There’s a new name in town, specifically in Durham.ID’s WeWork location. New York-based Kustomer opened its Durham office this spring, creating a second headquarters for the company that aims to bring superior customer support services to its clients.
Kustomer, a SaaS customer relationship management platform company using AI and machine learning, makes a difference when it comes to customer support by collecting data before customers even contact support. This prevents customers from having to restate their name, phone number and order number. In a Facebook-like timeline, support agents can see a full order history and the other information that makes a customer unique, according to Peter Johnson, Kustomer’s VP of Product Management.
A tip from Kustomer’s investors brought the startup to Durham, where they now have 15 employees out of 150 in the larger company—and are eager to hire more quickly. Finding quality talent had become a bigger and bigger issue in New York.
Before opening the Durham office, says Johnson, “The feeling was, ’We’re having hiring challenges. There’s so much competition. It’s really expensive.’ Then some of our investors said, ‘One of our other companies opened up a Durham office and got incredibly talented people at a much faster speed.’ So we felt, let’s give that a shot. And we were able to hire very awesome people very quickly.”
Some of Kustomer’s clients are companies right here in the Triangle, like mobile car care startup Spiffy. Kustomer’s Durham “squad”—which is how the company refers to their work teams—is scaling quickly, currently handling all of Kustomer’s integrations, billings, settings page and first-time user experience, Johnson said.
Within the next year, he hopes to double the employees at Kustomer’s Durham site, hiring for a range of product team, sales and marketing positions with a focus on candidates with a specific working style.
“We generally want people who are aligned with and understand what we’re doing, and who like working with a team in an office,” Johnson said. “We intentionally didn’t go the route of remote working explicitly because I think there’s a lot of benefits by having collaboration.”
The structure of Kustomer’s “squads” is important, Johnson said. The designer sits next to the developer who sits next to the product manager and tester, encouraging communication facilitated just by proximity alone. An innovative spirit is necessary in workers as well.
“It’s one of those types of things where it’s an early opportunity to help define culture,” Johnson said. “The trade-offs of working at a big company versus a smaller, faster startup are really a sense of ownership. [At a startup] you get to help really drive and create things where there may not have been something before. There’s no process specifically to find how that works. That’s daunting for some people, but it’s also exciting for people who like to get out there and create stuff. That’s the other thing we kind of look for.”
With clients ranging from Abercrombie & Fitch to Birkenstock, Kustomer supports all types of businesses, allowing them to define the properties and products inside their system to represent their customers.
A broader theme in how Johnson wants Kustomer to transform the customer support function’s view of customers guides the startup as well.
“We want customer-support teams to see customers as people,” Johnson said, “and not as tickets.”
With more than $113.5 million in capital raised from Redpoint Ventures, Battery Ventures, Tiger Global and others, Johnson said Kustomer’s market is huge and ever-growing. Johnson does not think technology will ever fully automate customer support, but there’s still plenty of room for Kustomer to grow. The Durham office is one part of that.
“People think the vision is just to end human support and have robots do it, and that is absolutely not the case,” Johnson said. “We still need personalization, and humans know that better than anybody else. But we want to empower customers to help themselves if they want to, and also empower customer-service agents to be better if they want to.”