What was the big story in customer experience in 2023? What's next for brands delivering CX in 2024? And how has artificial intelligence (AI) affected customer service, the roadmap for tech SaaS companies like OvationCXM and even the leadership strategy of CEOs, like our own Alfred (Chip) Kahn.
Chip sits down for a CEO catch-up and weighs in on all of this. Plus he explains the origin story of OvationCXM and why its doubling down on using ecosystem connectors and journey orchestration as key levers to transform customer experience management to be more effective, efficient and a driver to stronger business performance.
Looking back, what are your takeaways from 2023?
Chip Kahn: The big story everybody is talking about is the impact Gen AI has had and how quickly, and we are still in the early going. It's probably a 10-year journey. I don't think anybody anticipated what an important role it would play, particularly in an application layer like ours for customer and employee experience.
Why is there a disconnect between what brands and customers consider to be great CX?
Chip Kahn: Everyone looks at their products and processes with rose-lensed glasses and has an inherent belief they are doing everything to create a great experience. Unfortunately, customers don't always agree, hence the gap. Some of that is to be expected.
On the other hand, there is always more work that can be done to make ideal customer journeys, whether it is buying something, becoming approved, trying to use a product for the first time or getting help to solve a problem. We refer to all of those things as journeys.
Often, companies focus on a touchpoint instead of the whole journey. Therefore, they think an individual touchpoint is a positive experience, but when you sew all of those touchpoints together, it turns out the blended average is much lower. I think that’s what customers are saying.
What do you predict for customer experience in 2024?
Chip Kahn: It depends on the industry. OvationCXM specifically focuses on ecosystems in the financial services industry. I think there will be new uses for data to drive more personalization, insights and recommendations to make the customer experience more efficient in how it's delivered in the moment and how customers consume it.
What is your prediction for tech SaaS companies in 2024?
Chip Kahn: For enterprise SaaS specifically, I think 2024 will be about Gen AI and how it is layered into the application layer and tech stack. Companies have to figure out how they will use it and which use cases drive value to their ideal customer profiles. I believe there will be continued emphasis on that and more automation. You have to because it has such an impact.
What was the experience of navigating this year's business environment as a technology founder and CEO?
Chip Kahn: As a tech founder and CEO, you are always dependent on capital markets. There's an investment ask you made up front, and ultimately, you get the return later given the infrastructure and all the things you need to do.
It’s been a hard pendulum swing from growing as fast as you can, where capital is easier to get, to only growing profitably, where capital is very difficult to get. That happened very quickly and fundamentally changed how you have to think about the business, where you invest, how much you can invest and how long your cash runway needs to be.
It was a violent pendulum swing, not gradual, and it has impacted every company. Everyone is trying to be as efficient and profitable as fast as possible. There are headwinds now, so you have to operate the business and its objectives differently.
What is planned for OvationCXM in 2024?
Chip Kahn: In 2024, OvationCXM will continue building automations for customer journeys and exposing those experiences directly to end customers and internal teams. We orchestrate customer journeys today, but I believe, where we are going is orchestrating AI.
There are three kinds of Gen AI models: proprietary ones where an enterprise might build its own; closed models like Chat GPT and open models like Llama. If you go to Hugging Face, you'll see tens of thousands of open-source models. So enterprises aren't going to use just one. We call it Bring Your Own Model (BYOM).
We will orchestrate those into a journey by determining what AI model is the best value to help a particular step in a process. It's not always going to be the same. It’s an intensive cost solution, so you have to optimize those costs to deliver the value that is promised. We are going to focus on how to get the most out of the different AI models at different steps in customer journeys, both internally to enterprises and externally to customers. We think that's the next big play.
We may use model XYZ at one step and model ABC at the next step. Being able to orchestrate the calling of those different AI endpoints to deliver the best outcome is a big opportunity in conjunction with building that into the customer journey.
How has the emergence of generative AI impacted your leadership strategy and OvationCXM’s roadmap?
Chip Kahn: The emergence of Gen AI from a strategy perspective is interesting because it's not dissimilar to how call centers opened in the Philippines to save costs. But in this case, it is outsourcing to the machine.
How do you think about the combination of people delivering quality versus outsourcing to the machine within call centers and implementation teams? It is going to happen a lot faster than people think, and it will change the cost structure and dynamics. Companies will need to retool the workforce to learn to do new things. For instance, prompt engineer vs. tech support. The combination of those forces is interesting.
We are asking ourselves a lot of questions about where that leads. What are the right steps to get from here to there effectively? It may involve cannibalizing some of the things you do today.
The pace of change has definitely accelerated too. As a tech entrepreneur, I grew up in business with the Internet, so I do not have a pre-Internet vs. post-Internet view of the world that some have. The closest thing is probably smartphones. When Android and iOS came out, we had to think about everything in the context of mobile, which meant completely different apps, customer experiences and use cases. We had more digital services to support, and that made things more complicated.
For OvationCXM, [AI] has changed the competitive landscape. [The companies] that I considered competitors before are now less competitive, and companies I would not have thought of as competitors are competitors now. It has had a big impact on how we think about driving value to customers and differentiating the company through our product roadmap.
Why has OvationCXM invested in journey orchestration and ecosystem connectors as the best way to optimize CX?
Chip Kahn: We have focused our investment into the ecosystem (which we define as connected companies that serve a common customer even though the customer doesn’t see themselves as common) and customer journey orchestration.
The reason both are important is because they are disjointed. There is no connectivity between the ecosystem and the customer. And if there is, it is just a veneer, meaning that employees are on the back end trying to find answers via phone or email. It is not a real-time data service.
The journey is the aggregation of experiences throughout a product. It is not a touchpoint, one-team experience; it is a holistic experience. When you can unlock visibility into third-party systems where you didn’t have visibility before, you can see a holistic view of the customer and that becomes a very unique data set, especially when used for Gen AI. For example, a customer summary becomes more robust and accurate because it captures all of a customer’s interactions - not just the ones with you. That is how OvationCXM is different.
How did OvationCXM recognize the impact of broken customer journeys in CX?
Chip Kahn: We were a third party in an ecosystem. We helped enterprises directly with their end customers, and there was a lack of visibility, collaboration and effective communication. One simple example was two different emails would go out at the same time from two different companies inside a journey. It was confusing. So, as we were delivering that [support], we were building the software.
In any industry that has a value chain where multiple companies are touching a customer, you have a village raising a child, so to speak, so you need a town hall and forums where that can happen seamlessly. That’s what our platform orchestrates.
Why choose OvationCXM over other technologies?
Chip Kahn: There are different tools for different jobs. But today if you are in financial services or commerce and have multiple companies delivering to an end customer, we are the best solution.
First, we provide connectivity, visibility, orchestration and collaboration. Increasingly you need data to drive better AI insights and copilot use cases. In challenging economies, you need to have more of a focus on CX, not less.
Second, if you are not extracting efficiency out of things like Gen AI, you will be left behind. Enterprises need to do proof of concepts and pilots - you can’t wait.
They also need to do AI in a way that delivers value, not a way that just costs a lot. It is expensive and it takes a lot of compute, and compute costs money. A lot of enterprises will not find the value they need because they won’t have the right companies to help them orchestrate the models and use the right tool for the right job, even inside the Gen AI use cases.
How does OvationCXM fit with existing systems like marketing automation?
Chip Kahn: There are a lot of great marketing automation systems, whether it’s Adobe Solutions, Marqueto, Segment, or Salesforce Marketing Cloud. They are focused on certain things, and they do them very well, like lead generation, tracking and optimization and the assignment of lead origination. They are also great for drip campaigns to keep customers and prospects engaged. But those things happen before and after customer journeys.
Marketing to a customer who hasn’t decided to buy yet is a lead source for a buying journey. Someone in a nurture campaign is not in a customer journey; you are trying to get them to re-engage, and then they will be back in a journey. But we think they connect.
Take Salesforce Marketing Cloud for example, which is a platform we connect to, by the way. It sits as a bookend on both sides of a customer journey. But in the middle, customers need to buy the product, go through underwriting and then start using it. And they need help doing all of that. These things are outside of what Salesforce Marketing Cloud does, but they are very important and complementary. That is where OvationCXM fits.