Interview with Özkan Demir, CEO of Pisano and Mike Soylu Co-founder and General Manager for Asia-Pacific branch of Pisano, a Wesley Clover portfolio company.
Their idea began with the desire to connect businesses to their customers. During a trip in Italy, Pisano co-founders took the train to a region called Cinque Terre. The area was recognized in 1997 by the Unesco Mankind’s World Heritage and is now a protected area, mainly for its quaint beauty and cultural heritage. They arrived in Monterosso and saw a long line of people waiting for something. They didn’t think anything of it and were hungry, so they looked up the area on Tripadvisor. They picked the best ranked spot and started to head that way, only to find that the long lineup they’d seen was to get into that restaurant. Özkan didn’t relish the idea of waiting, but they stuck it out to see what all the fuss was about. After an excellent meal they spoke with the owner and asked why the lineup was so large. He said he hadn’t changed his service or his food, but since they got on to Tripadvisor all the great feedback they were receiving drove business through the roof.
That experience sparked an idea. Tripadvisor provided the restaurateur a service, but he had no control over it. It was almost as though Tripadvisor managed their clients for them. The owner is the entrepreneur who makes the investment and provides the service, so he makes all the effort on that side of the exchange. The customer, on the other hand, makes all the effort on the other side. They go out of their way to wait in line and pay for the service, despite the risk that it might not be a good experience in the end.
A platform like Tripadvisor separates the business and the customer. The customer leaves their comments and has no idea if they get read or acknowledged. The restaurant receives these comments but they don’t know how accurate the person is in describing their experience. For all they know the reviewer left a comment intended for a different restaurant. But that one comment could have a rippling effect of driving future customers to their competitors. There’s a lot of power behind these comments, but the owner has absolutely no control over them. The platform controls the reviews. Information is offered up to them freely – information that has a profound effect on businesses – without them having an ounce of risk associated with it. For small tourist-dependent places like the restaurant in Monterosso, it’s almost like Tripadvisor is controlling the narrative and the fate of their business.
Pisano began with the notion that the business owner should have an ownership of the feedback being given about them. They can turn it into a win and use it to improve their product and their service. If the customer was unsatisfied they should be able to find a way to resolve the problem directly with the customer so they don’t lose them as a returning patron. With other platforms the founders of Pisano believe that there is too much negative impact on businesses resulting from bad reviews. They decided they would build a platform where business owners can listen to the voice of their customers, and customers can feel like they’ve been heard.
The team at Pisano started to partner with local restaurants and hotels but found the market to be difficult to grow in. The hospitality industry is saturated with review platforms, and most of the hotels in Turkey are billion-dollar U.S. chains that don’t need help from a startup. So, they started to set their sights on other sectors: utilities, banking, insurance, and retail. They started to find their sweet spot. Özkan remembers a conversation with a representative from one of the global U.K. retailers they had started working with. Her feedback was very positive, but also tremendously valuable. She appreciated how they were able to manage the interactions with customers in the physical stores, but noted that their enterprise could also use someone to manage their online customer interactions with their mobile application, e-commerce website, contact center solutions, and social media. It was an ‘aha’ moment for Pisano: evolution into an omnichannel approach. That was the day they saw the whole picture.
The omnichannel service integrates customer experience feedback from all forms of communication, both physical and online. It allows a business to track individual experiences and bring them all together. They began to offer this approach to all of their clients and business took off from there. It was the move to this holistic integration of customer channels that propelled them into the omnichannel player they are today, bringing digital, mobile, contact centre, and physical locations into one platform. At this point they began expanding into more and more countries.
In 2018, Pisano moved their head office to the U.K. There are certain limitations inherent to operating only from Turkey, so as Pisano gained more clients they started offices in regions close to the Clients in Western Europe often referred them to offices in London, those in Middle-East North Africa (MENA) would refer to offices in Dubai. It was only natural to set up new offices in places that kept them in close contact with their customers. The next area of expansion is into the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, so Mike is setting up a base of operations in Singapore. In this way, the company grew organically and currently has customers from twenty-four countries.
Pisano’s growth hasn’t brought them to the U.S. quite yet. For now they’re capturing the demand in the regions closest to them first. They’ve set their sights on the fastest growing market for customer experience: APAC. They believe there’s a lot of new, young, and strong companies in that region that are searching for new technologies from the west like customer experience platforms.
It’s still early days but Mike has found Singapore to be ripe with opportunities for Pisano coming from the startup scene all the way up to multinational corporations. Singapore provides unparalleled access to the region and is a respected centre for business particularly in south-east and far-east Asia. It’s a whole different world from the European and MENA business cultures, but there’s a local appreciation for western tech companies that Mike finds encouraging. They are quite curious to see what new tech trends are coming out of Europe.
Individually, Özkan is quite happy to be quarantined. During the company’s global expansion he’s been a very frequent flyer. Pisano now has a lot of customers in different regions, so his life is spent largely on airplanes, in airports, cabs, and restaurants. He said it makes him feel fatigued often despite his healthy lifestyle. Before Covid-19 he was visiting six countries a week, constantly in transit. He enjoys being sedentary at the moment.
However, just because there’s less travel doesn’t mean business has slowed. Their industry is a competitive one, so this is not the time to take the foot off the pedal. Mike was following the early developments of the pandemic from Singapore and relaying information from there, so they were alerted to what was happening earlier than a lot of other companies.
The first step was to make sure their team was ready to work from home. Their employees live in different countries and it was important to establish what each would need to be effective workers from home depending on their environment. There were some who didn’t have internet at home, and some that didn’t have a table to work on. It was important to resolve these things early. The business has a lot of momentum at the moment and they didn’t want to lose that, so it was important to make sure they didn’t lose motivation while making sure that everyone was feeling comfortable, healthy, and secure in their objectives.
The reason the team needed to be well situated in a productive environment was because the company is using this opportunity to push their business even harder. Not only would they expect the same level of work from their team, they would ask for even more. Their drive for success is rooted in a strong sense of competition. Pisano fully intends on delivering the same service despite the current challenges because they can’t lose any of their gains. Everyone will need to make some sacrifices to continue moving business forward. They got everyone on the same page so that everyone could properly focus on their customers.
The next step was to offer all of their customers the flexibility to expand their use of the platform at no additional cost. Every client is sold a tailored package, so not everyone gets access to the same functionalities. However, due to the sudden shift in customer behaviour some companies would need to expand their access. For instance, a bank might have certain transactions that happen primarily at a branch that are now only happening online. Perhaps their systems are set up for physical customer experience but not digital. In one case, Özkan said that one of their clients who was receiving eight hundred calls per week to their call centre suddenly had a spike of forty-thousand calls to resolve. Once the team realized this they completely opened up access to all the channels in their platform to all their customers.
The final step was to offer new smaller packages for businesses that had already shown interest but were not onboarded yet. For the same reasons as above, some businesses may find a sudden need for Pisano’s services and would like to accelerate the process but don’t have the financial security or liquidity to pay full price for what they need at this time. Pisano put together a package that opens the whole platform until September at a reduced cost. When things go back to normal, of course their fees will return to normal. In the meantime, customers will discover Pisano’s services, so it will be easy to tailor an appropriate bundle in the future. Get in touch with them online to learn more about their latest packages.
The result has been rewarding. They’ve received excellent feedback from old and new customers who are activating a lot of new functionalities to reach their customers from sources they hadn’t tried yet. The Pisano team has aided their customers by offering webinars, curated content, and access to free consulting. They’re constantly in contact with their customers to see if they can be of any service at this time.
Özkan explained the mentality behind this move. During the pandemic everyone’s lives have been simplified. Whereas before you might do a hundred different things in a day, now you do two or three. In normal times, we saturate our lives with activities so one single experience in the day doesn’t necessarily stand out. During the pandemic we stay in our homes and have less impactful moments in the day. He wants Pisano client’s interactions with their customers to be one of those few good things to happen to their day. It’s a chance to make their business be remembered in a good light when things return back to normal. He believes that in the aftermath people (and businesses) will make decisions based on those positive experiences.
Consumer behaviour may not go back to the previous status quo after the pandemic has passed. Businesses are realizing that they need to reach and understand their existing client base now more than ever. The team has proven what they can do and the service they can deliver. Pisano has proved themselves as a company that can help businesses maintain that important relationship between company and consumer.
To explore more of our content, visit the Alacrity Canada Blog page where you’ll see Alacrity’s podcast on early-stage tech investment Between 2 Term Sheets, and our cleantech podcast series, Cleantech Talks. Follow us: @alacritycanada on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest in tech news, and information about upcoming events.
Alacrity Canada is a venture builder that supports driven entrepreneurs. We help create thriving companies & connect them to our global network of expert investors & mentors.