Podcast Episode 14

How AI is Reshaping Customer Engagement

Chris Hood, Founder, and CEO at Synsible AI, shares insights on reshaping customer engagement through AI on the AI Founders Podcast. With over three decades of experience, including six years at Google, Hood emphasizes the importance of understanding customers’ needs before implementing AI solutions. He warns against overreliance on AI, highlighting the need for a balanced approach to human-AI collaboration. Hood stresses the significance of measuring ROI based on customer impact and advocates for a scalable approach to AI implementation. Connect with Chris Hood on chrishood.com, where you can access his podcast, purchase his book “Customer Transformation,” and explore Synsible AI’s consulting and integration services in the AI space.

Chris Hood

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Ryan:  Welcome everyone to the AI founders podcast show. Our podcast is dedicated to celebrating the remarkable accomplishments of AI innovators, entrepreneurs, and visionary founders and the captivating stories behind the movements they’ve built. I’m your host, Ryan Davies, and I have the honor of hosting today’s episode on how AI is reshaping customer engagement with our special guest, Chris Hood. Chris, thank you so much for being here today. I’m really excited for this one.

Chris:  I appreciate it as well.

Ryan:   As you know, in our preamble leading up to this, I said, I think I could just do a podcast on the list of your accomplishments and all the amazing things you’ve done.Over three decades of experience as a strategist in business.

Advise more than 500 companies that have combined growth of over $26 billion worth of revenue there with unbelievable name brands that everyone recognizes, universal Doritos, Reebok, Columbia Pictures, NBC Domino’s, Intel, I could just go on and on and really, you know, his journey in the digital realm began long before it became a buzzword and became kind of the trendy thing to do. He’s also the voice behind the Chris Hood digital show and Googles that digital show that boasts over 4 million listeners worldwide on their podcast. So numbers, we’re striving striving to see here. I am indebted to have you here for sure. I greatly appreciate it.

I’m going to do anything I do I think is going to do a little bit of disservice to your background, but I’d love to have you colored up with a bit more on your background, your journey into the AI industry, and your have recently have founded synsible.com. So I’d love to get a little bit on that as well.

Chris Hood’s Background and Journey

Chris: Of course, I’ve got something in my throat to start with. You know, those are always good times. I appreciate the intro. I started, my first job was actually back in 1988 when I started working for a computer store in the local mall software. If you’re familiar with those. I was sitting in front of a computer back in 82, I believe, and I fell in love, but for me, it was a hobby. Computers were always just something that you did for fun because who had jobs in computers like that wasn’t really a thing. I remember one of the employees who worked at the software that I was at every break time. He would pull out this big book, and he would be thumbing through the book, taking his break, and we would always give him a hard time. “Why do you keep reading that same old book all the time?” He says this book is going to be the future. We all laughed. We’re young. We’re giving him a hard time. Come to find out, the book that he was reading was a Yellow Pages at the time if you know what, the Yellow Pages were primarily phone numbers for businesses. This was the yellow pages of IP addresses that eventually became the .com that we know today, and a lot of times people say, if you could go back in time and change one thing, what would you tell your younger self? I always say by .coms. Read that yellow-page book, stop giving them a hard time, and read it yourself because it’s going to become the thing that we are all centered around today. But at that time, same time my passion was actually in the movies and I also worked at a movie theater. So I had two jobs, and while I was working at the movie theater, I was getting into marketing, I was getting into a lot of things around customer success and customer strategies, and customer experience, and I write in my book, the whole intro about the movie theater and what I thought about customer experience at that time and where we are today and then when I got to college, I was presented with the challenge, what do you want to do when you want to grow up? What do you want to be when you grow up? And so obviously, there is the movie side, and there is the computer side, and I picked the obvious choice that any kid at my age would pick. Let’s go to the movies. So I went into entertainment, and over the course of several years, I spent a lot of time in the entertainment field, but what became really interesting when the .com industry absolutely did become a reality was that I saw that there was this bridge, this gap that needed to be filled, that websites were really just another form of entertainment. We needed to attract people to see what we were all about, engage with them, tell stories, and make it interactive. The business side didn’t really understand how to communicate with the technology side, and the technology side really didn’t know how to communicate with the business side. So I filled in that gap, I acted as a translator, and that is what actually kind of halted me to where I am today because all of the stuff that I did was basically translating business and technology together to create entertainment platforms for people like us. Then we get to today. I spent six years at Google working with our customers and helping these large companies better define how they are going to engage with their consumers and how to present wonderful messages that we all strive and crave when we engage with the brands that we are loyal to, and there I am. That’s probably a longer story than you wanted, but that’s the insight into how I got to where I am today.

Ryan: I love it. You’ve literally written the book on customer transformation. you have customer transformation, a seven-stage strategy for customer alignment and business value. You’re the person that we really could get so much from. We’re talking about the role of AI and customer relations. We’re talking about how it’s reshaping customer engagement and, as you said, 35-plus years here going through it. How AI has been used to bridge that gap between companies and customers and kind of the opportunities that it presents.

AI Challenges and Human-AI Collaboration

Chris: I think one of the biggest challenges that AI has is that most people out there believe that AI is going to solve everything, and the reality is that it’s not. You still have to have a foundation, you still have to have a brand, you have to have the message, and you have to understand what your customers want. Can you leverage AI to better understand what your customers want? Absolutely. But if you’re thinking, hey, let’s just implement AI and replace certain aspects of our organization and automate that, it might actually have a negative effect. There was a company in India where the CEO laid off 90% of his customer support team and replaced them with AI and his argument was, well, AI is faster, AI is more accurate. Yes, but AI doesn’t have all the answers because it has to understand the context, and AI can’t interpret that context. So my argument is over time, you’re going to have to start rehiring some of those customer support agents because they’re not going to the AI is not going to be able to fulfill all of the answers, and your customers are ultimately going to get annoyed and start to leave your company. So, in my book, Customer Transformation, I actually put together this concept of how to balance that, and you have to figure out what works for you. There is a level of automation but at the risk of losing customer value. And so where in that middle section is the sweet spot for your organization to say this is enough AI for automation purposes or insights or personalization, but not too much that we begin to lose customers because of it.

Ryan: I love that. I’d love to kind of drill down on that a little bit more because I think you mentioned that human-AI collaboration is really what the key is going to be, right? We’ve talked about numerous episodes. I mean, it’s an AI thing, right? Oh, AI is coming to replace us, and you just talked about those massive pitfalls that can happen from that. How does human oversight really play into this space to ensure those positive outcomes and not necessarily for AI to be that replacement value like you just mentioned?

Implementing AI for Customer Interaction 

Chris: I think human oversight is one facet of this. I think human understanding of what AI is is the bigger piece. I blame the media for this, right? We all believe in terminators coming, and we’re going to get our butts handed to us, and our jobs are going to be replaced, right? The media has overly hyped or sensationalized what AI is. The reality is AI is nowhere near what we believe it is. And I think actually a lot of your listeners are probably even people who are actively involved with AI may have this perception about what AI is today, but our perception is wrong. Our perception of how AI is influenced by the media is probably at least another 10 years away. We’re nowhere close to being able to achieve the things that we think AI can do, and so if we can solve that perception of AI, then how we control, manage, and implement AI within our organizations becomes a little easier because now we know what AI is and what it isn’t, it’s no different than if you were to go and place a job, you know, online and get some resumes in. You know what the job is You’ve got a job description. You know what that individual should be able to do. You know what you want them to do in your organization. You hire somebody, and you expect that they will do that job right now. We’re going and hiring a bunch of AI stuff to come in and do stuff that it can’t do within anticipations of things that are completely unrealistic and then wondering what’s going on. I’ll add one more thing before you probably ask this. I’m going to jump ahead, and that is, I hate to say this, but a lot of AI founders who are out there building AI products are probably going to fail. They’re probably going to fail because they don’t understand the premise of what it’s actually doing. And so they’re trying to build these, you know, a lot of people are getting on the bandwagon. How many AI founders out there lost their minds when they heard Sam Altman was being let go from Open AI, and all of a sudden, open AI was in question? What if Open AI literally fell off the face of the earth today? You know, thousands of start-ups would go out of business, and there, I think what you have to look at is that if you are relying heavily on a technology that is still somewhat volatile, you’re probably in the wrong position.

Ryan: That’s a really great point. We’ve seen that a lot lately, whether it’s the stock market or then into crypto or now into the, where people overleverage. Ok, well, this is where it’s all going, and if the rug gets pulled or something gets shut down, there’s nowhere to go. There’s no failover. There’s no fallback, and things like that, and I think that, as you said, that goes on to an over-reliance for part of things, and then I think one of the big things also when we’re talking about AI founders and that I hear a lot and that I really want to get some expertise from you on is around, you know, understanding needs right? And I think a lot of people, as you mentioned, they spin up these, they start-up companies and they’ve got an idea, but maybe they don’t know their customer for it, they don’t understand their audience for it, things like that. Or even when they do larger businesses that are going, they really don’t understand a lot of how, I guess, the evolving needs and the expectations of their customers and how AI should play a part in that, and they make more assumptions than they do collect the information, right? So I’d love to in your experience how AI technologies are helping businesses kind of understand these interactions, understanding these evolving needs and the expectations and kind of the role of that place.

Chris: It’s a great point because what we are seeing is that in the industry in general, the consumer base in general, we see that the hype train of AI is starting to decline a little bit that the understanding and the interest in committing to AI although is there and obviously there’s a lot of founders and venture capitalists that are looking at it but in general, we see the slope is going down, and we’re balancing this out just a little bit but we are also seeing that consumers just don’t care quite frankly, they just don’t care. I was having a meeting with a CEO and a founder a couple of months ago, and the founder said we’re spending some money, and we’re investing in AI, and we’ve got this really great thing, and we’re going to implement AI, and it’s great, we a lot of investment and time into this new AI product and I asked the simple question, why they couldn’t answer the question. Now, they couldn’t answer it because they didn’t understand what they were trying to do. They had an idea, and they said, well, look, this is going to be for onboarding, and as people come to the website, they’re going to be presented with something like a chatbot, and it’s going to be very realistic, and its state of the art spared no expense. So, I said do your customers care? Like you’re doing all this because you want to but do your customers even care, and they’re like, well, yeah, it’s going to make things easier. Who is it going to make things easier on? Is it going to make things easier on you as a business or on your customers? Because if it says you, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. If you’re saying it’s for the customers, then ok. When you start to say, oh, we’re going to create a chatbot, and there’s going to be these opportunities so that if the consumer answers one way, we’re going to present a secondary option and go, you can do that with basic forms today. Mailchimp can do that. You don’t need AI to do that, right? So it’s these elements where you have to understand what you’re doing first and foremost, who you’re doing it for. I’ve also said AI has been around for 20 years. We have all used AI, and you don’t even realize it. Anytime you’ve gone to shop or to order a Starbucks, you’ve used AI. If you’ve gone to McDonald’s and used their McDonald’s app, you’ve used AI. If you use any type of spell checker or grammar checker in your writing programs, you’ve used AI. This is not a new concept, but all of those concepts are beneficial to the customer, and they’re not being plastered with a label that says powered by AI. We don’t care if it’s powered by AI because, as consumers, we simply want to achieve whatever it is we want to achieve. If I want Starbucks, I want to log into my app, order my cappuccino, go pick it up and have it. I don’t want to have to go through these, you know, questions and answers that are irrelevant just to figure out, you know, what I actually want, and that I think is the premise here is to really recognize what your consumers want, deliver on that and then figure out what the technology is behind the scenes to make it happen.

Ryan: I think implementing it, as you said first, it’s the reason it’s understanding your customer and what the benefit is going to be for, what’s in it for them really, and that sort of a side of things, but when we’re talking about implementing and you just kind of mentioned AI and the customer interactions, it comes with a lot of challenges. What advice do you have for business founders who are looking to kind of overcome these challenges? I love the word, you know, how do I do this seamlessly? There’s always going to be something that you’re going to have to iron out a little bit, right? What advice do you have for founders who are looking to sort of get through these challenges and, get the most out of what AI can do for them and for their customers?

Chris: I’ll still go back to understand what your customers want first. You do not make technology decisions because you want to make technology decisions. Oh, Shiny new object. I’m going to invest a lot of time, money, and energy into this, and it has no direct correlation to a customer value proposition. If you understand what the customer wants, then you figure out how to build that. And then, if you figure out how to build that needs AI, you start to implement AI to build that. So, a lot of companies out there are implementing AI in air quotes. It’s because you’re thinking, well, I’ve got this access to generative AI, so I’m going to help marketers better. I’m going to help, you know, whatever, fill in the blank better. So are 1000 other companies, right? So, if you have a legitimate product, and I’m going to use legitimate loosely as well, if you have a legitimate AI product that you are trying to figure out how to help solve a particular customer problem. Starting with the customer working backward, then you have to start to think, well, how am I going to do this so that it secures my future? We just talked about you. You’re using technologies that have no lifespan. Technically, it is constantly changing. So, you have to be aware of where your technical debt is coming into play, what you want to invest in, and what you don’t want to invest in. How does it serve your customers? You can leverage AI to help you with a lot of strategic things that have nothing to do with a product for AI, and I think there’s a big difference there. We talk about automation and integration, and being able to secure is another great example. You can implement AI to help you automate and get to market faster. Why do you want to get to market faster to help fulfill the needs of your customers? Right?

Just if we’re talking about the difference in look, this product takes me seven days to implement a new update, but now I can get it down to one hour with AI, which benefits your customer. So think about it like this: if you can bring in AI to improve privacy, increase security, and ensure that your customer data is protected. Great, do that because there’s a direct relationship back to what the consumer gets out of it. It doesn’t always have to be an AI product. It has to be a functionality, feature set experience that is going to make your customer happy.

Measuring ROI in AI Initiatives

I think another big question that is around for anybody who’s considering implementing AI, as you said, or whatever solution that makes the most sense for them, is how do I measure ROI, how do I determine a return on investment in this, and ensure that these initiatives are contributing to the success of my business? I think for you is that I would assume not strictly monetary necessarily, but also, you know, are you attaching it to a KPI or is there some sort of an indicator in how, how do you measure it? I’m sure you’ve got some good insight and coaching from that perspective as well for people.

Chris:Yeah, It’s funny because I’ll still always go back to the customer, right? Look at it like this. If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have profits. If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a need for the technology, etc. The customer drives everything. Your KPIs, your OKRs, and any type of metric that you’re gauging have to go back ultimately to how it is impacting our customers because customers are going to drive your business, and so even from an implementation perspective, I’ve implemented X now X could be AI, it could be some other technology. I’ve implemented AI. Is that driving business? Is it increasing sales? Is it making customers more satisfied? Is it whatever the case might be? If you understand that your starting point is always customers and then you work your way inward to the organization, any change you make, that could be I hire somebody when you hire that person. If you brought on an additional headcount, did it help you reach the market faster? Did it help you improve customer satisfaction? Did it help you fill in the blanks with the customer again? if you brought in technology. This new technology has decreased our ability to get to market by 10%, thus helped us get more customers on board faster, right? You always have to make that correlation back to the customer. If you don’t, if it’s simply like we’ve implemented tech, we’ve implemented AI, and it has helped us something by 10%. So then what I mean is you can have internal KPIs and internal metrics and internal OKRs, but they should always still ultimately drive the business forward, and that’s, I think, the challenge for a lot of companies to really think about it from that lens.

Scalable Approach to AI

Ryan: I totally agree. I mean, it’s just so critically important again. You have to take a few blinders off or whatever it is and understand to look beyond what you see and try and get some good ideas around that when we’re talking about bringing this in again, sort of a couple of final things here as we’re wrapping up but for founders for small business media, even small, medium enterprise, whatever it is, you know, I think you have to have a scalable approach to this, right? This isn’t an all-or-nothing sort of plan, right? So what kind of considerations do you think should be taken into account and when you were talking about this, how do you measure where you’re at and where you want to go, sort of sense of things?

Chris:  Actually, I think AI is one area that can help you scale. So if you think about even regionally, if you have an app and you want to expand that app regionally and you’re distributing it throughout the cloud, you can automate where to spin up instances of your application in different regions based on access to those regions and again, AI can help you with that same thing with security, AI can help you really monitor threats and proactively counterbalance some of that. So, AI can be a big enabler of scale. AI is not going to necessarily replace the human element. You’re not going to say, hey, we need a marketing agent. Let’s go hire an AI agent to satisfy our marketing needs; it just doesn’t work that way. What AI can do interesting enough, especially from generative AI, is provide you with some insights or thought process brainstorming about what you can also accomplish. If you’ve ever sat down with Chat GPT, just ask it questions like I’m at this place. I want to get to this place. How might I do that and get some ideas right? Again, really, all this is a learning tool. It’s an educational opportunity. Instead of you going and doing all the research yourself, streamline that and allow Chat GPT to help you with the research, and that’s what it’s good for, and then take that, you know, there’s a lot of methodologies out there for scale or process improvement. You look at your time. Hey, it takes us ten days to do this. We want to get it down to nine days. What can we do? We want to get it down to eight days. Down to 7654321, whatever. Can we get it down to one day? Yes. How can AI help you solve those problems and help you think creatively and also bring in maybe an unbiased opinion in that process because too often leaders say, “Well, I think I know what we need to do. Oh, this is my idea. I’m going to do it.” Well, let the AI counterbalance that with some other concepts that might be able to help you achieve the goals you have.

Ryan: I think that’s perfect. We’ve talked about a lot the importance of it, the strategy behind it, the scalability to it, how to get started into this, but before we go, I mean, you’ve got so much to offer here, and again, I’d love to learn a little bit more about again, your podcast shows to share with our audience, your book, and Synsible as well for our audience to be able to connect with you in multiple different ways here. That would be great

Connecting with Chris Hood and Synsible

Chris:  The best place to get in touch with me is on my website at chrishood.com. On that website, you’ll find my podcast links to buy my book Customer Transformation, and all of my social media profiles. So you can reach out and connect to me there. From Synsible perspective. Sensible AI or synsible.com. We are a start-up in the AI space, mostly doing AI consulting and integration. So if you have a company that is interested in getting into the AI space, we can help you achieve that and direct you and give you some advice on where to go and how to do it, or we can actually help integrate some of the tools that you currently have with AI or even build new AI systems if that’s what you want. So, the best place is chrishood.com and feel free to reach out anytime there we go.

Ryan:  I mean, definitely, I think we’re going to have some people reaching out there for sure. It is a literal one-stop shop that page for everything we’re looking for to get to the podcast, to get to the book, to get connected to you, to get more information. Chris, I cannot thank you enough for being here today. I really appreciate it. Our audience appreciates it very much, and I’m hoping we can have you back again to continue on this journey. We literally scratched the surface. I think AI is, right? Everything is just that. I feel like it’s that 1% mark right now, right? So, I thank you very much for your time and for sharing your wisdom and stories with our audience today.

Chris:  Absolutely fun conversation.Loved it.

Ryan: Thank you, everybody, for joining us on this enlightening journey through AI innovation. Hope you’ve been inspired by the incredible stories shared today. And remember, the future is driven by pioneers, like our guest, Chris Hood, with the limitless possibilities of AI, so stay curious and innovative, and keep exploring the boundless horizons of technology. Before we sign off, I have a small request, as usual, for our dedicated listeners: if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and I’m sure this episode, you definitely have. Please take a moment, leave a review, subscribe, and share it with your friends and family. Your feedback and support are what help us bring more amazing content and incredible guests like Chris Hood to be able to, for you to tap into his wisdom. So until next time, this is Ryan Davies signing off, take care everybody.

About Our Host and Guest

Director of Marketing – Ekwa.Tech & Ekwa Marketing
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Founder and CEO at Synsible AI
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“If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have profits. If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a need for the technology. The customer drives everything”

– Chris Hood –