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Smoke Customer Care Solutions: Andrew Cook

Customer experience management entrepreneur helps companies retain customers, find new ones, and sell more so they can grow profit.

Monique Verduyn

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Andrew-Cook

It was a burst water pipe that got Andrew Cook thinking about customer experience and how businesses need to listen to the actual voice of the customer if they want to ensure customer satisfaction every time there is any interaction.

“I spent more than an hour-and-a-half at Rand Water Board to sort out the problem, and when I asked if I could give feedback on my experience to the supervisor, I was told that I was not allowed to speak to anyone. It was ludicrous.”

An accountant at KPMG at the time, Cook had always had entrepreneurial flair and had run several small business projects on the side. “I was never a good corporate animal, and I always knew that I would one day get into my own business.

I prepared myself for that by working in as many different departments as I could at KPMG – from marketing to operations and more. For me, it was more about having my own company than it was about any particular product or service.”

That’s why he did some investigating after the water pipe saga. He spoke to a few IT programmers and work began on the development of a post-call Interactive Voice Response (IVR) survey solution which enables organisations to continuously monitor the level of service being delivered in their call centre.

And so the software solution Eyerys was born, funded by Cook’s bond and credit cards. The solution makes it possible for companies to listen to customers at every touch point, and tie the feedback back to a specific interaction, customer and staff member.

“By making it easy for customers to give feedback, companies get valuable information that empowers them to improve their service levels,” says Cook.

Staying focused

Developing the software was one thing. Cook resigned from his job at the end of 2008 and started taking on some high-paying consulting work to help fund the business. “I got a lot of work as a CA and I was able to employ a few people, but I soon realised that it was impossible to consult and run a successful business.

To get Smoke Customer Care Solutions properly off the ground, I had to focus on it 100%.”But as soon as he stopped taking on work, cash flow became an issue as the business was not generating enough income. Consequently, Cook started making about 60 cold calls a day to bring in sales.

Building relationships

One of the companies that agreed to meet with him was Indwe Risk Services. “I presented to the board and although they could see I had a fledgling business, they believed in me. They saw the potential of the software and could see the benefits.

I worked hard to make sure it delivered and that their trust paid off. That was our first major client. Next, we managed to secure Glenrand MIB, ADT and Mutual and Federal.”

The benefits of being early to market

About two years ago, the customer experience management industry started to take the world by storm and more and more companies were paying attention to what customers were saying. “With products having become commoditised, it’s customer service that provides the differentiator in today’s world,” he says.

“That’s when I knew we were on the right track. About a year ago, we started noticing massive growth in the demand for customer experience management solutions in South Africa too. We now employ ten people and conduct surveys with millions of consumers every month.”

Cook says he believes that his business has the lion’s share of the South African market when it comes to automated customer experience management. “Our growth has been exponential. In the last two years we have grown at a rate of 12% per month.”

People with the right approach

Looking back, Cook says hindsight and experience have taught him that it’s important to employ people who are self-starters and empowered to make decisions without needing to be mollycoddled. “In the beginning I focused on employing people with the right skills, but I have learnt that attitude is more important, especially in a small business. If you employ five people and one of them is not pulling their weight, it can have a big impact.”

Broadening the offering

Following the success of the call centre IVR surveys, Smoke Customer Care Solutions developed a further seven channels through which companies can gain insight into how their customers are feeling: distributed email surveys, two-way SMS surveys, trigger based USSD surveys (in countries with GSM networks), social media surveys, scripted agent surveys (field and call centre), computer assisted telephonic interviews and computer assisted personal interviews.

“Eyerys now collects feedback from customers via multiple channels. This means our clients get to hear the voice of their customer at every interaction, no matter how that customer chooses to communicate. It was key to the growth of the business for us to provide the whole range of additional channels so that people can be surveyed at every point, whether that interaction takes place at the call centre or via Facebook. We realised that standalone tools were cumbersome for our clients, which is why we focused on developing one system which collects information from all sources and integrates it.”

A competitive landscape

With the competition growing, Cook has his work cut out for him. However, he points to the fact that Eyerys is locally developed and supported, unlike many overseas products which are being introduced to the market. “Our onsite development team is able to rapidly roll out tailor-made solutions, and because we understand the local market so well, we can predict what trends are developing more accurately.”

Cook and his team are now targeting the banking and insurance industries, cellular network providers and the retail environment. “Switching service providers has become incredibly easy. At the same time, marketing budgets are tight and companies cannot afford to spend more on recruiting new customers. The best way to ensure business growth is to plug the bad service holes through which customers are lost, and actually get them to start referring others to your organisation. That’s what we’re helping organisations to do.”

Business advice

Here’s what you can learn from Andrew Cook’s experiences:

  1. Always keep your eye out for a new opportunity, even if you’re really busy. Although Cook was employed, his goal was to run his own business. He achieved that by engaging with the world around him and watching trends.
  2. Innovation can bring you through tough times. Although Cook had to work long hours to fund the business himself, the payoff was that by bringing a new and unique solution to the local market before his competitors did, his company has built significant market share.
  3. No matter how successful you are, keep growing and don’t get complacent. Despite having developed a very successful solution, Cook has focused on international trends and ensured that his company’s product line has grown and diversified.
  4. Don’t be content with a little success. Instead, use it as a launch pad to the next level. Cook has grown the business and is looking to expand into different market segments and other countries.
  5. You’ll be more successful if you can win customers’ trust. Cook secured his first customers because he took the time to build a relationship of trust with them, so that they felt the risk was shared.

Vital stats

Player: Andrew Cook

Company: Smoke Customer Care Solutions

Launched: 2007

Contact: +27 (0)11 462 9881

smokeccs.com

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Joel Stransky Shares His Insights On What Makes A Great Leader

Enter Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent.

Dirk Coetsee

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joel-stransky

Posters displayed on companies’ walls representing the business’ Vision and value system are a common occurrence. A general value that numerous companies share is to be client centred and to provide excellent service. Yet, unfortunately a proportion of companies do not live according to their values as tools to actualize their collective Vision.

An observant individual would take only a few seconds to notice that the Leadership group at Pivotal has gone to great lengths to establish a definitive and value driven culture as well as a motivating climate for their team members. As I waited in the reception area I was met with smiles from several people passing by and there was generally no way to assess what their position was as they were all casually dressed, friendly and approachable.

Related: 5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Rugby

Enters Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent, is the use of Augmented Intelligence and data analytics within the “human capital space”.  The application of AI and data makes talent acquisition and career guidance much less of an enigma and challenge as opposed to the recent past where traditional talent acquisition and career guidance methods became less and less successful and more and more time consuming.

The “pivot” of the 1995 Victorious Springbok world cup team shared that he always starts off an employee-employer relationship with the assumption of mutual trust and respect. He believes that once you have put in the sincere effort to understand people better, bigger belief in them is a natural result.

“The greatest asset in business is people,” Joel passionately explained and added that it is possible for a brilliant product to fail in the long run when the wrong people are employed.

pivotal-group

“Hiring the right people that would not only help sustain the current culture but add more value to it is critical to any team or companies’ sustainable success,” Joel explained. The Millennial generation think differently and have different expectations from a working environment, therefore it is a critical factor for any manager and/or Leader to understand what drives the emerging generation and also how to manage the polarity of generational gaps.

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

As a result of diversity and generational gaps Leadership and management has become a fascinating space to operate within South-Africa as not only cultural and language barriers might offer a challenging HR environment, the millennial generations unique behaviours amplify the need for useful adaptations within all spheres of work.

As a practical example, employee X is twenty-three years old. Some of the key questions that management needs to figure out, that is if they sincerely want the best for, and the best out of employee X, are:

  • Is X motivated by monetary rewards and/ or does she/he need a regular hug to feel part of and add to the company culture?
  • Does X need to interact with management socially for example be taken out do dinner?
  • What skills does X have or lack that impacts his/her performance?
  • It is impossible to motivate someone else. In what way can I create an environment for X wherein he/she can motivate himself/herself and excel?

How you satisfy Xs’ needs and manage all related factors to his or her needs has become critical success factors in how we as leader’s approach career development in general.

Reflecting on the development of his own sports and business career, as well as his family life Joel is adamant that whatever drives you in sport also drives you in business and within your family life. Whatever he has achieved within all aspects of his life came as a result of setting goals and making those goals a reality.

Both in sports and in the business world within South Africa there is a general tendency towards over structured management and coaching. Although a structure and daily management is an integral part of business and sports, a paradigm shift towards inspirational Leadership that empowers other leaders to succeed is key in terms of serving others and creating a motivating and sustainable environment within which all team members can thrive.

Reflecting on Joels’ observation: “Our countries’ value chain is broken” the moment has most certainly arrived within which more and more value driven and ethical Leaders, emerging from all generations must arise and collectively work towards an improved future.

Critical to the actualisation of a collective future vision is the development of Leadership skills therefore one of the keen interests of the author is to recognise and learn from other Leaders’ character traits. Joel’s’ highly effective communication skills underpinned by the core people skill of active listening quickly came to the fore as he could quote part of my question and comments in each of the very insightful answers that he provided. His keen willingness to innovate and to create inspiring working environments makes his enthusiasm and skill as a Leader tangible.

Let us all challenge ourselves to learn from prime Leadership examples offered by individuals such as  Joel Stransky and leave more and more Leaders behind for only in such a way can an inspiring future be built.

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Nhlanhla Dlamini Not Only Has Guts, But Grit – In Spades

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla Dlamini did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

Wits Business School

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It takes guts to venture into entrepreneurship. And when you’re in a ‘cushy’ job with a top global auditing firm who are grooming you for partnership, it takes even more guts.

Nhlanhla Dlamini not only has guts, but grit – in spades.

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

“I started thinking, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life?’”, recalls Nhlanhla. “I always felt a pressing need to get involved in lowering the unemployment rate in South Africa.  It’s a notoriously difficult space, but entrepreneurship is the real engine of job creation and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.”

When he left his job at McKinsey in March 2015, Nhlanhla decided to explore the agricultural sector – having no idea what product or what part of the value chain he would end up in. He spent until December that year exploring the agri-food sector, gaining as much understanding as he could about the entire industry by talking to famers, co-ops, agricultural associations and various other stakeholders.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

“I wanted to export products to the US and I looked at tree nuts, blueberries, dairy products or meat. Because of stringent FDA regulations, meat wasn’t an option – but a friend of mine from WBS days suggested meat in the form of pet food.”

And so Maneli Pets was born, and Nhlanhla moved his fledgling business into a factory, which he re-purposed for meat processing, in October 2016. By June 2017, he had started operations with 30 employees on board, and by September he had 50 employees.

Maneli Pets

What makes Maneli different from other US-bound pet food products in an already saturated market? The answer is high protein meat from animals that are unique to South Africa.

“I discovered a market for the off-cuts of meat  from specialist butcheries – so crocodile, warthog, ostrich etc,” Nhlanhla explains. “The result is a very high quality, high protein pet snack with a difference – and US pet owners are willing to pay for the best they can get.”

Under the brand name ‘Roam’, Maneli Pets products are exported to a pet food wholesaler in Boston, US, owned by the family of Nhlanhla’s former WBS classmate, who had planted the seed of the idea in the first place.  Nhlanhla is now preparing to launch the products under another brand name for distribution in South Africa and export to the EU.

But pet food is only the start. Maneli Pets is an offshoot of the Maneli Group, a diversified food company which is looking ooking to build further businesses in the green energy sector, while boosting black entrepreneurship.

According to a City Press report, South Africa has relatively few black-owned food production businesses, which is why government is actively promoting agro-processing and the manufacturing sector in general to spur economic growth.

Nhlanhla has worked tirelessly to secure government funding, and was thrilled to obtain R26 million from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Just last month, he received the news that Maneli Pets had been awarded grant funding of R12.5 million from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Black Industrialists Scheme (BIS).

Nhlanhla, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, considers his PDM at WBS a “superb” way of preparing a student for the real world of work. “The group dynamics was an essential learning experience in terms of delivering on a mandate with a group with entirely different skill sets.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Describing himself as a “passionate and active WBS alumnus”, Nlhanhla still stays in regular contact with a core group from his PDM class, proving that one of the enduring benefits of a PDM (and an MBA) is the opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people and form life-long friendships.

Apart from what he learnt in the Entrepreneurship Management module of the PDM, such as the pillars of entrepreneurship, macro trend support and financing an idea, Nhlanhla considers the keys to success are threefold: Recognising the value of a social network, tenacity – and just a little luck!

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See Will.i.am And Malcolm Gladwell Live In South Africa

The BCX Disrupt Summit has gathered some of the world’s most innovative and disruptive thinkers to guide you and your business into the future.

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See Will.i.am And Malcolm Gladwell Live In South Africa

As one of the largest technology players in South Africa, BCX embraces disruption. As an organisation, one of its primary focuses is to move its customers into the future, not just with products and services, but a shift in mindset as well.

What tools and ideas do we need to embrace today to be ahead of the curve tomorrow? With this in mind, BCX has partnered with BrainFarm to launch the inaugural BCX Disrupt Summit.

“The BCXDisrupt Summit is a platform for South African innovators and businesses to learn from and be inspired by some of the greatest examples of possibility in the world,” says Dean Carlson, founder and CEO of BrainFarm, the event organisers.

A gathering of minds

The BCXDisrupt Summit is bringing some of the world’s greatest minds together under one roof for two days. The speaker line-up includes will.i.am, Malcolm Gladwell, Rapelang Rabana and Nick Goldman and topics covered will range from where technology is heading, to how playing games can extend your life expectancy by up to ten years.

will.i.am

will.i.am

Seven-time Grammy award winning hip hop artist will.i.am is also a significant player in the tech and entrepreneurial space, as well as a philanthropist. He was a partner in Beats Electronics, which was sold to Apple for $3 billion in 2014. “When will.i.am was 16 years old, music was where it was at,” says Dean.

“And so, he focused on building a music career, and creating products for that industry. Today he’s learning to code, because that’s where it’s at. He’s got an unparalleled handle on where the world is moving to, and so many insights to share.”

Dean has built BrainFarm on a portfolio of incredible local and international speakers, each of whom he’s seen live. “I regularly attend international conferences to get a sense of which speakers and idea-shapers I’d like to bring to South Africa,” he explains.

“will.i.am is one of those global shapers whose ideas take everything to the next level. To get maximum value from him for our delegates, we’ve chosen an interview set-up instead of a key-note talk. Local tech expert Aki Anastasiou will be interviewing him, and the audience will be able to ask questions as well. This will give us an opportunity to localise will.i.am’s knowledge and ideas.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

Author of five New York Times bestsellers, including David and Goliath and Outliers Gladwell is well known for introducing the concept of the 10 000-hour rule, which states anyone can become an expert in anything given enough time and practice. Dean first brought Malcolm Gladwell to South Africa in 2009.

“When I dropped him off at the airport, Malcolm signed his book for me with the words ‘Please invite me back,” says Dean.

“We’ve tried to bring him out a few times since then, but the timing hasn’t worked out. This was the ideal summit for Malcolm’s ideas, and this time, the timing worked.”

Having seen Malcolm in action many times over the years, Dean knows that he’s a speaker that always leaves his audiences wanting more. And so, the BrainFarm team thought about the best way give their delegates exactly that.

“Malcolm has developed a masterclass for the second day of the Summit that will focus on what makes a person successful, both in life and business. He’ll be unpacking tools our delegates can use to personally drive success.”

Nick Goldman

Nick Goldman

Nick is that rare breed of academic who is also an engaging and entertaining speaker. A UK-based mathematician and genome scientist, Nick is passionate about how we can store and preserve digital data.

“If you want to feed your brain, Nick is the person who will do that for you. His team recently coded five documents of historical significance onto a strand of DNA,” says Dean.

Each day, what we thought was possible changes. What does the future look like, and are you ready for it?

Related: 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs

Marieme Jamme

Marieme Jamme

Born in Senegal and sold into sex slavery, Marieme Jamme refused to accept the lot life had given her, and instead taught herself to code. It was a skill that enabled her to change her conditions and life. Today, through her latest venture, iamtheCODE, she has one giant, global goal: To teach one million women and girls to code by 2013.

“Marieme has a consultancy that helps tech companies get a foothold into Africa, the Middle east, Latin America and Asia, and she’s also focused on her mission to help other women and girls escape their fates by learning to code,” says Dean. “She’s one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever come accross.”

Sipho Maseko

Sipho Maseko

Heralded as the controversial CEO and saviour of Telkom, Sipho has helped the company rack up gains of 150%, making Telkom one of the best performing companies on the JSE. “A major focus of Telkom is getting businesses across Africa ready for tomorrow’s customers,” says Dean.

“To be ready for tomorrow’s customers though, you need to know who they are, and have a sense of what the future will bring.”

Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal

A game designer, Futurist and New York Times best-selling author, Jane’s TED Talk, The Game That Can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life, has over six million views to date.

Related: The 10 Strangest Secrets About Millionaires

Rapelang Rabana

Rapelang Rabana

Local tech-star Rapelang Rabana is the CEO and founder of Rekindle Learning, a company she has positioned at the crest of a rapidly rising online community across Africa.

Her mission: To deliver learning in bite-sized chunks across the continent.

Ian Russel

Ian Russel

CEO of BCX. BCX has invested millions in computer programming education so that young people from all social and economic backgrounds have the opportunity to become programmers at no cost to them.

Lars Silberbauer

Lars Silberbauer

When Lars joined LEGO as Senior Global Director of Social Media and Video, the company didn’t even have a Facebook page.

“Today LEGO has well over 12 million followers on Facebook and more than three million on YouTube where they’ve just knocked up five billion lifetime views,” says Dean.

“The big idea behind their social media campaigns is to leave the thinking to their fans. Lars understands the creative power of the crowd, and what harnessing that power can do for your business.”

Related: 8 Things Exceptional Thinkers Do Every Day

Bringing it all together

Dean Carlson

Dean Carlson

“We focus on projects that excite us, and that will change the perceptions and world views of our delegates,” says Dean. “We’ve partnered with BCX to put together an incredible event that will leave you inspired, amazed and driven to change your life and organisation – with the tools to do so.”

To find out more about the BCX Disrupt Summit or to book a seat, visit https://www.bcxdisrupt.com/

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