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The Support Automation Show: Episode 38

by | Nov 3, 2022

In this episode of The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity, Melissa Kwan, Co-Founder and CEO of eWebinar, joins Justin Schmidt to discuss why automation matters for your webinar strategy and how that aligns with the current trend of how consumers expect to engage with information.

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Justin Schmidt: Melissa Kwan, good evening, and welcome to The Support Automation Show.

Melissa Kwan: Thanks for having me, Justin.

Justin: Where is this podcast finding you?

Melissa: I am currently in Amsterdam.

Justin: Amsterdam. Beautiful city in a beautiful country. I spent a little bit of time there when I studied abroad, but it was a debaucherous four or five days and not really something to talk about on the podcast, but it is a beautiful city.

Melissa: Debauchery is what this city is known for. Very free-spirited, very liberal. One of the reasons why we moved here.

Justin: Yes, you can have a lot of fun in Amsterdam. Thank you for coming on the show. You are the co-founder and CEO of eWebinar. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led to eWebinar, and then we can use that as a launching point for the rest of our discussion.

Melissa: Cool. eWebinar is my third company. Two startups before this, both in the real estate tech space. First company was supposed to be a product company, but then we said yes to everything and then turned into an agency, a familiar story, and then ran that for four years. I was so sick of chasing clients, chasing the invoice. It was just never-ending. I wanted to create a product that we could sell to everyone instead of trying to get people to pay us a lot of money for one thing. That led to my second company Spacio, which was acquired in 2019.

That was also in the real estate space, SaaS company. Anyone that’s been to an open house, when you walk into an open house, the agent asks you to sign in on a piece of paper. We were the iPad version of that. Things like that. It was like an enterprise house product. You can imagine being a bootstrap company. I always had a really small team, so I was the person doing all the demos, sales pitches, onboarding, training, feature updates, customer education, you name it. I was doing those back then to go to webinars and then Zoom or whatever I could find that sucked the least.

I was also nomadic, so I traveled to different parts of the world. Not only was I doing these repetitive training and onboardings, sometimes five back to back, I was also doing them on opposite time zones. I always envisioned this incredible product that would do my job for me while I would go and have fun. That’s exactly what eWebinar is. After I sold that company in 2019, it was a life-changing outcome, but it wasn’t retirement level, sadly. I don’t really want to work in my life. This was just a problem that kept bugging me.

It kept me up at night that something better than what was out there did not exist while billions of dollars were getting poured into live broadcasts like Zooms, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Restream. Everybody is doing live, but nobody’s solving the scalability of that. I saw that as the natural next step, but it was also just a problem I knew intimately well. Two months after that company sold, I started eWebinar in 2019. We put the product out there summer of 2020. Everybody thought we started it because of the pandemic. No, because anything you see on the market, somebody’s been working on it for a year and a half, two years.

That’s the founding story. Really created this product to solve a pain I knew existed and now what’s cool is we use the product every day. I don’t do live demos. Anybody that asks for a demo, there’s nothing that speaks louder than just being inside the experience itself. I just send them to our site.

Justin: You’re getting into what I think is going to be a thread that we’re going to continue to follow on this show in this conversation, and that is the on-demand nature of basically customer and prospect communications, and when a webinar or a demo may be a prospect but customer support, training. I have been known to record vineyards of different product features and send out to our customers. If I get really ambitious, I’ll load up Camtasia and do something a little more high-end, but at the end of the day, It’s still asynchronous video consumption.

I know you guys have a platform that enables some live Q&A and other enhanced things beyond just watching a video. It’s not just a video player. There’s more to it. I want to get to all that, but before I do, I’m going to start the official interview with the same question I ask everybody, and that is when you hear the phrase support automation, what does that mean to you?

Melissa: I think it means automating everything that can be automated so that you can focus your time on things that can’t.

Justin: Love it.

Melissa: That’s really the foundation. I always say if you feel like a robot doing it, then let a robot do it so you can just go do something else. I actually don’t love the idea of, “Hey, automate this so you can be more productive.” We didn’t build this product so you can work more. We built this product so you can work less. Even on our site, our mission is to help people get their time back to spend it with friends and family and to do other things you enjoy. If you enjoy working more, that’s amazing, but this is not yet another productivity tool.

Justin: There are plenty of those on the market, and there is a distinctive difference I think in the weight of the word automation when you look at it in different contexts. The unfortunately named category of software robotic process automation is very much about literally recreating mouse and keyboard actions to go through whatever TPS report and file it in whatever on-prem system. Whereas we take a very similar approach to you in that if you can automate things to free up time for people to do better work, you should do it. If there are things that need to be just literally not made easier but removed from the workload, automation is not a scary word there, it’s a liberating word.

It’s the kind of thing where you can get more out of the day without replacing people with robots. One of the things that we were talking about a little bit when we were going back and forth about this conversation was this concept of using video as part of a training and customer support regimen. You’d mentioned that you don’t do live demos with eWebinar anymore. The product is the demo, and then you send people to the site. You also mentioned that you do that for training and customer issues as well. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that because that’s a really interesting use of the medium.

Melissa: Our biggest customer base is customer success teams, and actually the smaller the team, the more impact we have. Yes, we have large companies as well. It’s not really our focus because they have massive support teams where webinars are one of those things. In fact, one of our customers, their team is so big they had before us, teams of people that would run webinars 24/7-

Justin: Oh my goodness.

Melissa: -for their customers around the world because they were big enough to do that, but how many companies are big enough to do that? If we look at customer success teams, I have customers where there are 500,000 users on their platform and three people on the CS team and webinars are one of those things, and it’s like this hot potato. That’s where we make the most impact. As you can imagine, even non-tech companies, the tech companies, especially SaaS companies, your revenue is dependent on conversion and turn. How do you increase that and lower turn?

You have to get people up to speed with your product as soon as possible, and especially with people that are selling into enterprises. If their team members are not using you, you can’t justify the value and you need to justify value from day one. What do companies do? They have maybe a live webinar once or twice a month because that’s really at capacity. Nobody really wants to run that, and then maybe they put the replay on a Wistia page, but are people going to watch that or not?

There’s just this mentality behind registering for a webinar that you pick a time, there’s a calendar invite, there’s reminders, follow-ups. The mentality of joining an event that you are dedicating time to and knowing that when you go there, you can engage and ask questions and do things. That makes it very different from a video, and that’s why we keep saying, we’re not just a video platform. Just because we start with a video, it doesn’t mean we are YouTube. I also love saying, if YouTube was enough, then Zoom would not exist.

There’s a difference between watching a video, which is a one-sided consumption, and attending a webinar or online event, which is two-way participation. That’s where the customer success teams love the most because you are all about building the relationship with customers. If while they’re learning your product they can’t reach out to you in that moment, then you’re missing that opportunity to build that relationship. While I don’t deliver demos or my onboarding or my training live, if I’m in front of the computer or on my phone, I’m managing the chat.

If a chat message comes in, I have the opportunity to hop in and respond and people are delighted because they know it’s recorded, but they have an opportunity. I now have an opportunity to delight them with an instant response but even if I’m not there instantly, I can respond later and they’ll get my email later on. The chat system works like a Zendesk or Intercom. It’s asynchronous and people are already used to that. Definitely lots of companies are using this to automate their onboarding and training so they can free up time to create some other content.

Justin: You’re almost literally having a clone of yourself go out and do the actual webinar while you can plow through your email inbox or do whatever it is that you have to do and still be able to engage with people as slack messages come in or chats or however the engagement’s delivered. It’s a very interesting idea and I think there is another piece to this that I want to ask you about because you’re uniquely positioned to answer this.

On this show a lot of times I talk to either CS or CX people, sometimes I’m talking to someone in IT or HR where you’re answering a lot of questions and doing support tickets and having conversations but a lot of times it is not the medium of video. In a world where TikTok is eating into the available engagement hours of basically everyone on earth at this point. YouTube has a bazillion hours of content uploaded every second or whatever their stat is. Zoom is omnipresent, whether that’s good or bad, we’ll leave with the comments.

At the end of the day, video is a huge medium that’s relatively underserved in support outside of just product run-throughs are something that don’t also enable this, I’m sorry to say synchronous chat. I’m curious from your perspective, how do you see interactive pre recorded webinars sitting in the larger mix of channels that companies engage with their customers?

Melissa: I’m definitely biased when I’m saying this, but I also believe it is asynchronous video consumption, asynchronous webinars, including on-demand is the future. The future is here already in many senses. I talk about this a lot, which is the disconnect between B2B and B2C.

Justin: Oh yes. This is one of my favorite topics.

Melissa: Why is it that when you and I are consumers and I want to watch my show, I can go to Apple TV, I go to Netflix, Amazon, whatever your favorite provider is, I can just press play. It’s completely unacceptable for me to watch something next to Zay11 and that’s it and then I have to watch a replay, but then the replay is poor quality. Then so many people are interrupting. Why is it that when we’re consumers, we have this super high expectation for video and audio quality and flexible scheduling whereas for B2B content, we accept the status quo that there’s connection issues, video sucks, audio breaks up? Why is that the norm?

I do think that those B2C, our expectations when we are a consumer and our expectations when we’re consuming content as a business person will align. Why is that important? It’s because the companies that recognize that trend can use that as a competitive advantage. Our customers tell us all the time they were dubious when they were trying this, because they’re like, “Are people going to be mad or frustrated if I don’t respond right away? If I have my webinar on a recurring schedule and they ask me something at 3:00 AM and I’m not there, will they be pissed off?”

It’s like, “That’s what autoresponders are for. That’s what your Intercom is for. That’s what Zendesk is for.” Also, people are empathetic. They’re also business people. They’re not going to be like, “Justin, why didn’t you get back to me right away?” What they’re telling us is now that they’ve tried doing this, automating their trainings and onboardings with a video, not only are they seeing more engagement, higher attendance rate, the average attendance rate across all of our customers, not a small segment, all of our customers is consistently 65% every single month.

Justin: Wow. That’s great.

Melissa: That is more than 25% over the industry average of webinars. Why is that? Because this is a webinar that happens all the time. I get to choose whether I want to watch it right now or next week or tomorrow but the experience is the same. You’re recording this on Camtasia, Loom, Descript, pick a software, but you’re recording it at Netflix level quality. Now I’m recording this, I’m watching this at super high definition, no one’s doing housekeeping, no one’s interrupting with questions that I don’t care about, and I don’t have a connection issue. Because it’s a video, we don’t need to have high bandwidth.

Anyone even on their phone can watch it. If they can watch a video, they can watch an eWebinar. That’s why I think it’s the future. It’s because we are already living this way, but not in business. That actually makes no sense to me. Your business content should be on demand, should be high quality. It should be flexible to me. You should not dictate what I as your customer get to consume at what time. That’s where I see the interesting crossroads that we’re at because businesses aren’t fully there yet.

I would say the full adoption of Zoom happened in 2020, and now people are having major fatigue, not just as the host, but also as the attendee, the viewer. The better the experience you can provide, the more competitive you can be, and the better relationship that you can build, because guess what, they’re going to be telling their friends, “Hey, I’m using this company and I just sat into their training and it was awesome.”

Justin: There’s another part of this that as a marketer, this is a pain I feel, especially as a marketer that draws the short straw and hosts quite a bit of the webinars that we do. In fact, just late last month, I moderated a panel on the future of automation and AI in the mortgage industry. While I am trying to be a host and stay present and looking at my camera and not just nodding off like people tend to do on these things, I was also looking at the questions coming in.

Then having to live this parallel world of being there to fill silence if for whatever reason it happens or to pass the ball from one panelist to the next and just do all the things a host is supposed to do. Read all the questions, try to either type answers or slack off on someone on my team, “Hey, can you look something up for me so I can pace this into this person?” With this creator mentality that you imbue with people. This is how TikTok works. You can go live, but most of the engagement is a prerecorded video and then comments.

The lifespan of that video is the senescence, to use a fancy word is the decay is long on it because you just keep getting people watching the video, keeps getting shared, you keep new comments come in. Business content should be the same way. I’m fully on board with this and it gives you this ability to be able to look at engagement on the webinar, not just from the one performance, but for a catalog of plays basically.

Then you can see, “Hey, most of our questions come in when we talk about this. Engagement drops off when we explain that,” and then guess what that is. That’s a signal to then go either fix that problem or rerecord it so that you can provide better support to the people who are washing that in the future. I just did a pitch for you there a little extemporaneously, but I think it’s a really important piece of the go-forward support automation puzzle, is this being able to deliver business content with the same comfort and utility that as a viewer, I get to experience something like TikTok and as a creator or YouTuber gets to experience from the provide. It’s very cool.

Melissa: I also want to add that once you automate something, once you know you have a medium to deliver your onboarding and training automatically, just think about the breadth of content you can then create. We have customers that are saying before you guys, we only had one overview and that happens once a week. Now that no one has to actually do it live, they just have people answering questions, they now are able to go super deep into the product for intermediate users, for advanced users that they were never able to do before. Previously, it was just like, “Hey everybody gets the same thing.”

Now they’re even able to create specific training sessions for certain tracks of users. Whether it’s industry tracks or line of business. Our biggest customer has over 200 webinars running every month in parallel. Can you imagine the manpower it would take to do that? They’re a big company, but still, we have more like medium-sized companies that have 50 webinars and using this for the first time to deliver enterprise, client-specific training. How amazing of a value prop is that when you sell into an account and you’re like we will give you dedicated training.

It’s just like somebody recording it once and then rolling it out. It just snowballs on its own. There’s also a succession piece that we never really talk about. To give you an example, I was still working for my previous company when I started eWebinar. They were the first customer naturally. The first-ever use case was when I delivered the training for Spacio. I left that company two years ago. I’m still running some of their training. When a trainer leaves nowadays, it’s like “Who’s going to fill them?” Or like, “Oh, this person’s amazing at running webinars but he’s going on vacation, who’s going to fill that slot or maybe we just cancel that one until he comes back.”

Automation has that succession benefit that is just a bonus.

Justin: Yes it does. This is going to be a weird transition but you know what, we’re going to see if I can land the plane. Somewhat related to succession, the concept of people leaving, there’s also a phenomenon that we’re seeing a lot in the news today of companies downsizing for various reasons. My heart goes out to the people and the families of people affected by all this. One of the things that is clear is that the expectation of customer support and customer success for a customer and the vendor is not going to go down because the vendor had to downsize their team.

Everybody has got to continue delivering excellence or they will have their customers churn out. I’m curious to hear your take on where automation and technology and some of the things that we’re talking about today plays into this both with asynchronous video and webinars but also outside of that. Just your general take on it because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot the last few weeks. It’s just we are going to have to start doing more with less, not our capacity but we in general. This is something that even if people aren’t saying it out loud, they’re definitely thinking about it. Right?

Melissa: Yes. That’s an interesting point. We’re reading that daily at this point in LinkedIn or Twitter, companies doing massive layoffs. It’s not only the fact that I think we have to do more with less. I think just as a society, we’re always looking to do that. Now we’re like “We have to be hyper-efficient. Everyone’s outsourcing. We want to do more with less. We don’t have enough capital. We can’t raise money.” We always should be optimizing anyway for profitability.

I think where it gets hard is not just the fact that you have to do more with less, it’s you have to do so much more to impress your customer because our expectations of what is acceptable, not even exceptional, our expectation of what is standard has completely gone up. Just even me and you. I download something I could like in two seconds. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t integrate with all this other stuff.

While I think the barrier to entry for technology companies because we’re both a technology company has never been lower. It’s never been harder to win a customer, especially if you’re a SaaS. It’s not like a one-time sale. There’s so many incumbents and people doing better things than you. I like to think about it not as to be competitive, you have to do more with less because internally, you just need to do that. Externally you better start thinking about the quality of content and service and product and work, sales pitches that you have to be constantly just iterating on because our expectations are not changing. It’s only going up.

How does this apply to support automation? Sales is a one-hit-wonder. It’s like the beginning of the end. Your new customer is coming in touch with support. That’s their first experience, that’s your brand. How are you representing your brand and the ethos of your company and the quality of everything that you deliver? How is that being communicated through the products that you use or the trainer that is delivering that pitch or your response time? All of that is the same thing. That’s where I see this going is, “Okay, not only do I have to do more with less, I have to do a lot more on the quality than someone else.”

Justin: One of my little mantras that I repeat a lot is the barrier to entry to get a new customer onboarded or a new opportunity or whatever it is that you’re using the phrase barrier to entry being low for, most oftentimes whatever that threshold you just walked through, that’s also the same barrier to get out. A low barrier of entry to implement something means there’s also a barrier of entry to churn out. It’s like there’s one door in the store and you never want your churn to be low because you’ve got draconian contracts with all of your customers that lock them in despite them hating the product Salesforce. She fired shots. No shade that my friend’s at Salesforce’s just–

Melissa: The best CRM is always the one you’re not using. It’s nothing against Salesforce. 

Justin: That’s true. I think I work as a salesperson in probably half of the recordings of this show. If Mark Danny Arther hears this, I’m sorry dude, but make a better product.

Melissa: It’s like free advertising though.

Justin: Yes. He doesn’t care. Anyway, the minimally acceptable experience only goes up. I think you talked about it a little bit earlier. This thing is remarkable from a user experience perspective. This is why Apple’s a $3 trillion company because, on the whole, this is one of the best user experiences we’ve ever seen. That is the standard bearer. Yes, you may have a cloud accounting solution whatever it is but at the end of the day, if someone goes from using your cloud solution to their iPhone, they’re going to notice the difference in experience.

It’s incumbent on support leaders, business leaders, entrepreneurs, et cetera, that we deliver the most seamless experience possible for our customers. We’re running close to the end of our conversation here. I want to finish the meat of this conversation with two questions for you. The first one is what piece of advice would you give to a business leader, entrepreneur, VP of CS, whatever it is on getting started with how to bring automation into their organization?

Melissa: The simplest piece of advice I can give is don’t be afraid and just start. I come from the real estate world so lots of veterans in that industry and in the beginning, we would hear people say, “I have to do this live because people enjoy it. They enjoy me calling out their name and stuff.” It’s like, “No, they don’t. They just want to get the content and get out of there. They’re coming to my site to get a demo of my product, not for me to deliver this.” It’s the same thing. Don’t be afraid to try new things because that’s where the world is going.

Justin: Last question before we get to a little quick fire around, what excites you the most about the future of support automation?

Melissa: I think there’s just so much growth. For a long time, I posted this on LinkedIn yesterday, I spent my entire career in and I now realize that there are three positions that I would pay way more for because what used to work well for me and what I used to be great at no longer works for the customer. Those are customer success, community building, and growth marketing, which includes SEO, and backlinking and they end things like that.

I think what excites me is I’m now seeing a huge shift away from only recognizing sales as a revenue position and recognizing those other three that I just mentioned as revenue positions because there’s a long tail effect. There is an exponential effect to having a great CS program, but what is a great CS program? It evolves. Sometimes it’s tech touches, sometimes it’s high touch, just depending on what your product is and what your price point is. What solves that? Technology will solve that.

I think I read somewhere like Gainsight might have put out this report. There’s 250,000 CS people, I guess, in the world, I want to say, or maybe in the US, I’m not sure, but that’s not a lot. What that says to me is there are people that have to transition into these new roles, otherwise it’s like a zero-sum game. It’s just a potential for growth. I think that that excites me just because I’m in the space, but also, I would just love to see salespeople, just complacent salespeople get way less attention, and people that actually do the work to keep the customer, get paid what they’re supposed to.

Justin: Yes. A good CS person is like a good teacher in that they’re invaluable to the organization in one side society, in the case of a teacher, but also underpaid and underappreciated. Great comment to end it on. We’re going to go through our quickfire around which after 60 recordings, you would think I would have a catchy name for this, like shooting the Schmidt or catching capacity quickfire. I don’t know.

Melissa: Maybe we’ll all figure it out here. 

Justin: I think that’s the brand that is me struggling to come up with a name for it. What’s the book you most often recommend to people?

Melissa: Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

Justin: You answered that very quickly.

Melissa: It’s very frequent. It’s a very frequent recommendation.

Justin: I have not read it, but I have heard of it and it’s on an Amazon wishlist somewhere in my account. As a three-time founder, wearing all the hats that you do at a startup, your time is valuable and I’m sure it’s hard to come by too. You probably have a lot of great productivity tips, hacks, tricks, practices, and pick your word. What’s the one that you use the most that drives the most value for you?

Melissa: Have non-negotiable boundaries-

Justin: I like this one.

Melissa: -and stick to them because they’re non-negotiable. Example, I get up late because I sleep late. I don’t take calls in the morning period. I don’t work on weekends anymore. If I have to, if there’s a customer issue, absolutely customer’s always first, but very strong boundaries and that allows me to be happier and more productive when I am doing things.

Justin: Oh, I love it. If you could recommend one website, blog, Slack Community, LinkedIn group, real-life group, for people who want to be better support leaders, what would it be?

Melissa: It would be, there is a slack group that I love. It is a Customer Success Leadership Network.

Justin: Yes. That’s a good one.

Melissa: Very active. Anytime I post a question on there, it’s like, boom, two seconds. I get exactly what I need.

Justin: I’ve grown very fond of the professional networking inside of slack and these other groups. Perhaps I subscribe to too many of them, but there is a lot of value there. Last question for you, you get to take one person that is alive out for coffee or cocktail, depending on the time of day, I guess, and the vibe and you get to pick their brain about being a better founder, CEO, et cetera. Who is it?

Melissa: That’s a really big question. I’m following Justin Welsh right now.

Justin: Oh, he’s great. Solopreneur guy? Big famous.

Melissa: Man. That guy is like a machine and I don’t know how he does it, but I subscribed to his newsletter as well. He is probably one of the best content writers I’ve ever, “Met on the internet.” I’m taking his course and stuff right now. He’s just incredible.

Justin: He’s very well respected in the international society of Justins. He’s one of our favorites.

Justin: On that note, Melissa, thank you so much for joining us on the support automation show. If people want to know more about you or eWebinar, where can they find you?

Melissa: Connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s the easiest. My name’s Melissa Kwan, K-W-A-N and if you’re curious about eWebinar and how you might be able to leverage it in your business, it’s exactly as it sounds, ewebinar.com.

Justin: Love it. Great domain, perfectly conveys the value prop. Melissa, thank you so much for coming on the Support Automation Show and you have a wonderful evening.

Melissa: Thanks so much, Justin.