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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Vikas Bhambri, SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer, 20 year CRM Contact Center Lifer, and Gabe’s partner in crime to make a big announcement. Kustomer has been selected as the only enterprise customer service CRM platform in the Shopify Plus Certified App Program. With this seamless integration, businesses can create contextualized, actionable customer profiles to drive more personalized and data driven customer journeys, while resolving conversations quickly and building long-term customer loyalty. Now more than ever, the world’s leading brands need a customer service CRM that can scale and evolve as they do. Listen to the full podcast episode below to hear their discussion on the role self-service plays in this new MEconomy.
How Has the Economy Changed
It is no secret that day-to-day life has changed drastically since March of 2020. As businesses closed their doors, curbside pickup, delivery services, and online shopping have become the new normal. What used to be a luxury for a few extra dollars is now a necessity. This is just one evidence that the economy has changed and customers’ expectations are evolving with it. Technology has facilitated agents and other employees to work from home and we wonder if companies will return to their storefronts or if they’ll stay remote. Vikas points out that this probably won’t be the case. While smaller companies are staying remote and the customer is demanding more remote services, it is a lot harder for large companies to pivot that quickly. There has been a surge in customer requests and these large contact centers even increased their headcount during the pandemic. But, is this an opportunity for businesses to start leveraging AI and automate?
The Value of Self-Service
As mentioned above, the consumer mindset has changed, drastically. They are getting used to having things delivered to their homes and they want their issues resolved, instantly. Customers want frictionless interactions and expect companies to deliver on those expectations. Twenty years ago, customer service centers believed that in order to make the customer happy, you had to interact with them constantly. But, with an ever-evolving customer mindset, consumers want to talk less with companies. Vikas states, “Part of being consumer centric doesn’t always mean that you have to talk to them or chat, whatever it is. There are times where the consumer actually wants to self serve. … customer delight doesn’t mean spending time with [them], it means getting the heck out of [their] way.”
To give customers this type of self-service experience, Vikas points out that this is an opportunity to start leveraging automation. Automation is not a bad thing and it isn’t going to drive customers away. Done correctly, it will actually help customers have a positive experience. While there is not an unique way to do it, the most important thing is staying true to your brand and treating people like people.
The New Relationship With the Customer
Customers want a different relationship with companies. “It’s not, ‘I don’t want a relationship with you.’ [It’s] ‘I want a different type of relationship with you,’” Vikas states. This MEconomy involves more focus on efficiency and giving the customer helpful tools. Vikas continues, “I don’t want to have this elongated, kind of massaged relationship, just when I come to you, whether I want to buy something, … whether I want to service something or even when you market to me, be to the point, be specific, be personalized to me and then let’s move on.” When the agent is focused on being concise and letting the customer solve their own problems, the customer will be happier with their experience.
To learn more about the evolving economy, evolving customer and how to adjust your business to those changes, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.
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Full Episode Transcript:
Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going here. You’ve got myself, Gabe Larsen. I run growth over here at Kustomer and you got my partner in crime Vikas Bhambri. He runs SVP of both Sales and Customer Support, customer success. Wanted to kick this off with a big announcement. We have no guests today. We didn’t want a guest today actually.
Vikas Bhambri: (00:29)
You announced me as the guest.
Gabe Larsen: (00:32)
Yes. Actually I was telling Vikas we did actually have a guest, but they ditched on us.
Vikas Bhambri: (00:40)
It’s a tropical storm here in the Northeast, they couldn’t make it to the studio.
Gabe Larsen: (00:44)
Oh man. Can you believe the weather out here? My heavens. It truly is — it rains here in the East all the time. I’ve forgotten how much it rains out here. But that wasn’t the announcement. The actual announcement is Shopify. Vikas, do you want to give maybe just the high level and I’ll fill in a couple of details?
Vikas Bhambri: (00:59)
Absolutely. So Kustomer is now in the Shopify Plus Program and we’re the only enterprise customer service platform in the program. And I think this is super exciting, not only for us here at Kustomer, but more importantly, all those Shopify customers that have been looking for a partner that not only has a robust integration from a platform perspective with Shopify, but more importantly, that strategic relationship as we think about further co-development and further iterations of what we’ve already come to market with.
Gabe Larsen: (01:36)
Yeah. I mean, this is exciting you guys. We’re super proud of it. There are kind of the Shopify plus and then Shopify and then Shopify Plus and Plus really is more for the larger companies who are doing more transactions with Shopify, looking for something a little more, a little deeper, etcetera. So jumping in on both the Shopify and Shopify Plus; and then bringing some of these feature sets that have been unique to Kustomer into that integration where you have this real full timeline view where you can do so many more interactions: refund, cancel, view shipping information by skews, see order item activity, easily refund people. Kind of all in that single interface as you get in Kustomer, but now you’ve got that with the Shopify integration, I think will be an awesome addition to some of our customers who are using it and looking forward to talking to more people. So big fronts — big announcements on the Kustomer front. Definitely check it out. We’ll put a link in the comments to some of those types of things. Now, I wanted to shift gears. What’s been on your mind, before we do — anything on your mind Vikas that you were kind of front and center as we think customer service as things go about on your day to day?
Vikas Bhambri: (02:47)
You and I have talked about this quite a bit over the last few weeks with a number of different guests is just a change of pace in the customer experience arena over these last few months, driven by the pandemic. And as I called it, I think pretty early on is the biggest stress test that this industry has ever faced. I mean, everything from how agents work, where agents work, how they’re managed by their supervisors and then this tremendous surge in ticket volume that folks have been seeing. I talked to somebody pretty recently and even today, people are like, look — really interesting. I think this person that I had a conversation with they’re major retailer. Their first impulse that a lot of these retailers had when the pandemic hit was our business is going to get hit. And so they actually let people go. And then what happened is they actually saw that their business, the sales side went up, right? Because obviously people were not going to the stores.
Vikas Bhambri: (03:57)
And so their volume went up and then they had this whole issue that they have to figure out their fulfillment, because imagine you’re doing a hundred orders a week and now you’re doing a thousand orders a week. They just weren’t set up for that scale. Well, as those orders went out is what they saw were the heightened anxiety levels of the consumer. Now getting four to five X, the number of inquiries, tickets, conversations, around those orders. And they let people go so now the existing team had — so just this amazing kind of thing over the last four months and what’s been extremely exciting to witness and experience and be a part of is how brands have reacted to what’s happened. Because I think the brands that are reacting now, not everybody’s doing it the right way, they’re the ones that when the pandemic obviously comes to an end, are going to continue to thrive in this new normal that we’re all talking about.
Gabe Larsen: (04:53)
And it is such a transition. I think my favorite thing has been watching that force digital transformation as well. We were chatting the other day about that. It’s a small retailer, a physical retailer out West and got hit with the pandemic and had to close their 20 retail locations and then the conversation and the change in mindset. And I thought this was just such a powerful example of, well, how do we double down on everything digital? And started to partner with us on this idea of in-store or curbside pickup. I guess not in-store because the store was closed — Curbside pick up and do it all online and they weren’t really set up for that. And his words directly were, “This pandemic has probably pushed us to at least two years ahead of where we would have been on our e-tail, on our website, on our digital aspect.” And you’re seeing that, I think not just in the large, but a lot of these smaller vendors, these smaller players who hadn’t maybe thought about how they can progress so quickly, forced to the forefront and seeing cool things. And it actually, it’s been very powerful, curbside pickup. He’s like, “Who would’ve thought? This is going to change our business for the better as we go forward. I wish we’d had done this earlier.” But the pandemic kind of changed that.
Vikas Bhambri: (06:11)
Here’s the thing it’s, making us wonder why we were doing things the way we were. My friends and I joke, here in Long Island, obviously we’ve been, we were extremely hard hit, so I can pull up to my local ice cream place and they can run it out to my car. Like we’re laughing. We’re like, well, look, “Hey, we get called lazy Americans all the time. This is now the true Nirvana, right? I don’t even need to go in the store anymore.” To your point about curbside pickup with your friend is — and then of course our entire supply chain in the Bhambri household is now online delivery. And to the point where my wife, who is the biggest anti online grocery shopper, Christina, “I want to feel the produce.” She’s the person who literally — people watch her in the grocery aisle where she’s sniffing the cantaloupe. It must be an English thing.
Gabe Larsen: (07:13)
Well, I always felt like I had the watermelon touch, so [inaudible] I’m like this, “Yes, No.” Yeah.
Vikas Bhambri: (07:20)
But now she’s a believer. And she’s like, “Wow, these Amazon shoppers, they’ve got the touch.” And I was like, “Well, worst case, you can go teach them or train them.” So it’s going to be really interesting as I say is, even for certain segments of the consumer population, what is their appetite going to be to go back? We’re talking about opening up malls and different types of retailers. If even somebody like my parents have now adapted to Amazon shopping or retailers that are delivering to them, whatever it is, why are they going to go back? If Home Depot can now deliver my dad his hose or whatever new project he has at home, why does he need to go back into the store?
Gabe Larsen: (08:04)
Yeah. One thing that’s front and center. I think even for us here at Kustomer is the work from home, work remote, work partially in the office. Anything lately you’ve heard about, in general, you feel like most companies and their service centers will find their way back? Are they finding their way back? Do you think, again, when you’ve tasted a little bit of the forbidden fruit and for some people and experience, maybe, “You know what, I’m all set now as a service agent working from home, I’m going to continue this.” Do you see that trend? How does that shape –?
Vikas Bhambri: (08:39)
No, unfortunately I think the smaller scale, the brands that have their direct workforce that have gone remote. I think if you have 20 agents, I think the BPOs, the larger contact centers are — look so much of their operation and their value to the people they do this optimization, et cetera, is cost savings. I don’t think they want to, or can pivot that quickly. And what I am hearing is that more and more the large contact centers, the ones that are BPO driven, are going back to a centralized environment. I’m assuming they’re doing the right protocols, the right testing, et cetera. But I do think that group is definitely moving back in, but here’s the other thing I heard this morning is they’re also hiring in a big way because of the surge, because brands are feeling that surge I heard one this morning where one pretty large BPO is probably going to be hiring 30,000 new agents.
Gabe Larsen: (09:49)
Well, they’ve got — I was surprised truthfully. You started with this, that you saw so many people react and I get why, but yeah, we were furloughing and people were letting people go. And for, obviously, I think for justified reasons, but, and for a lot of these people, that was a little more, head-scratching like gal aren’t they going to see a surge because of the industry they’re in and people are going to have more requests. They’re wondering where their orders are, more calls, more chats, more email. So I’m not surprised that you’re starting to see some goodness. And I think the economy in some ways needs some of that.
Vikas Bhambri: (10:22)
But what a missed opportunity, right? You’re going to go out and hire 30,000 people, but this is, not was, continues to be an opportunity to automate, right? And use tools like chat bots, article deflection, I mean —
Gabe Larsen: (10:41)
This is the time to do it right? You have the opportunity.
Vikas Bhambri: (10:44)
Gabe Larsen: (10:45)
I had, and that spurred a little bit of the topic for today’s conversation, I had somebody who in passing basically said to me, “I joined the trend, but didn’t realize that it was going to take a little more time.” And they said, “Wanted to get a chat bot on my site, thought I could start deflecting, automate some of those requests, heard some big numbers.” I think he threw out in joking, “Cut your agents by 99%, it will increase productivity by 497%.” I’m making up the stats. I think he was as well. But then he kind of said, “Hey, it was a little bit of a reality. I contacted some company, threw the thing on my website and I didn’t see the results.” So I do, I mean I think this is still a good opportunity to jump on the bandwagon around automation, but it’s not that easy. Right? I mean, it takes a little more work, whether it’s a bot or automation, it’s going to take some time. Correct?
Vikas Bhambri: (11:40)
You and I have talked about this. You’ve gotta be thoughtful. It’s an entire program management, just like you would do a marketing campaign. Right? If you think of it in that mindset, you have to think about the cohort of customers you’re trying to address. What’s the problem? Is it Wismo, right? What’s the actual problem– and then tackle that one area. Solve it, go do the next one and the next one. But I think, yeah, to your point, just slapping a bot on the website and then going, “Oh, I still need — I can’t let go of 99 out of a hundred people.” I think that’s where you’re misinformed.
Gabe Larsen: (12:14)
Do you feel like companies, I mean, being forced into this, have started to find the balance better between bot and human. I know that’s been kind of the fun debate, more pre-COVID. You feel like we’re starting to get that or where is that? Is there still kind of a fine line of what goes bot, what goes human, and when they interact?
Vikas Bhambri: (12:34)
No, I don’t think it’s that well-defined, here’s what I am finding is there’s no best practice guide. Right?
Gabe Larsen: (12:45)
Vikas Bhambri: (12:45)
And so even brands are struggling with, what’s the tone we want to set. Right? We’ve always been a people first brand, consumer first brand, and now we’re going to say automation and, and it almost has a negative connotation. You use the term deflection. Even that’s a term that people are like, “Oh my goodness, we don’t want to deflect.” Okay, call it what you want. I mean, whether you call containment, whether you call it self-service, if something the customer actually wants, you almost have to educate the executive team. “Look, our customers don’t always want to talk to us.” And I think that’s a mindset where people say part of being consumer centric, doesn’t always mean that you have to talk to them or talk, chat, whatever it is. There are times where the consumer actually wants to self serve. And I think the simplest way to do this, I think by the way your podcast with the rockstar, James Dodkins was one of my favorites. Just talk to people like people. I loved his, kind of the walking through the bar with the beer. [inaudible] You got these executives that get into like this, “Well we’re a consumer first brand.” Well, what does that really mean?
Gabe Larsen: (14:03)
Well don’t you feel like it changed? I almost, I want to create one of those timelines — I love timelines, but my love as things kind of have progressed over the years, people were very product centric in their differentiation. And then there was this, you and I have hit on it a little bit, but the Zappos type thing, the light where it was like you had to actually spend a lot of time with your customers or create that presidential experience for them. And so we all went to the Marriott gold membership or the Bonvoy or whatever, they’re calling it now in Delta Gold. And we wanted to actually spend more time with them because we wanted to delight them. It does feel like there has been a shift maybe with COVID pushing it further. And don’t get me wrong, it was kind of coming anyways. But yeah, customer delight doesn’t mean spending time with me, it means getting the heck out of my way.
Vikas Bhambri: (14:54)
Gabe Larsen: (14:54)
But that’s still hard work because we’re coming out of, I think, what was a 20 year Zappos thing. And I’m not saying that isn’t important, but boy, even when I hear you say that it’s just like, how do I deliver a great experience if I literally never talked to somebody when Nordstrom was giving away free tires when they brought a dress back?
Vikas Bhambri: (15:17)
Well, the consumers moved on at a rate that most companies haven’t. Right? I mean, they’re reading about Brooks Brothers the other day and how casual Fridays killed Brooks Brothers. I’m like, well casual Fridays — and it happened like last week. I mean, casual Fridays has been happening, and I’m going to start aging myself, for over 20 years. So, sorry Brooks Brothers that you didn’t keep up with the times. Right? I mean, I’m sorry. I don’t know. I used to love Brooks Brothers, but the workplace attire changed and you didn’t keep up with it so that’s on you. Right?
Gabe Larsen: (15:57)
Do you feel like there’s a word for this? I’ve wondered myself. I mean, again, we’re always saying that’s kind of cliche to say consumer expectations are changing, but people talked about building relationships or friendships or customer — building that, but now you still want a relationship, but that dynamic has changed. Is there a word that you feel like kind of stamps what the new consumer mindset is? Is it just a different type of relationship? It’s a make it easy, kind of world that we’re in? Anything that encapsulates, you feel like this changing consumer expectations from a naming standpoint?
Vikas Bhambri: (16:39)
Yeah. One word that just came to my mind, maybe because we’re all kind of in this crazy world is therapist. And I’ll tell you why. I don’t want to be friends with brands. I don’t. And I think most consumers to your point like that whole, we’ve all heard the mythical Zappos story. Some woman spending 10 hours on a phone call with a customer. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a call with Zappos. No offense to the folks at Zappos. Sorry. I’m sure they’re super nice. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a phone with anybody. Think about that. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a phone with my real friend. Gabe, you and I are friends. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a call with you. And most of the time, this is probably the most we talk, right? Otherwise I’m slacking you, I’m texting you, right? That’s the communication that we all the majority of our conversations are these days, right? People even joke how the best way to get a hold of their spouse is a quick Facebook message or a WhatsApp message or whatever it is. So to me I want to go to a brand when I have a problem. So that’s why I kind of think about like a therapist, “Solve my problem and then send me on my way.” Right? And I don’t know if therapist is the right word, but when you get where I’m going, where I don’t want to have this elongated, kind of massaged relationship, just when I come to you, whether I want to buy something, whether I want — whether I want to service something or even when you market to me, be to the point, be specific, be personalized to me and then let’s move on.
Gabe Larsen: (18:09)
Yeah, yeah. Somebody mentioned it, the word MEconomy I’m remembering, and that’s an interesting way to kind of frame it. It sounds a little selfish, but it is it’s, it’s kind of like, “Look, I don’t want to spend time with you. I want it now. I want it quick. I want it real time. I want it. I want, I want to be able to answer it myself.” A lot of “I’s” in that statement versus, “I want you to solve it. I want you to take the time to talk to me, be my therapist,” et cetera. Maybe there’s something there because it does feel like we are seeing that age old debate of, I want a relationship with my customer. Customers don’t want a relationship with you anymore.
Vikas Bhambri: (18:55)
Yeah, no, they want a different type of relationship. Right?
Gabe Larsen: (18:58)
It is different. Yeah.
Vikas Bhambri: (19:00)
I loved that term the MEconomy because, market to me. If Gabe and I are both customers of a particular brand, Gabe’s an outdoorsman, right? I’m a city guy. I like — so market to us, even as that brand. Right? But even when you’re — and I think another thing that James hit on in the podcast that you had with him was this concept of proactive service. That I’m a huge believer in, well, right. If you’re going to proactively service something that went wrong do it to the products I’ve bought from you. Right? The relationship we have. I think those are different types of concepts. So it’s not, “I don’t want a relationship with you. I want a different type of relationship with you.”
Gabe Larsen: (19:43)
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. That’s right. But it’s on my terms and it looks a lot different than it did before. So, interesting. It’s always fun catching up. Summarizing, give us kind of your take on how we — where we’ve been and where we’re going forward. Give us a quick kind of summary. We hit on a few different topics.
Vikas Bhambri: (20:02)
Yeah, so where we’ve been is just we have pressed the fast forward button on the future by two years.
Gabe Larsen: (20:10)
Vikas Bhambri: (20:11)
I mean, that’s just the reality and we can’t go back. We’re not going to go back. The consumer’s not going to go back. The brands can’t go back. So now it’s a period of how do you — unfortunately, most companies don’t think that far in advance; there’s very few. There’s Elon Musk, the Space X’s right? There’s Bezos at Amazon. But the majority of companies, they’re thinking about it in monthly, quarterly cycles, right? Depending on the next time they have to go to the street or go to the board or whatever, you really have to think about, what would your business have looked like two years from now? And operate it at that cadence today, which, good luck with that.
Gabe Larsen: (20:54)
Yeah. I know, easier said than done. So always a fun conversation Vikas. For the audience, thanks for joining and have a fantastic day.
Exit Voice: (21:06)
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