How using a network of experts can dramatically improve customer service automation – Interview with Antony Brydon of Directly

man phone

Today’s interview is with Antony Brydon who is the CEO and co-founder of Directly, a leader in customer support automation that works with enterprise companies to launch and train virtual agents that double their automation rate. Antony joins me today to talk about asynchronous messaging, conversational interfaces, AI and expert networks.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – How your procurement team is impacting both your employee and customer experience – Interview with Todd Olson of Pendo – and is number 308 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Antony:

  • For many years companies have tried to wean their customers off the phone, a very expensive support channel. But, customers kept sticking with the phone saying that is the channel that we’re used to that is the channel that we like.
  • However, the phones that we now hold in our hands today are not really phones anymore they are asynchronous messaging devices. And, the dominant applications on those phones are text messaging and WhatsApp and Snapchat and Facebook Messenger etc.
  • Using technology to make asynchronous messaging conversational is what Directly is bullish on.
  • This generation of A.I. and automation (the fourth or fifth generation) is going to be the greatest and most meaningful generation when it comes to that technology.
  • However, when we think about AI and the Alexa’s of this world or self driving cars they require massive amounts of data.
  • Customer service, even the largest operations, don’t have access to that scale of data.
  • This leads to lower success rates and lower ceilings on what automation can do today.
  • To bridge that gap and maintain performance, Directly is injecting networks of subject matter experts into the system, whether that’s from customers like X-Box and thousands of their expert gamers or a customer like Airbnb and thousands of their five star hosts.
  • They help companies build those networks of subject matter experts and then reward those experts for training the A.I. for creating content for automation and for answering customer questions.
  • What a lot of people don’t realize is that most of the models with machine learning models will trail off very quickly if not being constantly and systemically retrained.
  • If you want peak performance on a sustained basis then you have get the blend of expert input and the use of AI technology right.
  • The balance will be dictated by the complexity of the industry in question, the number of new product releases etc.
  • Customers are not great at establishing whether an answer is correct or not.
  • To manage quality, their system asks other experts, in the same way that Quora or Stack Overflow do, to rate the answers of their fellow peers. This leads to much higher levels of quality.
  • Moreover, this approach benefits from network effects, where the denser the network gets the more accurate the ratings become. This is unlike classical rating systems which are one to one and don’t experience network effects.
  • Applying this direct expert network approach allows the system to deal with lots of variety.
  • Variety like:
    • Customers coming up with 200 different ways to ask for their balance of their account when talking to their bank, or
    • That between 15 to 20 percent of the queries that are put into Google on a daily basis have never been seen before.
  • When Directly’s systems go in they can handle anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of a support center’s volume.
  • From that they tend to see a bump of 10 or 20 CSAT points versus the CSAT generated from pure machine delivery systems.
  • This is all done while taking 50 to 85 percent of the cost per case out of the equation.
  • Some of their larger customers are using Directly to help with up to 50 percent of their support volume. That volume is seeing a bump in CSAT of 20 points. Meanwhile, they are saving over 20 million dollars a year. And, that number is growing.
  • This is not about optimizing an old model. This is a quality and phase shift.
  • We’re in a game of moving to fundamentally new systems, fundamentally new interaction models and challenging a lot of the 20th century thinking and status quo that still exists in many organizations and the service industry.
  • The most important lesson is to recognize that when you’re moving to messaging you are moving to a different paradigm. This is not chat.
  • Automation in a smart messaging channel is not a redeployment of an IVR type model that you had from 20 years ago.
  • Customer service should learn from marketing and sales to be less rigid, more dynamic and take more of a testing approach.
  • Antony’s punk CX words: Rebellious, counter-intuitive and challenging the status quo.
  • What are you doing to earn the punk moniker?

About Antony

Antony Brydon Antony Brydon is the CEO and co-founder of Directly, a leader in customer support automation that works with enterprise companies to launch and train virtual agents that double their automation rate. Companies like Airbnb, Microsoft and Samsung use Directly’s expert-in-the-loop AI platform to tap the expertise of their most experienced customers, delivering content, training and answers to their virtual agent to significantly boost performance.

Prior to founding Directly in 2011, Antony served as:

  • Acting CEO for ShopWell, a web and mobile site focused on personal nutrition and food shopping;
  • Partner at Social Venture Partners, an LLC to invest in and develop internet companies;
  • CEO and Co-founder of Visible Path, a corporate social networking company funded by Kleiner Perkins and acquired by the Hoovers division of Dun & Bradstreet in January 2008; and
  • CEO and marketing lead for one of the first music websites, IUMA, which was acquired by EMusic in 1999.

Antony graduated from Yale University with a BA in Psychology and Philosophy, and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.

Check out Directly, say Hi to Antony and the folks at Directly on Twitter @abrydon and @directly and do connect with Antony on LinkedIn here.

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Thanks to Pixabay for the image.

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