Fetching Agent Support from Balto

by Dave Michels

Artificial Intelligence is changing every aspect of the contact center: self service, augmented agent, QM, scheduling, and coaching – to name a few. Balto does agent coaching. It’s bots listen and provide agents real-time tips on how to improve their interactions. Balto was one of the six companies selected for the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect earlier this year.

Evan and I had a chance to talk about Balto, CCaaS, AI, and St. Louis with Balto CEO and Founder Marc Bernstein.

This is a great use case. It directly improves agent performance, customer experience, and CSAT as opposed to the usual approach: providing data for supervisors to act on.


Dave Michels 0:00
Hey welcome to talk again today Evan and I will be talking to Mark Bernstein live Balto. But before that, Evan, I’ve been waiting to ask you about your reaction to the Big Apple event. Have you bought yourself for them too yet?

Evan Kirstel 0:24
I haven’t am one. So it’s really hard to justify. But I was really pleasantly surprised with all the software updates and iOS updates. I’m kind of pumped to get my hands on the latest and greatest iOS. What about you? You’re still on the dark side with Android?

Dave Michels 0:40
I got myself on them one here. I use it at least once a week, once a month, once a year? I’m not sure one of those things. But what do you think about this iMessage thing that you can actually edit messages. Now that’s a good thing or a bad thing?

Evan Kirstel 0:50
Well, it’s all about I know you’re on the RAS bandwagon RCS rather. But it really is all about iMessage. You can now edit messages you’ve already sent, you can delete sent messages, you know, unsend. And there’s all kinds of reasons to own an iPhone now, including my favorite, which is going to be using your iPhone as a webcam sort of attached awkwardly to your MacBook. So yeah, clever hacks, that’s going to be fun. It’s just chock full of features. They’ve introduced their own collaboration tool coming later this year. So you know, Apple users can sort of do whiteboarding and screen sharing and synchronized chat and stuff. So just you know, there’s all kinds of cool stuff there. But as always, you’re wedded to you know, other

Dave Michels 1:40
other wedded to nothing speaking of whether I was gonna find my first iPhone, this last round when the pixel six came out. And I thought, well, the pixel sends a big upgrade and the iPhone 13 wasn’t a big upgrade. So maybe that iPhone 14 will be the big upgrade that lures me over. But, you know, I have to say apples exceeded my expectations. Tim Cook has done a great job. I thought when Steve Jobs disappeared, that the thing would fall apart. Now I’m worried about when Tim Cook leaves, you know, I guess that’s the next coming. But we can talk about that later. Let’s get to our interview.

Evan Kirstel 2:10
Let’s do it. Great to see young and promising entrepreneurs in action. What a great guest. I

Dave Michels 2:17
think this is one of the better uses of conversational AI technology, this coaching concept and augmented agent kind of a different area. But I think I think the idea of using AI to help the agents is a lot better than displacing the agents.

Evan Kirstel 2:30
Yeah, it’s Iron Man Jarvis. It’s what I’ve always been looking for. So coming to a contact center, and hopefully beyond that in the in the future.

god 2:39
All right. Well, I thought it was a great conversation, and I think it’s gonna be a funny couple of the watch. Talking. It is a semi monthly podcast with interviews of the top movers and shakers and enterprise communications and collaboration, your host, Dave Michaels and Evan Kirkstall, both of which offer extraordinary services including research, analysis and social media marketing. You can find them on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at talking points.com. That’s points with the Z and Evan kersal.com. That’s ki r s t e l. So today we have with us Mark Bernstein, the CEO and founder of Balto, Balto offers real time guidance for contact centers. Welcome, Marc.

Marc Bernstein 3:22
Thank you, Dave. Great to be here.

Dave Michels 3:24
So this is an interview. This is a live interview, we’re going to be asking you questions. So my first question for you is do you have anything coaching you on how to get through this interview?

Marc Bernstein 3:34
You know, we have quite tackled the podcast market quite yet. So no, nothing coaching me for this podcast. But you can imagine that that’s going to be a future step in our path to a world domination.

Dave Michels 3:44
Well, we’ll see how this goes. Well, that’s

Evan Kirstel 3:46
great, because Dave definitely needs coaching. And Mark, I was reading your LinkedIn bio here, and it says your Balto three founders pooled our life savings of $210,000 together to start the company leaving ourselves enough to go without a salary for two years. You know, great founder story, but my question is, actually your title is the founder, not co founder. Where are the other founders? Yeah, so we have three founders, three founders, but not three co founders.

Marc Bernstein 4:19
Yeah. CO seems a little underplaying the importance like yes, we all founded it together. So can’t we all three be founders so founder, CEO, founder, CTO, and founder CEO,

Evan Kirstel 4:31
I love it. I found that I tell

Dave Michels 4:33
people that I’m the host of this podcast and Evan is the co host. So what inspired Balto and even more interesting and what inspired the Balto logo?

Marc Bernstein 4:46
Well, what inspired the company to start as that I was in sales. And I hadn’t experienced in sales that every single person who has done sales has had where you receive some coaching or some training.

Dave Michels 4:59
I Just want to say for the record, Evan has never done sales just but go ahead. Go ahead.

Marc Bernstein 5:04
Ah, so Evan totally won’t relate to this. Yeah. So but everyone else will, and you get some coaching, some training, you know what you’re supposed to do you leave your manager’s office, you go, Okay, wow, that’s great, it has learned so much. And then you get to the next call, and you apply none of the stuff that you would learn 15 minutes ago, and you like, think to yourself, like, Why did I do it that way? Why didn’t I do the thing I supposed to do. And the insight is that there is a gap between Norwich both to do ahead of time actually doing it live while you’re talking to the customer when you need to do it. So I had experienced that pain created a little kind of software program for myself was actually an Excel spreadsheet at a solvent where you could type in in this spreadsheet, any of the topics that were coming up in the call and would automatically pop up my talking points. So that was a little way to help me. And then we kind of juiced up that concept quite a bit before taking it out to market.

Evan Kirstel 5:53
Awesome. Oh, I know about selling as ABC always be closing, but we’ll come to that later. So is Balto today different from what you had originally envisioned in 2017? Or are you with the same vision?

Marc Bernstein 6:07
You know, there’s so many different components of a vision, you know, is the product about what I had anticipated? It is, that’s really cool, that we had, you know, an idea of what we wanted to put out in the world. And that that is precisely the thing we put out. And it’s definitely gotten more layered and more complex, and we’ve launched additional products as well. But the fundamental concept of you’re in a live conversation, something’s analyzing it, and helping you out in that conversation. That’s exactly what we’re doing today. But, you know, when we started the company, I didn’t have any experience with startups. And I’d actually never really seen a startup even get series a funding, you know, it wasn’t something that was common in St. Louis. So to think that we have a, you know, company of 100 plus people and, you know, Series B funding and raise 51 million in capital and, you know, have, you know, well over 150 customers, that was not something I really had pictured just because I hadn’t experienced it. So I guess that part’s turned out a little bit better than I had ever imagined. So you skipped

Dave Michels 7:05
over my question about the logo, you’ve got an interesting logo, whatever that logo is, like a dog or a wolf, and even sure what it is, but it’s certainly not a contact center mentor. And so tell me the story behind your logo.

Marc Bernstein 7:17
Yeah, well, you know, a picture of a contact center manager, as the logo probably wouldn’t have gotten the same emotional, evocative appeal that that Husky does, but it’s actually based on a true story, the story of Balto, which is that there was actually a dog in the year 1925 That became a historical figure now has a statue in Central Park in New York. And the story goes that there is this outbreak of diphtheria, which is this terrible disease that now we can cure with vaccines. But there was an outbreak in the northwest corner of Alaska, this little town called nome, and they didn’t have any any toxins so they couldn’t treat the town. The closest antitoxin was 674 miles away in Anchorage. Well, in the winters at that time, it was so cold, you couldn’t fly a plane because the engines couldn’t take it they would freeze and you couldn’t take it by ship because the seas were totally frozen. So the only way they could bring the antitoxin from Anchorage all the way to Nome was 20 Different relays of dog sled teams and Balto was the lead dog on the last team that brought the antitoxin from Anchorage to Nome, we use that story as a metaphor because in that example, Balto is using his sense of smell, stick into the trail, helping keep all the dogs together. So they’re all mushing in the same direction, but Balto is not in charge. It’s not like the dogs like Hey, everyone, I have an idea that’s gonna save these kids, the person the human, the mushers in charge. And that is the relationship that we think that AI and people should be trying to craft in this next era of technology, where AI has abilities that people don’t have, and it’s helping them in very unique ways that only AI can, but that ultimately, people are in charge and partnering with AI in order to accomplish the end objective.

Dave Michels 9:02
Wow. Well, I gotta say that’s a that’s a pretty good answer. I mean, wasn’t as good as the question. I mean, I had no idea that question was gonna go that deep, but it was a very good answer. That’s really entertaining. Actually, I love all that, you know, the Jacqueline and the dogs lead stuff. I’ve never heard the term mushrooms before. That’s great. That’s a great term for context. centreless supervisors.

Marc Bernstein 9:21
You know, it’s funny that we actually we think about that all the time. And you know, when you start up, Balto, you know, and you’re first using it the first time we have a button that says mush. So we try to bring some of that stuff into the application because the contact center can at times be a not delightful place. So we have a principle that says how can we introduce delight into the contact center and we try to do that our software and our branding and also a little bit of humor.

Evan Kirstel 9:46
That’s fantastic. I can’t wait for the Disney movie Balto that’ll be great for the brand because I actually never heard of Balto before Enterprise Connect to this spring. And I saw you in the Dave Michaels curated very Sturgis Innovation Showcase is very prestigious. Yes, mainly because you’re involved. And I also saw you had a partnership with RingCentral. So 2022 is proving to be a pretty big year for Balto.

Marc Bernstein 10:13
Yes, it’s totally insane. And if you think about what scaling, contact center companies do, your first step is you get product market fit, you create something that the market really loves that works that customers are using to get real results. And we did that check. And then you look at how do the best contact center companies scale? And the answer is partnerships, ecosystem channel, really getting tight into the contact center community. So you know, relationships, like what we’ve gotten with RingCentral. And the awards, we’re winning at Enterprise Connect, and we just won the top desk, innovative vendor award or something pretty close to that, in CX, you know, those are the sort of things that allow us to get to know the community allow the community to get to know us to go from a company that’s delivering an awesome solution to a small audience to a company that is delivering an awesome solution to the entire context in our market. And you know, our mission is to power a new era of knowledge work in the contact center. And it’s only possible if we partner with the best folks in this space.

Dave Michels 11:18
So let’s talk about your role at Balto, we’ve talked about you being a founder talked about you being CEO, you are young, inexperienced, not a coder, what do you do?

Marc Bernstein 11:29
Well, I don’t code. And, you know, I also don’t measure my age, I do the best to avoid those two things. You know, most of my time is spent working with

Dave Michels 11:40
I just want to say for the record, you know, there’s I read the apple book, whatever the Steve Jobs book and wasn’t the next day, I was really upset with Steve Jobs. You know, what the hell do you do around here? You know, my son does all the coding. So there’s people that have important roles. I don’t mean to put you on the defense with the question, but But what do you do? What is your role at Balto? Yeah,

Marc Bernstein 11:57
so you can kind of think about that two ways. Practically. I spend time with customers, I spend time with prospects, and I spend time leading our executive team. And then you say, Well, what does a CEO you know, 150 ish person tech company do? And the answer is you’re managing investor relations, and you’re making sure that the company is, you know, always well financed, you are bringing on the best and brightest talent into your company and acting as a talent magnet to make sure that we’re fueling the company with tons of innovation and smart people who are experts at what they do. And then you’re spending time in customer relationships and sales, making sure that your customers are delighted that you’re finding ways to partner with them in a deeper way. And at the same time that you’re finding new accounts that want to hear from the leader of the company, and here, what is this company going to do? Because when enterprise companies buy technology, they’re not just buying what it is today. They’re buying, where it’s going and what it will be. And they often want to hear from the chief executive, what is the vision for the product? What is the vision for what this company will do in the space? So that’s practically where I spend most of my time.

Evan Kirstel 13:04
Fantastic. And Bobo isn’t alone in the contact center coaching space, we won’t name names, but there are several companies using conversational AI to do that. So what makes Balto unique?

Marc Bernstein 13:17
The first thing that is important for people to look at is is the coaching happening in POST call after the call is done, or is coaching happening in real time. While the agent is having a live conversation with the customer. Only a few players in the space are doing real time. So you can imagine Evan, you know at that no joke. If I had Balto up right now, it would have heard what makes Balto unique, and popped up differentiation question and given me three different answers I could have for the best way to explain what makes Balto unique. And then not only would it give me those recommendations, or what I could say it would then test it and say Mark, did you know that when you respond with Option A 28% of the time you win a sale versus if you watch bombed options, see, it’s 14% so Option A is your best option. And we’re going to let your management know that option A is working the best and even let all the 1000 other plus agents know so everyone starts doing the absolute best thing on every single customer conversation. Sounds like Jarvis for the contact center. You know, we actually use Jarvis on our marketing team.

Evan Kirstel 14:25
Oh, see? Good idea. Great one. Yep,

Dave Michels 14:28
this job was another dog. Nevermind. So are there applications for Balto beyond agent coaching beyond the contact center?

Marc Bernstein 14:36
Yes. So you know fundamentally what you want to be thinking about is, is it a high value quick customer interaction? Is it something where in one customer action or one call you want to accomplish the main objective is is something that when you do that it’s make or break? It either goes well and you get dollars in the bank or compliance probably prevented or customers served very quickly and efficiently, or it doesn’t go well. And you have compliance problems, you have quality problems, you have customer shouting out on Twitter that they had a bad experience. You know, where’s there that fork? So sales, customer care and collections are our primary use cases. And we do that across a bunch of different verticals, including financial services, including insurance, including retail, and even a little bit of tech.

Evan Kirstel 15:25
Cool. So I see before Balto, you were at a company called Top ops, which I see it was acquired by exactly what did you do there? And how did it get you to Balto,

Marc Bernstein 15:35
at top ops, I was in sales. And that’s where I experienced that problem that I mentioned to you a little bit earlier. You know, top ops was a phenomenal course, in building a company, you know, first of all, because they, you know, were 2530 person company, and I was there. So I got to see, you know, what does a small or mid sized ping on how you look at it startup, I guess small look like and how do they function? And how do they balance process and organization with being nimble and hustling and getting stuff done. So I was able to see that. Also, the technology itself, top ops now exactly, was an incredible solution for managing your forecast and helping you manage the quality of the opportunities in your pipeline and make sure things are progressing at the right clip. So I not only learned a lot of discipline around what good CRM data looks like, what good milestones in the sales process looked like, you know, what deals are good to forecast and what deals aren’t. But I also gained an appreciation for those things that have made it into Balto sales culture. So you won’t find an account executive Balto that is skipping steps in the sales process, with the only exception of we have a principle that says let buyers buy how they want to buy. So if the buyer says I insist we skip that step, you can’t say well, sorry, that’s in my process, you just get the step. But you need to make sure they understand the implications of that. So all of that from the actual discipline to the appreciation for those functions, or to even just understanding what it takes to build a successful startup. You know, I learned my foundation there top ups,

Dave Michels 17:12
I’m just thinking about what he went through as the founder of this company. And you know, I’m Evan and I both founded our own company. So that’s easy. You don’t get to these points for that. But I wouldn’t I didn’t go to that funding level, that’s a whole nother whole nother thing. We’re not worthy of this, you know, that. Tell us about what you went through? How did you get funding? Out of that conversation? Those conversations go? What did you learn in that? Are there any celebrity investors we should know about on your team?

Marc Bernstein 17:37
Yeah, so the initial funding conversations, well, the initial funding period was us three founders putting together our money. So, you know, we we had 210 grand, and we said, you know, if we don’t take salaries, and we hire a couple of employees, we think this can get us about two years. And actually, in our entire first year, the company, our total expenses was $100,000. And our total sales bookings was $101,000. So it was a really lean and mean year one. And then you know, what we had learned is that, you know, at every, you know, round of funding that you take, in that case, that was a bootstrapped round, you want to have your eye on some milestone or set of milestones, that when you cross that threshold, you become attractive to a new tier of investor. So, you know, we had known that, well, when we have something like, you know, 150k to 500, and sales, that’s when, you know, precede investors are gonna be interested in us. So we crossed that milestone, we said, okay, then when we’re, you know, a little bit above a million, you know, traditional seed investors are gonna be invested in us, and we crossed that milestone. So it’s about planning out milestones. And then, you know, at each point when you’re in a real position of strength, because every company has ups and downs, and the last thing you want to do is go out and fundraise. And when you’re not in a position of strength, so we are absolutely looking at when is the juices flowing? When is the company turning on all cylinders? When is everyone in sync? You say, that’s the time we hit good milestones, let’s go, let’s go put this round together. And then in terms of, you know, who our investors are, it’s some of the best VCs in the world. You know, we have, you know, stripes out of New York, we have a Sierra ventures out of the bay area. We have jumped capital and OCA ventures out of Chicago and cultivation out of here in St. Louis, among other investors, including the precede folks who took a bet on us and, you know, weren’t so well known back then, like stage venture partners, but now, you know, are getting tons of recognition and, you know, filling out really big funds that they’re raising.

Dave Michels 19:40
That’s really, really impressive. So imagine going through all that and the amount of doubt you have and the amount of pressure that’s under you going through all that whole funding funding drill. All these really smart people sizing you up must be a lot of pressure to it

Marc Bernstein 19:54
is but you don’t really feel doubt isn’t really the right word. Because you know out implies that you’re wondering will it happen? Or will it not? And when you’re doing the right things, you know what’s going to happen? You can see it. And the question is, you know, how much can you lean into that strength and lean into that vantage and secure a really good deal for the company. So that’s not really where the pressure is, the pressure is exactly what you mentioned, Dave, getting really tested and analyzed from every single perspective, you know, by these investors that you’re talking to. So honestly, you know, whenever you leave a fundraising process, you always end up better for it, you always end up with new perspectives that you have on the company, new forms of scrutiny that you previously weren’t applying, and a really good pulse on where you stand in the market, and how you’re sizing up to other companies and how you’re delivering a good return for your investors. And ultimately, you know, every employee at your company if you offer options to every full time employee like Balto does,

Dave Michels 20:57
you know, it’s really amazing. I’ve gotten to know some of the tech star companies here in Boulder and the tech STAR program, you know, this incubator, I would say like, it seems I’m just making this up. And it seems like 50%, or something of the curriculum in that in that incubator is, is how to do your pitch and how to get how to get fundraising Done. Done. Right. It’s so much emphasis on that. But it’s such a skill, especially the necessary skills. Incredible.

Marc Bernstein 21:19
Yeah, it’s interesting, Dave, because like, there really are best practices. And there’s some things that are just art. And you know, you have to figure out the art. But there’s a lot of just clear best practices about how you raise money and how you communicate with investors and how you plan out a process that if someone just sat you down, and in an hour said, I’m gonna tell you all the things that you should know, so many companies would be better off.

Evan Kirstel 21:44
So it’s been a while six months for Balto. What’s next over the next six months more features, more partners? Obviously, customers, what’s the drill features, partners,

Marc Bernstein 21:56
customers, all of those for sure, I’ll talk about on the feature side for a second, you know, our engineering organization on our product organization. And I mean, this totally, genuinely produce more great stuff than any company that I’ve experienced or seen or worked with or heard of, period, like pound for pound, our r&d organization, is just the velocity of new stuff we produce is incredible. So this time last year, we launched two new products in just around three months real time coaching, which gives supervisors the real time information that they need to be as effective as possible, and jump in and help out their agents whenever they’re in a pickle. And then real time QA because we said, you know, you can’t just help the agents help the supervisors, but leave QA out in the dark, all three of these functions need to be completely aligned with good data, real time data on how everyone is performing. So we launched real time QA, which scores 100% of your conversations in real time, and even gives agents that real time information on how are you doing, you know, how did your last call score? How are you scoring overall, in this period? You know, how are you scoring compared to your peers, you know, that almost both helps them boost their performance, but also has a gamification component where they’re able to say, you know, I want to do better on my next conversation. So that’s what we built last summer. And we have an even bigger release almost twice the team now than we did last year, and even bigger release plan for this summer. So I can’t say too much on that. But I would say, imagine a world where the best conversations that your people were having you have 1000 or 10,000, agents, all having conversations with your customers, imagine that the best things that they were saying, were automatically sourced picked out and automatically shared with everybody. And we’re going to be doing that at scale this summer. So that’s what we have on the product side. And the partner side, I mean, just check the press releases, like every few weeks, you’re going to be seeing some new, awesome partner come out, because we’re just so excited by the people that we’ve met. And our technology covers a real gap that the market has been experiencing for some time. So you know, these partners have been wonderful to us. And we think that we can give a really differentiated and powerful solution to them.

Evan Kirstel 24:16
Very cool.

Dave Michels 24:17
You know, I haven’t mentioned the top ops earlier, but I was looking again at your LinkedIn profile here, and it seems you have a little bit of a background and fitness and personal training. I never thought about it before. But I guess personal training is kind of a coach and you’re kind of coaching now. So my sales coaching, so I guess it’s kind of all the same, same path here. Is there? Is there an opportunity for Balto to pivot into personal training and, you know, your best option right now is 10, extra situps and things like that.

Marc Bernstein 24:44
Yeah, you know, Dave, you know, I would say that we are moving into personal training for the mind. You know, I mentioned our mission power, a new era of knowledge work. And you know, we say that our core, Balto is a people development company. You know, we are Our application, you know, helps agents and managers and, and QA teams do a better job with their customer conversations, bring home better paychecks for their families, learn new skills, and learn how to communicate in ways that they can bring home write about listening and asking good questions. And if we’re gonna do that, for our customer base, and our user base, we want to bring that same ethos internally in the company. So we look for opportunities for ball to be the single best career development tool for all of our boltonia ins. So I would say we’re doing personal training in that way, but a little bit different than the the former form of training I used to do.

Evan Kirstel 25:37
Awesome. Okay, so tell us more about both to the company, any any demographics, or revenue, or, you know, other numbers, you might be willing to share a lot

Marc Bernstein 25:46
of those numbers we won’t share. But you know, what I can say is that, you know, we are a hybrid workforce, we have about 60 people in St. Louis, and about, you know, 100 people in other parts of the country, and even, you know, in different parts of the world. And, you know, we’re all just dead set on this mission to power a new era of knowledge work in the contact center. And then you know, you can find on CrunchBase, we raised 51 million, you know, over three rounds, or four rounds and precede seed series A and Series B.

Evan Kirstel 26:17
Awesome. Tell us about the Balto Coach, how does it work? Exactly? Is it like a whisper message? Or is it messaging or describe the process?

Marc Bernstein 26:26
Yeah, so Balto is specifically not a whisper. And I’ll tell you a quick story. I’ve and this was part of the inspiration.

Dave Michels 26:33
So I described Evan, by the way, so he’s not a whisper. That’s what it is exactly what I say.

Marc Bernstein 26:40
Well, you know, it’s funny, because we’ve seen that whispers can be a problem. And, you know, when I was at top ops, I was watching this sales rep on a call. And I was kind of huddled around the sales rep with all the other sales reps next to me, and we’re all kind of watching this, this guy on a call. And his manager is sitting there listening the call, and whispering to him through whisper mode as he’s doing it. And, you know, we hear through the speakers that the prospect says, you know, I really like what you’re saying, but you know, I think you’re gonna have to call me back in three weeks, that’ll be the best time for me. And then the manager quickly says, don’t take that. And then the sales rep gets flustered and goes, I can’t take that right there to the prospect. And we realized, I realized with that, you know, at that moment, that balancing two different audio stimuli, is just a really tricky thing for people to do to be listening fully to the customer and listening germander doesn’t work. So what we invented is the ability for it to in real time analyze everything that you’re saying is the representative, everything that customer is saying on the other end of the line. And it’s a little box on the side of your screen, that will pop up little recommendations to you live in the moment. So you can picture it’ll have a checklist there, but the key points that you want to hit on that call. So you don’t forget to qualify. Don’t forget to give compliance statements. You don’t forget to ask certain questions that you were planning on asking, and then you hang up and go, oh, shoot, I forgot. All that’s taken care of for you. And then it’s dynamically reacting to the conversation. And only in those key moments where really, you can take it one way or another will pop up recommendation to you and say, Hey, try this or try that. That seems really distracting.

Dave Michels 28:19
Wouldn’t it be better to put a fax machine on their desk and sit in facsimiles coaching tips? You

Marc Bernstein 28:25
know, we haven’t tried the fax machine approach. I don’t think it’s really going to fit in the cloud ecosystem. You know, but Dave, I’m sure someone still has an on prem solution and would like the fax version of Balto, I think that ship may have sailed, though.

Dave Michels 28:37
Alright, well, okay. Well, well tell me more about what this coaching actually does. Is it telling you to slow down speed up? I mean, you mentioned earlier about, you know, that example about don’t take that reject the customer’s request to reschedule. What kinds of tips are you giving the agent

Marc Bernstein 28:54
slowing down is one of them. So it will recognize talk speed and say You’re talking too fast, take a deep breath, slow down, it’ll also recognize a whole bunch of topics that you’re able to put into what we call a playbook, which is essentially the collection of information that’s relevant to that particular type of call. So you put your impatient playbook and maybe the prospect mentions that they want to see your pricing. Well, Balto will hear that and automatically pop up different questions that you can ask. Okay, let me make sure I understand what have you seen so far that you like your different things to help build value, it can also pop up resources and you know, give you a link straight to your pricing calculator. So right there, you don’t need to say, okay, hold on, let me go find that your pricing just pops up right there in front of you. No need search, no need to look so you can send resources you can have different questions or different bits of information. And then you know, you can even do things like that sentiment analysis, you know, around toxic UI or the customer is frustrated. Here’s how you can handle a frustrated customer, or anything like that. And then of course, You know, when the interaction is done, we’ve gathered all that data. So then we’re able to say, here’s how you did on that call, here’s not a week later, not two weeks later, not a month later, right there. Here’s how you did. Here’s what you did. Well, here’s what you can improve. And that’s something that no one else in our space is doing.

Evan Kirstel 30:17
Interesting. And who buys Balto, you know, the the buyer persona? Is it? You know, the technical CIO type? Is it a sales oriented team, small companies, big companies, all the above give us some insight there?

Marc Bernstein 30:33
The answer is that it really does depend about the persona. And I’d say maybe there’s two different routes you can take. The first is going to be, you know, the owner of the contact center. So that could be a director of contact center operations, that could be a site director of a contact center, that could be the VP of Customer Care, it could be the VP of sales, you know, whoever owns that contact center function is probably our most common persona. But then there’s also, you know, you mentioned the CIO. There’s also, especially in big enterprises, teams that are always trying to introduce some form of innovation. And they find that if they’re just trying to source innovation internally and build stuff internally, that their company reacts to slow and that soon, they have outdated processes, which lead to their people being pissed off, which lead to people leaving, and then they can’t attract the best talent. And you can see how it goes downhill from there. So you know, a lot of technical folks will bring us in as almost an innovation lab. And they’ll say, hey, we want to pilot you know, different forms of AI in the contact center. Let’s see if we can set up, you know, 100 agents on Balto. And we can compare it to 100 agents who aren’t on Balto, and actually do an A B test on how Balto affects their metrics. Those are probably the two most common personas that we work with.

Evan Kirstel 31:51
Fantastic. And does Balto have to be trained per customer. I mean, doesn’t every customer or let’s say industry have their own weird lingo and product terminology and et cetera?

Marc Bernstein 32:02
Yes, but only a little bit. So you know, we do have models that generalize across customer bases, and also different recommendations for different industries. So we’re actually the only company in that space that has what we call industry intelligence playbooks. And that is for 15, different verticals and use cases, across over 130 million calls that we’ve analyzed, the best practices about, you know, what are the best PNC insurance companies doing? What are they what are they doing? What are their agents saying? What are the best financial services companies doing? What How about for customer care? How about for, you know, account management or, you know, doing a sort of client advisory model? You know, how about in the debt collection space? How about retail? You know, what, if you’re doing something that has a subscription, and you know, you deal with a lot of cancellations, what is a modern saves or retention team look like, that’s not pushing. That’s not annoying, but still is maximizing the opportunity. You know, we have analyzed over 15 different industries and use cases and over 130 million conversations. So on day one, we’re able to say, here’s the best practices. Now you can fit it for your business and what you think works the best, and we’ll help you. But on day one, you got something that allows you to get running right away.

Dave Michels 33:21
All right. Tell us a little bit about being a startup in St. Louis, I don’t think we’ve ever talked to a startup and St. Louis before Evan, is that a great city for being a startup? Or do you have no basis for comparison? And what are your thoughts on that?

Marc Bernstein 33:32
It’s the best. It’s the best Dave. It’s the best Dev and I’ll tell you guys why when we were thinking about where we wanted to start the company in the way beginning, our options that we looked at were Washington DC, where I’m originally from, or the DC metro area, Detroit, which has this like vibrant startup and art scene that’s largely funded by I believe, like Dan Gilbert, and who’s the, I think, former founder of Quicken or you know, those companies in Silicon Valley, and everyone knows why he’d go to Silicon Valley started a company in St. Louis. And that’s where I went to school here, Washington University in St. Louis. And, you know, in St. Louis, you know, we rented our first office space, it was something like 75 square feet, you know, enough for two people and three, and it was start getting smelly around three, but we would deal with it. And then our rent was 275 bucks a month. And that was free booze free coffee, Wi Fi mail, mail service to under 75 bucks a month. You can’t do that everywhere. So St. Louis is affordable enough that you’re able to start a business and only spend 100k A year and make 100k. Right And now, you know, efficiency. In the VC community right now, in this tough economic climate is prized and St. Louis’s advantage, that’s something that’s a badge of honor for us. And at the same time, there is a good tech ecosystem here. You know, the Washington University is chugging out a lot of tech talent is So is University of Illinois, we have some of the best engineering programs in the country. I believe it’s tied for number four. Last I checked on one of those rankings with Carnegie Mellon. So the ecosystem here is very strong, and just getting stronger. And companies like Balto, you know, we have rented this awesome office space downtown. And it’s, I don’t want to disclose how much but not a lot of money. You know, they’re practically paying us to have this office. And then we have a bar that can seat 20 People 20 person 360 bar in the middle of the office. I wish it weren’t in the middle. I wish it was like on the side. So now it’s not so tempting. But that makes it great as an event space and being able to bring different startups in St. Louis here together. So those are the sort of advantages that you only get in a city like St. Louis.

Dave Michels 35:46
That sounds great. I got to find an office space that will pay me that sounds great.

Evan Kirstel 35:51
I was once going to sell blood out of Dave Michaels garage, but

Dave Michels 35:55
I only had a garage. So what about the technical integration to these contact centers? So is there is it hard? Do you have to integrate? Or do you work with just any contact center through basic sipper? What’s involved here? And who are your go to market partners? We mentioned RingCentral earlier?

Marc Bernstein 36:12
Yep. It is super easy. Easy in that, you know, one of the differentiators for Balto, I dropped this vision for our product team. Often. I said I want people to at some point, probably not this year, probably not next year, say I bought Balto, because it integrates with everything. Balto integrates with everything. You know, we have over 50 C casts and UCaaS integrations. So you name it, you know, RingCentral five, nine, nice and contact eight by eight Genesis, you know, we have over 50 of those. And you know, the ones that are the most enterprise grade, if you will, folks like RingCentral and Genesis, we’ve built what we call connectors, and you can go into that application. And in a matter, download a file and the file will come straight out of the C CAS with different data. And you plug it right into Balto. And you can sap this integration in five or 10 minutes, truly. So that’s the ease that we have on the integration side. And then the rest of it is customization says okay, you’re an enterprise you want to go real enterprise? Well, let’s look at do we want to embed it into your workflow as a single pane of glass? Do we want to have different metadata from your C cast populate in Balto, we want Balto to save, you know, to different databases, do you want to use any of our API’s? So we have the ability to get really robust, but to set that thing up and get started, you know, you can do it in five or 10 minutes with the top of the line C cast folks

Evan Kirstel 37:41
awesome. And I think we touched on this, but go to market if you sell directly to the end and contact center customers through VARs or channels or managed service providers or is it you know, customer choice

Marc Bernstein 37:56
until this year 100% Direct. So we cut our teeth on, you know, drumming up interest and winning deals, and then you know, serving customers making them happy and then winning expansions and, and bigger commitments with those customers who we deeply love and appreciate and then have become actually our best product partners as well. Because if you’re gonna make a big commitment and Balto, you know, you deserve a say in where this product goes. And we’re happy to do that with our enterprise folks. But this year is is the year that you know, we have five pillars or strategic pillars of our of our strategy. And once Dziedzic pillar is committed to the channel, it’s not like this, you know, little side bet that we’re taking, and maybe it’ll work out maybe it’s not, we’re going full throttle and building out an awesome channel this year. And that’s, you know, one of the reasons that we’ve been able to lock down partnerships with like the ones we’ve talked about so far.

Evan Kirstel 38:47
Nice. And I guess my final question is about the agents. How are they responding to Balto, any anecdotal or other feedback as far as their adoption and personal preferences?

Marc Bernstein 39:00
Yeah, tons. So that’s actually one of our biggest focuses for this year. One of our second strategic pillars is agents love Balto. And the rest of the space we think, has it wrong, where they say just sell the managers sell the directors and then force the agents to use it. And you know, I mentioned to before about how we want to create delight with our application. Well, when you you know, when a sale ever positive customer reaction, Balto will shoot off confetti for you. And you have the ability to choose which type of confetti you want and the ability to change the theme and the color scheme. You know, you can make the font size work for you. So if you have, you know, difficulty reading or your eyes aren’t so great, then, you know, we make that easier for you. So we absolutely invest like crazy in the agent experience. And when we were thinking about that mission, power, a new era of knowledge work in the context center, a piece of us wanted to say power a new era of agent in the Contact Center because of how important they are, you know, they’re the nexus between the business and the customer, you can’t do it without them. Otherwise, you don’t have a contact center, you have a, you know, a website. But, you know, we wanted to make sure that we were being inclusive of the Full Contact Center Community, and recognizing the impact that the supervisors play, and then the quality assurance team plays as well. But you know, our goal is at the end of the year, that we actually track you know, percentage of agents who rate Balto a nine or 10. And it is right now a significant majority of agents rate ball to a nine or 10 on the NPS scale. And that’s one of the things that we’re driving, and we have about 11 points more to go until we hit our goal this year, 11 more points of promoters, and then we’re gonna have a party. So

Dave Michels 40:45
I can see the agents, I would assume it’d be a little resistant to it at first, but I can see the way you’re describing this, that they would actually warm up to it. You’ve made the UI a friendly, you’ve made their path more successful. So I can see why the agents would see this would like it, I can see why they would want to continue using it because it’s helping them. So now that you’ve nailed that part. What about going back when you said you know, selling to the the IT decision makers, etc? How do they know because they’re not being coached by a call basis? How do they know if Balto is being effective for their organization or not?

Marc Bernstein 41:19
The first way they know is the data. Right? Just look at the results. Look at your metrics, one of the things that we love to do with our customers is we’ll actually set up a controlled split test. And we say, Hey, you don’t need to give it to every agent, give it a half of them give Balto to half your agents, give not ball to the other half, and see who does better. And nine times out of 10, quite literally nine times out of 10 the ball to a group will outperform the non Balto group by between 15 and 30%. And that’s typical. That’s typical. So the first way is, you know the metrics. And the second way is talk to your agents and talk to your managers. One of the things that’s really interesting is, you know, we actually collect, you know, we have a Slack channel called New Balto quotes. And our new Balto quote, Slack channel is internal collection of of all the kind things that managers and agents have said about Balto. And we have a monthly contest that we run of whoever had the best quote, that someone said No, last month, you know, we’ll get a prize, usually $100 gift card or something like that. So we’re constantly getting these awesome quotes from agents and managers saying, you know, my life is different. And that’s wonderful. So that’s the second thing is, you know, look at the data and then talk to him and say, Is this thing helping you or not, and you know, between those two things, you’re gonna get to the bottom of the story.

Dave Michels 42:34
It’s really, really interesting stuff that you’re doing and want to thank you so much for being a guest on our podcast. And again, congratulate you for your stellar performance in the prestigious Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect. I think it was six companies this year that were selected by very high bar judges that put you through the test and so that was a huge achievement. So good luck with everything you’re doing and just thank you so much. It’s really exciting hearing about Balta

Marc Bernstein 43:03
THANK YOU GUYS day they have in real pleasure.

Evan Kirstel 43:05
Thanks. Wow, what a great conversation with Mark Balto really an incredible entrepreneur founder inaction, making a difference in an industry that’s kind of a bit old and stay at with

Dave Michels 43:21
well, you can’t describe the context and industry is old anymore. It’s everything’s changing and you know why everything’s changing? Everything’s changing because of AI and every aspect of it from the routing to the self service to the augmented agent stuff and this coaching staff who would have thought Who would have thought I want to coach

Evan Kirstel 43:38
Yes, I’ll be your coach Dave and I won’t whisper in your ear. So until next time, look forward to listening to this episode. You may get into conversation with man, never gotta get out of the phone. Don’t worry. If your phone no man knows me

Transcribed by https://otter.ai