Episode 198 : Unlocking Customer Experience Excellence – The Intersection of AI and Human Touch

Peter Mullen brings more than two decades of marketing leadership to his role as Interactions’ CMO. Previously, he was Senior Vice President of Marketing at Payactiv, where he led customer success marketing, lead-gen programming, customer acquisition, product marketing and more. 

Prior, he held prominent marketing and communications roles at VXI Global Solutions, Comcast and Netflix.


•  We always like to give our guests an opportunity to share in their own words, a little bit about your journey, how it is that you got to where you are today.

•  So, you are currently the CMO of Conversational AI at Interactions, correct?

• Seeing that you work at an organisation that you’re dealing with troubleshooting of customers challenges on a daily basis, could you share with us maybe one or two success stories that you’ve had with clients? And you know what the impact has been for their business as a result of your approach and methodology?

•  How do you maintain the human touch even though you’re using AI and how impactful has that been for your clients?

•  What would be two to three things that you would recommend that they need to focus on for the latter part of 2023, preparing for 2024, in order to ensure that they stay relevant, and they’re able to hopefully do a better job than their competition?

•  Could you also share with our listeners what’s the one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?

•  Could you also share with our listeners maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you, it could be a book that you read recently, or even one that you read a very long time ago, but still has had a great impact on you.

•  Could you also share with our listeners 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?

• Now, before we wrap our episodes up, we always like to ask our guests in times of adversity or challenge, do you have a quote that you would use or revert back to, to kind of help you to get you back on track if for any reason you got derailed or you felt demotivated or you just got off the course of what you were doing? Do you have one of those?


Peter’s Journey

Peter shared that he lives in Silicon Valley. He’s been doing marketing for more than 20 years, which means he had the opportunity to arrive in Silicon Valley just as the internet was becoming massively adopted across the world and began to change everything. His background is as a journalist, and more on the liberal arts side of things. So, for him, his journey was one of spending several years moving into the tech world, and really focusing on narratives, how do we tell the stories about the great things that we’re building?

How do we make it understandable, digestible?

And ultimately, what type of impact can we bring to people in many cases who are seeing things for the first time?

And Netflix was a defining moment where they reinvented how the world gains its entertainment, with all the beautiful personalization and customization. 

Throughout the career, his journey has been sitting in that intersection of new ideas, new technology, making it explainable to people, and how the CX element has come in in the last decade is really simple. 

What he discovered was that we could build the greatest things in the world, we could communicate in the best way. But if it was not embraced by CX, if CX was not leading how we presented that to the rest of the world, we would stall. So, for the past decade, his focus has been in the CX world, working in all elements from BPO’s, from contact centres, and right now with a wonderful technology company that helps provide better digital experiences for customers around the world.

What is Interactions?

Me: So, you are currently the CMO of Conversational AI at Interactions, correct?

Peter confirmed, correct. It’s a really simple explanation of who they are and what they do. They are the digital front door for the brands around the world that care the most about that first front door experience. They lead with voice and what that means is that when millions of people call into any of these brands, they start their conversations with, “How may I help you today?”

They have AI, plus human in the loop, it’s unique, they’re the only ones who do that. And it enables the customers to speak in their natural language, ask natural questions and all of their technology processes that really efficiently. The outcome and what that means for millions of call centre agents and businesses alike, is that they have customers that are more satisfied, they’re having better experiences without the friction and when they ultimately have to talk to an agent in a human experience when that’s necessary, they are further along the customer journey and it’s a quicker resolution, so that adds to operational efficient in a significant way.

What Has Been the Impact for a Business as a Result of Your Approach and Methodology?

Me: So, seeing that you work at an organization that you’re dealing with troubleshooting of customers challenges on a daily basis, could you share with us maybe one or two success stories that you’ve had with clients? And what the impact has been for their business as a result of your approach and methodology?

Peter stated that it’s a great question, he’ll give two answers of examples. So, they work with one of the top five financial institutions in America, and a customer of that financial institution will call in with a lost credit card, they’re able to process that fluidly and effectively without having to have a human agent engage on that. 

And in this sequence, this customer journey, they can actually with their digital technology and their AI cover over 40 different requests that the customer may have just on that simple one call in. They can do it all in one call, leading to an overall better customer experience. 

Another example, they work with one of the largest consumer technology companies in the world, they have outlets around the world, you can schedule an appointment at any one of them around the world, call up, talk to their automated assistant, reschedule it for any time, any date with different products that you want to come in and discuss and any different location in the world. Again, without ever having to talk to a human being that can be handled in mere minutes, with their solution, there’s no hold time, no waiting in any way. And the processing is just effective and fluid for everybody.

Me: Wow, no wait time, goodness me. Sounds like we need your company here in Kingston, Jamaica.

Peter shared that they did a customer survey in the spring of US base consumers, what their biggest concerns and complaints were, this is no surprise, there are 77% of us who complain that wait times are the number one problem in customer service. If we could eliminate that one thing, let’s even reduce it by half, the entire CX experience is transformational for the rest of the journey.

Maintaining the Human Touch While Using AI and How Impactful Has That Been for Clients

Me: Could you also share with us that as an organization, I know you mentioned that you’re heavily into AI, but you’re one of the few companies that also has a human touch that’s integrated with the AI in your methodology and approach. How do you maintain the human touch even though you’re using AI and how impactful has that been for your clients?

Peter stated that first, he will just acknowledge this remarkable moment in time in the second half of 2023. We are all trying to figure out what to do with generative AI, the world truly changed in November of 2022 last year, when open AI debuted and everyone could see how powerful it was and it’s only scratching the surface. So, he’s had more than 100 customer conversations this year, he’s been to more than a dozen events, walking the floors, talking to everybody. And AI is the number one word being spoken in all of those corridors. 

Number two word, however, is human, and this is really important because as all as these businesses around the world and all these people around the world are trying to figure out what the New World Order is going to be. The aspect of having the human touch, the human empathy, the human brain is absolutely essential. 

And we all have to acknowledge that the greatest computer for the foreseeable future is going to be the human brain, it is today, it will be over the next coming years. Let’s see where it is in the next decade. But for now, let’s use that as our baseline. 

Now his company is a company that was one of the OG’s, the original gangsters of Conversational AI with an emphasis on the artificial part of it, the AI. They started 18 years ago, when they started 18 years ago, AI was not that good. So, from day one, they had put a human in the loop. What that means very functionally is if the technology cannot understand what the customer or the client is looking for, they’ve always had a human in the background ready to nudge the conversation forward. That agent he or she is not engaged in the whole conversation, but rather, will catch a snippet of the voice conversation or the text or the chat and be able to say, “Aha, this is what Yanique is trying to do, this is where she wants to go next in her journey flow.” 

And the agent will, as he said, nudge it forward. That’s unique for what they do. So, they focus AI first, and about 90 plus percent of the time AI is all that’s needed. But for that last 10,% it’s essential that the human helps move it onward. And other companies today don’t do it that way, other companies are typically starting with the human first and then augmenting AI on the back end for automation. Does that make sense?

Me: Right? So, basically, you’re saying because the human comes in at the tail end of the experience, you’re able to have the resolution done quicker. Because now it’s moved up, it’s escalated, especially if it’s something that can’t be fixed that first point of contact.

Peter stated that that’s exactly right. If you think about the IVR, and the prompts that typically exist in many frontline solutions, the moment that we run into trouble, we get into a loop, or we can’t move forward in a way we want, we start pressing zero, we start yelling for the agent, 33% of us swore at a robot last year, that just let you know just how peaked, he thinks that percentage is low, but it shows how peaked people are with their customer experience. And for what typically happens, as you know, as the first one or two engagements are okay, then it starts getting more complex, more layered, more nuanced, that’s where a human can play this essential role of coming in and understanding what you want to do and then pushing it forward.

Recommendations Companies Need to Focus on to Ensure They Stay Relevant and Do a Better Job Than Their Competition

Me: Now, you mentioned that we’re like halfway through 2023 and it’s so true, a lot of us are looking to what’s next, what’s the next innovative, creative, exciting thing that my organization can do that would set me apart from my competition?

So, if you were to give advice to our listeners that are tapping into this episode that are in the customer experience space, what would be two to three things that you would recommend that they need to focus on for the latter part of 2023, preparing for 2024, in order to ensure that they stay relevant, and they’re able to hopefully do a better job than their competition? 

Peter stated so first, he wants to use the word he used earlier, which is baseline. He thinks it’s really important to have a baseline understanding of what AI is doing, and what it’s going to be doing over the next several years. His perspective and opinion is that it is much more significant than even any of us understand that this is truly a game changer that is going to impact every aspect of the customer contact centre world, customer experience itself, that’s his baseline. 

Now, on top of that, here’s another trend that is not just for the rest of this year, but essential to understand how fast it has changed the world. Personalization, and customization is transformational. You and I have had all of our behaviours changed by that incredible computer that we hold in our hand, we expect instant resolution, we expect customed and tailored experiences, AI then offers the solution for that expectation. 

Over time in the next several years, we’re going to be able to automate, we’re going to be able to speed up resolutions or experiences. And we’re going to be able to customize and personalize those experiences, these are essential to understand as macro themes. And they’re secular, which means they are long standing, it’s not just going be a blip on our radar. 

So, if he’s a young person in a contact centre, moving his way up, ambitious, he leans forward, he’s thinking about how rapidly this can potentially impact and change the ecosystem that he works in today. So, as an individual, he’s thinking to himself, how am I going to evolve and ride the wave in a way that will be beneficial for me, for my family, and for those around, there’s tremendous opportunities. But it’s absolutely essential to understand how big this is.  

If he’s a business, so, now moving up the food chain a bit, he needs to be thinking about how AI can bring operational efficiency, improvement in Op X – operational expenses, and how we can truly automate and streamline my overall operations. And if he’s that person, which many days he’s talking to those people by the way, he’s thinking to himself every day, how do I take the incredible human capital and the talent I have, and build solutions around them so that talent can be unlocked? 

You and I both know how much processing takes place, how much wrote automation occurs right now with human beings. Think about what it’s going to mean as we can start to unlock all of that talent, because AI can put in the automation, freeing us up to do a lot more important and essential things which ultimately reinforces at that whole personalization opportunity back to the clients.

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

When asked about an online resource that he cannot live without in his business, Peter stated that this will probably not surprise many people, he believes that Slack is absolutely a game changer for businesses today. So, the challenge that we have is that in the past three years, our worlds have turned upside down and we’ve gone hybrid, we’ve gone remote, we’ve gone back to the office, typically kicking and screaming in that case. It is a true challenge for business leaders to understand how do you effectively communicate with your teams in this new disrupted world. 

He’ll give you one example. If you are a business that has veterans who have worked there for multiple years, they have a tonne of tribal knowledge, they also have positive relationships that they’ve formed over the years with each other, then you have now new people coming in who don’t have any of those connections, they don’t know where things even are. A tool like Slack has one beautiful element that he doesn’t think is talked about enough. It enables you to process both business in real time, but it also enables you to process personality and more of the informality that used to take place in offices all the time, even a smiley face or a thumbs up is a different type of communication then you would have on email, you have on the phone. This type of connecting of the fabric is absolutely essential to be doing right now for business success.

Books that Have Had the Biggest Impact on Peter

When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Peter shared that there’s a book that is calledHooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal. He’s a Stanford Professor and this came out about a decade ago, Hooked is a very friendly, easy to read, B to C book, describing how to capture the curiosity of people online, typically using apps. It’s simply how you build their confidence, which leads to trust, trust leads to engagement, engagement leads to loyalty and sales. And the reason that he’s calling that out is because it is so darn simple. He keeps it on his bookshelf and reread it at least once a year simply to reinforce how important it is to build confidence and trust with a buyer no matter B2B, B2C, client, customer, anyone. Trust is the absolute currency of the next 20 years.

What Peter is Really Excited About Now!

When asked about something that he’s excited about, Peter stated what a great question. So, he’s going to speak about people and team for a second. It’s been a rough 18 months for many of us, it’s been a rough 3 or 4 years for many of us. He’s really excited about how to think structurally about teams, think about this hybrid environment all of us are in and think about how to motivate groups of people to lift their heads above all of the different conflicting confusions and excitements and pressures that are hitting us to deliver good results. So, very specifically, he’s using this year to think about how on a one to one and a one to few and a one to many, he can help the teams and the people around him optimize their own success.

Me: And do you have some tools that you have in mind in getting that done? Are you kind of just still in the strategy phase?

Peter stated that he believes that there is a tremendous power in having slogans and using those slogans repeatedly to help build momentum, build a movement, almost like a sports team. So, this year in 2023, from a team approach, which is one of the things that’s very important to him, he has 3 of them. 

One is a zero to one mentality. And what that means and what he share with the team is that there are massive things that they are trying to change but if they take a quote, unquote, one, zero to one mentality, what it means is that they constantly want to think about start-up and start-up innovation. Take small steps forward, look at everything you’re doing as going from nothing to something. And what that does is it enables you to have small fast wins. It enables you to appreciate those wins. And when you have setbacks, and we all do, it puts those setbacks in a framework that says they’re minor and the next day we can move forward, that’s zero to one. 

Second slogan is “Rungs on your ladder.” And he learned this by working at one of the top 20 largest BPO’s in the world. It’s incredible to him to think about nearshore, onshore and offshore, millions of folks who are moving up every day with their careers. And so, we focus a lot on rungs on your ladder, what’s the right thing for you, wherever you are in your career stage to take the next step up. And they’re very explicit with that on his team, every person knows what the rung on the ladder is for their teammate. That type of transparency means that they are a team all working together. 

The third one, and the third slogan is lean forward, he has a very strong bias that people who are going to lean forward in their chair are going to be the ones who are going to move forward and be the most successful. But really importantly, because of those first two ideas, if he’s getting his team to lean forward, it’s in a cooperative, supportive way and that radiates around and their teammates start leaning forward as well.

Where Can We Find Peter Online

LinkedIn – Peter Mullen

LinkedIn – Interactions

Website – www.interactions.com

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Peter Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tend to revert to, Peter stated that that is a surprise question that he will answer very authentically. He’s a cancer survivor. He has had setbacks at multiple times in his life in various ways and spaces. And he thinks many of us have, he thinks that there’s a lot of hidden challenges but also triumphs that all of us have experienced. And so for him, a simple phrase that he often uses for himself is, “Always tomorrow.” And what that reflects and means for him is that no matter what setbacks we have, no matter what move forwards we have, there’s always going to be the next day to do it again and do it a little better.

Me: Brilliant. Always tomorrow, I like it. Thank you so much, Peter, for taking time out of your very busy schedule and hopping on this podcast with us, sharing all these great insights as it relates to AI is wonderful, but the human touch is also very critical. I’m glad that you did reinforce that in your message and our conversation that the human element isn’t going anywhere and it’s still going to be the baseline of everything that we’re doing, I think that was really critical to what you brought across. And also, some of the recommendations that you believe our listeners can focus on as we move towards closing off 2023 and tap into 2024, what are some of the areas that they need to really engage in. Whether from a as you mentioned, B2C approach, or B2B or even in just building your career. We really appreciate it and just want to say thank you so much.

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·  Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

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