Debjani Deb: Redefining Personalization with Artificial Intelligence

Innovative companies are increasingly turning to disruptive technologies to help strengthen customer relationships, provide unique experiences, and increase revenue and growth. A company which transforms the way organizations interact with their customers on the ever-expanding list of digital channels is ZineOne. CEO Debjani Deb heads the company.

ZineOne provides an AI-powered personalization platform called the ZineOne Intelligent Customer Engagement (ICE). The platform enables organizations to deliver relevant, engaging, 1:1 ‘in-the-moment’ experiences in real-time, allowing brands to understand and respond to individual customer activity and provide genuinely personalized engagement. Hence, brands can influence loyalty and conversions across a multitude of channels such as the website, mobile, social, ATM, POS, via chatbots, and on-site.

The company’s customers are primarily in the retail, e-commerce, restaurant, hospitality, and financial services industries. They see 10x higher response rates with ZineOne’s ICE platform compared to other traditional forms of personalization solutions. The increase in response rates drives various forms of conversion and task completion rates and directly impacts business KPIs such as revenue growth. In other words, ZineOne’s real-time interactions deliver ROI in terms of:

•  Increased engagement

•  Increased conversion/task/transaction completion rates

•  Faster time to market

•  Decreased time to dynamically modify the customer experience

Debjani’s responsibility is to lead the execution of the vision and be responsible for the overall company performance. Previously, she was the co-founder of EmPower which was sold to Genpact (NYSE G) and the Worldwide CSO at GCI, a WPP company. Before ZineOne, she worked with Booz Allen Hamilton, ONI systems, Mayan Networks, and AT&T Bell Labs.

Debjani received an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Business and an MS in Computer Science from Stanford University.


Getting the Business Fundamentals Right

Debjani emphasizes that there is nothing more important than customer validation to define and build a successful product. So, Debjani engaged with customers during the initial months of the company’s founding, interacting with them closely, to define and develop its platform.

“We were willing to experiment, but we did so with the organizations that were the ultimate users of the platform. Our thinking was that even if we didn’t get everything right, it was okay, and if we were going to fail, we would fail quickly and learn from it,” said Debjani

Such a mindset helped the company iterate through multiple dimensions of its platform with active engagement from its customers and prospects along the way.

Further, she believes that the fundamentals of a business matter. She stressed how focusing on revenue and costs is essential. Raising money is a means to an end and not the end. Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs define success by the amount of money raised, and in the long run, this is not the metric that necessarily defines a successful outcome.

Finally, it is all about the team! Spending time to build and nurture the right team members is time-consuming and can be difficult but if done well can help a company succeed and can be the difference between good companies and great ones.


Leveraging Machine Learning to Deliver Personalized Interactions

ZineOne’s machine learning models incorporate streaming data which captures a visitor’s most immediate and relevant context to provide organizations the ability to react to their behavior, while they are engaged on any given channel. These models make predictions on customer intent (bounce, purchase, etc.) and then orchestrate an appropriate action based on that prediction at that moment. These real-time insights, when combined with relevant customer information gleaned from enterprise systems such as CRMs and ERPs build continuously updated customer intelligence. Such intelligence enables organizations to understand their customers’ immediate needs better and to serve them with the most relevant and meaningful information. The real-time decision-making capability of user activity delivers contextually relevant and personalized actions that enhance the user experience and increases revenue.

“One of our customers, a top 10 US retailer, is using our ML models to predict bounce or purchase intent by the 5th click (or tap) with more than 90% accuracy,” asserted Debjani.

The ZineOne ICE platform uses these predictions to show relevant and contextual offers that keep customers on the site longer and motivates them to make a purchase or take other appropriate action. The retailer has seen a 50+% increase in redemption rate and a 12% net revenue lift with such real-time personalized offers. For the retail industry where the margins can be razor-thin, this type of revenue lift is phenomenal.


Innovative Technology to Drive Productivity

Debjani believes that the increase in the adoption of technologies such as cloud computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, IoT and others is disruptive and also exciting. First, leaders have to keep abreast of new and emerging technologies and determine which ones make the most sense for their organization and how to best incorporate it.

It also means that there are many ways for a leader to be productive, but more importantly, these technologies help organizations to more meaningfully engage with their ecosystem which includes customers, partners, and employees.


Creating a Culture of Innovation

“Innovation is in our company’s lifeblood. It is why we have several patents pending for the technologies that are behind the ZineOne Intelligent Customer Engagement platform including the ZineOne Customer DNA, ML models on the edge, and others,” commented Debjani.

The company also focuses on industries that have digital channels such as the website, mobile apps, social media, chatbots, and others that can benefit from integrating more tightly with an on-site presence for real multi-channel marketing.

What’s even more unique is that it can incorporate real-time streaming data (large amounts of continuously updated data) with data from multiple organizational systems, 3rd party sources, and others to provide recommendations that are highly relevant, recent, and likely to be accepted by site visitors. As a result, a visitor is more likely to engage with an organization not only increasing their spending with them but also more likely to become loyal customers.


Be Committed and Passionate

Talking about the vital attributes that every innovative leader should possess, Debjani puts forward three essential qualities:

1. Honesty and Integrity – For a person to be successful in leading a company, honesty and integrity are critical. Without it, a business might be able to operate in the short-term, but ultimately, it will not be successful. Without honesty and integrity, customers, employees, and partners would not trust the company and its employees enough to continue to do business with them.

2. Commitment and Passion – Debjani is very passionate about how the intersection of AI and software can solve problems that weren’t previously possible. The industry’s increasing comfort with the cloud, exponential growth in computing power, and recent advancements in data science have all come together to allow companies like them to help organizations in many industries to engage with their customers on a 1:1 basis, in-the-moment. “Such a relevant and real-time engagement would not be possible with our AI-powered, real-time personalization platform,” she added.

3. Delegation and Empowerment – When a company is growing as fast as ZineOne (its revenue grew 4x from 2017 to 2018), delegation and empowerment are especially critical.

Debjani feels exceptionally fortunate to have attracted a group of talented and empowered employees that are passionate about ZineOne’s platform and the company mission.


Artificial Intelligence-Driven Future

Commenting on the future of AI industry, Debjani said, “We are already seeing AI become a key element in helping an organization to more productively operate its day-to-day business, introduce new products, and gain efficiencies that weren’t previously possible. AI is also interacting with and assisting customers and employees regularly. However, AI hasn’t achieved its full potential yet, and there are many more innovations that have yet to come to fruition. In the future, we think AI will impact all aspects of an organization through smarter and faster decision-making at all levels and for more activities.”

Today, customers’ ever-present digital connections to an organization result in heightened expectations with their interactions. Customers—particularly those of younger generations—demand to be known and engaged by brands authentically, in ways that are meaningful and relevant to their personal needs and desires.

Further, she says that there is a proliferation in the number of channels available for customer interactions such as websites, email, mobile apps, social, chatbots, kiosks, ATMs, PoS, and IoT not to mention the physical site. To be effective and have meaningful interactions with their customers, partners, and employees, organizations need to provide a consistent experience across each of these channels. However, an overwhelming amount of siloed customer data hinders the ability of many organizations to obtain insights, correlate events or contextualize interactions.

Debjani believes that such an approach should not be limited to only customer interactions, but be applied to partner and employee interactions. It’s clear that organizations need a new approach to understand and interact with their customers. This approach requires a modern technology stack that leverages AI to make customer engagement intelligent, personalized, faster and scalable.


The Balancing Act

According to Debjani, bringing a next-generation enterprise-grade platform to market requires a combination of vision, execution, and serendipity. When the incubation period of a product is 2+ years, and you are trying to read the early market signs while at the same time evangelizing it to establish and be the benchmark requires a significant balancing act.

“We had a determined team at ZineOne that was committed to our vision and willing to do whatever it took to define a next-generation product. Based on feedback from our customers and the fact that they continue to expand their use of our platform to additional use cases, I feel grateful for the journey we undertook early in our company and the lessons we learned early on in the process,” said Debjani.


Encouraging Emerging Leaders

Debjani believes that the next decade will see exponential growth in the use of artificial intelligence to automate an array of tasks in a wide range of industries ranging from healthcare to retail, to banking and others. It will be a decade filled with opportunity to democratize the “intelligence layer” within the organization. For those looking to make their mark in this new world of AI, now is the time to seek out those opportunities and have a hand in defining them.