In 1981 a childhood dream became a reality for the present writer when he was selected to serve as the Weekend Anchor and writer-producer of the hour long public service program Perspective for WNOK in Columbia, South Carolina.
The staff at WNOK at that time included Woodie and Leo Wyndham, Tom Anderson, Kenny Smith, CEO McElveen, Mark Clemmons and 100,000 people made the program a success. Perspective enable the writer to interview government leaders and famous entertainers such as Daniel J. Travanti, Miss. Universe, Shawn Weatherly, Max Robinson, Tom Broadwater, Exxon executives, The Columbia Police Department, Republican National Committee, and many more. However, the experience of writing and producing an hour long public affairs program was invaluable for the interview skills that were developed over the year of fascinating discussions every week. The experience of doing the hour long interviews every week has remained one of the most rewarding journalistic experiences of a lifetime and made the cost of the Broadcast Journalism courses at the University of Southern California well worth the investment.
On January 10, 2014, nearly 35 years after Perspective broadcast the reporter’s last interview, the CEO and Co-Founder of Clarabridge Incorporated gave the present writer permission to conduct an interview on the success of the corporation and its 80 million dollar investment deal. The interview was not only insightful with the wit and intelligence of CEO Sid Banerjee; moreover, the interview for Examiner.com answered a number of questions that are essential to problem solving in the United States of America. In addition the interview with CEO Banerjee brought back wonderful memories of being in the studio at WNOK 35 years ago. This is part one of the two part interview. Thus here is part one, as promised, kind readers, your Customer Service Journalist presents the Sid Banerjee Interview. Enjoy!
Professor Metze: Hello, this is Professor Metze with Examiner.com. May I help you?
Ashley: Hi, this is Ashley calling on behalf of Clarabridge. How are you?
Professor Metze: Ashley, I am doing quite well. I was up all night preparing for the interview. I know everything about my interview source as is my policy, and I am ready to conduct the interview. How are you doing today?
Ashley: I am doing great. I actually have Sid [CEO Banerjee] on the other line so I am just going to connect you two, if that’s OK.
Professor Metze: Before you connect me, how do you pronounce his last name?
Ashley: I believe its Ban-er-jee.
Professor Metze: Thank you.
Ashley: I will double check.
Professor Metze: Ban-er-jee is fine. I phonetically presumed that was the correct pronunciation. Thank you.
Ashley: OK. I will get him on the call. Just hold on for one second. Hi, Sid. Are you there?
CEO Banerjee: I am! Hello?
Professor Metze: Hello!
Ashley: I have Professor Metze on the line from Examiner.com.
CEO Banerjee: OK.
Professor Metze: Mr. Banerjee is that the correct pronunciation of your name?
CEO Banerjee: Ah, it’s Ban-er-jee.
Professor Metze: Ban-er-jee. That is what I was discussing with your associate. And my last name, she pronounced it as Met-ski. That happens all the time because it’s of German origin, but actually it’s pronounced as Mets, as the city in France, Metz, France, like the New York Mets, baseball team. Of course, I never mention that because they always loose (laughter), but it is pronounced Mets. Ok. I am ready!
Ashley: Professor Metze you know we do have news going out on the wire Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. Eastern Time. Basically, you’ll get a recap of Clarabridge’s great year in review as well as growth in the company. I’ll let Sid [CEO Banerjee] walk you through that. I do know that you agreed to the embargo.
Professor Metze: Absolutely, I sent an email to your associate this morning to indicate that I would never release any statement under embargo as a professional courtesy. You have nothing to fear.
Ashley: OK, perfect. I’ll just let you…I don’t know if you have prepared questions.
Professor Metze: I have worked out questions in advance. And I have them listed 1-10 to start us off. But I generally like to open every interview by way of introduction as a courtesy because I am from the 50’s. So you have to understand that I am following protocol more closely than some of my more recent journalistic colleagues but I believe the work you are doing is very important. The questions that I have are all based on current things and also an explanation of your company. And one of the first things I like to do when I begin an interview is to allow the interviewee to express their thoughts as the interview begins. Anything that is on your mind at this moment that is at the forefront as you move on to other topics. Anything that you would like to get out of the way in a sense before we even begin to go into the questions. I always give a few moments to allow that to happen.
By way of introduction for myself, I am a journalist. I graduated from two of the top journalism programs in the country. I studied at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. My writing and journalism professor there was Nate Kaplan who was also Walter Cronkite’s writer, so I hope that some of that rubs off on me. I also attended Northeastern Oklahoma State University which is in Oklahoma. It is one of the top teacher training colleges in the nation and I also taught as well as worked as a journalist. My first assignment [after completing all journalism classes at Northeastern in December 1979] was to cover the Windfall Profits Tax Protest in 1979. I know that is ancient history for many people, but one of the key points of that is that I did have the opportunity to interview the Chief of Staff at the White House and also the person who was in charge of the budget, who was Jim Jones, Congressman Jim Jones at that time. And that became a national story for CBS. So that just sort of lets you know some of my back ground and I’ll let you take the floor.
CEO Banerjee: No. I appreciate that, you know. I am just realizing something here and I don’t know if it’s going to work. I’d like to have more time to talk than I think we are going to have this afternoon because I have been traveling this week. In terms of getting anything off my chest I’ll do that right now. I was invited, not so much invited, I was scheduled to do a follow up with my board which is supposed to start in 15 to 20 minutes, at 4:45 or so. I don’t know that we are going to be able to do this call justice; particularly if you want to go pretty deep.
Professor Metze: I have two questions to start off with and if you answer those two it will set us up for the article which I am going to publish and try to get on the front page of the Examiner.com for you for the announcement which will happen on the 14th. So can we begin there?
CEO Banerjee: Right.
Professor Metze: The first question that I have is that I have been in Washington 22 years both as a writer and professor. I had never heard of you or your corporation until I received the email from your …Smita, I believe, on January 9th. So the first question is I attend press conferences, read the Post and all other papers what is with the level of exposure for your company and what, shall we say substantiates the name recognition not being as much as I would think you’d like for it to be, at this point in your operations?
CEO Banerjee: The company is actually, within the tech sector, pretty well known. We are probably not as well known in the general press. I should say general media. We've been working…Well; let me give you a bit of my background. I have been in the high tech area in the D.C. area dating back to the early 90’s. The founding employee of a company called MicroStrategy in the early 1990’s and was one of the top 10 or so executives for about 10 years during the IPO global expansion I ran wide services for a couple of years there. And that company had its share of ups and downs. I also ended up leaving there to go start the first of two companies. The first was a company I started on my own, just basically book strapping with partners.
The second company was Clarabridge, which received venture financing from a number of regional entities and venture capitalists in the D.C. area. I thank we got a fair amount of recognition at least in the high tech community in Northern Virginia as we were growing the business. We had a very strong record of investment and growth, job creation and we got covered quite a bit in the Washington Business Journal. Tom Heath has been tracking us. He has been at the Washington Post for a number of years. And as we have actually expanded the business into 1500 couple people across this region and we have moved into other parts of the country. We've gotten recognition. What really drives our growth is less about general business recognition of Clarabridge; it’s the growth of our customer base.
We have developed a fairly good, what I call awareness of a specific business area that seems to be fairly investment intensive for a lot of the global 1000 companies right now and that is the area of what people are calling Customer Experience Marketing and operations have typically been discreet functions in a lot of big companies; whether, you are talking about banks or retailers or insurance companies, travel of hospitality organizations. Starting about six or seven years ago because a number of trends that the market for Customer Experience evolved out of the challenge that a lot of big companies were having. That they were artificially soloing out the way that they thought about customers when they were marketing to them and they were actually providing support to them so the functions, data collections, relationship management, and even the organizational sharing of insight was actually preventing companies from being as responsive as they could be to customers. And so a new class of functional sense started to grow up in a lot of companies.
Customer Experience Function which taps from those marketing and operations support functions in big companies. So I think about United Airlines. They have groups now that want to understand not just how do they market to customers but what keeps customers coming back. And those folks have to have now been looking for technology and business processes to be able to answer those questions across the entire customer journey, if you will, Clarabridge sells to those types of customers, we have been very laser focused on marketing and capability solutions. Our customer success to that type of buyer. We've been less focused on letting the whole world know who Clarabridge is. And I think we've done a pretty good job of that because our customers are of the name brands that everyone has heard of. I think that that shows a conscious effort on our part to focus more on the business marketing than the general marketing.
Professor Metze: You use Customer Service, Customer Experience, and Analytics in helping people to diagnose problems. You use Algorithms and General Value Propositions and Customer Control Problems and Solutions Paradigms. Now to the lay person it’s going to be rather difficult to digest because its dealing more with the technical aspects of how you analyze customer problem solving solutions, but how would you break that down in a way I could communicate to the general Washington population which is Examiner.com business readers. Although we have 80 million viewers across the nation, I have 100,000 that are in the general Washington Metro region which are my core readers. So how would you break that down to them? The things I just described.
CEO Banerjee: Well, yeah, I think that there is two very simple ways to think about it. The first is a sort of four stop capability that we offer with our software. And those four steps are best described as Listening, Analyzing, Acting, and Measuring. So we can think about what Clarabridge does is get in the Customer Experience software or platform that has the capacity to collect data, collect customer interaction insight, that’s the listening part, is able to get the data from everywhere a customer might express an opinion could be email. It could be a note from a customer call to a contact center. It could be from surveys. We listen to all those date sources. We work with our companies, a company like Best Buy, to find those listening sources.
CEO Banerjee: The second part is analyzing: Our product is being developed to be taking unstructured content. It can be in any kind of form factor. Wide numbers of languages and it basically interprets language as you and I have learned how to read text the way you read a book, or read an article. The product actually looks for subjects and verbs and is basically able to figure out what you are talking about and how you are talking about it. Able to answer analysis to determine what is making you happy. What are you complaining about? It is something that is urgent. Is it changing dramatically? When you read a book or when you read an article…is it something that has a correlation to a very negative outcome that a company wants to avoid or a positive outcome that a company wants to reinforce or amplify. That’s the analysis part.
Professor Metze: Fascinating!
CEO Banerjee: The act part is we use those insights to help companies figure out what to do, if they see a problem we can isolate the problem, identify the specific issue that’s making people unhappy or making them disloyal so we can fix that issue. And ultimately, we close the loop. That is where the measure is. As people are continuously listening, analyzing, and acting: we keep a view on what is a company’s operation. Is a customer satisfaction getting better, or is it getting worse? Are the actions they are taking actually having the intended affect on customer loyalty.
Professor Metze: In my research on a previous interview that you did you said that, and I think this is very well stated, you said, “If you think about customer emotion, something that causes a customer to have a negative opinion for a long period generally has a much more negative impact on loyalty and customer retention. By using, Clarabridge we can piece out the sentiment and attitude a customer has about various things.” How would you or your company help a client overcome a negative customer service experience on a massive level?
CEO Banerjee: Well that’s (laughter) a great question! I think that one of the things you look for and actually product launches is something that we do quite a bit of work with. We work with leading telecom companies to track how they are responding. We work with leading retailers to track major promotion campaigns. For example, around the holiday shopping period, Black Friday shopping period, what you find are a couple of elements. There’s a huge need for the buying public to understand what it is that the product does and does not do. Part of that understanding comes from measuring whether education connected with the customer base. You must know what it is that the new offering does. If you have educated the customers and marketed to them correctly; they will consume the product, they will buy it. If they don’t know what your product is and if they don’t understand your product they will tie up your phone lines with complaints. So education is very important. In fact, education is often the leading indicator of whether that campaign will be successful.
Professor Metze: Excellent!
CEO Banerjee: The second element that we track is the functional and quality aspects of the product introduction. For example in the telecom domain, does the phone have bugs? Is the product working as it was advertised? Is the network not working? Is it breaking down? When people complain can you fix it? We use all of that information to do a form of quality control. Basically we isolate the problems and we identify if there are spurious problems or if there are systematic problems that everyone is encountering. So that is a big part of the way that customers give feedback that we can collect and deduce to make things better. And we can do it in real time.
In a situation where you know a product is not doing well; certainly we have had a crisis in management situations for customers as well. The challenge is making sure that you get out and stay ahead of the problem as much as you can. Make sure you know where the problems are. You must acknowledge them and work as hard as you can to fix them. A lot of times we find ways to do comparative analysis. In retail there’s always a new product being launched. Often a new product is similar to an old product but they want to learn lessons from a prior launch to make certain they are avoiding those same problems. This could be a new model year car, could be a new version of a phone, and could be a new campaign. It could be any number of things. You want to identify your type of customer. Because you will find problems that a 65 year old person encounters or raises may be different from the problems by somebody much younger. We try to look at not just the problem but the feedback. So where is this coming from, whether there are other attributes that correlate problems or issues, to a specific type of customer?
Professor Metze: Yes, you said that you could see the impact is not just a bad customer service experience that has caused a negative opinion. Opinions seem to be creating a long term damage to the brand. I think that is the most eloquent part of your response. The brand is what we are really talking about. This leads me to my final question so I can let you get to your board meeting. I want to understand the Clarabridge brand. I want my readers to know who you are. I want my readers to know who Clarabridge is. I want to introduce the company to an audience like myself. So the question is how did you come up with name? Where does it come from, what does it mean, does it have any special significance, and who are you? By the way, I love your Facebook page and your picture with Elvis .I just want you to know that. (laughter from CEO Banerjee) I really loved your picture!.
CEO Banerjee: I had just renewed my vows with my wife. (laughter).
Professor Metze: I am a 30 year married man, so you totally have my sentiments in favor of that! But Facebook has made 40 billion dollars in 8 years with a new idea. A new idea that was phenomenal when it was introduced. I must given all credit to Zuckerman and his team for having done it. What is your new idea with Clarabridge? I am sure you have an idea and it maybe what we have just gone over, it maybe something even bigger as we talk about what is happening on the 14th. But if you could put it a nutshell, begin with where Clarabridge came from. We’ll go on from there. You’ll be even bigger as we think about what is happening on January 14th. But if you can put that in a nutshell we will end the interview on that note. Begin with where Clarabridge came from. We’ll go on from there. Was that enough information for you to answer?
CEO Banerjee: Yes, that is fine. Well, I mean, I think it’s tough to reduce it down to a very simple tagline. I will give it a shot. At the end of the day, actually let me just ...I was thinking about this before. I was thinking about what we do fundamentally. We are a software company. We provide software to help the worlds companies improve customer service experiences and satisfaction. That is the new idea. And how we do it is all the technical and sort of fundamental description that we just went through. But that idea is relatively new because again if you go back even just a few years, most of the customer experiences that people had weren't digital. They weren't captured. They were basically one to one, person to person interactions between a customer and an agent or a customer and a store, or a customer and a teller. All of that has changed. It has changed in our lifetime. And the software that has evolved over the last 20 or 30 years, I would argue that the software falls into categories like standing on the shoulders of Giants. We have waves of technology. The first wave made the employees more efficient
Professor Metze: Yes!
CEO Banerjee: Like on a cash register or on a promotion planning systems, speed dialers for call centers. Those were first generation. The second generation of technology helped corporate users figure out how well those employees were doing. It was a form of basic intelligence. They grew out of measuring how much money, how efficient, how long someone was held on hold. The third generation which is really where we are now, actually the software that’s helping companies quantitatively learns what works in keeping customers happy and satisfied. Fact is those first two generations of technology created the data we now have this big data opportunity. There is incredibly rich content floating around inside companies on the internet. And it’s just there. Our job is to take all of that rich data and to make relations between and compare to serve customers better. That’s the really big idea!
Professor Metze: I think that is perfect and to put your mind at ease as you go to your board meeting, if I promise someone that I will not publish something I am a man of my word I will not publish it until death! (laughter) . I will not break my promise. I want you to know that this interview will not be published before the 14th. Thank you for giving me this interview. I am sure that it will bring dignity to your company and they will be pleased.
CEO Banerjee: I very much appreciate that and I appreciate your flexibility and I apologized for having to rush. I hope that we could have a full hour. I’d be happy if you would call on me again.
Professor Metze: I would be delighted to talk with you again. I wish continued success for you and your colleagues in your business venture.
CEO Banerjee: Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure to talk with you.
End of Interview.