Joining us for the latest #SeniorTechTalk is Alister Harris, CEO of Lokulus.
Having recently celebrated their 20th year in business, we caught up to discuss how the business has developed and grown over the past two decades, their recent success in the Best Companies rankings and the ways in which their innovative AI technology supports their clients to improve their customer interactions.
Lokulus are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary in business. Could you please tell us a little bit about the organisation, your journey so far and your goals?
Yes, so as you quite rightly say the business was started 20 years ago, and was set up to address the gap in the market which was then about high volume of email traffic and managing that traffic, which seems strange now to think that that was a new problem back in 2001.
And 20 years on, we work with businesses to support around 1 million customers a week, so that’s over a billion in total!
The company was under private ownership and was run as a private company, developing more channels and more capabilities for 15 years under that leadership - becoming an omni-channel customer services platform.
So the company grew, attaining some great A-list clients during that time. We actually still have one of the first clients with us 20 years on such as Argos and Capita, our longest clients. So we're really focused on customer centricity and ensuring we deliver what our customers want.
For 15 years it was under private ownership when I joined in 2015. The business was sold to a larger corporate at that time and they then ran it for a while. Back in 2018, they themselves were bought out by a larger corporate who really wanted to focus on their core offerings so they decided to divest the business. That's where myself and Mark Chamberlain, who was one of the original founders, decided to buy the company back because it's working in such an exciting area that we think we can create so much value for our clients.
In terms of key goals, we've just reorganised the business to become really focused on customer centricity. We tell our customers that they should do that so we've reorganised our business to deliver that, which went live on 1st June this year.
Our goals in the short term are to build that culture around customer centricity, and then longer term it’s to exploit key technologies, along with our services, to really deliver high class technology and solutions to our customers to help them become more customer centric.
We wanted to congratulate you on your recent Best Companies ranking in Best Small Business to work for, Best Northwest Company to work for and Best Tech Company to work for. Could you tell us what this is for and what it means for the business?
Thank you! I stood up from day one of buying the business with the ambition that I wanted us to be the number one tech business in the North West that people want to work with and for.
People are so key to technology businesses, they don’t operate without the great people you have. So buying the business was an opportunity for me to put that right at the heart of our work - some organisations I’ve worked for talk about putting people first and at the heart but haven't necessarily followed through with it.
I really wanted to implement that.
So we've done a lot of work around that. We offered flexible working before COVID and it became the norm. We have a great benefits package, we have great social occasions, we have invested heavily in the softer side of running a business including social responsibility etc.
So we wanted to validate that by a third party. It's no good just saying that we're doing a great job, so we applied for the Best Companies to Work For lists this year.
For me, it was a fantastic result to be included within the Top 50 Tech Companies to work for in the UK in our first year of applying and being a business of our size.
Whilst that's fantastic and we got the results we hoped for, we’re still looking where we can improve for our staff to make it even better because we want to retain our great talent and our team and also attract great talent into the business to make us get even better.
Can you please explain your role within the company?
Of course, so I am an accountant by trade, that's where I grew up and learned my craft.
I originally joined Lokulus as a CFO, and then morphed into more of an Operations role. Just recently, on 1st June, I became the CEO of the business.
My day to day role is very much assisting the great people we have here to deliver the strategy that we've set out with them, supporting them and helping them make the decisions that are required, coaching them and really managing the team and giving them a vision to work towards, being clear and transparent as to why we're doing things.
So my key role is very much working alongside teams to drive performance. It's also meeting clients and making sure that they know that they can pick up the phone to the CEO and have a direct word - whether that’s a good or bad one!
Could you tell us about your innovative AI technologies help your clients to improve their customer interactions?
Well first and foremost, technology is only as good as the way that it’s implemented and as the culture of that business that implements it as part of the toolset. It's not the answer to all things.
However, I think we've got a unique place in the customer interaction market, where we have a technology that can be implemented in a partnership arrangement with our clients to really drive that value and we work with them continuously to do that.
Our distinct technologies are all around the workflow automation and work distribution tools. We call them bots, so we have CAL which is our classification engine. CAL automatically classifies work items be it email, WhatsApp etc, so the response can be automated or escalated to an agent should it be required. “Where's my order” is a classic one to be automated, that's a relatively easy one but it can get more complicated.
Then we've got workflow bot (Flo) that integrates into backend systems to push and pull data from around company's technology stacks to give the answers to take action in an automatically to ensure the process is as efficient and quick as possible.
A really key part of our technology is the resourcing bot (Reg). We prioritise work automatically and feed it to the people with the right skills to deliver answers on that at the right time. So it's ensuring it’s going to the right person who is at work, who has the right skills and knows about the specific queries. Our system also allows for all that data to be pulled from backend systems, so all of the history of that customer can be on the agent's screen and they have all the information about the customer and products at their finger tips
For our client’s customers, talking to someone who's knowledgeable and can answer that query is a key to customer satisfaction. A key strength of ours is that prioritisation of work, we can prioritise over 250,000 items of work simultaneously to distribute to the right people.
And what can clients expect when they work with Lokulus?
Very much a partnership led approach.
As I’ve said, we're customer centric and we work with our customers to provide the solution they want. We've got many instances of clients who come to us with “I want to do this”. We work with them to really understand what they are trying to achieve and deliver what creates value for their business.
We are a technology business, but we’re not just throwing tech at them because they've requested that tech. It's very much working with them to understand the root cause of the problems and what they want to achieve - whether it's increasing customer service ratings, or making efficiencies across their organisations.
We ask, where do the real problems lie and not just what the IT Director, CFO or CTO thinks but we go right down to the level of the users of the system as well.
It's very much a partnership approach, and we deliver quickly and to expectations, and indeed to exceed expectations. We are able to mobilise and work with clients at a pace to meet their needs. So that's what they get from us.
After that, it's the customer service that our clients receive. We've got a customer support team, a customer success team, and because of the nature of our business they have a direct line to the senior people within our company, so it's a true partnership. And I think that's very distinctive from our competition in the marketplace.
Tech recruitment is notoriously difficult. What steps do Lokulus take to attract and retain talent?
It’s really making Lokulus a great place to work. We discussed the Best Companies survey earlier and I think that shows the outside world that we're a great place to work as well as validating it internally.
We've invested heavily in a fantastic office space, a place for collaboration that isn’t just about the desks but about the collaboration that happens around them and making it feel like a relaxed environment to work in.
We've got flexible working and all the benefits that go alongside that.
We do face a challenge because we're a small business, compared to some of the bigger ones and we’re a less known brand. So therefore, we've got to excel in things that they don't necessarily do to attract the right talent.
In terms of the retention of talent, our average employee has been with us over eight years. Bearing in mind we're only 20 years old, we've got people who have been here for 17 years.
We do retain employees and the guys love working for us. We've had contractors come in and say it's the best place they've worked at. So it's driving that culture to be a great place to work and then get advocates. The best advocates are the people who work here, if they go out talking their contacts about how great it is, then we get new talent.
Is being a part of Greater Manchester's digital and tech community important to Lokulus and if so, in what ways does the organisation contribute to the local ecosystem?
Manchester is a thriving tech scene, you just have to look at the number of tech businesses in and around Manchester and it's great to be involved in such a dynamic place. I moved up to Manchester back in 2003 and it's just a great place to be and work.
In terms of giving back, we have our agile coaches just about to go out to an agile conference all day and talk there. We've sponsored hackathons and will look to do more of that and be involved more and more, but obviously, it’s been more difficult to do that over the past year or so.
It’s not just in the tech community that we give back, we give our employees volunteering days to give back to the community that we work and live in and that's very key to our business.
We also have links to schools for STEM, going into schools and working with them on tech.
Finally, as you move into your 20th year in operation what does the future have in stall for Lokulus?
In the short term, there is the challenge of doing business in a new way given the disruption that we have had.
With regards to customer service, we hear about retail and we hear about other businesses, but B2B businesses also have to deliver exceptional customer service and exceptional focus around that. So I think, in the short term, it's really going to be focused on that and investing in adding products to market that really assist our clients in delivering that.
Longer term, we just invested heavily and set up an innovation function within the business. We've committed over £500,000 for the next two years purely in an innovation team to really drive forward the innovation and try to be at the forefront of that and bring something to market that is really game changing.
Oh and celebrating our birthday, of course!
Thank you Alister!
To find out more about Lokulus, click here.
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