you grow up? What were you passionate about back in those days?
I was in Houston, Texas. My family had an Apple IIc computer and I loved playing computer games, not the video games of nowadays, but my favorite was the Infocom text adventures. They called it interactive fiction. You would get a block paragraph of text describing where you were in the game, what objects were there and then you would interact with very simple sentences like, “Go north. Take the sword. Hit the dragon with the sword,” and almost like a very early conversational AI. What I loved about those games was the problem-solving, immersion, going through and figuring out what to do with these random objects and locations.
We had the IIe. We must've been six months after you got yours. My dad had it up until a few years ago. I saw it every Christmas that I would go home and finally, one time, I'm like, “Where's the Apple? I want to touch it. It's important.” “We donated that.”
I was at the Smithsonian in Washington DC a few years back and they had the Apple IIc in the museum. My parents keep trying to give me the old one and I'm like, “I'm not going to set it up.”
Customer support is the loyalty protector. They play a big part in those subscription renewals.
It's $100 on eBay. I always thought as a kid it would be worth a couple of thousand someday, but it never made the curve. With inflation now, maybe it's $200 or $300. Who knows? Thinking about that experience when you were younger and playing those games, how does that apply to what you're doing nowadays?
It gave me a love of problem-solving. That's what I do now and what I've made my career doing. When you're in the game, carrying these objects in your inventory, you don't know what they're for and you're presented with different obstacles you can't go past. It's a bunch of interconnected problems. When you're in the middle of it, the vision of the end of the story is very blurry, but it's only when you complete that story that text adventure you can look back and see how each one of those pieces of the puzzle fell into place. That's been that love of problem-solving has been present throughout my whole career.
I started as a computer programmer. After about one decade of writing code, user interfaces and backend processes, I realized that it wasn't typing the code that I got excited about. It was solving problems. That was the epiphany moment for me where I went into leadership, got involved in Lean Six Sigma, then ultimately customer experience and saw being able to solve bigger and more complex problems. That probably came from that love of text adventures, computer games and has been a defining theme in my career.
Some people reading this show might be thinking about, “Am I in the right career? Am I doing the right thing?” I always like to align with, “What did I love to do as a kid? Am I still having those kinds of same passions that I had?” Mine was being competitive. Whether it was playing with roller hockey with a ball instead of a puck, I was super competitive. You then go into high school and learn how to play Black Knight 2000, the pinball game. I sucked at it at first, but then you become good at it. When you can tap into what is it that makes you tick and then, in your case, solve problems for people continually at a higher level, that's pretty cool.
I had a pattern of always taking the job that no one else wanted. There was a time in my first leadership position, a manager of customer support opened up and none of my computer programming development friends wanted to touch that with a 10-foot pole, but I was like, “I love the challenge. I want to solve that problem and build something new.” Much later on, there was another opportunity and some of my friends and coworkers said, “Dave, don't go there. That's that role is a career killer. No one that's ever been in that role has advanced past it.” I decided to take on the challenge, went in there, was able to make some significant changes and break through some barriers.
I've had a similar recommendation going into sales and business development because you are either generating revenue for a company or be looked at as a cost center. A lot of times, that sales business development center was looked at as well. It's just a necessary cost. It turns out now that 65% of sales roles are SDR or BDR and 35% are quota-carrying. I think I placed the right bet.
The customer support organizations have the same problem. They are traditionally a cost center. When you've seen as a cost center, you've got to make cost reductions, meet your operational and financial goals. What we're seeing in the industry and the shift as a service model is that customer support organizations oftentimes, especially in B2B, are the majority of the interactions that customer has with your company post onboarding. Customer support becomes a loyalty protector and is essential in getting those subscription renewals and keeping customer churn down.
I can say that about ScaleX and most of our customers also, the salesperson, oftentimes is purpose-built for that role and you need someone that's purpose-built for that role. If you move the needle too far and it's 100% customer success and 0% sales, then the margins and renewal rates can be impacted. It's a fine balance. How does AI play a role in the customer experience, support and success?
It is becoming a huge differentiator, especially because of the increased pressure on customer experience, how easy it is to switch vendors in the B2C world if I want to order food from a restaurant and I didn't like Uber Eats, I can switch to DoorDash. It's the same. It's increasingly becoming that way in the B2B world as well, where it's easy to drop your vendor and switch to another one that has a better experience or a lower effort experience.
AI is coming into the customer support organization and accelerating what economies of scale can we get from automation, optimization and elimination of what human beings need to do. At the same time, when we do need to have a human-to-human interaction, how can we make that the best interaction possible? I think about it as a frontend and backend. A frontend is anything that's customer-facing which is chatbots, which everybody loves to talk about. Personally, I don't think they're there yet, but I think we've got to go through this phase of bad chatbots to get to the other side where we've got good chatbots. Another thing on the front end is intelligent search. Not just doing keyword searches for companies, knowledge articles and content out there but using AI to understand what is the customer intent when they do the search. How do we put the right content in front of them even if they didn't know the right keywords to type? Amazon is a great example. Customers that search for this is also interested in that.
One of the emerging trends is this idea of value enhancement. If you search for, “How do I connect my AirPods to my iPhone?” You read the article and at the end, it says, “Did you know, you can also connect your AirPods to your laptop even if it's Windows?” You say, “I didn't know that,” then you can go and read that article. Now Apple has enhanced the value in your mind of those AirPods because you learn something you didn't know through that AI, pulling together those relevant information and understanding that searcher intent.
There are things computers do much better than people.
I think of Stu Schmidt, the VP of Training at Webex, before we merged with Cisco. He's since been CEO at 2 or 3 different companies and he's a superstar. At the time in 2005, he was the Head of Training. He drew this quadrant and said, “Most buyers come in as a comeback commodity buyer. We need to screenshot technology.” Our job was to move them as a salesperson over to the right-hand quadrant, which you can command three times more money over there, which says, “There's a difference. With Webex, you had a training center, event center and all these different centers that were differentiated for the role in your business so we could command more money.” The upper right quadrant was maybe you haven't thought about this but connecting it to a different computer.
What the key breakthrough there is putting that into an automated approach because we, as people, have blockings. We either are uncomfortable doing it or forgetful. I've heard Keenan from Gap Selling for years and before him, it was someone else talking about how to identify the gap in a sales process. Yet how many times do I not go in and figure out what the gap is? It's interesting because automation can do that. Speaking of chatbots, there was a woman, the president of a chat company. I'm going to blank on her name, but she's in Arizona.
They're doing it for stores like Massage Envy and those kinds of haircut places. These companies are like, “When our people pick up the phone and talk to the person calling in, we're way better than a chat.” I’m like, “Would you mind just turning it on from 6:00 until 9:00 at night and let's track the success of your human versus the AI?” She's like, “You won't believe it. It's 2 or 3 times better through the AI because the AI follows directions 100% of the time.” That is pretty interesting.
There are things for which computers are much better than people and vice-versa. Most people are much better with empathy. Computers are much better with taking down letters and numbers. Earlier in my career, I've memorized the NATO phonetic alphabet so that I could spell my last name over the phone because many people got it wrong. That's a thing that in English anyway, where many letters sound the same, people aren't very good at and chatbots nail it. Unless you misspell your name, the chatbot is going to get it right.
I don't know if I could memorize the whole Burmeister last name. That one might take a while. I'm going to leave it to Chad because I think we're far enough down this technology road that we can leave it to the chatbots to handle. I’m thinking about if AI wasn't available nowadays as it is, what would be the difference in some of the products that you've worked with? Do they even exist in many cases?
The products, yes, but the service in customer support is where a lot of the benefit is going to be. We talked about the frontend stuff with chatbots and intelligent search. It's the backend of customer support where I'm most excited about AI in the near-term. One of the areas is call analysis. For support centers that use the phone, a typical manager or QA lead can listen to 1% or maybe 2% of the calls. AI can listen to 100% of the calls. There are products in the marketplace that cannot just listen to the call, but they can do sentiment analysis on the voice of the customer and understand where the customer is getting frustrated, settling down and flag those areas for manager review and provide coaching options to the agent that took the call.
They can also analyze wait time. Not hold time where I've been on hold but wait time where I'm waiting on the agent to interact with some system or look something up, measure and monitor that can help you improve efficiency. Intelligent routing is another big opportunity. At my previous company, 90% of our support requests came through the web. We weren't talking on the phone and we were able to route those down to the individual team that was supposed to deal with the issue based on the selections the customer had made.
It was up to the manager to figure out, “Dave is good at this issue and Chad is good at that issue but Dave's already got 30 things in his queue and Chad's about to go on PTO. Maybe I should give it to Sally.” The AI can do all of that now. In fact, it can continually adjust the model based on real-time feedback about which agent is more adept at dealing with certain issues. It can get the customer issue to the right agent so you can provide the best experience who doesn't have too many things in their queue and isn't about to go on PTO.
That'll impact churn customer stat, all of the scores that you would be measuring in a customer experience. Since you just opened doors to me, it sounds like what’s the better time to tap on someone like Dave's shoulder than now? We have run ScaleX for years. We have 100-plus clients and they still get my time. They just don't get it the level that they had in the first month. I can tell you beyond a reasonable doubt that if you're interested in doing something in the customer experience center, leveraging AI, that there's probably nobody out there better than Dave in the universe. Tap on his shoulder. Dave, it’s a phenomenal conversation. I've enjoyed getting to know you and your business. Congrats on opening the business. I know it's always a bit of a question mark in the first while, but you've got the skills for it. I appreciate you sharing with our audience how AI can be leveraged in customer experience.
Thanks, Chad. It's been a pleasure.
About Dave Seaton
I was the VP of Customer Support at a B2B SaaS company, and our operational metrics were better than ever – beating all the benchmarks. But it didn’t seem to matter. Customers were so frustrated with the support experience they were giving up on us. We were losing revenue, and I was losing sleep. I’d wake up at 3am, covered in sweat, and toss and turn for hours trying to think my way out of the problem. I made it my personal mission to solve this mystery. If the customers didn’t value the existing experience, what did they want instead? I was determined to find out. I developed a customer research process so innovative it won the 2020 North American Customer Centricity Award for Customer Insight and Feedback.
This research uncovered customer value drivers that weren’t even on the radar. With these insights, we could take action and improve the experiences that mattered most. Once we refocused on the customer experience, support-related terminations dropped by 66% year-over-year. Customer satisfaction improved 28%. And I could sleep again.
Along the way, I found my calling. Every person has needs, and when we understand and serve those needs, we are rewarded with their loyalty. I started Seaton CX to help you retain more customers. And we can all sleep better when you do.