Lamees Butt joins Betsy and Tony on this episode to delve into the topics of digital transformation and the ever-evolving landscape of commerce.
She shares her insights on the challenges faced during her journey, including the importance of failing fast and adapting, which eventually led her to the corporate world. Now a key player at Zoovu, an AI commerce platform, she focuses on connecting businesses with their customers, making it easier to find products in the vast digital market. Through real-life examples with industry giants like Vodafone, Dyson, and Bosch, she illustrates the complexities of the B2C sector and the inevitable changes coming in B2B transactions.
Lamees sheds light on Zoovu’s customer-centric approach, involving partnerships with top customers through Customer Advisory Boards, fostering a community where thought leadership and experiences are shared. This collaborative ecosystem of customers and partners is seen as pivotal to Zoovu’s growth, proving that in the ever-changing world of digital commerce, strong partnerships and customer-centric strategies are the keys to success.
Tune in and hear more from Lamees, Betsy and Tony on this episode.
Watch the episode here
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About Lamees Butt
Lamees Butt is the SVP Of Global Alliances and Channels at Zoovu where she spearheads strategic technology partnerships and relationships. She has over 10 years of experience in shepherding digital transformation efforts and forging partnerships at companies like Mercedes-Benz UK, Salesforce, and Zoovu.
Butt’s passion for innovation in the digital space focuses on the belief that when technology is leveraged strategically its ability to create value for businesses and their customers is truly transformative.
Bridging The Gap: Navigating The Digital Transformation Of Commerce With Lamees Butt
Creating A Connected Customer Experience
Betsy, I am excited about our episode. Lamees is going to bring some amazing ideas to the table here with her company. We’re going to talk a lot about AI. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know what AI is as you’re tuning in to this. The piece that gets me excited is how the company that she works with is using AI to empower people, specifically in the ability to make choices that are on the customer side. If you’re in a B2C business, they’re helping reduce choice paralysis and the anxiety that comes with making a choice as a consumer because there are many options. It’s hard to get the information you need.
She’s going to talk in more depth about the B2B space and how they’re leaning in and automating some of the things that often take weeks to do in the B2B space, helping salespeople and the people who are putting quotes together to make that happen in a much faster, more efficient, and more informed way, to be frank. The ideas that come out from this episode are things that anyone can embrace and think about as a consumer in business. How could they apply some of these things to their own business?
Lamees Butt is the SVP of Global Alliances and Channels at a company called Zoovu. If you haven’t checked them out, please do. It’s an amazing company. She is based in London. She is one of those tech leaders who is sitting in a position to change the customer experience. I don’t want to cut to the chase here, but one of the things that stood out for me was when she was talking about how this customer experience unlocks additional revenue on the B2B side. We go deep into what Zoovu is doing on a B2C level, as well as a B2B level. It’s exciting, dynamic, and moving fast. It’s exciting to meet people who are on the cutting edge of this. You’ll hear her passion and insane intellect around what she’s doing and what Zoovu is doing. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Lamees, thank you so much for joining us here. We are excited to have this conversation. We had a chance to chat with you a little bit before. We know that there’s going to be some good stuff for our audience out of this conversation. Thanks for being here.
Betsy and Tony, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Give us your background and how you got to this role that you’re in now in this exciting company. Tell us about your customers and the problem you’re solving. Tell us everything you want to tell us about where you sit right now.
The genesis of the whole thing was that, digital transformation is such an umbrella term, it’s something I’ve been passionate about since my mid-teens, which is a bizarre thing to say. I’ve always been passionate and curious about how to better things. When it came to digital in my early years, it was about how to bridge the world in the online fashion space and the brick-and-mortar stores. I wanted to develop this bridge that didn’t exist before. My curiosity took me to different heights. I eventually created a startup. I got some seed funding and I failed fast, which is what you’re meant to do and learn all the lessons.
I went on to corporate and did some time at Mercedes-Benz, which was incredible. I ran a digital transformation project for their European branches on how to transform the way that they sell cars. It was extremely exciting for an automotive manufacturer to lean in and want to be a market leader and future-proof their organization. Corporate can be a behemoth. There can be a lack of agility there. At my roots, I’m somebody who thrives in the startup environment. I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves and get-your-hands-dirty kind of person. I wanted to go back to that Lego brick building.
I found myself as the number two in our London office at a company called Zoovu. It is an AI discovery platform. Our goal is to connect our customers to their customers and help them find the products they need in the most seamless way possible. We work with brands like Bosch, Dyson, and Vodafone. We help them connect to their end customers by surfacing the right product for their needs. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the concept of choice paralysis, but one thing that we all know and have in common is that we all shop online. Whether you are shopping for a bike, a washing machine, or a laptop, it’s incredibly confusing. It’s because we’re overloaded with choices.
What we aim to do is remove that choice and try to simulate that in-store experience that you’d get with an expert sales rep who’s asking you human questions. Not how much RAM or CPU you need, but it’s through these almost guided questions that get you to the products that are right for you. The benefit of that in terms of business outcomes is we’re boosting conversions, we’re driving cart value, and we’re creating a customer-centric approach that everybody is looking for.
That is fascinating because everybody can relate to the choice paralysis and how many options there are. If you were sitting in a coffee shop and someone was talking about Zoovu at the next table, what would you love to hear them say?
I would love to hear them say, “My washing machine broke last week. I’ve been stacked at work. I have kids at school. I’m doing all of these different things, but within the space of two minutes, I was able to find the right laptop for me and get it sent to my door. The reason I was able to do that is because this cool experience on the Bosch website helped me find the product by asking me the questions that I would be asked if I was to go into a Home Depot. I could do that all from the comfort of my sofa. The time that I saved and all of those things benefited me because we’re time-poor.” If I were to sit in a coffee shop, that’s the thing that I’d want to hear. It’s that we were able to change the lives of people like you and me who can go about their lives and achieve the things they want to without doing it the old way.
You are selling your customers time, getting the time back, and confidence in their choices being the choices they know will be the right ones for them.
I love this concept and what you’re doing with it because you’re removing this information disparity. When we were prepping, we talked about when the internet came out in the early 2000s. It got to the point where a lot of companies were starting to use it, and information was online. Car sales as an example. Traditionally, that’s the place where you don’t know the truth of what the price is and what the options are. It changed the game.
When I look at what you’re doing, I can see how this is going to shift up and have an impact on brick-and-mortar retail, like Home Depot, for example. I can imagine that’s going to impact them. What other impacts do you see with the changing of this and giving customers better information at the right time?
What we’ll start to see, and we’re already seeing it, is that customers are expecting a type of service no matter where they’re shopping. Whether you are looking generationally or you’re looking at the channels they’re using, let’s say top of the funnel for the younger generation, they’re browsing on the likes of TikTok and Instagram. They also want to be able to purchase through that channel. They don’t want to find the product or see a sponsored ad and have to then go to another website and purchase. That’s too much effort.
We are trying to create an experience that’s streamlined and efficient for the people who are consuming it. In terms of discovery, people don’t have the time to do the research for products or things that we need to use in our daily lives, whether it is the bike, for example. A great example that I have for myself is I’m renovating my house and I need to put my pictures up. The walls that I have in different rooms are slightly different. There are MDF walls and brick walls. I need a drill that’s going to service both of those things. I have no clue which drill I need to be able to do this.
Thankfully, Bosch, one of our customers, understands that’s a real problem. I could drive to my closest store, which is twenty minutes away, and have that conversation with a salesperson, but that’s taking a good hour or maybe two out of my day. Now I can go straight to the Bosch.com website and be asked the question, “What are you looking to do?” “I’m looking to put some pictures up.” “What are the wall types?” I can then select the wall types.
By asking those needs-based questions and understanding the needs of the customer and the job to be done, you can better recommend. What’s incredible about this is that you’re developing trust with your end customer. If you think about the conversations that you would have in store with a good salesperson, you are having this conversation back and forth.
By the end of the conversation, if they were good salespeople, you would have developed this level of trust because you were seen, heard, and felt understood. The product that they’d recommended to you, you’re more likely to buy the associated products, like the accessories and compatible products. I don’t want to go home and search for the Bluetooth mouse that’s compatible with this laptop. I’ll take it all because I trust you. That’s what we’re able to now do on commerce, which is transformational.
Betsy and I started this show just before COVID hit. As we talked to CEOs and executives in the C-Suite, over the last three years, we’ve seen a lot of changes happen. One of the initial changes we saw was the big box stores or any physical type of customer experience where companies had invested tremendous amounts in designing and creating, that immediately evaporated when things were closed down. With FedEx, UPS, and whatever delivery service delivering that box to your door, that was the experience. You’re going to the website, buying it, and the box arrives.
What’s happening now though with what you’re describing is that brands themselves are taking ownership of the customer experience in a brand-new way instead of relying on Home Depot and the Home Depot employees as an example. At least here in the States, that’s where we would go. Instead of going to them and relying on them for the experience and recommendation of products, you go directly to the brand itself. You get a recommendation directly from the brand, who should be the best expert on their own products.
I think of two things. First, in my opinion, commerce websites now are simply indexes. They’re not fit for purpose from a customer experience perspective. We cannot expect our customers to come to our website and search for hours for the product that’s right for them. In the world that we’re living in now, you will not survive as a business if you don’t understand that there needs to be better discovery and better navigation to help your customers find the things they need.
The second thing is you mentioned Home Depot. It’s such an important topic to cover because what we don’t want to do is put retailers out of business, but the concept of creating a connected customer experience is something we want to do. We have to take our customers on that journey. This digital transformation that I said I was passionate about in the beginning is not a destination. For us, it’s an ongoing partnership and journey that we go on with our customers.
There’s an entry point where we’ll look at immediate discovery experiences that we can help uplift the site, the experience, and the outcomes. We’ll start to say, “Some of your customers will get to the recommended product, but they might not still feel like they want to convert for whatever reason. How about if we were able to connect that recommendation to the closest store in their vicinity? They could go into the store knowing that it’s in stock, have a quick look at that product, and then convert. All the while, it’s still being attributed to your commerce revenue.”
That’s important because we want to be able to bridge between online and offline. If we segregate them, we enter the danger zone because retailers, brands, and stores in general are going to become more experience centers. If we lean into that, there’s a real place and purpose for them, while commerce and the other channels are at the top of the funnel and we’re helping them understand the brand and the product that they need in order to convert.
There are many thoughts going through my head. The other beautiful thing about this is if you think about the added value beyond the product and service that’s being sold. The added value of I can do this at midnight. I can look for a drill at midnight, and that’s what works for me. Home Depot is not open at midnight. The ease of being able to do this on your own terms as far as what time, sitting on your couch, or whatever the case may be, is part of the experience and the added value that you’re providing.
The other thought is that I love that bridge concept between the online and in-store. What popped into my head is if you purchase something online, but you need further assistance, or you’re about to purchase it online and you need that further assistance, that brick-and-mortar may not have it in stock, where the whole inventory is open via online path. There are many advantages to this.
When we’re working with our customers, what we want to do is have a look at the customer journey end to end. We’re talking online and offline. What we want to start to understand are web pain points. I was at a conference. It was centered around the future of business, how generative AI is going to feed this, and what this means for organizations. There’s been a lot of talk about generative AI and how amazing it is, which it is. It’s moving at such a fast pace. It is going to transform the way that we do things. If we’re not careful and we start to use generative AI for the wrong things, it can have an adverse effect.
The advice that we would give to customers is to say, “Let’s look at that customer journey. Let’s identify where those pain points are.” Number one, before we hit generative AI, I would like to think about how we can reimagine this process. How can we reimagine what that pain looks like so we can resolve it? The likelihood is we can use some generative AI to solve and transform it, but that’s an applied AI. When we use it that way, we’ll have tremendous benefits rather than just creating a bunch of generative AI tools and saying, “Yes, we’re now generative AI.” You have to use it with purpose.
I worked in the hospitality industry almost twenty years ago. That’s a long time, wow. We found that people would come to our hotels for three to three and a half days for conferences. That’s what we did there in large Vegas-size hotels. We did the journey mapping. Depending on what you were there for, you have somewhere between 40 and 45 touchpoints with staff, hotel, or facilities in a meaningful way.
We also knew that only 3 or 4 of those would make or break your entire experience. One of those was how long you stood in line as you were checking in. That could affect the entire thing, and strangely enough, if you drove there, how easy it was to get out of the parking lot when you left at the end. Those types of things have an effect. It’s important to understand the journey and what the customers are experiencing and apply it strategically at the right point in time. If you apply it across the board, you’re frankly wasting a ton of investment. You might not solve the problem that needs to be solved.
Until this point, we’ve been focused on B2C. I’ll move to B2B in a moment, but one thing that will blow your mind for a minute in the B2C world. We’ve been speaking about brands and potential retailers having these discovery experiences. What’s powerful for the brands is that if they’re creating these discovery experiences, let’s say on Bosch.com, and it’s performing well, they can then make the decision to say, “I want every retailer that sells my Bosch products to have this same experience because I want my customer, whether they’re shopping at Bosch.com, Home Depot, or wherever they’re shopping, that they have that consistent brand experience.”
What we develop over time is this predictability around what a customer is going to receive when they hit a website. The more that we have that predictability and this common theme, the more you get repeat customers because they come back because they know what to expect. That’s the B2C world. The B2B world is on the cusp of something. When you look at B2B and you think about the products versus in a B2C world, the complexity of those products is different.
Drills are complex for somebody like me or you, or possibly not you. Don’t be offended by the stereotype. For me, they are. In the B2B world, let’s say I want to build a motherboard. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I’m looking at multiple different parts to build and the computer that I need to build. I could not go to an electronic manufacturer online and produce the bill of materials in quantity or the quote without calling the sales rep first. Those sales reps are on the phone for 90 minutes at a time per customer, speaking to different departments, checking stock, checking availability, time to ship, and all of those key metrics that they need because there’s no real-time source to aggregate all of this data.
This is what Zoovu solves. For the B2B world, this is super exciting right now. Everybody says, “You must love retail and consumer products.” I do, but there’s something in the B2B world that is going to be transformational because we’re going to unlock revenue through commerce that didn’t exist before. When these organizations are thinking about truly future-proofing themselves, what does that mean? It’s such a vague term, “I’m going to futureproof myself.”
Businesses survive because they make money. How do you make money? You sell products. How are you going to sell products if you are being asked to do more with less? You can’t hire more salespeople. What do I have to do? I have to digitize my sales process. How do I digitize my sales process if my products are so complex and they live in 40 different systems, all with different variants? That’s where we come in to solve those problems.
What I get excited about is we can hear your passion for what you’re doing. You’re in a position to change the whole world on how this is done in a positive way to unlock that additional revenue for businesses. That’s wildly exciting. I know a lot of people who are not tech-savvy necessarily hear AI, and it makes them shutter because there are so many things. It’s the same feelings that people had when the internet started. They’re like, “This can be used for some awesome stuff. This can be used for some bad stuff.” That’s how it has played out.
The more people see what good can come and what the use cases are in a positive way for AI. I love telling those stories. We’re working with another client that is using AI in healthcare. It’s fascinating what it can do for healthcare. I know there are many positive things. This is one more example of how it can be used in a positive way, especially in the B2B sector, because that’s where we live.
The AI topic, in general, is nothing new. It’s been around for years. There’s been a bit of virality with generative AI, which is now why everyone is talking about it. It’s cool and exciting. AI is large data sets that have been built over time and learned. What’s so exciting is that there have been industries, for example, B2C consumer products, where we’ve run these AI experiences for many years. We have all of this unbelievable data that we can learn from, pull trends, and have all of this insight.
What excites me is when I look at the future for industries that haven’t applied AI yet. It’s like the infancy of bringing on an intern. When you bring on an intern, you have to train and onboard them. They go through, whether it’s online training or they have to do tests. After six months, they’re proficient. They can now answer the phones and do things, but in two year’s time, they’re going to be an expert. That’s how I see the next two years from an AI perspective, especially in the industries where it hasn’t been as prevalent, like healthcare. It’s exciting in an industry that is ripe for disruption. It will dramatically change the way that healthcare operates.
How do you see this playing out? I have two daughters who are Gen Z. They’re both in college. They’re going to be in the workforce in a couple of years. Gen Z is going to be the biggest employed group by 2030. Their experience of shopping as a consumer in their teens up into their early 20s has been around. They’ve seen machine learning and AI behind the scenes, helping them as consumers. What’s your perspective? I can’t imagine they’re going to tolerate the chaos that we’ve lived through in a B2B scenario. They’re going to demand more. What’s your perspective on that?
As it pertains to AI, I don’t even think I could predict post-6 to 8 months at this point because of how fast things are moving, which is exciting but we’ve got to keep our eyes open in the best way possible. From the Gen Z and employment perspective, what excites me about that is they’re not going to tolerate the same things that we did. What that means is we can expect a shift in the way that those businesses operate. I truly believe for the better.
Gen Zs are looking, for better or worse, to consistently optimize. They want everything in the most seamless way and a one-click purchase. They want things now. From a B2B standpoint, having that experience where I have to speak to a salesperson and five different teams to get the different data, then I have to manually put that into a spreadsheet to build a quote and send that out at which point, I don’t even know if the stock availability is still real, that is not going to stand with the Gen Z group.
As they start to come in, especially in the B2B world, there will be a shift. They’ll be leaning into customer-centricity, putting the customer at the heart of it. It’s one of those things where when you do things, and you’ve been doing them for so long in the same way, it becomes habitual. Bringing in a fresh set of eyes and thinking is going to be helpful to these organizations. I’ve seen it in some instances already. When you look at it through a different lens and angle, you can reimagine the way things should be, which maybe you wouldn’t have thought of before because we’re in the weeds.
It made me chuckle when you said that if people see a sponsored ad on TikTok, they don’t want to have to go to another platform to purchase it because that’s more work. It wasn’t that long ago when it wasn’t even an option to buy online. Our frame of reference on what constitutes more work has shifted so much, and it makes me laugh. I’m like, “I have to go to another platform and move my mouse to buy this massive product that I want.” What that looks like 6 to 8 months from now as all of these things are changing is such a dynamic and exciting time. What’s on the radar for Zoovu?
It’s going to be an exciting year for us for a number of reasons. Discovery is a relatively new space in itself. We’ve been around for a number of years. It wasn’t so long ago that we were able to not buy things online. We’ve moved incredibly fast, knowing that this is going to be the future. I’m excited about our customers, the things they’re doing, and the way that they’re looking to be market leaders in the specific industries they sit in, whether that is B2B in the industrial manufacturing space or the actual shoe provider or bike provider. I’m excited for their businesses in the next 5 to 10 years for them, knowing that they’re invested in their future.
From an actual product perspective, we’re a SaaS platform. What we want to be able to do is give our business users or customers ownership of this platform so that we can move away from that whole notion that we need to spend weeks and months changing things and going through cycles. We need to be more agile if we’re hoping to have change for these organizations.
As we look at our roadmap, generative AI is in there. I can’t say too much now, but we are looking to release some exciting things towards the end of 2023. This has all come from work with our top-tier customers. It’s going to be exciting as we roll it out. We’ve done what we were talking about before, which is looking at the problems that exist and making sure we’re applying generative AI to those problems.
That sparks a thought and another question. When you say you’re working with your top-tier clients, how do you do that? Do you have customer advisory boards? Do you have product focus groups? How do you engage with your top-tier clients?
In a variety of ways. We do CABs. Customer advisory boards are a great way for us to connect with our customers but also from a thought leadership perspective, have that room talk to each other. In a space that’s fast-moving, we need to be exchanging thoughts and sparring with each other. Our customers feel the benefit of being able to do that when they can speak to each other and hear from us as well.
We also run separate events with our customers. That’s opening up the group. It’s a much wider group and also for partners. It’s not just our customers but also our partners that help us extend our capabilities and our reach. Ensuring that we have a strong ecosystem is important to the future and growth of Zoovu.
Normally, I would ask at this point in our show about what is going to happen in the next 3 to 5 years for a company. That’s unpredictable as you’ve already expressed. The question I would want to ask is knowing how unpredictable AI is and where we’re at in the journey, how do you look forward both for Zoovu and also for your clients to say, “Where should we head? Where should the roadmap be leading us, even though if we don’t know the exact path we’re going to be 2 or 3 years from now?”
We entered a partnership with SAP. What that partnership has evolved into within the space of eighteen months is something quite special. They have 400,000 customers who are predominantly focused on the B2B world. They all have the same problem that we know we can solve. Our mission over the next 2 to 3 years is to have this roadshow of making sure that people are problem-aware but also solution-aware.
People know they have these problems, but they don’t quite know how to solve them. We want to make sure they know how to solve these problems and what tools are there to be able to do that. This partnership with SAP has been quite transformational because we know where the pain points are and how we can solve them. From that point onwards, how do we supercharge all the experiences that we have with all the technology that’s going to be ever-evolving and being released?
This time has flown. We could continue talking about this for a long time because we’re all passionate about what you’re doing. Congratulations on the amazing work that you and your company are doing. It’s amazing. We’ll be watching to see how all this unfolds because it’s exciting. Before we let you go, one of the things we like to do on the show is to ask our guests is there any nonprofit or charitable organization that you want to shine a spotlight on? It’s our little way to try to help bring awareness to organizations that are doing great work. Is there anybody that you want to give a shout-out to? If so, we’ll be happy to put the link to their website in our show notes.
It’s such a nice thing that you guys are doing here. There’s a bigger message in what you’re doing there, which is being good to humanity and that’s good for business as well. I’ve been a woman in the tech space for the last fifteen years. That hasn’t been an easy journey. It’s been quite hard to navigate. The higher that I elevated, the less women that I saw. There are multiple times when I’m in boardrooms, keynotes, and panels, and I’m the only woman sitting there. It can get lonely sometimes. I would love to have more women at those tables and rooms. We need to be able to amplify those voices.
There’s a charity called Women for Women. It’s not even at our level i.e. we have the opportunities at our fingertips. We can make choices to be able to be in that room and use our voices. Women for Women is shining a spotlight on the women who don’t have that choice, have been oppressed, and cannot use their voices at all. Those situations make me feel quite helpless even in the situation we’re in. However I can help shine a light on those things or raise awareness, I would love to do that because I’d love to live in a world where that wasn’t the case for any woman.
Thank you so much for sharing and for giving your own personal context to that. Tony, any final questions for Lamees?
I always have more questions, but we’ve run out of time here on this episode. Lamees, thank you so much. It has been truly amazing to have this conversation. I look forward to having a follow-up conversation at some point to see where you guys are in maybe another 6 or 12 months from now.
Thank you so much for having me. I loved the conversation.
Thank you. We’ll see you soon.
Betsy, I love this interview. One of the things that stands out to me is the whole idea of what customer experience could become on the B2C side. We spoke a little bit about these retail or brick-and-mortar locations becoming experience centers, a place for people to go to experience. Maybe they do their shopping and they are thinking online. At midnight, maybe that’s what they’re doing out there. Then they go to the location and have an experience.
That’s the future that we’re seeing. I’m watching it happen in retail space now. Even Target is bringing in different types of brands. They have their own little setups and locations within the store. We’re moving more in that direction in the B2C space. We talk about the B2B side of things and understand what that customer journey is and what those few points that we need to address because they’re so painful that we need to solve them now.
It’s a legitimate point. Lamees brought up how if you have salespeople, you’re not going to be able to grow your sales force. You have to do more with less. There’s more information than ever available. You have to be able to know, “Are all the pieces going to be able to come together for the thing I’m manufacturing in the right timeframe?”
We saw with COVID how logistics channels get bogged down and things get late. It shuts down one factory after another. We’re such an interdependent economy. We need to have things like AI in the right place and doing the right things. As an economy, we can overcome some of these significant challenges we’ve already faced and we will only continue to face them as we expand.
Tony, what came to mind for me is we were working with a client with their customer advisory board where they had C-Suite leadership around the table of major retail brands. One of those retailers was a large national shoe retailer. At the time, they were piloting putting a nail salon in their shoe stores. People could get pedicures before they go shopping for sandals. It was all related to the feet where you could get this pedicure. It was part of the experience.
I keyed in on that whole brick-and-mortar becoming experience centers and the creativity that unlocks versus I’m going to go in the store, buy something, and leave. How creative these retailers can get in turning these brick-and-mortar stores into experience centers is wildly exciting. For me, being a nonshopper type, I’m not a big shopper, that would draw someone like me in.
If I thought, “I can get a pedicure and a pair of shoes in one stop. That’s cool,” I would do that versus going and looking online for a pair of shoes. It’s exciting. We’re grateful that we got that time to chat with Lamees. I’m sure our audience is embracing a lot of the concepts that she was talking about. We’re having fun doing this show, aren’t we, Tony?
Thank you again for joining us. We’ll see you next time.