The New Visionaries: Matt ‘Finn’ Finnernan

I got a demo of the newest version of Sparkcentral, the social customer support solution, the other day. I rapidly realized that I wanted to pull Finn (as I was introduced to him) into this series, even though I had only met him once. In particular, his role in business development has brought him into close contact with companies that are at the forefront of social customer support, which is the vanguard of the social business movement these days.

About Matt ‘Finn’ Finneran

Matt Finneran

As his company bio says,

Matthew “Finn” Finneran first cut his teeth as a business major (with a focus on entrepreneurship) at the University of North Carolina, but wanted one last adventure before entering the fast-paced fray of the start-up world.

After a stint as Richard Branson’s second mate, scuba diving instructor and submarine pilot on the Necker Belle, Finn returned to N.C to pursue his business career at Argyle Social, where he served as a top sales executive and honed his skills in social media.

Wanting more from work (and life) than selling marketing software, Finn moved nearly 3,000 miles across the country to revolutionize how businesses approach customer service alongside CEO Davy Kestens at Sparkcentral as his co-founder and Head of Business Development.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd:  Social media is rapidly becoming the preferred means of customer support, at east from the view of the customer. Why do you think that is? Is it tied to the sense that complaints (or praise) in public carries more weight with the brand?

Matt Finneran: I think it’s due to a few factors. The first being that it’s the most mobile friendly option. It’s easy for consumers to take out their phone and reach anyone they know with a few touches. Additionally the consumer is becoming more and more phone-phobic. They almost don’t enjoy calling their friends anymore so they definitely don’t want to call a brand. Social Media continues to be the medium they communicate with their peers with and so it makes the most sense that they’d intuitively go there to find brands as well.

SB: It’s interesting that the device that makes them more likely to connect socially with a brand is a ‘phone’, but people don’t want a ‘telephone support experience’. I bet the customer support folks don’t want to talk on the phone anymore, either, right?

MF: (Laughs).  I’d imagine if I had to talk on the phone all day I wouldn’t want to talk either! It’s definitely a trend to move away from talk minutes. You’re seeing the decline of minutes used on mobile phones and the increasing use of data and texting so it’s something the consumer is finding it’s a better experience with less friction.

SB: How big of an impact with social customer support have on the business? How will marketing and customer support share the medium to make it all work?

MF: Millions of dollars a year are spent on marketing and it only takes one social media crisis to tarnish all effects of that good money. Social customer service and engagement is both a way to protect your brand and the marketing dollars you’re already investing as well as a way to differentiate yourself from your competitor. Can you answer your customers in the same amount of time it takes one of their own friends to answer them? Can you remember their birthday or if they’re going to run a marathon in a few months? If so then you start to become a friend, not a brand.

SB: I guess that getting up to social speed is critical, which poses a scaling issue for the company. When companies move in this direction do they need more or less support people?

MF:  It really depends. Typically, they’ll need to devote some resources to at least one or two more individuals that can help implement the processes, but we’ve found that many of our clients have promoted their “best of the best” customer service reps out of the contact center and into the social customer service teams. So there are certainly synergies with current resources but, of course, it’s not entirely capable of being implemented without devoting specific resources towards it. And don’t forget about software to handle these kinds of issues to help make your employees the most efficient they can be (wink). It’s amazing how many companies are willing to throw more bodies at a problem when actually taking away some people and adding a bit of software makes everything much better for much less.

SB: What is different in the social customer support center compared to the old, telephone-dominated world? It’s more than just dropping the annoying phone menu trees and long wait times, right?

MF: There are many differences between social and traditional customer support channels, but one of the most unique things I like to think about is that social isn’t scripted. You simply can’t play a standard greeting or say a standard scripted apology… it doesn’t work. Brands that try and make Twitter the same as their call center ultimately end up looking like dinosaurs. The consumer is now wanting to interact with brands as if they were a real person, not as if they were some mega-conglomerate that doesn’t care. It’s amazing to see what some brands have done in this regard to being personal and I think that will continue to show big gains for them as a company in the future.

SB: Do you see the traditional call center closing down, then?

MF: No way. At least not in the next 10-15 years. There are so many channels outside of social, and phones are still the preferred method for lots of customers. Ultimately it’s a mistake for the company to try and make the consumer do what is best for the company rather than doing what is best for the customer. If the customer wants to call, then let them. But it’s also worth noting that calls are the biggest cost for companies from a customer service perspective, so putting other channels in place that allow at least a portion of their customers to not HAVE to call can result in significant value. Combine that with the rising opinion of customers that they’d rather NOT call, and you can really have a win-win situation.

SB: What’s Sparkcentral’s special sauce? How are you different from other competitors out there?

MF: We’re faster. No one can beat our speed. Our customers’ customers demand speed and so it’s on us to give the same expectation to our customers. That speed carries over into many areas as well. Our software is the fastest and allows for real-time customer engagement, but we like to think we’re pretty fast too. If you need help from us you can Tweet us or you can contact your account manager and you’ll get an incredibly fast and friendly response. I think a lot of software companies can’t eat their own dog food and that’s a shame.

SB: There is no substitute for fast. Also there is no substitute for scaling during a crisis, where a company might be inundated with customer support requests. How do you architect for that?

MF: One of the most obvious factors is that we’re in the cloud, which makes scaling from an architectural standpoint much easier. No longer do airlines and cable companies also have to be software and hardware companies by keeping and maintaining servers… they can leave that up to the software companies. On top of that, our development team is one of the best. They’re constantly learning the latest technologies that make things quicker while using less memory. We’ve designed our platform to withstand nearly anything you can throw at it. To sum up, we’ve planned for social meltdowns.

SB: Planning for the inevitable. I wish New York City had been using Sparkcentral before Hurricane Sandy, Finn. Thanks for your time.

MF: Thanks for asking me.