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Kustomer + SaaStr: Brad Birnbaum on Transitioning from CTO to CEO

Kustomer CEO and Founder Brad Birnbaum joins SaaStr’s podcast to share how he made his way into the world of customer experience and SaaS over 20 years ago.

Brad tackles a range of topics including:

  • The core benefits of repeat entrepreneurship
  • The challenges and surprises of transitioning from CTO to CEO, and what advice he’d give other CTOs looking to make the transition
  • How the product should lead your go-to-market strategy

For the latest from Kustomer, follow us at @Kustomer on Twitter.

Kustomer + Jeannie Walters: How to Create an Omnichannel Journey

On the latest Conversations with Kustomer Podcast, we discuss creating an emotionally impactful omnichannel customer journey in an increasingly fragmented service and support landscape.

We sat down with Jeannie Walters to learn the ins and outs of building a memorable customer journey. Jeannie is the CEO and Chief Customer Experience Investigator of 360Connext. 360Connext specializes in qualitative, human evaluations of the real customer experience through a process called Customer Experience Investigation (CXI). Jeannie is also a Co-Host on the Crack the Customer Code Podcast.

Emotion colors every experience we have—whether we realize it or not. Is there a place you shop just because the people who work there are really nice? Or because you’ve had a positive experience in the past with the brand? Maybe there’s a coffee shop or a bookstore where you end up spending way more than you set out to just because of their warm, friendly experience.

How can customer service and support teams spread that positive feeling when customers are contacting them over the phone, over email, over chat, and across all of these channels and more? It definitely isn’t easy, but it is very possible.

Listen to hear our answers to these questions:

  • What is the process of mapping the customer journey?
  • How do you retain your customers’ trust?
  • How can customer experience professionals use empathy while designing the customer experience?
  • When should you rely on data to design your journey, and when should the process be more intuitive?
  • How can you deliver a personalized experience for each customer?
  • How can customer support organizations improve the experience more proactively?
  • How is this process of mapping the customer journey different for B2B versus B2C brands?

For the latest from Kustomer, follow us at @Kustomer on Twitter.

Kustomer + Michael Pace: Is Agent Empowerment Today All Wrong?

How do you empower your customer service agents to deliver a great experience and delight customers? How do you hand down your company’s vision and purpose, so that they can bring that to all of your stakeholders? Well, we thought we’d speak with Michael Pace to find out.

Michael is the Principal and founder of the consultancy The Pace of Service, which helps organizations to realize the full benefit of Customer Service, Social Business, Business Process Management, and People Leadership. There he’s worked with some amazing brands like Tory Burch, David Yurman, and Rue La La among many others. He’s also the President of the Northeast Contact Center Forum, which puts on quarterly events for contact center and customer experience professionals.

In this episode, we go deep into the world of agent empowerment, covering what empowerment means, how to build trust between manager and agents, how to build trust, and how to set guidelines for responsible freedom. Listen to the podcast to get all that great knowledge, and check out this related post from Michael’s blog below:

Leaders: You Are Doing Empowerment All Wrong

Every management book will tell you that you need to empower your associates. In many ways, it does make perfect sense; the more your associates can do the right thing for customers on their own, everyone wins.

  • Customers get their issue resolved or the product they want with limited hassle.
  • Your associates are more fulfilled and their overall engagement and morale increases.
  • And you, as the leader, get the opportunity cost of focusing on more strategic priorities
    But you are doing it wrong (maybe).

Somehow the word empowerment turned into something that you can give to another person, like a magical gift. Or I can bop you on your head, like a holy man, and now you are empowered (dusts hands off in a proud manner of achievement). Or you have been hypnotized by my mystical words of leadership.

Empowerment is like energy, I cannot physically give you mine; it already resides in your associates. If you believe you can actually pass it along, you may be essentially passing over nothing. However, if we believe empowerment is something that I (your manager) can help unlock within you (associate), we can take the appropriate steps to unleash it. So instead of talking about empowerment, I talk with my reports about how I can help them exercise their responsible freedom, and how they can help their reports exercise theirs.

I discovered the phrase in a book by Chip R. Bell & Ron Zemke called Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service. It’s a great book for the Customer Service Leader who looking for direction that spans both strategic and tactical, combined with real life stories. Exercising Responsible Freedom is simply knowing the right thing to do, understanding the risk, recognizing your proverbial guardrails, having solid rationale, and most importantly doing something. Sounds a lot like empowerment, but with some real power.

How do you do it?

  1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Have the respect for your associates to treat them like adults. Far too often, I encounter people leaders who act more like parents than business leaders. Your associates typically have mortgages, rents, insurance, bills, children, and a whole host of other responsibilities, they can handle more than you think. If they can’t, you probably need to reassess their future and the time you invest in them.
  2. Paint the Vision: You cannot expect people to know and do the right thing if they do not know what direction you are going. Describe to your associates what the realistic future looks like, and have conversations (two way) about what it means to them.
  3. Provide the Flexible Guardrails: Talk about what would be going too far, and talk about what is too safe. Use examples of what is in scope and what should remain out of scope. In regulated industries, providing this detailed information is critical for wary associates.
  4. Discuss Possible Outcomes: Have a discussion about if something did go wrong. Develop operating agreements that provide a safe zone for both you and the associate to review lessons learned. I find myself often saying to people, if you had a good rationale for actions, you will never been in trouble. But if I asked “why”, and their answer is “I don’t know” or “I just did it”, we will need to talk more. And don’t forget to talk about the incredible things that can happen if they take the appropriate leap.
  5. Let them know you TRUST them: Just overtly saying to associates, “I trust you to ….” is amazingly powerful confidence builder. It reaches them on both a professional and personal level. See prior post on Trust for more info.

It is evident that service and relationship building are key differentiators between similar businesses. Customer’s expectations are pacing with the speed of technology and process innovation. If you provide scripted and/or automated responses to customers, they will repay you with the equal amount of passion. If your social support team is tweeting right out of the traditional public relations handbook, you will most likely anger or disenfranchise your customers. Same goes for customer service representatives who must use the caller’s full name 3 times in a call.

We need to hire, develop and foster our associates (and our associates’ associates) to think critically, do what they believe is the right thing for the customer, and not feel they have done something wrong by erring on the side of the customer. When they exercise their responsible freedom, they engage customers on a human level, they build strong relationships, and they have the true opportunity to “WOW” a customer.

How Do You Take Friction Out of the Customer Experience?

Does this sound familiar?: You reach out to a company that you know has tons of information about you, but when you connect to an agent, you have to tell them all the same information you’ve told them a dozen times before. Or worse, one agent asks for your account number, and on the same call, you’re transferred to a different agent who asks for the same number again. This kind of experience is universally hated and creates frustration and friction for your customers. How does your business overcome it?

That was the opening topic of discussion between Kustomer’s Co-Founder and CEO Brad Birnbaum and Shep Hyken on the latest episode of Amazing Business Radio. The answer? Support agents need to have all the relevant information about customers at their fingertips. Knowing all the relevant details about your products and services is now just the bare minimum. By helping provide agents with all the information they need, Kustomer has seen 20% faster resolution for customers.

“Want to have 100% less frustrated customers? Don’t ask them to give you the same information again and again.” Said Brad. Understandably, repeating themselves is customers’ top complaint, according to our whitepaper benchmarking the state of service for retailers

Eliminating friction is an enormous area of concern for modern customer experience organizations—and for good reason, as it’s a major impediment to doing business. It also happens to be the topic of Shep’s next book. “When you create friction, the problem becomes a complaint,” says Hyken. Instead of solving your customers’ issues, you’re putting up new barriers that are impacting their experience.

When you’re able to have an immense amount of data about your customers in one place, it acts as a multiplier for the kind of amazing interactions you’re able to have.The faster agents can provide a “wow” solution, the less friction there will be.

“Wow the customer by telling them at the beginning of the conversation, ‘I know why you are calling, and here’s what we are going to do about the problem,” said Brad.

Other information, like sentiment, can be key to delivering that next tier of experience. For example, Slice is able to see every unhappy customer who hasn’t ordered in the last 90 days, then use that information to reach out and engage with a coupon or other offer.

Chatbots are also becoming increasingly important to the CX expert’s arsenal. They have their limitations, “Chatbots only as good as the person who programs it or creates it,” added Brad, but when used correctly, they can provide a real edge to your experience.

Shep and Brad agreed that chatbots are good for routine use, but for context-sensitive answers like “what’s the warranty on my most recent purchase?”, they’re not so effective. That’s why Kustomer uses Conversational Forms. These act like a bot, instantly responding to your customers’ queries with questions, while getting info on the customer’s account themselves and their problem. They then connect directly to an agent, with all the relevant info they need to deliver great service.

Knowing everything you can about the customer, then acting on it at the right time, is key to creating the kind of customer experience that wins customers for life.

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