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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Randy Womack, CEO,
Episode: 357
Air Date: March 13, 2020




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

John Sumser 0:13
Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. Today we’re gonna be talking with Randy Womack who is the CEO and founder of Socrates dot AI. You know, I talk to a lot of people and Randy sort of came into my onto my radar six months ago or so, and he’s one of the smartest people in the business. You’re gonna really enjoy this call. Randy, How are you this morning?

Randy Womack 0:41
Good morning, John. Thank you. That was very kind.

John Sumser 0:44
Well, now you have to write the big checks of course.

Randy Womack 0:48

John Sumser 0:51
Take a minute and introduce yourself, you know, dig a little into the details and tell us how you got here.

Randy Womack 0:57
Sure. Happy to I am Randy Womack the CEO of Socrates, most of my experience has been in high growth startups. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career, I’ve been with three early stage startups that went public, and two others that were acquired. I spent the first half of my career because I’m a little long in the tooth as you can tell, and software development 19 and I spent the last half of my career in HR and benefits, which is where I’m truly passionate.

John Sumser 1:22
And you’ve spent some time in big companies as well, besides the little guys. Yeah?

Randy Womack 1:27
I have, I’ve done my tour of duty at Oracle. I spent five years at Oracle and the companies that we went public, like at successfactors, I stayed there seven years and on, traveled around the world working with clients and left just before the SAP acquisition.

John Sumser 1:42
Got it. So you’ve had a tour of the littles and the big in the industry. That’s pretty amazing. So what’s the funniest thing that happened to you?

Randy Womack 1:50
Well, I’ll tell you a funny story. I think the funny one is really for the people who are trying to grow a business or do a start up which has been so much of my career. So I’ll share one with you with Socrates. It’s a little long, but I’ll try and get there quickly, which was with Socrates. We’re an employee experience platform. And one of the things that we wanted to solve is that it’s so hard and so frustrating for employees to get answers to their most basic questions. And, you know, as HR leaders, we tell them the informations out there, you just need to go out and find it. And we know what that’s like, they search and then they get Doc’s and then they search and docs, and it’s just not a great experience. So one of the things that we wanted to build into our platform was the ability to answer people’s questions quickly from the documentation, you know, give them one single answer, give them a summary from the document, when they click on it, take them to page 50 to 70, or wherever they need to get but answer their question and get them going back to work very quickly. So we were really fortunate in our early stage, like most early stage companies, and we had this fortune 500 company that was really interested in what we’re doing fantastic HR team, and they gave us access to all their public HR and benefits stocks. So we automatically process them. You know, I’m checking into their engineering teams that aren’t QA teams and the reason You’re looking great. We’re totally pumped with the results that we’re getting and the accuracy rates that we’re getting. So we call the client we say to him, Hey, you know, here’s access to your software completely untethered, no guardrails, go for it. And and we’re really confident. And the next couple days, I get a phone call that says, hey, we’re really challenged with the results that we’re getting from your software. Can you come see us? I’m like, Oh, sure. So we jumped on a plane, we get out there, and I meet with the SVP and VPS in the room and a couple of top HR executives in the VP of HR starts demoing our software. And he types in a question and he comes out and says, See that answers wrong? Well, I know their content pretty well. And I know the answers right? And then he goes on, and does you know, another half dozen or dozen questions like see these questions, these answers are wrong. And I’m biting my lip trying to figure out what to say. And and to her credit, the SVP looks at me and she looks at the VP and says, Is this what you’ve been scoring is wrong? And she says this is these are the right answers. That’s our content. And the VP goes oh I know it is, but I hate these answers. It doesn’t reflect who we are as an HR team and the work that we do for our workforce, and I don’t want to communicate and talk to the workforce this way. And I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, how funny is that? You’re 100 year old company, I spent millions of dollars on a technology to show you exactly what you’re telling the workforce and you hate, like, Wow, I didn’t see that one coming in. Truth is I should have jumped up and down, I should have literally cheered in the meeting and gonna happy them in front of their entire executive team. Because it was such validation of the way that we talked to employees and large companies is terrible. And there’s so much room for improvement with the employee experience. You know, they were a fantastic team. They helped us build a model we called snap financers, which, you know, allows you to give simple answers like, Can I wear shorts on Friday? No, please say business casual, and it’s become one of the best modules in our platform or most use and but that experience was so foundational to our strategy, and I completely missed it in the moment. So at the moment, it wasn’t funny but in hindsight, it was pretty funny.

John Sumser 5:02
That’s, that’s so interesting. So we’ll get we’ll get deeper into what Socrates does. But but the the idea that you’re building a tool that certainly can serve as a mirror for an HR department understand exactly what employees are experiencing. That’s pretty interesting. That’s pretty interesting. Did you intend to do that?

Randy Womack 5:26
Well, it was what I think I misunderstood or didn’t, I knew it and, and kind of internally that we all grew up with policy and documents, and that’s how we were coached and advise how to interact with the workforce, but 50% of our workforce grew up in multimedia. You know, they’re used to rich direct kind of conversation then. And the other thing that’s interesting is that what you learn going forward is when you look at what the workforce is asking you and what you’re not answering the who answers that question. It’s not the company and a lot of those questions are culture questions, you know, blue hair, tattoos. And there’s simple questions like, Can I expense candy bars on this stuff, and it’s overwhelming our call centers and our ticket systems. And the truth is the company should own that viewpoint, it should own that perspective. Otherwise, it falls to a manager or team leader or somebody who may not have the same viewpoint of the company and has a very different perspective. And it has very real engagement and impact on the team members and the culture of the company.

John Sumser 6:24
So what’s interesting about that is I think it’s easy, the further up the hierarchy you go, it’s easy to imagine that you work in a single company with a single way of thinking about things. You know, it’s like, it’s just a question of perspective. The higher that you go, the smaller the object looks. And what you’re saying is that the reality is there isn’t a single experience that’s generalized across the country company, but people have a lot of different experiences that aggregate into a single thing. Is that right?

Randy Womack 7:01
That’s exactly right. And and today, the company doesn’t really have the ability to express its perspective. You know, the way, the way that most managers would talk about something is very differently than the CEO, or the head of HR or the or the executive team or even a really seasoned manager. And a lot of times people advise other people when you can’t find the answers in the documents or or on the websites or wherever we direct them. To answer them with questions that are completely contrary to the company’s if you have tattoos is a really simple example of that, like, if you do I need to cover my tattoos, most of us don’t have it in our dress code policy. And because the company doesn’t have a perspective on it, that person could be on a matrix team that that leader doesn’t like tattoos, and tells that person to cover them up, which completely causes them to get disengaged and feel devalued. Whereas in truth, if you went to the hiring manager, they would say, look, we love this person. They’re one of the most talented people in the country and we love their tattoos because it’s part of them. Those types of The answer that we leave culturally to people in the organization without the company taking responsibility and viewpoint has huge impact.

John Sumser 8:07
Wow, this is such an interesting thing. So part of what you’re saying is that we’re moving past a time when policy is the best way to communicate with people that there is some sort of intersection between what the policy is and what the reality of the person on the ground is. That is a more intelligent way to administer an organization than this sort of law making thing that is the current model where somebody sets the policy either either within the policy or that within the policy. There’s this there’s a local component to it that hasn’t been easy to address and affordable administrative. Are you seeing that?

Randy Womack 8:50
Yeah, that’s really well said. And I think what people are learning to embrace and it’s not where the market is today. It’s not the reason that people buy Socrates today, but it’s The place that I spend most of my time evangelizing because the other stuff is so valuable and so straightforward. But the power of a digital conversation is something that leaders and HR teams are beginning to understand the value of. And so the point being that when a person has a question for the company, or wants to do something, or need to something like I’m having a baby, you have that person’s full, undivided attention, and you have them in the moment that matters, which is what we’ve always transpired. And so the answer that comes back to them, has huge impact on them, and motivations, engagement, productivity, their loyalty to the company. And what I think people tend to think of digital conversations today is chat bots. Right? Is it something that the chat bot does knows to do or doesn’t do? And what I try and help people and I spend a lot of time talking about is that in that moment that matters, the response that you can give through a digital response can be absolutely as powerful as if he were talking to the CEO Talking to the head of HR, it can be a very, very powerful moment for the employee and for the company.

John Sumser 10:06
So we keep wandering down conversation routes that will make more sense that we talk about what Socrates is. So why don’t you give me a little bit of the heart of Socrates,

Randy Womack 10:16
yeah, our mission, as you can tell, I’m really passionate about employee experiences to create an employee awesome experience is what we call it. And, you know, the original premise came from the idea that, that I can text my friends, I can text my kids, I can text, my family, all the people that are important to me, and I can check in with them and see, ask them questions. And you can do that with a company. And what’s amazing is that almost every company on the planet has the exact same process, right? We’ve already talked about, hey, we tell employees, the informations out there, we expect them to go search when they find it, what they find is legal ease that doesn’t necessarily translate to what their direct question is. And then we say, oh, but it’s okay. You can file a ticket, right? And we really don’t want them to file a ticket, which is what’s the comedy of the whole situation because it’s so expensive, and then what they get back from the ticket, it’s some scripted version of the leads that live in the policy document. And then there we leave them right. And if they’re so frustrated that they really want to push and escalate that then then they can continue to push to hopefully find a service or a person that actually can help them within the company. The other thing that’s going on inside a company is that we have so much software and infrastructure. And don’t get me wrong, we need it. Those systems of records bring very real value in they’re important if you take a Benefits Program, there’s 25 to 50 separate applications for a large employer that doesn’t include all the earpiece systems, payroll systems, and all the geographies, divisions. And if you’re decentralized is even more challenging. There’s no way the workforce can ever remember, you know, what does what what do I use when How do I navigate it, and to make it worse than today’s you know, world is at Fox are coming out. Now we have bots for every single one of those applications, and mobile was supposed to save the world. But in reality mobile apps work differently than the web app. And now we’ve got bots that are coming forward that are supposed to save the world and in truth, they have very limited functionality. So strategically the employees left in the same place, which is what do I do when the bot can answer my question? Where do I go? What’s next? How do I and that’s exactly what Socrates is designed to solve, and sets out to make a great employee experience.

John Sumser 12:14
So does Socrates replace all of these bots? Or is it a supplement beyond the box? Or is it something else?

Randy Womack 12:20
Yeah, it’s a brilliant question. Let me let me take it up one level a little bit, which is we all aspire to have a consumer experience. And so but nobody else define it, what do we really need to do to deliver one? And so we think there’s three things that you absolutely must do if you’re going to have an employee experience. The first one is you got to have one place to go. Right? No matter what an employee or the workforce wants to do, they need to know they always have one place and get their question answered, or they can perform the task or do whatever it is that we ask them, but there’s always one centralized place to go for anything, not just for benefits here and you know, it questions over here. They need one place to go Amazon was brilliant, that strategy. If you think of About what Amazon did, you can buy anything from Amazon today. And you can even buy it from the people used to buy it from. So that one place to go is super important. The second thing is all about saving them time and making it super simple. If you think about our consumer experience, the things we love are super easy, and they’re incredibly time saving. And so when we interact with the workforce, the single first most important thing that we need to look at is did we make it easy for them? Was it super simple, did it save them time, then the third one we’ve already talked a lot about, which is you got to give them meaningful experiences. You have an opportunity with every single interaction to make them laugh, make them smile, warm their hearts, you know, build their loyalty to the company. And so in our mind an employee platform has to do all three of those things. And that’s exactly what Socrates does.

John Sumser 13:47
So that’s a lot of information to consolidate all in one place. I would imagine that when you go to implement this, one of the things that you discover is what you sort of showcased in your funny story. That the HR department doesn’t really understand its breadth and scope in policy and other documents. And so so I would add to that, what happens when you go to get reading? Is you come up with a sort of a gap analysis that is supplemented with a Do you really want to save this this way? analysis? Is that how implementation goes?

Randy Womack 14:23
Yeah, that’s why I love talking to you. You’re always this strategic and forward-thinking. And that’s exactly right. So if we’re dealing the the market today is really in three places. And the first is you really automatically processor documents and answer questions and make them available. The second part of the market is very much about personalized answers. And can you make it simple like, you know, I just had a baby which has to across multiple applications for an employee to complete and then worst case, can you get them there and then about insights and data but for example, on your question, which, which is very much about documentation and website content, so when we automatically process all You’re talking and then the one of the things that we do is we inject intelligence in them. And then we cleanse them. We get rid of old logos and bad dates and all these things that nobody in there wants to go out and do. And we’ve acquired this stuff over years and years. Once we’ve done that, the next thing we do is today, our HR chro built a taxonomy from from an HR leaders point of view and an IT leaders point of view about questions that got categorized into a taxonomy or ontology. And so the very first thing that we do is we run about 9000 questions against your content automatically, and we review the answer. And within those answers, we’re looking for accuracy. And we’re also looking for coverage. And so one of the first things that will do is come back and do that assessment, and then let you know based on all the companies we’ve seen and based on our own evaluation, and it’s constantly growing and getting better, where you have coverage and where you have gaps and and I can almost tell you it’s ubiquitous the one place we do not have good content and almost every single company has actually culturally,

John Sumser 16:02
That’s really, really interesting. So now you’ve got this system that separate running. But it isn’t just a knowledge indexing service that you’re talking about. You showed me a demo the other day of a very simple request that required data for three separate system to answer it, can you take me through that without showing me the software?

Randy Womack 16:26
Oh, yeah, sure. I think one of my favorites is I just had a baby. And and I love that one. Because if you think about when, when someone tells a male manager or lady tells a male manager that she’s about to have a baby are going to have one, their response is never what the company wants it to be a chooser, like oh my gosh, you’re going to be gone for three months or something, you know, not ideal. And so the value or the value of a digital conversation is you can at least start that with Hey, I just had a baby if they type it in, but congratulations and fireworks and you know something that you know recognizes how what an amazing moment in time in your life this is, which is exactly what any interns or company leader would do. The second thing though, is that most of us have new mom programs or new baby programs and and if you’re a first time Mom, you may not know anything about it. And I didn’t live in the earpiece system, it doesn’t live in a time off system. You know, there’s a bunch of different providers, but you know, often we’re given diapers and baby food and breast pumps and all this stuff to really help have a healthy great baby. And so you have the opportunity then to say, Would you like to sign up? Would you like to participate? And if they say yes, why in the world? Do we do what we do today, which is when we give them a completely different set of forms from a different vendor with information we already know, why don’t we go to the earpiece system and pull their address Why don’t we populate it with the information that that particular vendor or service needs to get her register and and make it simple? Is this your correct address? Yes, if not, can you give us your updated address and then not only tell the benefits provider but tell the earpiece system hey, we’ve got an address correction here and then it goes on to things that, that it depends on where you are in the country because having a baby is different Europe than it is in the US. So things like you know, when are you planning to be gone? Or When are you planning to have the baby? Do you want to schedule that time off and book it now? And then you know things like in the payroll system? Do you want to change your withholding currently at zero? Would you like to change it to one or two. So if you think about that whole process, and we haven’t even gotten into disability forums, that’s a really classic example of a process. That’s one of the most amazing moments in everybody in HR process. It’s one of the most amazing moments in people’s lives. And how we handle that for both for the both people in the relationship is super, super important has huge impact, but it’s not something that he needs that any single application today can solve.

John Sumser 18:43
That’s astonishing. So if I’m a, if I’m an HR purchasing person, I’m bombarded with all sorts of tools, making all sorts of claims that are adjacent to what you’re talking about. don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody who claims to do what you’re what you’re talking about doing besides Socrates. But there are a ton of chat bot applications out there that claim to be able to do some more kinds of things, covering about the difference between what you do and what they do.

Randy Womack 19:17
Yeah, this is probably the one place that, you know, it’s been the hardest for me to get people recognized because there’s been so much noise about chatbots. And, you know, we started with a philosophy that it doesn’t make any sense to ask people to do this themselves, right, natural language processing and intent detection and understanding what somebody is asking is really hard and complicated. To me. It’s like, you know, I know there’s people that written their own earpiece systems and their own payroll systems, but why in the world would you want to write your own employee experience platform and why in the world would you not want to collaborate and come together and that’s what I love most about the HR industry. As a third you’ll find competitive retailer sitting in the same group at a conference, call sharing As practices and ideas, and that’s, you know, so different than so many different groups in an organization, but the idea was very much that we need to do this for people. And we need to leverage and collaborate and come together and make the system as best as possible and share how we’re doing the things that you can’t do that with a toolkit. Every other product on the market is a toolkit. So what they do is they make you go out you have to do your own NLP, you have to do your own manual mapping, you’ve got to do your own machine learning. If you get a wrong answer, it’s your problem or, or the problem of the person who implemented or your administrator, there’s no single throat to choke. And you know, I’ve been an HR benefits a long time, and it will on time and the teams are overwhelmed, right, they’ve got all they can handle the keep up. And so it was very important in our mission to go and be a core platform in a service that does this for you. So it puts you in a position that you’re doing the things that impacted matter. You’re not over there trying to get the technology to work on your own without help except from some implementer who has really good intentions really good at it, but your world is as big as your company.

John Sumser 21:02
That’s cool. So if I were to describe Socrates, as it is a knowledge in depth that includes the ability to execute against that knowledge inside of all of your, all of your HR related ERP systems, is that better than, it’s a chatbot?

Randy Womack 21:22
Well, it’s really interesting. So, so hopefully I can do, I can, I can communicate this because because it’s a platform, what happens is we tend to get focused on certain components of the platform. And this the overall big picture of what the platform is capable of doing. So that the platform in itself really does three things. It takes, you know, to me being able to go to our employees, our SMS, Slack, Microsoft Teams, all these channels, they’re great, but that’s table stakes, right? We need to be able to take those digital conversations, those requests those actions and centralize them to one point. Now, no matter when everybody’s talking to the company or wants to do something, everything funnels into a single location. Once that happens, the core engine of Socrates says, what is it that they’re asking? Right? And we often call that intent, intent detection. The second thing it does it says, what kind of answer are they expecting? Right? If you type in a single word like vacation? Do you really want the definition? Do you really want the policy? Do you want the balance? Do you want to file vacation? And do you really have to answer and make them answer asked which one it is? Because 90% of the time, it’s they want to know what the how much vacation time I have left. So why not just default to that. And then the third thing, and this is a piece that’s really unusual, and completely different about Socrates, is that we totally respect those systems of record. You’ve built these great business processes like an SAP or workday or our whatever that original system of record is that the trick was Socrates is then is where is it that this person this request needs to go and where’s the best place for it to be done? And so in the early days, I used to call it a router but everybody got confused because I would think of hardware. Today we call it a digital conversation hub. But the absolute worst thing that should happen in an employee experiences that somebody knows exactly who to call, or I need to go to work day to do this, that’s the worst, the absolute worst thing that should happen. And that doesn’t even happen today. So take something simple. I want to sell some company’s stock, you know, the worst thing that we should do is give them the phone number and give them the link to the investment bank, because we’re never going to transfer stock inside of our infrastructure or know that, hey, you know, in the US, you’re going to use ADP payroll, because you’re based in Europe, you need to be on the sap payroll system. So this is where he needs to change your withholding or 401k deductions in the US. You can’t even do it here. You’ve got to do it with fidelity so so those are the types of things that that routing capability of making sure the employee experiences, we get them where they need to be and we help them no matter what, which is a core tenant. We actually have customers that don’t even have a chat bot turned on one of our MERS is a big multimedia company, fantastic company love their HR team. But they’ve invested a ton in their mobile app. And they’re not ready to go chat pod. And so Socrates actually sits behind their mobile app. And the mobile app is the point of entry that all employees interact with. And then we do processing to make their mobile app stronger. We have another customer that says, you know, if we’re going to do a chatbot, and it’s going to be the primary interface, we want to own it. In that particular case, they built it in Google dialogue flow. So it is a company built bot, that is the master bot, if you want to think about it that all employees interact with. And they use our platform in the background to process the documents and do the things that we’re really good at. And in both cases, we didn’t even have a chatbot turned on. So that’s why it’s interesting to have the conversation in place that that it’s I have a hard time sometimes communicating the difference in a platform and the difference in a chatbot. All the rest of our customers we are the primary chat bot, we actually let them brand it label it we don’t even say powered by Socrates on it. So It becomes theirs. And of course, it obviously is naturally integrated into the pot.

John Sumser 25:04
So last question, it’s a bigger, that makes tons that makes tons of sense. Do you encounter ethical issues in your deployments? And what are some of the ethical issues that you see?

Randy Womack 25:16
I think that you know, John, you and I could have an hour long conversation on ethics. You know, it’s so fascinating in so many dimensions. My viewpoint is really simple. Is that it’s important to be transparent. Know know, what you’re telling your workforce, tell your workforce, the company’s position, you know, what I love about large employers is I always do the right thing. And the things that blow up on them are things that don’t have visibility until it finally erupts. And then you know, then they’ll eventually have to correct it and do the right thing. So so my coaching on this is that, you know, make sure your company perspective is published and available on you answer people’s questions and that you’re transparent about it. Because if you’re transparent about whatever that ethical issue is, or The dynamics in it, it will get resolved. And I know the core of your question is a lot of the ethical questions around digital conversations and what should we talk to people about what Shouldn’t we talk to people about? And is it okay to say this or not do this, but that’s such a bigger conversation that that my coaching is, you know, just use digital conversations to be very transparent and open.

John Sumser 26:21
Okay, so we’ve had a rollicking good time here for half an hour. Is there anything you want to be sure that the listener takes away about Socrates?

Randy Womack 26:30
I think that, you know, we would absolutely love for you to understand that we are an employee experience platform that we do the work for you and we put you in the position of being able to be the content editor or be able to design employee experiences that that really reflect your company culture, and who you want to be as leaders, and so very different than a toolkit very different than a chat bot even those are those are components of the platform. John, thank you so much I appreciate it.

John Sumser 27:01
Listen, yeah, take take one more moment, reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get in touch with you.

Randy Womack 27:07
Sure. My name is Randy Womack I’m the CEO of And you’re welcome to reach out at me at any time and R Womack, R W-O-M-A-C-K at Socrates dot ai.

John Sumser 27:20
Thanks for taking the time to do this. It’s been a delightful conversation. I really appreciate it. And thanks, everybody for listening in. This has been HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. Go Randy.

Randy Womack 27:32
I was just going to say, John, you know, I love talking to you. And thank you so much for having me.

John Sumser 27:36
Yeah, this was great. We’ll see you back here next week. We’ve been talking with Randy Womack who is the CEO of They’re worth taking a look at, talk to you soon. See you next week. Bye. Bye now.

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