MarTech Interview with Warren Levitan, CEO and Co-Founder, Smooch

MarTech Interview with Warren Levitan, Co-Founder & CEO, Smooch
Warren Levitan, Co-Founder & CEO, Smooch

“Make sure you are focused on your customer’s problems, rather than your solution.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you conceive the idea of launching Smooch?

I have been working on guaranteeing exceptional customer experiences for consumer brands for close to 20 years. Over these 2 decades, I have boiled down almost everything I have learned into four key pillars to guaranteeing a great CX:

  • Be where your customers are — We live in an era of convenience and you need to engage on customers terms, starting with where they are.
  • Respect your customers’ time — We all expect immediacy today, in everything we do; forcing a customer to wait on hold or in a live chat queue is simply unacceptable today.
  • Know your customer — Nothing is more frustrating to us than having to repeat ourselves or tell a business what they should already know about us; the middle letter in CRM stands for relationship. If we want to have ongoing relationships with customers we have to treat them like the individual that they are and personalize every interaction with them, no different than with friends and family.
  • Be personal — We all crave emotional connections, we are human after all, and relationships with businesses should be no different.

With the rise of a mobile-first economy, and with messaging at the center of this mobile-first world, we saw an opportunity for brands to finally check all of these boxes by having one unified conversation with their customers. These conversations can take place over multiple channels, and can then be shared across marketing, sales and service, eliminating today’s conversational data silos and enabling brands to maintain a single 360 view of, and conversation with, their customers.

What is Smooch for marketers? How does it fit into a modern CMO’s Marketing Technology stack?

First, Smooch allows marketers to be present where their customers are and where they are engaged in messaging.  Whether that’s Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, SMS or on a web messenger, Smooch abstracts all these channels and gives marketers one interface to their customers, wherever they are.

Second, Smooch allows Marketing, Sales and Service terms to share conversational interactions, while allowing each function to use their best of breed tools. That can mean marketing within HubSpot or Marketo, customer service within Zendesk or Genesys, and sales within Salesforce or Pipedrive. And every team can have access to and be aware of each others’ interactions and can transfer conversations across these platforms without losing the history and valuable context.

How does your experience in Sales, Marketing and Product Management help build the MarTech roadmap at Smooch?

I have learned that Sales, Marketing and Product Management may have different mandates and tools in their tool kit, but they all have the same shared goal: Making the customer’s life better.

At Smooch, we are hyper-focused on always creating value for our customers, whether that’s our partners in the CX space or the consumer brands who depend on Smooch. Our roadmap is developed with this principle at heart of every decision and with input and perspective from our core disciplines of marketing, sales, service and product.

What are the biggest challenges in fully leveraging Mobile Marketing technologies for unified customer personalization and messaging experience?

With today’s focus on bots and virtual assistants, a major challenge is the need for context to be personal.  But as compared to Email and Display Marketing, the bar is much higher. We have learned to tolerate improperly personalized marketing, because it’s exactly that… marketing.

But when we get into bots and virtual assistants, we expect to truly be treated like ourselves — not a 40-55-year-old, urban, caucasian male who likes technology. Part of this is not only getting the context right, but getting the tone and language right. Conversations are much different than push emails, display advertising and landing pages

Tell us about your vision into Conversational Marketing and how AI and chatbots are disrupting the industry you deal in.

With Conversational Marketing, research into what creates winning customer experiences, and ultimately, brand loyalty, tells us that first brands need to be where their customers are. If a bot can be engaged on a brand’s website, inside their mobile app, and on a customer’s favorite messaging app, then the brand is off to a great start.

Beyond being where their customers are, winning CX is always defined by how much a brand respects and uses their customers’ time wisely. Chatbots have no queues and respond in real time, so another check mark here. But, chatbots should not be session based. A customer should be able to start a chat, not complete the interaction, and come back to it hours or even days later — it’s all about the customer’s time.

And if a human handoff is required, there can’t now be a queue — but the human can message the customer back later. Next, chatbots will live and die by their access to context. Know your customer is a key tenet of any winning CX.

Bots without context will negativity impact CX the same way agents do when they ask you to retell your story and provide information they should already know. Last, we know that winning customer expectations are often based on building emotionally positive connections. To build loyalty, winning bots need to be able to get customers to enjoy the conversation and ultimately end it with a smile on their face.

We are all learning quickly in the chatbot space. Companies can’t be afraid to experiment and learn, but they can do so slowly. There is no requirement to launch a chatbot today that is going to make up language on the fly through Machine Learning and AI. You can launch 100% scripted chatbots and make sure that the language used is personal and empathetic.

And when your chatbot can’t understand what is being asked of it, it’s time to hand off the conversation to a live agent.

What valuable lessons did you learn from 2018’s massive mergers and acquisitions in the Marketing Cloud and Automation areas?

The two most interesting acquisitions of the year for me were SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics and Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft. Both point to the criticality of truly understanding the customer. Qualtrics’ data view is all about the customer experience — what they are feeling towards a brand and why, and this complements SAP’s existing operational data view of what the customer has done.

This additional and complementary context can transform SAP’s value proposition. Meanwhile, Mulesoft is all about the convergence of sales, service, marketing and commerce. Mulesoft will not only be used to properly integrate Salesforce’s separate clouds, but can also be used to further enhance a brand’s 360 customer view by connecting data from 3rd-party platforms that they as well.

Some question whether Salesforce will support Mulesoft’s independence in this area, but I am betting that they will. Open ecosystems are winning today in enterprise software and I believe Salesforce will embrace this strategy.

Tell us about your go-to strategies to support rapid growth and the lessons learned through the periods of massive shift and transition,

One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that transformative change takes time. We have been working on these solutions since 2014 — we actually started Smooch in my previous company before spinning it out at the end of 2015.

Now 5 years later, we are finally seeing the big players in the space, Facebook, WhatsApp, Apple and Google, etc. open up to omnichannel business messaging. So, we learned to be patient and stick with our work in bringing this technology to market. But on top of that, be ready for when adoption happens as it can be rapid. Right now we are seeing the whole market opening, and we fully expect business messaging to be the norm very soon.

What does your technology community look like? Who do you meet at events and conferences to discuss technology?

We sit at the intersection of AI, real-time communications, customer experience and the API economy. So, basically, we tend to interact with a lot of different communities. We also have over a thousand developers who work on the Smooch platform, from all different disciplines and from around the globe.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We use a real mix. Segment, Salesforce, MailChimp, Intercom and a variety of other tools. Segment is a critical piece of the puzzle as it allows us to unify our customer data. The one piece of the puzzle they are missing is conversational data, but we have that covered with our own platform!

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing and Sales Technology for 2019-2020?

Today, I believe the answer is CRM. CRM allows a business to connect “what” is happening in their business with “who” it has happened within the market. But CRM is still data all input by a company’s sales and service personnel. Experience Management (XM) software, however, will define tomorrow’s technology landscape and will connect businesses directly to their customers and all of their associated contextual data.  XM software will augment business intelligence by helping businesses to understand the “why” behind customer behaviours, not just the what.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Those that are focused on unifying customer data and experiences. Also consumer-facing startups that have woven messaging and conversational commerce into their DNA, such as SnapTravel, JetBlack and Dirty Lemon.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a CEO?

Make sure you have a really clear unified view of your customers. Your AI strategy doesn’t have hope without a unified data layer.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Our team at Smooch needs no inspiration, to be honest. Because messaging is such a fundamental part of how we communicate in our personal lives it’s not hard to imagine a world where messaging with businesses becomes the norm — and how much better an experience that will be.

One word that best describes how you work.

Conversational.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Slack. I’m sure most of your audience will be familiar with the workplace messaging tool, but we love it at Smooch. Persistent conversational channels help us build and maintain internal alignment, and serve our customers better. It helps us maintain our customer relationships by having a separate channel for each of our clients, meaning if you require any information on a specific client, you can be sure to find it in that channel. We even have a channel to discuss the coffee in the office!

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Starting my day when the day starts. That’s typically 5:30am. This allows me to get in my exercise, clear my mind, and be at my desk for 7am before the day really gets going.

What are you currently reading?

I recently read “Principles” by Ray Dalio. A brilliant insight into his phenomenal success. On the fiction side, I am a spy, adventure novel nut. I just finished “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes, which I give two thumbs up.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Make sure you are focused on your customer’s problems, rather than your solution. You can easily become preoccupied with selling your product when you spend so long working on something. But when you listen to your clients for feedback, you will be able to adapt your solution to the changing market and position it in your customer’s words, making it much more accessible and attractive.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I don’t think I do this better than anyone else necessarily, but I see focus and perseverance as having been at heart of any of my successes.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Jen Rubio, Co-Founder of Away… they are creating such emotional connections with their customers it is amazing… for luggage!

Thank you, Warren! Hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

CEO and Co-Founder of Smooch, Warren has a passion for building winning employee cultures that drive innovation, exceptional organizational performance and extreme employee and customer satisfaction.

Smooch Logo

Smooch is an omnichannel conversation platform that connects any business software to all the world’s messaging channels, helping brands build more meaningful relationships with their customers. The company raised a $10 million seed round in 2016 and powers customer messaging for global CX leaders including Oracle, Zendesk, Lithium, Sparkcentral, Clarabridge, Four Seasons, Uber, and Betterment.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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