SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with David C Williams, Assistant Vice President for Automation at AT&T

David C Williams, Assistant Vice President for Automation at AT&T shares more on what it takes for sales teams today to accelerate automation initiatives and improve their conversions and close rates.


Hi David, welcome to this SalesTechStar chat! Take us through your journey in tech-B2B through the years and tell us more about your role at AT&T?

Thanks for the opportunity. I’ve been with AT&T for more than 20 years, where I am currently Assistant Vice President of Automation. Throughout my time at AT&T, my focus and passion have been in delivering customer experience excellence and applying technology to help create frictionless customer journeys.

I don’t take the phrase customer experience excellence lightly. It’s a mouthful, but it is a lot easier to say than to deliver. My passion for automation starts with a commitment to the customer, and AT&T enables me to live that commitment every day. 

I have been truly fortunate to have worked on a variety of key technology initiatives, including authoring multiple patents, and developing decision engines and solutions that drive hundreds of millions in savings annually. One major recent project was deploying the Secure Link, a hyper-automation solution that enables 40,000 AT&T employees who work with sensitive customer information to securely work from home as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Automation team and I focus on robotic process automation (RPA) and emerging technologies to transform customer service and sales functions across the company. Our remit is to identify and implement automation strategies and tactics like collaboration tools, desktop orchestration, and machine learning to streamline processes for our employees and enhance experiences for our customers. 

If I had to sum it all up, I’d say my career is about the intersection of technology, customer enablement, and delivering industry-leading customer experiences 24/7/365.

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When it comes to the pretty vast topic of customer experience, what are some core practices and automation trends that you feel businesses need to be strengthening more in today’s market?

Fundamentally, the forces driving customer experience revolve around changing customer behaviors and preferences on one side and technologies that empower users on the other. Digital is the driving force behind all of it. It simultaneously raises consumer expectations while giving companies powerful ways to serve customers better. The bar constantly goes up, but so does our ability to clear that bar. 

People have rising demands on how companies serve their needs. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the shift toward digital as the preferred customer channel. AT&T has consistently recognized the importance of staying ahead of customer expectations. 

In my view, some of the most important trends are:

Digitally Empowered Contact Centers: Some interactions are best delivered through live conversations with contact center agents, but we can apply automation technology to make these agent interactions more accessible and efficient for customers. For example, by automating identity verification during wait times, the agent can get right to the customer issue when they connect. Visual IVR is growing in adoption, allowing customers to skip the audio menus and answer basic questions using intuitive forms. Additionally, having visual collaboration with customers, where the agent and caller can see each other via the smartphone, or co-browse a document to help the customer answer questions more quickly. All this saves time, improves the quality of interactions, and drives better outcomes for the company and customer alike. 

Dynamic Customer Service: Customers increasingly expect companies to personalize experiences to make them seamless. For example, autofill of forms once a customer has verified their identity. It’s critical to respect the customer’s time. If they put effort into providing information or completing a task – they shouldn’t be asked to do it twice. 

No-Code Digital Automation: Many CX innovations require companies to develop new software and apps – and as we all know, development cycles at many companies are long because of a shortage of dev resources. No-code platforms enable CX and other teams to develop powerful customer experiences without knowing code. That means no more waiting for the dev queue and empowering people who understand the customer’s challenges to move more nimbly. I work with FICX, which offers a no-code CX automation platform. Automation teams also conduct more data analysis of experiences using machine learning to optimize every interaction.

AI-Powered Customer Service: AI-powered chat, virtual assistants, and other technologies are becoming highly advanced, providing thorough answers to many questions if set up correctly. Customer adoption has been snowballing. With today’s high customer expectations, a chatbot without AI is not a chatbot. Because the customer’s expectations rise over time as other internet technologies advance, AI-powered solutions are needed to address the nuanced and ever-changing expectations of people in need of assistance.

Can you share a few examples of how global brands have used automation to their advantage to drive better CX experiences?

Domino’s Pizza: One example I’ve lived is the Domino’s Pizza-Meter example. My family’s go-to choice for delivered-pizza, had been (I won’t say their name…

My son was obsessed with the Domino’s Pizza-Meter and insisted that our family switch because he loves watching our order go from the mixing bowl to the oven to the delivery car to our doorstep. Sometimes CX leadership takes a leap of faith. I can only imagine the difficulty of trying to “substantiate the forecasted value” of the Pizza-Meter. But Domino’s thought outside the box and put the customer experience first and that is often a step in the right direction. 

But the Domino’s Pizza-Meter provided something unique and satisfying. It’s an innovation that came from defining their business as a tech company while the other company focused on being a “lean, mean pizza-making machine.” That’s customer versus operational focus. Domino’s found a way to put the customer first in a unique way.

AT&T’s Secure Link: Secure Link is another example. In this case the benefit is highly functional but invisible to the customer. When we were hit with COVID, my team knew it had to move fast to empower work-from-home agents to continue delivering customer value. More customers would need to pay bills by phone instead of in stores. They’d have even more questions and need even more guidance. But 90% of our 40,000+ CSRs had to move from working in highly secure call centers to answering customer queries from home. 

The FTC has stringent standards for data security in work at home situations, and AT&T’s standards are even higher. We needed to deliver outstanding security while our agents worked from home. An amazing AT&T team came together to deliver Secure Link so our CSRs could securely provide all the needed support securely – even while working from home. It all came together in just a few weeks, thanks to the dedication of our cross-departmental team members.

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As self-serve models become more prominent in the market, how can brands and businesses use automation and improved processes to build better journeys for their users/customers?

I firmly believe that simplicity… is the highest level of sophistication. The success of self-service depends in great deal on the simplicity of the experience. You need to be able to guide a new user through a complex process – often for the first time – and ensure they reach their desired outcome. One of the best examples of this is the American interstate highway system. These roads carry us anywhere we want to go using an elegant and simple set of clues and guidance. Consider that the Knowledge Management System of the Interstate industry (for the public) is only two or three words deep, with simple icons. Yet, with this incredible system, we can navigate anywhere and get anything we need along the way. Exit 1/3 mile for a hotel. The travel distance to LA is 500 miles. Get in the left lanes to get there. Keep your speed under 65 MPH. Pass when the white line is dotted. Stay in your lane when the yellow line is solid. 

Many companies have knowledge management systems that look like the Library of Congress. In business, we need to make our processes as efficient and straightforward as the Interstates. We must prioritize the customer agenda – their goals – over our systems and internal processes. 

When doing all of this, how can sales and automation/tech teams collaborate better to drive end-user conversions and experiences that boost purchases?

There’s nothing on Earth more powerful than relationships. They’re more powerful than money or authority because both are gained through relationships. Business relationships are built between someone in need of a product/service and the person or company who can offer it. When the customer gets what they want – that’s a precious moment. It’s when the person in need becomes satisfied or enabled to continue their journey more frictionlessly or effervescently. Automation & technology can be used to enhance communications and building relationships.

At AT&T, we’ve built solutions that share the agent/seller’s avatar with the customer. This helps customers feel more comfortable with who they are talking to. The Avatar communicates: I hear you, I want you to see me, so you can know me better, while I resolve your problem. This (tech-enabled communication) is fertile ground for sellers to put their best foot forward. The Avatar also places a little more accountability on the seller to do their best to fulfill the customer’s needs.

Another solution we built for AT&T Sales is a screen-sharing capability that allows customers to see products on the call. The seller can review multiple products quickly, and the customer understands the differences better. This helps with quickly confirming details and/or visually closing sales. After all, a picture is a thousand words. This has been deployed in the market, and people have provided very positive feedback.

What are a few martech and salestech predictions for the new year that you’d like to highlight?

I think about this in two ways: what customer-facing technology will we be using more of, and how we’ll leverage customer data to personalize experiences and improve relationships.

Customer-Facing Technology

QR codes: As smartphones get even better, the use of QR Codes will expand exponentially. The design & actions needed to capture QR Codes will get simplified. 

Visual sales & service enablement through video chat and co-browsing Visual sales & service enablement will let buyer and seller see each other and share web pages, forms, and other content in real-time.

Customer Data

AI: The use of AI will expand exponentially, and the offers, personalization, timing, and delivery of offers will all change dramatically. Imagine buying something through your camera glasses without ever touching your phone or wallet. Of course, the next question will be, was it an accident seeing the item you purchased or was it placed/marketed properly. AI will enable those possibilities. 

Data Analysis and Integration: Organizations will focus on leveraging customer data to personalize experiences and find the right fit for customers. Insights from data will power more effective prospecting, sales pitches, and customer relationships. And importantly, this data will help us identify who is ready to take an action. AI personalization is common today when people are searching for movies. No one wants to browse the entire catalog. Rather they want to frictionlessly find what is meaningful to themselves.

Some last thoughts and takeaways before we wrap up?

There is an enormous opportunity for sellers to help accelerate automation initiatives to improve their conversions and close rates. Sales teams have considerable power and influence in companies, and by communicating their challenges and advocating for greater automation, they can push companies to innovate even faster. That means more happy customers, revenue, and employee satisfaction. 

Thanks for this opportunity to share ideas here!

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AT&T Customer Story| Salesforce DevOps Tools| FlosumAT&T Inc. is a diversified, global leader in telecommunications, media and entertainment, and technology. AT&T Communications provides more than 100 million U.S. consumers with entertainment and communications experiences across mobile and broadband. Plus, it serves high-speed, highly secure connectivity and smart solutions to nearly 3 million business customers. Warner Media is a leading media and entertainment company that creates and distributes premium and popular content to global audiences through its consumer brands, including: HBO, HBO Max, Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN, DC Entertainment, New Line, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Turner Classic Movies. Xandr, now part of WarnerMedia, provides marketers with innovative and relevant advertising solutions for consumers around premium video content and digital advertising through its platform. AT&T Latin America provides wireless services to consumers and businesses in Mexico.

David C Williams is Assistant Vice President of Automation for ATT, where he leads a team responsible for robotic process automation (RPA) and emerging technologies to transform customer service and sales functions across the company. An ATT veteran for more than 20 years, his focus is to identify and implement automation strategies and tactics like collaboration tools, desktop orchestration, and machine learning to streamline processes for employees and enhance experiences for customers.

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