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Heyday co-founders Steve Desjarlais, left, and Étienne Mérineau stand in the company's Montreal office on Sept. 30, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

When COVID-19 hit, forcing people to stay home, Heyday AI knew its chatbot technology would be vital for retailers that could no longer converse with their customers in person.

But the Montreal-based company also knew landing new clients would be a challenge given the cancellation of big tech events where it often drums up business face-to-face.

“A lot of [those] sales ... bank on relationships, and therefore you need to meet in person,” says Étienne Mérineau, who co-founded Heyday in 2017 with Steve Desjarlais, David Bordeleau and Hugues Rousseau.

Heyday uses artificial intelligence to help retailers communicate with customers on websites and across various apps and programs such as Facebook Messenger and Google Maps. The chatbot is programmed to provide frequently requested information such as store hours, shipping fees or a company’s return policy. The technology also transfers more complex questions to a human to handle.

“Having a very responsive chat alternative that really increases [the] level of assistance and personalization … is key right now for retailers,” Mr. Mérineau says.

Instead of waiting for in-person events to resume their sales pitch, Heyday focused on ramping up revenue from existing clients. Chief revenue officer Amélie Chagnon saw an opportunity to automate the company’s sales processes using HubSpot’s customer relationship management (CRM) software. The platform uses data and analytics to help companies manage and improve their sales journey.

Heyday uses HubSpot to track its relationship with clients, from the first conversation to onboarding and across their use of the AI platform’s 60 different features. Mr. Mérineau says customers usually start with a few services and then add new ones as needed.

HubSpot also automates reminders for the team to stay on top of customers, which is key as Heyday’s business grows.

“[It] ensures we offer a flawless experience from the get-go to the customer,” Ms. Chagnon says.

The plan has worked so far: Heyday’s revenue from current clients rose 28 per cent in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 compared to about 20-per-cent growth in the second quarter and a 12- to 15-per-cent increase in the first quarter.

“It’s been growing as we’ve been more and more proactive with our support,” Ms. Chagnon says.

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Heyday uses artificial intelligence to help retailers communicate with customers on websites and across various apps and programs such as Facebook Messenger and Google Maps.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

So while most startups focus on acquiring new customers to drive growth, Heyday shifted its approach to increasing revenue from existing clients by offering more services. The result, it hopes, is to land new clients through word-of-mouth.

“If you turn [clients] into ambassadors, it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” says Mr. Mérineau, Heyday’s chief marketing officer.

Chatbot companies provide “a compelling value proposition” for companies who want to increase customer services without bringing on new staff, says Jim Hamilton, lecturer and fellow in sales management at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in Kingston, Ont.

He believes Heyday’s decision to turn its attention to its current clients amid the pandemic is “a logical business decision,” particularly in the COVID-19 era.

“Heyday is leveraging technology to get a single [sales] rep to be able to achieve more with a single customer,” Mr. Hamilton says. “What the majority of organizations have come to realize is that an investment in people and technology to help your customers to get even more value from what it is you offer makes good business sense.”

The CRM software has helped Heyday maintain its high client-retention rate of about 90 per cent, “even in COVID times, which is crazy,” Ms. Chagnon says.

The pandemic environment underscores the need for companies to “monetize your current client base first and foremost,” Mr. Mérineau says. “They’re already converted; you just need to unlock new needs as you go.”

Heyday has also been in the enviable position of having to hire an additional 15 employees in recent months to handle the business growth, boosting its headcount to 53.

The pandemic “turned our solution from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’ overnight,” Mr. Mérineau says.

“Commerce has been turned upside down,” he adds. “In-person shopping was an experiential experience and … [retailers] have to bring these experiences online now,” to keep their customers and help them make the right purchases.

Mr. Mérineau says retailers who have “doubled-down” on their online offering and online support to focus on customer service have also benefited.

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