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AI Trailblazers: Thomas Mancuso - Championing AI in Customer Experience

May 16, 2024
Prasad Kawthekar
Prasad Kawthekar
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What changed for sales productivity in 2023
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Thomas Mancuso, Director of Global Product Partnerships at Podium, is a driving force behind the company's innovative approach to AI. Podium, a leading communication platform, empowers local businesses to deliver exceptional customer experiences through a unified inbox, enabling seamless interaction across channels like SMS, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. With AI becoming increasingly crucial to business workflows, Thomas and the team have placed Podium at the forefront of this technological shift, transforming how local businesses operate and scale.

AI Integration in Podium's Product

Recognizing the transformative potential of AI, Podium has seamlessly integrated AI-powered features into its product offerings. This strategic move is driven by a vision to enable local businesses to overcome limitations often imposed by headcount and time constraints. By leveraging AI, Podium's customers can achieve exponential business growth without a proportional increase in resources or expenses.

“What AI can do for local businesses is decouple the requirement for headcount and time, and allow them to scale their business exponentially while keeping their actual effort, head count, and expenses scaling on a linear basis.”

One of the first impactful AI applications launched in Podium's product suite was the AI-powered review responder. This feature assists local businesses in crafting personalized and diversified responses to customer reviews, saving time and ensuring a thoughtful approach to positive and negative feedback.

“Our vision for how local businesses use AI is really to reinforce excellent customer service and enable local businesses to scale efficiently.”

AI Partnerships: Strategic Collaborations for Enhanced Solutions

Podium's commitment to AI extends beyond internal development. The company actively seeks strategic partnerships to enhance its AI capabilities further and address specific challenges. Podum’s partnership with Dashworks is a prime example of such a collaboration.

Podium identified a need to streamline knowledge sharing and reduce reliance on product managers for answering repetitive questions, particularly within customer support and onboarding processes. Dashworks provided the solution by efficiently searching across Podium's knowledge bases and internal documentation, providing employees with quick and accurate answers. This partnership resulted in reduced onboarding time, faster customer response times, decreased escalation rates, and less time spent by the product team on answering routine questions.

“The benefit of partnering on AI solutions is that it was, and still is, a pretty challenging problem to solve for ourselves. We wanted our engineers spending time on products that would solve problems for our customers.”

Beyond Dashworks, Podium also collaborates with other AI providers like OpenAI, leveraging their advanced language models to power innovative features like Jerry, an AI Employee specifically designed for Local Businesses. Jerry excels at lead qualification, engaging with potential customers, answering their questions, and scheduling test drives, all without human intervention. This has increased sales and improved customer experiences for Podium's clients.

Challenges and Solutions: Learning and Adapting to AI

Podium's journey with AI hasn't been without its challenges. Early on, the company encountered issues with AI models generating inaccurate or "hallucinated" responses. To overcome this, Podium adopted a two-pronged approach:

  • Focusing on non-fact-based tasks: Podium initially concentrated on AI applications where creativity and personalization were more important than factual accuracy, like the review responder.
  • Fine-tuning and model advancements: The company leveraged techniques like fine-tuning to improve the accuracy of AI models and benefited from the continuous advancements in AI technology, with models like GPT-4 exhibiting significantly improved reliability.

These issues became less prevalent as AI technology advanced, allowing Podium to focus on more sophisticated applications.

Overall Impact: Transforming the Way Podium Operates

The integration of AI has significantly impacted Podium's operations over the past year. By automating routine tasks and providing quick access to information, AI has boosted efficiency across various departments. Customer support reps resolve issues faster, sales teams close deals quicker, and product managers focus on strategic initiatives. Ultimately, these improvements contribute to enhanced customer experiences, increased retention, and accelerated business growth.

Advice for Innovators: Embrace the AI Wave

Thomas advises companies considering AI integration to "Do it." He believes this wave of technology is here to stay and offers immense potential for businesses willing to invest in it. While the initial learning curve might seem daunting, the availability of AI startups and readily available tools makes adoption more accessible than ever.

Thomas encourages other companies to embrace AI and not be intimidated by its complexities. He advises them to:

  • Start experimenting: Begin exploring AI solutions and identify areas where they can add value.
  • Partner with AI startups: Leverage the expertise of companies like Dashworks to navigate the AI landscape and achieve quick wins.
  • Focus on customer experience: Prioritize AI applications that enhance customer service and satisfaction.

Looking Forward: AI Shaping the Future of Work and Partnerships

Thomas envisions AI playing an increasingly prominent role in shaping the future of work. He is particularly excited about:

  • AI-powered customer service: Thomas envisions a future where AI becomes integral to daily work, seamlessly assisting humans and providing solutions that surpass human capabilities. He is particularly excited about the potential of AI in customer service, where AI Employees like Podium's Jerry can offer instant support, answer questions, and even close deals 24/7.
  • Industry-specific AI solutions: AI will be tailored to address the unique needs of different industries, such as "expert Jerrys" for various verticals.
  • AI-driven automation in partnerships: Tedious tasks like follow-ups and contract negotiations will be automated, freeing up human time for more strategic work.

As Thomas and his team continue to explore the possibilities of AI, one thing is clear: Podium remains committed to pushing the boundaries of innovation and empowering local businesses to thrive in an ever-evolving technological landscape. The future of work, with AI at its core, promises exciting possibilities for Podium and its customers.

"We are really creative as a species about where to use tools. I'm excited to see where that is, and to see AI in places that I wouldn't have expected."

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