SalesTech Interview with Rob May, CEO and Co-founder at Talla
Tell us about your journey into customer support technology and what inspired you to start Talla?
Since day one, Talla has set out to build digital workers that automate tasks for employees. We believe that AI and automation are the future of work and have the power to make every employee more productive. We build digital workers by turning every business process into a supervised learning workflow, so that we can gather data to automate tasks.
The path to making this vision a reality has had 4 distinct turns. In the beginning, we launched a Slack bot that automated task management in order to learn more about the Slack ecosystem and building bots. What we learned was that bots can be problematic because you can get sucked into focusing all your resources on the interface – how the bot communicates – rather than the functionality of the bot (what it actually does).
After that we built a ServiceDesk bot for HR and IT. People liked the product, but the business model was problematic. In that industry, players charge per helpdesk rep, and we had a product that reduced the number of helpdesk reps you needed. We thought we could move the buyers off of that, but we couldn’t. We went after mid-sized companies at a $99/month price point, but it would have taken forever to scale that business model, so we killed the product.
Up until that point, we had stayed out of the support space because it was competitive, but now we had a differentiator. As part of the helpdesk work we did, we uncovered some cool ideas for accelerating annotation of data using customer input. By building those ideas into a knowledge base, we were able to use it as a “brain” for a new kind of digital worker. As we built actions onto our KB, it turned into a full-fledged support automation platform. Customers love Talla’s ability to automate common support tasks and answering support inquiries because it translates into faster resolution times, shorter support queues, and happier customers.
What is Talla and how does it fit into the modern technology stack?
Talla is an AI and automation company first and foremost. We specialize in automating customer support workflows of all kind. We have a tool that is rep facing and we have a tool that is customer facing for self-service to allow customers to automate many of their own interactions with the company. Companies can use Talla as a standalone app and with their existing support tools and communication platforms, including Zendesk, Salesforce, HubSpot, GitHub, Jira, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and more.
How is Talla driving transformation in Customer Service?
Talla’s customers are seeing some really exciting results, especially when it comes to reducing ticket resolution time by automating answering support inquiries. Additionally, they’re able to reduce things like the number of escalations or hold time. SAP Concur is a customer of ours, and they’re able to automate answering over 90% of their incoming support tickets with Talla. Matt Berg, SAP Concur’s Senior Director of Client Success Management recently shared the following with us:
“Before Talla we had been looking for ways to centralize our team’s tribal knowledge, process guidelines and all of our technical information. Talla has been an absolute game changer in the way our Client Success Team finds information. It’s greatly reduced the amount of time we spend searching for answers down to seconds. The machine learning capabilities are incredible; Talla is able to decipher exactly what is asked and deliver the correct response over 90% of the time. At the end of the day, we want our clients to run better and more intelligently and Talla continues to change the speed at which we deliver that value.”
(You can read our full press release with this quote here.)
Which business groups are using your product? Which geographies have been the fastest to adopt your product offering?
Companies of all sizes and in all different industries are using Talla. Some of our customers include SAP Concur, John Hancock, Toast, IntelliCentrics, Mutual of Omaha, and Botkeeper. Our product is built for high-growth support teams, but we have seen groups across an organization use Talla for its automation, accuracy, and machine learning capabilities.
What are the key trends in Customer Service for 2019?
The key trends that businesses need to be thinking about and when it comes to customer service are automation and chatbots. It’s not just enough to be thinking about these things, but also actually implementing them and ensuring that they’re implemented correctly. Automation is the key to building a support team that can scale and chatbots enable companies to provide self-serve support at any time of the day to customers.
How does Talla upend Customer Service and Support with AI-powered automation?
With Talla, a company’s end customers get faster, more consistent and more accurate answers. This adds up to happier customers and a more productive customer support team.
People think AI has to be hard. But implementing Talla is actually very fast and very easy. Talla can understand your existing documentation and workflows to pick up on tribal knowledge. And then learns from every interaction with the tool from then on.
How is Customer Service for marketing and sales technology products different compared to other technologies, for instance IT SaaS and Cloud?
While the content is certainly different for an IT product vs. a sales or marketing product, the customer’s expectation for accurate, helpful, and fast responses to their support inquiries is the same. How Talla differentiates from traditional support tools and knowledge bases is in its ability to understand a businesses support content and provide accurate answers (not just pages of search results) when asked a question.
What role does real-time Customer Support play in retaining customer groups and consolidation of market?
Customers today are no longer limited by geography when it comes to choosing a company to do business with. This is great for customers and businesses alike; customers can choose the company that best meets their needs, and businesses can reach customers across the globe. But support can be challenging because customers can (and will) reach out 24/7 and across different channels, including phone, email, chat, and social media. And if their support request on Saturday at 3am isn’t handled in a timely manner, than they’re likely to switch providers. Talla gives customers the ability to provide 24/7 self-serve support to customers as well as equip their support reps with the best information to help customers.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Technology leader?
At Talla, we are always working to educate business leaders about AI and how to best adopt it within their organization. For example, I created the PAC framework (which stands for Predict, Automate, Classify) to give executives who aren’t technical a framework for deciding how and where to apply AI at work. You can download a guide to using it here.
We publish a weekly podcast called AI at Work that dives into AI trends and the future of AI in the enterprise. Our guests have included business leaders from Spotify, Wayfair, Bloomberg, MIT, HubSpot, and more. During each episode, we discuss things such as ways to apply AI for both technical and non-technical leaders, AI-related news and trends, and case studies on successful AI deployments. There are a lot of misconceptions in this space, even around the basics of what AI is and what you can do with it. AI at Work will be educational for business leaders, providing insight on how to think about and effectively deploy AI in your organization.
Your advice to other technology and sales professionals in the industry?
- Understand That Bots Need To Be Trained
AI software, including true AI chatbots that learn (most don’t), needs to be trained. The software works more like a person than a program. The good thing about it is that it gets better over time. On day 1001 it will be 100x more powerful than on day 1. The bad thing is that on day 1, it will need a lot of hand holding.
- Understand That Content Needs To Be Trained For Bots
In more organizations today, someone in product, marketing, or a technical writer of sorts writes product content for sales and support materials. Because of this, there is a very large gap between the way the content is written and the way customers would like to digest it. AI is great at translating this gap. What we do at Talla is to add special structure to your content as you create it so that we can provide extra information to the NLP models we build. Think about it this way — you wouldn’t create a trade show handout in plain text would you? No. You would add some formatting so that it looks good to the prospects who walk by your booth. Talla allows you to add some formatting so that your content looks good to the machine learning models that process language. This is why we outperform all the other bots on the market.
- Do Not Favor Point Solutions Over Integrated Products
Success in AI is all about the data. The more data you have, the better the AI can perform. The corollary then is that the more integrated AI is into various steps of your process, the more data you will have and thus the better the outcome. Every business is under pressure to deliver more with less, and if you run a Support team, your boss probably gave you conflicting goals of providing a better experience while simultaneously lowering costs and increasing productivity. Until AI came along, that was impossible. With the right AI tools, you can achieve all of those goals together.
Thank You, Rob, for answering all our questions. We hope to see you again, soon.
Talla is an AI and automation platform that is transforming the way businesses deliver customer support. Talla simultaneously improves customer satisfaction and support rep productivity by automating support workflows and allowing users to self-serve accurate answers to support questions. Unlike other providers, Talla learns and improves over time, provides answers using machine learning, and integrates with all the tools support teams need. Talla was founded in 2015 and is based in Boston, MA.
Rob May is the CEO and Co-founder of Talla. Rob is an active angel investor with 45+ portfolio companies in the AI space. Previously, he was the CEO and Co-founder of Backupify (acquired by Datto in 2014). Before that, he held engineering, business development and management positions at various startups. Rob has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Kentucky, and is the author of Inside AI, the most popular AI newsletter online.