Conversation: Care @ Scale: It’s social, mobile + AI

By Craig Bromberg

When the history of telecommunications is written one day, two developments will stand above all others: the rise of mobile telephony and social media. Although we may take it for granted that social, local, and mobile technologies are as natural to our digital ecosystem as web browsers, in truth, many companies are just starting to adapt. In this interview, we spoke with tyntec’s Marco Lafrentz and Paul Michaud at Sprinklr, one of the world’s largest social media management platforms, to see how they’ve faced the challenges of helping enterprises adapt to the reality of constant change in the mobile and social ecosystem, whether it’s introducing their products, working with difficult platform and country environments, or helping end-users sort fakes from reality in the evolving realm of AI in customer care.

Q: In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore says that when an innovation is introduced to the market, it’s point solutions — discrete parts of a product that make the biggest impact — that actually get traction. Once the visionaries have bought in, you can eventually sell to the mainstream with “whole products.” Let me begin by asking, who are your champions?

Paul (Sprinklr): People who are passionate about moving their business forward, solving problems within large organizations, even if they only own one part of it. Typically a good champion becomes your internal advocate who says, “this worked for us and our business problem, now we want you to take a look.” Maybe it’s someone in marketing referring to someone in customer care. It’s not always obvious, no matter where you’re approaching the problem, care is highly connected to across the organization.

Marco (tyntec): It differs. When we talk to enterprise, it’s usually visionary product managers who are trying to figure out how to increase the value of their products while pushing the whole company forward. They need to de-risk CAPEX, to make a wise spending decisions. In the operator space, we deal with champions responsible for maintaining revenue streams — their challenge is to find new ways to stay profitable. Unlike with enterprise, there’s no focus on product managers, so we speak with both, and exchange knowledge from the champions in the operator world to the enterprise.

Q: Does Sprinklr have similar dynamics between publishers and platforms, between itself and Facebook and Twitter?

Paul: Absolutely. I’m dealing with that right now. One area I focus on is content marketing, in particular with customers in care solutions. They work in the operations side of the business and they’re looking for what’s known as “proactive content marketing” for customer care. Typically, in CX, you’ll see a flood of questions about a given issue at any single moment. The organization wants to be able to respond rapidly, provide more content so that people get their answers more rapidly. It’s a content marketing problem — but it exists in the customer care space. So my colleagues created a new care offering that’s more configurable, and gets me knowledge of the things I need to see the way I need to see them. That’s a very difficult problem to solve in software — building something that’s infinitely flexible and truly simple.

Q: What happens when publishers conflict with platforms, when Facebook or Google have analytics or campaign objectives that conflict with your customers’ needs, and dictate terms to you?

Paul: It’s a challenge. Since we are beholden to their APIs, if a certain advertising component isn’t available, that definitely can cause issues. We work with both customers and platforms, and always strengthening our relationships with them. When I was at Citi, we would get together in a room with Facebook and Sprinklr and say hey, “we must have this, this is crucial to our business and we need you to bring the parties together.” An enterprise can’t just pass around a cell phone internally. They need an enterprise platform such as Sprinklr to provide these capabilities.

Q: tyntec must have many similar types of challenges with operators and their declining revenues now that they find themselves in this new OTT world.

Marco: It’s also a challenge, and although we have people that know how to handle the issues, the problem is actually bigger, because we have to consider the local regulations that typically put restrictions on how telecommunications services have to be specifically designed in that country. It’s not the same globally.

If you’re a publisher like Facebook, it looks quite the same all around the globe. But behind the scenes, enterprises don’t have much bargaining power with operators. So we need to find the right way in each market to accommodate a common approach to communication. If somebody wants to drive two-way messaging through an app and they’re using a tyntec API for that, tyntec has to maintain that interface for the enterprise. But if that communication goes into operator B or C in a specific country, our entire platform has to adopt. We try to provide a default configuration, how to use APIs, services, etc., but sometimes there are limits and scenarios where we have to provide flexibility to the enterprise.

Q: I’m sure Sprinklr has to deal with some local peculiarities as well.

Paul: Definitely. Germany is one example with EU privacy laws. It definitely impacts us. We have to basically support different types of architecture and hosting, so we have localized hosting requirements for Europe. And while we don’t have any national Chinese clients, we frequently work with Chinese subsidiaries of our international clients. For example, Nike operates in China, so when we work with them, we have to change our approach there.

Q: Marco, tyntec has similar challenges because even though tyntec is based in Germany, it is one of three US inter-carrier vendors and a global messaging provider. How do you deal with the complexity of regulatory environments across the globe?

Marco: That’s a very good point. People seem to think global coverage is easy to get. But you not only need different technology solutions for different countries, you require third party services specific to that area. You might only be able to get a solution from a local provider because country-specific regulations limit or restrict access. We go on a country by country approach, which is how we scaled. But once you’re in a market, it’s really a question of customer experience, having a flexible product that you can adjust if and when the market changes.

Q: What fascinates me about tyntec is that its closeness to operators and ability to facilitate apps through text and SMS channels creates new opportunities for providing customer care. Is Sprinklr involved in that space as well?

Paul: Absolutely. We’re actually working with Twitter on this. When a customer has an issue, they really don’t want to switch channels. It’s all “solve this, right here, right now.” The challenge is you clearly do not want to have a conversation about your bank account in a public channel like Twitter. You have to make sure that it’s a private, and furthermore in a secure channel. Twitter may be private for DMs, but it’s not a secure channel. So we’re trying to innovate on ways to keep the consumer in the channel of their choice, and service them right then and there, providing faster responses and guiding customers through steps to solve their problem faster than a human.

Q: Marco, what’s your take on this change around customer support and customer experience?

Marco: In our industry, we used to call that Application to Person — A2P — but the private communication experience is exploding, and people have expectations and demands today that insist that enterprises behave the same way a person might in a Person to Person environment, P2P, like in social media and text messaging. People message on the channel they’re in to complain and then expect corporate to respond through that same channel, not thinking about the complexity that represents to the enterprise.

So, for us, if the end user has expectations that enterprises mimic the experience of private communications, then the quality level of corporate has to match the private communication space. Take text messaging, for example. tyntec expanded P2P to Application to Person because consumers’ expectations and experience in private communications has now become the standard. Now every communication has to meet that same experience level.

This is why all enterprises say they have to become digital. They need to push all communication channels to become omni-channel and find new ways to integrate public and private channels without the user recognizing it. We have to provide public channels as well as super secure channels, to correctly solve our security demands at an enterprise level.

Q: Are bots the principal device you see this happening through? Or, do you think that it’s too risky without the authentication capabilities and other security measures?

Marco: The trend to bots and AI is absolutely necessary. Think about your expectations in private communications. When you text someone, the person who’s responding knows the context. Now take that to enterprise scale. Either you have massive one to one support, which is not possible. Or you have intelligence in the background that gathers context so quickly that the reply is close to what the one to one support could potentially provide.

Q: Paul, do you think customers will miss the authenticity of human interaction?

Paul: Younger generations tend to be more open to it and familiar with it, so they adopt it. And that spreads quickly. I think that’s where we’re seeing a lot of it.

Security is already there. If you think about things like Alexa, we’re clearly becoming more used to AI and automated voice recognition systems. It’s only going to grow. And by the way I actually think here in the US, we may be a little behind what’s going on in Asia. They can literally do just about anything on their social networks — buying, messaging, receiving a discount, getting customer service, responding to a bot…It’s all wrapped up into the overall experience for them, and they’re very used to communicating in real time this way.

Q: Marco, tyntec is very involved in telecom pre-authentication with consumers. How deeply do you think it can expand into the marketing and IOT?

Marco: The more communication you put in channels, the more you will see an increase in fraud. Users doesn’t want to think about authentication or protecting their private channels. They want enterprise to protect their identity and phone number. You might not see it from the front end, but whenever you interact, the service authenticates you in the back end, invisibly. It’s a crucial factor in maintaining trust to end users.

For a long time, people couldn’t distinguish between spam and real email, now you have people trying to differentiate a satirical magazine article from actual news. If service providers and enterprises are not careful in doing correct authentication, they will have a problem that is going to be very cost intensive to resolve. Better to keep the channel clean right from the start and use authentication methods to be sure that trust does not get broken — especially in text messaging.