Great CX Starts With Happy Agents

Great CX Starts With Happy Agents TW

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Derek Hixon to talk about his lessons learned after providing over 15 years of exceptional customer support. Listen to Derek’s fun and invigorating life lessons in the podcast below.

Fostering Relationships Leads to Better CX

Derek Hixon, Director of Customer Support and Implementation at WordStream, proudly leads his team of reputable customer service agents. Having over 15 years of customer service experience, he has learned the best methods of garnering customer loyalty and agent happiness, starting with fostering relationships in the workplace. Derek believes that the best customer service experiences start with a happy team of CX agents. To present this idea, he states, “Everything starts with the team that you have working for you and if they’re not happy with you or with the role, nothing’s going to work. So that’s where your primary focus has to be initially. You always got to stoke that flame to make sure that they’re happy and cool with you.”

Derek finds that when his team is happy, their positivity trickles down and reflects in their work. They are able to have more productive conversations, find the best solutions to their customer’s needs, and have better overall CX scoring. When those genuine daily interactions take place, the work environment becomes more comfortable and interactive, ultimately resulting in the best customer service experiences.

Utilizing Data as a Tool

Data is a driving force in innovation. It presents the information needed to push internal growth and to modify methods and tools to better suit the needs of the customer. When customers use a product and don’t understand how to use it, Derek finds that is the right opportunity to learn from their data and to innovate that product as well as alter their CX approach. He says, “Data is key. It’s not the only thing, but you need solid data to make informed decisions.” Using data to gauge what your customer expects from a product has proven to be extremely useful with Derek’s CX process. Data can give the information needed to build internal tools that assist customers, or remove the need for internal CX tools all together by creating an effortless experience. Having a high-level view and taking the small but necessary steps to creating the ultimate satisfactory customer experience through using data can be very beneficial to companies.

Building on Each Other’s Strengths

Something all companies would benefit from is employing each team member’s strengths to work together and create a cohesive CX team mindset. Early on in his career, Derek found that each person offers specialized skills for their job and that utilizing that specific knowledge has proven to be advantageous to the company. He explains, “I think when you’re working with people with different expertise and skill sets, that’s where true innovation really can happen. That’s where you can really have the biggest impact on the business and the customer experience.” He notes that unearthing each team member’s strengths takes patience because oftentimes, they are used to completing tasks in specific ways, and their specialized knowledge gets buried under the day-to-day cycle. Breaking that cycle can be done through engaging with the team, learning from the team and pulling from their skill set. CX teams would be wise to learn from each other and to use their specialized knowledge to build on each other’s strengths.

To learn more insightful life lessons, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Great CX Starts With Happy Agents | Derek Hixon

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going. Today we’re going to be talking about lessons learned from running 15 years of successful support operations, and to do that, we brought on Derek Hixon, who’s currently the Director of Customer Support and Implementation at WordStream. Derek, how the heck are you?

Derek Hixon: (00:30)
I’m doing great. How are you doing Gabe?

Gabe Larsen: (00:32)
Yeah, pretty good. Well, I’m pretty good, man. We had an interesting morning. But I got to ask, man, it sounds like you’ve got a fun hobby on the side, is that true? You’re a DJ by night, by day, by, what is it?

Derek Hixon: (00:45)
I’ve been trying to retire for years, but I can’t get out of the game, I guess. I do DJ around Boston, specifically a place called State Park in Cambridge that I really like and I also make some music on the side and actually I think being creative is very important to me. And I think what I learned outside of the walls of work really helps me inside them as well. So –

Gabe Larsen: (01:07)
That’s awesome, man. Been doing it for years? As long as you’ve been doing support or not really?

Derek Hixon: (01:12)
Oh, I’ve been messing with music since I could walk, so yeah, long, long time.

Gabe Larsen: (01:17)
Love it, man. That’s fun. I’m just getting my boy into guitar lessons. I always wanted to be a jammer, but I just never had the guts to stick with it. So we won’t make you say your DJ name, but if you want to know that you’ll have to ping Derek on LinkedIn. So outside of DJ, give us your quick background real quick.

Derek Hixon: (01:40)
So, I’ve been working within technical support organizations for the past 15 plus years now. Before that I was working within a company called Pearson and, sorry, I’m just going to take a beat for a second. I can’t even talk about myself. So I’ve been working in technical support organizations for the past 15 years and I have a pretty diverse background in media as well. I’ve worked within print production. I’ve worked within the education sphere. I’ve worked within big media and video and I have a fairly diverse background in communications and I’m also in media.

Gabe Larsen: (02:32)
Awesome, man. Well, it definitely sounds like you’ve got a robust background. Want to see if we can pull out some of that today, as we talk about just lessons learned. I mean, you’ve been at different companies, you’ve been in different industries. What are some of those things that just stand out as, “Man, as I’ve looked back at my career, these things have been kind of the make or break things that have made me more successful?” Start at the top. What comes to mind?

Derek Hixon: (02:57)
Oh, it’s funny. I think I’ve fallen into a technical support role and leadership role kind of by accident, but that’s kind of life too. I think life’s very non-linear and you kind of got to go with the waves and fight against them or you’ll drown. And I was working in publishing many moons ago and it was a big publishing company and I was rising up the ranks well, and I had a pretty big team and across multiple cities, but I just wasn’t feeling the culture or just the industry, so to speak. So I was looking for my next new big challenge and I heard of a company called Brightcove at the time. And what excited me about them is that they combined two of my loves, technology and also video. And this is back in 2008, 2007, and YouTube was only a year old. Having video on the internet was the wild, wild West. It was exciting, new, and hard. Which all of it really intrigued me. I had a friend who recently joined there and all they had open at the time was a single contributor support role. And I’ve debated in my head because I had this good career path. I had a good bonus. I liked the people I worked with at the time, but I wasn’t really challenged in ways I wanted to be. Way back in the day I went to school for video and I was going to be the next great Steven Spielberg or something like that. So it was a way for me to still kind of plug into that world as well. So I kind of rolled the dice and I interviewed for a position. I got the single contributor position and this is 2008 and it was about two weeks after I accepted that the whole economy fell through the floor. And I thought, I remember one day specifically, I was going up the elevator and I thought it was gonna be going right back down it. We had to do some layoffs. They were a startup at the time and I was able to survive it thankfully. And the thing I realized real quickly at Brightcove that was different than at the previous company I was at was, and some of this may be due to me at the time, me being in my mid to early twenties, but I thought I knew everything. And I always felt like I was the smartest guy in the room and real quickly at Brightcove, I realized I was not the smartest guy in the room. I was far from it. And it was very intimidating at first for me. I had a lot of fakers syndrome. I was like, “Why did they hire me? Like this was a mistake. Like I shouldn’t be in the room.” But what that really did for me is it threw me into survival mode and I’m like, “Okay. Well, if I’m not going to be the smartest guy at the table,” like I was literally, ActionScript was a thing back then. Rest in peace Flash. I like literally, the guy who was sitting across the table from me, wrote the book I learned from and I was just like, “This is ridiculous, I can’t compete with this level of knowledge.” So what it instilled in me was, I’m like, “Okay, if I can’t be, if I’m not going to be the smartest guy in the room or at the table, I’m going to be the most prepared. I’m going to be the hardest working.” Really what I started doing, the seeds I started lying just to survive, ended up being very helpful for me throughout my career as I grew in different leadership positions in technical support organizations. And what I’d really tried to do initially was I had brilliant coworkers, but they had all this brilliant knowledge trapped inside their heads. So I was just always pinging and poking at them to try and learn from them. And then I was trying to transfer all that down to paper or Google Docs or whatever it was or Confluence or whatever it was at the time, and create my, and it was really a selfish way for me to do documentation. And so I had the knowledge, so I could do my job better. But by getting that mindset, it’s really helped pave a path for me to where I am today.

Gabe Larsen: (07:10)
I love that man. That’s powerful. So one of the big keys was, it sounds like you kind of thought a little high, got yourself in the deep water, neck deep, but you were able to figure it out. And one of the keys was just being able to kind of, sit with that team, really spend some time and pull stuff from them and not just do the conversations, but actually translated into a document or something that could be shared with others or shared with yourself so that you could actually say, “Hey, this is what this process looks like. Or this is what this function, or actual detail looks like,” is that correct?

Derek Hixon: (07:49)
Yeah, that’s exactly right. And that’s something I’ve noticed from my early experiences at my first technical support experiences at Brightcove all through the last few roles I’ve had is I’ve been really blessed throughout my career to work with really brilliant people. And sometimes it’s just helping organize the really good knowledge that they have. Like everyone has very specialized knowledge for wherever they work, but sometimes it’s trapped within and like trying to really get hive mentality and spread the love with what they have.

Gabe Larsen: (08:23)
How [Inaudible] I mean, I think most of us know that intuitively, but it’s always hard to kind of pull it out of people and then get it into, again, a format that’s digestible. You just take, is it just about taking the time? Is it about the right questions? What’s kind of the secret to getting that richness out of people and into a place that can be digested?

Derek Hixon: (08:43)
Yeah. It’s a lot. It’s a bunch of things you have to be patient with. I’m like old school at heart. I like to DJ. I DJ with vinyl only. I don’t like DJ out digitally. If I cook I’m grilling with charcoal, I don’t want a gas grill. It’s just kind of my nature. I just think things are better if they’re done right and slowly, and usually you benefit from it in the long-term. You can always get short-term success with things, but if you have the luxury of time, which you don’t always have obviously, you can do really great things. And I also think just keeping it real with people and being transparent can really get you a lot of credit with people to get trust within you. To kind of pull things out, but it takes time. And where it really starts is, it’s process, right? Process is what everyone’s chasing in a leadership role. They want people to do things in a similar manner. I don’t necessarily want everyone on my teams to do things exact. And I compare, I like sports as well. And when I talk to my team, I’m really, really good at bad analogies. And I like to equate how they do their job, like a golfer and a golf swing, or a baseball player in their batting stance. It doesn’t have to be the same exact stance or swing for everyone, but we’re all trying to get the same results. You’re trying to drive the ball straight and far down the middle, or you’re trying to get a base hit or a home run. When I’m sitting with people, you really have to sift the team, you have to take the time. You have to stroke the coals, you have to prepare for a DJ set, like you have to really understand, “Okay, what’s their day-to-day like?” And that goes through shadowing. Okay. And like I always say, cliques kill. You can do things to simplify your team’s job, you’re getting quick wins and you’re making their lives easier, which is going to filter right down to the customer. And so that’s where you start. And also people like talking like, hey, I’m doing it right now. People like talking about themselves. People like showing off the things they know and it also gives people a chance to feel empowered and talk about the hard work they’ve put in and how they do it.

Gabe Larsen: (11:02)
I like that. Then through all of these interviews you’ve done and different stakeholder discussions, et cetera, any quick things you’ve found that ultimately changed the way you look at support, ideas around simplicity, or people making it harder than they maybe need to sometimes, but different things like that?

Derek Hixon: (11:24)
Yeah. I think that it’s hard to see the forest through the trees type of thing, fully applies when it comes to support. And I think support at times traditionally can have a bit of a stigma. It’s literally at the end of the big funnel from sales to marketing, through products; we’re at the very end. But also, we’re at the end of one part of the process where we’re at the tip of the spear for the customer part of the process of how they’re using a product and where they’re running into things. And I think that it’s just really important to, I’m sorry, what was the exact question? I kind of went off there a little bit.

Gabe Larsen: (12:05)
No, no. It’s totally fine. I missed some of the lessons learned as you interview some of these people and, just curious if there’s general findings. What did you find [inaudible] people ‘complexify’ stuff or –

Derek Hixon: (12:20)
Yeah. Yeah. I think sometimes, and this is the, I find this especially when I first join an organization is I really lean into it when I hire somebody new as well. New blood is invaluable, new perspectives, just new angles on looking at things. Sometimes people live with a certain way of doing things for so long or someone told them to do it a certain way. So they just will do it a certain way. And that’s just the way they’re going to do it forever. And it goes back like, I have a saying that I always tell my team is like cliques kill. And like, if we can simplify the amount of things like tools needed to accomplish a task or ways to assist someone, that’s where it helps. And also I think the other hard thing, a thing I’ve seen across the, when I’m working with people to try and figure it out and simplify the job is, a lot of times, people are afraid to take a short-term hit to get a long-term gain. And I kind of almost look at it like preventative medicine or it’s like if sometimes teams are really scared to take some steps back and look at, “How do I do my job? Well, what are the steps I need?” instead of actually just taking the cases and doing them because like, “Oh, if I’m doing all this stuff and I’m not taking the cases, are cues going to really grow?” And I’m like, well take that short-term hit because it’s going to like, if you take time on this one case it’s going to help, or if you write an article on this one type of case and we post it, it’s going to help hundreds of people down the line and it’s forever going to be evergreen and all that jazz. So it’s helping the pulp. I think that’s, really it’s the benefit I have in the positions I’m in now. I used to be in the trenches, just like the people on my team, taking the cases and doing the calls. You don’t always have the luxury to pull yourself above the clouds and look down at everything. But to be able to do that with the team and allow them that freedom really helps them to help the customer experience better, how the team works better, and also helps them get a different perspective on things and potentially, like I think when people talk about support and customer success so much, they’re always just talking about the customer, but the customer experience is going to suck if the people on the team supporting them aren’t happy, or don’t what they’re doing, or don’t feel like they’re growing. Not everyone’s going to be a support lifer, and that’s cool. I’m sure yourself, you’ve had many different turns throughout your career. But when people are on my team and they’re working with me, I want to know what their goals and aspirations are. And I want to figure out how, when they’re in the current role they’re in with me and my team, how can I help grow skill sets that will help them accomplish larger goals while also helping the immediate goals with what the team has now? So, I really think it’s hard. I think the biggest secret is pulling people out at times and understanding what their path can be and the results will filter out throughout to the customer, the data will start pointing in the directions you want, and you’ll just create a really good working environment where people enjoy being, and working, and pushing and pulling in the same direction with each other.

Gabe Larsen: (15:46)
I like that. So, one big thing is just understanding your team, what they’re doing, learning from some of those findings. The second thing that we touched a little bit about was this idea of case analysis and what do customers really need help with? Talk about how that’s been a lesson that you’ve learned and how that applies to kind of transforming service organization.

Derek Hixon: (16:10)
Yeah. Data is key. It’s not the only thing, but you need solid data to make informed decisions. And so it goes back. And so in the very beginning, if I’m shadowing, it’s like if I got a new job at CompanyWide tomorrow to run their global customer support organization, the first thing I would do would be sit down with the team and understand what their day-to-day is like. And it’s not just to make sure their to-kill cliques and to make their day-to-day more simple, but I want to understand what the cases are and what the questions are that they’re answering and asking. I’ve done this primarily, this is nothing new, but I do this primarily through using case-reasons and sub-reasons at the case level. That means like, if it’s a billing question, that would be the case reasoning. And then from there, the sub-reason could be, “When’s my next bill due? I want to cancel. Where do I find?” Once you can bucket out what the customers are writing in about into different reasons and sub-reasons, then you can really start building a map of what people are actually asking the team about. Really, I don’t look at support, I always kind of looked at as support as a secret part of product because that’s what the, people are using a product.

Gabe Larsen: (17:38)
Agreed. Agreed.

Derek Hixon: (17:38)
We’re all consumers and we’re all going to have questions on things at some point in time. So I love working as support just because I think it’s good karma. When people are putting their heads against something, and they have a question, it’s because they’re using the product and it’s not working, or they don’t know how to, or they don’t want to figure out how to, because they still have time to sit down and figure out all the things. So really understanding what the people are asking about and then once you understand what they’re asking about, the real proof in the pudding is what action are you taking on the data, and who are you sharing that data with? It’s always easiest initially, to affect things internally, meaning within the support organization, but when you really start developing at my level relationships with peers across the aisle, and in marketing, in products, in engineering and development, that’s when you can really, really, really start doing some great stuff with the data such as creating internal tools. So you can do better work for the customer, or even better, make those tools available for the customer, or make it so the tool is not even needed because the thing just happens. Oftentimes, just from analyzing product usage data, a lot of places where customers might butt their heads against the wall, aren’t going to show up because they’re going to support those sort of things.

Gabe Larsen: (19:07)
I like that. I mean, sometimes the devil’s in the detail, man. It’s finding that, I love the idea of this case-reason and really being able to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, can be, I mean, it just opens up so much insight as to where you potentially need to go. I liked that one. And then number three, you talked a little about this idea of working in a box. Jump into that for a minute. How does that apply to kind of lessons learned?

Derek Hixon: (19:30)
Yeah. My favorite thing about working within a technical support organization is that, when I’m working at a software company, you work with and you talk to everyone within the company. Like then that goes from a tier one associate on my team to me. We’re talking to account managers, we’re talking to marketers, we’re talking to sales guys, we’re talking to product, we’re talking to engineers. And it’s really nice to have like our tentacles throughout the company that way. And like, what really gets me off is cross-collaboration. I think when you’re working with people with different expertise and skill sets, that’s where true innovation really can happen. That’s where you can really have the biggest impact on the business and the customer experience. So, I try and really foster relationships there. It’s not easy. It can be really hard at times because all the different segments have different goals, and different OKRs that they’re pushing towards. Hopefully everything will roll up to the greater good, but it’s hard for all of it to cross over exactly. And just being realistic with where support lies within the totem pole of things at times, if you can learn how to work within other teams, cross-functional OKRs, and whatnot, you’ll have better success with what you’re trying to do instead of trying to jam a square through a circle hole. I’ve tried to jam a lot of squares through circles, so I’ve learned through a lot of failure, and I’ve been far from perfect. But hopefully I’m getting a little bit of wisdom with age, but to be determined.

Gabe Larsen: (21:14)
Wow. Well, I totally understand where you’re coming from. It seems like I get smarter with age, but then I look at myself and I look at my life and I’m like, “No. I’m not.”

Derek Hixon: (21:27)
Exactly.

Gabe Larsen: (21:29)
BS’ed my way through everything. Well, we covered a lot today, Derek. As you think about other service support leaders out there trying to win, what’s kind of a summary takeaway that you’d leave with the audience based on some of the stuff we’ve chatted about today? Any quick kind of quick summary comment?

Derek Hixon: (21:50)
Yeah. I would just say, know your team and then use the data as a tool. Everything’s a tool. Like, there’s a phrase, “Death by a thousand paper cuts,” and I like to apply life by a thousand paper cuts. We’re always, and like the real big phrase that I say to my teams is, “Green grows and ripe rots.” Meaning like, as soon as you think you’re good and you know everything and you start being stagnant, you’re screwed. And like, I try and have a mindset of always wanting to grow and learn and understand, and we’re always tweaking things, but we’re never making this huge, big, crazy change, but we’re always making series of changes based on the data we’re getting and through just keeping a really open communication within the team. And from there, there’s no whiplash had by the team by all these big changes, but if all of a sudden we look back six months, we’re like, “Oh wow, we did a lot. We used to do things this way? That was crazy.” So I think just really having a high-level view of things and I’m not trying to boil the ocean, but always trying to slowly innovate, push, and move forward. But like, everything starts with the team that you have working for you and if they’re not happy with you or with the role, nothing’s going to work. So that’s where your primary focus has to be initially. You always got to stoke that flame to make sure that they’re happy and cool with you.

Gabe Larsen: (23:15)
I love it, man. Alrighty. Well, a lot to cover. Definitely a lot of experience coming out. I can hear the wisdom in your voice. I’ll have to join you in Boston sometime when things calm down with all that’s going on with the COVID, et cetera. It’d be fun to hear you DJ, man. So anyways, thanks for joining and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (23:40)
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How the Global Pandemic is Affecting Customer Service Organizations With Andrea Paul and Vikas Bhambri

How the Global Pandemic is Affecting Customer Service Organizations With Andrea Paul and Vikas Bhambri TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe is joined by two members of the Kustomer team, Andrea Paul, Director of Research, and Vikas Bhambri, SVP of Sales and Customer Experience, to discuss how the pandemic is fast-tracking the digital transformations and how it has changed the way customers interact with businesses, forever. Andrea and her team went out and surveyed CX professionals across a variety of industries to understand how COVID-19 is affecting customer service organizations and how they are adapting to these challenging times. Join the full conversation for hard data and an in-depth discussion on how businesses can succeed and the role technology plays to achieve efficient customer service.

Increases in Inquiries and Changes in Media Channels

One of the first data points discussed is the 17% increase of customer service inquiries for all channels. Meaning, more and more people are reaching out to customer service departments for details about their orders. It has brought out a need for a more proactive approach to customer service. The passive approach of the past has been exposed and companies are learning that they have to change or customers will not continue to use their services.

Another interesting statistic they found is that inquiries increased 34% on the phone. To comment on this trend, Vikas states, “When you see the escalation on the phone channel, that means that customers, the consumer, their patience is waning, right? … So that 34% uptick in the phone channel is very telling about where the consumer expectation is right now and that high demand for a response from the brand.” Companies that will take the time to look at their processes, be more proactive, and respond quickly to their customers will come out on top after all of the COVID-19 effects calm down.

The Challenges of a Remote Workforce

Another big change that all companies are experiencing right now is the transition from an office based workforce to a remote workforce. Vikas and Andrea note several problems that have arisen because of this change. The first issue being the fact that reps, agents, and all employees are lacking the tools and technologies they need to succeed at home. Whether it’s the quality of the computers, the software, wifi, distractions, or phone call quality, employees are struggling to give customers the highest quality experience because they don’t have access to their normal tools and technologies. In addition, management and general team accessibility has been a challenge. Vikas comments on how management has changed by stating, “I think that’s the biggest challenge is what are my people doing? Where do they need help? How do I jump in and help them with a particular customer situation? I think that’s one of the big challenges that we’ve observed.” Other professionals from the research project agreed with this statement. Andrea shared that 34% of respondents mentioned it is difficult to work remotely and an additional 23% said they lacked the tools to do their jobs remotely. If a remote workforce is the new normal, data shows that changes must be made to combat these challenges.

Why CX is More Important than Ever Before

90% of the research respondents agreed that customer service is more important than ever before. Andrea shares her thoughts on this data point and suggests an important mindset change: “I think that with storefronts closing and your customers not being able to interact with any quote-un-quote face of the company anymore, CS is turning into that face of the company… So thinking through the way that you’re approaching customers in light of this new importance and this new sort of social aspect, not treating people like a transaction or a ticket number and making sure that they’re actually feeling valued, is really, really hugely important right now.” It is clear that companies that focus on customer service will retain their current customers and outlast other companies. In a time where businesses and customers are constantly shifting, companies that are consistent in customer service are going to come out on top.

To learn more about the COVID-19 research conducted by Kustomer, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

 

Listen Now:

Listen to “How the Global Pandemic is Affecting Customer Service Organizations | Andrea Paul and Vikas Bhambri” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

How the Global Pandemic is Affecting Customer Service Organizations With Andrea Paul and Vikas Bhambri

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alrighty. Alrighty then. We’re going to kick this off. We got another session to go live today. We’re going to be talking about how the global pandemic is affecting customer service organizations, more research for you today. That’s one of the things we really want to bring into these conversations. Love practical advice, love best practices, but boy, do I love research. And so to do that, we brought on two special guests. One you’re getting more familiar with, but let us just take a second and have each person introduce themselves. Andrea, let’s start with you.

Andrea Paul: (00:49)
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you guys for having me today. My name is Andrea Paul. I am the Director of Research here at Kustomer. I was a journalist in my past life and I’ve sort of been working on content production and research for SaaS companies for about the last 10 years.

Gabe Larsen: (01:06)
I love it. And she’s got some nuggets, some golden nuggets you’re going to bring out here in just a minute for — Vikas, over to you.

Vikas Bhambri: (01:12)
Vikas Bhambri SVP Sales and CX here at Kustomer, 20 years CRM contact center lifer. I’m looking forward to the chat today, learning something new from Andrea after all these years.

Gabe Larsen: (01:24)
That’s just the way it works out. And then you know myself, I usually make up a new title for myself every week, but we’ll just leave it at VP of Growth here at Kustomer today. And let’s dive in. So Andrea, let’s start high level. You, the team kind of decided, “Hey, we want to get some data about what’s going on.” Why did that kind of happen? What was the project about? Give us kind of the big picture here before we dive into some of the findings.

Andrea Paul: (01:54)
Yeah. For sure. So I feel like so many companies have been creating tons of content over the last few months ever since the global pandemic happened. Whether that’s general tips for brands or sort of their gut instinct of where businesses are struggling. Right? So, you hear those buzz words of “In these challenging times” or “We’re all in this together.”

Gabe Larsen: (02:17)
That’s my favorite, the “In challenging times.” I love that.

Andrea Paul: (02:20)
Exactly. And I think Kustomer, we were a bit more well positioned with our finger on the pulse because we’re having these ongoing conversations and dialogues with our customers and customer service professionals in this space. But in the end, every company is an isolated incident, right? They’re sort of broad generalizations that we’re making. So we really decided that we needed to come to the table with some like cold, hard facts and data to inform how the global pandemic was really impacting customer service organizations and what they really needed to succeed right now. So, we went out and we ran a survey between April 1st and April 10th. I believe we had around 168 respondents. They were all customer service professionals based in the U.S., employed full-time across a variety of industries. So that was sort of how we approached this.

Gabe Larsen: (03:12)
Love it. Love it. Okay. So, well, let’s dive in and then we’ll get some commentary from myself and Vikas. So big surprises as you got the data back, analyzed it with the team; anything jumped out to start that was a little more, “Hmm, that’s odd?”

Andrea Paul: (03:27)
Yeah. I mean, I think the one thing that was interesting, obviously we had responses across a variety of industries, but we’ve seen differing responses in terms of volume of inquiries and it does shift from industry to industry. So I know that we last week talked about a different research study that actually saw a decrease in inquiries. We saw a 17% increase overall across industries. There was, I think about a 34% increase on phones specifically. So there are these, like a lot of companies are seeing these bursts in activity right now, and there’s just a need for being more efficient and being able to handle this increase.

Gabe Larsen: (04:12)
Okay. So let’s unpack that a little bit. So generally speaking though, companies in this piece were saying, it is a 34% overall increase in–

Andrea Paul: (04:25)
34% on phones. Yeah. So 17, overall 34, on phone, I think it was like 28 via email. We saw that financial services and healthcare, I believe, when we looked at it by industry, were seeing the highest increases. Which makes sense obviously. We all know that, but —

Gabe Larsen: (04:41)
I think because this is where you were going, right? It’s like, you’ve got to be careful with that stat because it’s so industry specific, right?

Vikas Bhambri: (04:49)
It is. But I think what Andrea’s research is showing, I think a couple of things that I took away from that was, one; when you see the escalation on the phone channel, that means that customers, the consumer, their patience is waning, right? Because I mean phone is the most real time, no offense to chat and some of the other channels, SMS, et cetera, but they’re asynchronous. When customers reach for the phone what that tells me is “I don’t want to wait anymore. I don’t want the back and forth. I want to speak to somebody and I want to speak to somebody now.” So that 34% uptick in the phone channel is very telling about where the consumer expectation is right now and that high demand for a response from the brand. And then if you look at just the overall 17%, that applies to what we’re seeing in our one-on-one conversations, which is a big discussion point around this surge. That’s actually what people are calling it, the surge. And it’s the number of conversations that people are having per order. I’ve heard as many as four to five times x the normal volume, because people are like, “You know what, I just don’t want to hit something on your website and say order, I now want to know constantly, where is it? When’s it getting here? Why is it late, right? Why is one item missing?” And so I think that anxiety is also kind of compounding the expectation.

Gabe Larsen: (06:22)
Yeah. I went on the phone because I do think that adds, you’re right. There’s just something more about, we’re all feeling the urgency and so it’s one thing to say, requests are going up, but that the phone requests are kind of seeing one of the bigger spikes, just shows you that we’re nervous. We’re feeling the need to kind of do something more and so it’s coming out of the phone cause it’s like, “I need an answer and I want it now.” What were you going to say Andrea? Sorry I didn’t mean to —

Andrea Paul: (06:46)
Yeah. I was just going to say, excuse me, 80% of the customer service professionals that we surveyed also said that they had a greater need for proactive outreach. And I think it goes to just that. Right? So all of these customers for each order, they’re reaching out because they want to know are there delays in shipping? What are you doing to keep me safe? Are there fulfillment issues happening right now? There’s so many more questions that consumers are asking so customer service organizations are having to sort of scramble and figure out, “How do I get ahead of this so I’m not seeing this huge surge in inquiries, and try to get all the questions answered before they come in.”

Gabe Larsen: (07:29)
Surprising? Vikas, when you see something like that? I mean, we’ve talked about proactive activity being important for some time but it sounds like, again, COVID, it’s doing this in a lot of ways, but kind of putting the pedal to the metal on that one as well.

Vikas Bhambri: (07:42)
Well, I think what people are discovering, kind of during the stress test, is their current investments are severely lacking and they didn’t realize it because look, when your volumes are low, when expectations are low, you can muddy through it, right? I can go to your website, look for my order, hit that FedEx tracking link that takes me to a page that doesn’t give me any further update. And I send you an email and you respond and we go — but now you’ve got 10 X, I heard one CEO mentioned that they actually are seeing a 10000% increase. So 10 X took — then 10,000, obviously. But the volumes increased, but also the heightened anxiety. So now I go to your website and I get that tracking. It takes me to a FedEx page and FedEx doesn’t give me data. Guess what, email is not going to cut it. I’m picking up the phone and I’m calling you to say, “Where’s my order because I’m waiting for diapers for my baby,” right? And you know, “Food for my kids, medicine,” whatever it might be. And I think that’s what — people are figuring out like, “Wow, are our investments simply–” And unfortunately this is getting — Andrea, I don’t know if there’s anything came up on your research here, but what I’m hearing is this is now hitting the executive level where CEOs are now becoming aware that their investment, that their team told them they were perfectly fine are no longer, ready, willing, and able for the current state.

Andrea Paul: (09:15)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think there was a data point in the research survey that did talk about the need to invest in new technology. So there was one data point around adopting more efficient, more automation to become efficient. I think that it was 59% of respondents that said they needed to adopt more automation for efficiency. And then an additional 59% of respondents said that they just realized now that they needed to invest in new technology, because whether that was challenges with efficiency or working remote or whatever it was, they realized there are so many problems that we didn’t have to address previously that now are staring us straight in the face and we can’t ignore anymore.

Gabe Larsen: (10:04)
Yeah. Is that because — Andrea, do you think that’s — I mean, I assume that’s obviously you got a lot of reason coming from COVID on that, but people not knowing that they need more automation just sounds like an odd statement to make. But, do you feel that that’s a trend that’s going away anytime soon? Or do we just expect that to go more and more and more?

Andrea Paul: (10:29)
Yeah. I mean, I think efficiency is always sort of the name of the game in any business that’s trying to make money. It’s just that right now, the circumstances are so different. I think that there were 63% of our respondents that they needed to cut costs due to COVID and an additional, I think it was 46% or so said that they had to reduce staff. So that efficiency is just so much more transparent. But I think —

Gabe Larsen: (11:01)
I like that pairing, hold on because that’s interesting. Right? It’s like, that’s where the pedal meets the metal. We’re in a situation now where a lot of us have had to cut some unfortunate individuals due to circumstances. And so we are required to do more with less. Say those numbers one more time. What percent had said they —

Andrea Paul: (11:22)
It was 63% reporting they needed to cut costs and then 46% reported that they needed to reduce staff. So yeah, that’s huge numbers and obviously we’re seeing that across the board, no matter the industry. There are certain industries like financial services that are more busy than ever. But the fact is, we’re seeing this increase of inquiries across industries while also a lack of resources, while also costs and staff being away for them. So right now it’s like, “Wow, we didn’t realize we were being inefficient, but we have to do everything in our power in order to figure out how to solve this for now and into the future.” We don’t know —

Gabe Larsen: (12:04)
In that case I think the inquiries are going up as we heard. Right? So now I do have this interesting situation where the staff is down, the technology costs or investment is going down and obviously I’m getting more inquiries. I have to potentially do more, again, do more with less because how do you think companies then manage around this? That is the environment. “I have less employees, I’m asked to do more.” Is automation the answer?

Vikas Bhambri: (12:28)
You know, automation is definitely one answer, right? I mean I think it’s the key one, but I think before you even get to the automation, I think you have to figure out the process, like where are the gaps? Where are you getting hit the hardest? It goes back to my example before around if people are coming to you for Wismo, “Where’s my order?” Now go tackle that, head on right? And then go after the next thing. And then the next one, I think, where people just kind of — where they struggle is where it becomes too daunting. Right? Oh my goodness. I’m just getting bombarded. I don’t know where to start. So you almost need to take it piece by piece and prioritize your volumes and say, “Look right now, we’re seeing an uptick in Wismo” as it’s referred to, right? “And let’s go tackle that. And then the next one.” But here’s the interesting thing is this is a unique opportunity for a lot of companies in two ways that I’m seeing is one; look, Amazon and some of the other big retailers really struggled early on. Right? And so created a window of opportunity for some of the other entrance in the market to take market share. Now you knew Amazon was going to figure it out sooner or later and get back online and they have.

Gabe Larsen: (13:42)
It feels like it’s figuring it out. Right? [inaudible]

Vikas Bhambri: (13:45)
So the question is in that six week period, were you able to win the hearts and minds of those customers? Right. And a lot of brands struggled with everything from supply chain to delivery to customer service. So they may have missed out on that opportunity. The other thing in other industries where people are finding is look, we just saw the unemployment rate here in the U.S., people will have more time and they will start looking at their balance sheet and they will start looking at, “Wait a minute, why am I paying this fee to my financial services firm? Why am I paying this to my mobile bill?” Things that they just take for granted because when you’re employed and you’re working and you’re super busy, you don’t look at these line items. Now you’ll see a big chunk of the populace will start looking at this and start reaching out to their financial services company or their telco or whoever and saying, “Hey, you got to do something for me.” So you’re going to see a surge in those industries as people start looking at their bottom line.

Gabe Larsen: (14:46)
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m doing it. I don’t know about everybody else, but my bill the other day, I was like, where can I cut? Right? I mean, we’ve got to get smart here. Andrea, this channel thing keeps coming back into my mind. I’m just very interested. The phone thing. I love that point. Any other tidbits on things you’re seeing with different channels that are happening? Channels going up, channels going down, anything else you could share there?

Andrea Paul: (15:10)
Yeah, I mean, across the board, I think the only industry that we saw any decreases in on specific channels was retail. And it was also different for individual retailers, which makes a lot of sense. I mean, across the board, people are, as you said, cutting down on expenses. So if it isn’t an essential item that they need they might not be buying and thus might not be sending inquiries to customer service teams. Um, but overall across all industries, there was an increase for all channels. Phone happened to be the most followed by email and then reaching out on the web, which makes it seem, people are in front of their computer all day. So that will —

Gabe Larsen: (15:54)
[inaudible] On that last piece that just that other, some of those other channels, because phone and email have been the dominant channels for so long in this part of the world. Do you think with some of the changes, and maybe you saw that in the data with some spikes, but do you think social now, if it saw a little bit of a spike, is it going to remain higher because you know, people are there and they want to use some of these different channels and all of a sudden phones becomes a little less dominant as we move into the future?

Andrea Paul: (16:21)
I mean, I think it really speaks to the urgency factor that Vikas was talking about. Social, in terms of all of the channels, was the lowest in terms of a spike. I think it was single digits. And when people are on the go, when they’re running from place to place and from office to home, they’re on their cell phones, they’re going on Twitter and inquiring with companies. I think that’s not necessarily how people are functioning right now. They have more time and they also need an urgent answer to their inquiries. So they’re choosing other channels to get that done. I think the social thing is more about convenience when people are moving from place to place.

Gabe Larsen: (17:01)
I wonder and Vikas, you might have a thought on this. It’s just with us all kind of moving remote and obviously the urgency we’re seeing in some of the channels, but we’ve wondered if some of these other things like SMS, social, Facebook would start to gain more market share in communication channels and customer support. Is this the moment that we’ll continue to see that? They’ve now taken more market share from phone or email? Do you think they’ll kind of continue to drop back down and phone and email will continue to dominate as we move into the next three, six, twelve months?

Vikas Bhambri: (17:33)
Yeah I think the industry has been on like a slow transition to these other channels. And right now the consumer doesn’t have the appetite to be trained. You actually do have to train the consumer to move to these other channels. It doesn’t happen overnight right? When about five, six years ago, working on projects, moving people from voice to chat as an example, that’s a big change in management, right? How you even present options on your website, right? Hiding the 1-800 number, doing things like that. So, you know, I think that the adoption in those areas has been relatively slow and I don’t think now’s the time, right? When the consumer doesn’t have any patience to say, Oh, by the way, SMS us if you need help, if that wasn’t part of your core engagement before, now’s not the time to try and try those things.

Gabe Larsen: (18:26)
Interesting. Andrea, and I’m sorry, my mind is full of questions that I’m hoping she has the answer for all these, but [inaudible] remote work. I mean, that’s obviously been a challenge for a lot of us. We’ve talked about it in previous sessions, Vikas and I. We’ve lacked some data. I mean, we believe a lot of people are doing it, but, and we believe it’s frustrating. Any light you could kind of shed on just that, what’s going on with the remote workforce type stuff?

Andrea Paul: (18:49)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I touched on it before that companies now are having to sort of face these challenges that they didn’t realize were challenges before. Almost every company that we surveyed did say that the vast majority of their employees were fully remote now, which makes sense where a lot of states are still in this lockdown, but 34% of the respondents did say that they were reporting difficulty working remotely. And 23% of them said that they didn’t have the tools in place to actually do it, which is huge. It’s like I’m being forced to work remotely, but I physically cannot do it given my current tech stack. So that was kind of shocking to me.

Gabe Larsen: (19:32)
Was there in the stat, or maybe Vikas you’ve heard about this, it seems like, the percentage of people who are now working remotely, I mean, it’s got to be extremely high from look, we’re almost all a hundred percent and then to combat that, it sounds like people are struggling to try to work within that environment. Tools and technology you highlighted. What else do you guys think is holding people back from being effective in this work from a home environment that we’re all facing? Vikas maybe let’s start with you and then Andrea will pop back.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:04)
I think one of the biggest challenges is management. The contact center in particular, hasn’t really evolved in how people manage, right? Because we’re just — it’s still an industry or segment that’s still very much co-located. Right? A lot of times when you talk to even companies that are distributed, they’ll tell you, “Oh, but our support team is based in X.” Right? So that I think creates a challenge because so much of it was just walking the floor, right? Going and sitting with an agent, observing them, that kind of even the one-on-one’s and how you engage the team, how you look at what they’re doing, how you mentor them is very different than I think other industries or other departments within companies. So I think that’s the biggest challenge … what are my people doing? Where do they need help? How do I jump in and help them with a particular customer situation? I think that’s one of the big challenges that we’ve observed.

Gabe Larsen: (21:02)
Yeah. I personally have felt that problem. So I’m glad others have too. Andrea, what would you add?

Andrea Paul: (21:08)
Yeah, I mean, I think in addition to that, a lot of support teams have to bring in additional individuals on other teams, right? So whether that’s processing a return or they have a question for a different department, they can’t, walk over and tap someone on the shoulder. So being able to, in an efficient way, incorporate a lot of different individuals across an organization and make sure that customer’s problems can be resolved very quickly; that’s been a huge, huge issue.

Vikas Bhambri: (21:38)
I mean, we’ve all been on the call and in fact, I was on one yesterday with a brand and it was like, can I put you on hold while I speak to my manager? Guess what? That manager’s not physically there and I’m sure they would have a week ago or actually a month ago they would have turned around and said, “Hey, I’ve got a quick question for you.” Now they’re trying to track that person down. This agent put me on and off hold four times before I finally said “I’m done.” And then it was like, yeah, let me take your details and I’ll see if I can get a hold of my manager and call you back. And of course I never heard back. So guess what, lost opportunity for them because I won’t be doing business once this thing ends, but I think that’s a great example of yeah; how do you even get a hold of your manager?

Gabe Larsen: (22:23)
That’s so frustrating. I mean, the tools and technology, I think it comes down to that. Andrea, I’ve kind of dictated some of the questions I was interested in some of the things I’ve been wondering about; any other interesting bits or things that kind of popped out before we wrap?

Andrea Paul: (22:38)
Yeah. I mean, I think that one headline stat, which I think we’re all aware of as you know, in the customer service world, but, 90% of professionals reported that they think that customer service is more important than ever right now. Which I wholeheartedly agree with. I think that with storefronts closing and your customers not being able to interact with any quote-un-quote face of the company anymore, CS is turning into that face of the company. A lot of people are very isolated right now their talking to a CS professional, could literally be the only social interaction they have for an entire day. So thinking through the way that you’re approaching customers in light of this new importance and this new sort of social aspect, not treating people like a transaction or a ticket number and making sure that they’re actually feeling valued, is really, really hugely important right now.

Gabe Larsen: (23:37)
Yeah. Yeah. So you kind of, because I was going to follow up with that. I mean, everyone believes it, but what is it about customer experience that is the most important? Is it that point of feeling valued? I literally just got off a call with a gentleman, he’s my new favorite customer care leader, Douglas from ESPN. If you’re watching Douglas, a little bit of a shout out. Amazing some of the things they’ve done over at ESPN. Obviously all live sports, right? Turn that off. He’s really allowed his agents, you’ve got agents doing 15, 20 minute calls of people just wanting to talk about sports and he’s like, “You wouldn’t believe the CSAT man. They’re going through the roof because people are calling in and they’re like, do you remember that time when Michael Jordan shoved Bryon Russell in game six of the 97 finals?” I was just watching the last dance and [inaudible], but they’re missing. So anyways, he’s like, “Man, we’ve been really pushing that. That’s usually not something we love to do.” So that’s one aspect. Are there other things as part of the customer experience, Vikas, that you say “That’s why it’s so important right now. It’s X or it’s Y?”

Vikas Bhambri: (24:46)
Yeah. I mean, I think you saw, I think Zappos actually did something like that where if you just need somebody to talk to you can call the Zappos contact center and you know Zappos is known to deliver happiness to the world, but you know, literally saying our agents are just here to talk to you, even if you’re not buying anything from us. I think that just, that’s what my thing is. Those of us that are in this space have always known that CX is at the forefront. They are the voice of your brand. I mean, no offense to marketers, right? But they’re the front line. They have the physical engagement with the customer, right? Whether it be a conversation over the phone or chat or any other medium. The thing for most brands now is look, we’re seeing it unfortunately every day. There are brands, there are historic brands, the J Crews of the world and Neiman Marcus’ that are filing for bankruptcy, etcetera. How do you not only survive, but flourish? And the customer is extremely loyal, believe it or not. As much as we talk about the — when we look at it generationally, we look at it by income, we look at — what’s been proven out in the last 20 years is customers are loyal. But, they’re loyal to the brands that deliver that amazing experience. So how do you separate from the pack, leverage this opportunity to go further and then win customers for life. I think that’s the big thing if you’re a CEO of a brand that you should be sitting around and talking to your team about, which is; yes, this is a traumatic time for a lot of folks, but this is a — we can position ourselves in a way to be unique, deliver amazing service experience, and then of course, when this thing comes to an end, and it will, how do we continue to work with these people?

Gabe Larsen: (26:41)
How do we come out on top, right? Andrea, what’s kind of your — you’ve read the data, you did the research. What do you do next? If I’m a customer service leader I’ve gone through this piece, I understand some of the problems and challenges, what’s the takeaway, or how would you coach customer service leaders to act or behave differently, knowing some of the data points you’ve shared with us?

Andrea Paul: (27:02)
Yeah. I mean, I think the big thing is, as I have said many times, this is just exposing a lot of gaps in what customer service teams, what tools they have, what strategies they have. And I think it’s different from industry to industry, from business to business. So the big takeaway for me is like, understanding where are you falling short? Where are those gaps? What are the challenges you’re facing and then how to solve those, whether that’s your approach to interacting with customers, whether that’s having new tools in your tech stack in order to work remotely more efficiently or successfully. But really taking a look at your organization, understanding where those challenges are and how you can better prepare yourself for the future and for right now.

Gabe Larsen: (27:49)
Yeah. It certainly is an opportunity to get your operations in order. There’s no doubt about that. Vikas let’s end with you. Hearing some of those data points, what would be your recommendation as companies and customer success service leaders move forward?

Vikas Bhambri: (28:03)
Sure. And Andrea, just really enlightening research even for us that are in the thick of it. Definitely learning some new things. Look, for support leaders, I would say, key thing, this is still — you’re in the thick of it and it is a human-to-human game, as much as we talk about automation and technology. And as you’re working with not only the customer side, but then the agent side to make sure that everybody is happy, healthy, and engaged to do what they need to do, whether it’s buy more goods or actually service the customer. So, my thing for all support leaders out there is use the community effectively. Tools like support driven, right? We had a huge summit that’s fully recorded and available with just a lot of trick tools from amazing thought leaders around the globe that we’re making available to folks on our website. And then lastly, look, Gabe, Andrea and I are here, right? And we have our experiences and our network of both customers and industry veterans. So feel free to reach out to us on LinkedIn, if there’s anything we can do to help you as you’re brainstorming and thinking about how do you not only navigate the here and now, but what’s the plan going forward? We’re more than happy to help with that conversation.

Gabe Larsen: (29:26)
Love it, love it. Alrighty. Well, Andrea, thanks for joining. Vikas, as always, thanks for joining. Fun talk track. The research is available. We’ll make links to it here in the comments. Make sure you download that and certainly best of luck and stay safe.

Andrea Paul: (29:42)
Thanks guys.

Exit Voice: (29:47)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Bring in the Experts: Why Outsource Your Customer Service Team With Amir Reiter & Tom Jenkins

Bring in the Experts: Why Outsource Your Customer Service Team With Amir Reiter & Tom Jenkins TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe is joined by CloudTask CEO, Amir Reiter, and VP of Marketing, Tom Jenkins, to discuss outsourcing and how to adapt in today’s dynamic markets. CloudTask is an outsourced sales organization that allows leaders to focus on scaling their businesses while giving them the ability to hire state-of-the-art sales and customer success support teams, on demand 24/7. Both guests are committed to providing the right tools organizations need to create wow-worthy support and thrive in the digital landscape. For great insights on the benefits of outsourcing, listen to the full podcast below.

Why Outsourcing is the Right Answer

Outsourcing is a highly discussed topic in the business world. Most of the time it is used as a tactic to save money and increase profit. To describe it generally, it’s when outside experts help build your business or processes. The better the business processes and training programs are, the easier and more effective outsourcing can be. Amir ties together outsourcing and customer service by saying, “We’re seeing an influx of inquiries now because people aren’t prepared for remote customer support. And I think whether or not you outsource or don’t outsource, if you build a solid training program and a solid repeatable process, it’s just a matter of having smart people who represent your company the right way.” While outsourcing can potentially benefit multiple areas of a company, it’s most important to focus your efforts on having a repeatable process and a good training program.

Outsourcing That Works

Once businesses decide that they are going to outsource, it’s usually difficult to determine which company/individual to hire. To assist in this decision making process, Amir and Tom mention two things. First, you need to have a good grasp on your company and its purpose to ensure that the other company will mesh with yours. Amir states, “Look for culture that matches yours. Look for teammates that you enjoy working with. Look for a company that adds value, that has experience and can bring their experience to the table, whether it comes to training, processes, technology, templates.”

In addition to that, to make sure outsourcing is effective, it’s important to remember that outsourced people are still part of the team. Tom adds, “I’d say even though it is outsourcing as well, still think of it, it’s your team. We just join your organization. The closer we work together, the better the results are going to be. We love it when people come to our offices, people bring their own trainers or even their account managers. And you know, we go hiking, we go out for dinner afterwards. The closer we work together the better the results are going to be.” In other words, make sure that outsourced individuals connect with your company and feel like they’re a part of the team. When you do that productivity will increase and the team will have a positive experience overall.

The Importance of Empathy

In a more serious and sensitive tone, Amir and Tom also go into the current COVID-19 pandemic and discuss how it is affecting the B2B, B2C relationships. They discuss the importance of empathy, understanding, community, and a balance between life and work. Understanding your team and culture will help increase the desire to understand the customer. Tom explains:

It’s about understanding what exactly is going on, both in your business, but also in your life and how you can support, again, not just through your business, but everybody is looking to each other to create more community. And the more community you create, the better it’s going to be for your business. That’s not why you want them to do it. You know, you want to do it because we’re human beings and we want to support each other. The more human you are, the more everybody is going to benefit; business and life.

Community and empathy are essential characteristics of a business that wants to grow quickly and authentically. Outsourcing the right way is going to help businesses scale while delivering on customers’ expectations. To learn more about Amir Reiter, Tom Jenkins, CloudTask and outsourcing, 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:

Bring in the Experts: Why Outsource Your Customer Service Team With Amir Reiter & Tom Jenkins

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:10)
Alright welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about, I think it will be a fun topic, we’re going to talk a little bit big picture about what’s going on in the current environment. How companies B2C and B2B look at customer service differently. Then we’re going to hone in on this idea of outsourcing. How should you be thinking about your outsourced customer service strategy? Why do it? Why not do it? Some of the challenges. To do that we’ve got two gentlemen joining us. We’ve got VP of marketing, Tom Jenkins coming from CloudTask and then we’ve got CEO, Amir Reiter, from CloudTask. Guys, thanks for joining and how are you? Amir let’s start with you.

Amir Reiter: (00:47)
We’re good. It could be better circumstances globally, but we’re good. We’re good. I’m in Miami. Tom is in Hawaii at nighttime.

Tom Jenkins: (00:59)
I’m not in Rio de Janeiro on the beach. I’m down in Medallín, Columbia. I’m looking forward to the recording.

Gabe Larsen: (01:09)
Yeah. Yeah. I think this will be fun. I mean all of us wish it was, good point Amir, under a little different circumstances, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Before we dive in, let’s have each of you just tell us just a little more about yourself and then maybe a little more about CloudTask. Amir, let’s start with you again. So tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you guys do over there.

Amir Reiter: (01:25)
Yeah, so I’m the CEO and founder of CloudTask and we are all about allowing leaders to focus on their business and I give them the ability to hire sales, customer success support teams, on demand 24/7, multi language. And we partner with amazing technologies like Kustomer and other great tecs and sales and customer success space so we can enable best of breed, customer support, sales, and success functions.

Gabe Larsen: (01:51)
I love it. I love it. Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself. We’ve got now a little bit on CloudTask, what would you add to that or in your background?

Tom Jenkins: (01:58)
Yeah, so my background, I head the marketing team here at CloudTask, great company, great culture, been here two and a half years and yeah, I think Amir did a pretty good job explaining who we are. We’re just here to help other businesses scale and grow and yeah, I’m enjoying being part of that journey.

Gabe Larsen: (02:16)
Love it. Love it. Well, let’s dive into the talk track you guys. So, and Amir, let’s start with you. We were talking pre about this, I think it’s an interesting idea. Why B2C has made the investment in customer support and why B2B has been lagging a little bit?

Amir Reiter: (02:30)
I think it’s in the easy answer, right? I think the consumer in B2C has a voice. “I didn’t get my diet pills in 24 hours and I’m going to complain on chat and scream and kick and scream and I’m never going to buy from you again. I’m going to leave a review right now in real time.” Right? So I think the consumer has a louder voice in B2C and they’re quicker to share their voice. And I think B2B, it’s driven differently, right? It’s not necessarily transactional on small items where reviews can make a difference. It’s more longer agreements, contracts where somebody that signed a contract might not be there in six months, right. You could sign a million dollar contract and you can leave a company tomorrow. Right? And companies that have been growing really fast in B2B spaces have been fueled by a lot of VC money and their goals are not necessarily NPS scores. It’s kind of revenue. Now, it’s become a much more of a player in B2B because there are review sites like G2 Crowd and Capterra and —

Gabe Larsen: (03:43)
[inaudible] getting a little more empowered. Right?

Amir Reiter: (03:45)
It’s catching up. Right? But that’s my opinion why. What do you think Tom?

Gabe Larsen: (03:52)
Tom, yeah. What would you add to it man?

Tom Jenkins: (03:53)
Yeah, I’d definitely say it’s a volume thing that definitely comes into it. And B2C tends to be doing much larger numbers. And then for the needs to invest in customer support was immediately more obvious. I certainly wouldn’t say more necessary because usually in B2B — well, not always, but that tends to be low volume, higher cost. But you know, at the end of the day, the revenue’s the same. At the end of the day a customer is still a person, whether it’s a business, it’s still an account manager, a sales rep, the support manager there. And they still need to be treated the same way. But it just feels like because it is a business there’s that kind of, I guess, lower level of empathy maybe. That’s really changed in the last few years and B2B’s really started to catch on as well.

Gabe Larsen: (04:43)
I agree. I agree. Some of those points –that definitely resonates with me. I’ve experienced both in a major way. What do you guys feel like, again I just want to stay a little high level and then let’s dive into outsourcing, but certainly time’s changing for B2C and B2B. What are you seeing going on and how can companies react most effectively to somehow maintain some semblance of success or whatever’s kind of going on here. Tom, we’ll start with you.

Tom Jenkins: (05:11)
Yeah. The first thing is just understanding that we’re all in this together. There’s nobody who’s not affected by this global situation. And it’s just really engaging with people, getting on the phone, coming back to that empathy again, it’s no longer about, “Oh, can I have a meeting? Can I have some more money? Can I have the renewal?” No. It’s about understanding what exactly is going on, both in your business, but also in your life and how you can support, again, not just through your business, but everybody is looking to each other to create more community. And the more community you create, the better it’s going to be for your business. That’s not why you want them to do it. You know, you want to do it because we’re human beings and we want to support each other. The more human you are, the more everybody is going to benefit; business and life.

Gabe Larsen: (06:03)
I love it. Amir, anything you’d add, kind of trends you’re seeing, ways people are handling all the changes?

Amir Reiter: (06:08)
Well, either changes, you know, when you bring up the topic changes you think of the current situation, changes in B2B and B2C support in general. Tom talked about the current environment. Let’s talk about two weeks prior to what’s happening, just B2B and B2C. I think one of the big changes we’ve seen in the last year was this concept of sales chat, right? And, “Oh my God, there are sales chats and sales engine, and we’re making money with sales chat.” But what we got to see from behind the scenes was that a lot of the sales chat people were customer support issues. And a lot of those customer support issues well, they were sales opportunities. So what’s the real change? It’s just that people kind of took a concept that probably existed for a long time and realized that, “Hey, we’re impatient and if we can talk to a human being on a website live, we like that.” Right? And we do like that, right? If I just had a customer support experience with Namecheap, I was about to buy domains and I got locked out because my credit card was declined. And then they asked me to unlock it, they said, “What’s the last four digits of your credit card?” And I said, “I’m freaking locked out because of the credit card, there’s no credit card. How am I going to know the last four digits of my credit card that locked me out?” And I had to wait for like 10 minutes for a response, because it was clear that the person was handling multiple chats. I didn’t like that because I got timed out and I had to start over a couple of times. So I think people realize that, “Hey, live chat is great, having support’s amazing, but they’re trying to always find that ratio of person to support case and what happens to support is support doesn’t look that as money generating, sometimes it’s given less resources. And I think if we look at — this is like a wish for me, right? — I think that if we can learn how to make chat support, or support people also salespeople, but not by selling and closing deals, but just by having answers, I think we can invest more in support and have more efficiency because I like to talk to the same person about maybe buying a new domain and a new problem.

Gabe Larsen: (08:19)
Fascinating.

Amir Reiter: (08:21)
That’s just me.

Gabe Larsen: (08:22)
That was kind of the talk of the town, right? Chat? And how we can use that deflection, being smarter, some automation. Let’s use that to dovetail into some of these conversations about outsourcing. I mean, that’s one of the things you guys have specialized in. You obviously help companies think through that. Maybe just again, on this topic, start a little more bigger picture. Why would I, as a company even start down this path? Why outsource my service center versus going inhouse?

Amir Reiter: (08:50)
That’s a good question. I think I want to answer that question, not from the lenses of CloudTask, right? I think I’m going to answer that question from the point of outsourcing and BPOs have been around for a very long time, and they’ve been around for a long time for the enterprise, right? The airlines, the big banks, right? The people who have thousands of employees. And I think whether you outsource or don’t outsource, it all comes down to having a repeatable process and having an amazing training program. Right? And if you look at the world, what’s happened recently and how everyone’s remote, you know, we’re seeing an influx of inquiries now because people aren’t prepared for remote customer support. And I think whether or not you outsource or don’t outsource, if you build a solid training program and a solid repeatable process, it’s just a matter of having smart people who represent your company the right way. And that could be through an outsource BPL, that could be people you’re hiring remotely. That could be W2’s and trainer leave. But if you have that culture of treating everybody the same internally and putting benchmarks so that everyone’s competing for the common good of a customer’s experience, I think companies win. But I’m a fan of even a blended workforce.

Amir Reiter: (10:03)
I think for me, for us, you know, we’re an outsource sales organization and we have an outsourced marketing person who helps us and he’s Tom’s best friend. So — and I also have an outsourced CFO. So we kind of preach what we saw in the sense that — find people that you mesh well with, who show up every day and who work with you and the type of engagement starts to fade away, I think.

Gabe Larsen: (10:30)
Yeah. I like that. I like that. I want to ask a follow up, but Tom, anything else you’d add or you see it slightly different?

Tom Jenkins: (10:36)
Yeah. I may have touched on it. And a big thing is the processes, especially when a lot of companies now are suddenly having to ramp up their teams really quickly. And usually when you work with an outsource provider, they’ve been there and done it over a number of years and they tweak the processes to a number of different industries, organizations, groups. And of course it still needs to be about your organization. So they are specialized to work with you to do that. As when you’re doing it first hand yourself, even if you’ve had a team for a while and suddenly have to expand it, it’s a lot of the time about not reinventing the wheel, just going with a process that you know works and there’s proof of it.

Gabe Larsen: (11:22)
Got it. And then this training thing. I mean, you hit on it, telling me you’re reinforcing it just a little bit, but is that kind of the thing that people don’t have the most of?

Amir Reiter: (11:30)
Oh my God, that’s what they really tell you when they say, I don’t want to outsource. They’re basically like, I have not invested in a full time training department and I am more comfortable looking over someone’s shoulder, which they never really do because you don’t really have time to look over somebody’s shoulder, but that has been the number one underlying objection that I have felt. And I get it, right? I think it’s hard for a leader to be like, “Hey, like I don’t have state of the art training program. And that’s why I’m scared of working with you guys.” It’s a lot easier to say, “I just don’t outsource.” Right? But that’s kind of what I’ve seen, but I think that —

Gabe Larsen: (12:02)
And what does a state of the art training —

Amir Reiter: (12:04)
I’m glad you asked.

Gabe Larsen: (12:08)
What does that look like? And Tom, you can add in on this one. Amir, go.

Amir Reiter: (12:12)
Yeah. I would say a training program that is nimble and changes with the influx of the class that comes in. An ongoing program that supports and rewards reps for taking part in advanced training on an ongoing process. And that’s just like from high level.

Gabe Larsen: (12:32)
Got it. Got it. Tom, what would you add to that?

Tom Jenkins: (12:34)
Yeah. And ultimately it comes down to having an awesome training team as well. Making– because we’ve all sat through training where it’s like death by PowerPoint, having trainers who really know how to keep things fun, light, and make sure everybody’s chipping in and getting engaged and doing. That’s when knowledge is maintained. And then having live coaching as well. It’s not just go train, go and do your thing. You need people, you need the managers, QAing calls listening in saying what’s working, what’s not, and constantly kind of having those little incremental gains to keep improving.

Gabe Larsen: (13:15)
Yeah. It is. People are thinking about outsourcing. If you had to leave them with a couple of pieces of advice, what would be — You know, “Should I outsource? Should I keep my team?” What would you leave them with Amir? Best practice, advice, takeaways, tips, tricks?

Amir Reiter: (13:33)
Look for culture that matches yours. Look for teammates that you enjoy working with. Look for, look for a company that adds value, that has experience and can bring their experience to the table, whether it comes to training, processes, technology, templates. And look to take the word outsource and save money out of your mind. That’s a byproduct. Look at outsource as in, I’m bringing in experts. And when those experts work with me, I gain those expertise and if they have something that I don’t have I’m going to tell them — and that’d be my biggest takeaway.

Gabe Larsen: (14:04)
I love it. I love it. Tom, what would you, from an advice perspective or people who are considering going one way or another?

Tom Jenkins: (14:11)
Yeah. I’d say even though it is outsourcing as well still think of it, it’s your team. We just join your organization. The closer we work together, the better the results are going to be. We love it when people come to our offices, people bring their own trainers in or even their account managers. And you know, we go hiking, we go out for dinner afterwards. The closer we work together the better the results are going to be.

Amir Reiter: (14:37)
Unfortunately the days of working for a Boeing and retiring at a Boeing are over and employees are moving around for organization, organization and you’d be very surprised. You can have a teammate who’s internal, who’s there 10 years. You can have a rep who’s representing a company through an outsource agreement who is there for 10 years. Right? It’s no more black and white, I think, as it used to be.

Gabe Larsen: (14:59)
Yeah. Yeah. Do you, one last question before I let you guys go, you kind of hit on this Amir and I’m just curious. There has been a lot of outsource companies, a lot of, been a lot of BPOs over the years. What would separate different BPOs? Is it their technology stack? Is it their training? You mentioned the training being a big differentiator, really important. How would someone start to navigate just thinking, “Oh, Gabe, there’s so many of these. I don’t know how to choose.”

Amir Reiter: (15:25)
I think the ones that have been around for 30 years will have the money on the balance sheet, the certifications through the roof, but they will lack with culture being nimble and technology. And then younger ones will be very quick. They’re the ones on podcasts with technologies like Kustomer. And so it’s just like you can imagine, right? I think you’ll find that younger BPOs will be more nimble. There’ll be more reading the articles about artificial intelligence automation while the big ones will be like, that scares me. We’ve got $4 billion in business and this is how we’ve been doing it for 30 years. And that works for some organizations, it doesn’t work for others that move quickly. So find a company that matches your size, your speed, how they’re invested, they’re invested like you, you guys are both bootstrapped.

Gabe Larsen: (16:10)
I like that.

Amir Reiter: (16:12)
Private equity backed. Right. It feels good. It feels like a natural fit.

Gabe Larsen: (16:15)
Yeah. Anything you’d add to that Tom?

Tom Jenkins: (16:17)
Yeah. Most people are outsourcing now. So understand what they’re currently doing, get peer reviews, check out the reviews online on G2, for example, and just speak to a few different teams. Find the one you like the most and give it a shot. And I’m sure they’ll work.

Gabe Larsen: (16:41)
I love it. I love it. All right you guys, well really fun talk track. I think it’s very pertinent, especially as we’re all working remotely and times have certainly changed and I think people are probably more open to just doing things different. So I think it’s a very timely discussion around B2B, B2C, but also, and then this kind of remote and outsource workforce. If someone wants to learn more about you guys, CloudTask, what’s the best way to do that or get a hold of your, or kind of see what you guys are all about?

Amir Reiter: (17:06)
We’ve got live chat on our website, or you can find me on LinkedIn Amir Reiter, real easy to find. And Tom, Tom is everywhere.

Tom Jenkins: (17:16)
We are everywhere, social, cloudtask.com, LinkedIn.

Amir Reiter: (17:19)
Wherever the social cause in the world that’s where Tom is.

Gabe Larsen: (17:22)
That’s where Tom is. All right. Well, I think that’s good. Really appreciate you guys taking the time and for the audience, I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

Amir Reiter: (17:29)
Thanks Gabe.

Tom Jenkins: (17:29)
Thanks so much.

Exit Voice: (17:37)
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