As a lifelong enthusiast for automation, Chetan Raval loves those automated chatbot pop-ups on websites. “I feel like, ‘Oh! Okay, let me ask my question. I always welcome that prompt because it’s there to get me answers quickly,” he says with a laugh.
Raval is bringing automated chatbots and other data-driven, customer-focused innovations to Nerium International, a multilevel marketing organization delivering skincare and wellness products across twelve countries. He calls Nerium a “crucible for entrepreneurship,” which provides individuals worldwide the tools and services they need to develop thriving business and financial freedom.
“As an entrepreneur, the sky is the limit,” Raval says. “We facilitate things for your business, and the business is to make people look and feel better about themselves and their financial well-being.”
Today, with Nerium beginning to stabilize after five years of explosive growth, automation and data are key to the company’s next stages.
But this drive is nothing new for Raval; in fact, he has always been passionate about developing efficiency. As a child in Vadodara, India, he built a solar cooker so that his family could save labor and move to alternative energy sources. He came to the United States to study electrical engineering in 1993, when automation and IT were promising frontiers instead of everyday economic forces. In addition, Raval helped his prior multilevel marketing firm expand from its home country into twenty-four others. When Nerium came looking for an IT executive with efficiency and automation in mind, it was clear that Raval was the best possible candidate.
In its first year, 2011, Nerium broke $100 million in sales; by the time Raval joined in 2015, they had surpassed $400 million with cumulative sales of over $1 billion. The brand was in four countries and looking to continue expanding internationally. But the fiscal growth threatened to eclipse the maturation of culture and mind-set, and Raval recognized both the hazard and the opportunity.
“Because they were growing so fast, one of the ways to fuel and support growth had been to spend money and get things up and running,” he explains. “Now that the company has stabilized, we have to make sure we have a mind-set to increase the longevity of our investments. How can I expand a system and use it for the next three, five, or more years?”
Raval recognizes that this is as much a leadership challenge as a technical one. So far, the team has managed to retain the vigor and camaraderie of its startup culture while developing the long view.
“You do get questions: ‘We never did this before, why are we doing it now?’ But you answer those questions to make people comfortable and explain how this makes more sense to help us grow faster and better,” Raval says. It all boils down to the people and processes, he explains; the right people with right processes creates a recipe for a strong company.
That focus on the human impact continued in other facets as well. In his first months on the job, Raval realized that just like any other firm, Nerium would be better served with increased focus and investment in securing assets. Recognizing the threat to both assets and reputation, he began taking steps to build a robust security culture. Today, the IT team educates the staff to raise awareness, and he is also working with HR to administer video training and assesses individual aptitude in performance reviews. There’s been sustained, measurable growth across the workforce.
Nerium’s global expansion also necessitated iterative upgrades to company infrastructure. For instance, Raval soon heard the constant hum of complaints against the company telephone provider, and looked into the service. He found that their contractor was both antiquated and unusually expensive; replacing that contract brought services up to date and reduced overall IT expenses by 10 percent.
The new service provides actionable data, enabling the organization to make revisions and further refine service, Raval says. “With the new systems, they’re actually using the data to monitor what the agents are doing: average call times, drop rate, backlog, all of those metrics which we were never getting before,” he says.
Nerium is pursuing data-driven, customer-focused innovations in their online interfaces as well. The company is piloting AI chatbots to guide users across their website and convert clicks into sales. In the backend, IBM’s Watson analyzes user tone and crafts responses. Raval says that the system presents a consistent user experience, accessible globally and at all times, at a reduced cost.
Even minute adjustments can have impressive business impacts. For instance, a little investigation into bounce rates and customer data fields revealed that their system was mishandling the pound symbol in shipping addresses, leading to frustrated customers and incomplete orders. After it was fixed, conversion rates leaped.
Ultimately, Raval finds that greater automation is in harmony with both Nerium’s mission and his own ideals. Yes, it has a disruptive effect on the labor force—but it creates opportunities for enterprising individuals to develop their skills in new “crucibles” of innovation.
“It brings about a change where people need to retool, which is a good thing in my mind. It opens up their minds to learn something new,” Raval says. “The way to grow, for a person, is to keep learning.”