Our vision for the future of CX: why we just raised $8mm
By Mikhail Dubov
When we started what eventually became Chattermill with my co-founder Dmitry back in 2015, we had a hunch that we could use the newly available tech of deep learning to help companies find insights amidst messy data. Our vision was to take what agencies and cutting edge brands were doing by hand and automate it.
We've come to realise that the problem is much bigger and a lot more complex than we thought. Recently we have raised an $8mm round to catapult our efforts, which will allow us to catalyse our growth and leverage our technology across industries and geographies.
Let me walk you through our thinking using our recently open sourced pitch deck.
Where we started: Analytics for the feedback economy
In 2015 we quickly found initial demand and built an early version of the product with fantastic partners such as HelloFresh and MOO. At first, we fancied ourselves a Google Analytics (or Mixpanel) of feedback data.
While the specific pains are always somewhat unique to each company, we found a few common issues across the companies we talked to. Bear in mind, these were typically forward-thinking companies, with customer obsession at their core. Still even they struggled to make the insight truly operational:
- Feedback and conversations are incredible sources of insight but they are spread across dozens of products, systems and departments. Not to mention, these come in different languages, making things even more complicated.
- This data is incredibly hard to analyse to the right level of precision. Typical solutions at the time were (and largely still are) using interns or basic keyword-based algorithms. These were either impossible to scale or of insufficient quality. The best companies would never use analytics that produced only 60% accuracy, which was what legacy providers were telling them was the "good enough" level.
- Finally, and crucially, the insights are not worth much by themselves. Our audience was getting increasingly used to products like Slack, Jira and Zoom. They wanted something that works for them and not for the mythical "budget holders"
We optimised our product with early adopters in mind, betting that if we could help even the likes of Transferwise, then eventually everyone else would follow. This has already started happening as we're partnering with more and more blue-chip brands who see that customer experience is in fact the future.
The shift in the market
As much as I want to take the credit for seeing into the future before others, the speed with which Customer Experience has become a huge, exciting space was not something I really understood at the time. It seems that even the smartest of the venture capital investors we would speak to back in 2015-16 did not quite expect it. And yet, with Qualtrics' mega-acquisition, successful IPOs for SurveyMonkey and Medallia, something has definitely changed.
Our thesis from the beginning has been built around a few simple ideas:
- Customer experience is not just a nice buzz-word but a true competitive advantage, probably the only advantage worth having in today's economy.
- To lead in customer experience you need data on how to improve it day after day, across your whole business.
- There is no viable alternative to getting this data than to rely on unstructured feedback and conversations.
If you accept these, it makes perfect sense that Voice of the Customer software got as big as it did even though you frequently can't clearly trace them to ROI. Data-driven companies need data to make decisions, and open ended data such as feedback and conversations is the best type of data available. The market shift has happened a lot faster than we expected, but we believe we are still very much in the early days of a much larger behavioural change.
Our next stop: new insights, new channels, new use cases
The volume and richness of feedback have grown quickly over the last few years. On top of this, conversational channels (chat, voice, emails, social DMs) have quickly become a normal way for brands to communicate with their customers. This abundance of data should be great for Customer Experience. Unfortunately, in reality, that means the decision-makers are even more overwhelmed with finding the insight to take truly customer-centric decisions.
We believe the needs of modern customer-focused businesses go beyond just quantifying qualitative data. That is still at the very core of everything we do. But as data volumes and messiness grow, we expect our clients will expect their solution of choice to:
- Work across more data types and data channels including chat (including Whatsapp, WeChat, Telegram etc), voice and even video feedback.
- Seamlessly integrate long term trend insights (eg. "Navigation within app") with granular insights (frequently at the level of a phrase such as "Can't zoom in on the map") and raw feedback when required.
- Automatically zero in on the most important insights in real-time and surface them to the right decision-maker.
- Automate CX flows by integrating into different tools used by the company including chat, product management, customer support and marketing automation.
- Power custom solutions for specific industry, function or business type need eg. specialised solutions for subscription based businesses or e-commerce.
We are already working on all of the above. Our first big release of 2020 is Chattermill Workflows, a first of its kind intelligent automation solution built for CX.
Where we are going: CX insight built into every decision
In my native Russian, there is a popular saying that "appetite comes as you eat" (it apparently also exists in English, though I've never seen it being used). Well the more we work on the problem of making Customer Experience insight operational, the larger it gets.
Despite producing the second largest SaaS acquisition ever, CX space has not yet broken into mainstream in the way workplace chat (Slack), product management (Atlassian) or customer support (Zendesk) have. It's taken some time because in CX you need the power of machine learning which is a lot harder to get right and to scale.
At Chattermill our ultimate vision is to empower every decision-maker to get the insight they need, when they need it. We envision a whole ecosystem of great companies and developers building solutions and tools on top of customer experience intelligence provided by Chattermill. Our ultimate mission is to make the goal of providing fantastic customer experience as easy and pleasant as receiving it and thus rid the world of terrible customer experience.