Anand is a seasoned entrepreneur and a product leader and with the team at Zuper he is enabling service organizations globally to transform customer experience with an intelligent field service and customer engagement platform.
Listen to the podcast to learn about
02:30 - Why Anand and team started Zuper
07:00 - Making the Invisible Workforce Visible
15:30 - Lessons from Microsoft: Global Mindset, Accountability & Discipline
20:00 - Building a Global SaaS Business: Acquiring Customers & Building Culture
24:00 - Emerging Trends Disrupting Service Industries
Read the complete transcript below
Shripati Acharya 01:10
Hello and welcome to Prime Venture’s podcast. I’m Shripati and my guest today is Anand Subbaraj, co-founder and CEO of Zuper. Anand, welcome to the show.
Anand Subbaraj 01:18
Hey Shripati, thank you so much.
Shripati Acharya 01:20
So let’s start off with, tell us what is Zuper?
Anand Subbaraj 01:24
Great. Zuper is an intelligent field service management and customer engagement platform that enables organizations to offer personalized experience to their customers by the best utilization of their distributed field workforce.
Shripati Acharya 01:40
So help us understand a bit, what do you mean by field service management exactly?
Anand Subbaraj 01:48
Yeah. Field service management means our field service. And having and offering exceptional field service indicates organization have an intimate understanding of who does what, when, where, how, and for whom. And it is our objective to empower organizations to excel in field service operations and transform their customer experiences.
Shripati Acharya 02:25
So give me an example, the kind of customer who will be on the receiving side and the person who’s on the servicing side of field service management, just to paint a more vivid picture for our listeners?
Anand Subbaraj 02:35
Yeah. Well, let me tell you why we started Zuper and this will give the listeners a perspective of exactly the problem that we are trying to solve. The idea of Zuper germinated from a terrible customer experience that I encountered while getting my refrigerator serviced from one of the largest global appliance brands. I ordered this refrigerator and within a few weeks, it started making some noise. And the first thing, usually what you do is call the customer support. And from that point, that entire experience was terrible.
I had to reach out to the customer support 10 times. The service technician showed up at my place six times before the issue was addressed. And throughout this as a consumer, I did not have any visibility of who this technician is, what his experience was, what kind of review he had. I had no clue of when they were going to show up at my place and I did not even know whether they were going to visit my place.
And the technician on the other hand, he had no history about who I am, what kind of make or model of the product that I was using, the history of the product and they did not have the parts in stock when they came to service. So as an organization, this company could not offer the experience that I, as a modern customer, required, and they could not improve the productivity of their workforce because they had to send the workforce six times to my place to get this issue addressed.
That was when I realized that organizations are struggling to improve their experience or improve the experience of their customers in this age of on-demand experiences and uberization of the service. And that was how Zuper was born, to help organizations, improve that experience to their customers and improve the productivity of their field and distributed workforce.
Shripati Acharya 04:35
It’s interesting you mentioned uberization because unlike the experience you cited, when you’re ordering a cab today, you not only know the location, you know the history of the driver, how many rides that person has given, and what is his rating. And the driver knows about the customer. What is the customer’s rating, the location of the customer? How fast is he going to reach that customer? What is that person’s destination, et cetera? So you’re really talking about a customer expectation, which on one hand, which is ride-hailing, on the other hand where you’re just still on the call with nobody really knowing what’s going on.
Anand Subbaraj 05:20
Absolutely. And that is what is happening. Customer expectations have hit an all time high and everybody’s conditioned by their experience with Amazon, Uber and other leading consumer brands who are delivering this seamless experience end to end. And today just like you have mentioned, every customer expects the same kind of experience from a service organization, whether they’re e-hailing a cab or they’re getting their refrigerator repaired by a technician.
Shripati Acharya 05:55
So before Zuper came along, what would such an agency do? So you have gone ahead and requested help for an AC repair. What would the typical service person or the organization do in order to service that request?
Anand Subbaraj 06:15
Yeah. Great question. This was a few years back and before organizations started using a product like Zuper, they would be using various different tools and applications, usually a service organization as a CRM application, they may have an ERP application, they may have a customer support application or a customer support platform. And each one of these systems work independently. They’re working in a silo. And at that time, when I was analyzing the space, I learned about this term called invisible workforce and this was used for workforce that was not connected with the applications and platforms that was used by this organization.
And this workforce did not use the right tool or the right mobile application to make those updates in real time so that the back office can understand and can know and can stay in a tight loop. And that was the biggest problem that all the different stakeholders, whether it’s the consumer, the technician or the back office, they’re not kept in a tight loop and organizations are using several different tools and manual processes that are working independently in silos.
Shripati Acharya 07:35
How does this change with Zuper as a solution?
Anand Subbaraj 07:38
Absolutely. So with Zuper we offer what is called intelligent work order management. And we offer smart scheduling, dispatching, location intelligence, asset management, inventory management, and several other capabilities that compliments that intelligent work order management and ensure that organizations are dispatching the right person with the right knowledge, right tools, at the right time every time, and offering a seamless experience to their customer in every interaction.
And we do this because we are not just offering these capabilities, but we are also integrating with the organization’s tech stack and the applications. So we are essentially breaking these silos that the organizations have and enabling them to have the right data flow and the information flow to offer that amazing user experience to their customers.
Shripati Acharya 08:30
So let’s go back to that refrigerator example, Anand, which you cited. So how would that be different in a Zuperised role?
Anand Subbaraj 08:38
Absolutely. Yeah. Great. So I’ll definitely explain this. This is very close to my heart because some of the organizations now with Zuper, are able to solve this problem and offer that amazing experience to their customers. So if I have to put Zuper in that story, let’s take the example of our recently introduced integration with HubSpot. Let’s assume this organization is using HubSpot for their customer support and Zuper as the field service management platform. Now, when a customer like myself, Anand, calls this organization.
When I call they would obviously know who I am because they’re using an industry leading CRM and customer support capability. And they receive my ticket and once they have created this ticket, they have all the information about who I am, the make and model of the refrigerator that I have. And after they have completed creating the ticket, the customer support agent would attempt to solve my issue through their troubleshooting guides, and we have all encountered and experienced this. They would ask us to unplug the fridge, try a few manual steps, try a few things. They would try the remote troubleshooting steps.
But when the customer support agent identifies that it requires a visit of a technician to my place, prior to Zuper what they would’ve done, they would’ve just called another department, or they would’ve just manually created or sent an email to this department of field service saying that they need to create a work order. They may create that work order manually, note that in Excel or use a different tool which was not connected to their customer support platform.
But in this case with Zuper and our integration with the organization’s tech stack in this case, HubSpot, that ticket can be converted to a work order with a click of a button. And we offer intelligence scheduling and dispatching. It took a schedule and dispatch to the right technician, let’s assume John is the technician. And we identified that John has the best rating for addressing this kind of an issue and has the right skillset to address the make and model of the refrigerator that I Anand, has in my home. So now John would get automatically dispatched to this particular work order.
On the day when John has to visit me, John can get a reminder on their mobile phone, on the Zuper app that they have a work order, that schedule, and John would know exactly which place this work order is. John would know that this is Anand, and Anand has this refrigerator, this refrigerator’s make and model. And John would be able to mark his status as on my way when he is traveling to my location. Now I would get an automated notification that John is on the way and I’d be able to track John live and I would know that John is going to visit my place at 10:00 AM in the morning.
And when John gets to my place, he has all the information. He knows what tools he would need to address this issue. And when John visits my place, he completes this work. He takes a picture before he starts work. He takes a picture after he has done the work. And throughout the work, the customer support agent who created the ticket is aware of everything that’s going on in my place, because we offer this bidirectional integration with the capabilities that they have from a customer support perspective in this case, HubSpot.
And this entire end to end operation is seamless from the perspective of this organization. And I, as a consumer, have full information and visibility on this end to end. And after the work is done, John is able to complete this work because he has the right tools. He has the knowledge. He finishes the work and he’s able to take the review from me. And he is also able to collect the payment from me with our first class integration for digital payments.
And as you can see the entire experience of me making that call to receiving that service by the technician is seamless. Everyone involved in this end-to-end process are kept in a tight loop and the organization is able to complete this fix right in the first time.
So at the end of the day, it’s a win-win for all the stakeholders involved. As a customer I am getting the best experience, as an organization they are able to service this and repair this right in the first time, which is efficient and it saves a lot of cost. I hope that gives you the perspective of how Zuper would solve this.
Shripati Acharya 13:40
Yes, it does. So I think you’re essentially extending the experience that we have today with all these consumer apps, which we take for granted now to these more commercial applications, where we still rely on phone and paper and tracking it that way. And definitely I can see the transparency which comes with it. They just lead to a much better experience and service delivery all around.
So what kind of industries would actually be ideal for this kind of a solution? So you mentioned refrigeration, air conditioning and things like that, but what are the other areas which would fall under this category?
Anand Subbaraj 14:20
Yes, at this point in time we are addressing about 12 different industries. We are addressing service industries at large, but we work with HVAC industries, plumbing, electrician, garage door repair, internet service providers, swimming pool maintenance, solar solutions, surveillance, and many other such organizations. We help organizations who serve residential customers and also organizations that serve commercial customers from a service standpoint.
Shripati Acharya 15:00
Okay. So it would be helpful to understand just the context, which are the geographies that we are primarily targeting here?
Anand Subbaraj 15:10
Our primary target is North America. From the very beginning we wanted to build this for a global audience, North America as the main market, but we also serve customers in Europe, UK, and in Asia Pacific.
Shripati Acharya 15:25
So let me take a step back and ask you about your career at Microsoft. You spend quite a bit of time there, and I would like to understand how that experience was and how, or what of that you have taken over to Zuper for both thinking about the opportunity and then running it?
Anand Subbaraj 15:55
Sure. I have learned tremendously in my career at Microsoft. I spent close to 14 years at Microsoft as a head of product in various consumer and enterprise products. And throughout the career, I had tremendous learnings. But there are two things that absolutely stand out.
Number one, how do you build an organization and a culture for global mindset and global ambition? Like we discussed, we are building a product out of India. Research and development is in India, but we are building this for a global audience. And all throughout my career at Microsoft, I’ve worked successfully with remote teams. And there were situations where I have been the only one in the U.S. for a team that was in another part of the world. And there are several takeaways that we have applied at Zuper to build a culture and process to scale globally.
And secondly, discipline and accountability into the organization. For example, as you are aware, we are very particular about meeting ethics, starting the meeting on time, sharing pre reads, sending out notes, et cetera, which may be considered very trivial in the hustle of a start-up. But this goes a long way in establishing the right processes, right mindset, discipline, and the accountability required to win in a global market.
Shripati Acharya 17:15
So with your India team, the engineering team and the product team primarily in India and the marketing and sales in the U.S. What are some of the challenges of this global SaaS out of India so to speak business models?
Anand Subbaraj 17:30
Yeah. So from day one, we were very particular that we are building this company product and culture for a global market. And there are a few elements I call out culturally from a cultural standpoint, what we are doing to address some of the challenges. And as I talk about these cultural elements, I’ll also talk about the challenges.
The first and most important thing is transparency and accountability because in such an organization, which is distributed around the world, it becomes extremely hard to establish that transparency and accountability. And in our case, as an organization we want to make sure that there is clarity about the vision, goals and outcomes that are required for us to be successful. And what has really worked for us is the OKR model, which is the objective and the key results model. And it has been a great tool. We have adopted that model across the organization. We have clear objectives and the results at the top level and every function, every individual aligns to the contribution of the OKRs. That’s the number one thing that has helped us quite a lot to address the challenges around transparency and accountability and create that culture.
Secondly, having a team and parts of the team distributed particularly in India, it is very hard to establish that customer first mindset or the customer first approach. Everyone in the organization needs to have that intimate understanding of the customers, their challenges, desires, motivations, all of that to ensure that there is innovation and empathy to create that strong impact.
And again, it is a top-down approach. And I wanted to share this story with the listeners. There was a situation last year where we had an implementation workshop that was scheduled with a customer in Texas, and it was supposed to be delivered by one of our product specialists. It was scheduled months in advance and was supposed to be attended by several people from the customers end. On the night before the meeting or before the workshop, the product specialist had to leave to India to address a family emergency.
And it was in the middle of the night. We had this option to reschedule this meeting, however I just happened to be in a different city in Texas attending another meeting. I decided to ramp up on the customer requirements overnight and deliver the workshop successfully in the morning. And that customer is now not just a huge supporter of our product, but they stand by our company and the culture. And this is the kind of customer obsession we need to build in the company to succeed on the global stage.
And lastly, I just want to talk about hiring aspects. Now, there are a lot of times where you are hiring for time zone comfort, but what we are trying to do culturally is breaking that regional barrier for hiring and our hiring is based on skills, value and the impact, and not just local time zone comfort. And it is very important to have this kind of a culture in the early stages of the organizations for us to have that global impact.
Shripati Acharya 20:55
So Anand, what are your customer acquisition channels? How are you acquiring your customers in North America for instance?
Anand Subbaraj 21:05
Yeah, so we have three customer acquisition channels. Number one is organic and inorganic growth that is driven by our marketing teams. Secondly, which is most important is our ecosystem partnerships. We identify larger ecosystems like Zendesk, Zoho, HubSpot, Salesforce, QuickBooks, and many others, and offer a seamless integration to enable a best of breed solution to the customer. And these engagements and relationships are working great for us from a customer acquisition perspective and providing a strong momentum. And third is channel reseller and system integrator partners that sell our solution.
Shripati Acharya 21:45
How is it for a start-up to establish these partnerships? Because what you’re talking about is fairly large established companies in the space. And what would be some of the tips you could give to listeners on forging these kinds of partnerships successfully?
Anand Subbaraj 22:10
Yeah, absolutely. This is something that we have got significant success early on, and it has been grounded by some best practices. A lot of those I learned during my time at Microsoft, that I wanted to share with the listeners.
Number one is combined value creation. It is very important to identify and select the platforms that you complement and create a clear value for the customers. And this is the starting point of identifying that platform that you want to engage, that you want to integrate with.
Number two is delivering a seamless integration that shines, and it is one of the most important aspects that you want to create an integration that offers that best experience to the customers to address their problem.
And third is creating the momentum via the partner marketplace. In almost all of these larger platforms they have a marketplace or an app marketplace that can be leveraged. And once you have established your presence through the app marketplace, there are some early wins and a momentum. And when that momentum happens, it is important to engage with the company for joint scale up GTM strategies. But the most important thing across all of these that I have mentioned is to have some early customer wins to showcase the value and build from there.
Shripati Acharya 23:35
Makes sense. Are there any other trends which you see in field service management, just taking a step back because it looks like it’s an industry which is very ripe for disruption? Zuper is coming in with a completely new kind of experience, both for the service provider and to the customer. What are the areas and new trends which you’re seeing coming into field service and workforce management?
Anand Subbaraj 24:05
Yeah. Well, there are four trends that we see here, and I’m going to talk briefly about each one of these trends.
Number one is disruption with AI and machine learning. We are noticing across all of these industries, small, medium, large scale companies, that it is not just enough to move from pen and paper to digital processes. This is the first step in the journey, but the best organizations, they need to automate and optimize their workflows with intelligence. And this intelligence is built based on fast information and trends. And this is where AI and machine learning shines and continues to cause disruptions in the way both the service providers and the organizations are currently operating.
Secondly, remote assistance. And it is becoming very important with COVID and with the current situation. Organizations are taking a critical look into their service calls that require a physical visit versus handling it remotely. There is advancement of technology, augmented reality, that really helps with remote assistance. Organizations are looking to invest in the right tools that offer a seamless integration between remote assistance and physical visits. And this not only helps organizations in improving efficiency, but they can continue to offer that best experience to their customers.
Number three is customer or consumer self-service. We discussed about the end-to-end seamless customer experience with all these new age consumer tools. And one of the most important things there is the self-service elements. And now every organization is looking to offer self-service booking, tracking, reviews and all these other capabilities that we have discussed at length here. This is to ensure that they are able to offer this seamless customer experience and improve efficiency.
And last but not the least, it’s about enabling the ecosystem. And we are seeing that organizations are looking to adopt best-of-breed solutions with fit for purpose tools and applications. And there is a huge need to offer seamless integration across popular applications and tools that enable service businesses to achieve their goals. And these are all the trends that we are seeing that are disrupting and will continue to disrupt the service industries.
Shripati Acharya 26:45
So AI and machine learning, remote assistance, consumer self-service and ecosystem integration could also be opportunities where entrepreneurs would find new areas to explore and start companies in this area.
Anand Subbaraj 27;00
Oh yeah, absolutely. AR or augmented reality based remote assistance is one of those areas where there is a lot of opportunity. And based on my personal experience, I’ve seen that there are many regions where finding high skilled technicians and engineers are hard, and this augmented reality based, or AR based remote assistance helps businesses remove this gap where high skilled experts can be anywhere in the world and offer assistance to a junior or less skilled technician in a customer location. And this requirement, as I said, is amplified with COVID, as organizations are looking for more efficient processes to handle remote jobs. And this is an area that is ripe for disruptions.
Shripati Acharya 27:50
That’s fascinating. First, we had the customer service, we have customer support, which went off for simple use cases. Like when you call the landline or you call some ticketing or a hotel and so on and so forth, we know that the customer service agent can be anywhere in the world. But what you are seeing Anand, like with AR and having this seamless connection between the expert and the technician on the ground, even that relationship can be anywhere in the world, the person on the back end.
Anand Subbaraj 28:20
Exactly. Yeah. This is a tremendous opportunity. Depending on how we are seeing the evolution, the AR capabilities need to evolve, but that’s where the opportunities also are, that if we have the right capabilities around AR this entire remote assistance can improve and offer that efficiency to the organizations.
Shripati Acharya 28:45
So very well Anand, we are out of time now. But before I close, if there is one thing which you would like our listeners, who are entrepreneurs, to take away from this, what would your message be?
Anand Subbaraj 29:00
Yeah, I’m just thinking here Shripati. There are lots of things that we have discussed here. But the one thing that I’d like entrepreneurs to take away is that there is a false notion of sorts that early stage start-ups cannot build engagement with larger organizations in a successful way to drive customer acquisition. And based on the experience and the early success that we are seeing, I think it can absolutely be done by an early stage start-up. There are a couple of things there that are very critical to establish that kind of a relationship with larger ecosystems.
Number one is to have a rich product. It needs to be a product play. The product needs to bring in rich capabilities and differentiators.
And secondly, having the right mindset, follow that right process to engage with the larger ecosystem is very important, driven by early customer wins. And once that happens, it doesn’t really matter the stage of the organization. Even an early stage start-up can establish great collaboration and success with the larger ecosystem. And this would be one key learning and key takeaway for the audience here based on what we have seen and the success that we have driven so far.
Shripati Acharya 30:20
It was great having a whirlwind tour of field service and workforce management from the eyes of Zuper. Thanks Anand for being on the show.
Anand Subbaraj 30:25
Thank you so much Shripati.
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