Throughout this episode, Andrew walks us through the new age of the customer and the power that customer experience has over other consumer touch-points. Andrew tells us about the history of Cisco Systems, the generational shift in working from home vs the office & the use cases for AI-driven language models.
Cisco is an American digital communications technology conglomerate that develops, manufactures and sells networking hardware, software and other high-technology services. On today’s episode we talk to Andrew Carothers, the Digital Customer Experience Leader for Cisco Systems. Andrew walks us through his career and the first-hand experiences within the world of customer experience . With nearly two decades of experience in the customer experience field, Andrew walks us through the growth of CX into a fully-fledged corporate function.
AI-Driven Language Models
Communication is crucial for businesses to thrive, and that’s why Cisco has started using Artificial Intelligence to enable them to look at massive amounts of data which better understands their clients and customers. With 90% of revenue going through partners, Andrew talks about the importance of operating outside of the initial 16 different languages that Cisco use, utilising generative AI to better communicate with the large customers that don’t speak Cisco’s 16 set language.
“We’re going to be able to start working with them in their native language, which is important for two reasons. One, functionally, we want to make sure that they can understand the information that we’re providing them. Number two, equally, as importantly, is the level of respect that we’re showing to people when we communicate with them in their language.”
Generational Shift (Work-from-Home vs Office)
Andrew also dives into the difference in generations within the work-force, with older employees preferring to work remotely as they have already established their network and prefer to stay home with their families, whereas the younger generations prefer to network and receive a more hands-on work experience. Andrew discusses this conflict and how this difference in generations can impact the future of the work-force, with his advice on how to appeal to both sides through the use of 4 day work-weeks.
“If I were CEO of every company, I would figure out ways to make people want to come into the office a certain number of days… You don’t want disgruntled employees… Companies that provide opportunity for communities will find employees, young and not so young, wanting to return to the office to have that connection point.”
This article summarises podcast episode 101 “Age of the Customer & the Power of AI-driven Language” recorded by CX Insider.
Written by Octavian Iotu
Full Episode Transcript
Octavian: On today’s episode of The CX Insider Podcast, we sit down and talk to the digital customer experience leader of Cisco, Andrew Carothers. We’ll be talking about how customer experience has grown and developed. The AI use cases to understand clients and customers on a large scale, as well as the potential of a four day work week. Enjoy the episode and if you do, subscribe to our YouTube channel for more episodes. This episode has been brought to you by ACF technologies, global leaders in customer experience management solutions and now 2023 gold winners of the Positive Impact Award for the SME National Business Awards. Now let’s get into the episode. Andrew, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your career and who you are?
Andrew: Sure, I’d be happy to Octavian. So I’m Andrew Carothers. I am one of the leaders of the Digital Customer Experience team at Cisco Systems. I started my career like a lot of people in CX, in marketing, a lot of people either came from marketing or from customer support. Seem to be the two leading parents of the field of CX. And now CX, I think is reached its teenage years, where it’s a full fledged function recognized within corporations. So I’ve been in CX within Cisco. I started in marketing, wrote a book called The Publicity Handbook. I was in public relations for a while, and about 12 years ago was one of the co-founders of the Or founding members. I should put it that way, of the Customer Success organization subsequently named Customer Experience Organization at Cisco. So we started a customer experience function in order to help drive adoption and renewals for our customers. And there were 100 of us out of a team, out of an employee base of about 55-60,000 employees at the time. There were 100 of us who started what was then called global customer success. Half of us, half of those 100 were renewal managers, and the other half, like myself, were in the digital customer experience team.
Octavian: So we’ve heard about Andrew and his journey. But let’s dive into Cisco’s history and some big plans that Cisco are focusing on for the New Years.
Andrew: Cisco’s history and what people know us as typically is as a hardware company, sort of the plumbers of the internet, routers, switches, phones. And that’s still a healthy part of our business. We started our customer success organization because we were starting to switch our revenue model to a more subscription based revenue. So right now, about 50% of the overall Cisco revenue, which is in the neighborhood of $60 billion a year, comes from subscriptions and services moving into the next year. We just started last month, our fiscal 2024. But from the rest of calendar 2023 and into 2024, we’ll continue that progression into more and more subscription sales, in particular in the areas of collaboration with products like WebEx that a lot of people familiar with security. We have a suite of security products for software products for everything from email security to web security, dual factor authentication through duo was one of our products. So security is a big focus area for us. And then the third one is networking. So we still sell a lot of networking hardware, but we also sell a lot of networking software now. So those are really the three big areas where we’re focusing our attention and focusing more and more effort into driving software and subscription based revenue.
Octavian: This is something I’m really excited to find out more about. How have you seen CX evolve through your career?
Andrew: Yeah, it’s a great question. I’ve seen it start from from really nothing to now, as I mentioned, a full fledged corporate function. So when I say nothing, there are areas of what we now call CX that were taking place through marketing, sometimes in engineering customer support, but CX as an overarching function, and certainly the way that the Customer Experience Professionals Association defines CX is as an overall function that addresses a customer’s experience through every touchpoint with an organization and their perception of the organization, that is the sum total of those experiences. So that didn’t exist 12, 13 years ago. So it really just by circumstance, I’ve had a front row seat to the growth of not only customer success within Cisco, but customer success or customer experience as a function. So as I mentioned before, I view customer experience now as hitting its teenage years. And what I mean by that is we’ve been born typically out of marketing and out of customer support. We grew up sort of figuring, you know, through our childhood years and now reached the point where customer experience is a recognized function, like there’s a there’s a thing there, right? It’s a real thing. But we’re still trying to figure out who are we? Are we customer experience or should we be called customer success? Those terms are often used interchangeably, but sometimes people use them to mean different things. In Cisco, customer experience means customer success or adoption plus renewals. So that’s the totality of customer. Spirits within Cisco. Where should we reside, within a company? I’ve seen the function reside in marketing. I’ve seen it reside in sales underneath the Chief Revenue officer. I’ve seen it report directly to the CO or to the CEO or to the C-suite.
Andrew: I’ve even seen it in engineering. Now, data from the Technology Services Industry Association and other research organization shows that the the the biggest bang for the buck comes when CX reports into the C-suite. That’s when renewals end up being highest, the dollars renewed, as well as the number of contracts renewed, adoption levels are higher. Add on sales or growth coming from upsell or cross-sell are higher that way as well. But it’s still something that’s being sorted out through the organization. So CX is trying to figure out like, who are we? Right? That’s why I refer to us as in our as in our teenage years, right. Where do we reside? What do we call ourselves? What’s the focus? Who are we in probably five years, maybe even ten years, I think that will be sorted out, but more likely it’ll be in the five year range. But we’ve reached the area where there’s a solid foundation that that we exist. Other areas that I would call out that indicate we’ve hit the teenage years that are no longer in our childhood years, is the ecosystem around the discipline of customer experience that has grown up. So there’s the customer experience professional association, there’s the CCXP certification that people can get. There are any number of books focusing on customer experience, specifically. There are even job recruiters who specialize in the area of customer experience. So it’s a real established discipline at this point. It just needs to spend a little bit more time figuring out who it’s going to be when it grows up.
Greg: One quick follow up question I had maybe Andrew on that is do you think CX is at a stage where we can directly attribute CX to impact on the bottom line? You know, when you were referring to it being reported into, let’s say, the chief revenue officer, maybe. But yeah, what do you think on that?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think it can be, so there are- when I think about measurements, there are there’s a lot of focus on things like CSat or NPS, and those are valuable metrics. They do need to be tied to the bottom line. And I think that we can look, and this is something that we do within Cisco where we look at a selection of metrics, some that very directly can be applied to the bottom line. So for example, we have a whole set of customers that we engage with through digital only process for things like renewals and then for growth through upsell and cross-sell. We have them on the sales side too, but just focusing in on the post sale side so we know what the renewal rates are and the dollars renewed for those customers through the customer experience organization and in this case, scaling digitally specifically that are not touched by anybody else within the company, only through the digital customer experience side of the house. So we and we can compare those historically to before when we didn’t have a customer experience organisation. We can compare it to today as well. There are customers that we can’t reach because we don’t have contact information for them, for example. So we have that as a constant that we can then measure against to see what happens when we put a customer on a journey, what happened versus when they’re not on a journey.
Andrew: What happens when that journey is digital only? What happens when that journey is digital only with Cisco and a partner? What happens when that customer is on a journey that is digital and human supported with our csms? So by measuring all of that individually, we can get very specific as to what’s the impact of customer experience on the bottom line, both in terms of a revenue gain as well as a cost avoidance when it comes to creating self-service opportunities for customers, especially in the area of customer support. So we track and measure things like how through our journeys are we getting customers to an adoption stage, and how likely are they to then buy something else when they’ve reached that adoption stage? And what’s the dollar value of that. We can measure how likely are they to solve their problems on their own by either accessing information that we’ve put in front of them to help them with adoption, or by directing them or having them go on their own to our Cisco community, where they can get answers from their peers, and doing those types of self-service approaches, as opposed to reaching out and contacting somebody at Cisco. And we know what the cost associated with that is. So from both a revenue gained and a cost avoidance standpoint, we can put hard dollar metrics or Euro metrics on the impact of our customer experience effort.
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Octavian: As years go by, expectations tend to shift. Have you seen people consider experience to be more important than price?
Andrew: That’s a great question, Octavian, because I think that that gets to the core of of the impact culturally within an organization as well as on sales as well as on post-sales efforts, customer success, etc., and potential up sales that come through loyalty. Right? So that’s key. The question, I think, to both customer behavior and organizational behavior. So there’s a lot of data from organizations like Gartner Group, you know, industry researchers, Technology Services Industry Association and other research organizations that show exactly that. I remember a couple of years ago, Gartner in particular, came out with a study that showed that experience had reached the number three criteria for a purchasing decision. So this was the expected experience that prospects in the sales pipelines think they’re going to have. Number one criteria was was functionality, or does this product do what I want it to do. Like I’ve got a problem. Does it solve that problem. Number two is quality like is it is it you know, is it buggy. Is it actually going to work when I turn it on. Or number three was the expected experience, which really is another way of saying if the product has quality and has the functionality to solve the problem I have, am I actually going to get that value from it that the vendor is telling me I’m going to get? And how easy or difficult will it be for me to get that value right? That’s what experience is about.
Andrew: So there’s a lot of industry research that shows that we see that directly at Cisco as well, where we see customers in the sales process that are going to our Cisco communities, and we have communities set up for all of our different products. So this is a community of their peers. They’re going and asking questions of their peers who are currently using that product. And these are people who are not owners of that product yet. Right. Because we can see who in the community owns the product or doesn’t own the product. So we’re seeing sales prospects going to their peers in the communities who are of actual users to ask questions about the experience. How hard is it for me to get onboarded? How hard is it for me to to get started? How long does it take to to get to the value that I’m looking for? What is this adoption process look like? So experience is absolutely being shown within what we’re seeing at Cisco as well as industry wide. What research forums are seeing has become even more important than price when it comes to the customer buying process.
Andrew: And I mentioned the impact on culture within an organization as well. So I’ll use Cisco as an example. We’ve been at CX for roughly 12, 13 years at this point. When we started, as I mentioned, it was just a small percentage of the employees, you know, 100 of us out of 55, 60,000 employees. And for the first several years of our existence, a lot of what we were doing was being evangelists within Cisco about the discipline of experience and why experience matters. I can’t remember how many presentations I’ve given to internal teams within Cisco as to why experience matters. Then we started to we started to build some converts internally because Cisco did not take a command and control approach, where the leadership team of the company said, New World Order folks, age of the customer. We now have a customer experience organization. This is the way it’s going to work. Sales. You need to hand off information to customer success or customer experience as we came to be called. So we had to convince salespeople, for example, to give us information about their customers, to give us contact information, to give us information as to why that customer bought that product.
Andrew: Right? What are the business goals that that customer is looking for, so that we could then have our csms start to work with those customers, and then and that was a that was a hard cultural conversion to make because sellers were like, you’re not paying me to do that. That’s administrative work. That’s getting in the way of me going and getting new customers for Cisco and getting paid on that. Right. So we had to change the culture within Cisco by being able to show from a theoretical standpoint, the importance of experience by bringing in industry data that backed that up, and by interviewing and using direct quotes from our own customers and from our partners as to the value of experience, as to the value of experience, to building loyalty, which then brought in more sales. Right? Trying to bring the benefit of the sales team. It took a number of years, but because we were able to show the importance of experience in both the pre purchase and the post purchase experience for our customers, that we were able to then get the momentum going to the point where now I think the customer experience organization is a quarter to a third. Of the other employees within Cisco.
Greg: Everything you’ve described there in terms of expectations and how they’ve shifted, would you say that is sort of your definition of this age of the customer, or would you say that maybe is even defined slightly differently?
Andrew: I think that’s a result of the age of the customer. So by the age of the customer, I mean, and Cisco is a great before and after example of this. So as a hardware only company, which is where we started for a while, we were the most valuable company in the world I think pre 2000.com explosion. And that was all based on selling hardware. And when we sold hardware for the most part it was large routers and switches and things that we sold to the IT department and these these big units and they would hire IT staff that was trained specifically in Cisco products. So and these were expensive and they would pay up front and they would run them for 8 to 10 years. We would come back in 8 to 10 years, oftentimes with a different sales person, because people switch around and say, great time to refresh your product and sell you a new one. And can we sell you some services on that as well? Those customers were locked into Cisco because the barriers to exiting and to switching to a different vendor were so high, they paid a lot of money for their hardware. They paid it all up front. They built a team of Cisco specialists to then serve all that. It became very expensive to switch to a competitor. But now in in today’s age of the customer, the customers are in charge because the barriers to exit are very low. They’re typically not buying even hardware for networking, let alone security or collaboration or anything else that they might be buying from Cisco or from other vendors.
Andrew: They’re buying software, and they’re oftentimes paying an annual subscription or even every six months or one month for their subscription. So they’re not paying a lot of money up front. They can switch easily if they’re working off of an app or some software that they’ve downloaded. It’s very easy to switch to a different vendor. So because of that, customers have started over the last 5 to 10 years to demand the same type of experience that they have in their business world that they have in their consumer world. So think of think of using an iPhone or an Android phone. The difference between getting a taxi versus getting an Uber or Lyft, right? It’s so, so much easier to switch. And that’s what customers are doing in the business world as well. And at first people said, well, sure, but they’re not going to buy important products. You know, they’re not going to buy things that have any risks. They’re not going to buy things that with a high dollar amount, they’re going to buy their toothpaste or, you know, they’re going to buy something, something low cost like that. Well, people are buying their homes completely online, right? They’re getting mortgages completely online. They’re finding their home, getting their mortgage, getting approved. These are the most important financial decisions that people make in their life. They’re doing it completely online in a frictionless way, in some cases with the human fallback if they need to talk to somebody.
Andrew: So if they’re doing that in their personal life and their consumer life, people buying cars, right? Major complex purchases, they’re also now comfortable with that. So they’re doing that in their business life as well. So because of that sort of evolution business to consumer kind of bleeding into business to business and sort of low risk, low cost purchasing, bleeding into complex, expensive purchasing for enterprises as well as small businesses and everybody in between. Now we’re starting to see, um, what I call the the age of the customer, where the customer is in charge. And the ramification of that is that vendors like Cisco and others need to provide a customer experience that’s going to get customers to the value they seek as quickly and as painlessly as possible, or the customer will leave. And there’s lots of data that shows not only in the B2C world, but in the B2B world as well, where 50, 60, sometimes 70% of customers have said that they either they have shifted or they are thinking of shifting to a different vendor because of the experience that they’re getting. And that’s a radical shift, not only in sort of thinking and in strategy, but the execution required for a company that that has been focused on, on their own internal operations, that’s focused in on sales, that’s focused in on marketing, how do we develop products and get them to market and get market share as quickly as possible to then shift to how do we get customers to use and get value from what we sell them? That’s a major cultural and functional and operational shift within a company.
Andrew: Cisco’s a great example. Honestly, 15 years ago we didn’t care if customers used what we sold them because they’ve already paid for it and they were locked in, right? They couldn’t go anywhere for the most part. So so the question was, you know, how do we get more people within that organization to buy from us, but it wasn’t how do we get them to use but in the age of the customer? Companies have to be focused in on how do we get customers to use and get value from what we’ve sold them. It’s incumbent on the vendor. This is where where the power dynamic has shifted. It’s no longer incumbent on the customer to get value or not get value. Who cares? We sold it to them. It’s incumbent on the vendor to make sure that customer is getting value, and to make sure that customer realizes that they’re getting value. So thus, the birth of customer success as a discipline that we’ve been talking about already. And that’s why Cisco built a customer success or customer experience organization in the first place. As we were starting our shift, which we knew was going to be a, you know, a multi year, decade or more transition from hardware only to primarily a subscription based revenue company, we knew that we were then going to have to build a function that was going to focus on providing customers with value and making it as easy as possible.
Andrew: And one more thing I’ll add to that that makes it so difficult operationally, especially for legacy companies like Cisco, that are trying to make that shift, is the larger companies get legacy or not, the more silos get built up within that company. The more silos of people, the more silos of data. And so to provide customers with an experience that allows them or enables them to get value quickly and easily means connecting across all those silos, connecting data, processes, people, you know, technology platforms, the larger company and the more siloed it gets, the more difficult that becomes. And when when you have that reality, that’s where you have the experience that we’ve all had, where a customer calls a company and they get put on hold and then they get transferred somewhere else, and the person who’s going to help them then knows nothing about what they’ve already told the first customer service rep. And like on and on and on. Right. That’s where you get these these silos where one hand doesn’t know the other, and the customer just feels like they’re trying to find their way in the middle of a maze. So breaking down those silos then becomes critical. It’s another example of how difficult it can be operationally for a company to make the shift, to respond to the age of the customer.
Greg: To bring it almost full circle. It’s a compounding effect, isn’t it, of everyday small customer experiences, which then lead to a longer term brand experience, which ultimately translates into loyalty, which is everything that you’re saying in terms of getting it right on those one two small interactions. Because over time that builds up to that long term brand loyalty.
Andrew: Yep, yep. Completely agree. I think of I think of branding and customer experience as two sides of the same coin, like brand is the promise. And then CX is how well you’re delivering on that promise. And you’re right, it’s a series of individual touchpoints, some of which aren’t even with the company, some of which are with, you know, are with peers who provide reviews of that company, either online reviews or just people that you’re talking to. Right? So, you know, those are things the company can’t control. So you better control the things that you can control because your customers are having an experience. Whether you take any steps to control that experience or control the quality of that experience, I should say, or not, the customer still having an experience. So companies are best served to do everything they can to make sure that that experience is a quality experience and quality again, as customers tell us over and over again, is I want to get from point A to point B, I have a problem, I want to solve it. That problem may be very tactical. I’m looking for information on how to onboard this particular product, or it may be broader if I’ve got a business need. And that’s why I bought this solution from this company. And now I’m looking to to solve the problem. Right. It could be could be broad, could be very narrow, whatever it might be. People need to have their problems solved quickly and oftentimes on their own. Right. So this is we haven’t talked about digital yet, but this is a whole nother area of customers more and more want a digital first experience. Not necessarily digital only but digital first. So what I mean by that is they want the opportunity to solve whatever problem they have on their own. And again, solving that problem may be I’m looking for- I’m looking for information because I’m considering buying this product. I bought this product and I’m looking to get started using it. I’ve started using it, but I want to use more features or whatever it might be. Troubleshooting, right? It could be a variety of things I want to connect with a with a community of my peers and learn best practices, that sort of thing, either from them or I want to learn best practices from from the company itself. Maybe there are webinars, that sort of thing, and I want to be able to do that on my own, whether it’s in the middle of the afternoon, and I just want to get something solved. I don’t want to wait on hold. I don’t want to talk to somebody on the phone. I don’t want to work with a chat bot. Or maybe I do want to work with a chatbot because I can get my answers off quickly, right? So that depends on the quality of the chatbot, but that’s still a digital touchpoint. I want to go to the community. I want to go to the website. I want to connect with people via SMS, right? Whatever the- I want to get an email, I want to communicate via email, whatever the digital touchpoint is, people want to have that opportunity.
Andrew: And certainly if it’s at, you know, three in the morning and they can’t sleep or they’re working in another country, so they’re so they’re up late or they’re, you know, they got their baby in their arms and they’re trying to feed the baby over breakfast while they’re trying to solve something themselves. Right? Especially in a hybrid environment where people are working from home, sometimes in the office. Right. They want the opportunity to address their needs as quickly as possible. And oftentimes that means digitally. Now, sometimes people can solve their problems digitally, you know, completely wonderful. And again, when I say problems, it doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily something wrong. It’s just that they can they can reach their goal. Other times they find that they get stymied doing that. They can’t find the information on the website. They can’t. The information they have doesn’t answer their specific need, whatever it might be. So that’s when they, you know, the chatbot has given them some information, but not everything. So that’s when they also need an easy way to then talk to a human. That’s what we call digital lead with a human fallback. And that’s what more and more customers want. And it used to be. That’s what Gen Z’s wanted. And now it became more and more people, especially accelerated by the pandemic as they’ve had more experience with a digital type of approach. Now it’s like 75%. According to different industry research associations, 75% of customers, including B2B, not just B2C, want a digital first or digital led experience within the human fallback.
Octavian: Something fascinating that Cisco does is use artificial intelligence to help customers and the digital first experiences through the use of language. Cisco not only deals with clients, but partners too. So Andrew is here to dive deeper into Cisco’s AI system.
Andrew: We’ve been using artificial intelligence for a number of years now in machine learning, as as part of that, to enable us to look at massive amounts of data that we otherwise wouldn’t have the capability to look at in toto. We have millions of customers in 150 plus countries around the world. We sell through partners. So we have tens of thousands of partners, and 90% of our revenue goes through partners. And the customer experience that we provide oftentimes goes through partners as well. So I just sort of harkening back to the beginning when I talked about how a lot of our work in the early days was focused on changing the culture internally and talking about the the discipline of experience internally. Cisco is also doing that with our partners and helping our partners understand the value of a customer experience, practice and operationally how to build one. So trying to tie all that together and look at all that data using artificial intelligence has allowed us and machine learning has allowed us to look at that so that we can understand at a large pattern level as well as an individual customer level, what a customer is likely to need. What are the different personas are that we’ve set up and what those customers are likely to need, and then looking at an individual customer to understand where is this customer? Where is Octavian in his adoption journey versus where Greg is in your adoption journey of the same product? What information do you need to get you to advance in that journey? In what format? Right, video, infographic like, whatever it might be through what channel? Octavian maybe prefers email.
Andrew: Greg. Maybe you prefer, you know, SMS or WeChat or or whatever it might be. Right? And then additionally throw in the language component. So Cisco, as a rule, when we roll out new products and services, etc., we operate in 16 standard languages. So we translate everything into 16 languages. And that’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of expense involved in that. So as we’ve built out our customer experience organization and our digital journeys within that, they’re all translated into 16 different languages. Well, we have customers in different countries who don’t speak those 16 different languages. So what they get then is English. Well, hopefully they speak English. Hopefully they speak it well enough, especially with technical jargon included, that that’s going to work for them. And if not, you know, so be it with generative AI now. So switching to gen AI, we’re now able to look at quickly translating and fairly easily and with minimal expense translating into any number of languages. So we have some large customers in certain countries that don’t speak any of those 16 languages, large customers that you know, that we absolutely want to be working with.
Andrew: Now, we’re going to be able to start working with them in their native language, which is important for two reasons. One, I mean, just functionally, we want them. We want to make sure that they can understand the information that we’re providing them. Number two, equally, as importantly, is there’s a level of respect that we’re showing to people when we communicate with them in their language. So I’m planning a trip right now. We’ve talked about this a little bit. I’m planning a trip to Bulgaria and Romania, and I’m reaching out to some tour guides to help me out, and I make a point of going to a translation app just to learn how to say hello or good evening or thank you. As I’m reaching out to people on WhatsApp or email to as I’m planning my trip. It’s a small little gesture, but it’s just showing people I respect who you are. I’m coming to operate with you in your culture, in your language, in your country. So similarly, when we’re reaching out to customers and can do so in their language, no matter what that language is, that’s not only helping us communicate with them, it’s also showing a level of respect which affects their customer experience with us.
Octavian: So Andrew has told us about the importance of communication and using native languages within all aspects of life. But let’s go back into the world of business. What are some examples of process improvement through the use of AI?
Andrew: One of the specific examples of a process improvement is using AI to support our Customer Success reps, our customer success agents, so that they’re working with like- they’re being fed information potentially in their language. So two different examples here. Having a customer success agent being fed information from AI that’s going to help them more quickly and better respond to a customer’s need when they’re engaging with that customer on the phone or via chat or whatever the mechanism might be. That’s improving the experience for the customer success agent. That is then leading to a better experience for the customer. Additionally, imagine I’m seeing this when I was judging some of the US Customer Experience Awards last year. One of the one of the vendors who was making a presentation talked about telephone company, talked about how they’ve enabled real time language translation for their customer service agents. So rather than having large group of agents that speak two languages or maybe speak one natively and one a little bit, and it’s a little clunky in their conversations with customers in that second or third language. Now they can have agents who maybe speak one language or perhaps speak multiple languages, but they can work with customers in a variety of languages because they’re getting real time translation on the inbound basis when the communication comes in from the customer in a different language than they speak, AI is translating that for the customer success agent in real time. That agent is then responding and that agent’s native language and the communication is then again because of AI being translated before it gets to the customer. So there’s this real time translation taking place. And now you have agents who can work with multiple customers, which allows them to expand their reach. It also means that instead of having just a small group number of customers who speak French or Arabic or Spanish. Pick your language. Who then get all of those customers and thus reach burn out much more quickly. Data shows because they’re trying to service all of the Arabic speaking customers instead of that and leading to burnout, you’re getting- we’re able to spread the Arabic speaking or French speaking, whatever the language is, customers throughout the customer agent base, and that’s protecting all of the agents from burnout.
Greg: I’m really excited personally to see where that real time translation technology goes, because it’s one thing the impact it’s going to have at an enterprise corporate level, like between, you know, B2B and B2C, in terms of customer service. What I think is going to be fascinating is when that then filters down to the small business, you know, you’ve got a, a tiny store with a single owner and they’re the only employee and they’re based in the outer edges of some city in Canada, and yet they’re selling to someone anywhere else in the world where they have a different language and how that is going to allow us, even as a global economy, to evolve and scale, I think, is going to be fascinating. I think language is one thing that’s not thought about as much as it should be, and I think the world is going to be pretty surprised when it becomes completely seamless. In terms of translation. I think it’s going to be so interesting to see, like, how lucky are we? We’re going to see that in our lifetime. What a time to be alive.
Andrew: What a difference. You know, what a what a difference from from our parents generation to us and from us to our children’s generation. Right? The difference is the world that they’ll grow up in and the things that they will just take for granted. Right, because it’s always been that way to them, will be so different than the way it was for us.
Octavian: We’ve talked about the impact of AI enhancements on small and large businesses and the difference in technology between different generations, but something different that we are now seeing is the clash in generations when going to work. With organizations urging to bring employees back to the office, but with tools like Cisco’s WebEx and Microsoft Teams, are we going to start seeing a major shift in years to come?
Andrew: I think that we’re seeing a difference. Number one, we’re seeing a difference in terms of the desire to return to work amongst the employee base by age. So older, more established employees are more than happy to work from home, right? Many of them. Right. Or go in once or twice a week. They’ve got their network set, they’ve got their communities set, they’re established in their jobs. And in their profession. Right. They’re doing fine. So the opportunity to not have to commute is to be able to spend more time at home with their families or their, you know, to take the dog out for a walk today, right. That’s attractive. Whereas we’re seeing that earlier in career people are much more interested in going back to work because they’re still building that network. And those connections now, where the disconnect of that is, is the early career people want and oftentimes need the mentoring from the mid or later in career people who. So you need to have some of those people in the office. That’s sort of one of the one of the disconnects here in the whole process. I understand companies wanting to have people in the office because they want those early in career people. Right? Those are the workers of today and the future. They want them in the office. They want them to be learning from from their, you know, elders in the workforce. There’s a certain amount also of management that is a bit old school, right, that thinks they you need to be in the office. They need to see you doing the work in order for you to be doing the work. Learn to be comfortable that you’re getting the work done. I think what’s important for companies to do like my $0.02 if I were a CEO of every company, I would figure out ways to make people want to come into the office a certain number of days. Right. I think it’s I think it’s a mistake to to take the draconian approach that I’m seeing some companies do where they’re demanding that people come into the office. Right. So I think it was the head of Oracle said, you know, if you don’t want to come into the office, then this is probably not the company for you. Right? With a translation of you’re going to be fired. Other companies have absolutely said you’re in the office three days a week or five days a week, or you’re fired. And sometimes half of- there’s one major tech company in the San Francisco Bay area. Half of the employees quit. Right? So that’s not good for the company, and it’s not good for the employees. And even if they don’t quit, they’re going to be a bit disgruntled. And you don’t want disgruntled employees like that’s bad for productivity. It’s bad for the company. So I think taking the hard line approach won’t fly right. I think it’ll be to the detriment of employees. I think it’ll be to the detriment of the company. I think taking an approach where companies provide reasons for people to show up, and that doesn’t have to be free food or other gimmicks like that. It’s reasons for community. So I think companies that provide that opportunity for community will find employees, young and not so young, wanting to return to the office to have that connection point. I think that’s the way to do it.
Greg: Have you seen murmurings or, you know, what’s your thoughts on a four day workweek? Because as you may have seen, that’s a topic that’s popping up here in Europe, in particular in a couple of countries. I just wondered if you’d seen it. Thought about it.
Andrew: Oh, yeah. It’s popping up out here too. So Cisco is has been piloting a four day workweek. I unfortunately have not been was not asked to be a part of that four day workweek pilot. So I don’t know how it’s going. A number of other companies have already moved to a four day workweek. It’ll be interesting to see where that movement goes. There’s a lot of data that shows employees are more productive. I think that it actually ties to the previous discussion, and I have no data to back this up. But my gut tells me companies, if they put a four day workweek in, employees might be more interested in going into the office during two or all of those four day workweeks, knowing that they get a full three day weekend or a weekend day off in the middle of the week, however they schedule it, you know, to get things done that they want to get, you know, etc.. So I think that I think those two elements return to work or return to office, I should say, and four day workweek might go hand in hand. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes and what the data starts to show about overall productivity levels.
Octavian: Thank you to everyone for listening. I’ve been Octavian and I hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion. Let us know what you think of the episode by carrying on the conversation on LinkedIn. This episode has been brought to you by ACF technologies global leaders in customer experience management solutions. Now let’s get into some quick fire questions.
Andrew: Hit me, hit me. Octavian.
Octavian: Your favorite pizza toppings. What would you have on your pizza?
Andrew: I would have I’ll tell you exactly what I’d have. Pepperoni, bell pepper, black olives, tomatoes. Um, that’s what I’d have. Kind of a vegetarian with pepperoni.
Greg: Do you have a favorite sport?
Octavian: You’ve mentioned that you’re going on a few holidays. Which one are you looking forward to the most?
Andrew: Romania going to Romania in a few weeks.
Octavian: Are you just saying that because of me?
Andrew: Of course. [laughs]
Andrew: No, I know, I’m excited. I’m going to Romania, I’m going to Bulgaria, I’m going to the Basque Country as well. So I’m excited about all of it. But Romania is the one that’s most fascinating to me because Transylvania, I grew up reading Dracula, and I’m not into the whole Dracula myth. I never watched The Vampire Diaries like none of that, but I’m excited. To me, it’s just so exotic and so other. So to go there is is it’s up there with me. Like when I went to Cambodia or when I went to Ethiopia, like it’s just so exotic. So Romania is what I’m looking forward to the most.
Octavian: Is beautiful there. I love it there.
Greg: One question I’d love to ask people is if you could interview anyone on a podcast, who would it be? Past or future or present, of course.
Andrew: Um, if it were future, it would be, uh, it would be my kids to ask them about their lives and with a particular focus on the impact that their father had on making them the person that they are.
Greg: That’s wicked. Yeah, that’s a good answer.