Sparkcentral Executive Interview
Sparkcentral CEO and Co-Founder Davy Kestens, Sparkcentral
Twenty-Something Entrepreneur Aims to Become ‘Biggest Player in the Market’ by Taking a Channel-Agnostic View of Customer Service
There have been countless stories of youthful visionaries taking the technology business world by storm. Some flame out within a few years: others sell out and are either assimilated into larger companies or move on to conquer new frontiers. But those who go on to the greatest acclaim …the Mark Zuckerbergs, Mark Cubans and Elon Musks…are nimble-minded individuals with the capacity to continuously redefine their goals and reshape their products to meet evolving market needs.
It’s too soon to judge whether Davy Kestens, CEO and Co-Founder of cloud social media/customer engagement software provider Sparkcentral, fits that mold, but he’s off to a good start. Kestens, who describes himself as a “motivated young lunatic …with a highly entrepreneurial vision on my life,” grew up in the land of chocolate, premium beer and waffles. During his formative years in Belgium, he became a problem solver, assembling old computers and taking on freelance assignments for website projects. While trying to balance college with working on a content management project, he had his epiphany.
“I couldn’t respond to customers on the phone while in classes, so I pushed every user of the platform to social media, which ultimately resulted in our having to deal with more than 1000 questions and complaints on Twitter,” recalls Kestens. “There was no way to maintain context and we wound up sending multiple responses to the same customers.” He searched for a web tool to help meet the ever-increasing volume but found nothing suitable. Thus, Sparkcentral…initially known as Twitspark…was born.
Kestens created his own system --he actually built and sold the first prototype which was soon deconstructed and rebuilt by his development team. The technology quickly found traction with forward-thinking enterprise organizations that saw the need to improve their response to customers on social media. The company was founded in 2011 and incorporated in 2012, and Kestens relocated to the tech environment of San Francisco.
“We’re completely focused on customer service,” said Kestens. “Brands can engage customers wherever they are and respond more quickly. Our solution enables them to get back to customers on social media, ideally in less than five minutes but in no more than 10 minutes.”
While it was initially aimed at serving the social channel, Sparkcentral quickly saw the bigger picture. “Increased use of social media is not the only change in customer behavior,” he said. “Customer service now goes across all channels and social service is migrating to the contact center. Within some teams, agents are now switching back and forth between channels but in other environments, agents are focused on social.” To help customers better schedule their staffing needs, Sparkcentral is integrating with workforce management software.
“We started with social but now we’ve moved to the contact center,” said Kestens. “Our impetus is to help companies enhance their brand, improve customer satisfaction and deliver promised value, faster than the competition. We’ve built a channel-agnostic customer engagement system that looks not at the interaction channel but at the customer. Workflow takes care of any channel the customer uses to enter. The solution incorporates an interactive dashboard that aggregates and consolidates data from all channels into an integrated view that enables proactive and personal engagement, as well as providing a prioritization engine and smart routing. Instead of opening cases, which we believe is outmoded, it creates a ticketless, unified, one-to-one conversation with the customer.”
Sparkcentral recently announced that it has raised $12M from new and existing investors. Kestens believes that such investments are driven by the need for updated customer support software. “The average software in the industry is 25 to 30 years old,” he noted. “Our goal is to take over from existing systems and become the largest player in the market. Companies between 100 and 10,000 people are deploying our product. Presently, it may be used by 10 to 50 people in the contact center, but it’s making a difference. I get emails from agents who said they want to send me champagne and flowers, although I haven’t actually received any yet. In one company a manager who was highly resistant at first actually got up and hugged our salesperson when he came back.”
Sparkcentral’s roster of customers includes major airlines, banking/financial institutions, travel companies and retailers. Its customers are 65% US-based, but its international profile is growing. The company recently opened an office in Kestens’ native Belgium and is currently looking to expand in San Francisco.