Episode 117 : Insights and Trends on Customer Experience for 2021

Jim Freeze is the Chief Marketing Officer, and he focuses on brand strategy and awareness, thought leadership, product marketing, demand generation, creative services and public and analyst relations. Jim brings more than 25 years of experience leading marketing teams at Fortune 1000 and other enterprise technology companies, a history which includes proven success in all aspects of marketing, sales and business development.

Most recently, Jim served as a Chief Marketing Officer at Aspect Software, where he was responsible for all aspects of global marketing, including product management, product marketing, branding, advertising, customer experience and demand generation programs.

Questions

  • Could you just take a little time and share with us how it is that you got into what you are doing today, brand strategy, thought leadership, just tell us a little bit about that journey to where you are now.
  • You were talking a little bit about Conversational A.I and this has been a very unconventional year no matter which country you’re living in the world, everybody’s impacted by this pandemic. How do you see, just almost like a kind of prediction for 2021, if you could maybe share some insight with us, maybe based on data or just insights you’ve garnered from conversations that you’ve had with other people, Conversational A.I really flourishing in 2021 and do you see changing just the landscape of how customers interact with different businesses?
  • Customers focus a lot more on the quality of service that they’re getting than before. Would you agree? Do you find that as a result of the pandemic, there’s just more emphasis on how people are being served, are they exercising empathy, are they exercising care, customers are just more aware of those softer skills in the interactions that they have, especially since this year.
  • So we spoke a little bit about Artificial Intelligence. What are some other insights in terms of, like customer service trends that you’ve seen for 2020 that you think will definitely accelerate in 2021? And let’s say a lot of our listeners are small business owners. They may not necessarily have the big budgets like some of the bigger organizations. Are there any trends that came on board that you think they could possibly take on a small scale that would make a difference in their customer experience?
  • Could you share with us what is the one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?
  • Could you share with us maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you? It could be a book that you read a very long time ago that still has a great impact on you or maybe a book that you read recently that still resonates with you.
  • What’s the one thing that’s going on in your life right now? It can be something that you’re really excited about, either something you’re working on to develop yourself or your people.
  • Where can our listeners find you online?
  • Do you have a quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenge you’ll tend to revert to this quote – it can help to refocus you or get you back on track in terms of any form of backtracking to you may have been experiencing.

Highlights

Jim’s Journey

Jim shared that he had a little bit of a kind of an unusual journey to be honest. He finished his undergraduate and graduate work and graduated back in the late 80s with a Master’s Degree in Mathematics. And his first job out of college was actually as a computer programmer. It’s kind of an interesting background. And he wasn’t actually in marketing, but through a number of things that happened in his first position within the first 6 months, he was actually put in front of some customers for a number of reasons and the sales and marketing team thought he was quite good in front of customers. So they said, “You’re wasting your time programming, come over and join us on the marketing side.” And that started the marketing journey. Along the way he picked up his Law Degree as well. So he actually practiced law for 2 years and 2 years was enough practicing law to convince him that he wanted to go back into to marketing.

So he came back to after his stint in law, came back to high tech marketing and has been doing it ever since. And it’s been fascinating. The first company her worked for was a company that some listeners may have heard of called CompuServe, it was kind of a pioneering company that was one of the first companies to allow people to use their home computers to go online, a proprietary online service and then eventually became an internet service. And he has watched the advances in technology from 9.6 dial up modems to where we are today.

So it’s been quite a journey, but one he has really enjoyed. And in particular, the last almost 9 years of his career have been spent in the customer service/customer experience base. As mentioned, the previous company he worked at, Aspect Software, was kind of traditional software company that focused on delivering ACDs and IVRs and workforce management software to enterprise.

As he was there for 6 years as the Chief Marketing Officer, loved the company and loved the space. And for the past 2 ½ years, he has been the Chief Marketing Officer of Interactions, and his attraction to interactions was understanding the customer experience space and understanding kind of legacy technology that is primarily still used today for delivering customer service and customer experience. He was really attracted to new contemporary solutions that were based on Artificial Intelligence that had the potential to dramatically change the customer experience in a very positive way and at the same time helping companies drive cost out of their businesses.

So, that’s what really drew him to Interactions, Interactions as a leader and conversational A.I, a very unique solution that combines their Artificial Intelligence stack that is once again called Conversational A.I. with real time human understanding. So, it’s humans and Artificial Intelligence working together and as a result of that, they deliver extraordinary human like conversations for their customers to their customers and help them dramatically improve customer experience and drive cost out of the business. So, it’s a fun company where they’re truly transforming the contact center and they’re excited about it. They’re a late stage startup, well over one hundred million dollars in revenue and growing, so it’s a fun time to be in the customer service/customer experience space.

Conversational AI Flourishing in 2021 and How Customer Interactions will be Impacted Across Different Businesses

Jim stated that this year has been profound in terms of changes that we’re seeing. And across the tech landscape, what we’ve experienced because of the pandemic has really accelerated a lot of initiatives, specifically those that relate to Artificial Intelligence, that relate to automation.

And part of the reason for that and this is based on actual conversations they’ve had with customers of theirs, it’s pretty clear that business continuity plans that companies had in place didn’t envision what ended up happening as a result of the pandemic. And he’ll give a couple of very specific examples.

So, they certainly have had customers who in the March timeframe of this year had to basically send employees to work from home and in some cases, their contact centers, that meant sending contact center agents at home. And they thought a lot of companies that were not prepared for that, their business continuity plan didn’t envision something like that happening. Now, the assumption is, well, that we can just transition to home and set something up so they can work from home over their Internet connection. And in many cases, that worked but if you think about many companies rely on offshore agents, a lot of agents who are in Southeast Asia, and the assumption that agents in Southeast Asia have high speed internet access at home is a bad assumption.

And so, they saw a lot of companies struggle. They worked overtime, 24 hours a day, really trying to help some of their customers address some of the challenges that he thinks that they hadn’t necessarily anticipated. And as a result of that, they think there’s a new set of priorities that are coming out for enterprises that they think about customer experience and certainly one of those is increased use of technology to enable automation, but enable automation in a way that’s not robotic but truly human and delivers a good customer experience. So there’s no doubt in their mind, based on what they’ve seen with their customers, that there is a significant acceleration of Artificial Intelligence initiatives and there’s very much a mandate now.

Emphasis and Importance of Quality of Service as a Result of the Pandemic

Me: Amazing. So, customer experience has definitely forced us to transform. And I personally think that as a customer myself since the pandemic, that customers focus a lot more on the quality of service that they’re getting than before. Would you agree? How has it been where you are, where you live? Do you find that as a result of the pandemic, there’s just more emphasis on how people are being served, are they exercising empathy, are they exercising care, customers are just more aware of those softer skills in the interactions that they have, especially since this year.

Jim shared that he thinks the emphasis and the importance of that has come to the forefront. And part of the reason for that is once again, when the pandemic hit, a lot of companies were not necessarily prepared for how they had to change. And as a result, many of these companies, their service levels relative to how they deliver customer service, really started to drop off. And, he saw that personally and in the companies he as a consumer do business with where in the past, if he had an issue, he could maybe get it resolved after waiting in a queue for 5 minutes. And, there were companies he was doing business with where he was in a queue for an hour waiting to talk to somebody to resolve an issue.

And he thinks those companies had good intentions to try to be able to resolve that. But they didn’t have the infrastructure, the technology, and certainly not the people in place to address it. So this pandemic has demonstrated how fragile some of that infrastructure is. And so, there’s a heavy emphasis on trying to fix that. And there’s no doubt, especially in this environment that customer care, customer service, customer experience is becoming a huge differentiator for businesses. If you think about it, if you pick your favorite cell phone carrier, they use the same 5G, 4G technology, it’s the same, iPhone or pick your favorite Android phone and there’s not a lot of differentiation in terms of the actual service and the devices that are used. And you got to try to find a way to differentiate some other way and customer experience is a great way to do that.

Same thing with airlines, they all fly the same Boeing planes, they all say the same Airbus planes, the same seats, the same routes in many cases, they’ve got to find a way to differentiate. And you can do that with price but nobody wants to do a race to the bottom on price. So customer experience, delivering a terrific customer experience is a great way to differentiate. And it’s more important now than ever.

Me: I totally, totally agree with you, Jim. And as you said, we’re all competing. I think I was talking to an entrepreneur recently who said she was a little discouraged and she was saying to me, “Oh, but other people do the same thing I do.”And I said, “Well, yes, I think every industry has competition. There’s no industry that you are in, whether public or private sector, that you don’t have somebody else that’s doing the exact same thing that you are doing.” I think the only thing that differentiates you is how it is that you deliver that service. Are you flexible? Are you available? Are you giving great value, depending on what value is to the customer that you’re serving. And so, that to many people is different things, depending on what is important to me or to you. And, of course, convenience, people will pay for convenience. Over the weekend in Jamaica where I live, we have almost the equivalent of Costco that you guys have in the States. It’s called Pricemart here in Jamaica.

And Jim, the line it took me almost an hour just to get from the main road just to get into the company’s parking lot. I’m not talking in the building where the actual products are. Just to get parked on their compound, it took over an hour and this was on Sunday morning. And I had a brilliant idea. Okay, if I get up at 7:00 am in the morning and to get there by 7:30, I’m sure I can get in and out before 8:30 am. I didn’t end up believing that to close to 10:00 am. And it was after I left, I was told by a few friends that they often deliver services now, they don’t go there anymore because they just delivered to them, and it’s so much easier. Now that I’m thinking of it in hindsight I’m saying, “Boy, that would have been a much better experience than me sitting in traffic for over an hour, then going inside and joining these elongated lines that was just so frustrating.” So, convenience is something I know customers will pay for because time is money.

Jim agreed and stated that there’s plenty of research from many different companies and research firms that suggest that consumers will absolutely pay a premium for good or great customer service because of the point you’re making, which is, time is money and people don’t want their time wasted. They want companies that they do business with to respect them and one of the ways you can respect them is to respect their time. He’ll share a story that happened to him recently.

He was calling a company he does business with and it was on a Saturday and the service he was getting wasn’t working. So he went through their frustrating menu tree and finally got into after about 5 minutes into it, into what he thought was going to be a queue to wait for somebody to come onto the phone and after basically 5 to 6 minutes of finally getting to the point where he thought he was going to go into a queue and wait longer, they come back with a message, “We value you as a customer. Please call us back on Monday at 9:00 am. He’s like, “No, you don’t value me as a customer; you just wasted 6 minutes of my time. You could have told me that from the beginning.” And as a consumer, he’s like; “Do I really want to do business with this company?” So it’s he couldn’t agree with Yanique more.

Insight In Terms of Customer Service Trends to Accelerate in 2021

Jim stated that one certainly they just hit on, which is that differentiation; customer service is a great way to differentiate. Second, the enabling self-service for customers. And there are lots of different kinds of technologies that can help with that. He thinks the assumption that some companies have certainly a lot of some larger companies have this assumption, but smaller ones as well, is that when there is a contact from a consumer that consumer necessarily wants to speak to a human.

And that’s actually not true, at least from his experience, it’s not true. What consumers really want is to be able to resolve their issue; they want quick and effortless answers to questions. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go through a human to do that. So if you can enable self-service in a way that’s effortless and quick, that will lead to really satisfied customers, if you make it available 24 by 7 on a channel of choice, that also will really help, having it not be robotic but truly conversational and just having it personalized.

A lot of companies, if you call in with your mobile phone and they have that number or your landline, if they know who you are, why go through an authentication if you can say, yeah, we know who it is and personalize the experience of that. So, he thinks that one of the trends we’re seeing is that companies are starting large and small alike questioning really what their customers want and not necessarily just assuming they know, but questioning it and having a good understanding.

He’ll give a great example based on their experience, it’s very common for them to go in and displace at their customers legacy technology. A legacy technology would be something like an IVR, when you call in, it says press 1 for this, press 2 for that or you can say things like billing. It tells you how you’re allowed to behave. And it’s a terrible customer experience and customers don’t like it, it’s very frustrating but one of the things they’ve seen with a number of customers they’ve dealt with is that they assume that they know the 4 or 5 reasons that customer are calling them.

So, they’ll present those 4 or 5 options in a menu, 1 for billing, 2 for technical support, or whatever it is. So, they assume they know. And one of the things that they’ve found is that and they counsel their clients to do this is take a step back and say, what are your customers really trying to solve here?

And sometimes they’ll do something where they call an intent study where they’ll inject themselves. And instead of saying you can press 1 or 2; they’ll do this brief, intense study where they say instead of all that, they just say, “How may I help you?”

And the consumer tells you and they do that over the course of about a short period of time, you come back and you realize actually your customers are calling 4 different reasons than you thought they were. So he thinks it’s really important that companies focus on understanding why their customers are calling them. And as a consequence of that, you can enable much better automation and self-service that ultimately delivers a much better customer experience.

App, Website or Tool that Jim Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

When asked about an online resource that he can’t live without in his business, Jim that that’s a tough one. He doesn’t necessarily know that there’s just one single site, but he thinks it’s a combination of news sites, research, financial and analysis tools that kind of allow him to gain customer insight, competitive analysis and keep himself current on technology. So, he has some go to sites.

They as a business, they subscribe to some research from analyst firms, he finds that very helpful. Find some on his own and there are certain news sites that he also finds really helpful. So it’s tough for him to say one site because he thinks there’s a combination and that’s the beauty of the web, you don’t actually have to rely on a single site, but he has some go to sites that and research and analysis that he finds really helpful in keeping him current and helping him better understand kind of what’s happening in the market.

Books That Have Had the Greatest Impact on Jim

When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Jim shared that a year ago, he might have answered this differently, but he’ll tell you what which kind of resonated with him recently and he did read this probably, 8, 9, 10 years ago. There’s a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, who’s a presidential historian, and she wrote a book called No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. And it was about kind of the 1930s through the 1940s through basically the Roosevelt administration in the United States. And it was an extraordinary time that the country was going through, a depression, trying to come out of that depression and then rolling into World War II.

And the reason he thinks that book was so impactful for him was thinking about this notion, he put together this idea of Roosevelt, of a team of rivals, where he realized that he needed people who had a different perspective than he did to navigate through an extraordinary time. And part of the reason that book really is resonating with him so much today is because of what they’ve all been through since March with this pandemic. The world is so different than it was in February, just 8, 9, 10 months ago; it is a very different world. And he thinks of how we could all benefit from that notion of coming together and focusing on tackling very large issues, not in a partisan way, but in a kind of a way that brings us together. So that book has been on his mind recently. And he thought the current circumstances remind me of that.

What Jim is Really Excited About Now!

Jim shared that it relates to their company, but it’s another result of the pandemic. He’ll tell a little story, which is kind of interesting. They at Interactions, they were in February, March, about to sign a new 11 year lease on a brand new corporate headquarters, it was like 55,000, 56000 square feet.

They were going to spend millions of dollars in renovating and it was a dedicated building. Early March hit and the pandemic came and they started working from home and they were literally within a week of signing the agreements and the lease for that towards the end of March. And they took a step back and they said, “What are we doing? We’ve been working at home for 3 weeks now and everything’s working great. Maybe we can learn something from the current circumstances.”

So they went from in the course of about 6 weeks from about to sign a new lease, 11 year lease and spend millions, millions of dollars on a renovation to making a decision to become a full time work from home company. And when they’ve seen other companies do that as well and talk about lots of companies are doing that and very profound in for them as employees, for him personally, that meant that he had flexibility to work from wherever he wanted.

They were headquartered in the Boston area and he lived in Boston and but he has a second home in South Florida. And so right after Thanksgiving, he has moved to South Florida and he’s talking to Yanique from South Florida right now.

And this is his new home and it’s exciting for him because he has tremendous personal flexibility now that he didn’t necessarily have before. They’ve seen that with a number of their employees, it’s impacted their business in that they were recruiting for new employees and they’re hiring right now. So, it’s another example of how the pandemic has accelerated decision making and thinking among companies and how it impacts individuals personally, he’s super excited about that. He’s really excited about the fact that he can live in a place where he didn’t think he’d be living for another 5 or 6, 7 years. So, there are some benefits that are coming out of what we’ve all been through.

Me: Definitely. It’s so interesting that that’s what you shared, because I recorded a solo podcast last night, Christmas Edition that we want to release hopefully for tomorrow. And in doing my research, it said that according to a PWC report, it said 82% of office workers would prefer to continue working remotely, at least part of the time, even after COVID-19 has subsided. And a whopping 73% of executives say working remotely has been a success. Here in Jamaica, there’s a client I have and one of their business lines is pensions and their entire pensions department has moved to work from home and manager for that department has said that she doesn’t think they’re actually going to go back to in office because she’s actually seen the team be more productive since they’ve been working from home and they’ve saved so much.

Jim stated that well, it’s interesting, they obviously spent a lot of money on a facility and they do still have a facility that they’ll meet occasionally face to face, but it’s been scaled back dramatically. So, if somebody is in town on business, they can go work in the office if they want or if they want to have a department meeting, they can do that. But to the point about productivity, he used to drive to the office in Boston; it was an hour drive from, to work. And then based on what traffic was coming home, another hour, typically an hour and 15 minutes, that’s over two hours of his day that now he can dedicate to work as opposed to being behind the wheel of a car. There are so many more productive things to be doing than sitting behind the wheel of a car.

The impacts of this are pretty profound. And it’s not just obviously in the U.S., it’s everywhere, the impacts are profound. What does this mean for the commercial real estate market? Office space? He thinks a lot of large towers or office spaces now are having to rethink, what are we going to do with this space? There may not be that much demand for it. We’re all using less gas because we’re not going as many places; we’re changing everything about our lives. And it has impacts all the way down the supply chain. It creates opportunity for many and in some it’s forcing businesses to change and adapt. So, it’s a scary and exciting time.

Me: Yeah, it is so true, because even as you mentioned, in terms of traveling, you’re spending less on gas, as you said, one person maybe benefiting in one area, but then the persons who benefit from certain amount of gas sales, they are definitely not benefiting as much because people’s cars are clearly parked more than they would be driving on the road back and forth. So, yeah, there are definitely advantages and disadvantages.

Jim stated that hopefully when we get back to 6 months from now, hopefully, people across the world have been vaccinated and this thing by virtue of herd immunity goes away. But he thinks we’re never going back to life the way it was, it’s different, it’s going to stay that way.

Me: I was listening to a podcast yesterday, funny enough, and the lady said something. I thought it was so hilarious. She said we’re never going to go to a birthday party again and you’re going to see a bowl full of MnM’s, as in, for kids to dip their hands in, for parents dip their hands in, so everybody’s not going to start buying the packaged Eminem’s or anything that you would have shared communally, you’re now going to ensure that each person has their own individual packet and all of that was born out of COVID. I just think certain things will change for the long term. People are going to be so much more conscious of just touching and sharing in terms of different things. And they won’t be as open to just doing things that we would have taken for granted before.

Jim stated that he was thinking about this the other day. He hasn’t shaken somebody’s hand since mid-March. He stated he is a business executive and he meets people and nobody does that anymore. And he kind of wonder if we’re going to go back to that or if we’re going to adopt much of what’s done in Asian cultures, which is bowing, which is kind of interesting, maybe that’s what we all do. So, everything is changing. And some people hate change, he loves change. He thinks change is exciting and so he tries to embrace it when it happens. But the world is going to change.

Where Can We Find Jim Online

LinkedIn – James Freeze

Website – www.interactions.com

 

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Jim Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that helps him to refocus, Jim share that he does and talk about it being very pertinent to the current days. It’s from Maya Angelou; she is a wonderful writer and poet. And she has an expression that he has used a number of times over the course of the past few months and it is kind of instructive to him personally and she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”And it’s a constant reminder to him especially in times of adversity for the people he deals with, he kind of want to leave them with an impression about he makes them feel. It’s so instructive and he thinks it’s a very powerful statement.

Me: That’s actually one of our favorite quotes for Navigating the Customer Experience and one of my personal favourites as well. And it’s so true Jim, you being in the technology and data side of customer experience in terms of Artificial Intelligence, I am sure at the end of the day, even though technology is there to assist us in delivering or solving our problems for our customers, at the end of the day, people still want to be treated well, they want to feel good after they have done business with your company. And that feeling can’t come if you’re not being responsive, if you’re not fixing the problem, if you’re not giving them what it is that they are seeking in that moment, they are not going to want to spread good news about you and your company. And so, it’s really about how you make people feel, their emotional needs.

Jim agreed and shared that just being honest with people and being understanding and being transparent and just being cognizant of how somebody feels when they walk away. They may not even get the answer that they want but if you’ve treated them respectfully and you’ve been honest, people will remember that even though they didn’t get the answers. He just thinks especially in our current times, it’s really important and it’s something he thinks about a lot in terms of the way he interact with others as well.

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