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The Support Automation Show: Episode 35

by | Sep 22, 2022

Maxime Manseau, Co-Founder and CEO of Zest, joins Justin Schmidt in the next episode of The Support Automation Show. They discuss why organizations should automate lower-value support tasks and interactions to save time, money, and bandwidth for high-value ones.

Listen now!

Justin Schmidt: Max, welcome to The Support Automation Show.

Maxime Manseau: Hi, Justin. Thanks for having me.

Justin: Absolutely. Where did this podcast find you?

Max: I’m in Paris right now.

Justin: Paris, France. One of my favorite cities in the world, haven’t been since 2013, I think that was the last time I was there. Of all the bucket list sort of vacation destinations that we Americans have, the three I recommend to people the most are Paris; France, Cinque Terre; Italy, and Iceland.

Max: That’s nice.

Justin: It’s good to have a representative from one of my favorite cities in the world. You are the Co-Founder and CEO of Zest. Why don’t you tell us just before we get started here a little bit about yourself, what led to the founding of Zest, and then what Zest is doing to drive value?

Max: Okay, cool. Yes, I’m going to try to be pretty quick. I have always built companies. This is my third company and basically, two past ones we got, I would say, we got a huge dimension of customer support. Customer support was really like the center of it all and what made it work. This is basically what my co-founder and I made us focus on, like, “Hey they’re still missing a lot of things on the support scene; tech scene. I feel we’re pretty underserved in terms of technology.” We were like, “Hey, we’re not trying to build something in that space.” This is basically how Zest was born.

What we do is we are a screen recorder built for customer support. I don’t know, I guess most of you guys know Loom. Loom helps you record your screen to share with customers. I like to see us as a reverse Loom, in a sense, that it helps your customers to easily record their screen to show you an issue or feed back a question so you can easily understand what’s going on, the full context, and speed up resolution basically.

Justin: Fascinating. Basically then, a person on the CX team would be able to get effectively a session recording of a particular issue that the customer can then– Is the customer initiating the recording or is it a recording every session and then–

Max: No. The customer initiates the recording. Let’s say I’m an agent, you’re the customer, you’re telling me, “Hey, I’m having an issue with your product.” I’m just going to request a recording, just sending you a little link. You’re going to click on the link. Don’t need to install anything and automatically it’s going to start and you can show me what’s going on and I’m going to receive this directly in my Zendesk and all the rest.

Justin: Very, very cool. This is a particularly interesting bit of technology to me because of the fact that we are kind of able to take a particular session down to the single user’s experience with the product, which is very cool because a lot of times when we think about technology and automation in the larger support landscape, you think of everything from as simple as a chatbot that can answer some questions automatically before it hands off to an agent, all the way to fully automated IVR systems where you’ve got tens of thousands of people calling in every day or whatever if it’s a large organization that has a big IVR system and you don’t have this individualized encapsulated snapshot of an issue.

You guys are able to create those, get them back over to customer support teams, and the support team knows exactly what the customer is seeing. It’s very cool. I was looking on the website here. The other thing that looks really interesting, are you then also recording not just video, but also things in the console that are HTML or JavaScript that’s rendering as well?

Max: Yes. We basically get all the logs. If you need to escalate the issue to the product team or engineers, you get all the technical context you need to. The main idea basically is to avoid back and forth. When you have an issue you’ll be, “Hey, Max, I have an issue,” and I will tell you, “Hey, how does it look?” You’re going to tell me something and I’m not going to understand, or at least I’m going to misunderstand what you’re telling me. I’m going to go back to you, this, it’s not efficient, makes you lose time, makes me lose time. It’s just not nice for both of us, right?

Justin: Exactly.

Max: What we’re trying here to do is just trying to improve the workflow here, both for the customer and for the agents.

Justin: Love it. To get into the meat of our conversation, I’m going to ask you the question I ask everybody after we learn more about the guest and what it is they’re doing, and that is, “What does the phrase, “support automation” mean to you?”

Max: What’s pretty funny, as you realize, like we exist, we’re more on one-on-one support than automation. What we realized over time is if you want to provide one-on-one support, you need to add everything else automated. This is basically like, one doesn’t lead without the other one, right?

Justin: Yes.

Max: All our customers, and I’ve seen so many teams. Especially in the SAS business, but not only; many other industries too. If one day you have the need for great one-on-one support, you can be sure of all the ways that maybe you don’t see or what’s under the hood, everything is automated. I really don’t see them as some different things. They complement each other, and one needs the other to exist, or at least to exist in a great way. For me, obviously, to answer your question short, what “automation” means, it’s one-on-one support. If you want to provide, I would say one-on-one, like customer support, you obviously need to start by adding everything automated from your support processes both outside, like customer-facing, but also like internal.

Justin: I am so glad you specifically called out that automation and one-on-one support really are two sides of the same coin and not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts because this is something that we believe- Capacity- very strongly as well, is that the best automation is not there to replace your best people. Automation should exist to allow your teams, allow your people to be able to do their best work. In the support context, that means having your teams able to really dive in and solve the high-value high bandwidth important issues for a customer and not be bogged down by answering the same question 17,000 times in a single day, right?

Max: Definitely.

Justin: This is quite honestly the first time this specific point has been brought up in these interviews. I’m really grateful you did it because it allows for the conversation that I think a lot of leaders need to hear and a lot of leaders need to have, and that is to really think about automation, not simply to eliminate things, but to create bandwidth for other issues. What you’re doing at Zest is literally to make that bandwidth for those other issues as efficient as possible, to your point on removing the back and forth.

Max: Yes. It’s funny you’re bringing that up because so many people don’t see automation as something to enhance relationships, I definitely do. It’s not here to replace relationships, we’re not talking about relationships on one side and automation on the other. This is why it might sound on the very first loop when people are talking about automation, but trust me, I’ve seen support team operating hundreds of them, and the ones who were able to build the best relationship with the customer, because at the end, this is what matters, at least it’s what I believe matters; this one, other one, who asked the most support automated to, as you said, let them do the best work and just high-value work.

Justin: Your primary customer is the CS agent at a SAS company, correct? Because you’re mostly working with other software companies in your customer roster?

Max: Yes. When you say screen recording, basically, you need to have stuff to record, it’s a bit stupid, but it’s true. More customers spend time on the product on the website, we’re going to be useful. SAS companies are, I would say, 80% of our customers, but we have others.

Justin: Of course. In terms of the relationship between support and product, this is something that exists everywhere, and I’m really interested to get your take on it, because you guys really provide a bridge between those two in a lot of ways because when products like– customer has an issue, CS team is there in a Slack channel or something and say, “This customer has the issue.” The product team wants to recreate it, they want to see it, et cetera. That’s not always normally possible without doing something similar to what you guys are doing. You’re able to give that context between the incident and back to the product team.

In general, that helps the relationship between CS and product. I’m curious from your vantage point, having installed Zest across your variety of customers and having seen some of the lack of communication or effective communication anyway, between product and CS, I’m curious to see what you’ve seen that really works, what you’ve seen that hasn’t worked, and maybe some advice you could give to a CS team to build that relationship with a product to get that feedback from customers incorporated into the product?

Max: I think, first, we need to see there is a big change that started a few years ago. I’m sure you heard about product-led companies. I do believe that tomorrow, what is going to be the goal and what makes a company succeed or not, is going to be the product. We’ve seen so many companies reorganize the team around the product. I do believe companies who don’t do that might have a very, very hard and rough time in the upcoming years. This is, I would say the first thing, is really make sure the product is in the center of everything.

Even in the product-led companies, you don’t even have sales anymore, basically. You don’t have growth. It’s product growth. What’s funny is, the product is fueled by interaction and conversation you have with your customers. This is also where customer support is coming. What’s pretty funny, what I’ve seen in the best companies is, before, you really had like, hey, you start with the sales, then you have an account manager. Then once the onboarding is done, you have the support helping you.

This has been totally reorganized, where basically, from the entire user journey, from A to Z, you really have all the job booking together from the product, the growth, and the support. I think the best companies I’ve seen just don’t have any wall between all those teams and especially between the support and the product team because the support fuels the product one. We could enter in the details on the whole to give all the insight and the whole product team deals with all those insights. I guess it just makes the communication very easy between the two and has processes to make sure the product team receives everything from its customer support teams.

Justin: Have you found looking across the landscape as you guys see it, do you see any common support issues that come up that could be prevented with either different training, or a different methodology to ensure that proper things are being documented, that keeps coming up over and over again, that if you could tell a roomful of CS leaders, “Hey, you’re most likely to run into this problem. Here’s the way you should think about mitigating that upfront,” what would it be?

Max: Might be a bit different, but I will say, the thing I will really recommend because I’ve seen so many teams struggling with that, is to publicly publish your KPIs, your support KPIs. Might sound a bit counterproductive right now but the thing is support teams are always hidden; customers don’t really see them. I think the best thing that helps support teams align with their objectives, and with the customers is publish publicly your KPI, your support metrics.

I don’t know, you could grab three like, “This is our average response time,” “This is,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Most of the time, these are totally hidden, USM in your dashboard of your support teams. Just make them super published to your customers. I guess you’ve seen a status page when, for example, you have your server down and stuff?

Justin: Yes.

Max: People have this publicly. What I recommend is to pull every day of that alive to what we could call a support metrics page, and make this available to all your customers. This is such a competitive advantage. I think it’s one of the easiest things to do that will bring you the most value to your support team.

Justin: This is a great idea. I like this a lot. To your point, if you’re good at providing world-class support and world-class customer success management to your customers, you should let everybody know that and not just on a, “On our website somewhere it says, ‘We love our customers.'” It’s like, “Well, of course, you do, like every– Find me a business that doesn’t say, ‘We love our customers.’”

To literally publish the metrics and say, “Hey, we had a blip and the response time got too high a week ago; the reason for that was we rolled out X. We got your feedback and we changed X to Y and now we’ve got response time back in order.” If you think about fandom and your customers are fans, if you really want to earn the trust of your fans, think about a professional sports team, every metric they have is published, available, scrutinized, talked about, celebrated, condemned, et cetera.

Part of the interesting thing about this is that you’re putting your money where your mouth is in a way that I don’t see a lot of businesses do. This is a really, really interesting idea, I like it. It helps the customer support and customer success teams start the conversation with their future customers earlier because now they’re showing to prospects, “Hey, this is how good we are- or aren’t- in certain areas.” In a world, especially in SAS of opaque pricing, of everyone saying they’re always the best at everything all the time, it is a differentiator. I love that. That is a great idea.

Max: Yes, and you have no idea how much trust it builds from the beginning between the support team and the customers.

Justin: That building trust is so key. Let’s double click on trust a little bit. As a fellow vendor that sells into support teams, I’m just curious, your take on this. How would you go about instilling trust in a support team that the technology or product that is about to be installed in their workflow should be trusted? With AI and automation, this is a common thing, where, “Oh, is this just getting installed to take our jobs?” Or, “Is this some big brother watching us?” kind of thing. I’m curious, your take on what CS leaders can do to build trust with their team so that when new technology is brought in, that it’s adopted, used, appreciated, et cetera?

Max: Yes, I guess if we’re talking about what’s happening within a support team, I guess it’s all about making sure your teammates feel they’re valuable to what you’re trying to do. I guess just being transparent on how this new technology or this new process or this new workflow will help them achieve what they’re being hired for, would be the best way to do that. I’m trying to think. I don’t have a concrete example that’s coming to my mind, but I definitely know what you mean. People are very scared that, I guess just jobs are evolving and changing and people know that, but you just need to be transparent and explain to them, like, “Hey, this is going to help you do that.” Or, “This is going to help us focus on that so you can have more of your time to do this.”

Justin: Well, your answer there got me thinking because of what you said a minute ago about publishing support metrics like you would on a status page, server uptime page, or something, and that is customer support and customer success; they are gold, they are motivated. They are built to raise NPS, raise customer satisfaction, decrease churn, drive, and maintain adoption to be able to provide whatever objective measure of fast, good customer service is. Any leader of support teams or success teams that wants to bring in some sort of product into their organization is doing so under the auspice of making those numbers better.

In a world where your CS team is fully bought in on the KPIs and the metrics that they control, the conversation to say, “Hey, support team, we have had a lot of issues in the product that we aren’t able to quickly address because there’s a lot of back and forth. I found this solution called Zest that is going to allow our customers to kick off session recordings, to then send to us, and we can eliminate a lot of that back and forth and close the loop with the product. If we do this, I think we’re going to decrease response time, increase CSAT, et cetera,” and then the buy-in is there. That buy-in doesn’t happen unless there is this agreed-upon sacred relationship with the KPIs that that team has.

For the rest of the day, I’m going to be thinking about how we can publish our CSAT, and response time and uptime as well. We publish our uptime like every software company does, but the customer success metrics, you’ve really got my gears turning on that one. If you were to go back in time and look at the support world, we go back to, when the guys at Zendesk were diagramming out the first help desk, what’s something that if you would go back in time and say, “You know what we should actually do differently is this?” What would that be?

Max: I don’t know. I think, and we got talking about automation. We are entering a world of automation, where really it’s efficient and it’s great, but when automation started, it was pretty bad. What I feel is this is also why people right now might be sometimes doubtful about automation. Customer support is, at the beginning, when it really started, I’m sorry, but it was awful. The thing is customer support has always, and still is for many companies, and this is a mistake, but it’s seen as a cost center.

One of the first things that people started to automate back in the days, I’m talking 10 years from now, was customer support, but the automation process was far from what we have now. Automation was like, I don’t know, you have a boat, like talking and talking and talking, and you just wanted to talk to someone because the boat was looping and looping. I don’t know, I experienced that with airlines company or stuff like this, and some of them still have that, but to me, that was so hopeful in customer support, and I think this is, I don’t know if I could change something, but obviously, technology, you need to– know it’s mature and you need to go through this, but regarding customer support was really one thing I didn’t like back then. I think support leaders are changing their minds, especially C-level people, like CEO and staff of big companies now know automation, but yes, back in the day, it was definitely what I would have changed. Just have the type of automation we can do nowadays because it was pretty crappy and now it’s great.

Justin: Yes. The evolution in conversational design that has occurred over the last five, six, seven years has really been great. I can’t speak for what it was like in the early 2000s in France and Europe on dealing with automated phone menus was like, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would dial the number and I’d say, “Speak to an agent, speak to an agent,” smash zero on the phone, “Speak to an agent.” It’s not because of anything else other than the way the voice would read the menus and tell me what button to push for what is just arduous and long and terrible, and then that exact same thinking just got dumped into chatbots when it was available. It’s like, “Guys, we need to learn to create experiences and use conversational design in such a way that we’re making this a seamless, fast experience and not just like recreating the crappy IVR system.”

Max: Sure. Yes, I was telling you, all those examples we are talking about, I would say customer-facing teams, but I think the most astonishing improvements are not so much in what the customer experiences, but on an internal way, basically on all the internal processes and workflow that automation can help the support team with, the systems that customers don’t see, but that help support teams just provide better support.

Justin: Right. This has been a great conversation. I know as a founder, your time is valuable, limited, you’re a busy man. It’s also five o’clock over there– it’s almost six o’clock. I need to let you get to dinner and your evening. I want to close this show with the same rapid-fire round that we close every show with. That is just the first thing that comes to mind, what’s the book that you most often recommend to people?

Max: Sapiens Excerpt, because Sapiens is obviously something that someone should read.

Justin: That is a good one by the way, Sapiens is an absolute must-read. Wholeheartedly agree with you on that one.

Max: I’m currently– I’m just going to tell you it’s not the one I would recommend, but I’m going to tell you the one I have right now on my night shelves. This is The Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas, which is obviously French. This is a novel which I love, so I’ll go for this one.

Justin: Thanks for recommending books that aren’t business self-help books, by the way. That’s always refreshing to hear. I think when I ask that question, people usually think, “Oh, I need The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I’m like, “No, you can tell me Harry Potter if that’s what your answer is.”

Max: I’m reading 90% of self-help and business books, but I’m trying to read more and more novels because you’re traveling, dreaming. It helps your brain to just–

Justin: It’s more enjoyable to read.

Max: Yes, that’s why I’m trying to read more novels.

Justin: What’s the best productivity tip or productivity hack that you’ve folded into your practice that you would recommend to people?

Max: I guess just go for a walk. It’s stupid but as soon as I feel like– There’s so much going on or some days are tough. If I feel I’m just overwhelmed, I just stop everything and go for a walk. Just walking sometimes for like five minutes, I go back to my seat but I guess this is my productivity hack number one.

Justin: No, I’m a full-throated endorsement on the midday walk. I’ve taken to– if there’s a meeting that I don’t need to present anything on, I will do it with headphones in my ears, walking around my neighborhood. I can look at the slides on my phone, I can participate just as actively as I did if I was sitting at my desk or standing at my desk but my body’s moving. I’m in nature, I’m smelling things. I’m seeing the beautiful architecture in the neighborhood I live in, 100% recommend that.

Lastly, if you could recommend one website, blog, Slack community, LinkedIn group, et cetera, for leaders in support, what would it be?

Max: The Mom Test. You guys need to go check it– I think it’s The Mom Test that comes like this, which is basically the art on how to talk to customers.

Justin: Oh, okay.

Max: Without having them enter in the way you want them to enter. This is a crossroad between product interview and support and I think this is one of the most helpful books as a founder, but also for everyone who will need to deal with customers. Just how you speak with people without formatting them to give you the answer you’re expecting, and this is super-helpful.

Justin: That is not one that has been recommended on this show before. I’ll be sure in these show notes and the marketing we do for this episode to include a link because I have not gotten that one before, and that is a very important part of the conversation to have, so I really appreciate that.

Max, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for the conversation. Where can people go to find out more about you and Zest?

Max: Thank you so much, Justin, for having me once more, it was a great chat. If people want to chit-chat about support with me, they can do that through LinkedIn. Just add me, send me a message, and be more than happy to have a chat.

Justin: Love it. Max, thank you for coming on The Support Automation Show. Have a wonderful evening.

Max: Same, Justin. Have a wonderful day. Bye.

Justin: Cheers.