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Anurag Wadehra, Chief Marketing Officer, LivePerson, on the role of digital engagement in the online consumer journey.
JASON REDLUS: Let’s start with a little bit about LivePerson overall, your background, and how you came to LivePerson.
ANURAG WADEHRA: LivePerson is a B2B software as service company, and we offer customer engagement solutions across many key industries, such as financial services/banking, telecommunications, high-tech, travel, and retail. Those are the top industries where customers engage in online commerce. We allow brands to connect with their customers through various digital modes such as chat, online video, voice, and content. Usually, this is most useful in driving online sales and for improving online support. The direct results of LivePerson working with a brand can be an increase in brand sales up to 25 percent and a reduction in the cost to serve their customers up to 30 percent.
I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at LivePerson, and I joined the company almost a year ago. Prior to LivePerson, I have worked at a multitude of business-to-business software companies, and in a previous avatar, in brand management. So I bring a strong blend of enterprise software marketing coupled with branding and consumer marketing.
Let’s talk a little bit about this concept of a modern consumer. Obviously, you are partnering with clients to help them engage both their customers and their prospects in elegant, innovative, and effective ways. Can you talk a little bit about the conversations you’re having with your clients or the thought leadership that LivePerson is coming out with? What point of view do you have around the future of the consumer—their behavior, how they want to engage, and how to optimize targeting to give them what they want when and how they want it?
These questions are top-of-mind because all of us are personally experiencing the shift in our online habits: the same habits that we are studying among the consumers. What do modern consumers look like in this new world? First of all, they are faced with proliferation of channels and technologies. Whether it is the newest iPhones or the latest apps, consumer options are constantly increasing which has a dramatic impact on their online experiences – and their online expectations. Today’s consumers are always on, and are no longer connecting via separate pieces of technology intermittently. They are always connected, across their various devices, apps, communication and social platforms: 24/7. Consumers not only are comfortable among these channels, they expect to be able to switch from one channel to another at a moment’s notice. They might be on a phone call at one moment and start texting the next. Conversely, they might be on one of their mobile applications and take a call without leaving the app experience. So the focus now is on how to allow customers to jump between channels on devices in a seamless way so that no matter what the customer is doing, they’re always only a touch away from getting the information they need.
That has significant implications for businesses that are trying to attract and serve the modern consumers. We’ve done global research involving 6,000 consumers, and I’ll share a couple of things we learned from that. Almost 90 percent of consumers want some form of assistance while they’re shopping online. This might seem counterintuitive because of the myth that consumer want self service all the time. We found that is simply not true. In reality, consumers want to be in control of when, how, and where they want to engage with a sales agent or a support representative. We’ve also discovered that they expect high levels of personalization – they want to be treated like a VIP customer. If they have an issue that cannot be resolved through self-service, they want immediate escalation to assistance from a human being. In fact, 59% percent of global consumers would like to have more choices on how they want to contact brand representatives, whether it’s through chat, click-to-call, or emerging technology like live video or video demos. The answer is not self-service versus live engagement: it is both.
In summary, modern consumers have increasingly high and complex expectations from brands, and those expectations are not just on digital and mobile websites. Those expectations exist in every aspect of customer journey. There’s a quotation that I like to paraphrase when talking about digital consumers: “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.” When we go home, we instantly switch into the mode of being a digital consumer and have all of the high expectations that plague the businesses. At work, we get frustrated because we can’t serve the customers that are behaving just like we do in our evening hours. Brands have to keep up with these expectations but, in a certain way, we can all relate to the rising tide of customer expectations.
“Modern consumers have increasingly high and complex expectations from brands, and those expectations are not just on digital and mobile websites. Those expectations exist in every aspect of customer journey.”
I often use the analogy of a baseball game to help other people understand where we are in this movement around helping the consumer connect with brands. It helps our members benchmark a little bit amongst themselves so that they know where they are, whether they’re behind the curve, in the middle of the pack, or more ahead of their peers. So, if all of this technology and innovation was a baseball game, what inning are we in—the first, the third?
Let me start by changing the analogy from baseball innings. I’m Indian, so I have to talk about cricket.
We’re in the first innings of a five-day cricket match, which means that we are still in the fairly early stages. Many of the devices and technologies are in the early adoption phase. While the core technologies like mobile have reached the mainstream, the digital experiences and workflows have not been stitched together yet. Just now, consumers are discovering all this cool stuff that is available to them. So we are reaching what I call the art of the possible. These technologies are converging in a way that allows consumers to discover an increasing variety of ways to reach brands – and vice versa.
However, it poses a significant challenge to CMOs and to the folks who are chartered within enterprises to deliver those online experiences. As a marketer, delivering on the brand promise of “always being on” during the course of the customer journey—from the point of research onsite to the point of cart check-out and to support escalation—is very hard because the hyper-connected consumer needs to be serviced with many technologies across various touch-points. But, inside the walls of an enterprise, we are stuck with technology silos, and this is something enterprises need to address.
For example, a typical CMO might be looking at 1,800-plus digital marketing vendors ranging from search management to website optimization, to onsite commerce, and support. This is directly from the Gartner study of the digital marketing landscape. I have two points to make about this. Point one, each of these technologies adds a bit of benefit, whether it is paid search, onsite commerce engines or web analytics, but these technologies need to be stitched together to create a coherent customer experience. Point two: Although everybody understands the customer’s journey (discovery, acquisition, conversion, and support), but most folks hard time showing that a certain class of technology is delivering an ROI in the customer engagement? In technology discussion, marketers often forget how the value is created and captured with the technology they are using, which is a problem exacerbated by the proliferation of technologies.
You work with so many top brands. To your point of ROI, can you share some of the most memorable moments that you’ve seen from your recent work with clients? What are the types of results that a business will receive by leveraging these innovations?
I would be happy to use some examples of how we deliver value to our customers. I’ll start by summarizing what we do exactly.
As I mentioned, digital engagement is the real time interactions of brands with their customers online. It is a very big market; however, our focus is on a sub-segment that we call live digital engagement. In most scenarios, if a company or brand builds a website, a mobile app, a social app, a call center, or a customer support site, that generates basic results and 90 percent of the time, that works fine. But because consumer expectations are so high, certain high-impact or high-value situations can occur that renders those basic tools inadequate. For example, you may have a Platinum card holder at a bank who is trying to find their account value or transfer funds; or you may have a first-time customer with a high-value shopping cart who has not yet checked out but is about to leave the website. Although these consumers may only account for 5 to 10 percent of your online visitor traffic, they represent a much higher value to the business and allowing these high-impact customers in these situations to rely only on self-service is just not an option. A company can lose a lot of money by leaving these people to struggle with either check out or an escalation of support. What we do is identify these customers in real time, and proactively engage them before they abandon your site or escalate to an expensive service option.
So the value of digital engagement lies in moments where high consumer expectations are not being met but need to be. We offer the technology and solutions to deliver ROI and business values in that subset of situations. In many cases, we have been able to identify the intent of onsite visitors and service them with the right digital engagement, whether it’s online chat, video, voice, or an offer. Our technology allows brands to detect when a customer is about to make a toll-free phone call and, instead, you can invite them to resolve their question via live chat or another engagement tool that keeps them on your website. By engaging customers on digital properties, brands can provide a more rich, and personalized experience, at a lower cost and with higher satisfaction to the customer than the usual IVR escalation to phone support.
For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the leading retail banks, implemented a chat feature on the contact page of their website to give their customers “choice of channel.” They’ve since seen an increasing adoption of chat, and have successfully deflected thousands of phone calls daily from their call centers while their customer satisfaction scores remain above 90 percent. While they initially implemented chat as a support tool, they’ve seen higher sales conversions as a result of the chat program.
Another example is our customer Snapfish, which is a photo service and card printing service owned by HP. It is an ecommerce site where you can upload your pictures and create personalized projects such as photo albums, calendars or Christmas cards. With our help, they’ve shifted the balance of their support over the years from a blend of e-mail, call center service, and chat to a setup in which the vast majority of their support happens through chat. They found that chat was very beneficial in providing relevant and contextual assistance to their high-value customers who need help completing some of the more complex photo projects. Their first-point-of-contact resolution is very high, and it happens during the sales or service process. If somebody begins to check out, but their shopping cart is not working, and no one helps them in that next 30 seconds, you will most likely lose the sale. We can invoke the chat feature at that moment and have the customer work with a live agent to resolve the issue. An added bonus is that things like language barriers or accents don’t matter, as they might over the phone, and more importantly the information exchange is much richer because they can share links and information as needed to resolve the issue. So the value at Snapfish for the people who use the chat feature is two to three times higher than it is for those who self-service.
A lot of companies can provide online engagement, but there are two things that most of these companies fail to provide, that are critical to capitalizing on the benefits of serving the modern consumer. First, as modern customers, you and I hate to be needlessly interrupted, and there are a lot of times when people don’t want to talk to sales or support. So there needs to be a level of intelligence that can identify exactly who to target for real-time live engagement and who to leave alone. There is a lot of intelligence at work in our technology. We monitor the visitor traffic, looking at visitors’ patterns of behavior to decipher their intent. We identify those consumers who are looking to buy but can’t or won’t and those who are looking to escalate into a service call. Then we figure out how to best address their needs. We may proactively invite them to chat or to view a piece of content or video that can help them complete their goal. It’s not about engaging with any consumer at any time by applying a chat button or a toll-free phone number to the site; it is about intelligent engagement, connecting with the right consumer at the right time, through the right channel.
Data is also essential and that is a real point of differentiation for LivePerson. We are able to capture a ton of data—the conversations inside the chat, all of the patterns of engagement, and combine it with other rich onsite and offsite data. It’s this data that feeds into our platform and allows us to see which of the conversations result in higher sales or higher CSAT. What’s important here is we can share this data with our customers, allowing them to improve the behavior and productivity of their online chat agents; we can also use it to improve the content on the website, even the keyword search terms that people are using, because we have the ability to mine all of the structured and unstructured information—the content and data, or the conversation and the behavior—to optimize these sites. So we end up driving up to 25 percent increases in sales for many of our customers, and if we engage on the services side, we often reduce the cost-to-serve up to 30 percent lower while keeping customer satisfaction scores higher than other channels.
How much work is involved in activating this inside an organization? How long does it take an organization to start seeing these benefits once they deploy LivePerson?
The good news is that we are not an on-premise, heavy-footprint product. All we need from our customers is to monitor the traffic of the web properties that we are working on. That usually requires a straightforward tagging exercise, which in some cases can be very minimal if you‘re a small business; in other cases, it may take a few days, but nothing more than that. Once we start monitoring the traffic, we work with our clients to figure out what their objectives and goals are—whether it is to increase conversions or deflect phone calls. After that, our predictive intelligence targeting capabilities kick in very quickly in a matter of a couple of weeks or less (depending on the level of traffic), and then we begin implementing a targeted, live digital engagement strategy and start monitoring the results. Depending on the use case, the results can start to show in as short of a time as a few weeks or a couple of months.
Where would you like to take the conversation from here? I have no shortage of things I can ask you, but I want to make sure that we cover what is important to you.
I’d like to comment on the scale of operations at LivePerson and how the larger brands have benefited from it.
What we do sounds pretty straightforward in conversation, but to do this at scale and in a secure way can be very difficult. Our intelligence and insights operate at scale for many of the Fortune 500 global brands. We have eight of the 10 Fortune 500 companies as our customers. Financial service institutions are critical for us, and 10 of the world’s top 15 commercial banks are customers of ours. Four of the five top telecommunications companies, which are all about digital engagement both on the acquisition and services sides, are our customers. We also work very closely with Internet services companies, B2B companies, and hi-tech companies and brands such as IBM, Microsoft, Verizon, Home Depot, Virgin, and Royal Bank of Scotland.
We monitor over two billion visits a month, so if you were to look at the sum total of the visitors of our customers that we monitor and learn from, it is a phenomenal number. We’re not a consumer company—we’re not Google or Facebook—but the scale at which we operate in monitoring visitors is as large as any B2C Internet company.
We also deliver 20 million live engagements every month. We are capturing, processing, and mining this live engagement, which has given us a lot of insight into what happens in these live engagements.
How long did it take LivePerson to get to that scale?
Our company was founded in 1995 and the company went public in 2000. We had virtually created the chat category back when AOL and Netscape ruled the world. So we have been around for some time and truly understand this concept of engagement quite well. We were the first to create the idea of proactive engagement—meaning, rather than just having a button for chat to click on, we started putting intelligence in the process to ensure that we’re inviting and interacting with the right people at the right time. In the last few years, particularly as the company has risen to a global B2B scale, we have been focusing on creating a unified live digital engagement platform that allows us to work across any of these engagement types, whether it is chat, video, voice, or even plain content such as an offer or discount coupon. Our focus is to deliver rich multimedia engagement anywhere at any time. We can serve these capabilities on social platforms, mobile devices, and on websites. So we have grown with a legacy and history of leadership in the area of live chat, and have grown and matured into an organization that now offers multiple forms of engagement, and we are helping brands go global with their digital engagement strategies to serve the needs of the modern consumer.
I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but I believe you guys have a lab for this, so if we were to look into what this landscape will look like in 2014 and 2015, what is the prognosis from the technology side? What is coming down the R&D and product pipeline? How do you think brands will continue to evolve? What behaviors or key needs will they be talking about a year from now?
Brands are spending a lot of money on all sorts of experiments in the area of digital engagement. These are experiments in global advertising, display advertising, new technology, website conversions, and social selling. Our view is that the next hot thing for the next two years will be the value we create with digital engagement. I think that our biggest differentiator is our ability to deliver value, and the ability to demonstrate, capture, and report on value is an important priority for us.
It is so important for us that we very often put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. We have a portion of our business that we call pay for performance (PFP), which is our shared risk business model. In some circumstances, we will actually run the live digital engagement channel ourselves, bringing our expertise on our intelligence technology and agent labor management to the table and marrying the two in such a way that we will only be paid depending on the value we create. There are very few companies on the B2B side that will go all the way to work with a client to prove that they stand behind the value they promise, and some of our large-scale companies are doing that with us now.
We are very cognizant that there are no silver bullets. There are multiple technologies that need to be brought together to make this work, so we have made a few acquisitions in the past few years – a mobile company and a predictive targeting company – to accomplish this. These acquisitions were made around the idea that we have to create value for our customer’s brand by giving them a smarter, holistic digital engagement experience.
One area that is becoming important is the ability to extract signals from all of the data that you capture. A lot of companies talk about big data and why they store it, but our twist on it is slightly different. For us, it’s not just a matter of capturing the online behavior data that Google analytics or Omniture time analytics tracks; it’s about combining the structured behavior data with unstructured content data of conversations. It’s not the volume that we focus on but the diversity and value of data. We create valuable insights from these digital conversations by combining consumer and agent sentiments with structured data like the rate of conversion and call deflection.
You’ve talked about the revenue opportunities, the marketing opportunities, and the benefits to the contact center agents in the adoption of your technology. Admittedly, I imagine it probably varies per organization, but who do you tend to partner up with most closely inside organizations?
Today, organizations are not geared to have a single group of owners of accountability in the customer journey. CMOs own a portion of it when it comes to acquisitions. Some of the e-business field executives own some of it because it usually comes from the website. And, of course, the customer success and customer support teams own a major part of the journey because they’re the ones that own the set metrics of customer satisfaction and cost to serve. Currently, organizations are siloed, and so we end up beginning the conversation with functions within a business that are most concerned with the brand. Most of our conversations are with heads of commerce, heads of key business units, and anybody who owns conversion on digital properties, mobile or otherwise. We also are actively engaged with, and very often target and value people who own the post-sales experience like the customer satisfaction and cost-to-serve numbers for the brand. Those heads of sales and heads of services tend to be the most logical starting point for us.
Additionally, when you have such rising levels of complexity in technology inside organizations, very often the CMOs, the heads of sales and services look for third-party experts who can guide them through these technologies. We work very closely with a handful of digital marketing agencies that often implement and build these digital properties, such as Razorfish. Similarly, there are key platform technologies that are a very critical part of the foundational investment that our customers make, whether these are e-commerce platforms like Hybris or other offerings from independent software vendors (ISVs) that provide the bedrock of technologies for many of these digital engagements. We work with many of them.
Anurag Wadehra is the chief marketing officer of LivePerson where he is responsible for the company’s global marketing activities including customer and product marketing, demand generation, branding strategy, and external communications. LivePerson is a leading provider of digital engagement solutions, helping brands better understand and connect to consumers through their industry-leading technology platform.
Prior to joining LivePerson, Wadehra held a number of senior marketing and product management roles at several B2B software companies like Good Technology (mobility), Baynote (product personalization), Adchemy (paid search advertising), Siperian (data management), and i2 Technologies (supply chain optimization). He has successfully launched new software solutions directed at a variety of different business buyers (CMOs, VP Commerce, CIO, etc.) at both startups and public companies.
In addition, Wadehra founded and served as CEO of Chingari, a business software company created to improve success rates of new product launches. He has also held senior brand management positions at Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble.
Wadehra holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and B.Tech in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. He is currently on the advisory board of InsightsOne (a predictive analytics firm) and a lead mentor at Stanford’s StartX technology accelerator program.
Jason is Argyle Executive Forum’s managing member and founder. Argyle Executive Forum is a professional services firm that convenes and connects business leaders from highly targeted business-to-business communities for strategic collaboration and business development.
Over 40,000 executives participate in one or several of Argyle Executive Forum’s communities, with over 700 new members joining every month. Prior to forming Argyle Executive Forum, Jason launched the private-equity business effort for Capital IQ. Capital IQ was acquired by Standard & Poor’s in 2004. Prior to Capital IQ, Jason was an investment banker, focused on middle-market M&A and LBO transactions. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell and an MBA from Harvard Business School.