Reinventing the Customer Experience with Communication Technology
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John Antanaitis (00:00):
You think about AI, chatbots, and virtual assistants, they make that customer experience more convenient, and they can eliminate things like long wait times that customers hate and answer simple questions like, where's my order? So, they have value there. And the one of the best things about them is that they're available 24/7. They're never busy serving another customer. They're never out sick or on vacation. They can meet the customer whenever the customer wants to meet. So, there's that instant convenience factor.
Speaker 2 (00:34):
Welcome to Paychex THRIVE, a Business Podcast, where you'll hear timely insights to help you navigate marketplace dynamics and propel your business forward. Here's your host, Gene Marks.
Gene Marks (00:49):
Hey, everybody. It's Gene Marks. And thanks so much for joining us again on the "Paychex THRIVE" podcast. Very happy to have you here. Whether you're watching on video or you're listening to us as well. Today, I have John Antanaitis. He's the VP of Global Portfolio Marketing at Vonage. John, first of all, thank you very much for joining. I'm really happy that you're taking a few minutes out of your very busy day.
John Antanaitis (01:12):
You bet, Gene. We're happy to be here.
Gene Marks (01:15):
So, okay. So, this discussion is gonna be about communications, collaborations, latest technologies, and platforms. We're gonna get into Vonage. Let's first of all talk about you. You've been with Vonage for a couple of years now. Tell us a little bit of what the position is, Global Portfolio Marketing.
John Antanaitis (01:31):
So, bottom line, if you've heard of product management, product marketing, this leans to that product marketing side. So, for all of our products and solutions across the globe, our team is doing the positioning, messaging, storytelling. We're the voice of the customer back into the organization. And so, I like to think of outside in marketing where we're bringing the outside back into the organization, and then we package and understand that we leverage that in our solutions. And then, we use that to create our inside out messaging back to the marketplace.
Gene Marks (02:02):
Got it. All right, fair enough. How do you feel that the market has changed for the kinds of products that Vonage provides? Back in the day, it was a matter of just having maybe like a cloud-based phone system for a lot of small businesses, but it is not that anymore. And I'd love you to talk a little bit about the market.
John Antanaitis (02:27):
Yeah. So, I hate to even mention it. But you can't underestimate the changes in social behavior that resulted with the pandemic. And that certainly bled over, impacted the business world and SMBs in particular. So, when you start to think about the technologies behind that, the demand for core technologies, like Unified Communications as a Service, conversational commerce, and contact centers has increased tenfold since the pandemic. And that's a big... It's only been a few years. To increase tenfold on a base that was already growing prior to that is pretty significant. And specifically for the SMBs, they've been through a lot during this time. And when it comes to it, adapting to different digital workplaces and technologies, successful customer engagement is really the key to survival for those businesses if they wanna retain loyalty.
John Antanaitis (03:17):
So, we know customer expectations are continually evolving. So, customer experience really needs to be reinvented and revitalized constantly. And so, during the pandemic, SMBs found out how valuable UCaaS was, to deliver these new experiences. Their teams needed to be... They needed to embrace mobility and work from home. And they had to set up their work locations and provision them with the same types of tools and capabilities as they had in their prior locations, whether that was voice, video, messaging. So, UCaaS or Unified Communications as a Service, quickly became the go-to turnkey option for them. And so, this is an area where we're seeing, again, UCaaS, Contact Center as a Service from the cloud, cloud communications in general. And more recently, conversational commerce which connects social, messaging, right the way through to actual fulfillment and driving revenue streams for businesses of all sizes. So, a lot of change in the technology space that's related specifically to how SMBs can be more effective.
Gene Marks (04:28):
So, if you're running a small business, you talk about unified communications, so does this include both hardware and software as well? Just one turnkey system?
John Antanaitis (04:40):
Yeah, so I think in general, Unified Communications as a Service is a cloud-based capability. So, that's the software that resides on your computer or it resides on your mobile device, on your tablet, that allows you to leverage different types of communication, whether that's voice, video, messaging, chat. And these capabilities can reside on most, any type of hardware within reason. So, our business at Vonage, we don't... We do sell through some technology like telephony devices and things of that nature, but today, we're leveraging video collaboration, which is an application that's running through my browser, I assume. It's not our application. It's one that was recommended for this discussion. But it's using a simple web camera. And whether it's my earbuds here or the microphone that's picking up from my laptop, or even my display microphone, that's really all you need now to have a pretty incredible experience. Of course, larger organizations with meeting rooms and conference rooms, et cetera, they're deploying these same software-based technologies, but they're packaging them and connecting them to what you might consider higher-end, more robust hardware. So, these do go together for a lot of organizations. For Vonage, we're predominantly the software side of the equation.
Gene Marks (06:03):
I got it. There's a lot of noise in the marketplace about communication and collaborations. Yeah, I have a lot of clients, John, that they're using Office and Teams, and I have others that are using Google Meet and Google apps
John Antanaitis (06:17):
Gene Marks (06:18):
…and others that are using Zoom and Slack. It's just a lot of noise. How do you guys position yourself against all of that stuff? In other words, in my business, can I replace these office collaboration systems just with a Vonage type solution? Or is it more like it compliments each other?
John Antanaitis (06:39):
Yeah, Gene, that's a really broad question, but it's a good question. My immediate desire is to say yes.
Gene Marks (06:45):
John Antanaitis (06:46):
At the same time, I always wanna be very sincere in the answering of this question is that, we have a unique position in the marketplace. We are a world leader in global business cloud communication. So, yes, we do have the ability to provide those capabilities and benefits of some of the applications you mentioned. And maybe most, or even all of them, I don't ever wanna say that without understanding the end user's application and what they're specifically utilizing today, what's successful for them, what's not working as well. But to give a little overview of what we do, we have what we refer to as our Vonage communications platform. It's a single integrated platform, and our goal is to accelerate the world's ability to connect. We do that through APIs, communication APIs, the Contact Center as a Service, Unified Communications as a Service, and conversational commerce solutions. So, we do have a full breadth of capabilities that are part of that integrated Vonage communications platform.
John Antanaitis (07:47):
And we're leveraging that technology to really deliver next generation communications that are more flexible, intelligent, and highly personal, to enable businesses, their employees, their agents to enhance collaboration and deeper engagement with customers. And the key thing, we know that customer expectations are really what drives everything. And so, they want what they want and I understand that, 'cause I'm a customer too. From business communications, they want it anytime, anywhere. They want to use the device of their choice, like we talked about before. They wanna use their channel of preference, whether that's a voice channel, video, messaging. And truthfully, it changes not just day by day, but hour by hour based on what else is happening in the customer's lives. And so, it's a frequent and dynamic switch that we're going through all the time to service these customers. And Vonage has a great solution to be able to that. So, I can't answer your question in perfect black and white, but I hope that gave you a little thought.
Gene Marks (08:46):
No, that's very helpful. It's very helpful. Okay. So, I'm gonna give you a more specific example. And this is not to put you on the spot or anything, but we... So, my company has 10 employees. And we used to have an office, but then I shut it down like 20 years ago, because nobody was coming to the office. So, everybody's virtual.
John Antanaitis (09:06):
Gene Marks (09:06):
And most of my clients are not like that. Most people are in a hybrid environment. But using a company kind of like mine, say, we have a small business audience here, so we're less than 50 employees or less than 100 employees. And say they've got a hybrid workforce, they do have an office, it's a small office. Different people are using different applications. We have a hosted phone system that we've used for years. We're also using Microsoft products, we're using Zoom for conferences. Typically small business. We're a complete disaster. So, everything is all over the place. So, if you were coming, I realize you're not like a sales person as it is, but you know the product. So, if you were talking to a business owner like myself that had say, 50 or 100 employees and say, we had that sort of setup, I'm just kinda curious that you... I'd love to hear you say like, okay, Gene, I agree, you're a disaster. If you were to... Here's some recommendations for you. You know what I mean? Here's how you could really be stepping up your communications and your customer service experience and all that. Feel free to sell your products. That's completely fine.
John Antanaitis (10:14):
Gene Marks (10:14):
But just tell me, tell me what you would say to a business owner like that.
John Antanaitis (10:18):
Yeah, first and foremost, my guess is any organization that has a multivariance solution like you just mentioned, where you have a piece here from this group, a piece therefrom that group, that's difficult to maintain, to manage, to stay updated on everything. Either you're doing it or you have some sort of IT manager internally, or you're relying on a provider to play that role for you, and making sure that as one piece of the puzzle is taken out and changed, that it can go back in and the puzzle still comes back together. That's a tough place to be, especially for a smaller, mid-sized business that doesn't have all the technical chops running around and/or just resources and dollars. I really would say that you have that opportunity, those sorts of businesses should be looking. Now's the time.
John Antanaitis (11:05):
Whether it's Vonage or one of our competitors, honestly, you should be looking at moving into cloud-based solutions. They do a number of different things, but one of the key things is it takes the... First off, there's no big upfront costs to do it. So, that's taken away. The ongoing maintenance and recurring fees and technician's fees and trying to keep everything connected and running correctly. That's happening in the cloud. It's continually being invested in by the cloud provider like Vonage in this case, where we're making enhancements and doing updates and adding new capabilities literally overnight as people sleep and new benefits roll into your business without you ever having even to worry about 'em. I think that's a key component. The other thing too is the new capability or these UCaaS and Contact Center as a Solution for small businesses, SMBs, providers like Vonage provide a combined US plus CC package that's already designed to give you end-to-end, meaning, from your customers to your agents, to your salespeople, to your subject matter experts inside the business, everyone's connected in a single system. They have visibility back and forth. They can see who's available from presence detection and things of that nature, who's not to connect the organization and keep a continuous conversation internally and externally with that customer at a fraction of the cost. Because you're not investing in the infrastructure. You're not having to even invest... Most often, you can use the existing hardware and investments that you have from that perspective to run your software and to pull the experience together.
John Antanaitis (12:43):
But one of the other benefits too is it just frees up cycles and time for people to go out and leverage the time they're wasting chasing these solutions to go run mission-critical projects for your team. The last comment on this is just the packages are monthly. They're very, very affordable, and they're designed to keep the customer engagement high and customer satisfaction high. So, there isn't a big financial burden whatsoever to doing this. And so, I would look at an organization like yours and say, I guarantee there's opportunity to improve on a situation that you just mentioned. And a company like Vonage would be a great company to start with.
Gene Marks (13:27):
Yeah, that's a great answer. And it is, you're right. There is a lot of room for improvement. And just to be clear, you talk about connecting everybody within the organization, having the ability to know what everybody else is doing or to improve that level of communication. Is there, and again, dumb question or not, is there data involved in this? Like in other words, you mentioned contact centers. There's customer relationship management platforms that manage calls and notes and activities and all that kind of stuff. Is Vonage doing something similar to that or is it merely just playing the communications role?
John Antanaitis (14:01):
No, entirely. Well, we're not a CRM, but our solutions, our UCaaS and CCaaS solutions integrate with all the top CRMs, whether that's a big name like Salesforce, whether that's Zoho or Zendesk or others. Literally dozens of technology integrations and actually quite beyond that. So, we look to stay in our lane. We are that cloud communications expert and we have that ability through our turnkey applications, but they integrate with other components. So, we're not trying to take over the CRM component. We're trying to leverage the CRM capabilities that you already have in your organization, that investment you already have. Changing out those different pieces can be, those extended pieces like a CRM, where all of your customer data is, and every one of your salespeople and your inside support people are familiar with those customers and where to find that information.
John Antanaitis (14:55):
When you flip the switch and move to a new CRM, there's a big training component there. There's a big concern about where's that information now, and is it still, do I have the right information still that it move properly? And so, we stay in our lane really around that global cloud communications capability and try to lead from there. One other thing that's unique for us is just the fact that we have a world-leading CPaaS platform. So, Communications Platform as a Service or APIs as they're commonly referred to, almost every organization at some time matures to a point or hits a point in their evolution that they want something a little bit different or a little bit bespoke. And you can take our turnkey applications and by leveraging the APIs, really do augmentation to your contact center or even your UCaaS solutions based on whatever's most appropriate for your specific business. And so, that's an area where we definitely see growing demand. As I mentioned earlier, that integration of UC plus CC is our highest growth parts in our organization. I would say I don't know if I'm supposed to say it, but we've gone up, we've probably tripled over the last five years, more than tripled our attach rate in that specific area. So, that's become far more of a holistic solution versus buying the piece parts.
Gene Marks (16:16):
When you say leverage APIs that Vonage provides, who is doing that? Should I expect to be hiring a developer to do this? Does Vonage do that for me? Do you guys have a partner channel that does these implementations? What would you recommend there?
John Antanaitis (16:34):
Sure. All the above. And I say that not tongue in cheek.
Gene Marks (16:38):
John Antanaitis (16:38):
Some organizations have the technical chops, they have developers, they have coders, they have people who do that for a living, and people who love to do that, and they're experts and they're ready to go. We provide access to our APIs free of charge and allow people to test and evaluate 'em. And then, when they consume them, that's when the actual monetization takes place. But some organizations don't have those capabilities. So, we offer also a full suite of services to enable and provide a service where we could build that for you. We also deal with a lot of ASPs, application service providers who build applications and system integrators for companies that build applications for others. Probably the coolest thing that we've been doing is enabling what's now referred to is, I've lost the name for it, is basically the day-to-day business worker who wasn't a programmer or a code or a developer, but now, they're doing that on the side, for lack of a better term. And what we've done differently is instead of saying, hey, you have our APIs, we now have a full layer of capabilities called our AI Acceleration Suite. And what that does is it speeds and simplifies application development through no-code and low-code offerings layers that allow people to drag and drop different capabilities and build out application. So, for instance, a video application for a video conferencing session. We'll talk about, well, is it gonna be four by three? Is it gonna be 16 by 10? Is it gonna be 4K, 2K, HD resolution? How many participants? If there's four, are they four in a strip or four in a quad? Oh, there's thousands of different permutations. And that's... Our API allows you to go through all that. At the same time, we offer, as part of our acceleration suite, Meetings API. Meetings API is a meeting in a box. And now, you can choose maybe 1 of 10 or 20 choices you can make that say, this is how I want my meeting to look and feel. And then, boom, once you've clicked those boxes, that meeting API effectively spits out the code that you need to plug right into your browser or your application to embed that experience. So, citizen developers is the tool, the name I was looking for earlier. That's the sorts of things that are happening everywhere now. So, we're getting citizen developers, low-code, no-code, drag and drop people who aren't techies and coders making applications. We have hardcore coders, and then we offer services and work with ASPs and system integrators. So, it's whatever the organization really desires.
Gene Marks (19:23):
I got you. Citizen coders just makes me laugh. It's like you're recruiting people from all these luddites to turn into actual coders and go out there and to help their clients. I know that Vonage applies to many, many businesses and you have, I'm sure that there's not an opportunity that you wouldn't want to pursue if you can help a business. But I'm curious, John, what type of business do you think succeeds the most with advisors? Like when you see a prospective customer, what are the types of customers that you're like, yeah, those are the guys that could really use this type of communications platform? Not that everybody
John Antanaitis (20:09):
Gene Marks (20:09):
…couldn't benefit from it, but are there any specific types of businesses or industries that you think are like, yeah, these are the guys that really, we should be talking to these guys.
John Antanaitis (20:19):
Sure. Yeah, truthfully, it really depends on our portfolio, our portfolio for our Unified Communications as a Service, our Contact Centers as a Service, whether you're literally a micro business or an SMB or a mid-size business, our solution's ideal for those sorts of environments, for those sorts of cohorts and size of business. We do have enterprise customers and we can service enterprise customers, but truthfully, that's not the largest portion of our customer base. So, micro SMB, mid-market is really our sweet spot. And so, our solutions tend to lean in that direction. On the API side, that works as we just talked about, across that continuum, but also a lot of enterprises. And so, when we think about video collaboration, for instance, I think 8 of the top 10, I can't quote that, so I probably shouldn't say it, but roughly 8 of the top 10, but the massive bulk of the top video telehealth firms leverage Vonage communications. And then, when we start to think about telephony, we're involved in education, we're involved in healthcare, we're involved in manufacturing. Across the board, I wish I could share a view of our customer base, because we cut across just about every vertical and industry out there. But again, the sweet spot for us would be micro SMB and mid-market, and then some enterprise as well.
Gene Marks (21:52):
So, John, we hear a lot about AI, we hear about technology, we hear about machine learning. Where's this all going for communications platforms like Vonage? Tell me a little bit about what you see the future of looking like.
John Antanaitis (22:06):
Yeah, I think this is an area, we live in a really exciting time when it comes to AI and truly how AI is impacting and shaping the experience between customers and intelligent agents. As we think about this right now, more than ever, we're seeing how computer intelligence can augment human behaviors to deliver better outcomes. And so, this is an exciting space to be. We know that our customers are demanding. They want their information when they want it. They want it on their device of choice, and they want things to be easy and simple when they deal with SMBs or any other organization. And AI can certainly help here. You think about AI chatbots and virtual assistants, they make that customer experience more convenient and they can eliminate things like long wait times that customers hate and answer simple questions like, where's my order? So, they have value there. And then, one of the best things about them is that they're available 24/7. They're never busy serving another customer. They're never out sick or on vacation. They can meet the customer whenever the customer wants to meet. So, there's that instant convenience factor. At the same time, that's a lower level.
John Antanaitis (23:19):
We're upleveling how AI powered tools can also create personalized real-time experiences that provide an immediate response for deeper issues and resolve issues for customers without losing that human element. So, from our perspective, making sure that we take the AI technology and we marry that with human components is critical to the overall success of how we see AI impacting our customers down the road. One area that we haven't talked on, touched on yet is generative AI. So, we've all heard of areas like BERT or ELMo or GPT, and while these large language models and open language models are very helpful, because they bring a wealth of potential information into the environment for us to talk to our customers, the very nature of their openness leaves them to be at times, a little bit risky. And so, we need to take that great technology from large language models and also bring in technology that integrates with them and also puts, for lack of a better term, technology guardrails around the overall solution, so that it provides more responsible and appropriate outcome. In the industry, you hear about the inappropriate being potentially false positives or bias potentially, even what's referred to as hallucinations. And so, we're embedding these capabilities and leveraging and integrating these capabilities into our solutions right now, but we're doing 'em in a very controlled manner to make sure that they're safe and reliable for our customers. But a lot of exciting things to come there for sure.
Gene Marks (25:05):
It's funny, we all know about all the exciting things that are coming with AI and what I've been telling my clients, John, is when it comes to AI, to rely on your software vendors, because they're the ones that are investing billions of dollars in developing new products and new features and functionality based on their platforms, 'cause they wanna make sure they keep you a happy customer for a long period of time. So, right now, your Vonage customers, if a Vonage customer were to reach out to you and say, hey, I am interested in AI and how will Vonage be using AI for me in the future? And I realize you're not in R&D or product development so much as product marketing, but specifically, where do you see, like if I'm using your platform, where will that AI be? You mentioned, I started to go on with this, but you mentioned like chat for example. Does that mean that Vonage will be providing a chat solution that will integrate with my data, will be able to tell a potential visitor to my website or a customer, answers from my knowledge base? Is that the kind of stuff
John Antanaitis (26:19):
Gene Marks (26:19):
…that you're talking about?
John Antanaitis (26:20):
Well, truth be told, we're doing that already.
Gene Marks (26:22):
John Antanaitis (26:22):
So, we have virtual assistants as part of our turnkey applications for contact center and for unified communications, and they can help with looking at inbound information. So, even before a call, that can help route the call based on what information's coming with that call to say, hey, that customer really needs to speak with agent A, not agent B or agent C. And so, even before the connection takes place, we're leveraging AI to look at that on like IVRs, for instance. From a contact center perspective, we already have technology in the products that are looking at the database, known database for the customer and/or the solution area and feeding intelligent responses and thoughts and options to the live agent. And so, they're working together hand in hand to provide a quick positive outcome for the customer in that perspective. But we don't just do that in our own applications. We offer that as a...
John Antanaitis (27:22):
And one of the things I mentioned as part of that AI acceleration suite, we have a solution called AI Studio. It's a low-code drag and drop, a drag and drop tool that just about anyone can build conversation flows. So, they can build their own chatbots and they can determine which channels, is that a chatbot for voice? Is that a chatbot for social media? Is that a chatbot for the web? What is it? How do I want it to connect to that user? Do I wanna leverage natural language understanding to provide new capabilities from a language perspective? If I wanna integrate potentially with a large language model like we talked about earlier. Which channels do I integrate with on the outbound side and build those into those solutions today right now. So, that's something that we've been doing for some time. We're also leveraging AI for things like translations and being able to provide speech-to-text capabilities, so that we can take a conversation like this and make it available to others who maybe are hard of hearing, for instance.
Gene Marks (28:32):
John Antanaitis (28:33):
And we need to give them the ability to have this, part of this experience, but it'll come to them in a text fashion. Or they have a different, they're speaking a different language. And so, we'll go through a translation process. So, a lot of those AI capabilities are already in our solutions and we're continuing to build on these, as we said, like generative AI is what we're talking about most recently.
Gene Marks (28:56):
John Antanaitis is the VP of Global Portfolio Marketing at Vonage, talking about all the things that Vonage does, communication platforms like it and where we're going in the future, particularly with AI. John, great information, appreciated very much, and would love to stay in touch with you as you update us on where all this thing is is heading, 'cause it impacts so many of us out here in the world.
John Antanaitis (29:19):
Absolutely, Gene, we'd like that.
Gene Marks (29:21):
Do you have a topic or a guest that you would like to hear on "Thrive"? Please let us know. Visit payx.me/thrivetopics and send us your ideas or matters of interest. Also, if your business is looking to simplify your HR, payroll, benefits, or insurance services, see how Paychex can help. Visit the resource hub at paychex.com/workx. That's W-O-R-X. Paychex can help manage those complexities while you focus on all the ways you want your business to thrive. I'm your host, Gene Marks, and thanks for joining us. 'Til next time Take care.
Speaker 1 (29:58):
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