"One of the most important characteristics of a business leader is self-awareness, and the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses." - Orlo MD Ben Nimmo talks to BQ about automation, leadership and customer experience.
What is it the company does?
It’s now firmly accepted that emotion drives behaviour, summarised perfectly by Maya Angelou when she said, “people don’t always remember what you said or even what you did, but they always remember how you made them feel”.
Forrester Customer Experience Index 2018 identified “emotion” as a key pillar of customer service and sales, and that when customers feel valued and appreciated, 87% become advocates and 74% remain with the brand. Similarly, Harvard Business Review 2018 recently found that 95% of purchase-making decisions are driven subconsciously by emotion.
So, if brands are there instantly, effectively and meaningfully when their customers need them most, they can create amazing online experiences and inspire positive emotions, influencing behaviour at scale. These behaviours might be to turn social media followers or website visitors into customers, convert your most satisfied customers into public advocates, or to encourage those that matter to see online as the best way to talk to you.
This is the driving concept behind the creation of Orlo, an online customer engagement ecosystem that comprises social media management, web chat and CRM integration to create a unified view of customer conversations across multiple digital channels, allowing brands to move seamlessly across multiple online channels and conversations - just like consumers do.
But of course, managing online conversations isn’t enough. Every department now has a role to play in customer experience, spanning multiple touch points. From the initial brand awareness and business development by marketing, to customer service responding to inbound enquiries, right through to dealing with customer complaints, retention or a crisis situation. A consistent, controlled approach and tone must be embedded, which can be difficult across global teams and offices - not forgetting the longstanding problem of how to get marketing and customer service to work more collaboratively.
To solve this we also built Orlo with comprehensive marketing and PR modules, plus a full suite of customisable analytics, allowing departments to track and improve key metrics around response/resolution times, sentiment, peak engagement times and which content is resonating with customers. Marketing teams can use Orlo to manage all organic and paid social media campaigns - overcoming the issue of falling organic reach. PR teams can better understand their customers and industry as well as manage their reputation across millions of media channels.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I work closely with our key partners and clients to understand their online CX goals and challenges, and use this data to help set the technical direction of the Orlo ecosystem.
I work with our product management, development and design teams to help transform research data into solutions that help large enterprise brands reach their customer experience and marketing goals.
Research has shown that clients value our customer centricity and the constant evolution of our ecosystem. So a key part of my role is to ensure we never stand still, and that we understand the direction of travel for our customers, and indeed their customers - and to maintain our position just ahead of the curve, constantly developing new features that helps brands keep pace with the rapid rate of change.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I come from a technical background, after completing a degree in computer science I worked across several agencies for a number of years as a lead developer. In 2012, at one of my previous roles, I was looking for a social media management platform with specific enterprise characteristics, which I could to integrate with a piece of software I was building - and I couldn’t find one. A friend of mine, Nick Wood, was a successful entrepreneur who had built and exited several companies, so I went to him to discuss my idea about this potential gap in the market.
Together, we went around many large businesses to validate our idea and assess market fit. This confirmed that there was indeed a gap in the market and SocialSignIn (now Orlo) was born. In those early months, I would be working full time at an agency, then writing the first iteration of our product in the evening (and occasionally during work time!). We launched a few months later and immediately began picking up clients in the Birmingham area, where our Head Office is still based today.
From simple publishing and responding functionality, we quickly added analytics, social listening and every day we deployed new features. Soon, with our client base quickly growing, it became impossible for me to manage both jobs and I took the decision to work on my own venture full time.
In September 2018 we rebranded from SocialSignIn to Orlo. Our customer research started to show a trend that brands wanted to manage their digital touchpoints more holistically, moving away from disparate systems, silos of data and poor efficiency. As part of the rebrand, we launched web chat and CRM integration, allowing brands to move seamlessly across multiple online conversations and channels - just like we do as consumers. We also launched social media advertising to counteract the dramatic decline in organic social media reach.
From those humble beginnings where it was just me working from an office under the stairs in my house, to a global brand with multi-national offices and thousands of happy customers doing amazing things for their own customers. In Orlo, we’ve created something completing unique, built to harness the power of emotion and human connection for the next era of online customer experience.
We’re really excited to see Orlo already driving digital transformation and ROI for our clients, as well as receiving a lot of attention from analysts and press, and this is only the beginning.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
One of the most important characteristics of a business leader is self-awareness, and the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. I think leaders often make the mistake of going to great lengths to cover up their weaknesses, instead of addressing them openly and surrounding themselves with people who can help fill any skill gaps. Or worse still, they aren't aware of what their weaknesses are at all, and instead play entirely to their strengths. Over time, this will leave the leader and the business vulnerable.
As I mentioned, every great leader has to learn how to make sound decisions, quickly too. Yes take the time to analyse (the important) metrics, but don’t ponder for too long - often in business, it’s about seizing a window of opportunity and taking a calculated risk. Out of fear of making the wrong decision, you can end up taking no action, which almost always causes a detrimental problem. Leaders often learn this lesson the hard way. Once they do, they know the value in moving swiftly and being confident “in your own skin” as a business.
Finally, endurance and just staying “in the game”. Every leader knows that what's more important than anything else in the world is the ability to persevere, particularly in the current economic and political climates where growth and opportunities can be thin on the ground.
You'll have wins and losses and growth is rarely a nice linear curve upwards. But through it all, if you can make enough correct, rational decisions - doing it your way rather than trying to imitate some else's style - then you will endure and prosper.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
The statistics are firmly stacked against you when building a tech company. Only one in ten start-ups make it past the first year, so the fact that we are fast-approaching our seventh year is a great testament to our team really understanding our customers’ needs and continuously building robust solutions which meet them. It’s easy to become distracted and start adding every feature and function under the sun, so it’s important to be comfortable in your skin and know your core competency as a business - for us, that’s enabling brands to use emotional connections to create amazing online customer experiences and marketing ROI. This focused approach allows us to keep the UI in our platform clear and intuitive, which is really important in the busy, stressful customer service environment.
When the company and team is growing fast, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining controlled growth, this begins right at the start with the recruitment process. We hire on emotional intelligence (EQ) and not IQ. We need people who can understand and empathise with our customers, each other and themselves. This helps us build strong relationships with our customers and work in close partnership with them to develop effective solutions, it also helps maintain a positive, energetic and productive working environment. We believe that EQ trumps IQ every time and is the most important trait in both business and life; if we get this bit right, we can train a new starter in the skills and experiences they will need.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to work in computers ever since my father bought the first family computer and I could not figure out how it worked. I focused a lot of my studies on this throughout my education and in university I would often research the subjects beyond the syllabus and sometimes not bother turning up to lectures, as they were then slightly boring, preferring to find my own methods of learning.
I actually wrote my dissertation in my first year. It was a music player similar to that of Spotify or the music services we all know today, distributing music remotely rather than having to have them downloaded. That idea just came a few years too early for me to know how to get it off the ground. I have always wanted to run my own company as it would allow me to run with and explore my own ideas. I feel really fortunate that I knew what I wanted to do and have ended up doing just that.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
A video that I saw recently sums them up nicely and I recommend watching it, you can find it, here. To alleviate the problem, as a company and where possible, we try to allow working from home for those who need it and flexible hours if that also helps. I try to use passive communication such as Slack or email so as not to break people’s flow and they can then get back to me when they like. I also try not to monopolise company or employee times with meetings. Yes, we have meetings - but we try and find an alternative or keep them short and to a minimum wherever we can
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I exercise a lot, I love the tactical battle in a game of squash and also enjoy going to the gym. I really believe that a healthy body and mind contribute to performing strongly in the workplace. We also do a lot of physical team building activities, things like fitness boot camps, detox weeks and obstacle races.
I also prefer working late at night through on the harder tasks, this really helps me to concentrate as there are fewer distractions. It really helps to have a supportive co-founder to smooth out the highs and lows that come with taking a company from start-up to scale-up. I’m really lucky that my co-founder is a longstanding friend who has a wealth of experience in delivering controlled and sustainable growth.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
The next twelve months are all about communicating the important role that emotion plays in customer experience and communications, this is something we are passionate and care deeply about. It’s then about taking our proposition to the global market, telling the world about how Orlo has been built to solve the problem of managing multiple digital touchpoints from within a single ecosystem - and how this can join-up customer service and marketing teams to create amazing customer experience and marketing that influence behaviour - because both departments have a role to play in this, but it can only be done effectively if they are joined-up.
Following on from this we will be releasing some of the AI and Bot solutions that we are currently developing. A big bang approach to AI will not work, it needs to be a phased approach. We will be launching AI solutions that enable brands to automate low value, repetitive tasks around answering FAQ’s (often 40-60% of enquiries) across social media and web chat - creating a great experience for both consumer and agent and allowing the brand to focus on more complex enquiries that require a more empathetic, human interaction. In our initial tests, we found that across a period of twenty-four hours for a high-volume brand, Orlo can save around eight hours, or one person, which can then be redistributed elsewhere.
Conversational Bots will also be a huge area for us going forward. Sometimes a customer just wants to self-serve for a simple transaction and be on their way. Using a Conversation Bot will allow a customer to quickly find out what time their delivery is due or to check their bank balance, but always with the option to chat with an agent if necessary - helping achieve the perfect balance between ruthless efficiency and meaningful engagement. The key here is to build these so simply that the brand can customise them themselves and integrate them with their internal systems, allowing continuous improvement and refinement.
We also see AI delivering huge value and insight into social media analytics. We’ve been developing a set of solutions that present data in a more meaningful and useful way.
Time series anomaly detection will identify spikes in activity and alert staff so that they can respond proactively. Using AI to detect important entities and extract these allows us to draw out key places, names, organisations and mentions. We also believe that understanding sentiment is no longer enough and have taught Orlo to understand emotion. When you combine emotion detection with entity extraction you have rich contextual understanding around customer experience and marketing campaigns that create a new level of insight and greatly informs your decision-making going forward.
Beyond that, we are already exploring other communication channels and deciding which ones we should incorporate into our ecosystem to ensure we stay aligned to our customers’ needs and indeed the needs of their own customers. WhatsApp and SMS may well be another natural extension for us, because similar to social and web chat, they are all real-time, informal, 1-2-1 conversations between two people, but on a large scale - which remains aligned to our vision of meaningful and emotional human connections.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Running a quickly growing business can take a lot of hours, so it’s important you do something you love and believe in. I’ve always cared passionately about the ability of technology to bring people closer together and share information globally, so I every day I count myself lucky that the ecosystem we’ve built enables hundreds of brands to do precisely that with their own customers.
Also, hire on personality over skills and surround yourself with good people who you can see yourself spending a lot of time with...because you will be. If people have got the right attitude and a great work ethic, you are eighty-percent of the way there; you can teach the skills and they will naturally gain the experience, but you can’t teach someone to have the right standards and attitude.
Finally, have a clear vision and plan of how to get there. It’s very easy to be distracted in those early years and to start building new products and services that don’t add significant value. Know your key customers, know your core competency and be prepared to make difficult decisions to avoid deviating from what you’re really good at.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
There are a few things I wish I’d known at the start...hindsight is a wonderful thing. I now really appreciate the role that building a positive culture has on the performance of a business, we place a lot more focus on this now than we did in the earlier years. We also try and create a culture that encourages people to look after their own physical and mental health, and provide initiatives that help with this.
As I mentioned earlier, hiring on emotional intelligence above all else is now central to how we find great people - something that we continuously try and do, even if we don’t have positions to fill. Finally, it’s about thinking big, and having a big, bold vision and mission as a company - then being able to clearly articulate this to the rest of the business and the market. Orlo was built to help brands use the power of emotion to build amazing online experiences and relationships with their customers - we believe in this mission passionately and are so excited to see so many brands joining us on this journey together.
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