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Zayd Enam: “Be mindful of customer touch points”

Be mindful of customer touch points. We aren’t in the era of the Model T anymore, which came in everyone’s favorite color as long as it was black. Offering them solid, positive touch points everywhere ups the chances of a successful conversion. Start with excitement. What excites the customer you want to reach? Work backwards […]

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Be mindful of customer touch points. We aren’t in the era of the Model T anymore, which came in everyone’s favorite color as long as it was black. Offering them solid, positive touch points everywhere ups the chances of a successful conversion.

Start with excitement. What excites the customer you want to reach? Work backwards from there — like what they do with the newest iPhone.

Have a systematic business model. You have to have an understanding of everything, like customer acquisition and advertising. The more you know, the more you can build that robustness into your model.


As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zayd Enam, CEO and co-founder of Cresta, an AI startup dedicated to creating expert sales, customer care, and other frontline agents experts on day one. He has been recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 (twice) and studied under one of the most well known AI experts in the field, Sebastian Thrun, who is also a co-founder at Cresta.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

In my work at Stanford, we started by building a platform that helped computer science teaching assistants and graders give consistently good feedback to students, because we noticed that there was a huge gap in the quality of feedback. This was something we were particularly familiar with at the lab, so we focused on building a system that learned from students and TAs year-over-year with a focus on identifying common mistakes and what feedback produced better results. Ultimately, we were able to double the speed of the graders.

However, the market itself wasn’t very large, and we realized that we wanted to take the idea and expand it across all knowledge work. Sebastian Thrun then gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since: go to the desert. In his work with driverless and flying cars, he went out to the desert in order to test and build a system that actually worked, then came back to the lab and studied the science, which ended up being a better approach because it was real-world tested. So out I went into the world

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I knew that I had a great product on my hands, but during an early pilot the CEO of the company we were working with decided to wind down the customer support team. With that setback, I moved Cresta into sales, and with a small team of two other agents and me, we began showing incremental revenues of 100,000 dollars a month. At the end of the day, it’s important to not just know you have a great product, but it’s important to also be willing to put in the work.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Great, we are working to launch a new product, securing new customers, and producing real results for the customers we have. We know that we have a great product and it’s now about making sure companies know they have a great way to help their sales and care teams all become experts on day one.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When we were fundraising early on we had an investor meeting in our office. We didn’t have much furniture at the time. We were super scrappy and were just trying to make do and put what we had into our product. We bought two five dollar folding chairs and set them up for the meeting. We thought we had enough seating for our meeting with the VC firm. When they showed up in our office, we didn’t have enough seating and the VC team ended up sitting on the floor. I was very embarrassed. But the VC team took it with stride and had great attitudes. They ended up funding us! I learned that if you surround yourself with the right people who share the same vision and attitude about how to approach a new business — you align yourself with the right people.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The real-time effect is what we’re most proud of at Cresta. Our platform understands conversations as they happen, then offers recommendations and coaching to improve performance for agents. This is a tough approach to take in AI — we don’t just automate tasks, but rather use what AI is good at to analyze data and help people improve at their jobs.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

It has to start with personal wellbeing. Look at things that bring you energy, because energy isn’t a zero-sum game. What you do personally that brings you energy brings you energy at work. If you’re happy at home, it makes you happier at work. Invest in both.

Understand yourself. What brings you energy? For me, that’s working out, eating healthy, connecting with family and friends, and at work, it’s working on creative ideas, making customers successful, and solving a hard problem.

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?

There are two people I need to thank. I’ve already mentioned Sebastian Thrun, who is my mentor and still Cresta’s executive chairman.

The second is Tim Shi, my co-founder at Cresta and the company’s current CTO.

Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Because we’re shifting almost exclusively online, that means that demand is skyrocketing. Right now, eCommerce is trying to reckon with seismic shifts in shipping, frustrated customers, and more. Addressing all these issues can be done by being upfront with customers and preparing your teams to respond to those common questions.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Having a strong product at this point is table stakes for success. What now matters is the rest of your customer’s touch points. How do they interact with your brand? The more they trust your brand — the more they have a positive experience with your brand through all of those touchpoints — the more likely you are to enjoy success.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common mistake I see is not having that systematic approach. Early adoption is great. Having a good product is essential. But the more you’re able to understand the entire business model — or assemble a team around you that works in conjunction with you — then the likelier you are to succeed.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Outsourcing their support. Too often, I’ve seen approaches essentially forget about support or chat functions, but U.S. companies lose more than 62 billion dollars annually due to poor customer service (source). Each conversation is an opportunity to make or break your brand.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Cresta and products like it, which use AI to empower contact center agents with real-time scripting, resources and tools to guide every customer interaction to its fullest potential. With customer contacts way up, it’s more important than ever to keep leaning into this.

Beyond that, though, simple discovery tools are also key. The easier that a customer can find your products, the better experience they’ll have

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

The most important thing is a smooth process from start to finish for a customer. The harder it is to discover, add, and purchase your products, the less likely you’ll secure the sale.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Trust is often best built through conversation with representatives of the brand. Whether it’s a chat, an email, or a voice conversation, customers want someone who can address their issue or answer their question, but it can sometimes be the luck of the draw whether that customer gets your best agent or one who needs improvement. With that in mind, it’s clear that you need to ensure that this customer touch point, which can make or break a business, is solid every time.

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

  1. Being responsive and showing the brand cares is important.
  2. Trying to remedy the situation quickly and efficiently is key.
  3. Using that feedback to understand what went wrong and how to improve the business is crucial.
  4. You can’t make every customer happy but you can learn from a poor review and build on top of it.
  5. You learn more from poor reviews than from the good ones.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

Build robustness into your model. Think about toilet paper for the pandemic, for example. The model was lean and expecting steady demand, and then the pandemic hit and manufacturers couldn’t keep up.

Be mindful of customer touch points. We aren’t in the era of the Model T anymore, which came in everyone’s favorite color as long as it was black. Offering them solid, positive touch points everywhere ups the chances of a successful conversion.

Start with excitement. What excites the customer you want to reach? Work backwards from there — like what they do with the newest iPhone.

Have a systematic business model. You have to have an understanding of everything, like customer acquisition and advertising. The more you know, the more you can build that robustness into your model.

The best ecommerce businesses figure out how they can become organically shareable. Think about Apple’s AirPods, for example, or the earbuds that preceded them that marked you as an iPod user. Something that is iconic or eye-catching can go far.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Using AI to benefit the healthcare industry which would also include the strained mental health industry would be a movement I would get behind and back. For example, making it easier for people in distress to quickly have a conversation — from 911 calls to suicide hotlines and domestic violence incidents. Humans and technology can make true strides in healthcare and mental health in particular.

How can our readers further follow you online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zaydenam/

Twitter: @zaydenam

Cresta on Twitter: @Cresta

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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