The Connected Customer Experience: Leveraging Data to Drive Hyper-Personalized Experiences and Build Trust

To say we’re living in a customer-centric age is an understatement: companies who fail to prioritize the customer experience are outpaced by their CX-leading competitors by nearly 80%. Additionally, more than half of companies have experienced a serious drop in consumer trust, resulting in an estimated missed $180 billion in potential revenues, according to this Accenture study. There are numerous reasons consumers lose trust in brands they once knew, loved, and purchased from frequently, but 71% of consumers say poor customer service contributes to that trust erosion.

Unfortunately, many tactics that once served an organization well in engendering a customer-first culture simply fail to keep up with the enormous increase in both customer data, and use of connected devices. Two and a half quintillion bytes of data are created each day at current pace, and Gartner predicts there will be more than six connected devices per person as early as 2020. This device proliferation and increase in data results in an overwhelming number of touchpoints that must be tracked and connected to the customer’s buying journey. It’s a tall order, but the organizations who will win are those who can use all of this data to scale the customer experience quickly, efficiently, and effectively, and all on the customer’s terms. It’s not just enough to collect data: it needs to be the right data that can be acted on in the moment.

Working with the customer where they’re comfortable

The digital age has changed where, when, and how customers interact with a brand. What was once a simple cycle of seeing an ad, making a purchase, and repeating, has shifted into a looping journey with the potential for numerous friction points that can turn a customer away from a brand all too quickly. McKinsey describes this journey through four critical areas: consideration, evaluation, purchase, and post-purchase experience. Instead of assuming a consumer will immediately be faithful to the previous brand purchased, McKinsey states that today’s buyer continues to consider new brands available to them. McKinsey adds the element of the Loyalty Loop, which fast tracks future purchases, but in order for a brand to effectively qualify for this shortcut, they must have fostered lasting loyalty with the customer. And 95% of consumers say customer service is important in their choice of brand loyalty. In other words, helping a customer find the answer they need quickly is a significant indicator of whether or not a brand has continued ownership of that customer’s wallet share.

An additional complication is the increase in possible touchpoint locations: digital searches, email, social media, website, and more. In fact, 31% of millennial customers looking for help reach out to a company via Twitter. It’s important for an organization to connect all relevant touchpoints to a unified customer profile in the event of a customer service interaction, or they run the risk of further fracturing the experience and the relationship.

Brands must be willing to look critically at their existing systems to evaluate if they’re truly prepared to handle the significant amounts of data, devices, touchpoints, and the unified view necessary to provide a seamless customer experience. Tools driven by AI and machine learning are the only way to ensure a business can scale to keep pace.

The expectations for customer agents have never been higher; below are ways that AI magnifies data to bolster a support team so they can create optimal customer experiences.

Automate processes and tasks

KPMG has estimated that the service cost reduction with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is as great as 75%. With the average cost of service centers continuing to rise — voice is $12 per contact, and live chat is $5 per contact — shifting resources to self-service through automation and a knowledge base can result in huge savings. Automation tools can decrease costs to just 10¢ per contact.

It isn’t simply the dollars and cents saved, however, that make automation so impactful to an organization. In one use case, automation can vastly improve worldwide organizations needing to route certain language speakers to agents who can communicate in that language. Additionally, by routing common questions and needs to a self-service portal or base that can both quickly and effectively solve a customer’s problems, agents are freed up to more quickly take on the more complex, nuanced issues that customers face.

While skeptics might be concerned about customers valuing human interaction above all else, according to this report from Statista, 88% of US consumers expect an online self-service portal. In fact, bringing numerous types of customer data touchpoints into one place — and from any resource — creates a more seamless, personalized experience for that customer. This method allows for both speed and a personalized approach to be achieved, and on the customer’s terms.

Augment existing agent support

When a customer dials into a service call center, provides significant information regarding who they are and why they’re calling, and is then directed to an agent for further assistance, the worst possible scenario is that customer then having to repeat all of that information…again. When considering a customer may have also reached out through email and even social media, it becomes even more crucial to use data in the right way. Much like being retargeted by an ad for a product you purchased yesterday, today’s customers are smart and expect organizations to be intelligent with their data. If, after interacting with a chatbot and providing all relevant data, a customer’s issue is escalated to a human agent, the customer expects an agent to already have the necessary context to properly manage the issue. That context should include relevant information like shipping number, previous conversations from both online and offline sources, and previous purchases made, combined into a unified customer profile.

Not only does the full customer data view aid with escalating issues directly, it can even be used to provide recommendations to the agents before even interacting with the customer. Through AI technology, an agent can be given an automated recommendation for how to best handle the customer’s request, eliminating both time and mismanagement; thereby improving the quality, time, and ease of service for both the customer and the agent.

When AI is used to capture data for context, the technology and the human agent become critical partners in providing the right customer experience. It empowers an agent to be a true specialist, who can change the customer’s outcome in a way automation cannot. The marriage between the two is what elevates the customer experience to a level that promotes long-term loyalty.

Proactively boost future outcomes

As a part of the new expectations customers have for service-related interactions, customers expect their preferred brands to be proactive in handling potential issues. For an organization this can be as simple as customer communication that informs of impending weather that will impact a shipment, or as sophisticated as predicting volume needed quarters in advance based on real-time interactions. In order to accomplish this, however, all relevant data must be gathered in a location where it can be acted upon quickly.

One use case could even enable leads and managers to get ahead of issues in-the-moment. For example, as a call is happening, the voices can be translated into text, then analyzed and graded in real time to measure key indicators that identify a call going south. Instead of arbitrarily choosing which calls to QA, or to QA all calls after-the-fact (and risk missing the ones requiring assistance), AI and machine learning can alert a team lead exactly when to jump in and improve the customer interaction as it occurs.

Antiquated technology looks reactively at improvement; the best customer experience requires proactive use of data as the touchpoint interaction occurs, rolling it into the most personalized experience possible.

Customers who have a good experience are three and a half times more likely to repurchase, and five times more likely to recommend to friends and relatives than those customers who have a poor experience. And 59% of respondents to the Microsoft State of global customer service report say that customer service expectations are higher than they were last year. In order for an organization to scale to meet the growing demand, they must provide a seamless omnichannel experience that connects all touchpoints, automates tasks and processes for maximum efficiency, and proactively uses real-time customer data to further create the best experience. Doing so will empower your agents, and build the trust your customers need to remain loyal for years to come.

Connecting all the data to relevant touchpoints and driving a hyper-personalized experience will change how your customers experience you and your product. Tune into our webinar with guest speaker from Forrester where we break down how you can create an elevated customer experience.

 

Everything CX Leaders Need to Know about Customer Satisfaction Metrics

Customer service leaders have a lot of metrics to track and interpret, with customer satisfaction data as some of the most important — and often underutilized. Satisfaction metrics aren’t just for evaluating the efficacy of your support agents; they also correlate strongly to customer lifetime value and loyalty, and can provide valuable insight to teams throughout your organization.

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions our CX team receives about customer satisfaction metrics. Use this guide as a quick reference point for CSAT, CES, NPS, and sentiment analysis.

What are the most common customer satisfaction metrics?

There are four core ways that customer service leaders track satisfaction:

  1. NPS
  2. CSAT
  3. CES
  4. Sentiment

Here’s a quick (and simplistic) way to think of them: NPS is a measure of loyalty, CES is a measure of effort, CSAT is a measure of satisfaction, and sentiment is a measure of emotion. Finding the right metrics for your customer service operation requires setting a clear purpose for the reporting. The metrics, questions, and frequency you select should align to high-level goals (e.g., do you primarily want to track brand loyalty, improve resolution time, provide product feedback, or monitor agent effectiveness?)

Quick Guide to CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score)

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is most often used to measure a customer’s feelings about a specific interaction with your support team. It’s really measuring the agent interaction versus how difficult it was to accomplish something or feelings about the brand overall. For that reason, it’s typically sent immediately following an interaction with an agent.

“One of the benefits of CSAT surveys is that you can gather feedback from customers immediately after an interaction with your team. This helps you better understand customers’ experiences in real time, and can segment the results by agent, team and most importantly channel,” notes Kustomer’s Senior Product Manager John Merse. “In a true omnichannel environment it’s important to understand that each channel is unique and requires a specific communication style. For example, while you may have a 90%+ satisfaction via email, if you are not tracking chat or SMS, you might find that your communication is not as effective and your overall customer satisfaction not as high as you think.”

Relying on one overall CSAT calculation for an entire customer support operation often isn’t illustrative enough of a metric for an enterprise organization. It’s considered best in class to also be running segmentations to identify any outlier activity. For example, are you segmenting your CSAT scores by demographic or product? And how are you combining CSAT with other metrics more indicative of customer value or loyalty? Read on for more info about how these tools can be used together.

What is a good CSAT score?

The average CSAT rating is 8.4, according to provider Nicereply, who benchmark a strong CSAT average rating of 8 or higher. The ACSI also offers customer satisfaction benchmarks segmented by industry.

Quick guide to CES (Customer Effort Score)

CES is a newer metric that focuses on experiences with support, typically rating the amount of effort a customer had to go through to resolve their issue. “You can essentially think of CES as tracking the effort a customer puts into using your product or service. The more effort that is needed over time will likely erode their loyalty ,” summarizes Merse. A CES survey, for example, might ask to what extent a customer agrees with the statement X brand made it easy for me to handle my issue. This score helps measure overall effectiveness of support, as opposed to specific agent interactions.

Why should CX leaders focus on customer effort? “If you can only measure one thing, it should be effort,” says Sarah Dibble, executive advisor at Gartner (formerly CEB, which created the metric). “Our research finds that effort is the strongest driver to customer loyalty.” Monitoring CES can help support team leaders uncover high-effort pain points in customer interactions — for example, a common trend is lower CES scores when support is available only on limited channels or time periods.

When are CES surveys typically sent? CES surveys are also typically sent immediately following an interaction with the support team, although the duration should be customized to meet the objectives of your team.

What is a good CES score?

Your CES scores will obviously vary depending on the question asked and scale used (e.g., 1-5 vs. smiles/frowns). According to provider Nicereply, look for a bell curve with most responses around 5 or a 6. If your goal is a best-in-class operation, making support frictionless should be a top priority.

Can I use CES in combination with CSAT or NPS?

Yes, many companies find that combining CES and CSAT or CES and NPS gives them a more complete understanding of the customer support experience. Although a CES score tells you effort level, it doesn’t get to the why of the customer’s response or how they feel overall about your brand.

Quick guide to NPS (Net Promoter Score)

NPS is calculated with the percentage of a company’s true advocates (“9” and “10” on a 10-point recommendation scale) minus its detractors (“0” through “6” on this same scale). Based on research by Bain & Co, an NPS survey will always look the same—a scale from 0 to 10. The question itself can vary slightly, but most often reads as: “How likely are you to recommend X Brand to a friend or colleague?”


NPS is often used as a way to identify strong brand enthusiasts and also reach out to detractors. If a customer leaves a negative score, it’s considered a best practice to reach out for more information or to improve the situation with an offer or proactive support.

NPS as a metric also has its detractors (pun intended). In its calculation, a score of six is essentially equal to a zero — meaning improving a customer’s selection from a zero to a six would make no actual difference in the overall NPS score. While that is true in the aggregate, improving individual customer’s NPS scores has great value. Armed with the knowledge about why a customer gave a certain rating, customer service agents can directly address those issues and work with the customer to improve the situation. Companies can even compare CSAT and NPS scores to see how their support teams are helping to improve the individual and overall trends over time.

Quick guide to sentiment scoring for customer service

Sentiment analysis, also known as opinion mining, is the process of determining whether language reflects positive, negative, or neutral sentiment. For customer service, sentiment analysis looks at the emotion behind customer communications. Using natural language processing capabilities, customer experience agents and supervisors can gain automated insights into the emotions behind customer interactions.

Sentiment scores (which assign a value to the message, conversation, and customer) can be used in combination with tools like NPS to get a multi-dimensional picture of customer satisfaction. Generating reports based on sentiment changes or the themes of positive or negative sentiment (like a specific product or experience) can help you better understand your customers.

Why is customer satisfaction important?

There are a range of data points supporting the value of satisfied customers. The core reasons to care about customer satisfaction are obvious: customer loyalty, customer lifetime value, and word of mouth. However, there are also less obvious reasons. Customer satisfaction can also be correlated to agent happiness (ASAT, agent satisfaction); no one wants to make people unhappy all day, so there’s a lot of research showing when one goes up, so does the other. Higher agent happiness of course correlates to retention and lower business and recruiting costs.

Here are some additional stats about why investing in customer satisfaction delivers ROI:

  • A 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits from 25 percent to 95 percent, according to research from Bain & Company.
  • When service reps can provide better experiences to customers they feel better about their jobs, and their intent to stay increases up to 17%, according to Gartner.
  • According to CEB Global, 96% of consumers that reported having difficulty solving a problem were more disloyal.

 

What are some strategies for improving customer satisfaction?

There’s obviously a wealth of strategies and improvements CS and CX leaders can make to improve customer satisfaction. Here are a few of the focus areas that can have huge payoff:

  • If you don’t already have it, build executive buy-in and consensus for customer service as a brand differentiator. Sharing examples from leading people-first brands and category disruptors can help drive internal conversations about change. Many enterprise CX organizations are reinventing the names, skillsets, and trainings of their support teams because of the importance of the support experience to customer value.
  • Consider proactive support as a means to divert and avoid negative customer experiences. This can mean everything from pushing notifications about shipping delays to getting ahead of negative reviews with an offer or product exchange.
  • Evaluate whether your customer service technology is empowering your agents to quickly and efficiently resolve customer issues and deliver exceptional quality. Have high expectations for your technology partners to enable best-in-class solutions that have a unified omnichannel experience.
  • Segment your satisfaction scores by demographics, product, support channel, and more to see if there’s any underlying problems in specific areas.
  • Invest in self-service content that’s easy to find and navigate. A strong Knowledge Base or FAQ section can be the foundation for a more efficient customer support function, allowing customers to resolve their own questions without needing to contact support.

Got more questions about measuring and interpreting customer satisfaction metrics? Reach out to connect with a CX expert from Kustomer.

 

Announcing the Kustomer Book Club for CX Leaders

I’m thrilled to use my first-ever Kustomer blog post to announce the launch of Kustomer Book Club. Every other month we’ll be building out a recommended reading list for CX leaders interested in professional and personal development, including staying up-to-date on the latest customer management thought leadership.

If your first reaction is to think you’re too busy for a book club, I get it. Working a long day and then reading a business or industry book can feel like just more work. But I also truly believe that opening ourselves up to new ideas and perspectives is one of the best things we can do for our colleagues, customers, and our careers.

Agree? Please read on.

Our first book club pick is all about bucking convention and becoming a leader who champions new ideas (especially unpopular ones!). Here’s a short description for Originals:

It’s one thing to have new ideas, but another to stand up for them. Adam Grant, one of his generation’s most provocative thought leaders, explores how individuals can recognize good ideas and speak up without getting silenced, parents can raise creative children, and leaders can build cultures that fight groupthink and promote innovation.

Sounds like valuable skills for listening to customer feedback, changing company cultures, and being a better leader. This is also a book blurbed by both J.J. Abrams and Sheryl Sandberg, so you know it’s good. Or the author is just very well-connected.

Topics to think about (and discuss with your teams) while we read Originals:

  • When’s the last time you championed an idea that you knew was strong even though it was unpopular or complicated to execute?
  • Do your teams know they can come to you with dissent or disagreement? (Hint: just ask them).
  • How can our brands encourage AND act on more customer-generated feedback and ideas?

 

Kustomer Book Club FAQs

Q. Are we reading only books about CX and customer service?

A. No! We believe that the best leaders and the best teams are made of well-rounded, curious people. This is a book club intended for professional development, but that is not limited to trends in customer service or experience. In fact, there’s a lot of research on the benefits of being a T-shaped employee/person, especially within industries undergoing rapid digital transformation. (The “T-shape concept” of valuing a broad, cross-functional mindset is typically attributed to McKinsey).

Q. Are you taking recommendations?

A. Absolutely. Especially because there seem to be gender, racial, and age gaps in business book authorship. We are striving to highlight diverse voices in Kustomer Book Club, and would love to receive recommendations. If you’ve got a must-read book, pretty please send it to jesse@kustomer.com.

Q. When will the next book be announced?

A. We’ll announce a new pick every other month here on the blog. To make sure you don’t miss updates, subscribe using the form below.

Subscribe For Updates to our Book Club

 

Jesse Feldman is the Content Marketing Manager at Kustomer.

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.

Live Chat: What Does a Modern Solution Look Like?

When organizations are considering a chat strategy, there’s a common debate over whether live chat or a messenger app is the right method to use for client communication. Both models have pros and cons, but technologies have evolved to make a hybrid approach not just possible, but effective. By blending both models together, you can test, collect feedback, and grow—and new tools make it easier than ever to take the best from each approach.

Read about Kustomer Chat’s new features here.

But before we define the benefits and drawbacks of each, it’s important to define the difference between “Synchronous” and “Asynchronous” messaging.

Synchronous Messaging:

This is commonly associated with “Live Chat”, where a customer can only maintain one chat “session” at a time with an Agent. These conversations only exist for as long as the customer is active or at least one agent is online.

Asynchronous Messaging:

This is commonly associated with email, social media, or SMS messaging. Within these channels, neither the customer nor the agent communicate in real time. This means customers can start a chat and come back to it an hour later without worrying about ending “sessions”.

What’s wrong with Live Chat?

Chat used to be confined to a website, where customers would wait for an agent to become available. If they got disconnected or refreshed the page, the session would end. To keep customers from waiting after sending their chat message, many organizations would disable the chat experience on their site whenever agents weren’t available. Once connected to an agent, customers would have to stay confined to their desk chairs chatting back and forth until they resolved their issue.

The Old Version of Live Chat: Pros and Cons

  • PRO: Customers get instant replies and immediate feedback, which sets that expectation going forward.
  • CON: The “session” philosophy means a customer can’t message you from their computer, and then respond to you from their mobile phone.
  • CON: Normally works based on “agent availability” meaning that if agents are maxed out or not available chat is removed, and you are asked to leave a message or worse, the website hides chat completely.
  • CON: Missed/Dropped Chats immediately stop a conversation and require everyone to start over.

Why Have Messaging Apps Replaced Live Chat?

With the introduction of smartphones, app-based communication shifted customer expectations. They could open an app, click “contact support”, and start a conversation, but didn’t have to wait around for a reply. When a reply did come, they’d get a notification to check it and keep the conversation going. This allowed customers to move freely from a desktop to their mobile app if they needed to get up and grab a coffee, for example. The ease of use across any device lead to a natural shift from the need to be “live” to customers becoming accustomed to asynchronous messaging within third-party apps.

Asynchronous Messaging App: Pros and Cons

  • PRO: Customers can start a chat from their computer and finish it from their smartphone.
  • PRO: The app is always available as a means to collect and store customer issues while “offline”, which agents can follow up on later.
  • PRO: Past chat conversations can be stored and replied to for context.
  • PRO: Customers don’t expect instant replies.
  • CON: Conversations are never “closed”, making it hard to measure agents on that metric.
  • CON: Conversations with customers are dragged out over a longer period of time, slowing down resolution times.
  • CON: Customer can always reply to old conversations, which can make it harder to follow up and provide timely or quality support.

While asynchronous messaging has become more popular, there are some great concepts that underlie Live Chat functionality, like using Agent Availability to set expectations. Instead of completely removing the experience of chat from your site when agents aren’t available, you can collect customers’ info and issue, and then pass them to another channel for follow-up—setting the expectation that a reply will not be live.

Modern Chat Gives You the Best of Both Worlds

Ideally, you can bridge the gap between these kinds of synchronous and asynchronous messaging by providing a customer the ability to chat live with an agent, but maintain an asynchronous state when agents are not available or over-capacity by shifting the conversation to channels like email or text messaging or setting expectations about your reply times.

Customers need a fast response to get an answer or complete a sale—like asking about clothing sizes on a retail site—but you can’t always provide 24/7 communication. That’s why your chat tool needs to evolve to combine the best features of synchronous Live Chat and an asynchronous Messaging App. Kustomer chat is always on, allowing you to set business hours so that customers have the right expectations. That makes it easy to provide synchronous chat when agents are available, and asynchronous when they’re not. The history of every conversation is saved across platforms, so it’s easy for agents and customers to move from platform to platform for a fully omnichannel chat experience. The option to close conversations makes chat support more efficient and easier to manage and measure, and because everything is tied to the customer, agents have all the necessary conversation when they start a new one. Modern chat solutions meet the expectations of your customers and the needs of your business—and with Kustomer Chat, you can deliver the best possible chat and messaging experience.

Kustomer’s Chat makes it easy to deliver the experience that’s right for your team and organization. To learn more about our latest additions to our chat offering, read our product update here.

Kustomer Localization is made for Global Teams

Many customer service teams today have to support a global customer base. Kustomer has launched Localization, a suite of features that allow you to easily detect, respond, and provide help to a multilingual customer base. Customers and support teams deserve an seamless experience in their respective language, across any channel.

Whether you service customers around the world, or have a team that communicates in multiple languages, our localization features will help you provide personalized customer support. We focused on developing features that make teams more efficient as well as automating tedious tasks associated with providing multilingual support.

Automating Language Detection

 

When your customers contact you, Kustomer is now able to automatically detect the language of the message using Amazon Comprehend dominant language detection. Oftentimes a new message will require your team to have to identify the language, and then assign it to another team or agent. This manual triaging by language is time consuming and ineffective. Automating the language detection for inbound messages allows you to route conversations to the correct team or agent, providing quick reply times. When language detection is enabled, you’ll also be able to get sentiment analysis in multiple languages, helping you to better understand your customer. Language detection will allow agents to work more efficiently by automatically sending messages and displaying Knowledge Base articles in the customer’s’ own language.

Making Translation Easy

We focused on making processes as time-efficient as possible. One of the Localization features that enables this is Snippets. Teams can easily insert translated content into messages, email templates, and Knowledge Base articles. Let’s say you want to provide your agents with an automatic response to questions about returns. You can quickly create a snippet for “return policy” with corresponding translations for languages you want to support. Then, when your agent uses a shortcut with the “return policy” Snippet, it’s automatically translated based on the customer’s language. Adding in personalization is easy too, just combine Snippets, Shortcuts, and Dynamic text and your agent is fully empowered to provide quick personalized support in the correct language.

Enabling Agent Adoption

It’s not just your customers that are global. Many support teams are based all over the world, and it’s important that users can access and use Kustomer in their native language. Unlike other tools where translations are limited to certain features and interfaces, in Kustomer you’ll have full access to language translations across all our features and the user interface. The user interface can be used in over 51 languages (both Right to Left and Left to Right). See a list of all available languages in Kustomer.

For more information about Localization and its included features, check out this article.

The Customer Service Evolution: Cisco’s Investment in Kustomer


This post by Shiv Sharma originally appeared on the Cisco Investments blog.

Do you dread your interactions with Customer Service? Are you tired of identifying yourself, your problem and all your interactions with the product or services to multiple agents? Do you wish call centers were more respectful of your time? Well, you are not alone.

As both an enterprise technology investor and a leading provider of Customer Care technology, we realize that this market is at an inflection point. An organization that was historically focused on cost efficiency and customer call deflection is now going through a dramatic shift. Enterprises are realizing that Customer Support can serve as a competitive differentiator and increase customer loyalty, thus driving higher customer lifetime value. Moreover, as leading brands have created exceptional user experiences in their interactions with customers other brands are feeling the pressure to up-level the experience they deliver to their customers as well, including Customer Support. Finally, companies are realizing that increasing customer intimacy is a top priority in a world where trends and distribution channels are rapidly shifting.

With that said, we at Cisco Investments are thrilled to announce our investment in Kustomer, a fast-growing SaaS startup which is fundamentally changing how companies manage Customer Support.

What is the opportunity?

At Cisco, we are witnessing firsthand a change in purchasing behavior. Enterprises are asking for more customer-centric, “customer journey” solutions and are also beginning to adapt their own offerings to customer preferences. It began with enterprises introducing support for multiple channels (e.g., SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter) and should accelerate as enterprises allocate greater resources to digitizing legacy contact centers. Successful B2C brands sit at the forefront of this trend and are early adopters. These companies use Customer Support as a lever to provide an exceptional, differentiated customer experience. Our thesis is that this trend will continue to accelerate within these newer customer-centric brands, and more traditional enterprises will soon follow suit.

Why do we like Kustomer?

Let’s take a look at how Kustomer enables organizations to drive an improved customer experience through customer support:

A customer-centric view of ticketing

Unlike most ticketing systems today, Kustomer ties inbound support issues directly with the customer and not a multi-digit case number. This method provides agents with context on who that customer actually is. For example, agents can view purchase history, customer sentiment (using a proprietary AI), promotional offers received, and historical interactions. This is a fundamentally new approach to customer service that enables a more human and personalized service that is lacking in the industry.

System of record for Customer Support

Traditionally, CRM and Customer Support operated as silos in an organization. However, enabling support teams to proactively utilize customer data offers a powerful dimension to deepen the understanding of one’s customer base. For example, if a B2C company is sold out of a particular pair of jeans, support agents could proactively reach out to customers and propose a potential alternative based on original purchase intent. Also, brands can offer preferred treatment to loyal customers by routing to the most skilled agents with the shortest hold times.

A truly omnichannel solution–both customer and agent-friendly

Kustomer differentiates on its ability to natively support customer communication with the most popular chat, messaging, and social media channels. Also, for the agents’ benefit, Kustomer unifies these conversations into a single-pane of glass whereas historically these have existed in separate windows on the agent desktop (i.e. voice, chat, dedicated social agents). This improves agent efficiency and productivity.

Integrates customer service with complex workflows

Kustomer is a highly configurable solution that enables companies to integrate custom workflows with various enterprise applications. We believe this functionality will be critical to Kustomer’s ability to scale, differentiate in competitive enterprise RFPs, and deliver on the promise of improved productivity for the customer service function.

Management team’s track record of success

Last but definitely not least, we are absolutely thrilled to begin working closely with Kustomer’s management team. The Kustomer team is the most experienced collection of innovators in the customer service domain. Before founding Kustomer in 2015, CEO Brad Birnbaum and CTO Jeremy Suriel founded Assistly, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2011 (re-branded Desk.com at Salesforce). As we got to know Brad and the team, it was apparent that Brad leveraged his experiences to architect a solution that truly fills a gap in the market landscape.

The future outlook of Kustomer

Our mission is to support the modernization of the enterprise, and we are thrilled that our investment in Kustomer strengthens that commitment. The rapid adoption seen by Kustomer in the short time since their product launch confirms that forward-looking, customer-centric companies recognize and value Kustomer’s product offering. Going forward, we are excited to work with Kustomer to help accelerate the reach of their platform to organizations that are seeking to leverage Customer Support as a competitive differentiator.

About the author: Shiv Sharma joined Cisco Investments in 2017 and focuses on investment and acquisition opportunities in the Collaboration market. Before joining Cisco, Shiv interned at Fidelity International in London analyzing global internet equities and worked in Private Equity at Palisade Capital Management where he focused on various growth-oriented investments. Previously, Shiv was an Investment Banking Analyst in the Technology Group at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

These Are the Top 5 Takeaways from Our Direct-to-Consumer Summit

The Direct-to-Consumer approach has changed the way we discover, shop and buy. To take stock of this monumental shift, Kustomer hosted some of the most influential and innovative DTC brands to discuss their approach to loyalty, relationship-building, and experience.

A common thread is that this shift in the consumer ecosystem has put a greater emphasis on the relationship brands have with their customers. Every brand, not just DTC companies and startups, have to value customer experience, loyalty, and lifetime value above all in order to reach modern consumers.

1) Personalization with Purpose

Your customers expect more than a one-size-fits-all experience. They’re all different, and they know that their data should be put to use to make their experience better.

If there’s one brand that knows one size doesn’t fit all, it’s custom shirt manufacturer Proper Cloth. “We have smart sizes—we ask the customer ten questions around height, weight, fit, tuck-in preference, and from that we predict what set of custom size dimensions would be most optimal,” said Founder Seph Skerritt. “This was a big data problem, but as we grew we had a rich data set to build a bigger advantage upon. We used that to improve the customer experience and streamline the onboarding experience.”

Jewelry and watch marketplace TrueFacet makes sure that they’re using a granular segmentation process to send the right messages to the right customers, as CEO Tirath Kamdar describes: “Our customer segmentation is behavior-driven—and then we use demographic information on top of that. We’ve created curated programs to help with our customer segmentation. We target each of our consumers in different ways to build loyalty.”

Personalization isn’t limited to product features, it’s also valuable to personalize content, marketing messages, and other touchpoints. As Alison Lichtenstein, Director of Customer Experience Design at Dow Jones summarized: “Personalization is important—knowing the exact content each person is reading, focusing on serving up the next best article, section, newsletter—we want to anticipate what the customer needs and putting that in front of the person, to make sure they continue to be engaged.”

The push to personalize is even built into Dow Jones’ strategy at the highest level. “We’re evangelists of customer service, we’re constantly thinking about how we can resolve customer issues. But we also focus on the agent experience, helping them help the customers. It’s a huge piece in helping us differentiate. We want to be able to help personalize.”

2) Communication is Crucial

New DTC brands are doing more to connect with customers. Digital channels create more opportunities for conversations, as chat and social multiply the amount of places customers can ask questions and engage.

“When things go wrong, you need to be constantly talking to your customer service team to find patterns, identify the issue, and then make the fix.” Said Britta Fleck, President and Managing Director of Glossybox North America, “Constant communication with your customers provides a better end experience.”

For DTC sofa startup Burrow, they’ve also found that more communication is better. “In the past we’ve tried two approaches. The approach of constantly updating the customer and keeping them in the loop was more successful than giving them a code—communicating with your customers is very important.” Says Co-Founder Kabeer Chopra.

To keep the conversations going, loyalty programs are a natural fit. They ensure that customers stay engaged and reward them for their enthusiasm. Glossybox is pursuing this strategy in earnest, “We’re doing a lot around loyalty, we like to reward our customers. We’re looking into pausing subscriptions over vacations etc, but we don’t want to make it difficult for users to unsubscribe. Either.” More communication can lead to a better experience, but that experience still has to take precedence. “We can only personalize our offering to a certain extent, but what really increases lifetime value for us is listening. And it’s easier sometimes than answering.”

3) Brands, Not Channels

While communicating over every channel that your customers use is important, this communication has to be held together by a strong strategy for the brand. As Mike Vroom, Customer Service Manager at UNTUCKit put it: “Customers interact with brands, not channels.”

Glossier has a similar view, as their Director of CX Erin Miller described, treating every interaction with customers as it’s own channel—they’re not thinking about where they’re interacting with you, but about how they’re going to solve their issue or get the information they want.

This also means that your brand has to communicate with customers in a way that feels warm, natural, and human. Mark Chou, VP of Growth Marketing and E-Commerce at Away, is changing up the way his brand communicates by switching from a reactive to a proactive service model. “When you make mistakes, you don’t hide them from your friends. The same should true for your customers. You can turn a screw-up to a shining moment for your team—being proactive as a customer service team can turn a mistake into a moment for your company that you are proud of.

4) Create Connections with Culture

Above all else, your customer experience should strive to create stronger connections. Interacting with customers one-on-one is highly personal, and doing so in a genuine, meaningful way can have a lasting impact. To do this more effectively, you need to know what your company stands. Daryl Unger, VP of Customer Experience at meal delivery brand Plated, has a strong perspective on the importance of building relationships for his brand. “Food is extremely personal, we aren’t in the business of fixing issues and solving problems, we are in the business of building strong emotional relationships with our customers.” Building relationships based on emotion has some key benefits as a strategy as well. “We remember emotions much longer than transactions. We spend a lot of time studying customer behavior and patterns, which helps us learn when we should proactively reach out—which is very important in a subscription ecommerce business.”

Similarly, Rent the Runway has built their company culture into their customer experience, which helps them build strong relationships with millennial shoppers. “Culture is in the fabric of our brand,” said Tyler Nicoll, Product Manager at RTR, “We have to be woman-first, and we’re changing the landscape by doing something that’s not common in tech companies.” RTR has a full female finance team as well, and are an inclusive company that invests heavily in sustainability initiatives. “Millennials choose brands based on social consciousness,” concluded Nicoll, which is why creating a strong brand built on solid principles makes it easier to form relationships with them. To make it easier for their agents to connect with renters, Rent the Runway’s Integration with Kustomer allows them to automate certain workflows that used to be manual, so they can spend more time working with customers and less time inputting data.

BarkShop and BarkBox understand dogs and dog owners. By getting a rich picture of their customers and their pets by using data analysis—and by using their insight as pet owners themselves—they’re able to deliver exactly what their customers need. “We’re understanding what the needs of our customers are, and figuring out what they need to meet them.” Said Melissa Seligmann, BarkShop’s General Manager.

As the conversations at our event have shown, the Direct-to-Consumer revolution is shaking the foundation of how we do business. As digital advancements make it even easier to cut out middlemen and deliver totally new kinds of experiences, customers will come to demand the same kind of convenient experiences they get from DTC brands from traditional ones. Those that can innovate, adapt, and bring a higher caliber of experience and smarter ways to buy will be the ones that succeed.

For more insights on the DTC approach, download our whitepaper: 4 Secrets to the DTC Experience Every Brand Can Master.

Scale Your Online Marketplace Faster Through Customer Support

The Marketplace model is exploding in eCommerce, so much so that it’s taking over entire industries. By 2025, it is estimated that Marketplace companies could account for $335 billion of revenue globally. If you’ve used Lyft, ordered from Amazon, gotten a late night snack through Seamless, or stayed in an AirBnB, you’ve participated in a Marketplace transaction.

With the Marketplace model comes unique challenges. Managing a Marketplace business where you don’t own all the pieces increases the complexity of delivering support. Imagine a Marketplace that connects boutique shop owners with customers around the world. If a shipment goes missing, who owns that mistake? Who does the customer communicate with? Who ultimately fixes the problem and makes sure the customer walks away happy?

Successful Marketplaces know that a great Customer Experience isn’t just about delivering a product. Everything comes down to supply and demand. To really succeed, you need strong relationships with both buyers and sellers. The best Marketplaces elevate everyone’s experience. The necessity of managing so many relationships adds to the complexity of delivering great support in a Marketplace environment.

The Complexity of Marketplace Support

Most support solutions are designed for 1-1 interactions. Traditionally, companies focused only on the relationship with the end customer. For Marketplaces, there’s more to it. You have the Marketplace team talking to their vendors, who are talking to their customers, who are also talking to the Marketplace—all with their own workflows.

Slice, a Marketplace for pizza, has experienced this challenge firsthand. Pizza shops want to know when their customers complain. Slice Customer Support handles complaints from both the hungry customers and the pizza shops. Cody, Director of Product at Slice, says “We have to interface with many restaurants, who all have different workflows that we need to accommodate. Our team wants to provide service that allows them to run their business better, not just answer their questions.”

Our tools often shape the way we work, but most tools aren’t built for this. Most systems aren’t designed to support so many complex relationships and that can contribute to a poor end-user experience.

Ultimately, managing the Marketplace means ensuring a consistent experience for the end customer. All the complexity behind the scenes shouldn’t make it more complex for the customer to get problems resolved. Customers shouldn’t need to know how your business works, in order to do business with you.

Building Relationships, Not Transactions

Multiple relationships mean a complex data model. A simple transaction like a return or exchange means communicating with a multitude of systems, many that might not even be owned by your company. From package tracking to conversation management to inventory updates—support teams are on the hook for a ton of moving parts. And they have to search for the correct information across these many disconnected systems.

Usually resolving an end customer concern means logging into several point solutions. Support team members will look up shipping numbers in one tab, confirm inventory in another, all while reading customer conversations in another help desk screen. Support teams are overloaded with transactional systems, instead of focused on relationships.

Relationships are built on a shared history. Knowing the past experiences of buyers and sellers means that support teams can provide proactive, helpful advice. Getting this data into one place empowers support teams to build stronger relationships with both vendors and purchasers.

We need to focus our data models around the one thing every transaction has in common—the end customer.

To visualize what this data model looks like, imagine pulling up a support conversation with an AirBnB customer in your help desk. If you’re only looking at the customer’s history, you’d see their past reservations. That’s helpful! But you’re missing part of the picture—you also need to view past host bookings to see if there’s a history of issues there. Only by connecting to both the buyer and seller can you truly understand the source of the issue.

Supporting Multiple Stakeholders

When supporting a Marketplace, there’s so many stakeholders involved, both inside and outside the organization. Vendors want to know customer concerns, Marketplace support teams want to improve their own service and product teams want insights to improve too. Like Slice, all businesses want to provide value to their vendors.

Thinking beyond the individual conversations with customers, you need a data model that delivers insight on both buyer and supplier behavior. Lyft drivers want to know what riders say about their experience. They also want to know where the most profitable ride requests come from, and how many riders they can expect to serve in a day. The Lyft product team wants to know what tasks trip-up customers when booking. And the support team wants to know when things go wrong so they can staff their contact center effectively.

That’s a lot of information to sort through and deliver to the various stakeholders—but there are even more valuable insights to glean if you’re able to identify issues early on.

With a platform that’s designed to help businesses unlock the data that’s being collected in support conversations and build better workflows around them, you can do more. If your platform operates on a flexible data model like Kustomer, even unconventional businesses like a pizza marketplace can fit the tool to their needs.

Finding Business Value in Your Platform

Businesses can struggle with balancing the individual needs of a customer with their strategy for the entire company. Traditional help desks aren’t helpful. They let you export raw data, but aren’t set up to serve up insights for the business.

Using a customer experience platform will help you serve up insights from customer conversations to the major stakeholders without the need to hire a data scientist.

Showing Internal Teams the Value of Support

How many teams wish they could talk to customers all day long? Marketing, product, and executives all want to know more about how customers think and the problems they have. But often, that valuable information is locked up in Customer Support conversations. Getting that data out of your service platform in a usable format and into the hands of internal teams is often an impossibility.

If you can highlight trends in customer contacts, focus on your neediest vendors, and illuminate your biggest areas of opportunity—all from the customer conversations you’re already having—then you’ll be able to share this valuable insight with relevant stakeholders across the organization.

Building Stronger Relationships with External Partners

Companies are successful when their customers are. Using a support platform with a flexible data model means you can pull insights from your partner’s perspective. Independent vendors often don’t have the big business tools to gather their own business intelligence.

That’s where a great Marketplace support team comes in. Being able to analyze customer trends and serve up insights for their business means building a stronger relationship. Your support platform shouldn’t just provide value to you—it should provide value for your partners too.

Highlighting Opportunities For Business Intelligence

The best tools help you grow. If you’re thinking of your help desk as just an email inbox, you’re missing opportunities for growth.

Pulling out service trends, customer questions and feedback can highlight new markets to expand into. Combining this with other data can help superpower your growth machine.

A Platform for Marketplaces

Supporting customers in a Marketplace environment is a tough gig. But tools are improving to help support teams be more effective in building relationships. Using a support platform with a flexible data model means that your workflow (however complex) doesn’t need to compromise.

If you’re working with multiple stakeholders, you need software that makes complicated relationships simple. Take a test run of Kustomer and see how we can help you manage your Marketplace.

How Subscription Companies Can Deliver a Better Customer Experience

Subscription’s rising popularity isn’t a fluke. There are a lot of real benefits for customers and businesses alike that you don’t get from traditional retail. Customers receive just what they want delivered to their door—even things they didn’t know they wanted—with no extra effort required.

However, their biggest benefit is also a huge drawback. Because customers don’t need to think about their subscriptions all the time, it’s easy for them to cut them loose once they stop adding value to their lives. This is why brands with subscription models are plagued by churn. Customers might jump on with ease, but if they don’t find lasting value, the novelty wears off.

Subscription-based companies must reward loyalty. They should be incentivizing customers to stay with them for the long haul, delighting them with new surprises and offers based on the length of time they’ve been subscribed. Every delivery must be used as an occasion to build a deeper connection. Agents need to be well-trained to deliver a complimentary experience, consulting with customers on their options and learning more about them to better target offerings.

There are more than 2,000 subscription box services on the market right now, but only a small percentage will still be doing business this time next year. To succeed, subscription businesses need to deliver a valuable customer experience. What does this level of customer experience look like on a practical level?

Rewarding loyalty

Bespoke Post and Boxycharm reward the customers that have been subscribed the longest with more hand-picked, high-value options in their boxes. The upfront cost pays for itself, as customers keep subscribing in anticipation of future surprises.

Asking questions

Every change in behavior is a chance to build a deeper connection. For a brand like Material World that delivers personalized outfits, if a customer puts their delivery on hold, it’s only in their interest to find out why. If the customer is going to be traveling somewhere warm, they could even send their box to where they’re going to be staying—with some tropical inspired options inside.

Exceeding expectations

Don’t hesitate—if a customer is asking about upgrading their subscription tier for a brand like SprezzaBox, reach out and follow up with a personalized offer. After trying out a free trial of a premium box for three months, they’re more likely to be convinced to bump up their subscription permanently!

Digging for more data

For classic subscription brands like Birchbox, agents should take every opportunity to learn more about their customers. They should be reaching out to customers to fill out their profiles, sending surveys to get a better understanding—and their organization should be empowering their agents with the data they already have.

Being proactive

If bad weather is about to roll in to a particular region, rather than being reactive and waiting for customers to respond with questions about a shipment, a brand like LOLA with a time-dependent delivery can reach out to them as early as possible and present them with new shipping options to avoid a delay.

As both brand new and legacy brands catch on to the benefits of subscription model, the delivery box options will only grow. However, the subscription companies that understand their customers and use great service and customer experience to ensure their loyalty are the ones that will last.

Want to see how Kustomer can help your company? Find out how we enable ecommerce business here.

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