Annie Tsai of Demandforce: Automating Customer Relationships

We all know that the online world has changed the way we do business. And one of the areas largely affected has been that of customer service and customer relations. However, many small businesses do not have the staff or the resources to stay on top of this to the degree that they’d like to. So what’s a small business to do? Tune in as Annie Tsai of Demandforce joins Brent Leary to provide an automated solution.

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Annie TsaiSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a bit about what Demandforce does?

Annie Tsai: We focus on the services industry of small business like dentists and doctors, spas and salons, auto shops, dog walkers, those types of people who are delivering services to consumers every day.

What we do is help these small businesses thrive in the Internet economy. They traditionally have offline businesses, and we help them get online with customer relationships and email marketing, social marketing, as well as reputation.

Consumer voices are becoming so powerful in terms of generating new business and becoming the referral engine for companies everywhere. Traditional small businesses need to have a voice.  And in order to do that, they need to be online and we are helping them do that.

Small Business Trends: There are a lot of traditional businesses out there that do most of their business offline but still need to have an online presence.

Annie Tsai: Consumers are looking for a dentist in the new town they are living in. They are tracking things online, but they are asking for referrals from the people they trust.

One of the messages we really try to drive with our customers is that it is not just about getting your views out there syndicated.  We want to make sure that we are automating the relationship piece. We are asking for referrals for you; we are asking for the reviews; we are sending out thank yous; we are sending out birthday reminders.

All of those things that people have historically been snail mailing, or calling for.  We are doing it for them.

Small Business Trends: In some instances, they aren’t doing it at all.  They have 20 things they are trying to do at the same time and things fall through the cracks.

Annie Tsai: Yes, we like to tell our prospective customers that a lot of the really important things that Demandforce does for them is that we automate, and do a lot of the stuff that they would spend a lot of time doing manually.  So they can be in front of the customers who are walking through the door and maximize the time they have.

Small Business Trends: Let’s talk a little bit about your title, Chief Customer Officer. When you were going to school did you hear that title and think that something that I wanted to be one day, or is it something that has kind of evolved as you started working?

Annie Tsai: I think definitely the latter. For me it was definitely a little bit of a winding road.  But I was happiest when I focused on the customer experience.  And not just the customer experience from a marketing perspective, or from a support customer perspective.

As the Chief Customer Officer, I have a really unique situation because anything that the customer is impacted by, my team has a hand in.  That is really great because we get to help define the DemandForce voice, the voice we use to deliver a message. We get to help define the delivery of a variety of projects across all departments.

I think that our customers are really seeing the difference there.

Small Business Trends: How often are you interacting with customers on social networks, or email, or phone in general? How connected are you with the voice of the customer?

Annie Tsai: We are very connected with our customers. I personally am on the Demandforce Facebook page watching stuff, and on our Twitter feed replying to the customers and talking with them throughout the day.

I am personally talking to customers on a weekly basis and we bring customers in for focus groups and user group usability studies regularly.

We also had a few community events that I have gone to where we have really been able to continue to have a conversation with them, continue learning from our customers and finding out which features are great. Which features need to be tweaked and also what do we need to do better.

Small Business Trends: How do you take that information into the executive team meetings and say, “Hey, this is what the customer is saying.” How is that embraced when it comes to an executive team?

Annie Tsai: I will give you an example.  Recently, we rolled out with an new integration and there was one feature we started hearing feedback on because it was something that our customers felt was necessary.

I empowered my team to own parts of the customer experience, so our technical support manager has a top ten feature list. He is the voice of the customer priority there, and determines what gets fixed and in what order for customers.

He’s done a great job of taking all of our various inbound channels and collating it.  And taking the data that we have – and we have a ton of data we use to measure what has happened to our customers – he takes that and he is the voice.  He says this is what is really important and this is why, and I take his message and I try to drive it home.

We are also fortunate because every executive on the executive team is very customer focused. Customers still call Rick, our president, and leave messages with him and he calls them back.  Sometimes I call them back too.  It is really important for him to make sure that he is connected to the customer as well.  Because they are what got us here, and we are continuing to develop products which make them successful.

Small Business Trends: The fact that your CEO still is connected, still calls, returns calls, and interacts with customers, we don’t necessarily hear that as often as we should.

Annie Tsai: With 18,000 customers and growing, it really speaks to the fact we believe in our customers and believe we are doing things for our customers.  We can’t do that if we’re not talking to them.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more?

Annie Tsai: You can visit us on our website at

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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