Communication Conundrum with Rich Weborg Soar Above Success Episode #13

What you will learn:

  • How automation can save you time and increase revenue
  • The importance of customer experience
  • How cloud communication can change your business
  • The importance of having an Omni-channel and multichannel strategy
  • The future of AI and where it’s at today
  • How to create a successful company in one day

Important links:

OneReach’s Website

Yury: Hello and welcome to the Soar Above Success Podcast, i’m your host Yury Vilk. I am very excited today we have a very special guest his name is Rich Weborg and is the CEO of One Reach. They use communication technology to improve relationships between people and businesses.

Rich has driven technology innovation for many startup companies over the last 20 years and is now using his experience in communication technologies and business management to make OneReach a leader in the cloud based communications industry.

Rich I am very excited to have you on the show. Thank you so much for being here and welcome to WP Soar about success.

Rich: Thank you for inviting me, I appreciate you taking some time.

Yury: Why don’t we start off with a little bit of background on OneReach and how did you get started with it?

Rich: OneReach is as you said cloud communication products. What we do is sell communication problems through businesses that want to interact with customers using common communication channels. Voice, text message, web chat. Set up these communication channels so if a customer wants to call them they can wrap a call directly into a business. Or offer self-service like a high end IBR experience.

One thing we are very proud of is masking capabilities we have. For your business if you want people to text you, that is something we believe is completely underutilized in most businesses, you can set up texting capabilities so people can text your business to get things like order status, get questions answered, chat with somebody live. Same thing for web is come of these other communication channels.

What we do is bundle these communication tools together, and put a very nice user experience on top of that. Anyone who is not technically a get an account, set up these interactive communication channels, which can be tied to their back end systems. This can be turned up in minutes to days.

Where we got our start to your question, the owners to this business had another business called Effective UI, which was all around high end research and design for web applications, mobile applications, and software development in general.

In the beginning our focus was user experience around software development. What we wanted to do was take some of those learning are around user experience and apply them to the communication channel.

We went from the user experience of software development to the user experience of communication channels. That is where we found some of our issues; if you have ever used a common IBR they are generally horrible. They can’t navigate well, or have to answer a bunch of questions that have to be answered again when it gets to an agent.

We saw a lot of problems in that industry, we saw customer experience in the software side and pushed it to the communication channels.

Yury: Yeah, let’s face it, customer experience seems like it’s the slowest evolving piece of technology that has ever plagued companies. It seems I use way too many forms of communication channels. Slack, Google hangouts, you name it just to get a simple message across, and don’t forget email.

That is such a logical avenue to go down, as it is a needed aspect in most businesses. You look at how people are communicating internally and externally you realize how horrendous and difficult it is just to get a small message across.

I love what you’re doing with the SMS technology, and agree 100% that it is terribly underutilized. For me text messaging is an efficient way to get my message across. We see it at two people communicating, as opposed to an organization.

An organization can utilize text messages too. How did you realize text messaging can be utilized for businesses, and how are you utilizing it now?

Rich: This is something I love to talk about, because we saw very early on that is it not only underutilized but also something that is being misused. I come from a time when we used SMS to deliver ringtones.

You would text to get the latest Riana ringtone, this was before the iPhone came out and completely ruined the business. At that time most people were using it for marketing, but no one was using it to answer a simple question like how much does your product cost, or how do I use a product a certain way?

What we thought we would do is expose it as a communication channel as opposed to a simple marketing channel. What we saw was we did some research back in 2014, over 64 % of people would prefer to text a business for operational stuff. Some examples would be change my password, what is my account balance, get simple help. What we saw was this channel is completely ignored and is to this day.

We have gone to conferences and asked companies if they can add SMS as contact center channel. Now what we’re seeing is really good traction in the contact center. They take a picture of their drill and send it to the agent.

The agent can look at it and say oh based on your drill type here are some manuals. This is all happening over SMS and nobody needs to make a phone call.  We have some large organizations doing that, we have Expedia, etc., that are exposing SMS as a channel.

A lot of smaller businesses, especially ones dealing with delivery and Uber where people want to text in and ask where their ride is. Even in the public sector we have DC, the city is implementing a 301-texting service based on our platform.

If you live in the city and you want to know the location of an office or tell that a stoplight is broken, you can do it over text message.

Yury: This is an amazing, does this hook into live chat systems at all? When a text message is sent to you does it appear as a live chat screen so any agent can respond to them?

Rich: When I say SMS as a support channel, this is something I tell everyone because it is really important. You can’t say, “I don’t support SMS” if you don’t do inbound, outbound communication with a live agent.

Part of a live agent can be a chat box, but the only difference is you can have someone on a bus texting with you. It has a very similar interface. It allows you to send pictures, and videos. A good user experience not only requires you to provide a good automated experience but a clean failover to a human.

You can only do that if you have an agent tool that a lot of people use in their contact centers today, or we integrate with an existing agent tool. There are a lot of web chat platforms out there as well. We can do the automation, the SMS stuff, and run the text messages to the existing agent tool so that we can send the messages to an existing one.

Yury: Now this kind of turn’s customer service on its head. I am sure this will get more popular and more utilized, but as we go through this, you’re taking that person who is a customer service rep who sits in an office from 9-5 answering queries. To someone who can have more freedom and flexibility and bring their work with them so they are no longer attached to a desk.  

All they need is a device, all they need is a smartphone to get going and respond to other customer’s queries. This is such a shift in the industry.

Rich: One of the interesting things about cloud communication is that is takes a contact center and changes what that means. A contact center has always been a big building filled with people, now a contact center is anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Our support guys have our app on their mobile phones. They can do text chat, phone calls, all over their mobile phones. They can be done with lunch answering customer queries and they don’t have to be at their desktop.

If I look at the automation as an example, they have sales guys running around all these different laws, using this tool as if it was a contact center tool. It allows for that personal communication, but also one that is governed by the organization so they can do reporting.

It is like a contact center that is distributed, and the people are on the move.

Yury: it is almost like what cloud funding was to investors. Now you’re seeing a cloud atmosphere to customer service. You can even implement a system where somebody get’s paid per response. You can have virtually an unlimited amount of people as long as they are educated on the product.

Especially the broader applications like Excel, or Office. Things that are on every device these days. By distributing the customer service among everyone, it elevates everybody at the same time. It allows for a more fluid and helpful society.

Rich: That is an interesting comment, because contact centers have always been in an old building with a bunch of desks, now you can spin up and down contact centers in minutes. We have Red Cross, who is one of our customers, and what they want to do in an emergency; they want to be able to spin up contact center services on the fly, staff it immediately to take all those inbound emergency calls.

This will allow them to communicate externally quickly. You used to need to have hardware to do this, now literally you just need a credit card and a website. You can set up a phone system with SMS enabled and be able to communicate to large groups of people.

Yury: On the other side of the coin too, SMS has gotten so prolific that even developing nations have that technology and that infrastructure necessary to provide that communication channel for their communities.

Rich: It’s really interesting because in Africa and South American countries they are actually ahead of us in how they use SMS. For some reason here in the US, maybe it is because it started as a marketing stepchild. We think SMS is for when you want to send marketing content.

Now people are like wait a minute I can do full on banking, or order a pizza over SMS. Then you have it mixed, SMS is a great channel. When you look at Facebook Messenger, and some of these other chat-bots, it’s really a combined strategy.

SMS makes sense a lot of the time because it’s always on, but a lot of people the transition between channels are very important to them. They can start with SMS; they can stay there if they like it. If not, they can move to Facebook, or voice call.

As long as you look at your communication strategy that way and track who is using what channels for what reasons. You can have a very good experience across your entire enterprise.

Yury: That is really the key there, you’re always on the move, and there is always a different channel for different applications. For example, for internal communications most technically these days are using Slack. They are trying to deprecate email across internal communication.

Email is used for external reach out, Slack is used for internal quick messaging, and then Skype is used for video conferencing. You have those three, and my challenge has been remembering where I put that message. Did I email it, Skype it, or Slack it.

I think where we are headed is creating that seamless transition between communication flows. It is no longer about get on this platform and hang out with me on Google Hangouts. It’s more about getting your message out fast, efficiently, and without a headache.

The major challenge over the past decade or so is that there have been so many different communication channels that have spun up. I have people who use Facebook messenger and that does not translate to Google chat.

Rich: The interesting thing is this term that people use, which is multi-channel. Multi-channel strategy, which has become Omni-Channel strategy. A multi-channel strategy is I am going to talk on a lot of different channels. An Omni-channel strategy is I know who you are, I don’t care what channel you come in.

As long as you have a centralized data store that can capture the data from the different channels. It can understand different channels and be smarter about interacting with people so you are not starting the conversation again in every channel you stand up.

That is a problem that we often get, where customer need to answer the same questions multiple times. It’s the same thing, if I start a conversation with you in Slack, and then I send you an email. Ideally you would know that I talked to you in Slack previously.

It’s harder for humans with one on one communication, but for a business. If you are capturing a lot of CRM data, and information on how you interact with them in the past, and things about them. This why when they communicate through a different channel they are opening the back door instead of the backdoor.

It does not matter, you still know who they are and still call them by name, it does not matter how they come through your business. I think that is still a challenge for sure. It is difficult for people to tie data together.

It’s the same with automation, when you start with automation, it has to be based off of what do you know about that person? If you start automation from a dummy perspective, “I don’t know who you are, please tell me who you are” then that is the worst automation ever.

It should be ok you have texted me before, called me before, have done something before. I know enough about you that you don’t need to start the conversation from scratch.

Yury: You’re picking up where you left off. You want to have a centralized profile or avatar for every single person who touches your organization. No matter how big or small the interaction was once that intersection was established you could reference that interaction no matter what channel.

That is huge insight for marketers, and the business itself. I can’t tell you how many times we have had customer service inquires where there is a trail but it’s all associated with one email account, and the customer has two. We did not realize we just wasted time doing the same query for the same person.  

That is an interesting challenge, how do you manage different types of profiles around the web, how do you collaborate on that with the different systems?

Rich: Unfortunately there is no silver bullet. One thing that we should all keep in mind that has changed over the last five years, is the availability of API’s though all platforms. Our product lays on top of a communication API’s so we can interact with products that already exist out there.

Our focus is the business layer, but we dip into these different API’s because they are available now. One of the ways that you tie these things together is find linkage and have one area that has all of that data. Even if you don’t there are a lot of good products out there that do this stuff for you.

That is one of the things I like right now, it is an API way. Give me some content and I will analyze it through the API way, which will help me to better service this customer.  It will also help me with linkage to see what they are doing in social, it provides better insight to what is going on.  

Yury: What a Win-Win that is. If you are hooking into another company’s API and feeding them data, they can only improve their systems. If you are improving Watson constantly, and this is a beautiful system by IBM.

Release the API to the public, and let them feed the data to Watson, and let Watson watch that data. On the other hand it gives you access to that capability. The machine is learning all that information, and you get to reap the reward of it  because you are participating and are integrated with that pool of users who are integrated with Watson.

You have decentralized all of the processing power, you don’t need to have this super computer anymore. I know back 30/40 years ago it was the size of a small office, but now we have computers everywhere.

If we distribute the computing power, I believe it was NASA who was trying to map the universe, and this was the very beginning of this crowd sourced technology.  They are using everybody’s extra processing power, and using that to increase the global utility of processes as a whole.

Rich: If you look where technology is going, this whole API economy they call it, is huge. The ability for anyone to start to establish credibility for their businesses. One example is I have a friend who has been doing this for a marketing content piece just to prove it.

He created a company from beginning to end in one day. He had a concept, he got himself a website, an email, a product he set up based off a couple API’s, he marketed it, and got his first customer in a day. He proved that based on all of the things that are available to you on the Internet today, and provide unique value as long as you find something that people are interested in.

We have taken advantage of that as a society, where we layer on top of each other’s successes, so we can also provide value and be successful. OneReach has done that quite a bit in the sense that we have the business logically where you can design these experiences.

For sending and receiving texts, voice calls, and all of that stuff we use a lot of existing infrastructures that are out there. It allows us to take things from people who do things better than us and take advantage of those.

As long as you’re good at managing partners, you can have a good ecosystems as it exists today.

Yury: That way it also takes the burden off your shoulders, you’re not relying on your entire dev. team on one part of a product, and you can have it a little dispersed and focus on what you want to focus on.  To comment on the business in a box concept, you’re absolutely right.

Speed to market is extremely important, with the online economy you don’t have to have any infrastructure whatsoever. I work out of my home office and we have already established ourselves within 6 months as a serious organization.

As opposed to 30/40 years ago when companies would take years to get traction, let alone get revenue and get even and start to make profits. The online economy especially plugging into other API’s and utilizing other services, you can get going and have a profitable company in a couple of weeks.

You can have a regular salary within a couple of months. That is very cool that you did that case study, and proved that model. A lot of people still have that mindset that you cannot make money on the Internet.

Rich you mentioned automation, and I am kind of obsessed with automation. I hate to put it this way, but it reduces the need to mundane human work. Humans are intelligent, were creative, and have complex thoughts. Why not allocate those resources to something higher level then copying and pasting into a spreadsheet.  

We can do more with automation, it will remove a lot of the mundane jobs, but it will allow us to elevate ourselves to higher levels of thought. What has OneReach done with automation and where is the future of it for you?

Rich: It’s interesting that you say that, because I have the same gut reaction. Why do something twice manually, if you are going to do something multiple times you can find easier ways to do it. Automation is what allows you to do that.

I will give you a 2 second history for us. When we first started OneReach one of the first major problems we were trying to solve for people was when a voice call comes in and something happens to that call, it has to get routed or it gets lost.

A lot of sales calls were getting lost. This concept of a simple IDR was not available to people.  When we started we wanted to create these visual design capabilities so anyone can choose how they want to manage these communications.

It’s IDR development, but it’s more then that. As we started to create this cloud based communication platform, we saw that automation plays a big role not only in helping the business, but helping the caller or texter perform some level of self-service.

We have done research and saw that the majority of people prefer to be self-served as opposed to having to talk to somebody. It’s more complex depending on the use case. Our goal was to create a automated communication solution that can be managed and configured by the business owner.

When we first started we created this visual designer, where you can manage phone calls, voice messages, web chats, and you can decide how that communication aspect got handled. When we showed this to shops 5 years ago they had no idea what to do with this.

Now we have a bot that has come out recently, everyone in the world wants a bot. I think bots are very similar to automation. They both provide a good customer experience that is clean and acceptable, and if it fails it gracefully drives you to a human.

In the beginning we focused completely on automation, because that was what we were all about. We then realized that the best user experience is a combination of automation and a human experience. How can you use automation to help people in the business become super powered.

How can you give them really good data at the right time, so even if they are talking with someone live, they say and do the right things. When we talk about automation we don’t talk about putting a wall up so that the customer can’t contact you anymore.

What we talk about is providing some graceful experiences that is helpful and useful and guides them in their task. If their task requires them to hand them off gently and in a nice way to an agent to finish the interaction then we do that.

When that happens the agent does not start from scratch again. Our focus will always be automation first as it makes sense, but it has to be mirrored with the right amount of human interaction. There are things that drive bad user experiences, so you have to combine those.

Yury: I’m sorry the number you reached is unavailable… I’m sorry… what! Or when you are trying to get a directory and you press 0, and the auto responder says I’m sorry your input was invalid. I can’t tell you how many flawed systems are out there.

There are times that I call in and they pull a record with a phone number that is not associated with the account.

Rich: Any communication tools today are almost always owned by the IT shop. The IT shop has a goal of cost reduction, they are not usually about user experience. When an organization establishes a C-level user experience person, or focuses on those communication channels from a user experience perspective then an IT perspective they do better.

That is one thing that we have been lucky at, if you want to sell a phone system you would talk to IT, and it never touched on user experience. We put user experience at the top of our conversation and IT get’s dragged into these conversations when these decisions are being made.

Most organizations want 2 things, they want to generate new revenue and they want to have good user experience. If you can get both of those things the IT will do it because those things have proven themselves out.

If you’re trying to sell to an IT person who is a cost center usually, they are trying to figure out how to reduce costs. People in charge of good user experience are okay spending more for a service to have happy customers who are customers longer. In the end they will generate more revenue from the experience they are providing their customers.

Yury: From all of my experiences with our customers it really does abide by the 80/20 rule. You have a lot of your revenue that is coming from repeat customers. That is because they have fun, interactive user experiences using your products.

If we look at Amazon as a model they are implementing huge automation into their warehousing. You look at the user experience when you order something on Amazon, it’s at my doorstep in two days regardless of how big the package is.

I ordered a 80 LB punching bag and this thing was delivered in two days, I saw the poor UPS driver dragging this 80 LB package up the ramp to get it over to my house. User experience is one of those afterthoughts, let’s get some business and revenue going and then we can improve on user experience?

If you look at it flat and not from a long-term perspective, if you look at numbers on a board, you don’t interpret user experience. Once you start to implement this and you have customers that are sticking with you, they will come back. Not only will they come back, but they will also refer their friends and family to you.

It is starting to be apparent for most organizations, especially tech companies. Most tech companies have a nice UI, they have clean easy to use websites, that is the modern way of operating as a tech business. You are going to drive people away if you do not have a good experience.

Rich: many people have looked at the web before, but not at communication channels.  We have seen some really good shifts. You need to have customer experience marketing experts understand that these channels are important. People text you, interact with you in some way that is one of the things we discuss with automation.

If you are building a bot, you have to have a strategy on how you build that bot. You want to know what the personality of your bot is, how does the bot expose itself externally and internally, what happens if my bot is stupid on a topic, all of these things are important to consider when designing automation.

The concept of a bot is no different than a IDR, in the end it is how does someone interact with a machine? It used to be very menu driven, now because of Watson and some of the other AI tools, were teaching software to talk how humans talk.

That is the new paradigm around communication technology, is saying okay software this is what I am looking for. I wake up in the morning with my kids and they ask me some geography question. I go Alexia what’s the blah blah blah.

That is how it will be in the future, you will just talk to it and you want it to be smart enough to understand you, or it will route you to a human to fulfill your needs.

Yury: were getting there and this is key, instead of looking at it from a menu perspective, were looking at it from a task perspective. I have an objective when I call an organization, I will keep calling until my objective is met.

I have seen some sophisticated platforms out there that can  go through all the steps, and you have no idea you’re talking with an AI. It is seamless and it leaves employees available for those creative tasks.  Going through all the options with the AI first is becoming more acceptable, especially with IBM Watson coming out.

I know we have spoken about a lot of different topics here, how have you integrated Watson into your company, what experiences are you drawing from that?

Rich: I think there is a fallacy here, when people think Watson, they picture this really smart thing that will answer all of your questions. It’s a technology with unstructured language to specific intents. If I say I am looking for a flight on Thursday from Boston to New York, it will think it looks like he is looking for a flight.

It derives meaning from an unstructured sentence. It is more natural language processing, then artificial intelligence as most people think. When people think of AI they think it will answer all of my questions and reach out to all the databases in the world.

You have to build that in, and you do that with data. You train it, and it is intelligent. The intelligence is that it can take a lot of data and crunch it really fast to get its meaning. When you use Watson or API AI, it’s really about determining the intent of the person interacting with you.

Based on the communication they derive the intent, and use that intent to drive some action. That is what a lot of people do not understand these AI tools are just deriving meaning from human speech. You then have to do something with that meaning, you have to have a process in place to take that meaning and execute on it.

For us that are what we do, we are the execution side of this. We expose these AI tools, to figure out what is being asked. Based on this data we are able to determine if they are trying to book a flight, or order a pizza.

What our system does is execute. It goes here is the data, here is how we integrate that back to the system. We call Watson again for other things, but in the end you are using these tools to interface with a human.

Think of it like that versus them being magical beings that live in the computer somewhere. It is funny because people really think that. I went to a  user group, and I had to clarify with the team that all they are doing is analyzing what they are seeing and getting data back.

It does not do anything magical. You have to as a designer think about what the bot can do based on what the information is. It is a new way to interface with a human, that is really what Watson gives you. It is all about deriving meaning from its environment.

It will then tell you what it thinks it sees, or the level of probability.

Yury: That is beautiful. It will take lines of data compress it and spit out something that is accurate to what you’re requesting. That is what the human brain does too, we access all of our memories and try to figure out what the person wants.

Machines are getting there and have a fluid dynamic nature to their responses. That is where the future of AI is headed. It will be seamless to communicate with these interfaces, it will not be so rigid and machine like.  

Rich: In the past, it was how do you make humans talk like a machine? Now, it’s how do you make a machine talk like a human. You’re right, I don’t want to downplay the complexity. Understanding human speech and interactions is huge.  

The problem is that it does not derive execution. Someone somehow still has to go okay based on the information what do you want me to actually do. That is where the software developers take this grey product set that the AI gives you, and figures out based on the intent what is the next step.

We use Visual Designer to do that, but a lot of organizations they may hard code it. In the end that is the goal, to change the interface between humans and machines.

Yury: I am looking at some of the product offerings you have, there is quite a lot of the personal assistant style stuff in there. That is really neat, I would love to have someone schedule my calendar for me.  

I don’t need a full time virtual assistant, the machine can handle it and do it gracefully and at times more efficiently. You will notice with Gmail recently if someone add’s a date, it will ask you if you want to add it to your calendar.

Rich: How smart is that? Microsoft does that too, if you talk about attaching a file but did not attach a file it will tell you that you didn’t attach the file. That is just smart design, it is trying to figure out how humans communicate and then figuring out what to do about it.

When we talk about automation that is the first thing you need to do is figure out intent.

Yury: Rich, we are getting pretty close to time here, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show here today. I love what you guys are doing, I love the fact that you are getting more involved with AI, and that you are creating something useful for the population.

This is a very graceful way to integrate these automation technologies, and have them all speaking together.  Before you go, where do you see the future of OneReach and where can we find more information on One Reach.

Rich: Our focus has always been around the user experience of communication and that’s not going to change. I think some of the big areas we will get into are layering AI for the common man.

One of the things we talk about is how Watson is great to do this stuff, but what does that mean to Joe Bakery down the street. These capabilities can be tied into our system and get exposed as unique nuggets.

That way if I have a pizza ordering system that is set up for company A, everyone who wants pizza ordering can now have a AI pizza ordering system. You don’t have to get developers involved. Literally, it’s vertical based knowledge.

You did a good job when you explained this, when you talk about how Watson is smart because they are getting all of this content though all of these different engagements. We can take advantage of that too.

We stand up one pizza app that is then plug and play for everyone else. That areas that you’re going to see is not just exposing more channels, which will always happen. Providing intelligence on how people communicate between channels, and making that easier for organizations to do.

Everyone talks about the Omni channel, it is still hard to stitch them together. We have a lot of large clients coming to us saying they want to add text,  how do I do that?

Standing up a channel is something we are becoming experts in, but what organizations really need to do is have a strategy that is driven on a common data set. Then back it up on a tool that can analyze that.

No matter how you communicate you have content rich experiences so they know where you left off. Our goal as an organization is going to be driving self-serve communication with a higher level of user experience.

Driven by these new technologies, so if you are an organization and want to turn on a communication strategy for your business. If you don’t have a developer you should be able to say I have these 5 things and basically design it yourself.

You feel like a big business, you can manage your communications much better that is still our strategy.

Yury: Though that self-serve you are going to empower those small to medium businesses to start to feel like that large organization. It is seamless and works beautifully.

Rich: We started on the small business, we were a small business and felt small businesses should not have to suffer. You don’t have to be an American Express in order to have a good experience. Our focus was how do we make this available.

The funny thing is, everything I just said is relevant and even more relevant to the enterprise.  Even though we were targeting small businesses, but this would attract those large businesses.

Next thing you know they are exposing these concepts that we focus on for user experience. We do this for small businesses because we believe it and think  we have been there and want to be able to help them.

We also know this goes up the stack quite a bit to the enterprise.

Yury: If there is an opportunity for the enterprise to reduce their costs, why not? That will just increase their revenue, and that is what every corporation is after.

Rich: We call it the Communication Conundrum. How do I have better user experience with reduced cost? You do that though the right tools, though the right infrastructure, and people that is something we have always focused on.

Yury: that is great! Just to confirm Rich, your website is www.oneraech.com, you can just type OneReach into Google.

Rich: Yes, onereach.com, you can also reach us on the contact center we show up there too. Call  or text us and we will be happy to talk to you.

 

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