Podcast #12

How Alterra Mountain
Company leverages
Inbenta

Vanessa Day & David Harrison
Digital Content Specialist
& Director of Global

Customer Support – Alterra Mountain Company

About this podcast

In today’s episode, we interviewed our clients, Vanessa Day and David Harrison, from Alterra Mountain Company about how they are succeeding in their customer service and how they use Inbenta’s AI technologies.



Explore the power of AI and NLP
for your customers and agents

Interview Transcript

Welcome to the Future of Customer Service Podcast. I’m Andrea Palten from Inbenta and I will be interviewing customer support and service professionals to see what is currently working well, what issues they’re trying to overcome, and the future success of customer service.

Andrea Palten
Hello, today we have Vanessa Day and David Harrison from Alterra Mountain Company. Thank you guys so much for being here. You’re my first interview on the Inbenta podcast with two people so this is going to be a little bit of an experiment. So, Vanessa and David, please tell us, what do you do for the Alterra Mountain company?

Vanessa Day
Well, as you mentioned my name is Vanessa Day. I’m our Digital Content Specialist mostly working with our digital marketing team. So, website development and content creation and one of my biggest I guess jobs with the chatbot is creating the content and optimizing the bot daily based on what we see people asking and inquiries and also based on David’s team and their feedback to us on what they’re getting a lot of questions about. So, that’s a lot of my day to day job. 

Andrea Palten
Nice. So, David, what does that mean when she works with your team? What do you do?

David Harrison
So, for Alterra Mountain Company, I’m the Contact Center Analyst. So, the analyst does everything, or at least our fingers are in pretty much everywhere sometimes. So, I’m really there to support the contact center agents so, our customer service reps ensuring that everything runs smoothly. As much as possible disseminating information when needed all that good stuff. So, of course, we’ve now added the chatbot to our online platform and it’s been great. In the past, we’ve never used that much chat and now we’re using it a lot more and it’s going well so yep. 

Andrea Palten
How long have you guys had the chatbot, Vanessa? 

Vanessa Day
It’s been live on our site since about last December, so almost a full year. 

Andrea Palten
Oh, okay. So, you have a lot probably feedback already for it so that’s really good. So, let’s talk a little bit about how you’re using the chatbot and how both of you guys work with customer service because this is mostly for customer service professionals that are listening and we really want to talk about what is working, what’s not working, what needs to be improved and what kind of limitations we have and what is amazing. So, let me ask you. My first question for you guys today is what have you done to promote customer service in your organization? 

Vanessa Day
David, do you want to take that or me?

David Harrison
Promote customer service? Well, I think actually just by, by us introducing this chatbot functionality almost a year ago, that in itself is huge customer service. In the past, people would have to email in, or give us a phone call to ask sometimes the simple, basic questions of are you open? Is it snowing? Things like that where do you really want to wait online to talk to somebody for five minutes, an hour, two hours, if we’re super busy to just ask is it snowing? No. So, I think adding in that Inbenta chat has been amazing, and then of course the AI aspect to it where it just develops and grows. It’s been significantly helpful for us. It frees up our agents now who can then focus on those more complicated questions, those sale calls, those exchanges, those everything because yeah. So, I think it definitely improves our service levels.

Andrea Palten
Awesome. Vanessa, had you worked with a chatbot before? Is this the very first time you’ve put a chatbot and implemented it?

Vanessa Day
Guilty. I’ve never worked with a chatbot before. So, this was a new thing for me. I’ve been working with general digital content for a year, but never within a chatbot. So, this has been a big learning experience, but really helpful because it’s also helped me know basically through the chatbot, what David’s team is dealing with, how we can help them on the digital platform. Then it also helps us with how we can improve our website because if we can make some things better digitally that maybe we could even avoid someone having to even ask the bot a question. If we can make it clearer on the website, we can do that. So, I’ve actually been bringing some of the things I’m seeing people ask in the bot to my boss and our superiors to say, can we test a few things? Can we change some layouts, maybe move some things around and word things differently so that it’s a little clearer? So, it’s actually helping us really dive into the user mentality so that maybe we can do some better things with the website design and content base. So, I think overall that’s really going to help our customer service as well because it’ll just dive deeper into what people are looking for. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. So, who figured out, man, we need a chatbot? Which team was the one that said we need this?

Vanessa Day
Ah, you know…

David Harrison
It wasn’t me.

Andrea Palten
It wasn’t me.

David Harrison
I’m happy for it, but it wasn’t me. I’m not going to take credit for that.

Vanessa Day
I think kind of a process. We started with our Social Media Manager doing just a bot on our Facebook page and it was actually my director who thought, well, can we do something like this on our main website, the one where we’re getting so much traffic and so many questions. So, he really drove that initiative and then had me take the lead on getting all the content together, working with David’s team to determine what were the biggest questions we were getting asked, and then basically building it out altogether. So, he had the initial thought. I, David, and a few other people just took it and ran with it.  

Andrea Palten
Nice, nice. A lot of times that’s how it happens. It’s not really just one specific team. The big company, somebody is in charge of finding these things, but medium-sized and smaller companies sometimes it’s somebody completely that has nothing to do with chatbots figures it out that we need something like that. So, I have another question for you about this. When you first started talking about it, truth, was the customer service team, happiness elated and where they’re like, yea, this is going to help us or were they scared like oh no, does that mean we’re going to lose our jobs? Because that is a fear that we hear sometimes from people.

David Harrison
No, no, I don’t think there was that fear that they were going to lose their jobs. I think there’s a lot of what we do every day in the contact center that it’s pretty unique to the individual person. So, there was enough of, I guess, a job security knowledge there to know that the chatbot won’t be that smart to be able to go in and analyze a transaction and figure out that, oh, this was associated with the daughter and she did this last season who did that. Maybe one day and then I’ll be afraid. But at the moment we’re not there yet. So, no I don’t think the team was that nervous about it. In fact, I think they were very happy to have this inclusion because again, it was able to offload a lot of those very simple questions. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word simple too much because they’re starting to get a lot more complex in the way that Vanessa has been able to modify those parameters on it. It’s growing and it’s good. It’s good for sure. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. Yeah. Let me ask you about your company and resources because almost every company is strapped with resources. Either not enough people, not enough budget, not enough bandwidth time. What are you guys doing to figure out, especially right now during COVID? I don’t know if you have more or fewer resources during COVID because some companies actually have more time now and a lot of them have less time and less staff. How are you guys dealing with any lack of time or resources that you may have?

Vanessa Day
Well, I know on digital, I mean we have a small team as it is, so it’s a little tough. So, I’m pretty much the only one who’s doing any kind of bot maintenance or, or optimization so there are days where I don’t even have time to check what’s been going on in the bot. If I know we’ve got a big launch that day or a big announcement, I make sure I’m on it because I know some things will come up. But yeah, there are definitely days where schedules just don’t allow for me to be checking it all the time. Luckily, there’s been some slow times, so it’s not as big of a deal, but it would be nice to every once in a while to have someone else be able to go in there and check it for me and make sure it’s working, giving the answers it’s supposed to. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. 

David Harrison
I think we all want that assistant. 

Andrea Palten
Me too.

David Harrison
Yeah, come on. Just anything but I think with the whole COVID world, every company is being that much more fiscally responsible. I think that’s probably the right way to say it. I think if, as a company, you’re able to pinpoint areas of growth where you can gain efficiencies then yeah, for sure you should definitely be looking at that. Don’t be necessarily afraid of the price tag that might incur because if it’s a good product and you’re doing it for the right reasons then it’s worthwhile to invest. But I think the gut reaction is that, oh my goodness COVID is closing the world so you just close your accounting, and you don’t let anything in or out anymore. You just barricade it, and you can’t run your business that way either. So, you evaluate, and you see what you can do, but if you can see the value in a product or a new process, then yeah, you should definitely explore it. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. It’s been definitely interesting even doing these interviews. Half of the camp is okay, we’re going to wait to implement chatbots and knowledge centers and everything else until later when all this was over and then the other half is like, we’ve got to do this now because now’s the time to do it. So, it’s been very interesting. It’s definitely two different camps forming out here. So, I’m glad that you’re in the camp that says, let’s do it. You have to be in. Alright, let me…

Vanessa Day
I mean…

Andrea Palten
Oh, go ahead, sorry Vanessa.

Vanessa Day
Oh no, it’s fine. I was just lucky that we had implemented this before everything shut down. So, we already had a system in place so that was very helpful. I do think with COVID us having this tool has been very helpful because we’ve been able to use it to basically push that information about COVID to the front, so people are just clicking on it right away in the bot. So, it’s been a great way for us to get that information to them. Even if they’re still asking more and more questions we can at least address it right away. So, we’ve been using the bot for that so that’s been helpful. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. Your timing was impeccable because you set up about a year ago and we’ve been dealing with this since February, so your timing was good. You implemented it, learned it, used it before everything went crazy. Let’s talk about your contact center. How do you measure success in the contact center?

David Harrison
Success in the contact center. I think there are basic metrics and KPIs that everyone looks for is your average handle time, your talk times, your abandonment rates. I think those are pretty generic that are out there. But for me, what we really want to focus on is almost a one-call resolution. If it gets complicated and it takes 20 minutes to respond to a call, well then you take 20 minutes to respond to your clients because that’s what they need. You don’t want to just shortchange them and next, next, next. So, I think it’s that sort of thing and of course, we do surveys at the end randomly throughout so you can make it as neutral and generic as possible and we’re getting good results. So, I would say that. It’s where we’re focusing on. You get the occasional one-hour phone call and you’re just what were you talking about? They’re like, oh, the life stories. You’re like ah, I can help you with that. I’ll teach you how to call handle that but there you go. That happens every once in a while, you make that client super, super happy and they’re loyal to you for a while. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So, do you really spend sometimes an hour and a call with somebody? 

Vanessa Day
It can, yep. 

Andrea Palten
Wow, that’s awesome. 

David Harrison
Yeah. After that you’re like, okay, I’m going on my break.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. 

Vanessa Day
Especially if you take that time and you really do make your customer feel special because that’s really awesome. A lot of people don’t do that. They’ll try to get you off the call.

Andrea Palten
Right. Right. So, I think one of the good things is that we’ve seen a dynamic shift with our contact centers. When I first started in the business, it was a sales center. Every call, you need to convert that into money but that was before even websites were all that important. So, forget chatbots, we didn’t have websites. So, it’s switched a lot now. So, more people are comfortable working themselves either online, through an app, through the bots. So, agents are now becoming much more of a service-driven enterprise. So,  yeah, for sure, you can’t have a three-minute conversation and hopefully fix everything because its chances are they tried to fix it themselves online. Most people try to do things before they call someone. So, if that’s happening, then that’s the way it is. There you go. 

Andrea Palten
Yeah. That’s good. That’s good. Working from home huh? For those of you guys that are…

David Harrison
Working from home. I’m waiting for my cat to jump up but that didn’t happen.

Andrea Palten
For those of you listening on the podcast, we are also recording this on video, and we have dogs, cats, people, everything running around right now. My dogs have not barked yet so thankfully. So, Vanessa, now that you’ve dipped your toes in the artificial intelligence world, and now you’re a chatbot expert what is your idea about artificial intelligence and how is that going to change the future? Let’s think big.

Vanessa Day
At this point, I mean, I know there are fears of, it’s going to take away especially like I’ve heard a bot can write for you. Me as a content person I’m like, great. All the web copy I write, everything a bot is going to do that for me. But I really think with diving into this I’m not so much worried about that. I’m glad we’ve got technology that can help us in this way because it’s never going to fully be a person. It can never have that person to person feel that we get right now. But it can at least provide more human interaction with somebody while still being a machine. So, I think that I’ve learned for the most part that it’s a helpful tool. It’s never going to fully replace us, at least not yet, but we can build it up to be something that’s more of a tool that will always be there to assist us so we can do our jobs better. Like I said, data with it, learning what people are asking day-to-day, it’s just been very helpful. So, having that kind of tool for us is really what I’ve been learning the most about is that it’s just a great way to understand people a little bit more and how they’re going to work with something that is a machine versus a real person.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. Yeah. That’s really cool. I like your take on it. So, I have a question for David. This is actually our last question. What is your number one advice that you have for contact centers and customer service centers? What’s the number one advice? Put a gun to your head, one advice. What would you give them?

David Harrison
Innovate. 

Andrea Palten
Innovate. Okay.

David Harrison
I know, I pulled out the big word. 

Andrea Palten
I love it. So, expand on that. Innovate how?

David Harrison
Yeah. Innovate, try to always make sure you’re developing your practices. As I said earlier, when I first started, we did things in a very certain way and there are still a lot of people out there who want to continue to do what they know and are comfortable with, but the world doesn’t wait and it’s evolving all the time. For the longest time, I hated the concept of being a remote worker and I didn’t want any of my staff to ever be a remote worker. Now, here I am in my own apartment having people walking on me because I’m a remote worker. But we have to, you have to get used to that. You need to develop and see what else is out there that can help you to really maximize those interactions that you’re having with your customers. Whether it’s to make it an easy sale or to answer those easy questions or complex questions. The whole world when you’re shopping now you’re using the internet. So, your marketplace is now the world. So, you need to really step up your game in order to make sure that you’re still relevant to your customer base. So, innovate, don’t be afraid to see what’s out there, see how you can integrate it, and good luck.

Andrea Palten
Love it. Love it. Yeah. That’s really the word of the year  I feel like. We used to say it all the time but then it went away, but this year it’s like everybody has to innovate. Vanessa, do you have anything to add to that, any kind of advice that you have for customer service departments?

Vanessa Day
I mean, other than innovative, which is a good one. I think the biggest thing is, again, like I’ve said, I’ve learned so much with this bot is analyzing, taking what you’re seeing every day, and just building on it to make that better product. To again develop your website or any other communications you have going on. It’s incredibly helpful to look at that data and see what’s happening and then using it to build and innovate as David said. So, we can use everything this bot is providing us on a day-to-day basis and just improve from there and do better. So, I’d say just take the time to analyze a lot of people. They’ll fill the bot out. Let it just do its thing and not do anything with it. I am in there every other day, changing things, updating things based on what I see. So, taking the time to analyze and read through conversations is very important to see what your customers are wanting and asking.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. So true, because then you can only optimize after you really analyze, see what’s working, what’s not, and then making it better and being innovative. All right, guys, thank you so much, Vanessa and David, for being here. I really appreciate your time.

Vanessa Day
Thank you.

David Harrison
You’re welcome.

Thanks so much for tuning in. This podcast was brought to you by Inbenta. Inbenta symbolic AI implements natural language processing that requires no training data with Inbenta’s extensive lexicon and patented algorithms. Check out this robust customer interaction platform for your AI needs, from chatbots to search to knowledge centers and messenger platforms. Just go to our website to request a demo at inbenta.com. That’s I N B E N T A.com and if you liked what you heard today, please be sure to subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review. Thank you.

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