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AiThority Interview with Will Hayes, CEO at Lucidworks

Tell us about your role and the team you handle at Lucidworks. How did you arrive here?

I have been at Lucidworks for about eight years. My background is in software engineering with an emphasis on analytics and distributed computing. I was brought in to Lucidworks by the board to lead the company through a transition from an open source support and services company to delivering proprietary search and AI solutions. We have a team of around 250 employees that are distributed across the country and the world.

Back in 2005, pre-Lucidworks, I was a part of the founding team at Splunk. I spent eight years there leading the efforts around technology integrations, ecosystem development and go-to-market expansion. Prior to that I worked as a software engineer at Genentech and built solutions that supported the sales and drug development teams in their field activities.

How has your role as a CEO evolved in the pandemic months? How did the easy accessibility to technology stacks help you overcome various challenges?

The months of the pandemic introduced a whole new set of challenges for our customers and employees. We’ve all been working to solve this problem: how to connect with others when in-person isn’t an option.

Companies struggle to deliver that “you-know-me” experience to longtime customers and new digital shoppers. (There’s recent Forrester data that proves this.) The key to overcoming these hurdles is connecting insights across the organization, including insights around how your customers shop, how your employees rely on your knowledgebase to make decisions, and how your customer service agents resolve issues.

This challenge is actually one we’ve anticipated for our customers for the past few years, and we built our roadmap accordingly. In the fall we announced the Connected Experience Cloud (CXC) which is a suite of products and solutions to help our customers create connections that drive operational efficiency, boost revenues, and create the necessary connective tissue to empower employees and delight customers. There are five attributes that underpin connected experiences: real-time omnichannel personalization, capturing signals, understanding intent, cross-channel delivery, and machine learning. CXC requires all of these attributes to work in concert to allow employees and customers to interact with each other using the full intelligence learned from all past interactions.

During the pandemic we also launched an add-on called Smart Answers to alleviate customer service teams. Support challenges facing customers increased dramatically with newly remote workforces. Smart Answers enhances chatbots and digital assistants to provide better answers to customers so they can self-solve, while relieving overburdened call centers.

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What has been Lucidworks greatest strength showcased in the recent months?

One of Lucidworks company values is “Champion Customers.” From customer success, to engineering, to product marketing, to finance, we have kept this value at the forefront during the pandemic. We had a clear understanding of what success looked like for our customers moving through the recent months and were able to adapt to meet their needs.

For example, despite the unpredictability of the past few months, some of our retail customers had record-breaking Black Friday and holiday shopping seasons. Also, our enterprise customers found more operational efficiency, even with remote workforces. We also hosted our first ever virtual annual event, Activate, and welcomed 1600 attendees and customers for an opportunity to connect and learn from one another as they experienced the ups and downs of the past year.

How have customer service and customer experience changed the face of Marketing and Sales? How does Lucidworks help customers deliver connected experiences?

It’s more challenging than ever to anticipate customer and employee needs. By breaking down the barriers between CX and EX, we can drive the type of digital transformation organizations need to succeed in the long-term.

For example, over the last year, our customer Lenovo saw purchase patterns vary by micro-regions, and the patterns shifted rapidly. Individual employees were making the types of purchases ordinarily made by businesses to supply their work-from-home office, meaning certain products were in high demand while others sat on the shelf. To complicate things further, these behavior changes weren’t consistent across the globe, or even across one country.

By relying on machine learning algorithms over the always-slightly-delayed human process of gathering data, studying and extracting behavior patterns, and then applying search rules, Lenovo was able to connect employees with valuable customer insights, quickly pivoting to meet customers’ changing needs and eliminating employee guesswork. A rising tide lifts all boats—better CX feeds better EX, which feeds better CX, and so on.

We’ve seen the positive impact of connected experiences time and again from our customers. For example, a leading retailer who relies on Lucidworks to deliver signals-based personalization saw a $10 million annual increase in revenue, a leading department store saw a 50% increase in conversions by capturing signals and applying insights in real time to optimize the shopper experience, and an enterprise data management firm saved over $5 million in costs after deploying signals-based personalization across multiple support channels.

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Which industries have been the fastest to adopt CX tools and why? How do you cater to the lagging industries, hoping to serve them as leaders?

Retailers have been the fastest to adopt CX tools. The game around price and convenience has already been won by marketplaces like Amazon and Google Shopping. Brands that are still thriving years later have managed to integrate their brand expertise with the customer experience.

For example, Lululemon offered in-store yoga classes (before going virtual) as an opportunity for customers to participate in an experience that connected them with the brand’s identity as an activewear company. Once COVID hit, Lululemon offered online shoppers a “digital concierge service” with the ability to book Zoom appointments where experts can give a more personalized customer experience to a shopper. Coupling brand identity with customer experience is a make or break for retailers, especially when we can’t go in-store.

A lot of people will point to legacy financial institutions as laggards in digital transformation. But that won’t last for long. Financial services companies are responding to apps, services, and start-ups that are offering similar services in a much more convenient, modern way.

CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies are also finding themselves playing catch-up and building direct-to-consumer strategies for the first time ever. Legacy companies like Gillette are being edged out by customer-first start-ups like Dollar Shave Club. It’s not just about logistics and supply chain management anymore; you have to prioritize that brand to consumer experience like never before.

We see brands coming to Lucidworks because they need to solve these types of challenges. CXC connects EX to CX in a unique way that’s data-driven from the top of the funnel through transaction and support. Brands need data to solve and respond to trends and that’s not easy to do without the right tools in place.

Tell us more about your AI ML initiatives.

When I hear AI, I think augmented intelligence, not artificial. AI-powered automation isn’t about replacing humans with robots. At Lucidworks we’re focused on AI and ML initiatives that augment the intelligence of the people that the solutions serve so they can focus on doing the type of work that keeps them engaged and adds value to the organization.

One of the technologies we’ve been developing is semantic vector search. We just released a new managed cloud service underpinned by this technology: Never Null uses powerful analysis and other advanced machine learning models to identify and rewrite low-performing queries. This gives merchandisers the ability to consistently deliver relevant results despite query misspelling and product variance. We want to get people back to the things that are most important to them. For merchandisers, writing rules to avoid a “No Results” page is not one of those things.

Another major initiative we’re focused on is the move to the cloud. In the past year alone, Lucidworks ARR for cloud-based solutions has almost doubled. Lucidworks has roots in enterprise search and many of our customers are heavily concentrated in industries that have been around for over a century, including healthcare and financial services. A lot of institutional information is still trapped behind in-person conversations that are now non-existent. Although these companies are historically on the later edge of new technology adoption, many have accelerated their migration plans from on-prem to the cloud. We have great partners including cloud platform provider GCP and cloud ops provider Pinecone that are helping us help our customers ease the transition to the cloud.

What kind of IT infrastructure does a company need to adopt your services and solutions? What kind of IT support/ integrations do you offer to customers?

We work with Global Fortune 2000 companies that have all different kinds of IT infrastructures. Additionally, Lucidworks connects to more than 100 data sources so employees can access information across their most beloved apps, including Google Drive, Salesforce, Slack, Zendesk, and more in just one search.

Right now we’re focused on supporting our customers in their migration to the cloud. We know that moving to the cloud can be incredibly disruptive. We pride ourselves on the ability to establish continuity of the experience even while infrastructure shifts from on-prem to the cloud. This platform consistency bridges cloud transformation challenges without disrupting the experience for our customers. Do not fear the cloud!

Your predictions on the future of Marketing in retail:

Leading with empathy is a big one. Although digital transformation has accelerated, the pandemic revealed opportunities to slow down and reflect on our priorities. Being able to delight customers and empower employees requires a deep understanding of their needs, preferences, and pain points. Digital-only interactions revealed that technology is not a substitute for human connection. Investing in technology that empowers us to lead with empathy is going to be hugely important moving forward.

On another note, there’s a concept that retail is ready to let go of: personalization. Personalization is dried up as a buzzword, it’s a siloed one-time thing that should be tablestakes at this point. Providing connected experiences and serving up real-time access to first-party data will be what powers not just marketing, but all of the interactions a customer has with a brand. For example, brands need to be able to recognize a customer when they go from email, to browsing, to purchasing. There’s no way to turn a long-time customer off faster than asking them if they’re a customer.

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Your advice to young marketers?

There are three things I’d tell young marketers to keep in mind. Number one is empathy. The line between work and personal lives is blurring as we enter our second year of remote work. Make space for personal lives impacting day-to-day operations.

Second, I would say transparency. We’ve lost some of the informal information exchange that we enjoyed in the office. Transparency has to be a conscious effort.

And last but not least, efficiency. Stay open to new ways of working. Maybe you’ll debunk some of the myths around what you thought you needed to get work done and influence a new generation of marketers.

Thank you, Will! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Will Hayes is the CEO of Lucidworks, the leader in AI-powered search. Hayes has over 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley leading product, marketing, and business development initiatives. Prior to Lucidworks, Hayes was head of technical business development for Splunk. He also created and led the company’s global partner program. Earlier in his career, Hayes served as a software engineer at Genentech, where he built solutions that supported the sales and drug development teams. For the past three years, Hayes has served as a member of YPO, a global leadership community of chief executives dedicated to improving lives, businesses, and the world. He has also been a partner to 10,000 Degrees, an organization that provides financial, emotional, and educational resources to Bay Area kids. He currently lives with his family in San Francisco, California, where Lucidworks is headquartered.

Lucidworks offers the Connected Experience Cloud (CXC) that captures user signals from every action and applies them to digital experiences everywhere. CXC combines the power of search and machine learning to personalize experiences that meet employees’ and customers’ unique intent. The world’s largest brands, including Lenovo, Red Hat, Reddit and Cisco Systems rely on Lucidworks’ suite of products to power product discovery, customer service, and knowledge management applications that delight customers and empower employees. Lucidworks’ investors include Francisco Partners, Sixth Street Partners, Top Tier Capital Partners, Shasta Ventures, Granite Ventures, and Walden International.

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