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Retention is Growth: Enhancing the Customer Experience using AI, with Jessica Gilmartin [Episode 1134]

In this episode, Howard and Alastair are once again joined by Jessica Gilmartin, CMO at Calendly, to delve into the disruptive impact of AI on customer engagement and marketing. They explore how AI tools are transforming Customer Support, providing a more efficient and personalized experience. They also discuss the importance of data-driven strategies to optimize customer interactions and retention for long-term growth.

Podcast Transcript:

Speaker 1: Everybody is talking about his impact on marketing. I actually think he is having a more immediate and disruptive impact on customer work. Yeah. Welcome back, everybody, to this week’s Sales Strategy and Enablement podcast. I’m Alyssa Wilcox. Cicero here ad revenue IO joined by my infamous co-host Howard Brown, three-time founder, successful CEO, and all things revenue science and a pioneer in AI.

Speaker 2: We are thrilled to have back with us a special guest, Jessica Gilmartin, who is CMO, excellently former head of revenue marketing with Asana, now comes from Wharton School of Marketing Strategy. Jessica, you have a fantastic background of building companies in all stages of growth. We’re really looking forward to picking your brain here today. Thanks for joining us.

Speaker 3: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 1: Now, we always love to start with News of the Week. And there was a really interesting piece that came in around customer engagement, and this was actually a Forbes article and it was titled “What Companies Should Know About Automating Customer Engagement.” And I see a lot going on in that because of what’s happening with AI, what’s going on different areas.

Speaker 1: And, you know, and I think there’s just a bit of a move to go, Hey, can we just get some things out the door essentially, but a more read a piece of it from that article and then yours and Howard’s thoughts there. They said that acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive.

Speaker 1: We’ve all lived that. We agree. I think that’s fine. And that’s so it’s more expensive to acquire than to retain. But according to Harvard Business Review, 60% of American consumers will switch brands because of poor customer service. Again, I kind of go, I don’t know that any that’s particularly provocative. But now that you are now seeing a massive push towards automation of customer engagement, automation of how we’re marketing to them, and that is in some ways needed to drive consistency.

Speaker 2: How do we maintain trust and efficacy of the brand? The story and frankly, the conversation engagement itself as we move towards this world of automation Thoughts?

Speaker 3: Yeah, I actually find it so interesting because everybody is talking about AI’s impact on marketing. I actually think AI is having a more immediate and disruptive impact on customer work and we are seeing that with our team and they are using AI tools incredibly effectively.

Speaker 3: And this is one area we spent a lot of time before talked to you about how, you know, I’m a little bit concerned about AI’s impact on the creativity marketing. I actually am 180 degrees when I think about AI’s impact on customer support because customer support is all about creating a repeatable and predictable and efficient engagement in interaction with your customers.

Speaker 3: And I think AI is an amazing enabler of that. And so I’m incredibly excited about the use of automation for reducing time to respond to customers because you have this database and it’s full of information. It also reduces the variability of lots of different human beings trying to figure out answers because it’s all there. We use a ton of different tools.

Speaker 3: You know, we’ve implemented chat on our website and we have very, very sophisticated rules now around how do people get to the right person at the right time so that, you know, somebody doesn’t submit a request and then two weeks later they get a response or they get ping pong back and forth. You know, we’re able to say, okay, this person is a small business who’s looking to buy tally.

Speaker 3: We’re going to get you to the right person right away where you’re a large customer looking to buy, call me, We’re going to get you the right person or your existing customer who has an issue. We’re going to get you the right person right away. I am incredibly excited about the possibilities there, and I think it’s only going to get better and better and it is all about a customer.

Speaker 3: Experience is all about using automation not to reduce costs, but to provide a better long-term customer experience. I would say, look, you’re going to get both, right? If you’re able to root cause route inbound to the right person to deal with a situation, then you’re going to reduce costs because the amount of frustration that a consumer has and trying to find the right person to the point where most of them give up after a period of time, like I no longer want to explain my situation when I get on the phone, when I talk to a company that I’m doing business with, or even a company that’s reached out, yeah, they should know about me. They’ve collected enough data on me. They should know what products I use. They should know how much I use the product. They should know what errors I’m running into.

Speaker 3: I’m not sure on the support side how much I actually need to talk to a human being because to your point, it needs to be repeatable and a lot of the information as it relates to supporting a product or service is fairly binary.

Speaker 3: Like ask me a bunch of questions, do I need to be asked the question? Say, have you and your log already know what I’m doing with the product? What kind of errors? Like give me very specific quick next steps to help me drive more productivity, a better user experience if I don’t have to go through, a bunch of people don’t understand me and I have to escalate to a supervisor and they have to look through, you know, their fact sheets and all that.

Speaker 3: No, this is a perfect example of where a language model can learn all your documentation and all of your products issues, you know, and generate responses in real time to help the customer. I think customers want it is a magical experience when you can get your problem solved without having to talk to somebody. So I think I agree with you that ultimately it will reduce costs, but I think if you create the tools with the sole purpose of cost, it’s going to look very different than if you create the tools and processes with the intention of increasing revenue and providing a better customer experience.

Speaker 3: That’s what we’re doing. And I think it’s I think it’s really phenomenal. I’m super excited about it. And for me and I think Alyssa, I think all of us, if we don’t place the customer and their experience at the center of everything we do that it’s not going to work anymore. Where businesses today are differentiating themselves based on the experiences that their buyers and customers have.

Speaker 3: So every initiative should start there. That’s the North Star and build from that. So I agree with you 100%. It reduces buyer friction. And I think when I think through buyer experiences, especially in B2B or B2B, to see how are we reducing the friction for the buyer. Yeah, if I have a chatbot, how do I actually make it not just a generic chap up?

Speaker 3: Those are quickly going away, but now build a large language model behind those that is specific to me that are going to give them the information that is relevant and helpful to support whatever the buy and stage is. I would even ask you both, is it unfair expectation to say every company in the future should allow people to clearly interact and have a full-blown pricing conversation before ever talking with somebody?

Speaker 1: I would say it depends. I mean, I think the interesting thing, and we know this and you certainly know this, is that pretty much every single one of our customers, a huge amount of research before they talk to a salesperson. And so my job in marketing is to make sure that I have put out as much information as I possibly can, but not too much information so that people can make an informed decision.

Speaker 1: Pricing is one of those things that I think is a little bit more challenging because it is so nuanced and because so much of the price is tied to value. And that’s obviously the huge value of a salesperson, is that you want to be able to understand when I give you a price for something, what is the value that you’re going to get from it?

Speaker 1: So, you know, I love having so these transparent pricing decisions for more complicated and more enterprise type sales because it has to be tied to the value of your organization. And hopefully, we are also creating opportunities to understand how do we make sure that this is the appropriate product for your organization, because most companies like ours have lots of different products and lots of different ways that we sell.

Speaker 1: So I think to me is about the right amount of information and really, again, focus on what does the customer need to make the right decision for them. So much to unpack there. Jessica. So first of all, the idea that buyers do a ton of research before having the conversation, what’s critical there is the content that you develop, the marketing.

Speaker 1: The messaging is really the conversation that you want your buyers or customers to have with your company prior to actually talking to a human being. So if we craft our content, our buyer’s journey based on real conversations that they’re having with our product or brand, that is like core focus for most should be for most marketing people today, right?

Speaker 1: How do I make sure they’re having the right conversation with our product, with our team, with our company before talking to a human being? Amazing. I was talking to a friend last week and I was talking about calendar in particular, and we were talking about the replacement of human beings and calendar. Lee was actually brought up as an example of something that completely disrupted an entire role within most organizations, which is a lot of organizations had admins or executive admins that their entire job was to help people schedule.

Speaker 1: So here’s an example of a I’m not going to call it AI, but a technology that really displaced a lot of workers or caused them to have to find other skills. So in the same way as you’re looking at generative AI and all of these new technologies, calendar, Lee was literally one of those technologies you could point to and say, we had an EAA for our executive team.

Speaker 1: Her entire job or his entire job or that job was to get no longer need it, complete as it better. Yes. Yeah, that’s the key. That’s a better remedy. But that I think it’s that same thing. We need to be open-minded because there are jobs, that there will be people who are replaced. And I agree with you, figuring out what roles is going to be critical.

Speaker 1: Some people will say, you can never replace my EAA because that person does so much more and that’s because that person has a great. Yeah, but if you have a just a B, just somebody who’s not that fabulous technology will replace you. And I have a I have an EAA, I had looked at a sonnet too, and they do interesting.

Speaker 1: More higher-level things. Right? So I’m sure they’re happy to not spend their day just scheduling and they get to do things that are more creative and more value add to the organization. So it’s a win-win. The role has been completely redefined in many ways and expectations. Jessica, as you’ve been through Asana can lead, you know, and other firms as well.

Speaker 1: What I want to keep in and what you just said there was you kind of lit up as Howard was talking to, how it was a better experience in the case of the calendar piece. Right. This is a good tactical example, but as you think of and you’re, you know, talking to other companies, we’re thinking about that. How do we actually measure and quantify better?

Speaker 1: Is it because I think there’s a lot of things happening here where we’re automate processes and yes, automation is great, it can improve speed, but how do we measure the better? Because you think of an idea, somebody comes to say, Hey, Jessica, I want to automate X, How do you factor in the better quotient into that? It’s a great question.

Speaker 1: I think it’s very quantitative as well as qualitative. So I would be very nervous. Someone wants to just look at numbers and say, well, we saw a higher click-through rate, we saw a higher response rate, we saw higher revenue. Those are all things that I would absolutely look at and I think for me, the better customer experience is measured by our customers engaging with our content more and are they taking more action.

Speaker 2: So if we are sending them a different type of personalized email or if we are engaging with them in a different way, are they taking the action that we wanted? Did you have to define that in advance? So are they clicking more? Are they engaging more? Are they spending more time on our website or are they spending more time in our content?

Speaker 3: Are they contacting sales more? They signing up more? These are very quantitative things that we should all be looking at, and a better customer experience should always lead to more revenue. So if it’s a better customer experience, it doesn’t lead to revenue, then it’s probably not the right business quality. That is also really important. So, for example, when we launched our chatbot, my head of growth marketing actually went through all of the chats.

Speaker 3: I mean hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of chats to see what that experience looked like. And he realized that, you know, yes, it was more efficient, but there were people that were very frustrated by some of the cycles that they had to go into. And so it was a great indicator that we had to actually make some changes.

Speaker 3: So to me, it is always about, you know, maybe because I come from startups, to me, when you’re doing this kind of 0 to 1, it’s not about getting to scale quickly. I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make. Is that they kind of want to skip all of the hard stuff and go straight to the scale, but it really is about deeply understanding the customer in a qualitative way.

Speaker 3: Just give you another example. When my product marketing team puts out a new sales deck, they will actually listen to hundreds of customer calls with our salespeople and they will then sort of say, Hey, these are the good, these are the bad, these are the ways that we have to adjust it. That is not typically what we see in marketing, but that’s the way that you understand customers, that’s the way that you understand what the processes are working or not.

Speaker 3: And then you keep doing that until you have said, okay, we haven’t learned anything more qualitatively. This is the time that we can scale it. I think this scale-up piece is bang on in terms of yet again to build and get your fundamentals right. Otherwise, you’re going to be fraught with traps. And what ends up happening is you literally just stall is what happens.

Speaker 3: You hit this piece, you stall it because you didn’t get fundamentals right? Yes. What are you thinking about there? I want to read you both something as well. And I get credit here to Jen Allen, if you’re not familiar. Jen Allen. Jen Allen used to work a challenger sales fantastic thought leader in that space on on those areas and she drew an analogy this week to Shopify is that a Shopify is putting a price tag on internal meetings and anyway Howard, I think of you and I and probably anybody that’s been in leadership sits there and has had the experience of why do I have all these people from my company in this meeting right now, the cost of it is, what are we doing? She went on to say, Could somebody invent something that calculates the price tag of our prospects’ TIME?

Speaker 3: Yeah, so we go automate and engage everything, you know. So are you. And she says we read what she quotes. She goes, Are you sure you want to blindly ask this? So when they’re available for a quick 15 minute to share their priorities because after 15 meetings and it cost 1500 dollars, if you had to make the ask, do you think you want to actually maybe do a tad bit of research on that person before you book it? And I think of like even in this age of your technology, we’re automating and which is great, when can I get to somebody?

Speaker 3: Here’s when we can. But, you know, going back to what we discussed previously, at what point do we actually hold up the standard, say, for all the automation to actually get us together? What are we doing to actually make sure it’s instant effective conversation and use of time? Because imagine we could get to a world where we actually sort of saying to vendors, we’ll meet all day long, but there’s a chargeback for every vendor meeting that comes off of how much you charge me for the product.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I actually have a very funny story. So when I was at a small company called Piazza and I was the first salesperson there, I came in as a marketing lead and it turns out they needed a salesperson. So I became a salesperson and I and all the conventional wisdom that everybody told me was that the first thing that I had to do on phone call, the first phone call was Discovery.

Speaker 1: That was a common wisdom. And everybody told me how to do it. So we had this this amazing meeting that we finally got with some senior folks from a huge credit card company and the 30 minutes was all about discovery. Ask them all the questions that everybody told me to ask. And then I was very proud of myself.

Speaker 1: And then I reached out to them to have another meeting and they never responded. And so that was the first and only discovery meeting that I ever did. And I said, You know what? What I have to do is on these phone calls, I have to provide value. And so I did my own research beforehand as I figured out what they wanted and what I guess they needed.

Speaker 1: And then every other phone call immediate was like, Hey, this is my guess is what you’re looking for. Great, great. This is the value we can provide. So I am 100% with you on that. And like it is our job to make the customer’s experience with us as frictionless as possible. It’s not their job to give us the information that we need.

Speaker 1: It’s our job to figure it out. And there are so many tools out there now that allow us to do that and shame on us for not using it. And Howard, I want to throw this back to you is where we started this customer engagement did this. 60% of people leave brands when they have poor service or poor that I think most people embrace exactly what Jessica just said, but we tend to only think of it when we’re trying to get a customer.

Speaker 1: I don’t think we actually do enough of that once we have a customer. And when you think of engagement and I think of customer engagement, I think of all the automation growth right now and it’s always been true. Is it a come from the base more than it’s ever come from for new for any companies, How do you make it?

Speaker 1: That is the most perfect, awesome augmented and automated customer engagement, but more intelligent, more personal, more trustworthy? Well, I think Jessica mentioned something that’s hugely important. As you know, we study conversations, we study engagement and making sure that every engagement that a prospect or a buyer or a current customer has is optimized for a great experience. Right? And you do that by learning what a great experience sounds and feels like and obsessing on that.

Speaker 1: And if you don’t use the data that you have from your marketing team, your sales team, your customer success and support team to provide that incredible experience for your customers, you’re going to miss the mark With the end of the day, we all are collecting all of this information. That’s the whole rev ops, right? It’s the idea that you have this siloed data all over the place.

Speaker 1: How do you use that data? How do you use that experience to, you know, create a lot of aha moments for your customers, create a lot more value out of their utilization of your product or service? Because we all know hopefully what our customers are using and what they’re not using. We can hopefully equate what they’re not using to value that they’re missing.

Speaker 1: Let’s spend time teaching them how to get the most out of our product and service to deliver that great experience for them, because we all build tons of features, right? Like there’s features everywhere. We need to focus on. Again, what is the user story, What is the value that we can deliver for this customer? Obsess on that. Take all the data you have on your customers, on their utilization, what great looks like and apply that I think is amazing.

Speaker 1: And I think that is also one of the guiding principles of get your data right and organize on that. And I hate to be on a not so fun area of it, but Howard, you’re bang on. If we’re going to change behavior, we’re going to drive all of that. You have to get your basic data architectures correct. That’s right.

Speaker 1: And that’s a data strategy. You need data dictionaries, you need all of those things. You got to feed it into the marketing teams. And frankly, that’s where rev ops comes in. Jessica, your final thoughts there on the, you know, this engagement and idea of not just the new but the post side of it and everything on that area?

Speaker 1: Yeah, my fantastic head of customer support says this We joke we’re going to get her a hat and a shirt that says this, which is retention is growth. Well, and I and I couldn’t agree more. And it’s something that we spent a lot of time thinking about. And it’s actually what’s interesting to me is how few marketing teams focus on the post customer experience.

Speaker 1: And they’re like, okay, well, once it’s a customer, that’s customer support’s job. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong. And I’m really excited about my team’s focus, which is not just about new customers, but it’s about supporting our existing customers and making sure that they have a great experience to stay with us for, for many, many years. And all of it is about data and it’s so incredibly hard to marry all of the different ways that we hold customer data, whether that’s in our support system, our sales systems, our marketing systems, our product systems.

Speaker 1: And so that I could not agree more that it is about having a really great system of record and creating opportunities for everybody within the organization to understand how we all contribute to customer retention. On that note, I love it. I think it’s a great point to end on here. Jessica, thanks for all that advice. But before we let you go, you know, we always follow up with we got to add some levity to these heavy conversations.

Speaker 1: So we got our three trivia facts that we built around this time. Customer engagement ones true. Two are not. You got to pick the right one. Ready? I’m ready. All right. Here we go. According to a recent article, businesses using AI for Digital Engagement should expect a 25% improvement in customer satisfaction, revenue and cost reductions through 2023. Now, is it in that businesses also using this are driving digital commerce up an additional 50% due to that improvement in customer satisfaction, making it as sticky and as hot as the latest high in 57 catch up.

Speaker 1: Number two, A.I. has proven to increase customer engagement rates by three quarters 75%, making it more effective than a double espresso on a Monday morning. To get your team going. Number three, the advancements in AI can now predict customer engagement trends more than 24 months out, with an 80% accuracy on what buyers are going to want next. Making more reliable of a predictor about tomorrow’s news than the weather forecast we currently have.

Speaker 1: Okay. I’m going to go for A again. I think there’s a trend here. You are two for two in two episodes. It grew, I mean, 100% here. Want to rock it for the first time we’ve ever had somebody knock the ball out of the park. You really haven’t bought. Couldn’t get that. That’s so we wouldn’t love it. Jessica and Ed being great, thank you so much for joining Howard and me.

Speaker 1: Thank you. Jessica. Really, really great to meet you. Thank you so much.