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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




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

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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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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