Gadi Shamia is the CEO and Co-Founder of Replicant, a conversational AI platform founded on the belief that machines are ready to have useful, complex conversations that will transform the way they interact with the world. Prior to Replicant, Gadi helped take Talkdesk, a $10B contact centre software market leader from a seed-stage company to a Unicorn startup as its COO, and played a key role in architecting and executing its 20X growth in people and revenue.
- Could you share with our listeners a little bit about your journey?
- Can you share with us a little bit about how organizations are using AI to enhance customer experience? And have you seen that change more drastically, especially in the last 2 to 3 years?
- Could you also share with us how the intelligent voice automation is helping to improve business outcomes for companies who don’t have enough manpower to keep up with demand?
- What’s 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 or even listened to, or one that you have engaged with recently, but has really left a big mark on you.
- Could you also share with us what’s the one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about? Either something you’re working on to develop yourself or your people.
- Where can listeners find you online?
- Do you have a quote are saying that during times of adversity or challenge, you tend to revert to this quote, it kind of helps to get you back on track if for any reason you got off track, or you got derailed? Do you have one of those?
Gadi shared that he likes this question because it gives him an opportunity to share with people that a lot of one’s journey is luck, and maybe early smart decisions. But some of them in some cases no way to predict how one decision will lead to the next opportunity.
He got into tech as an accident actually, he studied accounting and economics. The tech industry at the time in the 90s was not really evolved actually even studying computer science was one of the easiest degrees to get to. And accounting economics management type degrees were really hard to get to at the time, really reverse from what is today.
And he got into tech because his university was on strike, because their tuition was increased. So, all the students went on an almost a semester long strike. And back in Tel Aviv, and a friend of his said, “Hey, you seem bored. Somebody’s looking for a quality assurance person, a tech company.” He said, “I don’t know what quality assurance is, don’t know exactly what tech is but let me give it a try.”
And he jumped in, he really liked it and they really liked him and his journey in technology really started because he was bored during a strike in university, he could have been an accountant by now.
And then from there one thing led to the other, joining a tech company was great, it later on split into two. I stayed was one of the two sides is a Co-Founder and build an ERP and accounting software that is still used today. It’s called SAP Business One it was acquired by SAP back in 2002. Had a chance because of its acquisition to spend 6 years as senior executive at SAP. And really one thing led to the other in a way that eventually led him to do what he does today. So, some luck, some hard choices, some easy choices, and you can find yourself in a great career.
Organizations Using AI to Enhance Customer Experience
Me: Now you have a lot of experience working with AI. And of course, there’s a growing demand for it globally. Can you share with us a little bit about how organizations are using AI to enhance customer experience? And have you seen that change more drastically, especially in the last 2 to 3 years?
Gadi stated that yes, they actually at very beginning of wider adoption of AI in organizations, AI has been here as an option for several years, but we’re just seeing it become more mainstream because in any area, any new technology, the first generation tend to not be great.
If you’ve compared Google Maps to some of the older versions of navigation software, in almost all cases, the first generation paves the way to better products that are using more advanced technology and some of the learnings of the previous generation. So he thinks we’re in the first era of wide adoption of AI because it finally works.
And we see AI used across multiple use cases. The first adoption of AI was actually for quality assurance and call analytics. Traditionally in contact centres, calls were this black box and you record them for quality assurance and training purposes but really no one ever listens to them because the time it takes to listen to a phone call, the time the call takes. So it’s pretty hard to listen to call especially on mass.
So what we see is more and more companies were adopting call analytics as a way to listen quote unquote, to many calls at the same time and derive insights but also training materials back to the agents. And this is really helpful because it allows us to train agents and help them learn faster. But it actually doesn’t solve the fundamental issue we see today in the customer service space, which is lack of agents.
So it’s great that we can train agents better but over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a problem, it used to be pretty bad becoming almost catastrophical. Agent availability was always an issue in the contact centre space and the pandemic made it much worse. We all heard about the great resignation, where more and more people choose not to participate in this type of job, tends to be entry level, mundane and repetitive. So the available pool of agents decreased quite dramatically.
And an added disruption that the pandemic added was childcare, was people becoming sick themselves, people caring for maybe older parents, and agent availability dropped even further.
So if you talk with customers today, the question they’re asking is not how we train agents is how we hire more agents if it’s even possible. And then can we train them and onboard them faster, but more importantly, can we start using AI to automate some of the most mundane and repetitive work of those agents, so we can free up these agents to do more meaningful work.
And the reason he’s so excited about this change is that it’s a triple win to everyone. If you can take away from the agents the most menial, repetitive tasks, their work is going to be more rewarding, companies are going to be inclined to pay them more, they’re more likely to stay longer in their jobs, and customers are less likely to wait hours to speak with an agent. So it’s a pretty interesting intersection where AI can really create a relief for the first time in a meaningful way.
Intelligent Voice Automation Helping to Improve Business Outcomes for Companies
Gadi shared that this is the core of what Replicant does. And they have many, many examples of what the impact of that and he’ll give a couple of examples. As he said, they hear constantly from their customers that hiring became their biggest challenge. And they hear quotes like, “I now try hiring 9 people for every five roles because I know that in the first two months, 4 will leave.” So you have to hire more people for the same exact number of openings. People stay for a shorter period of time, it used to be a year to year and a half. Now agents will call it quits after 6, 7 months. So that’s an ongoing problem.
And couple of interesting examples. One of them was one of their customers ECSI in a financial service area. So they deal with student loans and other payment products and their hot season is somewhere between January and tax time, which last year was May, this year, hopefully will stay April.
And the first four months of the year, they get the majority of their calls around student loans, tax forms, and so on. So every year the ritual was similar, you have to go and hire extra 20, 25, 30 agents to just help with the seasonal increase and this is a very hard task. Everybody high season agent knows that you have to hire people for a short period of time, they’re less committed to the business, they come there to plug a hole, if you train them but then the whole thing goes away at the end of the season and you have to repeat the whole thing every time you have a predicted increase in call volume.
So, for ECSI, this is the first year when they don’t have to hire seasonal agents to deal with the tax issues because they’re able to automate a majority of their simple calls and repeatable calls around tax and tax forms, “I didn’t get the form, please send it again to me.” And so on.
It’s created a really interesting experience, for the callers, it used to be or this is the hot season, I have to wait more to speak with an agent just to get the form I probably lost in the mail. Now they get an answer within seconds and the solution was in 2, 3 minutes.
For the company, they don’t have to go through the rigmarole of starting somewhere in October to identify, interview agents, hire them in December, train them over the holidays, and make sure they are ready to take calls in January, just to let them go in April.
So, the win here is both on the customer side where the calls don’t have to wait on hold anymore. But also on the company side that doesn’t have to go through this process which takes a lot of time, effort and energy from management, instead of focusing on continuous improving of customer service. So, that’s one example where it’s really helpful.
Another one, which he really likes is one of their customers in the roadside assistance space, they are serving large areas of Canada, Canada has a pretty hard winter this year and literally they told them they could not have answered all the emergency roadside service calls they got in some of the coldest days.
Because as you can imagine, a cool day and people try to start that car and they can’t and they need roadside assistance and when a day like this happen, all of a sudden, instead of getting X number of calls, 100 calls, you get 300 calls and it’s really hard to summon up enough agents in a day like this. Also, because the agent might be stuck at home with a dead battery.
So, the ability to answer any number of calls that came their way and be able to help all their customers in the coldest, hardest days was a big, big change from previous years for them, where some calls had to wait for 20, 30 minutes on hold, sometimes stuck out of the car in 5 degrees weather.
App, Website or Tool that Gadi Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business
When asked about an online resource that he cannot live without in his business, Gadi shared that he thinks for everyone it would be Google. He really forgets how he looks for information and either way, Google became this notepad that allows you to really get quick answers for questions. But then also got kind of deepen your research. This is one that comes to mind first, but he will say that it’s so much easier to consume information today that he can’t really name one tool, he thinks if he had to, it’s Google.
But he learned a lot from Twitter because of the randomness of that. He follows an interesting selection of people that covers a lot of areas of his interest. And it helps you learn from a less structured way, in Google, you go and seek an answer to a question, in Twitter in a way, you stumble upon topics you may have not thought of often and kind of open a new way of thinking for you. So, he likes the randomness of Twitter, but also a huge fan of audiobooks and podcasts.
And he constantly listened to at least one audiobook and maybe a couple of podcasts that he’s excited about and it’s interesting. His style of doing that, he likes to walk the dog and listen to a podcast and it helped him think freely about some other areas which may not be directly related to what he does, but can lead to interesting thoughts and solutions at work. So, just a way to provoke thinking much more than maybe learn something new. So if you look at what he’s using every day is Twitter, Audible, Google and whatever his favourite podcast platform. Currently, he’s using Spotify, but it changes over time.
Books that Have Had the Biggest Impact on Gadi
When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Gadi shared that he wants to give credit to Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey Moore, which was one of the first technology books he’s ever read. And he’s not sure that if the impact of this book, the book is amazing and impactful, he will explain why. But also it was one of the first books that he read so it may have been the transformation he went through was more impactful because it was just one of the first books like the first call you may have had on cell phone in the middle of the desert, it’s always more impactful than the new version of the iPhone that seems a little bit more of the same.
But he read the Crossing the Chasm, he worked on his first ever product that eventually is the one that was acquired by SAP and now turned to BSAP Business One. And they had this classic crossing the chasm problem. They launched this product and the first day they launch it, it literally was on DVDs, this is this was mid 90s and literally, they couldn’t print enough DVDs to deal with the demand they had. And 30 days later, everybody returned the product, not everybody but 80% of the customers use the 30 days money back guarantee and return the product. And it became much, much harder to sell to mainstream customers and it took them 3 years to kind of crack the code of what a robust ERP product needed to look like until they’re able to get to the mainstream and start getting wide adoption that eventually led to SAP acquiring a company and taking this product globally.
And he thinks the reason the book was so impactful was one, it came at exactly the right time, he was in a chasm was his company unable to move from early adopters to more mainstream buyers. The second is, it provide reusable useful tools that he use actually across his career. There’s a concept of nine point checklist of product launch that he’s still using today even as Replicant, one of the first exercise they’ve done as a leadership team is use the nine point checklist from this book that he read in 1995 to define the target market, the focus customer, the problem they’re trying to solve. So having a reusable tool in the book that you can use 25 years after you read it, is just unique. There are so many books that just talk about small specific topic and they’re really no more impactful than an article. And he thinks this book having this long lasting impact on him, is very unique. Now, he has read hundreds of books after that, each one of them left a small mark but this is definitely the most impactful book he has ever read in a business sense.
What Gadi is Really Excited About Now!
Gadi shared that it’s a really interesting time when it comes to people development; it’s something that he cares about greatly. So, as you said at the beginning, people can start calculating his age just by his years of experience and work in different companies. And his perspective, not shifted but evolved to really believe that the most important thing we can do as business leaders is be accountable and responsible to help our own team develop and grow. When you work in technology, especially when you’re young, at least his perspective was that was really cared about the product he built and technology he built and he got a lot of traction from building a product that sold a lot of customers, like he still gets a lot of traction from it. But when you look in retrospect, he doesn’t miss the products and now own and run by other people, he misses the people he works with and he feels most rewarded by seeing their career.
The intern that worked with him at ASAP and now CEO of a company that is probably going to be lasting for generations. Or the product manager that he hired 20 years ago and now is a Senior VP in a large public company running their entire product line and she’s now by the way, a consultant and helping Replicant as kind of part of the give back programme in the Silicon Valley. So, if this is the most rewarding thing for him, he wants to make sure they as a company, continue to help their team launching their careers and make their stay at Replicant maybe 5 years or 10 years or 20 years a meaningful stop in their career.
So a lot of what he’s focused on right now as they kick off 2022 is how do they provide this type of support to their team, being a remote company having people in Canada, in the U.S, some people in Europe. How do they create a platform that allows everybody to launch and improve their career and find Replicant to be a learning and growing experience.
Another area where he’s really excited about is finding ways to support people in a more personal way. Companies traditionally stayed away from anything mental health or too personal especially in the U.S culture, we supposed to kind of keep things separated, you only work here, let’s not talk about your emotions. And he thinks now, and maybe the pandemic helped with that, it became more normal to talk about mental health in the workplace and the impact of the pandemic and the impact of isolation and the impact of working remotely. So, he’s excited to kind of tackle this relatively new problem and find ways to define a new SAT score between companies and its employees, about how might they support people also in their mental health journey and in their mental well being, maybe better than mental health, but their mental well being.
Me: All right, sounds good, very good, very forward thinking of an organization because you really have to take care of the person as a whole.
Where Can We Find Gadi Online
Twitter – @gadishamia
LinkedIn – Gadi Shamia
Website – http://www.replicant.ai
Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Gadi Uses
When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Gadi shared that he doesn’t have a quote, but he has a story. Early on in his life, he served in the military and he was in several situations that were really complicated, it’s not necessarily a matter of life and death, as much as they were just complicated, where it looks like everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong, and then another time over and another time over and another time over. And the stress was real, and impactful and physical.
He used to remind myself a story a lot when he was younger, and just the fate memory of the story is very helpful by just remembering being stuck in the mud without being able to move at night far away and having series of issues happening one after the other. And then after a couple of days of intense work being able to get out of this mess. And he just reminds himself that, “Most of the issues he faced today are not at the scale.” And they’re not really life and death and they could be resolved in different ways.
So, when he feels like he’s overwhelmed mainly, he remembers the feeling of being overwhelmed when he was 22, much less experienced with much more severe consequences of a mistake. And he just says, you know what, we can just go through it and just having this peace of mind that he will be able to navigate it because it’s not going to be as bad as that helped him a lot, especially early in his career.
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