Connect your people and build a community — the first step I believe every company of any size should be looking at is how to connect your people and build a community at work. Afterall, what’s the point in Digital Transformation initiatives if your staff still feel disconnected from each other. There are a number of products that can help with this, but my overwhelming preference is Workplace from Facebook. It’s an incredible product that connects all staff, whether they be frontline employees or HQ/office based workers. It gives them a voice and makes them feel part of something bigger. And it’s so easy to use that new starters can get going from day 1. Whether your staff are connecting over work based conversations or social activities, creating a connected community at work should be the starting point.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Gibby, Co-founder and CMO of The Bot Platform.
Tom is the Co-Founder and CMO of The Bot Platform, a no-code enterprise software solution that empowers people to build a better employee experience on internal communication channels such as Microsoft Teams and Workplace from Facebook. They are a winner of the EE Awards’ Employee Engagement Vendor of the Year, Webby Awards Honouree and member of the Department for International Trade’s UK Start Up program.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Our backstory is a little weird and involves everything from cats to Kylie Minogue. It’s also perhaps a lesson in how happy accidents can turn into successful start-ups.
Back in 2013 we set up a digital marketing company called We Make Awesome Sh. It was based on the premise that a lot of companies were offering digital services, but charging huge amounts of money for quite mediocre work. Quite often these companies were very slow moving too. We decided to shake things up a bit by creating an agency that worked in a different way — affordable and stand out digital campaigns that we could build and launch in a matter of weeks, and in some cases days.
Our first project was for Calvin Harris to promote the launch of his new album, 18 months. The issue was that a lot of the songs on his album had already been released as singles, so the label wanted a way to drive traffic to a full album download link. We suggested giving the whole album away for free as a mobile app, but with a twist — you could only listen to the music if you were dancing. A rather simple but creative use of the accelerometer resulted in the app reaching #3 in the appstore, generated a 26% click through rate to buy the album and won multiple awards. It was also called “a work of art from a digital rights management perspective” by Guitar Magazine.
Based on the success of this project, we soon found ourselves working with all sorts of musicians, including Kylie, One Direction, Tinie Tempah, The Rolling Stones and Madeon to name a few. From here we then started getting approached by brands and entities such as Samsung, Greenpeace and Continental Tires.
As we continued to create bespoke marketing campaigns we realized that in order to scale more effectively we needed to focus on creating white label products and services rather than custom projects for each client. We started with a social media aggregator and screen display tool called AwesomeWall which was acquired in 2017. We then launched the first Messenger bot for the music industry which became the inspiration for The Bot Platform. After a year or so of B2C projects, we then pivoted our offering to focus on how bots, conversational applications and workflow automation could help companies engage with their staff and stakeholders rather than customers and fans.
If you went back in time and told us in 2013 that a few years later we’d be working with HR, Internal Comms and Employee Experience teams at companies like Booking.com, WW (Weight Watchers), Facebook and Clarins I’d have been pretty confused as to how we’d get there. But actually we find this area so much more rewarding and continuously hearing stories from our customers about how we’re helping them improve their employee experience, especially after such an intense 18 month period during a pandemic, continues to confirm that we made the right decision.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we first launched we wanted an easy way for companies to experiment with bots and digital assistants. We decided to start with a pre-built work application called Libby, which stood for a ‘Library of information’.
The idea was simple — Libby was an automated knowledge library that could automatically answer commonly asked questions from staff. Think of it as an always on assistant who never took a day off and could help staff 24 hours a day.
The framework was pre-built. All admins needed to do was add in the questions/keywords and the content that would be triggered.
We had a huge amount of interest, but soon noticed that we kept getting the same questions sent to us. People loved the bot, but they wanted to change the welcome message, or the tone of voice, or the imagery. In essence, they wanted to do more than just add the questions and answers. They wanted to build their own bot using The Bot Platform, not use a pre-made one.
We suddenly realized that the micro-product we had built to drive awareness of our broader bot building platform, was actually highlighting what we knew already — companies don’t want pre-built solutions that don’t reflect the way they work or talk. Every company is different, so the tools they use at work should be bespoke to them. If we want to empower people to build a better employee experience, shouldn’t people have control over how that employee experience is built?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
We’ve had so much help along the way from various friends, partners and advisors, but if I were to pick one particular person I’d probably go for Robbert van de Corput AKA Hardwell who was DJ Mag’s #1 DJ in the World in 2013 and 2014.
It was Hardwell, and his team at Revealed Recordings, that resulted in our first foray into the power of conversation applications. As with all projects of this nature, it relied heavily on the musician and his marketing team to really get behind the project — and get behind it he did.
His team plugged it on social, web, PR, newsletters and even incorporated the fan shoutout feature into his weekly podcast, Hardwell on Air. By doing this it created a promotional feedback loop that put the bot in front of his listeners every week and gave them a reason to use it — to get featured on the show — as well as stay in touch with the latest news, music releases, merch drops and tour dates.
Before long there were millions of fans using the bot, which gave us a great insight into how scalable these conversational experiences were. Plus, it was an incredibly powerful lesson in how automated messaging applications could supercharge audience engagement.
Any company wants to start with a bang, and The Bot Platform started with the help of the biggest DJ in the world, a huge amount of fan usage and multiple award wins. If it hadn’t been for this project I don’t know if The Bot Platform would ever have existed.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Like many start-up founders there are so many books, podcasts, TV shows and movies that have inspired us in one way or another, but the book that has probably had the most impact is ‘Traction: Get a Grip On Your Business’ by Gino Wickman.
On the one hand, it’s definitely not the most exciting of suggestions. But on the other hand if you’re in a senior position at any company, start-up or not, it really is an absolute must read.
It’s a business strategy book that guides leaders of entrepreneurial organizations on how to gain control of their business through the Entrepreneurial Operating System. This includes alignment around mission, vision, values, quarterly goal setting and ongoing scorecards that help track, and drive, the growth of your company.
EOS, as it’s known, has made a huge impact on our company and has basically given us a data driven dashboard that allows us to accurately forecast where the business will be and which levers we need to pull to grow faster, but in a sustainable way.
It was recommended to us by a friend and fellow entrepreneur, and we’d highly recommend it to any start-up founder or business leader wanting to get a better understanding of their business and supercharge growth.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
In our early days of The Bot Platform our vision was to empower people to build their own digital tools and experiences. We knew how it felt to have an idea for something that could help the business, but not have the tools or skill set to bring that to life without having to pass it on to an IT team, developer or third party agency. As such everything we did was focused around ease of use. It didn’t matter if you could code or not, using our platform you could build whatever you wanted.
At this point our purpose was to help people to be more productive at work. This was driven by them being able to crack on and build things themselves, as well as the huge time savings that would come from automating conversations with fans and customers.
As we have pivoted from B2C experiences to internal, enterprise comms and workflow automation our vision has stayed the same but our purpose has been refined to focus much more on the benefits these tools can provide to company leaders and their workforce. We empower people to build a better employee experience.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Our platform already integrates with Microsoft Teams and Workplace from Facebook which are two of the biggest, and, in our opinion, best internal communication channels being used by companies and organizations around the world.
That said, we know the huge benefits that our platform can bring to companies, the ROI it generates and improvements it makes to their employee’s working lives. Because of this we don’t want to limit ourselves to only working with companies who use certain channels.
As such we are currently working on an open API and Interaction Endpoint that will allow any company to connect our platform to any system they use, or even deploy as web based applications. This increases our total addressable market from the 250 million people using Microsoft Teams and Workplace to, effectively, the 3+ billion people being employed in one capacity or another around the world.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital Transformation has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and because of that its definition often becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. At its most basic Digital Transformation is simply the adoption of existing and new technologies that help a company improve the way it works, both internally for staff as well as externally for customers and partners.
Digital Transformation isn’t just about technology though, it’s also about cultural transformation too. It is a fundamental rethinking of how the business operates and then finding new ways to deliver more value, generate more revenue and improve operational efficiency. Every level of a company, from leadership to front line staff, has to be open to experimentation and change.
It’s also worth noting that while Digital Transformation sounds like something new, there’s actually nothing new about it, really. Technology has been disrupting our working and personal lives for as long as humanity has been around. The printing press disrupted publishing. The steam engine disrupted travel. The assembly line disrupted production.
In the same way Chinese monks used block printing in 618 CE to save time, improve quality control and increase distribution, today companies can use new technology tools to improve any and every aspect of their own business operations.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
This probably sounds like a bit of a cop out, but literally any company can benefit in one way or another from Digital Transformation. Often people tend to jump to large multinational companies, retailers, travel and tourism, financial institutions, logistics companies etc as the sheer size and complexity of their operations is ripe for improvements generated by new technologies.
That said SMBs, hair salons, pubs, taxi companies — you name it — could all benefit too. For example, let’s say you’ve got an independent beauty salon who hires 20 employees. Digital Transformation could be used to improve everything from their booking and CRM systems that remind customers about their upcoming appointments, through to digitising paper processes, providing personalized beauty recommendations, improving customer database management, managing online and electronic payments, accounting and tax reporting tools.
In this example, the owner would save money while providing a better experience to their customers which would ultimately increase revenues. And, of course, providing staff with better tools to do their jobs helps with productivity, morale and retention too — all of which will generate benefits to the business owner’s bottom line.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
Digital Transformation is a huge area that encompasses a breadth of technological opportunities. For The Bot Platform, we focus on using bots, conversational interfaces and work applications to improve the employee experience. This means building bespoke tools that help them work faster, smarter and more efficiently.
Taking a look at a few customer examples, Honest Burgers is a UK based restaurant chain who previously used a variety of different tools and services alongside a number of paper based processes. Using The Bot Platform they’ve been able to digitize a lot of these ways of working which has helped central and frontline staff. For example, they’ve improved their learning and development program by building their own digital training tool called Honest College that helps teach staff work and life skills, as well as ensuring compliance training is completed in a timely manner. While they would previously have to manually follow up with staff to have them complete training, their Honest College bot automates those reminders resulting in a 100% completion rate in just 6 days. By using The Bot Platform to build their own work tools, they’ve also been able to unify their systems and remove certain tools they were using which has resulted in a 15.6X ROI in the first year alone.
Another example would be Globe Telecom who are one of the biggest telecommunications companies in Asia Pacific. When the pandemic hit they needed a way of effectively communicating with their 8000+ frontline staff so that they could help to stay safe and be informed. Within days they had built a digital assistant, aptly named DUDE (Digital Usher for Disasters and Emergencies) that handled contact tracing, important alerts, emergency resources and staff pulse surveys. After seeing the success of this, they then turned their attention to other areas of the business where bots could help — including employee recognition, help desk automation and much more. Their employee recognition program, WANDA, is on track to deliver a 900% increase in nominations from staff year on year.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The key challenge when it comes to digital transformation tends to be a cultural one — are leadership open to experimentation and innovation or do they want to keep things the way they are. Then, if leadership teams are onboard, are staff willing to embrace and adopt these new tools. If either party isn’t willing to transform and improve the way they work, then digital transformation becomes incredibly challenging.
If you’ve got the right culture then you also need to ensure that your team has the right digital expertise to execute these digital transformation initiatives effectively. This means that any new systems are correctly integrated with existing processes and digital transformation efforts help move the company forward rather than create a whole new set of blockers as the existing ways of working fall apart. Furthermore, any new technology is only as effective as the person using it — so ensuring your workforce are properly trained on the benefits of these new technologies, why they should use them, when and how is of critical importance to their successful implementation.
Finally, organisational silos can be a huge challenge where the benefits of Digital Transformation is limited in scope because it’s not able to spread across the organisation in an effective way. For example, let’s say a company adopts some new digital tools that help them get better feedback from their customers. If this feedback isn’t fed into the product, buying experience, retail environment etc then the initiative is immediately limited in scope.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
There are so many ways a company can use Digital Transformation to take it to the next level, but if I were to boil it down to 5 overarching themes I would have to say…
- Connect your people and build a community — the first step I believe every company of any size should be looking at is how to connect your people and build a community at work. Afterall, what’s the point in Digital Transformation initiatives if your staff still feel disconnected from each other. There are a number of products that can help with this, but my overwhelming preference is Workplace from Facebook. It’s an incredible product that connects all staff, whether they be frontline employees or HQ/office based workers. It gives them a voice and makes them feel part of something bigger. And it’s so easy to use that new starters can get going from day 1. Whether your staff are connecting over work based conversations or social activities, creating a connected community at work should be the starting point.
- Improve knowledge sharing, training and learning opportunities — according to a 2020 study 92% of frontline managers blamed their communication challenges on a lack of adequate information-sharing tools. Information sharing doesn’t just mean sending out announcements and updates. It includes training and development too. Think back to the last time you had some work based training — how engaging was it? How personalized was it? My guess is not much. With The Bot Platform you can easily build your own training tools that provide relevant and personalized learning modules, and automatically follow up with staff to encourage them to complete training and make them aware of new learning opportunities when they become available. A better trained workforce is not only a more productive workforce, but a happier workforce. Digital Transformation can massively help with this.
- Increase productivity — this is an obvious one, but if we never upgraded the tools we use at work then we’d still be using a quill instead of a keyboard. By continually looking at the tools your staff are using and seeking out better alternatives, it allows your staff to work more effectively, which ultimately allows them to complete tasks in less time or perform those tasks to a higher standard. A great example here would be employee onboarding. Obviously there is no replacement for human to human interaction when it comes to onboarding and training new starters, but at the same time there are so many administrative and box ticking exercises that really don’t need a human to ensure they’re done. Instead, using The Bot Platform, we have customers building their own onboarding assistants that do all this admin for them while allowing the humans to spend time on what matters most — getting to know the team, chatting about ways of working and building relationships.
- Ensure employees are happy — there are two ways that Digital Transformation will help with staff morale and, in doing so, reduce churn — which is a huge monetary, time and productivity cost for companies. We’ve all been there — you’re trying to get your job done but the tools you have simply aren’t cutting it. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It gets you in a bad mood. Ultimately it makes you want to look for a new role where you are given the right tools to do the job. If leadership and management are continuously showing that they care about you and want you to have the best tools to do the job, you’ll probably be a much happier employee. This then leads on to the second way that Digital Transformation can help ensure staff are happy — by simply asking them for feedback on the tools they use currently and any ideas or suggestions they have for new tools they might need.
- Reduce costs and carbon footprint — the final area where Digital Transformation can help is around digitizing processes and removing the need for paper based and physical assets. Printing, storage, distribution and version control all costs money and results in trees being slaughtered. That’s not cool, especially when climate change is increasingly becoming a doomsday inevitability. Imagine if every company around the world replaced all their physical assets, such as company handbooks and corporate paperwork, into digital versions. Not only would they all save huge amounts of money, but it would also massively reduce the carbon footprint involved in creating these materials and sending them to their staff and customers. One great example of this would be restaurant menus. The pandemic forced companies to remove physical menus for more hygenic QR codes that pointed to digital versions. But there was another benefit — these digital menus can’t be covered in beer or ketchup and need replacing. And if your menu changes, you don’t need to reprint all your assets.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
The key to a culture of innovation is to have a culture where staff can actually share their ideas. That sounds obvious, but it’s scary how often this doesn’t happen. For example, only 45% of frontline workers share their ideas with senior team members, 25% of employees have had an idea but never told anyone, and a further 38% have shared their idea — only for it to be ignored. How bad is that? Imagine being engaged enough at work to share ideas on how to make it better, only for those suggestions to then be ignored.
There are a few ways this can be done, but it starts at the top with leadership making staff aware that they are open to hearing ideas from all staff, regardless of role, location or seniority. This then needs to be fed through all levels of management, from senior through to middle layers.
Once staff feel comfortable knowing ideas will be listened to, there needs to be a simple and accessible way for them to do so. This is where Digital Transformation can come to the rescue. Sure, you could have a suggestion box where staff write down ideas on a piece of paper, but that limits who can be involved as they need to be physically near that suggestion box. Plus, things go missing and once you’ve added your idea to the box then what happens? By using The Bot Platform you can easily build bespoke employee innovation tools that can be integrated into the digital systems and communication tools your staff are already using. Staff can be asked a series of questions related to their idea, why it’s important and how it would help the business. These suggestions can be evergreen or in response to certain challenges that the company is facing. These ideas can then be sent to the relevant teams or persons for review while also keeping staff aware of the post submission process, ensuring they know their idea hasn’t been lost in the ether.
Then, once ideas are submitted, it’s important for leadership teams to celebrate staff who have suggested ideas, implement them and encourage other staff to suggest their own. This creates a continual positive feedback loop that feeds employee innovation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.” — Tony Robbins
There are so many times where something happens in life that isn’t ideal. How you react to those situations can make a huge difference. Split second decisions and moments of madness can cause a lifetime of problems. When it comes to running a start-up, how you react to these challenges is of critical importance. Everyone thinks running a start-up is glamorous and fun. Maybe it is, but it’s incredibly hard work too. Some days are the best ever. Other days are an absolute nightmare. Your start-up becomes an extension of yourself in a lot of ways.
The pandemic is a great example of this. So many businesses have been negatively affected by COVID-19 and in another universe the pandemic was the reason why The Bot Platform ceased to exist. By the end of February 2020 we were starting to get very concerned about what was happening. If we had waited or reacted in the wrong way it could have been disastrous. Instead we spoke with our customers about the challenges the pandemic could cause and immediately got to work on creating Crisis Response tools that could help them.
This was so important because not only did it show our customers that we were there for them (which helped retain them) but it repositioned our platform from being a nice-to-have piece of new technology to being a critical part of their tech stack.
Even better though, it turned our customers into evangelists. Their stories of being able to rapidly build solutions to keep their staff safe and informed led to other companies getting in touch wanting to do the same for their staff.
A once in a century pandemic that could have killed our business became something that made our customer relationships stronger and fueled our sales pipeline at a time when many other companies were struggling to get leads or sales at all.
How can our readers further follow your work?
If you use Microsoft Teams or Workplace from Facebook and want to see how bots, digital assistants and automated work apps can help you build a better employee experience then give us a shout at [email protected].
We also have a monthly newsletter focussed on digital employee experience that you can subscribe to here, or give us a follow on your preferred social media platform.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!