Sramana Mitra: What about customer service; how do you handle this?
Jay Leader: We do have customer service, and we have internal applications we use for this. We use RightNow technologies to manage customer service operations. Part of the call center is outsourced, but we do oversee service issues, obviously, and we mine the service database for quality problems and customer issues and those kinds of things.
SM: Got it! Because running a robot at home means that there are a lot of customer support issues that come up all the time, right?
JL: We hope not, but [there are not] more than what we would like. Ideally, we would never have a customer service issue, but we don’t live in an ideal world, unfortunately.
SM: I mean that dealing with a home network can be so cumbersome; consumers cannot be expected to run robots without customer service.
JL: That’s right. We try to make them consumer proof, but there is always something, unfortunately.
SM: I am taking you in a direction where I have been seeing some interesting trends that may be worth commenting on. At least in the consumer electronics world, we have seen a lot of expert users developing, and these users are hanging out in Web communities, solving other people’s problems. They act as highly passionate expert users. Does that phenomenon apply to your business?
JL: We do see some of that, yes! And we are very interested in leveraging that channel through social media. We try to tap into that community. They are definitely there; there are Roomba forums and a Facebook page, and consumers do have passion for our products. It is a product that people attach themselves to. It is quite common for people to give their Roomba a name, so there is a lot of personal attachment and personal passion and expertise around helping people with their Roombas, and we are absolutely interested in tapping into that.
SM: And how big is that community of Roombas out there? Of Roomba users?
JL: We have sold millions; I mean, there are millions in people’s home so I am not exactly sure how many customers we have. But last year we sold a million Roombas. Last year alone.
SM: Interesting! Speaking of blue-sky opportunities, I want to point you to a company that I have seen that actually is one of the companies in my One Million by One Million initiative. We work with very early stage companies, and we see a lot of trends that are developing new, cutting-edge thinking and one of these ideas is this phenomenon of passionate users operating on the Internet. This is a trend this company is trying to take advantage of called crowd engineering, and what they are saying is that in the call center you have level 1 customer support, level 2 customer support, level 3 customer support and these guys are saying we are introducing a layer of level 0 customer support that is essentially crowd sourced customer support and tapping into the passionate users who are out there, who could be solving problems and answering questions on behalf of your customers so that by the time, lot of queries can be handled in that mode, before even your actual formal customer service organization kicks in.
JL: Sure! I believe that.
SM: I don’t know if you are using anything like this, but it is just something we have seen that is interesting.
JL: We are not currently using something like this, but it something that is interesting to us.
SM: OK, maybe I will connect them with you, if you want to explore it. What other trends do you see that are relevant to your business? They may or may not be cloud computing oriented but there is an evolving universe around social media in business today that are obviously having and impact on the life a CIO. What are some of those trends?
JL: Well, you have touched on the most overhyped ones, right? I think the issues I am paying attention to are a little more pedantic, but we are trying to be innovative in engineering because that is what we are. That is our core competency. So, we are paying a close attention in product life cycle management (PLM) and design and engineering in terms of what tools are out there that can help us to develop products faster and with greater innovation. That is a major area of focus for us because cutting the time to market or cutting the cost to develop is significant, and when you are in an extended supply chain … you know, our ability to move that messaging back and forth and keep all players aligned in terms of what revision are we making and why, and what are we doing with inventory and those kinds of things. So, it is not sexy, but it is trying to streamline processes to get higher-quality products out of the door faster.