back to main menu

S2E10 – Why Standardising Customer Service Quality at Scale is Key – Manisha Seewal

Duration 22:12

Guest Speaker

Manisha Seewal

Manisha Seewal

Ex-CMO, Carro



Manisha Seewal was the Chief Marketing Officer of Southeast Asia’s first Unicorn car marketplace – CARRO. Currently, she is the CMO of Gumtree Australia and leads efforts in building the brand as a leading destination for buyers and sellers in the automotive market in Australia through CarsGuide and Autotrader.

Manisha is a leader in the Digital Transformation space and has led several “Singapore’s first” digital transformation initiatives, which includes Singapore’s first “Netflix for Cars”- a car subscription-based service, Singapore’s first ChatBot from a life insurer and Singapore’s first Pay-as-you-drive insurance. Manisha is listed amongst one of the world’s 100 Most Influential Chief Marketing Officers and Top 50 Women leaders in Asia.

We cover:

Podcast Transcript

In this customer service quality podcast, we have Manisha Seewal as our podcast guest and Siddharth Sharma as our podcast host.

Siddharth Sharma

Today I have somebody who I’ve been a big fan boy of, Uh… Manisha, welcome to the show.

Manisha Seewal

Thank you Siddharth. Very happy to be here. Thank you so much.

Siddharth Sharma

Folks who don’t know about Manisha, I can keep rambling on for 45 minutes about what she…if I had had to tell you in one way, she’s a super marketer, and before a marketer she was a great sitar player.

She’s performed solo on national TV and for the Indian Prime Minister. She’s somebody who loves the cars evident by the background that she has right now.

And I think she’s somebody who has, uh, you know, been a apart of the startup culture for a very long time.

And has understood most of the nuances that go into building a marketing org and successfully scaling marketing.  Manisha, I can go on and on.

But yeah, I mean, I think folks should hear it from you as well.

Manisha Seewal

No, nothing much to hear. 

Yeah,  I mean my career has been quite interesting right? 

So a bit of FMCG in India, where the story goes that during my internship days I was asked to, I got to go do my internship at Coca Cola. And I was very excited because, you know, Cocacola means Salman Khan.

Manisha Seewal

Cocacola means all those celebrities, and I thought I would get, I’ll get probably… you know, hang out, maybe at a  movie set.

But on my two months internship, one month I was just sitting next to a Bhaiya, as in, a driver in a Lorry and I was delivering Coca Cola in at least southern part of Mumbai. Pretty much at the small restaurants.

So I think that’s where the glamour of marketing was stripped away from me and I knew that, Oh my God, this is really hard work. 

Yeah, so from FMCG, move to back to advertising. From advertising, moved to banking, finance, insurance. From there, I moved to startups. So yeah, it’s been… It’s been a phenomenal journey, I would say so far.

[02:12] Siddharth Sharma

I mean, I’m super, super excited to have you here.

So let’s get started. In your journey so far, you’ve seen the… you have seen the gamut of operations, right?

And, right now, as you lead Carro, what have you seen in the way… you know what’s your personal insight into the way the industry has evolved over the last five years?

And specifically over the last 18-20 months after the pandemic, has, you know, struck us.

Manisha Seewal

So I was the last five years is probably way too long. Let’s just look at the last three years, I think is enough.

What has changed? Well, people are getting very, very tech savvy, mobile savvy, especially in this part of the World.

Southeast Asia, the mobile adoption is just booming, right? And you can see markets, specially… high population markets like Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, all of them in the Tier 2 cities, there’s a huge mobile adoption that… that’s going on.

And, I think, because of… thanks to the pandemic, I would say, the whole… the whole experience of buying things online, just through their smartphone is something that people are forced to do.

So we are seeing like a huge shift in the way, you know, in the past people were used to touching and feeling whatever they want to buy. 

But now there is this overtime, this assurances that are being built of just buying things online. Then we’re also seeing now… like the whole… the CART abandonment that started happening.

So the whole, you know, buy now pay later, I think that’s probably the next… next thing that’s gonna…

A lot more.

I would say I see this probably happened globally because as people move more online, there’s always this doubt like whether they really want to buy it, should they buy it, yes or no?

Manisha Seewal

So I think there’s a lot more innovation that’s going to come in that space. And yeah, just overall I think customer experience is going to take a whole new dimension.

And we feel the innovation in this space is going to be a lot more, which also means… uh… more people are very inquisitive about the new customer experience.

More people also need more customer support, need more help, which essentially means the old days of, you know, taking calls one by one is probably gone. We have to just automate this space. The faster the better.

[04:18] Siddharth Sharma

So, you picked on the word customer support and you picked on the, you know, the importance of it right now, given that, you know, how the consumer behaviour has changed.

I’ll just deep dive into it a bit. At your current organization, what is customer support like?

And if you could elaborate what the team structure is like, how it is structured, it will be awesome.

Manisha Seewal talks about team structure

Sure, so currently customer support is, first of all, Carro is across four countries, right? So Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia.

Now, everywhere the volume of support needed varies, right? Singapore is a very small country. We probably don’t need as much customer support, but let’s talk about the bigger markets.

I think that’s where things happen at scale, I guess, more interesting. So, let’s say Indonesia, right, the most populous market in this part of the world.

Customer support there currently looks like,  we have two different customer services, right now. So one serving what we call the… the C2B business means people who want to sell their car to us.

We have another customer service which handles B2C business, which means people who want to buy a second hand car from us. And, I would say, these two have been… uh… so, so, whatever enquiries come in, they are handled by them, as much as possible, but there is a catch to it, right? 

So whenever a call comes in, the whole experience is automated. So what that means is we… we actually partnered with a company to really build the automotive… uh… module for a voice bot. 

Essentially what this means is when you want to sell your car, no matter which part of the world you are in. 

There are essentially maximum 10 questions right, which are standardised, OK.

Which car make model it is? What is the mileage of the car, you know, like, are you… in Singapore, it matters whether you are the 1st or the 2nd owner.

Any outstanding loan that you may have, which means that we will need to settle that paperwork for you.

When is the date that you can hand over the car. Just simple things like this, right? Now, we saw that there’s a huge opportunity in terms of standardizing it because, whichever part of the world you are, it’s… it’s the same questions. 

So we partnered with them and we came up with this module where, when you… when you… when an enquiry comes in online, there’s actually an outbound call that is made entirely automated to the customer… uh…  and the bot will actually ask that, hi, uh… we receive… we received your inquiry. You are keen to sell your car, could you please verify these things with us?

And as… as the customer is just answering, there’s a guided… very guided… uh… I would say guided experience that happens. And which also ensures a few things, right? A) The experience is always standardised, right.

It’s always the same experience the customer gets regardless of… uh… you know, the… the time of the day or… the bot never gets tired, essentially. So there is this standardisation of experience, right?

Secondly, it’s… it’s alive 24/7. So even if calls come late at night, we can always trigger that- hey, if you wish to call right now, just press, you know, press this… whatever 1 or 2, somebody can call you right away.

Manisha Seewal

So that actually brings the whole customer experience, specially for a category like automotive, which is very… uh…very old school, right?

Specially used cars, imagine, used car salesman experience versus this where you’re talking to a bot. It is… it is like poles apart.

So, back to your earlier question, right? The… the way we see customer service is built into the organization right now is automated, standardised, at scale.

And at the same time, not only is it servicing customer inquiries coming in, but post… uh… whether transaction happened or not post inquiry, is also NPS that we collect.

So the same bot triggers a call to the customer, it actually asked how likely are you to recommend us, you know, from us… from a scale of 1 to 10 to your family and friends. And all you need to do is press and that is then recorded back into our CRM system, which is again automated. 

So it’s really… I would say, end to end, at scale. Yeah, and automated.

[08:29] Siddharth Sharma

Yeah. And, you touched upon a part about, you know, measuring it via NPS, right? You know, and this has been a, you know, a point of… uh… you know, contention with a lot of folks, right?

How do you measure effectiveness of customer support, right? So, I mean I would like to understand it from you at Carro, how do you measure it?

And what are the metrics you track internally?

Manisha Seewal talks about NPS

Right. So… so NPS is… if you ask me, is probably the most powerful measure, right? Only when you are satisfied are you likely to recommend the services to family and friends.

Word of mouth in automotive categories… and any… in fact, high involvement category, word of mouth is the most important. So I would say NPS is probably step one to measuring that.

Apart from that, every transaction right, so, earlier I was telling you there are two types of transactions that happen.

Either you sell a car to us or you want to buy a car from us. Let me give one example, say sell a car to us. Even within that, we actually measure the experience at different milestones of selling your car.

It could mean that when you came down to an inspection, for an inspection of your car, right, how was that experience like? Well, did the… did the inspector speak to you politely?

Was it… uh… uh… you know, were you given enough information about your car? Do you think that there… then we go into uh… was the price fair?

Or do you think we could have done better? Then we also measure the speed. So speed of getting a good quote for your produ… for your car.

Did you get… uh… get it quickly, the way that we promised outside, we would give you, maybe in 15 minutes, was it really that fast?

And lastly, just overall in terms of experience, you know, again, how likely are you to recommend?

So… so… so we… when we implement it in the market, we always implement very simplistically first which is just on a scale of 1 to 10. And as the… as we have learnings, then we break it down into smaller key milestones. Because that allows us to figure out where the problem is, right?

So if we’re able to get the customer to come in, we are able to do inspect and they’re happy with inspection, they are happy with the price, then why didn’t they transact?

That means something fell after we quoted the price. And then it allows you to deep dive into the areas where we need to improve operationally.

In order to improve the… the… the transaction value, the conversion rate, yeah.

Siddharth Sharma

Got it. And you talked about, you know, how having a bot which is like not tired 24/7, available at all hours, right?

Manisha Seewal

Yeah, yes.

[11:03] Siddharth Sharma

And we talked about it, right. And this is from the brand towards the customers. But, I mean, if you could shed some light about, you know, are customers also changing their mindset when it comes to, you know, interacting with support.

Are they open to interacting with the… you know, brand on different channels or a new channels, social channels?

Manisha Seewal

Yeah. Oh. Absolutely, absolutely. I think I can’t… I can’t recall the research that I read, but increasingly, customers would rather speak to a bot than to human simply because they know that this is an unbiased opinion that they are getting, and it is unfiltered.

Yeah, and we are seeing this behaviour more in the younger population, so I would say Gen Z Millennials is where this behaviour is growing a lot more and we all know, right, Millennials is the next trillion Dollar generation.

So if you want to capture the millennials and that the younger generation, then not… I would say not having that voice bot or having automated chat system is really… it’s a very hard market to capture otherwise.

[11:54] Siddharth Sharma

Right. How has your support team grown or evolved in the last… I mean, we talked about the last one and a half, three years. How has your support team grown, especially with your chat bot?

Manisha Seewal talks about chatbot experience

Over the chat bot? So… so interesting, right, so the voice bot is… is definitely helping the team… uh… grow because, they can see exactly, operationally right, especially where the nuances are, things that we might slip, we’ve…because there’s no way we have eye on every single transaction, right?

But if the customer is either very happy, they give feedback or they’re very unhappy, then also they gave feedback.

Those ones in the middle, we don’t really know that much, but as long as, you know, the scale doesn’t pivot too much, I think we’re fine. 

 ll bring back maybe to fve years ago, So I think about four or five years ago when I launched the first chat bot from a life insurer, right, this is during my… my Tokio Marine days, and that was probably the…

For me, the very first experience of what a bot can do. And for me, I thought it would be very fascinating.

Not only was it a… a multidisciplinary team that I had to lead in order to implement that, but, I think what it opened my eyes into is the level of automation that can be achieved by something as simple as a face… 

It was just a Facebook Messenger base bot right, back then.

We used it primarily because, on the books, the customers were getting older and older. I think the average age of our customer was almost 52, which is not good for life insurer right, if your average customer is getting so much older.

And we were really struggling to find a way to… to reach out and to acquire younger customers.

But, running, you know, your normal Facebook ads, Google ads is just not going to cut it, right. You need to, you know, to start engagement in a different way and to be able to break through the clutter.

So, launching that, we used to be called the… the chatbot Tommy, right, so it was short for Tokio Marine, Tommy. And we came up with the, you know, whole Avatar for the bot, it was quite cool.

And because it’s a Japanese company, we actually created emojis within… within Tommy. So when you’re talking and the… and the bot couldn’t answer, because it doesn’t have all the answers right away, right

It would actually bow down and you know, say sorry or it was really quite cute, So we build that forgiveness mod… module inside the bot which kept the engagement going, because it is first meant to engage later meant for business.

So yeah, we were very clear what is the bot going to do. Whereas, like in Carro, the… the voice bot is really meant to standardise customer service at scale.

So, very very different reasons why.

[14:32] Siddharth Sharma

Definitely, definitely.  I mean, if you don’t know what you’re going to build it for, you will not be able to be able to build it properly, right, I mean, I’ve been following you for a very long time.  I’d like to understand from you, right, were your thoughts on what used to work in customer support and what is now working in customer support, there are two different things. What are your thoughts on this?

Manisha Seewal

Well, given my decade in  life insurance and banking, I used to think that face-to-face interactions, you know, having those, uh…I mean, in my early years, right, of my career, I still remember printing those customer information for the agents to call and we follow up.

I still remember doing that. I think that worked in the past.

It is definitely not going to work now. Those days are pretty much gone. 

So everybody… I think everybody has to just be more creative, be more relevant, if you want to keep the customers engaged.

If not, somebody else is going to come and just snatch the customer away from you.

[15:36] Siddharth Sharma

You know, we’ve been talking a lot about conversational AI and automation, and I think with Carro, you’ve taken that leap, and you’ve actually been one of the first movers.

If I could call you the digital transformation pioneer in the region, right? But for a lot of brands right, do you feel there is a need to reimagine the way customer support has evolved?

And is the pandemic, or was the pandemic the turning point for a lot of brands to switch over to something like a conversational AI platform?

Manisha Seewal

Yeah, I mean, absolutely, why not? Because… because you see not only has the pandemic put a lot of pressure on the P&L of the companies, right, around the world.

Which forces them to really ask whether how much of their day-to-day functions can be automated as much as possible.

It’s really all about… it’s really about do or die, pretty much. So I would even say not only the conversational or, you know, the customer support, in fact, everything, whatever we can afford to automate. 

If you don’t know it, learn it and then automate it. Because things are moving really really fast.

Even for us, when first the pandemic hit, we saw that our revenues really dropped by like 80-90% right? 

Because… because car dealerships were asked to shut, shut doors and we were still… part of our business was still relying on the offline experience of customers coming over or kicking the tires.

You know, starting on the engine and someone has to be there to help them. But we actually broke the entire customer experience in the matter of seven days and we said, hey, you know, we have to just make it end to end.

Online, end to end digital, which means from the time you start browsing the car through the time you select, you want to view a car, we’ll just send you OTP.

The… the key is packed neatly near the car somewhere and you have like a digital lock. You can get the keys, you can on the engine, you can kick the tires.

You can’t drive it away because it’s not uh..insured, but if you have cleared, if you have made a down payment by looking at the car online, you can drive it for three days. So it’s like a test drive.

Three days and if you don’t like it, you can return it, right? So… so this is something that we came up with just to overcome that buyers remorse and the fact that people need that extra push to buy things online.

So, so yeah, you have to be creative, you got to do crazy things man.

Siddharth Sharma

This this is almost keeping the model of selling cars on its head right? I mean here you’re putting the customer in the driv… literally in the driver seat.

Manisha Seewal

Yeah… yes.

[18:10] Siddharth Sharma

And, you know, coming back to conversational AI and you know, we, we talked about how it’s improved the quality of customer support, right? I mean, it’s unbiased, it’s… it’s always there and for multiple channels, right.

Manisha Seewal

Multilingual as well, yeah.

Siddharth Sharma

Yeah, multilingual as well, right? And now increasingly getting multi dialect as well, right?

Manisha Seewal


[18:24] Siddharth Sharma

 I mean, that’s straight in same language multi dialects as well right? How do you foresee this industry going over the next 2-3 years?

Manisha Seewal

How do I foresee. I foresee it only getting bigger and bigger, isn’t it?

I mean I just see, I think, it’s a matter of time, you can just order a car buying through Siri or through your Google Home.

Just say hey, hey Google, find me the best BMW Z4 for the day, you know. Which is the best price.

Research the web for me and get me the best deal with in this price range. 

I don’t know, I think that’s how it should be, sorry, I am into cars, right?

Give me an excuse and there I am, yeah. So yeah, I think the future is really that and… and I hope that, you know, given all the data that we have collected… collected about us.

Ah..well, I hope, you know, that just by voicing it out, the system is smart enough to… to link, you know, your credit history, your credit score, or your… your… your… maybe your, you know, even behavioural insurance.

Which means if I’m a safe driver with a good track record, it probably takes all that into play. Hey… hey Manisha, you know, say, this car costs $100,000.

And just because, you know, you have been a safe driver, which I’m not, very safe, but just because you have been safe driver for the past three years, you know, you only pay nin… $99,000.

I don’t know, thinking out loud, but I hope that’s this level of sophistication that it can reach and, probably even say, you know, when you browse cars, you typically go for whites or Grays.

So, I don’t know..… you know, you are going to have the best deals for the… that are out there, aggregated from 10 different websites just for you.

That sounds crazy.

Siddharth Sharma

No. So folks who are listening in and who are in the car dealership space take notes. This is the next… this is your marketing strategy 101.

Manisha Seewal

Awesome, awesome, yeah…

Siddharth Sharma

Alright, one last question before we say bye to you.

Manisha Seewal

Sure Siddharth. Yeah. 

[20:16] Siddharth Sharma

What is the one tech in customer support that you would want today, like you would want at your hand so that you can do much better, like you want today- today.

Manisha Seewal

One tech support that I want today- today

Siddharth Sharma

Yeah …yeah

Manisha Seewal 

I want another me.

Because I have so much work to do.

But yeah, Ok, jokes apart. Let me see.

One tech support. I think the one tech support I wish I could get today, today is really understanding the customer better. Because, you know, a lot of times I… I know that, in marketing, we are always doing experimenting and we are always learning. 

But if there’s a way to really tell what would really make a customer buy, say a car online? What would really convince a customer?

What kind of a script or what kind of a… information would convince somebody to buy an expensive item like a car or a property online, right? I’m very very interested, yeah, to know about that because, I… I… I mean, we are… we are trying it, testing it.

We know a little bit, but something that can take away my assumptions and maybe hear all the conversations around the world and then just list them up for me, when it comes to car conversation, this is what people are talking about.

I think that’s what I wanna hear.

Siddharth Sharma

Absolutely absolutely. Rich customer profiling right?

Manisha Seewal

Yes. Yes

Siddharth Sharma 

Ah, all right, cool. Thank you Manisha, for being with us today.

It was a pleasure to have you and it was a pleasure to speak with you. 

Great insights and I’ll see you soon.

Manisha Seewal

Thank you so much, Siddharth and I really enjoyed this. I’ll see you soon. Bye bye.