Sae Kwon, VP of Customer Experience at Cisco, talks with Sarah about the changes in customer expectations he’s taken note of across his 24 years at Cisco and how the company has adapted to meet some of the most recent needs to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
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Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today, Sae Kwon, Vice President of Customer Experience at Cisco. Today, we’re going to be talking a bit about some of the trends that Sae has recognized related to customer experience and how he and his team at Cisco are adapting to meet and exceed with the new and evolving circumstances. Sae, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here.

Sae Kwon: Hi Sarah, thanks for the opportunity to be here with you.

Sarah Nicastro: Happy to have you. It is my Thursday night and Sae’s Friday morning, so I was just telling him before we went live that I’m jealous that he’s a little bit closer to the weekend than I am. So, Sae before-

Sae Kwon: Happy Friday. 😊

Sarah Nicastro: Happy Friday, Yeah. All right. So before we dig into the topic, tell us first a little bit about yourself and your history with Cisco.

Sae Kwon: Okay. So I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and I went to The University of Sydney and studied computer science there. And I joined another company before Cisco as a programmer, software programmer, spent a few years there and then I joined Cisco. When I joined Cisco, it was 1996 as a call center agent in the technical assistance center. And when I joined, I thought about what can I do to get ahead in a company like Cisco? And I looked around and there was a certification called CCIE, Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert. And I did that and then I became an engineer in the technical assistance center and then I had the most amazing career in Cisco over the 24 years, which I can go into more detail if you want.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And you and I when we spoke before, we talked about how great it’s been for you having been with the company for that long but never having gotten bored or feeling really the need to go anywhere else, because you’ve been able to do a lot of different things and continue learning and growing and expanding your skillset and having a lot of new experiences. Feel free to tell us a bit more, I would love to hear it.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So I’ll give a short summary first and then I’ll go into a bit more detail, but in a short summary, 24 years, I probably didn’t have the same role for more than two or three years at a time, so every two or three years my role was changing, also I had the opportunity to work across four different countries in roles that were country leadership role or regional leadership role. So it’s just been really exciting, a lot of opportunities were there, whether it’s moving to another country or doing a different role. One of the first big opportunity I had was in year 2000. That’s when Korea was going through an internet boom at that time. The government was really encouraging the service providers there to roll out high speed internet in Korea, so our business was doing very well over there and we needed to set up a Korean Technical Assistance Center in Korea.

Sae Kwon: So Cisco asked me to go to Korea and set that up, and that was a huge opportunity for me because until then I was an engineer. That’s when I had the opportunity to build a business. It sort of felt like a venture within a company, venture company within a company because I had the opportunity to build a business plan, put the processes in, hire people and set up the Technical Assistance Center in Korea. So I did that and I spent about four years in Korea just making sure that the whole Technical Assistance Center was settled in and then I passed it on to a local manager and came back to Sydney.

Sae Kwon: Then spent six years in Sydney doing various regional roles, like Focused Technical Support which is a premium service for the top customers where we have dedicated engineers and operations managers to support them. And then 2010, I had the opportunity to go to Japan and lead the technical services in Japan, which was another huge opportunity, I never imagined I’d work in Japan because I don’t speak Japanese, I don’t have any ties or any background there, but went there, had a great time. Really big business in Japan as you can imagine, and the people there were fantastic, so I spent about two and a half years there, excuse me, really enjoyed working there, helped grow the business, was involved with some of the recovery efforts during the big Japan earthquake as well, which was really good to give back. And then, came back to Sydney.

Sae Kwon: At that time I did something called service enablement, which is sort of like a business development role, but really focused on new services. So whenever we would launch a new service, this team would go in there, build a plan on how do we enable sales? How do we accelerate? And just get the ball rolling and then once the business is up and running, then the sales teams take over.

Sae Kwon: And then I had the opportunity to lead the Technical Services for APJC, that’s when I moved to Singapore about three years ago. And then about two years ago we went through a huge transformation in Cisco, from Cisco Services to Customer Experience. That’s when we realized that we can’t just have reactive services, we needed to be thinking about the whole life cycle of the customer’s journey, right from the presales to design implementation, onboarding adopt, and to support and then to renewal as well, because we wanted to make sure that we were helping the customer all along their life cycle as they used their solutions. That’s where I am now. But it’s been a really exciting 24 years.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think it’s really cool that you’ve been able to spend that much time with Cisco and always feel challenged and feel satisfied and fulfilled, I mean, it speaks to when you have a good gig, right? Just hang onto it and keep having those great experiences, I also always think it’s interesting when I speak with someone who’s in a customer experience role that has had a long tenure with a company, because I think it gives you a unique perspective of how customer needs and expectations have evolved over time. And for someone like yourself who has worked in different regions of the business, different areas of the business, it gives you a unique perspective on some of the ideas of how Cisco can adapt to meet those needs. So, very cool.

Sarah Nicastro: So let’s talk a little bit about that. When you and I connected previously, we talked about Cisco’s journey toward being a more solution centric business, right? Which is a journey that a vast majority of companies are somewhere on. And you mentioned the customer journey, so I know, we talked a bit about how you at Cisco over the last little while have noticed some areas in the customer journey that you needed to evolve to meet some new demands. So I know that you’ve kind of restructured the business a bit to meet those, tell our listeners a little bit about the evolution of what the customers are needing from you and how you’re adapting to meet those needs.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So, if I go back to when I started with Cisco, 24 years ago, we were basically selling hardware boxes, right? With software on there, but it was being sold as a hardware product on its own, and services attached to that. And then we realized that customers were not buying just that box, they were buying a solution essentially, it’s many boxes connected together, but it’s a solution. So, I can’t remember the exact time, but it was in the 2000s, that’s when we introduced what we called Solution Support, because we had many different types of products that made up a solution, and the customers sometimes were getting very confused in terms of, okay, where is the problem lying when they had an issue, right?

Sae Kwon: So we introduced Solution Support where we said, Hey, Mr. Customer, you don’t have to worry about where the problem is, just call us when you see the problem, we will do that searching for you and find out where it is and hide that complexity for you. So that’s one of the evolutions we had in the early stages.

Sae Kwon: The other one was, I talked about the focus technical support before, the premium level services where we have dedicated engineers and operations managers. That’s another one that we introduced in the 2000s because we realized again, that when the customer calls us, we spend a lot of time just trying to understand the customer’s network environment, the IT environment, but when you have a dedicated engineer and operations manager that already understands the customer’s environment, when a problem occurs that troubleshooting and finding that root cause and the resolution becomes so much faster.

Sae Kwon: So that’s another one and also I’m going to talk about it a bit more later, but services, although it’s about technology, at the end of the day it’s all about people, and having dedicated people that not only knows your infrastructure but has a relationship with you as a person, is also really good. Because when you don’t know the person and you’re in a network down situation, you’re under pressure, I’m talking from a customer perspective, under pressure from your bosses, things can get really heated. But when you have someone you can trust in Cisco that you know that, He knows my environment, that’s when you can have a much much more productive and constructive discussions and troubleshooting so that you can find the resolution faster.

Sae Kwon: So I think that was a really good service that the customers liked. So that was in the early stages, and then we looked at all the intellectual property that we had collected over the few decades of service that we were providing to our customers. And we realized that a lot of the basic questions were repeated over and over again. So we put that online and made it possible for the customers to do self service, that made it possible for us to focus engineers onto the most complex issues, for the simpler repeatable issues, customers can come in and just get the answers through self service online, and which it allows us to provide a more cost effective service, but also allowed us to focus our top engineers onto the complex issues that the customers really needed the attention on.

Sae Kwon: So that’s the other evolution that we did, and then we also looked at analyzing and using those intellectual property and using analytics to start to see how we can predict issues from reccurring, because we realized that there were patterns, there’s certain patterns in the network were occurring before an issue would occur. So using those patterns, we used to call them digital signatures, using those patterns we could start to tell the customers that, “Hey, Mr. Customer, if you see these patterns in your network, you may be hitting this problem. So let’s take an action to avoid that.” So we can start to help our customers to avoid problems from occurring because fast troubleshooting is good but when the trouble doesn’t occur it’s even better.

Sae Kwon: So that was the other thing that we were doing. So we were going through that evolution and then the most recent transformation that we did that I talked about two years ago, is when we thought, okay, it’s not just about the problem, it’s not just about troubleshooting or avoiding the problem. We have to start right from when the customer purchases a solution. We have to help them design it well and we had professional services team that did the design.

Sae Kwon: We already had that, but we didn’t have anyone that really helped the customers to onboard the solution into their business and build a plan on how to adopt and consume that within their business. These customers would have had a business requirement and that’s the reason why they bought our solution for a certain outcome that they were thinking about, but we were not in there helping them, we were leaving it to the customers.

Sae Kwon: And that’s the transformation that we did two years ago when we moved from Cisco Services to customer experience, was to bring professional services and technical services, which we already had but they were in siloed departments, bring them together and then create what we call customer success, where we had the onboarding and adoption capabilities.

Sae Kwon: And we’re starting to see some really good outcomes and customers are starting to give us some really good feedback both verbally as well as from a business standpoint as well, so we can see some really good early signs.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think it’s such an important thing to talk about in terms of a few aspects, I mean, one is examining that customer journey often enough and carefully enough to recognize where those gaps exist. I think it sounds very simple but companies get just in the day to day and they don’t always think to do that or take the time or resources to do that and to your point, you have the professional services team on the front end and you had technical services there to help them in a later stage, but there was this big gap in between that was a fantastic opportunity for Cisco as a business to tackle and then also a fantastic opportunity for you to endear yourself to your customers because you’re fulfilling a very valid need that they have.

Sarah Nicastro: The other point that I think is important to touch on is, as you mentioned, the need, when you look at the customer journey and when you look at customer experience, to break down some of those silos. I mean I’m sure the professional service team was doing a fantastic job and I’m sure the technical services team was doing a fantastic job, but if you don’t have a function looking at that bigger picture and really looking at it from that customer perspective of where those gaps are and how to fill them, you can have a siloed operation where everyone’s doing a great job, but it’s still not creating a consistent, seamless customer experience. So, I think that’s really interesting.

Sarah Nicastro: So as you’ve been on this journey, in identifying these needs and working as a business to pivot and adapt to restructure to be able to meet them, are there any lessons you’ve learned or tips you would share for other organizations that are kind of doing this work of exploring the customer journey, looking for opportunities to provide new and different services, that sort of thing.

Sae Kwon: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the things that come to my mind is timing, because we had professional services and technical services and they were both very successful businesses on their own. It was a separate organization, but very successful businesses, but we could see in the longer term that we needed that customer success function as well and we needed to bring the teams together. It was a very difficult decision but we needed to make it at the time and we couldn’t afford to wait until these businesses started to slow down. So, but as you can imagine at that time, when you have three successful large businesses, it’s hard to make that decision to disrupt, because you’re disrupting a lot of people, a lot of organizations and I think I once described it as, we put everything into a box, shook it, turned it upside down and then put it down and then we started from there, it sort of felt that way at the time.

Sae Kwon: But having that courage to disrupt early on, I think is really important. It can be very risky and scary, but if you do that, then you have a really strong business sort of slowing down, plateauing but if you make that transformation at the right time, then you can go through that growth curve again, I think. So the timing is so important, and having the courage to disrupt earlier is really important. And then it’s all about people, you change management, because in a services businesses our most important asset in a services business is people.

Sae Kwon: So we want to make sure that we talk about the why, why are we doing this? So that people will buy into it. And it takes time, some people buy into it faster, some people buy into it later, but it takes time and we need to take everyone through the change journey, and then bring them along through that journey. So I think those two are probably the main things, there’s a lot of other things that you’ve got to be thinking about, Timing and change management, just making sure that you bring the people along.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think the timing point, I really like, because I often say you can’t just stay with the status quo. Right. But I think that sometimes there’s an interpretation of status quo as average. Right. And in this case, the status quo was really good. Right, and the status quo was going very well. So to your point, it becomes even more difficult to decide to disrupt that status quo because it’s working well. Right. But if you recognize this opportunity for it to work even better, to your point, you need to move when the time is right, to realize the full value from doing that. So I think that’s a really important point. So as you’ve been on this journey of the last few years with the new customer success function and your role with customer experience, there’s a number of trends that have surfaced that you’ve realized and are working around.

Sarah Nicastro: The first is, we had a discussion and it relates to the introduction of customer success because it’s basically the idea of customers wanting outcomes, they don’t necessarily want a product or a service, they want peace of mind, they want business partners, solution providers. So, tell us a little bit more about what you’ve seen as it relates to customers, demanding outcomes.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. We’ve seen a trend where we… I think probably about up to about 10 years ago, we were talking mainly to IT departments and selling to them. So we were mainly doing technology selling faster, easier to use, easier to operate technology selling. But the trend we saw since that is the business owners, so that business function is not the IT departments, business functions and business owners were looking for solutions, whether to adopt within the organization or to adopt the technology solution that could help them to differentiate against their competitors. Right.

Sae Kwon: So, banking is a great example. I think banking has gone through, during the last decade, they’ve gone through a huge transformation, right? Where in the past they used to have branches with people everywhere, a lot of the banks have many less branches now, and it’s a lot of online banking and they enhancing that all the time, right? Even the branches have become very digitized, usually when you walk into the branches. So you can see that sort of transformation, so we’re now starting to talk to people that are not necessarily IT people they’re business people.

Sae Kwon: So they look for a certain outcome or a business solution, and we have to package our solutions in that way for them. Yeah. So that’s from a product and services perspective and then… hardware and software perspective. And then from a services perspective, we have to do the same because the company is moving in that direction, solution selling, so that’s why we have to introduce solution support and make sure that we’re not leaving the customers to go through the complexity, we want to hide the complexity, let the customers, allow them to focus on their business.

Sae Kwon: So that’s one area, and then the other area that we see in terms of changing how the customers want to work with us is how they want to buy? In the past they wanted to buy and own, but we’re seeing more and more customers not wanting to buy and own it, but they want to buy and pay as they go, or pay as they use. So that’s the other model that we call a subscription model, and that’s the other model that we see becoming more and more popular amongst the customers, because they have budget constraints, they don’t want to spend a large amount of capital upfront, they want to be able to stagger that. So that’s the other trend that we’ve seen in terms of change?

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And I often say, I mean, the future of service, I think, is learning how to master all of this complexity to present simplicity. I mean, that’s what customers want, and I think that there is so much complexity on the backend for a company to deliver seamless, simple service and customer experience. But getting good at that is really, you know what needs to happen.

Sae Kwon: So if I can jump in, I mean, in terms of outcomes and solutions, I think last nine months has been really interesting, because of COVID-19, and those required some solutions that we never thought about before, like remote workforce, working from home solutions, yeah, secure connectivity, and now the solutions that customers asking for is returned to the office solutions. So those type of solutions. So, it’s not technology solutions anymore, I mean, it’s made up of technology, but solutions are real business outcomes that the customers are looking for now.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. Yes. And I think that’s another good point, I was talking to a company a couple of months ago and he was kind of venting and saying I’m just really frustrated, because we’ve deployed IOT and no one’s buying it. And I said, well, I mean, have you thought about that because your customers don’t care if you’re using IOT. I mean, that doesn’t matter to them, they care about what pain of theirs that can solve, so it’s interesting when you really dig into how this world is evolving, and the level of complexity companies have to take on to evolve and be successful, because it isn’t just technology, it’s how you sell, it’s how you market, it’s how you’re operationally structured. You know what I mean?

Sarah Nicastro: There’s so many different aspects of it, I find it really interesting and exciting, which is why I love what I do, but it’s a lot of hard work to keep up with the way things are changing and what customers are demanding. So you’ve mentioned a couple of times since we’ve been speaking today, that one of probably arguably the most important ingredient to all of this is people, right? So to your point, you can have this great vision, if you don’t have change management, it’s going nowhere, you can have the best technology, if people aren’t on board, it’s not going to help, right? So, we know that people are absolutely imperative to companies accomplishing this mission and being able to deliver the customer experience you want.

Sarah Nicastro: And one of the questions that comes up a lot right now is around the issue of recruiting and hiring and retaining good talent, because not only is it important, but it’s increasingly difficult to come by. So tell us a bit about your thoughts on people as it relates to customer experience and how Cisco is tackling the whole hiring, developing, and retaining of good talent.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So I start with hiring, I think our hiring processes have evolved over time as well, and at the moment, really focusing on making sure that we bring in, we tap into the diverse diversity, because let’s look at gender diversity for example, we don’t have that many female IT engineers, they are very few, which means we’re missing out on half the world’s talent, right? So it’s just making sure that we tap into and can bring in the whole talent, whether it’s gender diversity or whether it’s cultural diversity. So what we’re doing at the moment is trying something called blind interviews, right. Just not knowing what the background or any of the other, just looking at the skills and experience and so forth, and that’s working out really well and that’s helping for us to hire and tap into the much more diverse workforce and then bring them in which has been working really well.

Sae Kwon: And then I think once we bring people into the company, I think what we need to do is we need to create an environment where you’re not working like a robot, because one of the challenges that we had in that 10, 15 years ago in the early times when I joined is technical assistance center can easily be seen as a call center. But engineers don’t like working in a call center, they want to be innovating, they want to be troubleshooting, they want to be creative, they want to be empowered.

Sae Kwon: So trying to create that environment where the engineers feel like they’re coming in, they’re growing, they’re innovating, that’s really important, but they still need to pick up the phone and talk to the customer and help the customer, but in an environment where it doesn’t feel like a call center, it feels like a place where they’re innovating and they’re really empowered to make decisions. So that’s the other area that we try to really create, so that technical assistants and the engineers don’t feel like a call center agent and working off scripts, but they’re really empowered to support the customers. Of course there are processes and tools and trainings that we provide to our engineers because we also need to make sure that the experience that our customers have with their technical assistance center is consistent.

Sae Kwon: We can’t have inconsistent levels of, in the early days we used to have that customer would talk to engineer A, have a great experience, talk to engineer B, not so great experience. So we wanted to make sure that we sort of make that more consistent through trainings, and soft skills trainings and things like that. But you can still provide a consistent experience but also provide an environment where engineers are feeling like they innovating and they empowered.

Sae Kwon: And then the other one is I think, fun, I think just making sure that people are having fun as they come in is also important. I mean, some people may say it doesn’t work, doesn’t have to be fun, you can have fun outside. But if work can be fun, it’s so much more better. So creating that environment where people can come in and enjoy each other’s company, work hard but also have fun I think that’s so important. So creating that sort of environment through, it’s not always just fun events. I think it’s the culture that the company creates, the culture that the managers creates for their teams. It’s also really important for the engineers to come in and feel like they’re being valued and they’re enjoying, when they come in.

Sae Kwon: And then the other one is just creating a lot of different growth opportunities, like I’ve personally gone through. Making sure that if you want it, there are many different opportunities there. And Cisco is one of the companies that’s a global company, luckily we can provide a lot of different opportunities, whether it’s a different function, different city, different country, depending on what people want to do, what they want to work towards, of course you don’t just get it, you have to work towards it, but if you want to work towards it, there are many opportunities to do other things. So I think all of those things come together to provide that environment where once people come in, they don’t necessarily want to leave because everything is provided here.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that’s a really good point and like you’ve said, you’re a good testament of Cisco’s ability to create that environment that people want to stay in. So I think that’s really good. I’ve written a few articles in my time talking about the correlation between employee engagement and employee satisfaction and the customer experience. So it’s, I think sometimes when companies go down the customer experience path, they can do so at the cost of also focusing on the the employee experience and what do their employees need, and it is really important to consider how big of a piece of the puzzle it is because you can’t rely on disconnected unhappy people to deliver this amazing experience to your customers-

Sae Kwon: I think that’s a really good point because when I was working in the technical assistance center and managing the team there, you sometimes think that customers, because you’re on the phone, you’re not seeing each other, customers may not know how that engineer is feeling, but they know. If their engineer is empowered, is passionate, he’s happy, they know. If their engineer is not happy, they know as well. So making sure that engineers are really motivated, really empowered, happy is so important.

Sarah Nicastro: And to your point, yes, that comes through. If you can create an environment, like you said, yes, you want to have standards and you want to have expectations, but then give these people the freedom to be themselves a bit and to be engaged and that’s what makes them committed and into what they’re doing and that 1000% comes through. So I think that’s a really good point. I want to talk a little bit about some of the trends you’ve seen related to how different technologies play a role in the customer experience. So we’ve touched on a few, but let’s go back through and just talk a bit. So we talked about an increase in acceptance of remote support as well as self service.

Sarah Nicastro: So tell us a little bit what you’re seeing related to maybe a change in perception from the customer side of the value of those tools and how it can benefit them.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So the benefit of self service is you don’t have to wait in the phone queue, you can just go in, search for solutions and the solutions are there. And I think as the younger generations’ coming to the workforce, they’re more used to that type of online activity, so I think that that really suits them really well. So self service is becoming bigger and bigger and that really helps us to run a much much more efficient operations, because we can solve a bulk of the customer queries through self service, online self service. Remote delivery, that’s also really important because in the past everyone wanted to do things face to face. Everyone said, Come on site, meet me face to face. But with some of the tools that we have, in Cisco we have our Cisco WebEx tool, which is a similar one to what we’re using now and we use that to have meetings with our customers, discussion, whiteboarding, troubleshooting, sharing information, all of that can occur through there.

Sae Kwon: And especially during the COVID-19 situation, when no one could travel, this has become a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate the capabilities of these tools that we had. And again, it allows us to be more efficient, provide a better ROI to the customer as well. And the other thing that it does is also if you focus on onsite and face-to-face delivery, or face-to-face engagements, you can only tap into your local resources. But Cisco being a global company, we have experts all over the place, and when we have the remote capability, now we can start to bring in the best talent from all around the world for that customer. So I think that’s the other opportunity that this brings up. You can tap into the top talent everywhere, anywhere.

Sae Kwon: Of course you have to watch the time zones, but that’s the other big advantage that it opens up that I see.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I’m a people person and I really miss face-to-face events and all of that, but I do absolutely agree that this situation has kind of forced folks to realize how much can be done remotely, and so there’s certainly a time and place for seeing people in person and all of that, but it is interesting how there’s a little, well, not a little bit, a lot more openness to some of these things than there was just a very short time ago.

Sae Kwon: I don’t think technology, no matter how good the video conferencing technology is, I don’t think will ever a 100% replace face-to-face, I think humans need that human interaction. That’s always going to be there, but I think, like the self service has played a role in making us more efficient, I think this will do that as well. And we will be able to provide a much better service using these tools, but it will never replace 100% face-to-face.

Sarah Nicastro: When you were talking about self service, I was thinking, it’s such a delicate balance to get right, I mean the role you’re in and just the jobs that play a part in that customer experience. You want to make them feel empowered to solve problems on their own when they want to, but boy, when they want to talk to someone, someone needs to, I mean it’s just I’m thinking of, I don’t want to name any names because that’s not nice, but I’m thinking of a service experience I had not too long ago where I had an issue and no matter how frustrated you are, you can’t get someone on the phone. And while I would rather do self service, if it gets to that point and then you don’t have the help you need, it’s just incredibly frustrating. So it’s a big puzzle of making sure that, whatever your customer wants, however they want to interact and whatever those preferences are, you’re there to meet those needs.

Sae Kwon: Yeah, I think the key is giving customers a choice on how they want to interact with us, and whatever method they choose, we need to be there ready. Just because we have self service option, it doesn’t mean that we can start to neglect the phone calls, right? We need to make sure that if the customer want to call us, we’re there picking up the phones quickly and we are responding back to them quickly. We need to make sure, and we continue to look at time to pick up and time to respond, stats, so that we can ensure that we have enough people there to support those customers, but they need to call us as well. So, that’s the balance that… So important that balance.

Sarah Nicastro: Like you said, it’s taking on all of that complexity so that when a customer wants to self serve or they want to call or whatever, someone’s there. But when you think about what’s going on in the back end, it’s pretty impressive. So I also wanted to talk a little bit about… You had talked about Cisco’s move toward predictive service, and all of the data you have at this point and being able to notice those patterns and start to work with customers to predict some of the issues you know will likely arise. How do you see your use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data? How do you see that expanding in the coming couple of years?

Sae Kwon: I think that’s going to… I think the word I would use would be that’s going to explode. I think that’s going to be a huge opportunity to leverage AI and intellectual property and the data that we have and combined that together, it’s going to be so powerful. And it’s again similar to self service and remote, this is going to be another tool that’s going to help us to provide our customers with much, much better solution, much, much more consistent, data-based support that our customers are looking for, reliable support that our customers are looking for.

Sae Kwon: Similar to self service and remote support, I don’t think AI will ever 100% displace people, because people are always going to be at the core, because once the automation or AI comes in and comes up with a solution, there’s got to be some people that sort of goes through that and analyzes that and makes that relevant for their customer because, every customer is a little bit different, the environment depending on what country they’re in, what business vertical they’re in and what market their customer bases are, they’re all very different. So there’s always got to be the people there. And customers always want to have the choice of being able talk to people as well as we just talked about so… But I think AI part is going to explode it and it’s going to be a huge opportunity for us and for our customers as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, when you start thinking about… When you draw the parallels between outcomes based service and predictive analytics, I mean, there is no better outcome than a customer just having peace of mind that their systems are going to continue working. Right? So, I mean, it’s sort of the ultimate outcome, so the more capable companies can get in leveraging that data they have to really analyze where those failure points often are and really get ahead of those things. It’s making strides and delivering the best possible outcomes that people are going to be willing to pay for.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. And it’s going to be so much more important because, technology is becoming more and more complex, although, on the surface, when you use it, it’s making life so much easier or making businesses so much more competitive, they can differentiate but, at the back end, how the technology comes together is so complex. And you need to make sure that you have the right people to be able to put that together but, having AI, having all the different tools to help go through the complexity is going to be really important as well. Because these days, when you look at one solution, it’s not just one technology, there could be the network that needs to be put together, and then there’s got to be security and then there’s got to be some data center ability and then there’s got to be virtualization ability and then there’s got to be collaboration, video conferencing, they need to come together to form a solution that provides that business outcome for the customer, right?

Sae Kwon: And it’s going to get even more complex as we go, because these things will probably, even the customer solutions will have things like AI and automation that come in and start to bring all these different technologies together. So, I sometimes feel a little bit sorry for our engineers because, when we go to… When I used to troubleshoot, there were maybe two or three products in a solution. Now when an engineer’s going to troubleshoot there’s many, many different products, and they need to understand that. And it’s not easy for one or two engineers to understand everything. So they need to work together, and when you can have things like AI and automation tools come in and help our engineers, it makes it so much better. So, complexity is another reason why AI is going to be so important and automation is going to be so important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. To your point, it frees them up to work on the things that… If you can automate some of the more simple things, it frees them up to work on the things that their expertise really is needed for. So last question Sae is, what’s the biggest lesson you as a customer experience leader have learned, that you think others could benefit from hearing?

Sae Kwon: The first one is listening to customers. That’s where everything starts from, right? We need to continue to talk to customers and listen to them because things are always changing, the requirements are always changing and you need to be able to move with that, that will be the number one thing. And then number two would be look after your people, make sure that you hire the best people, train them and retain them and help them to grow within the company, because motivated employees will look after your customers, right? So that’s so important. And then third one would be, continue to disrupt, and it’s not always easy, especially when you have a very successful business. Right? But you have to continue to disrupt, especially in the technology area that I work in.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love that. I love that you spoke earlier about timing and having the courage to take those chances, I think that’s a really good message for folks. And certainly, I think there’s a lot of organizations that have really good intentions on customer experience, but they start to go down these paths on a lot of assumptions, versus actually talking to the customers and not only talking to them, but listening and really hearing what they’re saying. So it sounds like customer experience, listen to your customers, it should automatically go together, but unfortunately that is not always the case and it is imperative, and of course we talked about how critically important people are in making this all happen. So very good advice, very good insights Sae, I really appreciate you being here with us today.

Sae Kwon: Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Sarah Nicastro: It was great, thank you. For more content, be sure to check us out at www.futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter at The Future of FS. The future of field service podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more about IFS service management by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service