Episode #13: Using Better Customer Intelligence To Optimize Services With José A. González

Customer support is a big driver of customer success in the B2B sphere. In the B2C space, however, things can be more challenging as you’re dealing with hundreds to thousands of customers daily. How can you design your customer service program so that it translates into customer success as you scale your business? José A. González, the CEO of Infolink-EXP and founder of Zahoree, joins Betsy Westhafer and Tony Bodoh to explain how his company’s customer journey support model works. José has been in the IoT business for more than twenty years, learning along the way that scaling your business is much more about customer relations than product design or marketing. Listen to him share some of the ways his company accompanies customers on their journey towards having the best experience with their IoT products in the middle of a technological revolution.

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Using Better Customer Intelligence To Optimize Services With José A. González

Know your customers and remove their obstacles to success

Our guest is José González. He is here because he’s going to talk about customer success in a different way than we’ve ever heard about it before. Usually, we’re talking about tech companies and B2B sales but we’ve got a different story today.

I’m excited to dive into this, Tony. We’re going to be talking about how you can utilize your customer support people as actual customer success people, what that look and why that’s important. José has a lot of other great insights on what it means to be customer centristic in this type of world.

José, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you here.

Thanks for having me.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How you got to where you are today? How you got Infolink to where it is? Let’s start with that. We’ll see where that takes us.

Customer Support: Customer support in the B2C space faces several unique challenges that are not even of the slightest concern in B2B.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for exactly 25 years now. My journey has involved several companies that I’ve either founded or cofounded but, most of them have been iterations of the Infolink brand name somehow. We started by founding an ISP, an Internet Service Provider back in the late ‘90s. We spent the following decade running a software business. We had our own suite of products that people use to build websites and eCommerce websites and those kinds of things. We spent about another decade running that business and selling our products to a worldwide market of internet consultants. That was our first true exposure to what it means to support customers in that case, in many different places, sometimes different languages.  They involved technical issues many times because of the nature of the product.

In the late 2000s, I moved to San Jose in California. I spent there about seven-plus years. We had also been running another small division of the company that provided outsource services, IT support, and software development. When I got to Silicon Valley and spent a few years there inside of the startup ecosystem, two things happen for me. One is I learned a lot about the kinds of challenges that startups have to be able to scale and stay around. Customer support is certainly one of them. I would argue that it’s one of the most important ones. It may not be apparent in the first few stages, but it does become apparent later.

The other thing that happened to me is I fell in love with the whole customer experience discipline. It made a lot of sense to me. It got me excited, not only with regards to technical products but also when I walked into stores, as I played the role of a customer, as we all do for many different things. I watched those things that companies did or didn’t do that influenced their customer experience. The marriage of those two things, customer experience, our technology background and support background prompted us to get into the business that we’re in today. We relaunched Infolink as Infolink-EXP in 2012. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since.

José, tell us a little bit more about the specific work that you’re doing with your customers and who you do that for?

Betsy, we are a provider of customer support solutions and we think we do that in quite a unique way for a couple of reasons. One is that we serve the technology space only. Our clients are usually consumer IoT vendors. Companies that are in the home automation space, wearables, security, those kinds of products. We also have a few customers in the Software as a Service space and a few others that are eCommerce, FinTech or companies like that. The other thing that we do is we approach it in a way that’s very much aligned with how these companies operate and how they understand their customer’s journey. From age to onboarding to the first 90 days in the journey to the tech support and continuing face of renewal. We’re very much aligned with how these companies understand that and provide different services based on that understanding. That’s mostly our market space and how we approach things.

When a business is ready to scale, it’s no longer about the product or marketing. It’s all about keeping relationships with the customers.CLICK TO TWEET

I’d like to dig in a little bit deeper and find out tactically how do you find out what you need to know to be in alignment with your customers?

Different companies are at different stages. For most technology companies, it goes like this. They’re very much focused on the engineering of their products initially, on actually creating and having a product in the first place. Then they focus on the marketing of that product because they need to let the world know that it exists and what kind of problem it solves and they then get to the scaling part. That’s the progression for these companies assuming that they gain some traction with their product and are able to grow past the first few stages. We usually talk to them when they’re getting to the point where they need to scale.

When we talk to a company, we know what phase it is in more or less, and we can talk to them about their specific challenges. The challenges usually have to do with gaining adoption of the product, so having more and more customers, and scaling in general. Scaling has a lot to do with scaling their operations. We are specifically concerned with their customer support operations. How does a company get from having 3 or 4 people that support their first few thousand customers to a larger team that supports tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of customers? That’s the scaling challenge. As they gain product adoption, they’re going to face that challenge. At that point, it’s no longer so much about the product or even the marketing, it is about keeping the customers that you have, keeping those relationships in place, and good customer experiences. The challenges are somewhat the same across companies as well through these different phases in their lifetime.

You talked about your experience in the tech sector and from a B2B perspective, typically that means the customer success model is a high-touch model. You and I have had many conversations around it. How do you bring some of that world to this consumer-based smart product marketplace?

We’re not a customer success vendor per se. We’re more on the customer support side of the house but we’re very much in the customer success space in the sense that we want to try to bring that same philosophy and that set of best practices to the B2C space. Customer success as we all know what was born out of the B2B companies. Mostly in technology, we’re talking about software companies. These are companies where you have a customer success executive that has a set of 30 or 50 companies that he deals with. He can afford to have a quarterly business review with them. He can afford to give them a phone call and high touch relationship with those customers and make sure that they’re getting what they need to get out of whatever solution is being sold to them. That CSM can approach them as the renewal date approaches. He can keep that relationship going overtime.

Customer Support: You can integrate a lot of services into your customer support operation depending on the nature and needs of your customers.

In B2C, it’s not that easy. We’re talking about many thousands of customers sometimes in the hundreds of thousands or millions, so you can’t afford to have people call everybody on the phone. The way you have to do it is you have to do it with lower touch approaches. One way is to do it the tech touch way. You do it through email as customers go through different phases in the customer journey. For example, if you’re in the first 30 days of having bought a smart product or some consumer electronics product at the store, then you’re going to activate that product within the next week to two weeks or perhaps 30 days. You have certain challenges at that point. As you go forward, then you’re going to need less and less help and you’re got to be more interested in advanced features.

One way that a company can keep up with those customers and follow the customer success approach is through email and other technical tools. The social networks, for example.  But the other way that you can do that is you can do that through your agents. What I mean by that is your support team, the people that are there precisely to be able to take those calls and to accompany that customer through his journey. To the extent that you can do things with your support team that are closer to customer success to what a CSM would do, you can design certain kinds of services. You can design a concierge, a white-glove type service, an onboarding service or you can do certain things to be able to build customer success, best practices, if you will, into your support operation. That’s quite an innovative way of looking at what your support team can do for you. That’s the way we see it. I’m not going to get into the whole detail right now but that’s a general idea.

I really like that because you think about a customer, just because there are potentially hundreds of thousands or millions of customers, doesn’t make them any less relevant in their experience, any much less relevant in B2C than it does in B2B. It’s a different mindset for B2C and I love that that’s your approach. The second part I really like about that is you have this asset. Your customer support people are an asset of the company, why would you not leverage them in that way? That’s a brilliant mindset for how to better enhance the experience of B2C customers.

You do have an asset and sometimes the way people look at support is in a break-fix type mentality. Somebody has some issues, somebody has a problem and they call in and you fix it for them. It turns out that if you approach it from a perspective of an understanding of what your customer journey is and with a customer success mindset then what are the services that you could design into those support operations so that the outcome is a successful, happy customer. Someone that’s getting the most benefit out of the product that they acquired. You’re building a relationship and you’re expanding on that relationship. That customer is going to buy more from you also. You can even have your support team by a sales team in a way. You can see that that agent becomes a mini-CSM. They have the same role for these many thousands of customers that a company may have.

It reminds me of a story. This was a couple of years ago. I called tech support for one of those industries where people shudder at the idea of having to call tech support. I got hold of this wonderful support person. It turns out she was in the Philippines and it was right after they had the hurricane. She said, “I want to thank you in the United States for supporting us so much.” She was very personable and sharing some personal experiences. Not that it builds a long-term relationship, but it certainly built a ton of goodwill toward the company that I was calling because she was being herself and very natural and positive, not following a script, or not to the letter, and engaging with me as a person calling customer support. All these years later, I still remember that. It made a difference in how I felt toward that company.

Customer feedback helps you design services a little bit better and more relevant to different kinds of users.CLICK TO TWEET

It gives you those kinds of feelings and perceptions that create a relationship with a brand. It has to do with the soft skills that people may have. It has to do with a mix of technical, soft skills, good training, a good understanding of what the solutions, outcome is supposed to be, and what people may be expecting from the product. A lot of empathy and soft skills that any service industry should be applying.

I’m thinking about your process thereof the customer buying the product, onboarding, setting it up and needing support through the life of the product. It seems to me that there’s got to be a big play for you in this space of analytics and understanding predictively what’s going to happen next and what do we need to handle next? How do you guys handle that situation? How do you approach that?

As you know, customer success uses a lot of data and an understanding of what’s going on with your customer. By using data is a great asset to CSMs in B2B companies. In the case of B2C companies, it should be the same. The way we approach it is there’s an analytics element to all of this to the extent that you can collect, analyze, and use data to optimize that customer journey, then all the better. We announced a product called Zahoree. It’s an analytics layer on top of your customer support operations. What it is going to help us do is collect data that come from customer feedback channels. For example, data that comes from surveys, support cases themselves, and process that data to be able to learn not only customer sentiment but what kind of outcome is the customer looking for when they buy that product. It may have to do with certain aspects of self-identity and aspirational things that people are looking for.

They’re not trying to solve a very narrow technical challenge. That product will become part of their own life. In IoT, there’s no question, the data is out there, that what people are looking for these products to do is to make their lives easier. At the end of the day whether a product make my life easier or not.  If I’m talking about a security product, smart lock, camera, or a smartwatch, does it make my life easier or not? How much effort does it take for me to become that user of high-tech products? To the extent that you can understand these things and get them from that customer feedback, then you can feed that back to your process and start optimizing the things that you do. Designing services a little bit better to be more relevant to different segments of users, for example. Some people may be tech-savvy but some people not so much.

You may even go beyond customer feedback data and add other data sources that speak to the profile of that customer himself. What products has he bought? What accessories? What’s his purchase pattern? What are his demographic data points? Where is he? What kind of person is he? What do you know about that? As you can add these sources of data from your survey system, support platform, eCommerce platform, CRM perhaps even, then that data set becomes richer and richer to where you can use better intelligence to optimize the services that you’re providing along that support journey.

Customer Support: It is obvious that better customer experience translates into retention and expansion of relationships. What is not obvious is that it translates into product research.

One of the things you mentioned earlier was about the focus and importance put on engineering. Talk to us a little bit about the customer feedback you get from the field, how that helps evolve the products, and how that feedback gets back to the engineering team. Those kinds of product improvements that actually come directly from the customers.

As you’re able to capture what your customer says to you and things about your product, your brand name and so on, you can use that in different ways. The obvious things are that as you provide better customer experience, that’ll translate into retention, expansion of those relationships, reputation but one of the things that people don’t think about many times is how it translates into product research. One of the things that you learn from customers as well as what the product is doing and what it’s not doing and what features they’d to have in a product and you can feed that back to your product teams and engineering teams. Smaller companies have a great advantage. They’re agile. It doesn’t take a long time for the Director of Marketing to go back to the Director of Product or Director of Engineering and say, “This is what I’m hearing from my customer. They told us that this is a feature that they would need to have. Can we put it on our roadmap?” They can do that easily. That’s a great benefit that sometimes goes unnoticed, but that companies can certainly take advantage of it.

As you were talking you used the term user. I wear glasses. If I don’t have them on, I don’t feel like myself. If we go back 12-15 years ago, smartphones are coming into the marketplace. It was new and novel. Now if we don’t have our smartphone with us, we feel like we’re incomplete. It’s almost like we really moved from this phase of I’m a user in the early adoption cycle to this is part of who I am. You said something in our prep call that got me thinking about this too, is how intense the tech revolution is going to be. It’s already started, but how intense it’s going to be. You heard it from the 1980s. Take us a little bit down that path. What do you see with this world of consumer smart products and IoT opening up? How does it become the lifestyle that we live and who we are?

There shouldn’t be any question in anybody’s mind that we’re in the middle of a very fast and intense technological revolution. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to compare it to the PC revolution in the ‘80s. Can you imagine a world without PCs? You can’t. Your children can’t. They’re here to stay and we can’t imagine a world before that. We’re in the middle of that wave. IoT has been in the news for a few years now. The most visionary people out there saw it coming. If you were able to connect computers to the internet, you would have been able to connect anything to the internet at some point and we’re there.

Home automation is the most dynamic space and I include security on that. People want to feel safe. A lot of the products that are being bought are products that make us feel safer at home, cameras, smart locks, doorbell cams, those kinds of products but then there’s a whole lot of categories that are built for other use cases. They’re built for other things in our lives. Fitness, for example. The smartwatch that has a fitness use first and foremost and then health. That smartwatch is turning not so much into a fitness device anymore, but into a health device that can monitor your heart rate, sugar levels and some other biometrics.

Customer support bridges the gap between the innovators and the people who greatly benefit from their innovations.CLICK TO TWEET

I’m just talking about 2 or 3 different categories. There are all kinds of products out there for pets, growing vegetables at home, and disposing of your garbage in a sustainable way at home. I’m not even going into the industrial IoT space which is a whole other world. We’re in the middle of a very, very intense technological revolution. What that means for us is that the challenge is to help users. Help all of us out there that are going to be users of all this technology to be able to understand it, use it adequately, to make our lives easier as I said before, and to make our lives better. It sounds easy but it’s not automatic.

A lot of these products are do-it-yourself products. You’re supposed to self-install and self-configure them and so on. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It never is. In Infolink’s case, I see our mission as removing those obstacles that people have to being able to use technology better for themselves. At the end of the day, it’s about bridging a gap between the people that are creating all these innovative products and the rest of those out there that aren’t technical perhaps, but that can greatly benefit from all this technology.

Customer Support: In this technological revolution, the challenge for customer support is to help users understand the technology and use it to make their lives easier.

That reminds me of back in the day when people first got VCRs and nobody knew how to program the clocks. I remember that was such a big thing. It was like, “I can’t figure out how to program the clock,” and you look how far we’ve gone. I think we just moved past it.

As we come up on our time here, one of the things that Tony and I like to do with our guests is to ask them if they have any community service projects or charities, nonprofits that you have an affinity for during this time that is challenging for many so people that you could give a shout-out to and let our audience know about these organizations. Is there anybody that you work with, sit on the board for or have a particular affinity for that you’d like to share with us?

Not specifically, but what we do is a lot of our operations are in Mexico. Our company is based in San Jose. We have an office and some people there mostly are part of our sales team. We do some “consulting” from there in the early stages of engaging with clients. We have an office in Mexico where we do a lot of support from and we also have an office in Spain. One of the things that concern me greatly is poverty. For some time now, what we have done is we have dedicated a small portion of our profits to supporting a couple of organizations that feed kids and that teach them math and art skills.

These are kids that sometimes live in families where their mothers work. They may not have a father or they’re at home on their own all day. We mostly provide that support through church organizations that are able to provide these services to kids, keep them busy, and keep them fed. That’s very close to our hearts. That’s what we do. During the COVID pandemic, which we’re in the middle of, we’re also supporting some food banks to be able to provide food to people. You’ve been watching in the news, when you go into lockdown, there are many people out there that if they don’t work for a day, they don’t have food to eat. They don’t have the savings. They have to work every day to make ends meet. Food banks in this case are doing a great job of filling that gap a little bit. That’s another thing that we’re doing.

That’s wonderful. There are many heartbreaking stories in the news as we’re enduring this pandemic. There are many good stories of so many people stepping up, noticing where the need is and doing what they can to help. We appreciate on behalf of the rest of the world for people like you that are doing good things, particularly as it relates to children.

We all should be doing what we can. It’s a big challenge. Every country has it. It’s a worldwide thing we should be doing what we can.

This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much. I’ve learned a lot personally about the world that you work in and it’s not a world I’ve been exposed to a lot. This has been helpful for me to understand the inner workings of the side that I’m not on. The opposite side when I call tech support or customer service. What strikes me is your desire to uplevel the relationship and make it more of a personal thing as much as you can when you have hundreds of thousands of customers. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you for your insights and we appreciate your time.

Thank you. It’s been my pleasure. I love your show. I love the title of it.

Thank you. Take care, José. Thank you so much.

Thank you.

I love this interview with José because he talks to that element that is going to be a massive need in the next few years and that is the human connection, the human relationship in the tech space for consumers, especially the IoT space. We can talk about how it’s important to have human relationships in the service industry. A lot of times, people don’t automatically think about technology as a service industry, but it is. The moment I buy the product, I’m now in the service sector.

The whole Coronavirus thing has shown a light on the need for human connection because, in the past, it was something that we took for granted both personally and in business. Moving forward, that’s going to become so much more important to people and there’ll be more of an awareness around it.

It’s great to see how Infolink, José, and his team have been able to take these best practices from the customer success space, the B2B space, and bring them into the B2C space and use that coupled with the analytics to find ways to have that human connection. It comes back to what we talk about on the show all the time. It’s about really knowing your customer. Once they know the customers and the obstacles on the journey, no matter if that’s onboarding, tech support or renewal. As they know that, they can help their clients and the customers of their clients. I love the whole approach that he takes to the business model. We’re going to see more companies like this in the near future.

He’s a true visionary for being out in front on this, for sure. With that, we will wrap up our episode. As always, we are so happy that you’re here. We encourage you to take some notes and some actions on what you’ve read here. We will see you next time.

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About José A. González

BA in Computer Science and MBA graduate from the University of Texas at Austin.

Founder and CEO of technology support services company Infolink-exp since 2012.  Infolink partners with rapidly scaling IoT technology companies, to deliver an addictive customer experience to end users.  Infolink-exp is also the developer of Zahoree, a CX optimization platform for B2C IoT, Home Automation and Consumer Electronics vendors.

“I believe we are living in a unique era of accelerated innovation, which requires that companies abandon the old model of pushing product in favor of accompanying their customers through the complete cycle of selecting, adopting and using technology to improve their lives and experience. Our Customer Journey Support model at Infolink-EXP, including big data-driven insights along the journey, help companies do just that.”

Prior to Infolink-exp, José’s entrepreneurial journey included founding companies in Internet services, web site design tools and services for a worldwide market audience, software development and product support ventures based in his native Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico border area, Silicon Valley and more recently in Spain.

José was born in Juárez, Mexico.  He currently lives in El Paso, Texas and spends time in San Jose, California and the Bay Area, where he lived from 2009-2016.

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