BizTech BizTech Podcasts

87. Unleashing CX Excellence: Journey into the Omni-Channel World. With 8×8 CTO Bryan Martin

September 20, 2023

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Tune in today and catch the Chief Technology Officer, Brian Martin, of 8×8 as our special guest! Bryan talks about his history starting at 8×8 early on and the roles he’s had at the company. Bryan gives killer tips around not only the 8×8 tech stack but more importantly some incredible tips for discovery meetings with customers and prospects and things people often overlook that help them close deal after deal! There are too many golden nuggets to list, so don’t miss this one!

Welcome to the podcast that’s designed to fuel your success in selling technology solutions. I’m your host, Josh Lupresto SVP of Sales Engineering at Telarus and this is Next Level BizTech.

Hey, everybody, welcome back to another series on CX. Today we’re talking about how to unleash CX excellence, and we’re journeying into the omnichannel world.

Today, though, special guest, longtime Chief Technology Officer of 8×8,Bryan Martin.Bryan welcome. Josh, thanks. Great talking to you again.

So,Bryan as we kind of kick this thing off, I always love to hear the origin story, everybody’s personal journey. Tell us about, have you always been in technology? Did you start out washing cars and said I don’t like that anymore? How did you get here? Yeah, no, I started out at Taco Bell to be perfectly transparent. But in college, I was torn between, I’d always done music through, you know, my high school years was in a rock band, was a classically trained guitarist, but loved engineering. My dad was a mechanical engineer and worked for IBM and could bring home IBM, you know, what was then not a PC, but on weekends, I got to play, you know, text-based Star Trek on that. But got to school in college and was overwhelmed by the musical talent around me. So I thought, I better keep my day job and get trained as an engineer. So, joined up here at 8×8, right out of school. First became CTO of the company back in 95 when we were a kind of vendor of these technologies to people like, you know, Lucent was our largest customer, British Telecom, a bunch of the service providers and equipment manufacturers.

The dot com bust hit, Lucent went in one year from being our largest customer to our smallest customer. And I became CEO of the company as we tried to pivot into the service provider business and relaunch the company as a service provider in 2002. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since. So that’s the story. Love it. Love it. So I want to get into what your flavor and what you think CX is in 2023, but maybe just for anybody that is not familiar with 8×8, give us a real quick run of the land. Who are you? What’s your focus and kind of what’s going on over there? Yeah, so company is publicly traded. We’re named after the basic building block of video compression. So we actually did video before voice. So it’s 8 pixel by 8 pixel blocks that back in the day today, if we named ourselves to be 1×2 because the precision of video compression has come way down as compute power has gone way up. But, you know, 20 plus year provider of business unified communications. That’s where we got our start. We started selling contact center in 2011. So we’re now a 12 year veteran in the contact center space. We started in inbound voice. And that’s still what we’re known for in contact center. But I will tell you, 2015, we really started working on chat. And a couple years later, we started winning contact center deals against, you know, digital chat only vendors and specialists.

But we’ve really filled in the whole spectrum. So reporting analytics, quality management, speech analytics, CPAS. We bought a little CPAS company in 2018, have integrated that into the platform. And we’ve also, you know, I think what’s different about 8.8 is we embraced other workplace environments that end users want to work out of. So became a very large partner of Microsoft Teams. You know, I think we launched in 2020, but we were working on it for a year and a half before that. And we’ve got 350,000 seats of teams users out there today, too. So everything a business needs to communicate, whether it’s voice video, digital, SMS, fax, email, voicemail, put voicemails and queues still for some companies. You can come to us and we’ve got a single single provider, single vendor, single platform to do it. Awesome. All right. Now talk to me about, you know, we grew up in Unified Communications Contact Center, and now we’re today we’re calling it CX, right? Yeah. So talk to me about from your perspective, what does CX mean in 2023? And why is this still so critically important?

So the problem any business has today is the customer experience bar has been set so high by companies like, by Apple. I can go order an Apple Watch and Apple will offer for, I think, $9 to drive it over to my doorstop within two hours. You know, Amazon, I can return something without having to box it, I just literally drop it at some curbside drop off and it’s done and my credits there the same day. And it’s just to operate at that level when you’re not Amazon or Apple is, you know, something that you have to do because your customers are beginning to expect that. So I think in 2023, businesses of all sizes are how do we how do we hit that speed mark? How do we make it convenient? How do we make consistent? How do we make it friendly? How do we one connector that kind of ties everything together is that human touch? And it’s like, how do I make connections to my end customers by making the technology that you talked about the old C-CAS, UCAS stuff, we got to make that feel more human. And we’ve got to enable our employees in the business to deliver that better experience to the end customer. Otherwise, you’re just you’re kind of irrelevant, your brand’s going to go away. Fair. Let’s talk about trends now. We’ve seen this the last 5, 10, 15 years, we’ve seen some crazy trends. So from your perspective, what are the trends that you’re seeing here over the last 12 plus months from a CX perspective?

Yeah, I think, and it kind of mirrors, you know, 8 by 8 journey is digital is now everywhere. And we certainly saw that coming. I’ve got two boys in their 20s, you know, under under pain of death, will they make a phone call to actually get something resolved? So they don’t want to talk to anyone. And you’re that demographic will continue to shift. And it is already happening. I hesitate to say it with you, but AI actually matters. It’s more than a buzzword, even though it’s become a common headline that means nothing kind of because it’s a headline.

The other thing that’s always driven me nuts in in the contact center world, even going to the traditional on prem contact center days was was handoffs, whether it’s it’s from a human to a human, whether it’s a bot to a human. Like, they have to actually work. And what I mean by that is, don’t ask me the end customer to re authenticate myself, I just spent 20 minutes talking to your bot and convincing it that I am the customer. And now I get on with a human. And the first thing you do is, well, can you tell me what your your four digit code is? Like, like, at least I’ve authenticated, let’s not make them do that again. And then I think the context of what the bot did or what the last human did, like, hand that off too, because don’t start from step one in your flow chart of how we’re going to serve this customer.

It’s amazing to me how even large enterprise contact centers that are supposed to be these award winning, you know, customer experiences, a lot of them don’t implement that the moment you get transferred to someone else you start over again. And it’s always driven me nuts. And I’m finally seeing the technology catch up where it makes it easy for our customer to actually do that right and actually delight a customer by shortening the whole interaction. Yeah, it’s a good it’s a good point. We talk about that a lot. You know, for our partners that are listening, we always encourage everybody, put yourself in the shoes of your customers customer. And you know, because they’re asked, well, how do I approach these? And we’re gonna get into some good questions on this. But how do I approach them? How do I talk to them? We have to be empathetic. And we got to see what’s going on and put us in the customer’s customer’s shoes. And when you do that, you inevitably just go find your prospects and test that experience out and see what that’s like. Yeah.

Okay, so so then coupling on that, we’ll look forward a little bit here out into the future. Where do you see that goes then right? I’m an ominous music. Where do you see that that goes? What? What do you see AI, or whatever your future is successfully or unsuccessfully impacting?

Yeah, I’m not sure my answer is going to match the dramatic flair of the music, but we’ll go there anyway. What we’re seeing is the continued collapse of customer engagement with the traditional world of UC. And what I mean by that is, and I really hate this term, but it’s really one of the better terms I’ve heard to describe it. It’s what we have internally called the informal contact center. It’s basically can be knowledge workers. It could be sales associates. Think of like a retail brick and mortar store of the future. And I want my sales associates walking the floor with tablets, interconnected with a gigabit connection. And I want them doing like voice and video contact center interactions with the customers that are on the floor, contacting the e-commerce site, getting things to that really white glove experience. But for me to ask the sales associate to actually operate within a traditional contact center agent workspace doesn’t make a lot of sense. And so what I have to present on the tablet is something that looks more like a traditional UC soft phone, but one that has access to these contact center capabilities and analytics and everything that comes along with that. You think about agent assist, like now I’m able to assist the sales associate directly in real time, while they’re interacting with the person in the store of the future. And so what we see is we think the world and unfortunately the analysts get paid by the sales.

They get paid by the research note or by the quadrant or whatever they’re publishing these days. And so they want to keep the world separate. But we really see those two worlds blending. And I think you’re going to start to see that collapse accelerate. And if you look at what, you know,8×8 is really working on with a lot of R&D and we’ve got a labs program where we can bring real live production traffic into a sandbox and actually tweak it so the interface is right.

And so we see that informal contact center really start to appear in day to day communications applications. Fair. Good. Let’s talk about verticals. I want, you know, as the partners listen to this, I want them obviously to learn a lot about you and your technology and the problems that you’re solving.

But where should they be targeting? I guess what industries are there verticals? I mean, everybody needs help on CX. I suppose it’s really my answer was going to be everyone. So there is no verticals. Just a little. But if you start to refine. So a couple themes, right? So smaller businesses are struggling more to keep up with this customer engagement shift, right? Because they don’t have the resources. They don’t have the budget in IT. They don’t have the personnel. So suddenly automation and bots that actually work become super important. If I can get 50% call deflection and get CSAT to go up, like that small business thinks this is you just walked on water. And so I think that’s something we are seeing across the board. I also think you’re another way to say everyone, I’ll refine everyone needs this to go on any website. I was just on a city website who had invested in a chatbot and I was and I won’t name the city.

I don’t want to embarrass them. So I started secret shopping. I’m like, Oh, they got a chatbot. This is a modern city 21st century city. And so I’m like, I convinced the city that I’m a resident.

I told it my first name. And then I said, Okay, what do you want? And I said, I need to order garbage service. I just moved into the city. How do I get garbage service? And the thing spun for five minutes, literally spun like I had left the window. I’d gone on to something else. And then suddenly I heard the response tone and I came back and it had provided a URL garbage service info is available here. I click the URL and I got a 404 not found. So it still didn’t work. But when I met with the city, the next day I said, Hey, I was playing with your bot last night. And you guys use it a human behind that to actually answer the questions. And so the answer would be anyone that’s got a bot on there on any corporate or government website that doesn’t actually work. Like those are people that target and they’re super easy to find because almost every bot out there is going to do things like what I just described. And I suppose there’s a there’s a I love that that’s probably one of my favorite pieces of advice is go experiment with what your prospects or your customers have right now. Maybe two things to that. We have a lot of people that ran out and bought stuff in a hurry in 2020 and tried to make do and just get by. And so for sure. Now, obviously, you’ve got these contracts coming up, you’ve got opportunity there. But you bring up a good point to probably drive home is just because you see that they have stuff doesn’t mean it works great. So push it past step one past step two and just test it out and try. It’s a great point.

Let’s all right. Let’s get into the weeds here. I want to talk about a deal. So I like and what we call out on this part of the podcast is things don’t always end up as they seem right. They might start out of like, hey,Bryan I need your help on this deal of this. This customer needs to lift and shift this old phone system or whatever. Right.

And you get into it. It’s just something completely different. So we’re talking about the journey and the journey into Omni, Omni channel and all that stuff. But walk me through an opportunity. What did it look like? What did they have? What was the problem? And then what actually ended up going in?

Yeah, so we recently closed a relatively large deal with a teller as partner. So you’ll be happy to hear about this. And they’re, they’re well into their deployment now. And it’s going very well medical and disability services firm. And just just the size of like six figure monthly recurring revenue and probably, you know, seven figure total contract value easily. And so what we were told going into the deal was, you know, legacy, you see that’s no longer a company that’s no longer supported and trying to figure out what to do with MS teams. But as we started actually meeting with the customer, we always start with kind of these high level listening workshops where, you know, we’re not coming in to present till we actually know to your point what the customer needs.

And so we were talking about the cloud. They had roughly 1000 seat contact center application that had moved to the cloud, but had been experiencing severe reliability and liability as the customer explained to me because because it was costing them so much.

I love these use cases. And I kind of call it people that have kind of moved to the first generation cloud, like they’d made the move. Maybe that wasn’t the right move in retrospect, and they don’t have the right SLA or the right provider, whatever it is. But the cool thing about these use cases then is, you know, one of the things I fight is the cost of doing nothing like customers that have depreciated contact center systems don’t have to do anything. They can just keep going with what they have. But when you’ve got outage issues, the cost of doing nothing is already been established by the customer. I don’t have to explain to them how much it’s costing them. And then they also had a we uncovered a really deep they use Zoho to run the business. And so needed a deep integration with Zoho, which has been one of our long term integration partners. So we actually went from the executive workshops to what we call chair sides where we come on site. We’ve started doing virtual chair sides in the last year because contact center agents typically are virtual now. So that’s not unusual. This one we were able to actually come on site, which I think is much more effective because I can see everything the agent is doing and how their processes work and which screens and how many windows and how many clicks and when you’re virtual like we can see their desktop, but we’re not. You don’t always see the whole picture, but we spent about a half day collecting the info we interviewed agents, watched them work, talked to the supervisors. And then, you know, what8x8 does in a in a large pre sales deal like that is we’ll come back with a, you know, 30 to 40 page kind of findings and recommendations. These are the things we think you could do. Here are some tools that8x8 supplies that we think would be super relevant to look at. And we went from that readout to a very small proof of concept to just show them and we picked jointly 10 success criteria and the deal closed two to three months after that. So it was a very typical engagement. I really encourage your partners like even in the discovery phase, if you can get on site and watch what’s going on in the contact center, you’ll learn a lot by just being a fly on the wall. I love it. I love defining success criteria because we just sometimes we go into these thinking, we just show them cool technology and wow, I’m like, yeah, they’re just they’re gonna sign here and press hard. But if we don’t flush out, you know, what’s your what’s your needs versus your wants and what success, I think that’s just sometimes such an overlooked part of the process, right? So you’re watching these things click, click, click, click, got it. Done deal. And every vendor of technology is going to come in with the greatest story since the wheel, you know, everyone says their stuff’s the greatest and the best and the biggest. And honestly, at that stage, you should really be just listening and and having a conversation, not not pushing your your your slide where the customer, you know, it reminds me this, you know, talking about I think the preface for what made us come up with this question for this podcast was we had a partner ask us, hey, will you just just come out with me? I think there’s something weird. You know, here’s what the customer is telling me, but it doesn’t quite make sense. And there’s a political battle from C level to director over the contact center. So I’m gonna thrust you right into the middle of it. Yeah, and and the the so we had the executive meeting first and they said, you know, we believe our demographic is college students, right? It was it was a college and we think our demographic for our college students, we just know that none of them are going to want to talk to us, right? They made some assumptions and I suppose a fair assumption, right? We’re all going through that of where our kids don’t want to talk to us. They want to text whatever. But they said we’ve actually gotten rid of voice because of how busy we are and we think that’s the right decision. So, you know, come in, get some feedback, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it was it was crazy. The simplest thing. I mean, in the first hour, so overwhelming sitting with the agents and when we asked them right when the manager is not over their shoulder. Yeah, are people happy that you guys got rid of voice? Oh my God. No, all they ask us for is the number because our stuff is really complicated and sometimes we just can’t solve it on the front end. And so we need to call like that is the purpose of the chair side. And honestly, the some contact center managers or supervisors. Will be very uncomfortable of the notion that you want to sit alone with their agent for 20 minutes. I’m telling you, you have to. It’s the only way to find out what’s really going on. So that’s a great story, Josh. Love it. All right. Pro tips for Bryan Martin. Let’s talk about if I’m a partner, maybe I haven’t ventured into CX yet. Maybe I’m focused on cloud or I’m security or network or SDWAN or whatever. Something totally different. Maybe I’m a new partner.

I’m a big big fan of the probing questions of ask the question and just listen. So with regard to kind of what we’ve talked about, what are some of those great questions or a strategy that you would give to our partners if they’re all excited and they’re ready to go uncover opportunities for you? What are you advising them to say? Yeah, so there are very simple like process oriented questions you can ask.

It’s things like, you know, in your customer engagement, where your business touches your customers, do you ever use spreadsheets to schedule or to figure out, you know, how many people are we going to need? How many? How do you forecast how the business is growing and how you’re improving? What’s your call deflection strategy is one of my favorite, like, opening questions to just open up the whole notion that there is a world where humans don’t have a place to go.

They don’t need to be involved. And, you know, the funniest thing people don’t understand yet is it’s not about getting fewer humans.

It’s about the humans who are the agents being happier because they’re not having to spend their day answering stupid questions, which 50% of the callers or interactions are about. And so it’s like you will retain more call center employees by automating the stuff that humans really shouldn’t be dealing with. So I think those are some questions. I always get in trouble and I know I’ve been doing it on this call. So never use the word contact center until you know what the business calls its customer engagement function. Never ever use the word agent. And I know I’ve been using it the whole call. It’s what we refer to it internally as that interface and that workflow. But honestly, I made that I learned the mistake the first time I was in front of one of the public service, you know, national toll free, you know, service lines in front of their national convention. And I started talking about agents and how we’re going to improve the end. Literally, a woman in the first row stood up and said, I am not an agent. I am a social worker. So you’ve got to figure out what the business calls its customer engagement people and you better start using their terminology like our zero.

And same goes for supervisor. And a lot of groups will take offense if you when you’re making that inquiry about the contact center function, never use the word contact center because they may not think of themselves that way. That toll free national line didn’t think of itself as a contact center. It was like a help facility. So, you know, those those are some things and we’ve already talked about like, don’t don’t dive off on your tech and your feature set and all these vendors that you can bring into the to do X, Y and Z. You’ve really what what customers want to be convinced of is the stories you can tell about other organizations that are similar to where they are, how you’re going to work with the vendor community to remove risk, how you’re going to guarantee a successful outcome. And, you know, do a lot of listening that the customer I do love, like some of the tools we use chorus dot AI now for all of our got a little eight by note taker that pops up. And one of the things I always look at is how how much did our sales team talk and the partner team versus the customer and meeting meeting number one customer better be doing almost all the talking because your job right there is just to go gather that info. So that would be kind of a random list of tips. Love that. That’s such a again, it’s a basic thing, but it’s so overlooked. You have an agenda. You get rolling on that agenda and yeah, man, I’m gonna get through it. Never ever ever. So that’s the worst part about PowerPoint, right? We talk about death by PowerPoint, but it locks you in to what you’re going to say. And honestly, you need to listen and then react and ask more questions. I hate people that can’t like divorce themselves from the presentation. They made the day before to go in with and read the not the right approach. Listen to the audience and just just adjust. Yeah, awesome. Awesome examples are great. All right. As we wrap this up, right, you know,8×8 been around a long time. You’ve continued to evolve tech to focus on CX from a from a future and prediction perspective. Anything you want to share kind of about where you’re at, where you’re going or anything that you want us to pay attention to just disruptive things that you want us to be cognizant of. Yeah, so I think two things, right? So number one, and I alluded to kind of how we view the world of teams as a partner, not as a competitor, not trying to like push8x8 mobile apps. If a team’s mobile app is what the customer wants. Same thing is going on. We’ve launched this year. We call it the technology partner ecosystem, but it’s. It’s really super tight integrations with strategic partners that we want to feel native with the eight by platform. We typically sell them on our paper. It’s included on the same bill, but it’s a it’s a much tighter integration than what you’ll find in some of the app stores and extensions stores that are out there with with a lot of our industry. So that’s a that’s a new strategy by 2018. I was trying to hire a specialist out of IBM Watson and build everything ourselves and we’re going to do everything. I can build that a better than what what we just saw. And it was a mistake because the space is moving too quick and there’s just too too many specialists out there and too much VC money behind them and people are going to have breakthroughs and you’d better be able to adapt to that. So we want to continue to own our platform and be like the source of truth at the core center of a customer solution, but we are now rapidly embracing third party solutions with tight native integrations that are curated by8x8 And so I think that’s one thing that we’re going to do and I think it’s disruptive because most of our competitors aren’t looking at that as a strategy. They’re still trying to build everything. And then number two, the other thing that it’s near and dear to my heart, but it’s starting to come true is video as a channel in the contact center and it’s not a two way video. You know,8×8 owns a we’re the largest sponsor of Jitsi J-I-T-S-I, which is the world’s largest open source platform for video meetings. And we’ve got a hardened version of Jitsi that’s always been included in our platform, but we’re seeing use cases now where the agent I’m in a voice interaction with you, but I really need to see the actual like part on the radiator that’s leaking so that I can make sure my technician has that on his or her truck when we do the truck roll. And the agent can now SMS to the end customer a link. One click on the link on the mobile phone will bring up a prompt that says this site wants to use your camera. Are you going to allow that or not allow in customer just has to click allow and now the agent can see through the video device that’s in the end customers hands we can validate that that’s the right radiator part. We’ll make sure we’ve got that on the truck and it’s on its way and now we’re going to have one truck roll and we’ve seen this in property management insurance applications. Most recently a company in the UK called holiday taxi who’s literally like their agents are sitting with nothing to do because things have been automated so much and there’s not all these repeat calls and escalations and tier two and so we’re seeing lots of cases where video is relevant. It’s not to see the agent. It’s for the agent to see the world and I think that’s got legs longer term as we continue to build that story out. So I think that’s disruptive. I think you need to be with a with a partner that is able to accommodate that dynamic evolution and disruption, but those are some things we’re working on that are really cool. Awesome. Golden nuggets. Everybody go rewind and listen to that. Good stuff, man. All right,Bryan that wraps us up. I really appreciate you coming on doing this. That’s awesome. Yeah, for sure. Josh really, really enjoyed it. Thanks for inviting me. Okay, everybody. That wraps us up for today. I’m your host, Josh, Lupresto SVP of sales engineering at Telarus, Bryan Martin chief technology officer at8x8 till next time.