James Donald & Letitia Stevenson - Using tech to deliver exceptional customer service 24-7

Interview with
James Donald & Letitia Stevenson
James Donald & Letitia Stevenson - Using tech to deliver exceptional customer service 24-7

 Yonder - Revolutionizing the Tourism Customer Experience.

Smart apps allow us to be instant consumers and communicators and they undeniably help make the world go round just that bit faster.

When in September last year, Letitia Stevenson and James Donald won Venture Taranaki’s Idea Summit with their chatbot app, Yonder, seeing that world just got a whole lot easier.

In today's podcast, we check in with Letitia and James to find out what they've been up to since they received their Dragons’ Den-style endorsement to develop an app aimed at streamlining tourism sales and booking operations.

The tourism industry was in for an app shakeup (but in a good way!)

And six months down the track so much has happened - but my gosh these guys have sure been working their butts off!

“Probably the most stressful time of my life!”

James Donald, https://www.yonderhq.com/

James’ and Letitia’s chatbot game plan involved simplifying and illuminating a customer’s journey when engaged in researching, planning, booking and paying for a tourist activity.  

Yonder does that – makes decision making easy by providing clients with immediate chat which:

  1. is informative and responsive
  2. uses data to tailor info to the consumers’ specific needs
  3. is comprehensively intelligent
  4. gives options to book
  5. options to pay
  6. options to connect via email or with the company’s website and talk in person.


It’s a brand-new niche product, so how has this synergistic duo coped with the stress of putting future forward Yonder into the real world of digital; testing and trialling, sourcing capital, undertaking research and development, finding and educating clients …?

N.B: product testers are well-meaning individuals pretending to need your product; they do differently than they think and this unintentional disingenuity results in slightly skew-whiffed data. Don’t expect 100% useful data until your product is live and being used by early adopters.

“Put out your product as early as possible. You should be uncomfortable with your product; what you’re putting out should be far from perfect”

James Donald, https://www.yonderhq.com/

What the heck? Why?

Well, releasing an imperfect product and waiting for customer feedback gives you the time and opportunity to then:

  • refine it
  • take it to a new level
  • change what’s in your sales funnel.

Lots to think about and wouldn’t you need the big bucks up front?

Indulging a brainchild that originated from ‘an itch’ to collaborate on an idea and grow something big doesn’t come cheap! And with this invention, the large-scale meaning of customer service just reached a whole new interspace dimension.

Investments help (thank you again, Venture Taranaki & BCO) and “there were definitely people who aligned and jived with what we wanted to do” but when seeking further capital James and Letitia soon felt the discomfort of straddling a few hurdles mid-leap.

They have some words of caution:

  • Keep your customers’outcome front of mind
  • Find out where your product market fit is
  • Stay focused on your sales funnel
  • Don’t get swamped in the industry and product education process
  • Remember that early stage funding in New Zealand is tough (small market, small capital pool)
  • Keep your product attractive to investors but don’t risk losing sight of your game plan.

So they quit the investor roadshow.

Best thing they ever did.

Furthermore, though deciding to rely on self-funding and current revenue was bound to be a grind, doing the hard yards by working on and in the business (rather than focusing on making it attractive to investors) helped create and define Yonder’s company culture.

It encouraged:

  • Customer interaction; valuing and listening
  • Good decision making
  • Prioritisation of tasks
  • Effective resource utilisation.

The upshot is that getting up close and personal with your business and its customers means that when and if the time comes again to seek financial support, your authenticity and integrity will shine.

In the meantime, current mentoring support for Yonder is from Callaghan Innovation. https://www.callaghaninnovation.govt.nz/ 

Letitia and James are participating in the Callaghan Sprint Global 8-week Accelerator Series which aims to bridge the gap between business idea and functioning commercial enterprise. It's hands-on (with homework, too!) and extends to international access and training.

In that vein, James has travelled to San Francisco to mix and mingle with the big boys – Google, Dropbox, HubSpot, WhatsApp to learn from metrically driven (ruthless?) Americans who know how to generate and close sales - and nurture clients.

It’s a skilled sales process which acknowledges that ongoing, organic profit comes from ‘customer success’, i.e avoiding the churn and keeping customers happy. Tactics like … ‘I’m not going to sell you anything; I’m here to solve your problems and provide solutions’ … ‘I’m here to help my customers get more value out of products by upgrading those products.’ etc.

[We can now put paid to the theory that the U.S are transaction-oriented operators rather than relationship oriented. Finding out what customer service is and then providing it is now a global trend.]

For Yonder back home, Letitia blogs a lot, travels a fair bit, chats to businesses, and sells a lot of chatbots to tourism operators.

She encourages them to see the relevance of pleasing a NOW society by integrating major app messenger systems under Yonder. Even those operators who instinctively understand where app technology is heading but can’t yet ‘get’ the concept are enlisting the automation that Yonder supplies.

Remember the K.I.S.S acronym? That’s what Yonder’s all about. It’s also about keeping the noise of technology manageable and constantly asking tourism operators far and wide: “What does customer service mean to you, and how can we help with that?”

You can ask Letitia and James the same thing by contacting them at https://www.yonderhq.com/

Or letitia@yonderHQ.com or on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

And while you’re there, James might even share a (guilt-free) Hazy IPA beer with you.

If you need more help in moving your business from chaos to control visit Craig Oliver at https://www.projecthq.co.nz/

Or read the show notes from our other amazingly informative, inspirational and gritty podcasts at https://www.talkingbetterbusiness.com/

So many insights, tips and ideas to be had! Just sit back, listen or read and learn.


Go on, smash through the glass ceiling and move your business from Ordinary to Extraordinary!


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