Welcome to the DNA and experience podcast from cloud app, where we discuss how and why creating an experience is so important and the psychology behind what makes an experience. So great. Thanks for joining us. Hey everyone. I am thrilled to have something a little different today. I've got two guests with me. Uh, got a little webinar style format going on with the podcast today. I'm excited to have Deon Nicholas and Dan walk-ins with me. Deon is the co founder and CEO of forethought. And Dan is the current president of forethought. Uh, just moved over from Qualtrics. Um, we have a lot of good friends over there at Qualtrics, so I've, I've stayed in touch with Dan and some other people. We brought over to forethought with him, um, and have been trying to get this for quite some time. So I'm excited to have you both with me today.
I'm excited to be here. Awesome job. Great to great to be here.
Thanks guys. Hey, I wanted to give you both a chance to kind of give a little bit of background on yourselves. Um, we'll start with Deon, um, give us a little background on forethought and where you kind of, um, where the idea, I always love to hear kind of the background of how a company started, um, from the founder and how, where are you kind of at now and then we'll kind of get into some of the things.
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Joe. So hi everyone. I'm Deon, Nicholas CEO and co founder of forethought. Um, I, uh, we started forethought on a mission to make everyone a genius at their job and we're starting with, uh, customer support agents. Um, and so the idea behind forethought, um, a little bit of background on myself, I'm an engineer by training. I've built products and infrastructure at companies like Dropbox, Facebook, uh, and most recently pure storage. Um, the idea behind forethought is really near and dear to me. Um, I've always been interested in how AI can help people become smarter. Um, it actually goes back back to high school for me actually. So being a math and computers guy, um, I was decent in math and computers, but very bad at subjects like history. Um, so at the time I built an AI that would read my notes and quiz me on the material and that's how I got through history class.
Um, and so that was my first foray into AI, into natural language understanding. And since then, I've just been obsessed with this idea of like, Hey, if AI can help me at school, can we use AI to help people at work? And so, you know, you fast forward a zillion years, um, being an engineer ramping up on new projects or having friends who are customer support agents or in it groups, I realized that everyone has that, that information problem where if you could have AI or technology help you, uh, quote unquote, be a genius at your job, you can do so much more. Um, and so that's kind of the backstory of forethought and why, uh, I co founded forethought with my cofounder and CTO Sammy. Um, and, uh, yeah, we're, we're really excited being on this mission.
Awesome. I really love that. You know, the cloudapp screen recorder is, is a key piece of a lot of customer support teams and it's so important to not only have the, um, technology to help them, but also, you know, the training and, and certainly been able to get through things quickly. Um, with simple question answers that, you know, forethought can provide and, and, you know, advancing things. It's really cool to have lots of great tools in that space. Dan, I want to hear, uh, you know, your journey to forethought. Um, how did you kind of first connect with Deon, uh, what really ignited your, you know, fuel to leave, uh, Qualtrics where you were for a very long time and, uh, you know, what most excites you about what's going on?
Yeah, so my story, it sounds like it's all connected, but I think in a lot of ways, I got really, really lucky about 18 years ago, I started with a company called focus services where people would outsource their customer support and sales. It went really, really well. I eventually started, I led a site there and then a friend of mine who I'd been friends with since we were kids like, Hey, Dan, there's this survey software company. I'm going to go work there. You should come. And I was like, no way, I'm not going to go work in survey surveys. Aren't interesting that I met the CEO, Ryan Smith, and I just, there was something different that we could do that we were going to go help organizations make data driven decisions. We were going to go help customer support teams, market research teams. That sounded really exciting, went and did that 13 years there, some of the best years of my life, where all five of my children were born, some of the best friends I could have possibly made.
And after 13 years I looked back and said, what were my favorite things that I did and is when I got to lead the entire business units. So one of my favorite groups is the research services team. And we've got to lead sales operations, go to market, every element of that and had teams all over the world. And I started thinking about, what do I want to go do next? And I wanted to go lead a company. And I thought originally I was just going to go start my own thing. Then about a year ago, I was walking in San Francisco with a good friend of mine to meet. And we walking across this intersection and he's like, damn, stop for a second. I've got to introduce you to this guy. And so we went backwards a little bit and he's like, Dan, meet Deon.
He's one of the best leaders in engineering minds I've ever met. Deon, meet Dan. One of the best go to market operations leaders has ever met. You guys should exchange phone numbers. I don't know what this is going to mean, but you guys should exchange phone numbers now. So we exchanged phone numbers and I started to become good friends. And for six months, we'd just talk, catch up kind of what was going on. Uh, talked a little bit more about what he was doing, go to market and how to go start sales work that way. And he's like, Dan, we should work together. I was like, Deon, we should work together. How would this look? And he's like, come and do this with me. And I said, what does that mean? He's like, look, I need somebody that is really strong and go to market operations and business processes. And that wants
To go and be part of this. And I said, okay, let's do it. And, and it was really easy and nothing to do with culture. Culture is one of the best companies out there on the planet. I've got nothing to say, but incredible things about the entire team there. It was more about going and being part of AI, being with a CEO that cared so deeply about their people, had a vision for how customer support in so many ways could be augmented. Other elements of it that the customer support teams don't like can be fully automated and be able to expand that across the whole business. So that got me really excited to go and not just impact customer support, but sales internal ticketing and the needs of the entire business.
That's really cool. Yeah. I mean, it is definitely an impactful company and product has a lot of opportunity, uh, integrates with AI and that's a core element of it. I also think, you know, I talked about all the time, the customer supports like the last line of defense, but also maybe one of the most important pieces of the customer experience, a really, really cool piece to be a part of.
Get into some questions. Deon. I want to ask you, you know, with, uh, kind of everything. So I was kind of part of Adobe's, you know, shift to experience business, digital transformation. I saw like Microsoft and Salesforce and Oracle and everybody talking about digital transformation and AI and machine learning and everything for the last, you know, seven years. And we all kinda got crammed into seven or eight weeks, uh, at the first kind of part of this year, the end of Q1. Uh, what do you kind of see the modern workplace looking like both internally with maybe remote work? I know you guys have, uh, multiple offices and then also externally with how you're kind of integrating with customers and, uh, you know, tool sets and other things.
Yeah, absolutely. With respect to the modern workplace, I think there's a ton of shifts happening that we've kind of been expecting or were promised, uh, for many years. So for example, you know, uh, artificial intelligence, automation, things like that, um, as well as like we're seeing a lot of changes to the way people are getting work done, right. With work from home. I think even in a year or two years from now, a lot more people are gonna get work done remotely. A lot more people are going to be using technology to do work and have, you know, conversations like this over the internet, um, rather than, uh, directly in person. And the part I'm most excited about is how AI is involved in the modern workplace. Again, it's a technology that we've been talking about, you know, since like the first neural networks were invented, I believe in the eighties.
Um, and so we've been talking about artificial intelligence for a long time, but now is when we're seeing it come to fruition. And so whether that's as Dan was talking about before automating tasks that, um, humans or people don't really want to be working on, or whether that's, um, helping them augmenting them, them, um, in their workplace. Uh, so, you know, customer support agents, helping them get work done, uh, helping engineers write code and things like that. Um, we're starting to see that artificial intelligence and particularly natural language processing, natural language understanding, um, is becoming something that can really be a companion, a tool, um, for, uh, for all knowledge workers. Right. And so I'm super excited about being able to help kind of tackle some of these really previously uncrackable tasks.
Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. You know, I, uh, kinda in the tail end of one of the teams I was managing and Adobe was this, um, team in India and they were working on natural language processing, really fascinating to kind of see the tools they were building to kind of understand those things. Um, and do you feel like, you know, where do you feel like we're at with that with in terms of, um, businesses being able to deploy things that are related to AI and also just them integrating into, you know, an existing workflow?
Yeah, absolutely. Um, what's interesting is I think, um, AI has really taken a big leap forward since right around 2017, I would say right around when we were starting forethought. Um, it started with, uh, data sets around question answering around information retrieval, uh, like you saw the squad data set coming out of Stanford and a few other things there that really helped natural language understanding, take a big leap, um, kind of similar to how computer vision, you know, about half a decade before it started to take a big leap. And you started to see things like autonomous vehicles and an entire new entirely new industries crop up. I think natural language processing and natural language understanding is, is just starting to get there. Um, and then there was another big leap in terms of, um, models like Bert, uh, which came out, which basically became state-of-the-art, uh, across many different, uh, human and natural language understanding tasks.
Um, and so with kind of this advance or all of these advances in AI and natural language understanding, we're also seeing the cost to kind of deploy, uh, new systems come down. There's a lot of tooling, for example, with AWS and in a few other places. Um, and so we're starting to see a ton of really, really good tools. Obviously, you know, we're building Agatha at forethought and we're seeing a lot of other companies in the space as well. And so I'm very excited that, um, it's actually becoming a lot more easy or a lot easier for companies to deploy. I th I think it still takes engineering minds or engineering talent if you're going to try to build this stuff internally. Um, but we're, we're definitely seeing, like, if you can use a vendor like a forethought or others, uh, you're gonna start to see a lot of, uh, previously uncrackable tasks being tackled
Really cool. That's, that's great to kind of get an update on, you know, where you're at with, uh, thoughts on AI. I think it's really important. Definitely a part of the modern workplace as we've kind of shifted no to this wildly remote, uh, area, you know, we actually, so we ran a survey last fall at, at cloud app and we found that over 50% of younger generations were working remotely anyway. Uh, the majority of the time Bay area is really expensive. Uh, commuting's hard, you know, so people were already trying to find ways to not necessarily go to the office. What have you kind of learned as a leader? Uh, what are tips and tricks you've learned? Uh, first thing I always say is this is not remote work. This is like working from home during a pandemic. Um, but what are some things that maybe you've learned during this time that will really be helpful as you, uh, you know, lead your company and, and kind of move towards that?
Yeah, so I think I have learned three really important things in kind of this shift and with everything going on in the world. Um, the first I would say is invest in and focus on your people. Uh, one of my friends, the way they described it was like during times of uncertainty, you bear hug your people. Um, and so what that means is, um, you know, a lot of people are, are having uncertain times, whether it's, um, questions about, uh, their own employment, things like that, uh, just with everything going on with the shifts to work from home and, and being in a pandemic. Um, and so just like focusing on, Hey, we're going to help you set up your home office. We're going to help you, uh, make sure that, um, you're getting, you know, um, help or, or, uh, support in any way you need.
Um, and basically giving people stability and security, uh, in a time like this. I think that's the first, most important thing. The second I would say is over-communicating, we're in unprecedented times across many different fronts. And so, um, as a leadership team, we're adapting and learning, um, all the time. And so it's okay to share that with your team that, Hey, here's the thing that we have not encountered before as a company, as a leadership team, uh, we're communicating, this is the stance that we're at right now, and this is what we're learning as we go, and we're going to keep everyone updated. And again, that's in the, um, in the interest of, uh, making sure people have security. And even when the answer is, I don't know, they, they are kept in the loop. Um, and we work as a team in order to kind of get these problems solved.
And then the last thing I've learned in that I'm really starting to grow on and really starting to internalize is that vulnerability can be a superpower as a leader. Um, and what I mean by that is, um, during times of uncertainty, uh, people look to a leadership team, um, but not to just quote unquote, be leaders with a capital health, um, but again, to be people, to be people that they can trust, uh, to be people that, uh, they can relate to. And so sharing what's on my mind, uh, the places where, uh, I'm struggling or any vulnerabilities I have, I found that it's helped me connect with my team. Um, and, uh, and I really think that that becomes a powerful, that can
Help you kind of move through these times of uncertainty.
I really love that. I love that you focused, um, no on, on really recognizing what people need, uh, both within your team. And I think that segues really nicely to a question I want to ask Dan, uh, it's also a time to protect your customers. Um, you know, we all kind of turn into, uh, whether you like the term or not like a wartime CEO. Um, so, you know, protecting your customers considering ad spend maybe a little differently and really just making sure you have the runway you need as a company, Dan, what's something that is really kind of the, the root of, or the DNA of a good experience that can really help you guys during this time to make sure that customers stay happy. Uh, they don't churn and you can kind of work with them to make sure that you keep the customer set. You have.
Yeah. So as you think about that, the root of a good customer experience has to go down to where they actually experiencing it, their experience, again, the product, make sure that your product team takes it seriously. Are they listening to the customer feedback that's happening, but then it's what are their interactions with your people? And so if I look at the very core of what creates an incredible customer experience, it's the people that you hire. And it was another thing, one of the main reasons why, like, for thoughts so much, this is Deon introduced me to each member of his team, whether it's the head of engineering, Sammy, whether it's the leader of customer experience Rose the head of operations, Jenny, each one of them at the core of who they were, were kind and good people that actually cared about the customer. So any organization out there that strikes like Dan, our customer SATs really low, our NPS is really low.
It's probably because your people need a change. You need people at the very core that are supporting your customers that are selling to your customers that actually care about that customer. Because when the times are against you, you're going to come up with something like, you know what? I actually agree customer, you can't afford this right now. We're going to give it to you for free for three months. But then my first week of starting here, Deon announced, we're going to go out and roll out this product for free for anybody that needs it because so many companies are struggling. So the very core of who your people are, then once you have a good core team, people that care, they genuinely care about your people, your care about your customers. Then you start laying on top of that technology that empowers them. It's not that exciting for an employee that really well educated, they're bright, they're hardworking, they care. And then all of a sudden you have them do work that they could, that could be automated. That could be completely automated and they don't want to do so. What you do is, and that's where I think companies like forethought come in, we're able to go in and automate the stuff that people don't want to do, and then help them on the hardest problems that are actually mentally stimulating. Because if you can go and just offload this stuff that nobody really wants to do, it's mostly busy work, but the customers need, nonetheless,
They need an answer. How do I reset my password? It gets old. If that's the hundredth time, you've answered that, that, that day, then you go into it and we provide them with the best answers and the best way to go and solve really complicated customer problems that they're solving. So I think great people then on top of that, you like really good technology that empower those great people, and you're going to have a great customer career.
I like that. I like that you kind of went with the, you know, internal, external, I think it definitely starts with the company. Like you said, a cultural, like obsession with, uh, retention and loyalty and, and C-SAT NPS or whatever. You're kind of doing to monitor those things and no action as well. So you're not just saying, Hey, we're a customer experience led business. Um, or, you know, we changed all our product names like Qualtrics or Adobe. No, we trained all our product names to be this experience product, but, you know, we're, we're terrible at customer experience when you look behind the curtain. So it's so important to not just give the lip service, but really do it behind the scenes as well,
A hundred percent as you go focus on that, it's a big deal. You, what are you going to go and do to walk the talk or to walk the walk, talk the talk. And I think great companies like forethought care about it. And I saw it at Qualtrics as well, where they focused a lot on that
Deon. I'd love to actually have you jump on in on that too. What do you kind of determine, uh, you know, what's the DNA of a good customer experience? If you have anything to add on to Dan?
Yeah, no, I think Dan hit it on the head. It's like employee, um, kind of your team starts, uh, that culture. And then that kind of bleeds out into how you treat your customers. Um, the only other thing I would add is, is really just, um, Dan touched on this a little bit, but in the product really listening to your customers, one of our values at forethought is put customers first, um, and really listening, uh, when you're building products before you're building products, doing user research and just getting as many people in the company as possible to spend time with the people, you're building tools for the people that you're serving. And so I think that's the only other thing I would add is really just creating a customer centric product as well. Yeah.
A cup. I love that a couple of things we were doing at cloud app that kind of makes me think of that is we all have a support day, uh, once a month, you know, from the CEO, which he's actually doing more than one day. Um, cause he enjoys it for some reason.
Um, but it's really cool to like, see, you know, obviously we experienced the product and we have our own bugs that we report, but like seeing customer's frustrations and really trying to figure out how to, um, improve them. And then also like, I am obsessed with reading the reviews on like G2 and TrustRadius or Capterra or whatever, and actually are great for like marketing and content fodder. I mean, from the five stars to, you know, the worst ones are really help us know, hone in our messaging, hone in our content and make sure that we're putting out a good product.
I got some amazing CEO down. Everybody's spending a day on customer support that actually reminds me like we actually did the same thing, not the same thing where it was the day, but every single person at Qualtrics when a customer called. And if it rang more than three times, these sirens would go off and that meant anybody should just now go pick up the phone to go and support them. And so the entire sales team needed to be trained on being able to support the customers because more important than getting that next customer was caring for the one that we have. And I think that makes a ton of sense. That's exciting to see what you guys are doing to cloud up. I'd like to hear more about that. Maybe we should do the same thing to you. Yeah, exactly.
It's pretty fun. Um, it definitely like helps you have some empathy for being a customer customer led product. Um, I'd love to Dan getting back to you, I'd love to get into, you know, you mentioned, um, some things you're doing obviously with when COBIT hit, what are some other things you guys are doing to create an experience, you know, from the, from the, through the entire journey, from hitting your website to contacting sales or what are some things that you guys are doing internally to really focus on customer experience?
Yeah. So a big part of what we're focusing on is hiring in advance so that as we win new customers, they trust us. They just said, you know what, we're going to go and use forethought that we've already built out the infrastructure to handle them. I think a lot of companies, they hire once they're in pain. And so then it's like the customer struggling with you through that pain. What we've tried to do is to go in advance and say, okay, we know how many customers are going to be moving forward over the next six months over the next year, based on our forecasting, based on our go to market motion based on our targets, how do we go and hire an advance ideally six months in advance. So that by the time that customer needs to be onboarded supported, implemented, you already have a trained person ready to go and do that.
Whether that's your first customer support rep your first implementation person, your first professional services engineer, your additional product, people, your additional engineers, but hiring and advance. So one of the things that Deon aligned, Deanna and I spent a lot of time in is how many people were going to go and hire because we want to go grow revenue. How do we go? Make sure those customers are loved, they're cared for, and they've got enough to go do that. And then Rose who leads our customer experience team is making sure that every one of them gets trained and onboarded in a way that represents what she learned from Deon was she brought herself as just a customer care organization or an organization that cares from the beginning and cares deeply. Then the second thing that we go and do is make sure that the onboarding experience that you don't have to go wait for one, I work for a fortune hundred company to have an onboarding experience that you actually get all the information that you need.
So we spend a lot of time working on how are we going to onboard each and every employee that comes in so that they're trained, right? So that very first either deal that they're working on, if they're in sales project that they're working on, if they're in a, in engineering or customer support or customer experience, they need to handle if they're in the customer experience or that we go and onboard them. And then as an organization, we're looking at data all the time. We study our net promoter score, we study our C-SAT, we study our employee engagement. And then as we look at those, if those three are all going well, then we know that the organization, our customers are going to be cared for.
That's really important. Yeah. I think it's, you, you hit pretty much, you know, every organization. And I think that's the important thing. It's not, it's not just a customer support issue. It's not just a sales or like external facing issue. Um, it's really getting everybody on board
A hundred percent got it's a whole company thing.
So as we're kind of, this has been a really fun discussion. Um, you guys have been great. I really appreciate your time today and kind of diving in on some things I want you to, um, kind of put on your, uh, magician's hat, pull out your crystal ball, look into the future, make some bold predictions. Uh, we'll start with Dan. Uh, what do you think the future of experience business is? And maybe even include, you know, how forethought is a part of that?
Yeah. So the future of experience, I think if you go and you read a lot of the reports that are out there, like Zendesk just came out in their 2020 trends report and said 74% of people that are loyal to at least one brand. If you go and read reports coming out by McKinsey's stuffed by the customer experience professionals association, what it also talks about is the vast majority of people, every single quarter leave a brand that they used to be loyal to. And so if you have these conflicting reports, you have every, almost everybody's loyal to a brand, but that loyalty is very short lived. If the customer experience doesn't go well, I think the times of the past, where you could see with Twitter now with all the different data that's coming out on social media, that ability to go and screw up once isn't really there.
You've got to go in and from the beginning as an organization, you're so committed to your customer that you're already working on those things. And so I think one thing is just that we have to be aware that it's not like where you stick with your bank for 30 years, you don't have a good experience with your bank. You're going to move. People are sticking to the same car brands, even like they used to. And so as you go look at, I think that's going to go across tech net retention rate is going to be something that investors are going to be paying attention to even more than before, because it's so easy to jump from one technology to another. And then last but not least,
I think employees are not going to accept that they're going to be required to do mundane work, whether you're working in a factory, whether you're working in the fields, whether you're working in a tech company, they're going to expect that as an organization that employs them, you've done everything in your power to let them work on interesting projects. I think that's a really, really great spot for forethought to be, and it gets exactly what we do. We're going to go and empower the most entry level employee, the most sophisticated employee to be a genius in their job. We're going to offload the work that they don't want to do. And we're going to empower them with the knowledge at the right time so they can provide experiences that customers care about. Okay.
Yeah. It's like, it's kind of like you have your paying customers and then Deon Dan, and your, you know, aggressive, your management or executive team has your like internal employee customers. And you need to make sure that you are engaging them and, um, training and providing what they need so that they can be effective, but also, you know, really endear to the brand and the company.
Exactly. You're constantly faced with this tug of war. Do you go and invest in more product? Do you go and invest in your people? Do you go invest in your customers? You go invest and go to market. And the answer is yes to all of them and you're going to have to do it. Right.
I love that Deon, let's go up to you and you can get kind of a closing word. Um, what, where do you see the future of experience business going?
Yeah. So when I think about the, uh, the future of the experience business, I think about two things. One is that customer experience is going to become proactive rather than reactive. Um, and, and to, um, I think there's a lot of data that's finally gonna start to get pulled together. And so I'll tackle kind of both of these two things. So what I mean by proactive is that a lot of customer experience happens when somebody is tweeting at your company and they've had a bad experience already. But what if you could predict, um, when they're about to have a bad experience before they do, um, what have you could predict, um, what you need to build into your product in order to help your future customers and, and, uh, you know, future customer experience. So I think like with AI, for example, we're starting to see that, but in general kind of teams are starting to realize that customer experience is really the forefront of your brand.
Um, and so becoming more proactive about it, making it a mandate within your company. Um, I think that every modern company is going to have to do that. Um, and then in order to do that, the means by which you do that is really by tying together feedback loops. And so again, customer experience can be the bleeding edge, uh, the leading edge of your product, knowing what people, what problems people have and what problems people are going to have, can really inform what products you should be building three, six, nine months from now. Um, and it's, it's, it's kind of this like, well, kept secret within customer experience is that that's actually where the best data, the best product ideas come from. And so I'm super excited at forethought at being able to do that with, um, our AI in the loop, whether that's helping, um, automate mundane tasks or, uh, reply to questions, or even assist agents, we're able to see what are the main, what are the main problems that customers are having that are not being addressed. Now, imagine if in three, six years your company would have the forethought in order to take all of that information and turn that into product problems so that your future customers never have to experience those problems. Again, that's the future. That I'd be very, very excited to be a part of and, uh, quite frankly, to potentially bring it out.
Awesome. Yeah, it's kind of like the, you know, the knowledge bases that the Zendesk and help Scouts and whatever brought about has been really great for people to find what they need and self-serve, but then the next step is like what you said, Deon finding those triggers of like, Hey, this person had just had an error uploading. They had to close their program and reopen it. And they're obviously trying to troubleshoot before they connect with us. So what is something we can serve them up that, you know, AI is helping identify and, and serve up that will solve their issue. Or maybe it's connecting with an agent like, Hey, are you having a problem? Uh, you know, how can we help you? And it's like that next level of, of Zendesk help scout, you know, for thought those types of things.
Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure, uh, great insights for both of you. I really appreciate your time. And you know, one of my favorite things about doing this type of thing is just learning from great leaders out there. So I appreciate your time today. Um, definitely everyone listening, go check out for thought. Uh, I've been playing around with a lot of it the last couple of weeks since we set this up and really cool opportunities there, and I'm excited to see what Deon and Dan and the rest of the team figure out.
Thanks so much, Joe. It's great. Okay. Thanks guys. Bye bye.
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