Using AI in the CC with Gregg Johnson of Invoca

by Dave Michels

When we hear about AI in the contact center, it’s usually about chatbots and augmented agent. But in this conversation, we hear at how contact center AI can help with sales and marketing. Invoca is doing some fascinating stuff with its conversational intelligence engine. The company’s technology has analyzed over 1.5B conversational minutes. Its customers analyze their call center interactions to optimize marketing, improve digital conversion rates, automate contact center QA, and enable agent coaching. Invoca just announced it saw +70% revenue growth during the past 12 months.

Invoca’s customer base now includes over 2,300 of the leading B2C brands across a number of industries.  The common theme, according to Gregg, is they tend to have complex interactions.

The small company seems to be doing a few things right. It was named a Leader in The Forrester Wave: Conversation Intelligence: Sales And Marketing, Q4 2021 report. Just this week it was selected for the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect. Invoca was also recognized in the Inc. Best Workplaces of 2019 list and achieved the difficult Great Place to Work certification.


Dave Michels 0:12
Welcome to talking here today, Evan and I will be talking with Brent Johnson of invoca. But before that Evon must be the pandemic is over, because it’s time for Enterprise Connect. I know I’m gonna be there.

Evan Kirstel 0:24
You know, after a two year hiatus, I will be there in person at Enterprise Connect in Orlando, and at the Innovation Showcase which you are spearheading I really actually looking forward to it to seeing, well, you not so much, but a lot of other people that I haven’t seen in person for a while.

Dave Michels 0:41
Yes. You mentioned the Innovation Showcase, because that is without doubt the most valuable session. I don’t think people really appreciate what the Innovation Showcase does. But just a quick little plug is that it’s the smaller companies, it’s the companies that don’t get the keynotes and whatnot. And we have a judging panel, we have a great judges that are selecting handpicking six companies and this year in customer experience, and I think they’re all going to do like a shark take type of pitch. And I think that’s gonna be great Monday morning, but we’re gonna be talking heads on the road. We’re gonna we’re gonna do some live video from there, right?

Evan Kirstel 1:15
Live streaming on social media. So 5g Phone don’t fail me now. But yeah, talking heads in person. So come meet us. Come get on video. And look forward to seeing you there. In the meantime, we have a great interview today. Well, let’s get

god 1:32
to Greg SSA. Talking. It’s a semi monthly podcast with interviews of the top movers and shakers and enterprise communications and collaboration. Your hosts are Dave Michaels and Evan Kersal, both of which offer extraordinary services, including research, analysis, and social media marketing. You can find them on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at talking That’s points with a Z and Devin That’s KR STL.

Dave Michels 2:02
So today we have with us Greg Johnson. That’s Greg with three G’s. Greg Johnson from invoca. Welcome, Greg.

Gregg Johnson 2:10
Thank you appreciate it, Dave. I’m also a third. So I have three G’s. And I’m not Greg Thompson, the first not Greg Johnson, Jr. Greg Thompson, the third, so I’m doubling down on threes.

Dave Michels 2:19
That’s like nine G’s. So the first thing we have to ask you, Greg is this invoca. It sounds like a coffee or something. Tell us about the name of your company before we get into actually what your company does.

Gregg Johnson 2:34
So I’ve been at the company about five and a half years. So the name predates me. So I can’t actually take credit for it. The company rebranded in probably 2014 2015. And VOCA short for inbound voice calls, which when you hear it, it makes sense, the core of our business as we focus on helping marketing and sales teams deliver better conversations for consumers that are interested in products and services. So yeah, invoca is just a shorthand for inbound voice calls.

Dave Michels 3:06
Well, is that a bad name? Because everybody in contact centers kind of saying, in done voice is dying.

Gregg Johnson 3:14
Now, you know, I think a couple things. Number one, it’s a very extensible name. I think some of the best names are ones that are extensible as you evolve your business. And the fact that inbound is not explicitly in the name, nobody actually knows that it’s there until you remark on it.

Dave Michels 3:31
So everyone listens to this podcast. And so

Gregg Johnson 3:36
everybody knows now, but no, we don’t think inbound is dead at all. I think the way that I look at it is human to human connection points are a way for brands to differentiate if you look at the C caste market, what’s going on the contact center, it’s, I’d say more relevant market than ever before these days. So I’m very excited about the future of the company. And I’m glad that I don’t have a name that is so tightly defined that I have to think about rebranding all

Evan Kirstel 3:59
the time. Well, before we dive too deeply into invoca, let’s talk a little bit about you, Greg. I’m just looking at your LinkedIn bio very impressive. It looks like your educational background includes Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Wharton. But why don’t you so low?

Gregg Johnson 4:17
It’s funny, I have lots of friends who went to school at Cal Berkeley, which is right around the corner from me, and it’s a perfect time to make a joke about that, but I’ll pass. Yeah, it’s funny. I have a very odd kind of professional history. I studied international relations and undergrad, I thought I was going to go get PhD and teach one day. I ended up working in business sort of ended up in software in the late 90s in San Francisco started a company with some folks went and got another Master’s Degree in International Relations, doubling down on my intellectual interest, but knowing I was never actually going to work in the field, and that have worked in software the past 20 years or so. So it’s, you know, just goes to show that everything doesn’t always go exactly according to plan. But if you find something that you enjoy doing and you’re passionate about I guess he hopefully end up in good places.

Dave Michels 5:03
Some people go plan for decades people would tell you haven’t heard ever have a real job? And

Evan Kirstel 5:10
well, Greg, do you have a real job that a little company around the corner called Salesforce for over 10 years? What was that like? And what was it like working with Marc Benioff, one of the greats,

Gregg Johnson 5:20
you’re going to talk about companies that debated about rebrands a number of times and having a name of a company directly tied to the name of your product, it was an amazing experience,

Dave Michels 5:29
I always thought Salesforce would be deemed invoca.

Gregg Johnson 5:34
I’m leaving that option open. If mark and Parker ever decide they want to take me up on it. No, I would say you know, I’m just profoundly grateful for my time at Salesforce. I joined in 2007, the company was about 1500 employees. It was the only tech company software company really in San Francisco at that point in time, I was living in the city, with my wife and our newborn, and I really didn’t want to commute down the peninsula. So I worked at Salesforce from 2007 to 2016, and product roles always worked on new and emerging parts of the business. So I worked on a collaboration product that we built called chatter that competed with Yammer, sort of the predecessor of slack. I then worked on marketing cloud and area where we grew by m&a, we had a saying at Salesforce, which is be careful how close you fly to the sun, which is it’s always fun to work on things that have the I in the interest of Marc Benioff. But it can be a little bit of a traumatic stress inducing experience as well. One of the things that I really admire about Mark as a leader is he’s a leader of unparalleled vision, but he’s also a leader with a great attention to detail. And so you don’t go into a Marc Benioff meeting, not understanding all the details of what you’re working on, and kind of the very nuanced level things. But I would just say, overall, I’m just really grateful for my experience, I learned so much. I think for Salesforce alums, there is so much that you take for granted is to how a normal software company operates. And you realize that you take it for granted, because that’s how Salesforce operated. And a lot of other companies don’t operate that way. So I would say just all of us are grateful the experience that we have the people that we met the things that we learned. And now I think we all really enjoy applying those lessons ourselves, but also trying to find ways to help out other entrepreneurs that are looking at building software companies in the modern age.

Dave Michels 7:18
So I’m confused here because you said Cal Berkeley was around the corner. You’ve been working on Salesforce, your talk, you’re obviously somebody who lives in the foggy Bay Area. But I thought that you lived in sunny Santa Barbara. And so what’s the connection between invoca and Santa Barbara?

Gregg Johnson 7:35
Yeah, so invoca was founded in Santa Barbara down in Southern California. For those of you who haven’t spent a lot of time in Southern California, Santa Barbara is about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles. An absolutely beautiful town with a great

Dave Michels 7:47
drive and just there.

Evan Kirstel 7:48
Yeah, yeah. Otherwise known as paradise. Yeah,

Gregg Johnson 7:52
yeah, it is known as paradise. And I think people think everybody who lives in Santa Barbara is sort of there to retire enjoy the beach. It’s actually got a thriving technology scene that has really grown up in the past few years. I don’t know if you guys both know. But Amazon bought a company. I’m not gonna remember the name down in Santa Barbara a couple years ago that they immediately folded into the kind of the Alexa division that was focused on NLP. And some of those things are a couple of companies that are publicly traded out of Santa Barbara. So for me, I have been in the Bay Area for a very long time. As I was thinking about leaving Salesforce, I was really interested in any areas around conversational data on chatter, we had thought a lot about sort of finding intent and meaning and conversations in the marketing cloud world, I worked with an acquisition that we’ve done a company called radian six, that did a lot of work around social listening and sort of understanding consumer feedback on Twitter and things like that. And so I was looking for companies that were at the intersection of digital marketing and CRM in the contact center that were doing work around conversational data. I found it VOCA Company was founded out of Santa Barbara. But like every other company in today’s modern age, we’re now 50% remote. So I get to go down to Santa Barbara, periodically. I was down actually last Thursday, on my way back from Los Angeles. But I still were there over there. Are you there? Yeah, I wish I would have known we had a happy hour out on State Street with about 25 employees that hadn’t seen in ages.

Dave Michels 9:15
Oh, well, when I was seven when no one’s ever happy. And then when

Evan Kirstel 9:19
we’re mostly between the buffet and the golf course. Otherwise, we might have said hello.

Gregg Johnson 9:25
I aspire to get there myself. One day, I’ve spent lots of time on golf courses and aspire to spend more time in my face.

Dave Michels 9:31
So I agree with you, by the way about Inbound voice. I think human voice is getting more and more important more and more interesting. And I think some of the comments about a dying is because it goes to a chatbot or something. But it’s still inbound voice. It’s still an inbound call just getting handled differently, but I think the call is remain important for quite some time. But when I look at invoca I kind of feel like like you guys shouldn’t exist. You’re an accident, right? You basically fill in the gaps that contexts and our companies don’t do, they should do it. So you really shouldn’t even exist. You’re like semantic selling, you know, undelete, because Microsoft didn’t make us even undelete files initially. Do you feel like you’re on borrowed time? Like, eventually the context hasn’t figured this out? Or are you just like confident context centers will never get it?

Gregg Johnson 10:19
Well, Dave, remind me to invite you to our next all hands in front of our employees and let you give that little speech to them. Now, you know, I think we exist at a really interesting spot, because we sit at the intersection of the digital marketing world and the contact center. And those two worlds traditionally have not collided or worked very well. But given all the changes in the market, like things are happening at the intersection of those two spaces. And so let me step back for a second, you know, the customers that we serve, tend to be brands that sell relatively complicated products. So think of it like you’re getting a mortgage, you’re getting an auto in your life insurance product, you’re getting a new telecommunications, bumble, you’re buying a new car. These are areas where in today’s modern age, consumers do a lot of research online, they try to figure out what products and services they want online. But then is they come to the moment of truth. Unlike a product that you buy on Amazon, you know, you can’t take an auto insurance product and return it and say, Yeah, I’d like this one, I’d like a different one. If you go on a safari to Africa, for your 25th wedding anniversary, you don’t get to call halfway through and be like added like this when we exchange it. These are super important life decisions that have broader impacts across people lives, or their aspirational purchases. And people want to have confidence that they’re buying the right thing. And the example I use on Amazon, you know, now, even though I’m buying like a 10, or $15, good on Amazon, I’ll find myself reading reviews. And eventually, after 15 minutes, I’m like, why am I reading this review, like I can send this thing back final like it, the reason is, I want to be confident that I’m making the best buying decision. And so I think in the world that we serve, the human touch point of helping a consumer feel confident they’re buying the right product, for something as important as getting their first house is really critical. And what we benefit from is this idea that the folks in the digital marketing world, they don’t really understand voice, and they don’t really understand conversational analytics and AI. And the folks in the contact center world, kind of look at the world of Facebook and Google and Adobe, they sort of don’t understand how that world works. And so for these big enterprise customers that spend billions and billions of dollars on customer acquisition every year, we’re helping them bridge those two worlds together and think about, you know, how does the world of the marketing, digital touch point translate into that human escalation point in the contact center? And how do you make those things work really well?

Dave Michels 12:42
And and that’s impressive response. So can you name a couple of companies that perhaps I’ve heard of that use your product? Or is that yeah,

Gregg Johnson 12:51
I mean, if you think of pretty much every big name, b2c brand, that, you know, we work with them. So five of the seven top telecommunications companies, for example, like Verizon is a customer. If you look at automotive, we work with auto nation across all their dealerships and all the US, health care’s our number one vertical, we do a ton of work with both payers and providers there. So companies like University Hospitals, out of the Midwest, insurance, travel, hospitality, and then day one area that I know is near and dear to your heart, one of my favorite customers in our mid market segment barbecue guys, you know, and you’re thinking about going and buying 1000 $2,000 smoker or a new grill, you’re going to be confident that you’ve got the right product. You don’t need to do that if you’re buying 50 or 100 bucks worth of pellets or charcoal. But if you’re plunking down on a new grill, you really want to get that consultative buying advice that you might not get into Home Depot or Lowe’s. And so you go to a specialist. And so yeah, we work with a lot of the biggest brand name b2c consumer brands,

Dave Michels 13:47
I have indeed purchase from barbecue, guys, I haven’t spent a lot of money. And I can say that the purchasing experience was very good. That was a good shot.

Gregg Johnson 13:57
And I think I know their aspiration, I know them well as a customer, I enjoy working with them. Pretty much most products that you can buy from them, you can get at Home Depot or Lowe’s, right, like you can get the same products for them. It’s a lot about delivering that value added experience. And some of that comes through the contact center. Some of that’s actually through digital. I know I was getting a new charcoal grill a couple of years ago and I read their digital Buying Guide was super useful me it actually helped me get a less expensive grill than I thought I needed when I read the review. But they’re a company that is focused on differentiating around service. And they deliver that service both through digital and human touch. And so for us we’re really focused on how do we help them deliver that value at a touch point so that they can acquire more customers like Dave and encourage them to spend more money.

Evan Kirstel 14:43
And have you seen the pandemic effect on your business in terms of the shift to e commerce and first line by Yeah,

Gregg Johnson 14:50
I mean, I think about row and over at five nine, I think is saying is that the contact center is the new front door for your business. And we’ve certainly seen that and a lot of the businesses that we serve Where I think there’s sort of a reassembling of the value chain of what happens digitally what happens via contact center conversation and what happens in person, where people are realizing there’s more things that you can do remotely. And the pandemic forced you to change some assumptions around that. Like, I’ll give you an example. Yeah, the customer called Three Day Blinds, who was down in Southern California, they’ll do custom window treatments, things like that. They did things like experiment with video based in home consultations during the pandemic that they would never would have done before. Normally, if you wanted to have somebody come in and take a look at what would some custom shades look like they had to have a design consultant come into your house to do that they’ve experimented with things like video. So I think the value chain of what happens in the digital world, what happens in sort of a remote human interaction world and what happens in in person, the pandemic has blurred some of those lines and given people more freedom to experiment and try to apply new technologies.

Dave Michels 15:58
So I want to get back to this thing I was asking you about with the contact centers and, and marketing you, you described that you’re kind of between marketing and contact center. But marketing is just a verb. I mean, it’s just a thing. Contact Centers, a bunch of different vendors. So do you approach these contact center companies as a potential partner? Do they see you as a threat? Do they see you as a competitor? Where do you fit in the contact center or the seek as an ecosystem?

Gregg Johnson 16:23
Yeah, I think so I’d say our business is evolving. I think traditionally, we’ve been completely complimentary and a partner to contact center players. So for example, we’ve done work with five nine for several years, we enjoy working with contact center players that have are either born in the cloud or move to the cloud, where it’s much easier for us to pass data and information in real time. So I think in general, here’s how I would kind of simplify it. Most b2c marketing teams don’t know what’s happening. When consumers have conversations in the contact center, it’s kind of a blind spot for them. And so what we’ll do is we’ll integrate with the contact center player to help get data back to the marketer in an automated way around what are the outcomes that happen in the contact center, we can do that through a variety of mechanisms, we can integrate and get disposition data back at a call by call level, we have the ability to run real time conversational AI, where even if we can’t get the underlying technical disposition data from the agent, we can break the call down into an agent stream a call or stream we can look for buying behaviors that the consumers exhibiting like did they buy? Did they not buy? If they did buy, what products do they buy? If they didn’t buy? Are they in market? Are they actively interested? And we put all that conversational data and the highly structured format, so that a marketer can activate it and use it at scale, like marketers don’t really look at individual interactions, they automate it, and they look at trends, and they look at data and aggregate. So we help them do that with that contact center data. So a lot of times we’re applying similar technologies, as a contact center player might be like a contact center player, maybe looking at call recordings, and analyzing the data to understand how the agents are performing to do sort of more automated QA. Traditionally, we’ve taken a similar approach, but we’re not looking at the agent, we’re looking at the consumer, like, what did the consumer want? Where are they in the buying journey. And so I would say, traditionally, we’ve complemented the contact center players, we’re starting to do some things that look and feel a little bit like the contact center player. So we introduced a new product about a year ago, that does automated call scoring for agents and how the agents are doing because we had built a lot of the infrastructure to do AI powered analysis of those conversations. A lot of our customers said, Hey, during the pandemic, we had to send all of our agents home, because we’re so mid market to enterprise focused a lot of our customers use on prem systems to manage their contact center, they had no visibility into how their agents were performing, as they brought on new agents. So we’ve added some capabilities that bring us a little bit closer to the contact center world, but you two are the experts, my general read as he get into the contact center world, there’s a lot of coopetition, where players are doing some things that are complementary and some things that have a little bit of overlap.

Dave Michels 19:10
Well, you always you seem to be doing a pretty well, I was looking over your website, you have a bunch of awards on there, you’re in the Forrester Wave, but none of that stuff is really important compared to the newest one. And this is really unusual for us on our podcast. We never really have current news on our podcast, but just so happened that you were named to be in the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect. I’m sure that’s very exciting for invoca. I want to be clear that this was a coincidence. You’ve been in our queue for the talking heads podcast for months, months. And so it was just kind of the timing kind of worked out. But it isn’t actually in fact that I run the innovation showcases is irrelevant. I think it’s probably completely unrelated to the fact that I think it’s the most prestigious award you could possibly get. Sheila McGee Smith is one of the judges we had better English is one of the judges with art Schoeller. These people are really notice,

Evan Kirstel 20:03
I’ll be a judge you know, meet the requirements. Adobe snuck

Gregg Johnson 20:09
in for Evan could judge against us.

Dave Michels 20:13
Seven, you know, what we do is we pick a theme every year and this year, the theme was CX, we pick CX people. But yeah, there’s a lot of things where Evan could easily be a judge of the future. So that could indeed happen. But the point that I want to make is that these judges and evaluated record number of applicants this year 21 applicants, and we only pick six companies. And so it’s pretty big deal that they voted you in. I didn’t vote for you. But don’t take it personally, I didn’t vote for anybody. I run the showcase. I don’t I’m not one of the judges. You don’t know why they picked you. You don’t know what resonated but you probably have an idea. So what do you think is making invoca? Get all these awards? Right now? What is the gap you’re filling that just no one else is getting? Right?

Gregg Johnson 20:56
First of all, thank you, I’m really excited about that I had the opportunity to attend Enterprise Connect, I want to say in 2018. And I really enjoyed it. And I think for us as a company, we are a very relevant technology for businesses that believe the contact center is strategic to how they acquire and serve their customers. And so if you don’t think the contact centers, important part of your business and focus probably not a relevant technology for you. I think what makes us different number one, at the macro level, if you think about markets, we sit at this intersection of marketing CRM and contact center. I think that space has gotten super interesting. Over the past two or three years, I look at my old company, getting into the business of voice, at least a partnership around service called Voice and what they’re doing with Amazon, I look at the things that Genesis is doing kind of edging towards doing a little bit more things in marketing. So I feel like there’s at a market level, some coming together of a couple markets that make it a really interesting world.

Dave Michels 21:58
I think yeah, I’m sorry, Greg, you’re boring that yeah, I want details. Man. I want some real, you’re talking too high of a level here. Yeah. Better. So let me give you this quote, this is a newer website. This is I believe it’s Dish Network. On your website, it says with invoca, we took an online conversion experience that had a throughput of less than 5% and took it into a phone call that closes at a high rate of 60% range. Yeah, how do you do that?

Gregg Johnson 22:27
So one of the fundamental elements where I think we’re different than a lot of others, and I’m going to directly address your question day with the dish example. But I’m gonna start kind of conceptually, we believe that conversations are not the beginning of the customer journey, or the end of the customer journey, like back in the 80s. In the 90s. People would call a one 800 Number is the first way of interacting with a brand people don’t do that anymore. Like people go to digital first,

Dave Michels 22:50
maybe seven or

Gregg Johnson 22:52
888. You go to Google, you go to the website, you do something digitally to try to learn more before you go speak to somebody live. And what we believe is, it’s important to understand what did that consumer do first, before they have a conversation, if you can understand that you can do a much better job of solving that customer’s issue or helping them and then there’s always something after the conversation, right? Like when a conversation is over. There’s usually a next step, I think about you know, customer service use cases. A lot of times if I’m trying to fix a problem with something, talking to somebody on the phone might be great, but like what’s actually really helpful for me is getting like a YouTube link with a video that kind of shows me how to fix a hard manufacturer. Good. So with dish, you know, one of the things we look at is, let me give you kind of two consumer journeys. And think about how you would treat them differently. consumer journey number one customer comes to the website, dish isn’t the satellite TV business. So like this consumer goes and looks at a bunch of information about the different packages they offer, do they offer NFL Sunday Ticket, because if I’m out in the Midwest, and I love the Kansas City Chiefs want to be able to watch the Chiefs no matter where they go, I exhibit all of these buying signals online that sort of indicate I’m looking to buy a product. And that the second customer journey, which is I just land on the homepage, and I call dish, I have no idea what that consumer wants. And so what we’re able to do with invoca technology is we’re able to say, oh consumer, one who exhibited all these digital buying signals and interest in products, like we’re going to get them to an agent fast. We’re going to give the agent context of what campaign or offer they were responding to. And then we’re going to have a feedback loop to the marketer that understands how did that conversation go to do ultimately drive revenue out of that conversation, acquire new customer, customer to we have no idea what their digital body language is saying we have no idea what they want, we’re going to treat them more like an average Jane or Joe consumer. And so for us, a lot of our technology is around how do you understand the digital body language of somebody and have a better conversation based on that digital body language? And then how do you take the insights from that conversation? structure that data and quantify it so that For example, if I bought something from dish dish probably shouldn’t spend money on Google or Facebook like retargeting me, offering me a promotion with a cheaper price on a product I just bought. That’s not a great experience. And it’s not a great financial return for dish. So we view the conversation as part of the continuum. There’s a digital part of the journey, there’s a conversation, and then there’s an ongoing digital journey. How do you make that stuff all work seamlessly together, as opposed to pretending that the conversation happens in a vacuum? Like if you only know what happens in the conversation, you’re missing a huge piece. And so we really want to bring that continuum together of digital plus conversation plus digital. Wow,

Dave Michels 25:37
that sounds impressive. If it works. I mean, I’m, I’m looking at right now at the barbecue guys website, I’m looking at a trigger Timberline 1300 It’s a $2,400 ashtray. I’m thinking about this thing I am. This is a beautiful, beautiful device.

Gregg Johnson 25:53
Today for compassion for compassion. I bought one of those about six months ago. So I can

Dave Michels 26:00
look at this right now. And now. Okay, so I’m getting really, I’m not so sure I would have them have questions. Now I know you have one. I’m not so sure anymore. But there’s an 800 number up on top right? It’s a three, three number. So if I call that just seems like what are they going to know?

Gregg Johnson 26:15
Yeah. So they’re going to understand what product you’re interested in how they’re going to know that. So what happens is invoke essentially sits on the website, and instead of calling the generic one 800 Number, you’re initiating a conversation through a number that’s specific to you in specific to your web session. And what that means is we grab data from the URL, and we understand what product or service you’re been looking at. So like, let me give it a very real example, from barbecue guys. In the middle of the pandemic, everybody knows, there are lots of supply chain issues going on right in the middle of the pandemic, one of the challenges that barbecue guys and any product manufacturer had was sometimes they didn’t have the product that you wanted in stock. And so barbecue guys could look at the data of what product you were interested in. And when this call landed with an agent, the agent would understand what product you were interested in, they could confirm that. But one of the things they could be ready to do is let’s say barbecue guys didn’t actually have that trigger in stock. The rep needs to be prepared in real time to go Oh, Dave, you’re really interested in pellet smoker. Actually, we just came out with a new barbecue guys, proprietary line of smokers. Let me talk to you a little bit about that. The difference between only knowing what happens in the conversation is there are companies out there right now that would use AI and they try to understand in real time, what’s going on in the conversation and try to figure out, they don’t have any idea about inventory, or what’s in stock and what’s don’t. So they’re trying to figure out everything on the fly. With invoca, we would understand what your digital journey was what that digital buying kind of body signals were, we can give the agent that context in whatever CCAFs or CRM platform they’re using in the screen pop, they can handle that conversation. They can understand if you buy or you don’t buy. And that data goes back and gets fed back to the marketer. The marketer may be able to look at the data and go wow, every time we have a conversation about triggers, we’re actually selling our new barbecue guys, pellet smoker. Maybe that should be an idea for me for an ad campaign. Maybe I should think about how do I kind of tweak my messaging at the top of the funnel around that. So yeah, that’ll give you a sense of how it works. That unique number, you’re not calling a generic one 800 number you’re calling a number that sort of serves as a unique key between your digital interactions and your conversational interactions. And that means we can take the digital data and help the agent have a better conversation with you. And we can take key insights from the agent conversation. And we can feed that back into all the marketing technology infrastructure of barbecue guys uses like Google, Adobe, Facebook, to drive better return on their marketing dollars for how they spend money.

Dave Michels 28:47
That’s impressive. All right. All right.

Gregg Johnson 28:49
Great girl, by the way, really happy with my smoker.

Evan Kirstel 28:54
So shifting gears a bit invoke has been recognized again, as a great place to work in the US for best workplaces. For parents. You talk a lot about

Dave Michels 29:05
Barbara, that’s just the Santa Barbara.

Gregg Johnson 29:09
The best United States to raise young children.

Evan Kirstel 29:12
But I did actually stock a few of your posts and you talked a lot a lot about the importance of disconnecting and lifework balance and parenting. So tell us more where this kind of philosophy of your escape from,

Gregg Johnson 29:24
you know, I think it’s a combination things one’s personal experience. I have three kids in my own 115 to do it. You learn a lot being a parent. This is a very concrete manifestation of what I said about my experience at Salesforce like a lot of the leadership principles management principles. I think we all learned at Salesforce and we take for granted it’s only when you leave Salesforce that you realize not every company operates this way. And so I think I saw a lot in my time in Salesforce around giving back to the community around how you be employee friendly around how the way that you treat your employees. ultimately will manifest itself and how your employees treat your customers. And then I think a lot of it is just sort of me in my own way of operating. I like to say that if I do my job and hiring great people, I generally don’t need to tell anyone to speed up, I only need to tell them to slow down. If I look across my executive team, I spend more time helping them de stress themselves and say, Okay, I know this issue happened, I know you’re working through it, the world’s not going to end we’re going to be okay, we’re going to get through it, let me help you figure it out. Whereas if I do a poor job hiring, that I’m chasing somebody going, why didn’t you get this right? What did you do wrong here. And so I think if you do a great job, hiring great employees, your job is to support them, to help them to help them put things in context, and not to overstressed themselves. If you feel like you’re having to chase people around saying you didn’t work 40 hours a week, this week, like you’ve just haven’t hired the right people into your organization. And so I think that informs a lot of the way that we think about it. And also, I think it’s been a crazy few years, I was very fortunate in that my mother in law lives around the corner for us. So when my eight year old was in kindergarten, first grade, she played a tremendous role in helping us with our eight year old, but there are a lot of folks that don’t have family nearby, there are a lot of folks in our team who are dealing with, you know, a two year old and a four year old during the course of the pandemic, not having daycare available, and it was just a really hard time. And so I think we have kind of a core and fundamental belief of the company, if you treat employees, well, they’ll be loyal, and they’ll serve your customers well, and it’ll come back in spades. So I think that’s sort of underpinned our philosophy around the type of environment that we’d like to create for people who work in invoca.

Evan Kirstel 31:50
Fantastic. Dave, of course, is not a fan of too much empathy for one call, I think

Gregg Johnson 31:59
there are different parts of innovation to like, we tend to focus a lot on technology innovation, I’d say one of the coolest things I thought our HR team did is they looked at, is there a way that you can you know, a lot of people weren’t taking PTO during the break. Like myself, I love to travel, I couldn’t really travel. So people were racking up PTO, we looked at building an innovative program where you could sort of trade off your PTO to pay off student loans, which I thought was a great idea. I thought that was super cool. And it was a way to sort of respond to the unique elements of the pandemic. And so I think there’s room for innovation and technology and product, I think there’s room for innovation in how you go to market serve your customers, I think there’s room for innovation, in terms of how you engage your employees and kind of the bet we’re making as if we treat them well. They’ll be loyal and longer term more knowledgeable employees ultimately deliver better things for customers.

Evan Kirstel 32:47
Fabulous. Well, speaking of people, we wouldn’t be a podcast on tech if we didn’t talk about AI, as well as talking about people. And I think you use AI to track and attribute and route and provide insight around calls to optimize etc. So what are you really using AI for? I mean, is it for all of that and more? And is it a fancy term for just predicting things or that more than that?

Gregg Johnson 33:11
I mean, I would say for us AI is at the core of understanding these human to human conversations that are happening. And to give you a little bit of background, like we were working around NLP and AI back in 2013 2014, before anybody knew what an Alexa device was. So, we will do things like, again, let me come back to where we grew out of a marketer does not understand what happens in the contact center. Generally speaking, a marketer does not understand what happens in Contact Center. They’re really interested in my driving conversions. Am I not driving conversions? As we got more data and more advanced and how we could understand that marketers were saying something like, what else is happening in the contact center? Like, I have no clue. And so we’ll do things like we’ll run our AI across a corpus of 100 200 300,000 calls, will automatically categorize those different conversations into clusters, based on sort of likeness in the DNA of those conversations will attribute some metadata around them. And then we sort of say to the marketer or CFP professional like, Hey, look at this kind of conversational map of everything that’s happening, this cluster up here to the right seems to be happening a lot. Go take a look at that, see what that is. And then with a click of a button, you can create an algorithm that’s essentially ready to go behind the scenes that will notify you anytime that happens in the future, and lets you automate the process of what do you want to do, and that happens in the future. And so for us, it’s really been about understanding that human to human conversation, we’re just a little bit different than most other contact center kind of CX players because we’re oriented around the consumer behavior. What to drive is the next step. Whereas a lot of the traditional players in the contact center space have been more focused on the agent and purely on the agent. We just bring a little bit different take to it

Dave Michels 35:00
Hey, Greg, I think the first time we met actually was you’d called me to tell me about the acquisition of dialog tech. As I recall, you were thinking that was a pretty good idea at the time. So fast forward to today. Hindsight now, was it still a good idea? And how did that work out for you?

Gregg Johnson 35:18
I’d say it’s worked out really well on a couple fronts. One, I’ll start wherever and left off, like from an employee base perspective, it’s worked really well. From a retention point of view, it’s worked really well, I think one of the benefits we had going into that deal, I can’t remember if I mentioned this, Dave, we’re not a typical Silicon Valley software company. I think the fact that we were founded out of Santa Barbara, we’re a little bit more humble, we’re a little bit more pragmatic, we’re a little bit more moderate. And I think when you put that kind of culture together with dialog, tech is based out of Chicago, when you put that together with a Midwest culture, it fits a little bit better than if you had sort of a highfalutin Bay Area, Silicon Valley company that felt a little bit more different from the Midwest, I think people wise, it’s gone? Well, I think from sort of a financial customer perspective, it’s gone really well, the thesis behind the acquisition was, we had a broader set of products and services to sell on the invoca technology platform. And so as we expose that to these customers, they would look at the broader suite of services that we offer and buy more, that’s certainly been happening, which has been great. And then I think, from a strategic perspective, both in terms of tech and people, today’s talent market is super competitive. And it’s really hard to scale your organization. And so for us the ability to double our engineering team, and double our customer success team overnight, with people who really understood our use cases, and the types of technology we’re building was really awesome. And there were some key areas of dialog technology that had been very complementary to what we’ve been doing. And we’ve been kind of grafting those into our offering. So, for example, invoca has always had a lightweight cloud based easily configurable IVR. The reason that we had that we’re not trying to replace a contact center IVR, but it was mainly like a marketer, especially in a big enterprise b2c brand, couldn’t sort of control that user experience that happened right when an interested prospective customer called into a contact center. And so they had asked us to do some lightweight work around IVRS dialogue, Tech had actually taken that to the next level, in terms of enabling a conversational IVR, sort of a conversational assistant, I know Dan Miller over Opus, he’s super passionate about this area, and you all had him on recently. For us, that gave us the ability to start moving into that path. Now it’s a different use case for us, a lot of times conversational IVR, is focused on customer service. And that means you need to authenticate the customer, you need to go do back end transactions and get data about the customer, you need to enable transactions for the customer. Most of the time, we’re dealing with somebody who’s not yet a customer. So there’s nothing to know about this consumer, they don’t have an account with you, they don’t have a relationship with you. The IVR is much more about collecting data about that consumer and thinking about how to get them to the right person. So it brought over some interesting technology assets that we think are useful and how we deliver better use cases and solutions to our customers. I’d say, overall, I’m more excited about the acquisition today than I was almost a year ago and we spoke Dave, but it’s a lot of hard work. m&a is hard work. I spent my last three years at Salesforce and marketing cloud where we grew by m&a. And so deals really begin the day they’re signed. They don’t end the day they’re signed. A lot of people think m&a ends today something sign I think the road work just begins when that happens. So you’ve been putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making sure that this team’s those customers and that technology is all treated. Right.

Dave Michels 38:48
All right. Well, I think I need to get back to the Emily inbound calls right now. But really, you

Unknown Speaker 38:56
they can help you with that. Oh, good.

Evan Kirstel 38:58
I look forward to seeing it at Enterprise Connect.

Gregg Johnson 39:00
I look forward to two I’m really looking forward to the show. I spent a lot of time with marketers and we have 350 employees in our organization that understand the world of marketing very, very well. A lot fewer of our employees understand the contact center and so I really enjoy spending time with experts like you to and the people who attend Enterprise Connect to sort of learn where the latest and greatest is in the technology world around the contact center. So I’m really looking forward to it and you know, some Florida sunshine never hurts either.

Dave Michels 39:30
All right. Well, until then, thank you very much for joining us.

Gregg Johnson 39:33
Thank you both appreciate it

Evan Kirstel 39:37
all right. Well, that was a great chat with Greg from invoke. I actually learned a lot I love the anecdotes and customer stories. Stories are all the best. always the best. Yeah,

Dave Michels 39:46
I don’t know about all that treating employees with respect nonsense. But other than that, I thought it was pretty interesting. It really picks up where the context enters leave off. Really is a nice listen set. And I love the

Evan Kirstel 39:57
intersection of marketing and technology. What a great place to be. So until our next guest Oh, we’ll see you later. All right, take

god 40:04
care you gotta get the phone in your phone No, no, it’s me.

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