Today’s interview is with PV Kannan, the co-founder and CEO of 7, a customer engagement platform which assists several hundred million visitors across all channels, and engages in 1.5 billion conversations annually, most of which are automated. PV joins me today to talk about 7, what they are up to, utilising AI and intelligent assistants in the deliver and improvement of customer experience, the balance of tech and the human touch in customer experience and his view on achieving the ‘right’ balance.
This interview follows on from my recent interview – Most organisations are ignoring the behavioural element of customer experience – Interview with Morris Pentel– and is number 200 (woohoo!) 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 their customers.
Here’s the highlights of my interview with PV:
- It’s not enough to develop software, you have to connect all of the dots all the way to the agent as that is where a lot of experience materialises.
- The focus of 7 is to leverage the user and web data that companies can collect on their customers so that it can enable them to predict what their customers do next and also anticipate and respond to their next actions.
- Currently, if someone like PV was looking for a business class flight to London next week the airline won’t really know anything about it. But, wouldn’t it be great if we could get to a situation where a company like British Airways could say ‘Hey PV, I see that you were looking to fly to London next week, how can I help you?”
- PV shares my concerns of the balance that many companies are achieving in their mix of technology and the human touch.
- For example, on their current trajectory banks will face difficulty, in the future, establishing what their brand is as everything is becoming more and more faceless.
- Many brands are losing touch with crucial ‘moments of truth’ where customers can really experience and feel that the brand cares about them.
- Customers want self-service but the minute they don’t (i.e. when something goes wrong) they want an immediate human connection.
- Many companies don’t recognise which moments or interactions create stress and which moments create delight for the customer and therein lies the gap, where many companies are going all out to automate their business or provide self-service via the web.
- Expectations are being set to a new high with all of the conveniences that are around us.
- PV’s concerns are ironic given they have an AI powered digital assistant/bot called Hani.
- However, using data they focus on helping their clients understand which customer journeys and at which point human contact is best used and why.
- For example, imagine you have been traveling and you receive a new phone bill which is much higher than expected. You are now confused and a bit angry. So, rather than having to deal with an automated system, 7’s system recognises that it would be better to route you to an agent that is trained to be highly empathetic as it predicts that you really just want to speak to someone and vent a little.
- They base all of their understanding on one simple question: What would the customer want to do in that particular moment?
- To do this they first start collecting data on customer behaviour from a company’s website so they can track where things go right and where things go wrong.
- Only when they have done this can they start to analyse where those moments of truth are and what should or could be done about them.
- For example, imagine you are looking to book a family holiday and have two kids traveling with you (3 and 15 years old) and that you are switching between two different type of properties. The system recognises this and is able to predict from past and similar experiences that you might need some help. It will then trigger a live chat session from a live agent that says “Hey, I see that you are looking at two locations…..is this what you are looking for? Or, is there something I can help you with?’
- Over time the system will learn which of these queries and responses are similar and can then automate responses to these and only route queries to a live agent when it becomes more complex.
- Hilton has implemented a system like this and is measuring its success against a purely self-service approach. What they have found is that 7’s approach performs 3 times better than a self service only option in terms of conversion to additional sales revenue. Moreover,they also measure how satisfied customers are with their interaction with an agent and it is currently standing at 97%.
- Achieving the right balance between tech and the human touch in customer experience will be a rising question for many firms in 2017.
- PV’s recommendations for addressing this topic are:
- 1. Get to know how different journeys affect your customers and what are their ‘moments’;
- 2. Distill these down to a list of moments that matter the most and are aligned with the company’s brand; and
- 3. Then, ask: what are the things that are predictable and that you can do something about in advance?
- Be careful when aggregating customer satisfaction data across a whole customer journey as it is not likely to tell you very much.
- There is a lot of buzz around right now about AI and bots but PV would advise that brands don’t jump in too fast. They would be better suited to first consider how is it going to change the customer experience.
- Brands need to be careful that they don’t assign a bot to a moment in a journey that has a lot of emotion surrounding it. Pick the right use cases and implement them with care.
- If you don’t collect the right kind of data, AI and machine learning is going to do nothing.
- Business intelligence and data warehousing faced the same issues a number of years ago.
- Many companies are confused and are in danger of assuming that the technology has evolved to a higher level than it actually has. AI and machine learning is like having a small child, you have to teach it and it takes time to learn.
- PV references Thomas Keller’s “The Reach of the Restaurant” TEDx talk. You can view it here.
- Wow service/experience to PV is centred what a company stands for and how everything you do should reinforce what you stand for.
- Customers understand that they will receive different levels of service from different types of brands depending on how expensive they are.
- Wow service/experience should be relative for every single company.
- If any one is interested in increasing revenue from the web in a systemic and scientific way then they should reach out to 7. Also, if they are looking to achieve a very conscious balance between self-service and assisted service and how to execute it well then they should also reach out to7.
About PV (Taken from his 7 bio)
PV Kannan co-founded 7 in 2000 and has been leading the revolution to make customer service easy and enjoyable for consumers. In 1995, PV’s first company, Business Evolution Inc., developed the first generation of email and chat solutions. The company was acquired by Kana in 1999 and PV became part of the management team. At 7, PV was a pioneer in integrating customer service technology with business process operations to improve all aspects of the customer experience. PV has been at the forefront of customer experience from creating contact center agent services, developing a big data predictive analytics platform, creating omnichannel solutions for the web, mobile, chat, social, and speech IVR, to innovating mobile-centric applications.
Over the years PV has been a thought leader in global customer service and has been featured in the books, The World is Flat and That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman, India Inside by Nirmalya Kumar and Phanish Puranam, and Reinventing Management: Smarter Choices for Getting Work Done by Julian Birkinshaw.
PV is on the Board of Directors for Achievers. He has over 20 patents (issued and pending). PV has degrees in accounting and finance from the Institute of Chartered Accountants and The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India.