Startups traditionally begin with a couple of entrepreneurs who think up an idea, start to develop the technology and find customers, and at the same time raise capital to finance their venture. Less common are startups that begin inside more mature companies, and function independently within them. They generally grow as an internal project meant to serve the company itself, but as time goes on it is realized that their solutions can also be sold to external customers.
An example of such a startup is Wix Answers, which was set up in order to develop systems for managing Wix's customer service network. "We developed the solutions ourselves because there wasn't anything in the industry that would meet our needs," says Elad Eran, described as the founder and CEO of the internal startup. Eran has worked at Wix.com Ltd. (Nasdaq: WIX) since 2008, and in fact set up its customer service network, which now numbers some 1,500 people. In 2017, he started working on Wix Answers, and after two years left his previous position in order to manage the startup full time.
"Over the years, people from the industry would ask us what we used, because they weren't happy with their support systems. We spotted an opportunity beckoning us. Two years ago, we offered the system to MyHeritage, a B2C company with a call center employing hundreds of agents giving customer support. Since then, other customers have joined, such as Fiverr, Yotpo, Guesty, and lots of small and medium-size companies," he says.
What principles were important for you to embody in the product?
"The product was developed in order to fulfil a fantasy of mine that the customer service organization really should have an impact on decision making in the company. I mean that the great strength of support organizations is that they speak all day to users and know what's happening - bugs, requests for features, operating difficulties. When you talk to a customer, your ability to understand and get down to the fine details is priceless. How do I know that my vision has been fulfilled? Because today, the development and product people see the reports from Wix Answers - what people ask for, what they complain about, and what questions they have about using the product.
"Support is a punch bag, because no-one calls to say that the product is perfect; they call to complain. But one of the impressive things that have happened at Wix is that each quarter, when we deal with the company's road map, the support people participate. Once they realize that this is significant and that they are listened to, they don't leave support. They see it as a career. I also have support people who have gone on to become excellent product managers, and a worker who left to start an SEO company, because he had become an expert in support," he says. "There's a very deep philosophy of how to build customer support, and how to feed material from it into the product and show what the customers are talking about now."
A consolidated platform
Wix, which was founded in 2006, developed a system for building websites easily. At the end of the second quarter of this year it had 181 million users, 18% more than it had a year previously. This means that Wix has to support more and more customers. In 2017, CEO Avishai Abrahami even said in an interview with "The Marker" that the standard of support at the company was inadequate. "Our customer numbers are growing, and in recent months it has been very hard for us to respond to them all. That stems from several causes, and I could invent excuses, but in the end the responsibility is mine, and we haven't come to this sufficiently prepared. This is the challenge we face today," he said. Setting up Wix Answers was presumably part of the attempt to improve in this respect.
The startup is run independently, managed, as mentioned, by Eran, and he has his own profit and loss account. Wix Answers' biggest customer is Wix itself, with its 1,500 support people. The startup employs 100 people, 80 of them in Israel, chiefly in research and development, while the rest are in the US. Wix is the investor that finances the company, which has hundreds of paying customers, but it would not disclose any information about revenue.
According to Eran, the product's main advantage is that all communication channels are on one platform (telephone calls, emails, chat, contact forms, and text messages). The system can also present the customer's profile, contact history, and information existing on other systems, such as Salesforce.
Eran adds that the system also allows extraction of horizontal data in real time, to identify trends in the most common types of enquiries, bugs, gaps in a product, and so forth. Additional technology is currently under development that will allow integration of automation, as determined by the service manager.
Another thing that Wix Answers has improved is the building of a knowledge base, with the aid of which customers can look for solutions to their problems by themselves. "We know that 90% of the questions are generic, and we have managed to reduce calls to support by 25%, because these are questions that don't require a representative to answer them. Our system sits on a database, and can tell if a certain article is not helpful or if no-one has looked at it, and then we know that it has to be improved or removed. It is also possible to derive business insights from this information," Eran says, adding that Wix has 15,000 articles in each language, and that the support people also use them to provide appropriate answers.
There are other Israeli companies that have dealt with customer service centers for many years, such as Nice Systems and Liveperson. What about them?
"Nice and Liveperson are excellent solutions for specific channels integrated with other products. For example, if you buy a Liveperson chat solution, every additional channel or knowledge base will have to be bought from a different provider and undergo integration. What distinguishes us is that all the channels are on the one system, connected to the knowledge base, enabling all the needs of the service department to be consolidated. In addition, we took the do-it-yourself concept from Wix, and made it possible to implement the product fast, without code. The customer can adapt the system to his needs and start using it within 7-8 hours. The intuitiveness and ease of use are an advantage in a market of complicated systems like Salesforce and Zendesk."
Will it end in a spin-off?
It is too early to say what Wix's financial strategy is for Wix Answers. It could decide on a spin-off, or it could leave it as a profit center.
"Will there be a spin-off? That depends on the results at the beginning of the new year. There are things that affected the business this year, such as the coronavirus pandemic and the elections in the US, and we want to see what the lasting effect will be. For example, we have many opportunities in the aviation market, but at the moment that's a market that has been wiped out. We also have to examine how much we gain from the Wix brand name," Eran explains.
How in fact has the pandemic affected your market?
"What we saw was that at the beginning of the coronavirus companies hunkered down and didn't want to change systems, because they didn't know what would happen. Towards the end of the year a positive trend has started, among other things because companies want to streamline and save money.
"The coronavirus shook up the world of traditional companies. I have been at support centers where the system is installed on computers at their offices, and people have to go there. Now they realize that there are other solutions, and that people can work from home. There are also companies benefitting from huge traffic, such as Shufersal, where I believe that after things calm down a bit they will reorganize. In the US we already have customers in distinctly traditional industries, such as large furniture companies."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 5, 2020
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