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 Bannerjee; 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 Bannerjee 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 Bannerjee 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 Bannerjee] 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 Bannerjee: I am! Hello?
Professor Metze: Hello!
Ashley: I have Professor Metze on the line from Examiner.com.
CEO Bannerjee: OK.
Professor Metze: Mr. Bannerjee is that the correct pronunciation of your name?
CEO Bannerjee: 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 its of German origin, but actually its pronounced as Mets, as the city in France, Metz, France, like the New York Mets. The 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 Bannerjee] 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 Bannerjee: 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 suppose 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 Bannerjee: 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 Bannerjee: The company is actually, within the tech sector, pretty well regarded. 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 its 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 Bannerjee: 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.
Part Two: Analyzing Customer Complaints next week.