As part of our new CEO interview series, we met Mike Iacobucci of Interactions LLC.
Tell Us About Your History With Interactions
Mike joined Interactions as CEO in December 2008, having just worked on a successful deal that involved selling translation technology firm SDL to a UK-based company. But Interactions was very different then to how it is now.
“When I started, it was a very small company and was very much in the experimental stages at that point, working with exciting prototypes.”
“In fact, in 2008, Interactions only had 23 staff members, but now, while we are still privately owned, we’ve grown the team to over 400 and raised quite a sum of money from private equity, totaling$163 million.”
“We had a couple of notable customers in year one that are still customers to this day. The learnings from these first few customers and the relationships we built have really helped to build the company and put us on a path to being a disruptive force in a huge and growing market.”
What Do You Think Has Driven Your Company’s Success?
Mike makes the point that not many contact centre technology companies can raise over $100 million and can claim to have an annual growth rate of over 50%. So, what does he think has driven that?
“Part of why we’ve been successful is that we’ve built the whole business model around customer success. The way our model works is ‘we’re only paid if our customers are successful’.”
The entire fabric of our business is around this idea of customer success. We like to call this a “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” business model.
“The entire fabric of our business is around this idea of customer success. We like to call this a ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ business model.”
“This is something that we changed in the early days of our business, as we were previously making claims that were unheard of within the industry. While our technology could very much do these things, many of our prospect customers did not believe that was possible.”
As well as implementing this model, Mike says that the success of Interactions is also down to the “culture the team have created, marketing messaging and positioning as well as great advances in technology, technology differentiation and making strategic acquisitions.”
How Is the Contact Centre Industry Changing?
It would be easy for a CEO of a large technology company to stress how much contact centres are moving forward, but Mike acknowledges that only in some areas is the industry REALLY changing.
“Some things have changed tremendously, like the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) movement, but on the other hand there are things that haven’t changed at all.”
Companies who focus on experience save money, while still making it better for the customers.
“There are still companies that are using simple speech-based systems as a front-end to their customer operations and it amazes me how much there is still left to transform in that market.”
“Also, more companies are beginning to pay more attention to the customer experience, with many even appointing a CXO (Customer Experience Officer). This is a change from focusing solely on saving money for the enterprise to putting more emphasis on the customer experience. In the end, companies who focus on experience save money, while still making it better for the customers.”
What Do Your Customers Tell You Are Their Greatest Challenges?
The challenges that contact centres are facing don’t seem to be changing greatly, but the solutions to them certainly are.
“All companies want to save money, while focusing on finding different ways to communicate with their customers to suit their best interests.”
“One of the ways that contact centres typically try to save money is by lowering contact volumes, and chatbots were an excellent example of one way that was supposed to do this. But this strategy just hasn’t worked well.”
“So, contact centres are looking to find other ways to lower contact volumes, and customers have turned to us to automate activities that, prior to us, were actually handled by live agents.”
“By automating simple functions and queries, the contact centre can then focus agent time on the other calls that hold the greatest value.”
What Does the Future Look Like for Artificial Intelligence?
Partly due to the overhyping of AI in certain businesses, Mike predicts that the contact centre industry is heading into an “AI Winter”.
“There will be an ‘AI Winter’ because AI as a capability is one thing and AI as a solution is something completely different. In other words, there are too many companies that brand AI as a concept rather than something of real value.”
We’ve had that conversation amongst ourselves at Interactions of not getting on the AI bandwagon and staying focused on delivering real value.
“I think that we are seeing many AI and chatbot companies failing to deliver on their promises. We’ve had that conversation amongst ourselves at Interactions of not getting on the AI bandwagon and staying focused on delivering real value.”
Much of this real value comes from Interactions’ acquisition in December 2014 of a business unit from AT&T Watson, not to be confused with IBM Watson. This acquisition allowed Interactions to merge their technology with the machine learning capabilities of AT&T Watson, to provide the best solutions to their customers.
What Has Been the Best Contact Centre That You Have Recently Visited?
Having successful relationships with many large companies around the world, Mike has visited many great contact centres, but one in particular sticks in Mike’s mind.
“We always point to Hyatt (the worldwide hotel chain) as a great use case for integrating Interactions’ solutions into the call centre operation and creating ‘hybrid advisors’.”
“Hyatt’s human advisors were empowered by our technology to be able to handle the more challenging aspects of their role, while the technology takes care of the more menial responsibilities.”
“This technology, our Intelligent Virtual Assistant, was able to take over a number of key responsibilities. This includes stuff like automating part of the reservation process, automating the guest feedback process and transferring callers to the most appropriate advisor.”
Follow the link to find out more about Interactions’ successful partnership with Hyatt: Hyatt Saves $4.4 Million with Conversational Reservations Application
If There Was One Piece of Advice That You Could Give Our Readers, What Would That Be?
In the industry, there are a lot of companies out there making claims they just can’t deliver on.
“Be careful with the move to digital. While this is an important technological shift in the industry, there are a lot of companies out there making claims that they just can’t deliver on.”
“I’d say that if you’re sincere about your customer experience, you really have to be transformative in the way that you do things and not expect to take the existing tools and tweak them. Customers are impatient and are increasingly demanding more efficient service.”
“So, I think it’s time for the really great companies to care more about NPS (Net Promoter Score) and CSat (Customer Satisfaction) and so on. It’s time to do something really different.”
“My piece of advice would be to stand behind your commitment to change and improve the customer experience.”
Mike’s final piece of advice comes with a warning – be careful and really think about what certain technology companies are promising you, because it might not be achievable.
Thanks to Mike Iacobucci for sharing these insights!