Interview with Ryan Hollenbeck, SVP of Global Marketing, Verint
In regards to AI, our ROI is well-proven. In fact, we’ve found that digital agents outperform human agents.
Know My Company
Tell us about your journey into Technology Marketing? What made you join Verint Systems?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. My dad was a General Electric engineer whose idea of a fun father-son project was installing stereo systems in our cars, so technology has always been part of my life. The marketing side fascinates me because it’s the essential driver that moves innovation out to the world. I love it. Since college graduation, when I took my first job at Prentice Hall Professional Software in Atlanta, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
From Prentice Hall, I joined Crescent Communications, one of the agency-pioneers in technology marketing, and then Dun & Bradstreet Software, from which a core team of professionals whom I highly respected asked me to join a start-up. The start-up was Witness Systems, a company that Verint acquired over 10 years ago.
From the get-go with Verint, I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be. Everything fit my vision of a growing, market-leading, energized company with unlimited possibilities. I continue to be awed by the dynamic talent, diversity, and spirit of the team here. Our customers are an ongoing source of inspiration for me, too.
Define your ‘Ideal Customer’ profile? What customers are best suited to benefit from your products?
Many of our customers are large enterprises that are beginning to realize the necessity and value of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation and what it can bring to their businesses. There has been an important shift in the market mindset over the past few years around AI. In the past, those interested in the kind of AI solutions that we build were either very forward-thinking organizations or were just testing the AI waters. Now, however, almost every organization across every industry is seeing the benefit of AI.
More importantly, each of these organizations is beginning to see actual ROI. Rather than AI relegated to a feature of R&D, we’re seeing AI drive real revenue for businesses. Now, because of this, organizations around the world are coming to us and implementing our solutions to help simplify, modernize and automate their customer engagement initiatives.
What are the core tenets of your business strategy focusing on the AI-tech industry?
Hype and confusion have really muddled the AI market, which is why our core value has always been to provide real ROI to our customers through integrity, innovation, transparency, humility, and passion.
You can see these principles enacted in the automation we’ve provided to contact centers, which have now become the frontlines of global customer relationships. As we don’t believe in AI for AI’s sake, the digital agents we’ve created always push concrete business growth. Any AI strategy we implement is tied to core business strategies.
What are your predictions for the AI market in 2018?
AI is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. In fact, our company conducted a 2018 global consumer study of more than 36,000 consumers in 18 countries, and in doing so hit on this very topic.
Our research explored how technology, societal trends and customer preferences will shape customer engagement in the years to come—and imparted some advice for engaging the discerning customer and striking the balance in human and automation service experiences.
Results showed that while technology will continue to influence how customers engage with organizations, more than three-quarters of respondents (76%) said they want human contact to remain part of customer service. Yet, nearly two-thirds (63%) stated that they are happy to be served by a chatbot if they have the option to escalate the conversation to a human when needed. And 41% said they could not tell the difference between being served by a chatbot and being helped by a human behind a screen.
To excel, organizations will need to ensure they have the right mix of digital and human engagement options to offer speed, convenience, and the personal touch. It’s a definite balance.
In 2018-2020, what are the biggest challenges for brand management platforms? How could AI/ML technology solve these challenges?
Brand management platforms are, of course, always looking to ensure consistency in brand voice and brand values, which in turn equates to better customer engagement. Here, I think AI is a huge asset. However, not all AI platforms are created equally. It’s not simply plug-and-play. You want your digital agents to represent the best of your human agents, and you want data to be shared consistently and securely to ensure you reap all the benefits of comprehensive AI. Finding that right technological fit will be the biggest challenge for organizations.
The good news is, once implemented, AI/ML makes it so much easier to ensure you’re getting the complete value of a platform.
How do you build new methods of behavioral data science applied to your brand management models?
Whereas in the past we saw natural language processing (NLP) as the biggest challenge, that technology has improved so rapidly over the past few years that the focus of the platform is now on achieving quality customer experiences through a platform.
To this end, it’s all about deeper intent. Since our technologies have been deployed in organizations for nearly 25 years, they leverage a library of more business intents than any other brand management platform out there. The reason this is so crucial to our customers’ success is that this knowledge pushes digital platforms from being merely transactional to being able to provide real value to the customer—actually performing worthwhile actions for them.
Since our solutions can understand a customer’s intent, they can read between the lines of what is being asked to understand what a person is actually asking. Essentially, our models have become even more conversational and agile, which I think we will see reflected in trends industry-wide.
How do you make AI deliver economic benefits as well as social goodwill?
In regards to AI, our ROI is well-proven. In fact, we’ve found that digital agents outperform human agents.
There are many reasons this is the case, but for starters, digital agents simply ask the questions and follow the scripts that they’re supposed to. In contrast, human agents often deviate, introducing more variables into each interaction. By automating the process, AI ensures consistent customer experiences—which is what people want—and shows how automation extends beyond economic benefit into goodwill.
What is your vision in making AI technology more accessible to local marketing communities and agencies? Do you provide any teaching or learning programs to marketing technology teams?
We’re deeply invested in this technology to make it accessible, well understood, and beneficial not only locally but globally.
After all, we believe it’s imperative that the future workforce understands how AI technologies work because they will be driving the future of the economy. To that end, it’s in our best interest to remove these technologies from the black box they’ve been placed in. We want them to instead be as open and accessible as possible to train and drive the next generation of innovation and the next generation workforce.
The Crystal Gaze
What AI start-ups and labs are you keenly following?
We’ve been following the AI startup market very closely for the past decade. In that time, we have seen a number of promising young companies launch and quickly exit to major organizations. Right now, the market is in a heavy consolidation phase, and AI has become trendy. However, at Verint, we look beyond the trends. We’re not interested in just the latest, hottest thing, but instead, are excited by companies that have proven ROI and are putting their technology to work.
For example, we recently acquired Next IT, a mature enterprise AI platform based in the Pacific Northwest. Its technology is exceptional and proven, which is why it is an AI developer that will truly drive the future of enterprise AI.
As an AI leader, what industries do you think would be fastest to adopting AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for AI technology markets?
Any industry that is data and analysis driven should be on the forefront of adopting AI/ML—that’s the sweet spot for it. However, since I believe in staying especially focused on business-driven ROI, a lot of our attention has been on automation. With that in mind, the industries that will be fastest to adopt will be those that can most easily be automated, which is why we’ve seen the strongest foothold in contact centers and customer service. If you look to these deployments, you’ll see the success of honing in on organizations with lots of data and analysis work to be done.
Obviously, a focus on data goes across industries, but overall machine learning will have the most value for organizations that need to understand the patterns within disparate data that human analysis wouldn’t necessarily see.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I have an early morning routine that energizes me each day and keeps me productive. I spend the morning outside with my dog to consider the day and all the amazing things we’re doing at Verint and what’s ahead of me. I connect with people when ideas are fresh, calling teammates in the morning and on coffee breaks. Energy is contagious. I also am committed to being out visiting our customers.
If I’m in Sydney for a meeting, for example, I’ll schedule get-togethers with other customers in the area. It keeps me engaged and efficient while I’m on-the-road. I have always loved the scene in the Indiana Jones movie where Indiana says to a student, “If you want to be an archeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” That’s a mantra for me. It applies to business and just about every other aspect of life.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Internal to Verint, I’d love hearing from Tracy Malingo, president of Next IT, which Verint acquired recently. With 10 years at that company, she is smart, credible, personable, dynamic and knows what she’s talking about in the market. Because I’m the executive sponsor of our CX program, I appreciate the great relationships she builds with customers.
Thank you, Ryan! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.
Ryan Hollenbeck has served as the Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Verint Systems since 2008. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President of Marketing for Verint Witness Actionable Solutions. Before joining Verint Systems, he was with Witness Systems and held various positions rising to Vice President for Corporate Marketing and Investor Relations. Earlier in his career, he held management and leadership positions with Dun & Bradstreet Software, Prentice Hall Professional Software, and Crescent Communications (now Ketchum Worldwide).
Hollenbeck graduated with a BS in Technical Journalism with a minor in Economics from Oregon State University.
Verint Systems Inc. is a global leader in Actionable Intelligence® solutions. Actionable Intelligence is a necessity in a dynamic world of massive information growth because it empowers organizations with crucial insights and enables decision makers to anticipate, respond, and take action. With Verint solutions and value added services, organizations of all sizes and across many industries can make more informed, timely, and effective decisions.