How to Successfully Manage CX During a Global Pandemic

How to Successfully Manage CX During a Global Pandemic TW

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Brad Birnbaum, Lauren Pragoff, and Matt Dixon in a virtual summit to discuss developing customer loyalty through achieving effortless customer experiences. Learn how each guest has successfully managed and handled customer service during COVID-19 by listening to the podcast below.

Effective Communication with Asynchronous Messaging

Brad Birnbaum is the CEO and cofounder of Kustomer with over 20 years of customer service experience. Brad has found ways to do more with less, meaning he is expounding on how to keep his employees busy all while offering top notch customer care. With the growth of asynchronous communication in our daily lives; social media, texting, emails, etc., Brad believes that asynchronous communication is the future of CX as it allows for reps to do more with less. He says, “it is a technological shift to improving experiences. It’s a technological shift to higher levels of customer satisfaction. A technological shift to actually improve agent efficiency and we’ve seen this across our customer base.” When the customer has the opportunity to chat with an agent asynchronously, it creates a sense of genuine human communication and allows customers to have their simple issues be resolved faster.

Guiding Customers Through Proper Channels

Lauren Pragoff, Vice President of Effortless Experience at Challenger, works with other companies to create low effort customer service through preparing their frontline employees. Lauren understands that CX reps have had to adapt to a new at-home work environment during COVID-19. While digital efforts are helping resolve some of the simpler issues, when customers call service reps, the reps are now dealing with the most complex customer issues. Not every problem can be resolved with one channel. Lauren summarizes this point by stating, “Not all issues are well suited to all channels, and making sure that you’re enabling the right types of experiences in the right channels is extremely important.” In this ever-changing, pandemic-created landscape, she ensures that agents are still providing customers with the same high quality service by guiding them through the proper channels to accommodate their needs correctly the first time around. The key to guiding customers through proper channels while creating the best CX, is having effective strategies to solve the customer’s issues at the first point of contact.

Low Effort Self Service Through Simplified CX

Matt Dixon is the Chief Product and Research Engineer at Tethr, a company that offers customer analytics through an AI-driven conversational system. In the discussion, Matt notes a shift in customer care toward self service. To paint the modern CX landscape, Matt explains about the current customer, “They’re going to unsanctioned sources of advice to get perspective. ‘What’s the hack, what’s the thing I can do to avoid not just not calling the company, but even going to their website? I want to just try to figure this out on my own.’ But again, customers are very keen and their first step is always digital. Customers want to be able to solve their own problems and find solutions on their own. True, customers are going to unofficial sources to find answers, but there are a few simple things companies can do to improve their websites and digital resources. First is updating FAQ pages on their website. By making sure those are up to date, customers will be able to find answers on the website a lot easier. Second, and as mentioned by Lauren, making sure that the right problems are being directed through the correct channels. Customer service used to primarily be phone call oriented but as technology has progressed, the customers have as well. The key to a successful CX experience is that the customer puts forth as little effort as possible. To Matt, low effort service makes for the happiest customers. As companies focus on these principles and ideas, their CX departments will be groomed for success in the coming months and years.

To learn more about how to effortlessly manage customer service during these challenging times, 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:

How to Successfully Manage CX During a Global Pandemic

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody to today’s virtual summit, the Customer Experience Virtual Summit. Today, we’re going to be talking with leaders that generate loyalty through an effortless experience, and we’re excited to bring this event to you by Kustomer, Tethr and the Challenger Inc Effortless Experience. We’re so excited for this event. It turned out to be just a fantastic overall organization. We have 50 plus speakers. We originally were just going to start with a handful. We’ve got people like Mario from Vengreso. We’ve got Shep Hyken, Mary Drummond. The list goes on. We’re very thankful for each of the speakers who participated and gave their time during these challenging circumstances that we all find ourselves in. In addition, we now have over 2000 registrants. From an agenda standpoint, we’re kicking off today with the keynote here at 10:00 AM, but do know that sequentially, you’ll have a series of speakers that will be released and you can find that in the panel that you are currently logged into. So with no further ado, let’s dive into today’s keynote section. We have three guest speakers that will be having a panel discussion, talking about how to manage customer experience in challenging times. We’ve got Brad Birnbaum, Matt Dixon, and Lauren Pragoff. So with that, let’s have each person just briefly introduce themselves and let’s get going. Brad, why don’t you start?

Brad Birnbaum: (01:46)
Hi everybody. Brad Birnbaum, CEO, and cofounder of Kustomer. I’ve been in the customer service space for about 20 some odd years at this point. We’ve seen a couple cycles of challenging times, nothing like what we’re seeing today, but, I think this is our opportunity where we can all figure out how to adapt and shine and improve experiences for all. So looking forward to talking more about that today.

Gabe Larsen: (02:11)
I appreciate it. Thanks for joining. Lauren. Let’s go to you next?

Lauren Pragoff: (02:14)
Sure. Hi everybody. I’m Lauren Pragoff, Vice President of Effortless Experience at Challenger where we work with companies to consult and train their frontline staff on providing low effort customer service.

Gabe Larsen: (02:27)
Perfect. Matt, to you.

Matt Dixon: (02:29)
Hey Gabe. Thanks Lauren, Brad, great to be with you today. Super excited about this virtual summit. I’m Matt Dixon. I’m the Chief Product and Research Officer at Tethr. For those of you who don’t know Tethr, we’re an AI machine money venture out of Austin, and we provide conversational analytics. So helping companies take their unstructured data to surface business relevant insights. I, like Brad and Lauren, I’ve been in the customer service and customer experience space for a long time and we definitely have seen some peaks and valleys. This is a bittersweet moment for us. I think a bitter because I’d would rather be with everyone shaking their hands. The flip side is, what a privilege and honor to be with 2000 people today. We’re all interested in improving the customer experience and learning about how do we accelerate out of this morass that we’re in right now.

Gabe Larsen: (03:19)
Yeah and that’s where we want to dive into. I think that’s a good segue. A couple of stats, I wanted to highlight a lot of fun research out there and I want to just throw a few nuggets to kind of set the conversation foundation. 79% of customer service organizations say they’re being significantly impacted by COVID, no surprise there. 63% saying they’re reporting they actually need to cut costs. And a lot of organizations, almost 20% are saying their customer inquiries are increasing dramatically during this global pandemic. So with that, I’d love to just kind of start there. It is a different environment. Things are changing. What is kind of the biggest challenge that companies are facing and how are you seeing them overcome it? Lauren, can we start with you?

Lauren Pragoff: (04:04)
Sure. One of the things that we’re hearing the most from our clients has to do with shifting to a work from home environment. Remote reps have been an interesting topic of conversation across customer service leaders for the last 15 years and a lot of organizations have kind of dabbled here and there, but what we’re finding is that across the last six weeks, there has been just a massive shift in contact center reps working from home. And just like all of us now working from home, that includes balancing childcare and school and partners and spouses also working from home. So, yesterday’s remote rep program is not today’s work from home environment and I think we see just leaders spending a lot of time investing in how to make sure that it’s going well and that customers are continuing to get the service that they would expect.

Gabe Larsen: (05:03)
Yeah and I feel like to your point, work from home isn’t anything new, but it’s almost, it’s accelerated by 200% in the last four, six weeks. Matt, how are companies thinking about solving that problem? I mean, it’s all in here. It’s not going away. What have been some of the tips or tactics you’re seeing where companies have been able to say, “You know what? We’re settling in, it’s starting to kind of work now?”

Matt Dixon: (05:26)
Yeah, so it’s funny listening to Lauren talk about work from home. I was talking to a company just last week and they said, “You know, we’ve debated endless PowerPoints and business cases to put together a work from home remote program and then suddenly, boom, it just got decided for us.” So, the good news is no more business cases and PowerPoints actually required to make a case with us. It’s funny because if you look at one of the things we did recently, our data science team at Tethr, we took a sample of a million customer service calls since the WHO declared Coronavirus was a pandemic on March 11th. And so we took a look at a two week period across 20 companies. The top line was really bad news, as you can expect. And Gabe, it was the same exact thing you were talking about before. Looking at the level of effort or difficulty of those interactions. We saw them skyrocket, right? So no longer are reps dealing with that one off kind of issue with that really emotional, high anxiety kind of interaction with the customer. Now, it’s like, almost every single interaction. It is really critical stuff. It’s financial hardship. It’s in some cases, questions about insurance coverage, right? Not being able to pay bills, things that are really, really tough for our customers right now. The flip side though, as you said, there is good news coming out of this. And the good news is that leading companies, and I would say leading service organizations, are starting to figure this out and they’re doing it really quickly. So a couple of the things we found one is equipping frontline workers with the language techniques, such that they can reduce effort. So I think what customers are really frustrated by right now is that they’re calling in, they’re talking to reps and they feel like the reps are using policies that haven’t been updated since the pandemic, right? “I can’t give you that three month bill extension you’re asking for our policy is seven days.” It frustrates customers. They feel like the reps they’re talking to are not empowered to solve those problems. But what we can do is coach our reps on those language techniques that we know, even if it’s the same answer you’re going to give the customer, maybe the policy hasn’t changed. You can do a lot to actually manage the perception of effort too. We’re seeing companies really lean in on the coaching side. And this is absolutely critical right now is to make sure we are engaged with our reps, not in a one, every two weeks kind of way that most service organizations do, but on a regular embedded in the work kind of way, what we call integrated coaching. Number three, we got to get our reps even though they’re, to Lauren’s point, they’re working from home, they’re all on an island, right? They’re by themselves. They no longer have that colleague sitting next to them, who they can tap on the shoulder for some help. They no longer have that supervisor they can flag down. We’ve got to leverage tools, collaboration tools, to create that virtual community so that they can leverage the wisdom of peers because that’s going to deliver a better experience. And it’s going to make them feel like in this tough environment, they’re not alone. So we are seeing some of those tactics start to emerge and companies are seeing success there.

Gabe Larsen: (08:22)
Man, personally, the coaching one jumps out to me the most. As we’ve gone remote, I think that’s revealed some weaknesses and some of the coaching aspects and doubling down and trying to get the right tools, techniques to do that I think is the right approach to go. Brad, we talked about the work from home as a big challenge and some of the things companies are thinking about doing to overcome that. Other challenges you’re seeing, and tips or tactics on how organizations are trying to overcome those?

Brad Birnbaum: (08:46)
Sure. So, yeah, just as Lauren and Matt said, we, of course, are seeing everybody adapt to working from home in a different way. Not only within our company, but our customer’s agents, right? We’re seeing it across the board. Fortunately I think there’s a lot of good practices you could use. Some we employ real well, right? If you have the right software, whether it be on the CRM side, everything being Cloud based, support side, even if you have some of the modern telephony platforms, they work very well remotely as well. So that’s certainly helpful. But in addition to this, we’re seeing two things at competing odds with one another. We’re seeing inbound inquiries accelerating rapidly for a variety of reasons. We’re also seeing that some of these companies are having the higher amounts of inbound inquiries, unfortunately, have had to cut some of their resources for the reasons we all assume, right? So they’re at competing odds with higher volumes, but less people to service them. And then I’ve even heard anecdotes from some companies that do the bigger ones that do take advantage of offshore BPOs, that the offshore BPOs can’t keep up. They don’t have the same infrastructure they might have here in the United States. So, as an example, they may not have the ability to work remotely, right? They may not have the computing power or bandwidth. I’ve even heard anecdotes that in some countries there are physical security issues, right? Where you can’t allow your data to be in somebody’s home, right? Where other countries may be not be as safe and stable as we are in the United States. So all those things are playing in. Now how we’ve adapted and in ways that I think we’ve helped our customers, not only have we given anybody who’s the customer platform, our ultimate tier for free, which has a whole bunch of great remote working capabilities, things like unlimited collaborators and team pulses or agents are doing and enterprise queuing the route and all that. But, we happen to coordinate the timing of our customer IQ release, which was on April 1st. It happened to coincide right around this pandemic and so much of what the world needs now is deflection, artificial intelligence, machine learning; ways to do more with less. We’ve also given our deflection capabilities, it’s part of what we call Kustomer IQ Lite, to all of our customers. It’s a part of our free tier and everybody gets Kustomer IQ Lite. And we already are seeing with just the recent release of our deflection capabilities, a pretty significant rate of deflection that people are able to achieve, right? So let’s just say for argument’s sake, you’re able to do a 10 or 20% deflection rate. That moves the needle. That’s a significant amount of increase because people are seeing these bursts and by having the ability to deflect. And then when you go further and you really take advantage of AI and ML to help with suggesting responses and routing things more correctly, and understanding the intent of communications better, you can improve your efficiencies dramatically too. And those are the ways, how do you do more with less? That’s what we need to all do right now, because we’re all out being asked to do more with less; less money, less people we’re all being asked to do more with less and we need to take advantage of the tooling and processes out there to do that. So these are some things we’re investing in and we’re seeing work with it across our customer base today.

Gabe Larsen: (12:04)
Yeah. I like this word, I think it is coming up a lot. It’s do more with less, and whether it’s using AI to deflect, obviously in some cases, people are having to kind of literally do more with less people. I’ll open this up, but Matt, maybe we could start with you. When we think about doing more with less, how are organizations doing that? AI, we just got, maybe as one example. Are there other things you’re seeing where people are finding a way to kind of do more with less?

Matt Dixon: (12:33)
Yeah. One of the things that I think is exciting, and I’m sure this is an area that we’ll explore a little bit here is, how do we think about those trends that maybe we’re kind of bubbling below the surface, but are now here to stay. And I think one of them is a shift toward self service and I think some of that is wrought by the very long, candidly long hold times that people are having to endure because maybe that BPO is offline because the call center is closed and because of security reasons, and I’ve run into this personally, Gabe. The agents can’t actually handle your data from their home location, right? So you’re just out of luck. And so instead, you’re trying to get through to one contact center, doesn’t have the overflow capacity, the wait times are through the roof. So what we’re seeing is a lot of customers who might have dialed first, now going to the website first or the app first and I think there’s a tremendous call deflection opportunity there, or live service deflection opportunity. And I think what’s happening, just like coaching, you’re seeing companies kind of outed for under investing in their digital capabilities. This is laying bare that “Hey, we’ve been kind of getting by with a subpar digital experience, but when you take away the live service option through the phone and customers go to a digital channel and it’s sub par, boy that creates a really high effort experience.” And it’s forcing companies I think to invest in and transform aggressively there. I saw, and you guys probably saw this too, that kind of meme that passed through LinkedIn like wildfire, which was, “Which of the following three drove your company’s digital transformation? Was it the CEO, [inaudible] the CTO or C-”

Gabe Larsen: (14:17)
I think I’m the one who passed that? I think I passed that to Brad actually.

Brad Birnbaum: (14:19)
I think you did.

Matt Dixon: (14:21)
Yeah. It’s one of my favorites. It is the number one driver for digital transformation right now. Unfortunately it’s, it’s rapidly accelerating.

Gabe Larsen: (14:28)
Which is maybe something we all needed, right? It’s something we all needed. So we heard a little bit. I like some of the deflection points and you’re seeing that in multiple channels, right? It sounds like in chat, and phone. Lauren as you think about this idea of kind of doing more with less, maybe even on the people side, is there other things people are doing that kind of drive it?

Lauren Pragoff: (14:45)
Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. I would suggest doing more with less and maybe a slightly different interpretation because for every company that we’re hearing is slammed with so many contacts, there’s at least one other company, maybe 1.5 other companies, who are actually seeing a dramatic decrease in their contact volumes. And so in a recent survey that we did, a full third of survey respondents said that their contact volumes had dropped by more than 25%.

Gabe Larsen: (15:16)
That’s right.

Lauren Pragoff: (15:17)
Doing more with less, doing more with the people with less contacts, right? So what do you do to fill their time to make sure that you’re staying productive as an organization? We’ve heard a lot of really interesting things in that regard. So companies are being proactive. They’re reaching out to their customers where maybe they wouldn’t have before, helping to either educate them about products or services or proactively solving problems that they see coming. And we’re seeing companies sending their people on rotations, into other parts of the organization, working on special projects, things of that nature, or even fielding calls from other parts of the organization. So really trying to figure out, how do we do more with the people that we have so that we can keep them busy and we can keep them in their jobs even though the contact volumes are decreasing?

Gabe Larsen: (16:09)
I liked that. Yeah, you’re right. There’s always two sides to every story. And that you said a third of companies are reporting decreasing. I love the proactive outreach. I think that’s always been a best practice of customer service support teams, but now more than ever before, it seems to be being pushed to the forefront. I want to see if we can dovetail that into the conversation we were just having about digital transformation. I do think that’s worth probably a double click there. Such a trend that now, yes, we’ve had to go remote and yes, in some cases we have to do more with less, but as we look going forward, the amount of digital transformation that we’re all experiencing has been accelerated, as we were saying. That’s kind of the now forefront trend as we move probably into 2020 and 2021. Digital transformation, how are you seeing companies really take grasp of this and own it more to deliver that exceptional customer experience that they all want to deliver? Brad, can we start with you?

Brad Birnbaum: (17:02)
Yeah. So one thing that not only is in that theme, but in the theme of doing more of less is we’ve seen at Kustomer, we service, as you know, a lot of great brands and we’re seeing a rapid adoption to asynchronous communication because it’s another way of doing more with less, right? A little personal anecdote. I recently ordered from one of the large food delivery services. We increased our order, but the tip didn’t increase and we wanted to increase the tip because we want to do the right thing for the frontline worker bringing us our food and we couldn’t. There was no way to do it in the app, right? So there’s a digital transformation improvement that could happen, right? So, how do I do this? So I went to call and the only option was to call them, to change this and have a two and a half hour hold time. And I said, “Look, I can’t sit on the phone for two and a half hours, right? Just can’t do it. I would love to be able to text you, right? I’d love to be able to send you a Facebook messenger or WhatsApp or even the way customer chat works.” We either work in a synchronous or asynchronous manner, but some asynchronous way to just say, “Hey,” or even an email for argument’s sake, “I just want to crease my tip from X to Y can you do that for me?” I don’t want to sit on a phone for two and a half hours. That’s crazy! Not going to do it, right? They didn’t do it. What we did is we left the tip and cash on the door and called it a day but there’s no way I’m going to do that, right? So, but all I wanted was a simple fire and forget like, “Hey, increase my tip from X to Y. You guys don’t allow me to do it in the app.” So give me a simple, low friction asynchronous way to do it. If I would have been able to text them and get a text back response, even if it was eight hours later, I would’ve been super happy with that experience. Instead, I had a pretty poor experience. I had to go out of my way to take care of that remote worker who was helping my family with food. So there’s so many things that can be a part of digital history. Some of it is how companies construct their experience within their own products and offerings, right? But it’s not just how they allow you to communicate, and we all know how we communicate with our friends and families and loved ones and it’s not only one way. Async communications, super popular now in our daily lives and in our business lives, like whether it be Slack or you name it, across the board and it needs to carry through more to how we can converse with these businesses we work with. [Inaudible] And we’re seeing a huge uptick in Kustomer. We’re seeing these async channels going up dramatically and I think that trend’s going to continue.

Gabe Larsen: (19:31)
Yeah. With all that’s going on, it’ll be, we may see. I mean, I feel like you always see these articles and customer service and sales, is the channel dead? Is the phone finally dead? But the truth is it never, the phone and emails still dominate. This might just do it. This might just push some of those channels to the forefront. Maybe you will actually [inaudible] is too strong of a word for the traditional channels, but interesting. Facebook messenger, WhatsApp. Wow. Seeing these being pushed to the forefront, you might actually have some competition at the top there. Lauren thinking about digital transformation, where does your mind go?

Lauren Pragoff: (20:05)
Yeah. My mind goes to make sure that you are enabling the right issues in the right channels. So some research that Matt and I both worked on back when we were with CEB, really focused on making sure that you’re not sending customers down the wrong channel for the wrong issue. So not all issues are well suited to all channels, and making sure that you’re enabling the right types of experiences in the right channels is extremely important. Otherwise, what you’re doing is just creating a lot of effort for the customer who felt like, “Oh, I could just shoot off this email,” and feeling really good about trying to get their issue resolved. Well, 24 hours later, when you get a response and that response says, “Hey, so sorry, but you’re going to have to call us to resolve this issue, that’s like worst case scenario.” So don’t let the customer send that bad email the first time around.

Gabe Larsen: (21:04)
Yeah. So you’d need to. You can’t just roll out all these new channels. For example, you actually have to have a strategy for each of them or you might kind of ruin the whole experience. Matt, last on digital customer experience, kind of where does your mind go?

Matt Dixon: (21:15)
Yeah, I think this is, we all know digital and the shift towards self service has been coming. It’s like this big looking at your background, Gabe. It’s like a wave coming crashing down on us, right? So it’s true –

Gabe Larsen: (21:32)
By the way, you know that on the north shore –

Matt Dixon: (21:33)
– Of course. I didn’t doubt it for a second, but it is good that you assured all 2,000 viewers [Inaudible]. But I will say, back, we studied this in like ’07 – ’08 and what we found was, Lauren was on this research team at CEB, that 57% of inbound call volume was from customers who were first on your digital channels. They were first on your website trying to solve their problem. Now, a bunch of those customers were just using your website as an expensive phone book, but more of them, a bigger chunk of that 57%, we’re actually legitimately trying to find the answer to their problem, trying to do something online. Fast forward to just, I think last time we ran this research about a year ago, that number is like 80%. So customers are really, they are digital as the first stop and increasingly, a lot of those customers are going to non-company sources of information. They’re going to YouTube. They’re going to unsanctioned sources of advice to get perspective. Like what’s the hack, what’s the thing I can do to avoid not just not calling the company, but even going to their website. Like I want to just try to figure this out on my own. But again, customers are very keen and their first step is always digital. What I think is really interesting is, I’m totally with Lauren, we’ve got to make sure the issues are aligned to the channels. And then, Brad’s point about asynchronous messaging. This is one where I think we’ve seen, asynchronous messaging has been interesting because I always thought of it in the original research we ran, it was sort of like a fast email, right? It was sort of a replacement for email; good for kind of binary communications, but I think what’s happening now and I think this is forced on us by the pandemic, is that asynchronous messaging has to grow up and it has to mature in a really serious way to be able to handle more nuanced, more ambiguous issues that maybe once were handled over the phone with a person where context and background matters. The customer can’t get through on the phone for many organizations right now and they’re relying on that asynchronous channel to address that need in a sophisticated way. Now, the economies of that, that is a great do more with less to Brad’s point because we know the number of concurrent chats or WhatsApp exchanges, or SMS exchanges, a rep can handle is way more than the number of phone calls, which is one. We also know that we can use AI and bots and virtual assistants to automate parts of the interaction. So at least to triage it, maybe siphon off some of those live interactions or those messages, handle it with a bot, but other ones at least get them to the right rep around the right issue and get that rep teed up so they can grab the baton and finish that exchange in that interaction really quickly. The other thing I would say is don’t ignore the importance of getting your static content on your site right. What we find is FAQ’s knowledge articles is where kind of issue resolution goes to die very often. One of the most impactful things you can do is simply rewrite all this stuff on your website and write it with language simplicity in mind. We wrote about this in the Effortless Experience and there are lots of great stories of companies who’ve said, “Look, we’ve invested a lot of self service technology, but the thing that really got our customers to stay on our website and not get frustrated and pick up the phone to call is when we started writing at a grade five to seven reading level so that customers could absorb that information quickly.” So often our content is laden with corporate jargon, industry vernacular, stuff that the attorneys made us add in and it stopped making sense to our customers. And so go back, make it simple and it’ll stick with your customers and siphon off those live calls.

Gabe Larsen: (25:09)
I like that. I like that. The knowledge basis. That stat 80%, up from 50%, that’s a huge number. The last question I wanted to ask before we wrap here guys, is kind of this technology question. A lot of companies with the changes that have happened have been looking for quick answers and then a lot of times they have been going to technologies that they feel like maybe can supply that quick up, right? Like, can I do this better than I was doing it before? And, oh my goodness, we’ve heard about stories like, Zoom, right? It’s like, we’re all on video and that skyrocketing. Are there certain technologies and we don’t necessarily need to go into naming names, but types of technologies that you feel companies should be thinking about adopting more now than ever before to really make this change more successful? Brad, can we start with you?

Brad Birnbaum: (25:58)
Sure. So I think my answer is going to be pretty self-serving.

Matt Dixon: (26:03)
I was going to do the same thing, Brad, so –

Brad Birnbaum: (26:07)
– self-serving but, Kustomer, one of the things we do here at Kustomer is we are a CRM platform. So we aggregate all of the relevant data to provide that rich support experience. And in doing so the customers, they’re gonna get their answers faster, right? And as we’re ramping up on deflection and machine learning and artificial intelligence and customer IQ, and the bots that we’re gonna be rolling out shortly, those will take advantage of that data. So when somebody reaches out and says, “Hey, I’m Brad,” I’ll say, “Oh, Brad, we noticed you ordered sweater three days ago and it was supposed to be delivered and it wasn’t yet. It’s a little late, but guess why? It’s out for delivery today. Do we answer your question? Is that what you were reaching out about?” They’d be like, “Yeah.” So it’d be like, that was an awesome experience, right? I never had, so never touched a customer support agent. The customer felt like you knew them. They got their answer right away. Win, win, win, win, win across the board. So when you’re able to combine all these siloed pieces of information, these siloed communication channels, all these silos, the siloed knowledge base even, we were able to combine it all together with amazing data to support it, understanding the customer, these asynchronous and synchronous communication, omni-channel communication methods with RPA-like business process automation. When you do all that together, it is a technological shift to improving experiences. It’s a technological shift to higher levels of customer satisfaction. A technological shift to actually improve agent efficiency and we’ve seen this across our customer base, right. We’ve seen some of our customers say they saw a 20% improvement in agent productivity when they switched to the Kustomer platform and it’s a result of everything I just mentioned, right? It’s a result of combining data with omni-channel with automations and that is where that magic happens. So that becomes the biggest win, I think, for all parties. Everybody wins. It’s the best when customers win and the company wins, but I think that it was so, yeah, I’d like to think our technology is at the forefront. It’s something everybody should be using to help because it is working. So, yeah, self-serving –

Gabe Larsen: (28:14)
A little self-serving but I think there’s some nuggets in there, obviously. Now more than ever before, when I’m calling organizations, I am probably even a little more frustrated. Having that contextual information rather than just saying, “Give me your ticket number,” feels like maybe that probably is a little more important. We’re a little more on edge than we have been in the past. Matt let’s go to you and then Lauren, we’ll kind of wrap it up.

Matt Dixon: (28:40)
Yeah, sure. So Brad stole my my plan here, which was to also do a self serving pitch –

Gabe Larsen: (28:46)
[Inaudlibe] I would say my cell phone for that one –

Matt Dixon: (28:49)
I do. I mean look, I think it’s right. We always say we love the idea of being low effort for our customers but it’s hard to make the experience low effort if you make the job hard for your reps. If they don’t have the right tools and they don’t have that information Brad was talking about, you’re asking them to overcome that and then make things easy for the customer. It’s a pretty tall order. I mean, where we sit, one of the things we’re pretty excited about, and I think this is one of those things that we’ve seen over time, slow erosion in like survey response rates, specifically post-call surveys, which where most companies are, if they’re lucky in the 10% range, most companies in the low single digits now, and even fewer of those surveys containing actual, actionable, verbatim. Here’s why I gave you the score, the customer score [Inaudible]. So what we’re trying to do is help customers, companies leverage the found data that’s sitting all over the enterprise. So recorded phone conversations, chats, emails, case information, the information that sits in a customer and extract meaning from that your business partners can take action on and that you can take action on as a leadership team to improve the customer experience. And I think that’s a really powerful place to be. After all, I would argue, and I don’t know the latest data that customers today are even less likely to fill out that survey especially when they don’t know if they’re going to get a response back and they’re looking for companies they do business with, to do a better job listening to them, using the data they’ve already got. Now, what I will say, this is going to be, maybe a tee up for you, Lauren. But I also believe technology, you talked a lot about technology and self service and digital transformation, a lot of it being accelerated by COVID-19. I think the knock on implication of that for our people is very real, which is when the easy stuff or the easier issues go away, what ends up happening, and we’ve seen this for a while now, and I think this is really going to ramp up with COVID-19, is that what ends up getting through the nets to the live service representative is by definition, the most complex issues, the hardest to crack problems, the stuff that couldn’t be solved through asynchronous messaging, there was no knowledge article about it. And the customer just has to talk to somebody and they’re going to wait two hours on hold to get in touch with that live representative. So how do we equip our people to be successful in that world? So I think the talent side of things, we can’t ignore in the rush of digital. I think digital and rethinking the way we hire, engage and support our frontline, those are gonna be the two big things that emerge out of this in the new normal, customer service and customer experience.

Gabe Larsen: (31:24)
Nothing more needs to be said, Lauren, that’s a good comment, probably segue to you.

Lauren Pragoff: (31:28)
Yeah. We like to say here at Challenger that in a world driven by technology, your people matter more than ever. The idea that technology is great, but to Matt’s point, what it’s doing is it’s siphoning off all the easy issues and what’s left is your reps getting a barrage of really complex issues, really angry and upset customers. And the other thing with technology is inevitably, there’s going to be a failure somewhere along the way, whether it’s the technology’s fault, whether it’s your infrastructure’s fault, something is going to happen, or maybe it’s a user error, right? Your reps don’t know how to use the platform that they have. When that happens, are your reps equipped to have a human to human interaction that provides a low effort service experience? So I think that companies need to be thinking not only about the skills that they’re training their reps on, but also how are they keeping their reps engaged because their job is getting harder, not easier.

Gabe Larsen: (32:29)
Yeah. Yeah. I like it you guys. A lot of great information talked about today. I think it’ll be a great day, fun to kick it off with Lauren, Brad, and Matt, and talk about how to really handle, manage, be successful with customer service during these challenging times. So for the audience, thanks so much for participating. For the speakers who’ve taken their time, donated their time, to help all of the different customer experience and service leaders figure out the best way to go forward and optimize their current environments, thank you for that. And with that, we’ll sign off and enjoy the rest of the day.

All: (33:13)
Thank you.

Exit Voice: (33:13)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

Empathy-Driven Customer Support with Irene Griffin

Empathy-Driven Customer Support with Irene Griffin TW

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Irene Griffin, to discuss building better customer relationships through an empathy-driven support model. Irene is currently leading the customer care team at FranConnect. To learn how Irene has built an incredible customer support playbook, listen to the podcast below.

A Playbook for Empathetic CX

Over the years, Irene has created a playbook that helps guide her Customer Support Team to give the best service possible by initiating genuine human interaction. The playbook was created to include strategies and processes to help employees listen to the customer and to understand their needs. Not only should the team members address the customer’s reason for calling, but they should also show the customer that they are there to help and to listen by initiating empathetic conversation. “A lot of times,” Irene states, “Folks will come in and they think they know what they want and they ask for it directly. What they really need is someone to be more helpful and more insightful and to deliver what the customer actually needs rather than what they think they want.” As her playbook has developed, it has become a repertoire of customer service secrets that she uses to develop her team and her company’s customer experience.

How to Hire CX Reps

Irene continues by explaining how her CX team is run. She focuses on team collaboration and having a cohesive dynamic. When hiring someone to join the team, the vetting process to find “premium support talent” includes other team members. Irene says, “I always have most of the team, if available, interview them as well. For me, it’s really important that my team is able to have a hand in choosing their coworker because team dynamics play just a huge role.”

To assist in the hiring process, during an interview, Irene sets up mock phone calls to see the interviewee’s initial reactions with potentially confusing customer service situations. She asks perplexing questions to draw honest responses and by doing so, she sees if the interviewee is more process focussed or end-goal oriented. For Irene, the most important part of customer interaction is the journey to the answer, or the experience, not necessarily the answer itself. This ensures more authentic and effective customer service calls. Additionally, diversity plays a big role when hiring someone to join the team. Irene talks about how you can pull from the same group of people and still have great outcomes, but she finds that a team with diverse backgrounds creates a more involved and creative environment. As companies apply these hiring principles, they will find customer service rankings improve.

Sample Call Language vs Scripted Responses

As one of her final points, Irene starts to explain her philosophy on scripted phone calls. For Irene and all customer service professionals, consistent information and customer care is important. Most companies create this consistency by creating a type of script for their reps to follow on customer calls. While Irene recognizes the importance of consistency, she feels these calls can become too robotic. Authenticity is what the customer is looking for. Her solution has been sample call language. By sharing suggestions, it put the concepts in the minds of CX reps, allowing them to then be more authentic and creative. She states, “I want my team to be natural and I want them to be themselves and that’s authentic. And I’d rather them make a mistake than sound robotic because they’re just repeating what they were told. Plus, trust your employees, because they have autonomy and they have the freedom to put their own style on it.” As companies hire the right people using some of the tactics mentioned above, the reps will have the capabilities to have quality customer service calls while still being able to provide consistent information. Sample language is a roadmap to authentic and empathetic communication with the customer.

To learn more about building better customer relationships, 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:

Empathy-Driven Customer Support with Irene Griffin

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody to today’s show. We’re excited to get going. We’re going to be talking about an empathy driven support model and to do that, we brought on Irene Griffin. She’s currently the Director of Customer Support at a company called FranConnect. Irene, how are you doing? Thanks for joining us.

Irene Griffin: (00:26)
Hi Gabe, thank you for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:27)
Yeah, this will be fun. It’s always good to talk about empathy. I’ve been feeling like I need that in my life –

Irene Griffin: (00:37)
These days especially.

Gabe Larsen: (00:37)
I need that in life and so it might be good to talk about that in support. But before we do that, tell us just real quick a little bit about yourself and your background.

Irene Griffin: (00:47)
Okay. Sure. So I have been a Director of Customer Support at FranConnect like you mentioned. I’m going on three and a half years now, and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience. I’ve been a hiring manager the entire time. I’ve transformed the team that I inherited and we heard a lot of lessons along the way about how to place great staff into customer support roles. So I can talk a lot about that.

Gabe Larsen: (01:12)
Then we will. We’ll be talking a little bit about that today. So let’s maybe dive in and talk high level, this empathy driven support model. What is it? I mean, give me kind of a 30 second picture overview on it.

Irene Griffin: (01:26)
So, I developed a playbook over the years, and I’ve definitely honed it along the way on how to make sure that we are staffing our customer support team to be empathy driven. And that is to listen to the customer, to understand the customer and not just sort of react to whatever request comes in the door; much like if you visit your doctor and you tell him what prescription you want. You need to give him an opportunity to say, “Well, hold on a second, what’s actually wrong? What are the symptoms?” and then let him decide on the diagnosis. And so it starts with that, making sure that you’re listening to customers. A lot of times folks will come in and they think they know what they want and they ask for it directly. What they really need is someone to be more helpful and more insightful and to deliver what the customer actually needs rather than what they think they want. So it starts there and then I just built out on making sure that the folks that I’m hiring are high energy, have great positive personalities and are comfortable in unknown territories. That’s really important. Those are, I think, some of the best indicators of premium support talent. I’ve definitely hired on skillset above personality before, and I learned a few things along the way there. I would say that if you have all the technical skills or you really know a product well or coding language well, but you’re not great at communication skills and you don’t have a high energy, you’re going to be less successful, definitely, than someone who has that high energy personality, is a great listener and communicator, but then still needs to maybe onboard. And I think as technology becomes easier to learn, easier to adopt, especially with a younger generation where it’s much more natural, learning the technology, I think is very much secondary. So when I look at resumes now as a hiring manager, I think, “Okay, that’s great that you have these skill sets and it’s a good place to start. But if on the phone, you don’t express yourself well and you don’t have high energy, I can kind of tell that you don’t have that outgoing personality.” I generally think twice now, for sure.

Gabe Larsen: (03:26)
Interesting. So, okay. You got these different, I love the idea of empathy. Ultimately there are different ways to, I think, drive customer satisfaction. But finding out what people really want and not just solving what they think they want, but kind of getting to what they really want, being able to do that in an empathetic manner definitely resonates with me. You hit on a couple of points. I want to see if we can double click on a couple of these. So, you were just talking about hiring on skills versus personality. It sounds like one thing you’ve learned is technology, especially with the younger crowd, they can learn that faster. So you do want to see if you can find the right person, the right DNA, to bring on board rather than just kind of the technology ability, et cetera. Are there certain things you’ve found when you’ve tried to do that hiring process that has helped kind of separate the top candidates from the bottom candidates? Questions you’ve asked, assessments you’ve given, any feedback or thoughts there?

Irene Griffin: (04:29)
Sure. Oh, absolutely. So what I like to do is a mock phone call and I’ll present the interviewee with some, blurry, confusing statements and see how they attack it. Put them on the spot a little bit, and I’m not looking for them to solve the puzzle. I’m looking for the interaction and the response. And so if it’s a client, if it’s, “Hey, let me break this down to make sure that I understand what you’re saying,” rather than the sort of silent, “I’m not sure.” So I think doing mock calls is a great idea for that. And then just in general, it’s really about the energy level of the team. In my experience, and I think everyone can relate to this, I’ve never chosen an airline based on customer service out of the gate, right? You choose based on pricing when you need to fly somewhere. So that’s product based selling, right? And so you’re making that sale based on the product. It’s a good price for a flight to where you need to go, but once you have a bad experience, that’s when you’re more likely to swear off the airline. And it’s probably not because the plane that you were on had bad wheels or bad wings or something like that. I mean, the airline’s done the rude thing and they haven’t worked with you. They haven’t listened to you. They’re not meeting your needs. And that’s a very visceral, very emotional response to a transaction. So for us, it’s about relationship building and it’s about that transaction with customers to make sure that they’re feeling their needs are met. So, I like to use that analogy to sort of explain that and I’ll do that along the interview process as well.

Gabe Larsen: (06:00)
Yeah. I really liked the mock call. Sometimes you can’t understand a person or know what they’re going to be like until you see them do it, and that’s part of the hard part of interviewing. You’ve got to feel it and see it and interact with them and once you do, that does make a huge difference. Do you– when you say you keep it a little more vague, is it just kind of, do you throw harder kind of customer support questions at them or are they more like a puzzle, like trying to answer like a complicated problem?

Irene Griffin: (06:33)
Actually I stick with– I don’t wanna put people on the spot so badly with puzzles. I mean, I lock up myself when I have it done to me, so I stick with more of what a sample support question might be. Where it’s just long winded, convoluted, there’s extra stuff in there and again, I’m not looking for the outcome as much as I’m just looking for the reaction and the ability to kind of parse it out and kind of stay cool and be organized.

Gabe Larsen: (06:58)
I love that. Yeah. The journey to the– it’s like you’re not looking for the right answer. The journey is the reward, right?

Irene Griffin: (07:04)
That’s correct. And then additionally, I can add, I always have most of the team, if available, interview them as well. For me, it’s really important that my team is able to have a hand in choosing their coworker because team dynamics play just a huge role. For me to know that my team trusts each other and they’re building on relationships, they’ll help each other, they’ll grab each other’s tickets without me needing to intervene, that is a big deal. That is just, I think, a really huge thing. And the right personality is going to fold into the right team really well and they’ll enjoy their workday and that translates to the customer experience immensely. When people are happy to be at their jobs, that’s a big deal for customer support.

Gabe Larsen: (07:48)
What are any other things you do to kind of help drive team dynamics? I love the interview, each other, that you can kind of interview the new people to see how well they’ll work together and kind of buy off on it so they feel like they’re part of building the team. Other activities, games, motivational things you do to kind of drive that team dynamics and make it better?

Irene Griffin: (08:08)
Sure. I think…in the pre-pandemic era, when we were all in the office together… it was certainly a lot easier to just, “Let’s go grab a coffee, let’s go grab a quick lunch.” I try not to do too much forced merriment. I think bonding should happen a little naturally, more organically. So yeah, our HR team definitely has great activities for all the employees that bring us together in different ways and we do volunteer work and we have our own internal team parties. But for me, I think mostly just keeping us on standup meetings twice a day, making sure everyone feels heard, repeating the idea of respecting teammates and stuff like that. It happens naturally. I’m happy to say I found out that they were on a happy hour and I wasn’t even invited and it made me thrilled to know that they are choosing to hang out together and even out of work, offline stuff, gaming together and stuff like that. So I think you have to let that develop in its own way.

Gabe Larsen: (09:04)
Yeah. It’s hard sometimes to force that, but sometimes it doesn’t happen naturally. That’s good to hear you guys have some support also from the top to see if you can get some of those things done. So you got a little bit about hiring, a little bit about team dynamics. You also talked about this kind of personality aspect, high energy. Is there a way you coach people to get that, or is that again, maybe more in the hiring process to make sure you find those people that are just a little more energetic, ready to go, be part of the team, et cetera?

Irene Griffin: (09:36)
So, definitely it’s part of the hiring process and that isn’t to say that I’ve only hired extroverts that are bouncing off the walls. That’s not at all what I mean. I definitely have more low key folks, but when they get on the phone with the customer, they’re coached into how to be great customer support people and how to be empathetic. It’s more about empathy, I think, than energy per se. But I do have a playbook that I’ve developed and we would sample tickets, sample phrases. I let them know that, as cheesy as it may seem, I’ll go with: “It’s my pleasure to work with you. Is there anything else I can do for you,” over “Thanks. Have a great day.” Right? It’s just that extra level of like white glove service that elevates the experience and yeah, we’re B2B. So we need to get that relationship established with our customer base. I think if you’re talking B2C and it’s transactional, I mean, you don’t need Amazon sending you flowers for buying something, right? You just want to get the transaction done and it just has to be accurate and it just has to be timely and that’s great. But with us, we’re working with the same folks over and over again. So we need to have the trust and the relationship with our customer and making sure that empathy is at the heart of every call is a big deal. So like I said, I have a playbook where we go through sample language and I make sure that the language is as positive as it can be. So if somebody wants to criticize the product or somebody wants a feature that we’re certain that we’re just not going to support, it’s not just well dismissive or, “can’t do that for you.” It’s, you know, “this is a great idea and I’ll take this to the product team, we’ll see what we can do and in the meanwhile, let’s look at workarounds or other solutions for you.” Yeah. People feel cared for when you use the right language. That’s a huge part of that playbook that I’ve got.

Gabe Larsen: (11:22)
Yeah. Yeah. So let’s, I want to hear just a little more about the playbook. One question that I’ve often heard is how much do you kind of, this word scripting. Scripting versus not scripting, or really kind of pushed certain types of responses? How have you managed that with this playbook concept?

Irene Griffin: (11:39)
So I think with scripting, I think that’s more of a call center concept with customer support teams that are working through complex issues like for example, with us and software, I don’t really adhere much to it. I think it’s more a sample language that I support plus I want my team to be natural and I want them to be themselves and that’s authentic. And I’d rather them make a mistake than sound robotic because they’re just repeating what they were told. Plus trust your employees, because they have autonomy and they have the freedom to put their own style on it. So I definitely think scripting can be great, but I think that’s more of a call center concept.

Gabe Larsen: (12:19)
Yeah. Do you feel like, so it sounds like you’ve been able to give them snippets or you use the word, playbooks, so give them plays or something that they could potentially use or sample language based on commonly asked questions or common concerns, things like that. How have you found the balance to have versus autonomy versus using these sample dialogues, et cetera, any thoughts there?

Irene Griffin: (12:45)
So I guess we do have FAQ’s and for a knowledge base, that’s really important for us to get the answer, right. It’s not just about how we are talking to customers, about whether or not we’re able to solve it on first touch. That’s also a huge part of the customer service experience. So, I think autonomy is really much more important. When you let them problem solve on their own, I think that’s really key.

Gabe Larsen: (13:07)
Yeah. Yep. In order to get them to that level, have you found, with outside of the playbook, other training aspects you’ve had to really facilitate or product training? How do you get to the people where they kind of have that balance or that capability of being able to be off the cuff and get the answers you need?

Irene Griffin: (13:25)
I think for me personally, the most successful path towards that has been shadowing. So when you have someone that’s really great at what they do, just getting your staff to watch and listen and understand that this is how we conduct ourselves. This is how we talk to customers and this is what’s expected. And then I found this to be pretty successful if you hire the right folks that get it to begin with and they understand, and I think it’s a more pleasurable experience, even for the support people to create the relationship. And then we get high marks. We get high MPS scores because our customers love the team that they’re working with. And so when I get feedback from my customer base, it’s by name, they’re naming folks that they love working with. And it doesn’t mean that we solved the problem right away. It doesn’t mean that it was a magic wand experience, but they know that we’re here and we know they know that we’re working for them, we’re working hard for them. And that honestly buys a lot of leverage with critical problems that you just need a team of technical people to resolve and it’s a little out of your hands to deliver. Maintaining that relationship really helps the customer base and keeps them– . What’s more important for me is making sure that our customers are ready and wanting to call us back again and again and so that we leave them with an experience that is a positive one. So they feel comfortable reaching out to us whenever they need us.

Gabe Larsen: (14:47)
Got it. Do you feel like, I mean, you obviously work in the B2B space and you’ve hit some of these things that kind of drive this empathetic model, other kinds of things outside of this that are keys to building customer relationships that you’ve found?

Irene Griffin: (15:00)
Oh, that’s a good question. I think just getting on the phone with them, sooner than later, is a really key component. I know today nobody just calls each other, right? You text somebody and you say, “Hey, do you have a minute to talk?” And then you set up a minute to talk and that’s sort of the appropriate etiquette these days. Just ringing someone out of the blues generally considered, –I think the phone has a huge component in hearing people’s voices and you get a lot from tone and clear up a lot of misunderstanding and get to a resolution a lot faster when you just pick up the phone and call the customer. So I think that’s another key component and you can respond to the ticket and type out your responses, but a lot of times it gives them an opportunity to talk and folks love to talk. Most of the time.

Gabe Larsen: (15:48)
A little more proactiveness, right? You know, certainly methodologies lend itself to being a little more proactive, but we can respond and email, but we could sometimes, “I’m going to try to get ahead of this one or I’m going to just get them right now,” and you’d be a little more aggressive, but sometimes that does pay off. I like that.

Irene Griffin: (16:08)
And a lot of times, to add to that, they’ll end up adding on a couple of extra questions once they’re on the phone and then deflects future tickets. So there’s a lot to it.

Gabe Larsen: (16:18)
While you got them, might as well get it all answered. Right? Get it all out of them. Do you, certainly we talked about a lot of different stuff in this model, so personality and hiring dynamics and using playbooks. If you had to kind of sum it up, as a takeaway that is the secret to having a great support team for a lot of leaders out there like yourself who are trying to navigate these challenging times, what would be kind of your closing statement or closing argument here?

Irene Griffin: (16:45)
I would say that on top of everything we discussed today about getting positive energy folks, make sure that you have a diversity of background folks as well. I think that’s just a huge thing. Nothing wrong with pulling from the same group or the same fraternity at one particular university and hiring a bunch of friends but, there’s a lot of value in dragging people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds. I think that it gives people a more cosmopolitan or I guess, more rich background in which to work and it improves them personally. So I think that’s one of the extra takeaways in summary that I would add on top of that.

Gabe Larsen: (17:28)
And that’s very timely as well. Right? I think we’re all trying to reflect a little bit more on that and find ways to do it. It sounds like that’s been beneficial for you. So Irene, I really appreciate your time. If someone wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about some of these ideas, what’s the best way to do that?

Irene Griffin: (17:45)
Yeah, absolutely. So, if you can find me on LinkedIn, I’m Irene Griffin at FranConnect, and I think that should be enough info. If you look me up, I’d be happy to link in with you and continue this conversation.

Gabe Larsen: (17:56)
Yeah. It’s always fun to continue the conversation guys. So again, Irene, thanks for taking the time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Irene Griffin: (18:01)
Thanks Gabe.

Exit Voice: (18:09)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

Fan-to-Fan Customer Support with Douglas Kramon

Fan-to-Fan Customer Support with Douglas Kramon TW

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Douglas Kramon, Senior Director of Fan Support & Customer Care Operations at ESPN, to discuss how customer care drives customer experience. ESPN is a world renowned sports network with an unmatched customer care system. Learn how Douglas has become so successful in customer relations by listening to the podcast below.

Fan Support

The Customer Care Operations team at ESPN has transformed the world of customer experience by creating a more empathetic relationship between the agent and the customer. By doing so, not only have they improved customer experiences, but they have made room for fan-to-fan sports discussion. The concept of the “fan” was created as a nickname for customers at ESPN to make a more relatable and human connection to the agents. Douglas states, “But deep down, when you peel that layer of the onion back, you’re speaking to a fan just like you and they’re more likely to appreciate the conversation and remain an ESPN fan if there is a human element to that.” Douglas talks about how everyone in the Fan Support department is a big sports fan and because of this, they are better able to have constructive conversations when customers reach out to ESPN Fan Support.

Improving Brand Experience During COVID-19

For many fans, sports are memories. With this in mind, Douglas’ team knows that sports bring people together and many are missing that fan-to-fan interaction. They want to keep the sports memories alive, especially during COVID-19 when live sporting events have decreased. To do this, Douglas’ team is actively searching for ways to improve the ESPN sport experience all while balancing business and working from home during a pandemic. As Douglas mentions, “Sports are all about emotion and passion and when we talk sports or fans talk sports, it’s dialogue, it’s discussion, it’s debate.” While live sporting events are minimal, his team is working to replace the experience with engaging content such as a new docuseries called The Last Dance. Continuing to better the fan experience with more interesting content, contacting through SMS, live messaging, and human interaction, Douglas’ team has seen a large increase in C-SAT.

Three Ways to Keep Agents Happy and Thriving

At ESPN, not only is it important to keep the fans happy, it’s also important to keep the Fan Support agents happy. Douglas has figured out three elements that help his team thrive in a fast paced environment: workspace, collaboration, and nutrition. He hopes to harbor a motivating workspace where daily collaboration welcomes insightful communication. In connection with the nutrition concept, Douglas talks about how his agents have families and lives outside of the work environment and he emphasizes the importance of home life. He says:

So you had a great C-SAT. You’re going to get a family size pizza arriving at your door with a little note from ESPN saying, ‘Thank you for doing what you are doing.’ With the C-SAT review directly below it and letting them know we appreciate them. That means they’re more likely to go to a comfortable workspace that they’ve set up for themselves, that they’re collaborating with others as if they’re in the center and they’re feeling good that we appreciate them.

To Douglas, happy agents are a prerequisite to happy fans and small acts make a big difference in agent and fan morale.

To learn more about how customer care drives customer experience, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

 

Listen Now:

Listen to “Douglas Kramon | Be Brief, Be Bright, and Be Gone” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Fan-to-Fan Customer Support with Douglas Kramon

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the customer service secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen : (00:11)
All right, welcome everybody. We’re excited to jump in. We’re going to be talking about customer care driving customer experience, and to do that, we brought on Douglas Kramon. He’s currently the senior director of fan support and customer care operations at ESPN. Douglas, we appreciate you joining. How are ya?

Douglas Kramon: (00:30)
Good Gabe. Thank you so much for having me.

Gabe Larsen : (00:33)
Yeah, I think this will be fun. I mean, you’ve got a real interesting background. Obviously the company you’re working at, a lot of different changes going on there, and I want to jump into some of the ways you’ve managed around that. Still trying to drive those customers to be excited and passionate about a brand that I think really has kind of that passion innately in it. Before we do though, tell us just a little bit about yourself, your background, and then we can kind of jump in.

Douglas Kramon: (01:02)
Sure. My background is obviously when you go to college for Native American archeology and cultural anthropology, it’s natural to land at the worldwide leader of sports. That’s just what you do. It just happened. And needless to say, it’s been a wonderful time at ESPN. But, through my time post college, it’s really all been about customer experience and identifying the opportunities to improve the brand experience with the customer and what I will refer to with ESPN, we call the “fan.” ESPN is a Disney organization and so we have some serious brand prestige to try to maintain and we’re dealing with sports fans. Sports are all about emotion and passion and when we talk sports or fans talk sports, it’s dialogue, it’s discussion, it’s debate. So a lot of what I do is to make sure in my teams, the passion of sport or the passion that spans out for sport is brought closer to what they want to see.

Gabe Larsen : (02:21)
I love that.

Douglas Kramon: (02:21)
So we’re excited about that. And times have changed a little bit right now as we’re dealing with COVID-19, but that challenge still exists.

Gabe Larsen : (02:30)
Amen. Amen. So let’s get into that part of it. I mean, obviously, as you think about your current environment, it’s all about live – live sports, live everything. And that’s one of the things that drives the passion I think for the brand specifically, thinking about some of the sports ideas. Although on the Disney side, as you said, right? A lot of live interaction there, theme parks, et cetera. If you can just kind of paint the picture as to how you’re viewing it with all the changes that have gone on. Like what’s kind of going through your mind from a, “Holy smokes, the world has kind of turned and now I find myself in a very precarious place?”

Douglas Kramon: (03:14)
Yeah. It’s an excellent question. You know, going into this early to mid-March, I’m ramping up my care team to provide support for millions upon millions of college, NCAA tournaments, challenge players, looking for a college tournament. And then directly following that the beginning of major league baseball and fantasy baseball and suddenly like that, it’s all gone. So you suddenly have an opportunity and you’re ramped up accordingly for one of the most exciting months, if you will, in sports and then it just vanishes. So the live sport experience worldwide has vanished before our eyes.

Gabe Larsen : (03:59)
Man, when that NCA turned, when the big dance got canceled, I felt that one personally, because there’s sports that – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt but I’m so passionate about this. Some of the sports, golf pro stuff, but man to see those kids who this is so important to them. They’re seniors. They’re going to the big dance, a lot of them for the first time and those pictures were just heartbreaking to see.

Douglas Kramon: (04:27)
And that’s the emotion of live sport? Is it not?

Gabe Larsen : (04:29)
It is.

Douglas Kramon: (04:29)
So knowing that, it’s disappeared and our fans feel that. It’s as if something has been ripped out of them in an incredibly difficult and challenging time already with what’s going on in the world. So removing live sport, we are working to replace the experience until it comes back with incredible content as you and I have talked about with exciting things like The Last Dance, which is now the number one viewing experience out there.

Gabe Larsen : (05:03)
For people who don’t know what that is, give them just 30 second on that.

Douglas Kramon: (05:07)
Sure, so the last dance is a docuseries about the 97-98 season of the Bulls and Michael Jordan leading that team. And really the last time that team would be together and it shows the evolution of the Bulls from the early nineties on. And of course their premier players: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen-

Gabe Larsen : (05:34)
It’s really well done.

Douglas Kramon: (05:34)
It really is an incredible storytelling experience. It’s not a live sport.

Gabe Larsen : (05:39)
I’m on episode four.

Douglas Kramon: (05:40)
Soon enough, you got two more to go before this weekend release – I think Saturday. It’s something where passion for sport is still there and we’re seeing that. So right now we shifted from live viewing triaged, in the moment triaged, for live sport because in customer service, for what I do, we’re like a Formula One pit crew. And while all I care about is be brief, be bright and be gone. That’s true enough.

Gabe Larsen : (06:11)
I love that. Say it one more time. That’s kind of been the typical thing of customer service right?

Douglas Kramon: (06:17)
Sure. Be brief, be bright and be gone so you can get the next fan or the next customer and service them and be smart about it. We’re looking at a situation now where we use to get contacts from fans and triage, get you connected appropriately to your TV provider, allow you to view something on a larger screen, you get a lot of technical issues, or it’s lock time almost for fantasy baseball, help you with your rosters. All of that is live triaged and we have special tools where we can see what’s coming over the horizon and hit us. So we know in the moment what to be prepared for. We have great tools that turn dark data into live data and what’s coming to the sender and what folks are saying on social and everywhere. But when it suddenly shuts off the live sport tab and we have to go to video on demand, it’s a different kind of support model, but it’s one where we have the opportunity to also have fan-to-fan dialogue. We like to say, and we believe this wholeheartedly, for customer service, we are fellow fans in the stands with our fans. We’re not the suits in the suites, meaning we’re there with you. We’re sports fans just like you –

Gabe Larsen : (07:33)
I love that.

Douglas Kramon: (07:33)
– and we understand what you’re going through and if you want to talk a little sport, we do too. And that’s what we do and our C-SAT reflects that. So it’s one where we have now, interestingly enough, a little more time for that dialogue and discussion, not so much debate, and if it is, it’s off the cuff and it’s jovial. But we, like the fans we know, miss sport. And so we see it in C-SAT, they wanted to come back and we like to say, “We miss it too,” and then we talk a little sport and we move on.

Gabe Larsen : (08:10)
Okay. So I got to click into that for a minute. The typical motion has been kind of be brief, you know, get off, be gone. I liked your saying better. But now, you’re open a little more, you kind of push that based on the changes to have a dialogue because I’m missing sports, the ref’s missing sports. So is there some examples? I mean, you’re having people then kind of be like call in for a problem, but it is, I really miss my Celtics man. You Celtics fan? And next thing you know, five minutes later, we’re talking about the glory days with Garnett and winning a couple championships. Is that kind of what’s going on?

Douglas Kramon: (08:48)
Absolutely. Just yesterday for example, we have a C-SAT, customer satisfaction survey response, and I’ll tell you what the fan said. Fan gave the agent five out of five stars and said, “I called to relay a story about coach Don Shula. As you know, Don Shula passed away recently. I was a highschool coach for 47 years and I spoke about motivation for the 1972 Dolphins. Mark was very attentive, the agent Mark, to the story and he listened and he loved it. And that’s important to me. He’s a great employee for ESPN. Thank you for allowing me to share this conversation.”

Gabe Larsen : (09:29)
No way!

Douglas Kramon: (09:29)
We also have others where Alex, for example, and the fan writes to C-SAT, he was, “prompt, helpful and amazing with troubleshooting. But it sucks that he’s a Jets fan, but as the Bills are my team, I have no room to talk.” So as you can see, there’s a jovial nature and a conversational nature from our fans where you reach a care agent. You’re reaching a brand specialist who is also a brand protector. We have chatbots. We have FAQ deflectors. We have self service. We have AI in the IVR methods. Hang on, let me put my dog out real quick.

Gabe Larsen : (10:17)
You’re good! It’s the reality man, the dog [inaudible] that goes, it’s the way the world is right now.

Douglas Kramon: (10:20)
This is the new reality. I have to be here with my dog in the office. So we are brand protectors or agents. When you actually reach the live agent, it’s human-to-human interaction, fan-to-fan. And we see it in our C-SAT and Gabe, let me point out during this time since the quarantine, which is about March 15th to today. What is it we’re looking at, May 8th?

Gabe Larsen : (10:49)
Coming up on two months, coming up on two, right?

Douglas Kramon: (10:51)
Our C-SAT has never been higher. Never.

Gabe Larsen : (10:55)
That’s awesome.

Douglas Kramon: (10:56)
When you compare it to this time last year, we’re 14% higher and if you compare it to the 40 days prior to 45 days prior to that, we’re 9% higher and it’s because our agents are showing a dialogue, empathy, understanding, compassion, and letting fans know we miss it too. We miss-

Gabe Larsen : (11:18)
I love that. So a couple of follow ups on that one is, how do you find p– How do you find agents like that? I mean, I feel like I’d be a good agent-

Douglas Kramon: (11:26)
You would, I bet you would.

Gabe Larsen : (11:26)
– in one of your operations because I watch ESPN– Well, I did watch it religiously every night just to be kind of up on the latest because I like to have kind of the, what do they call it? The cooler room talk-

Douglas Kramon: (11:40)
Absolutely! The water cooler talk.

Gabe Larsen : (11:40)
– the water cooler talk. How do you find these people, do you actually screen for fools like me who loves sports or what’s kind of the –

Douglas Kramon: (11:51)
Well, the answer is an absolute yes. So you have to pass a sports test to work at ESPN and customer service and ultimately you have to show passion for sport in the interview. We would like you to know fantasy football or baseball or basketball or hockey. You don’t need to know them all. Then we ask for a sports story and Gabe, for example, I’m a Jets fan. It’s challenging to be a Jets fan because the Jets are at the bottom of the barrel most of the time. So it’s one day they won’t be, but we’re suffering Jets fans. Our feeling is this. You love your team because they’re yours, not because they’re great. I want a story from every agent that tells me what they love about their favorite sports star, the game, their team, their love of a specific event. Like they watched the 1980 Olympics hockey team, USA hockey win. And tell us a story. I need to know that you’re connected to sport.

Gabe Larsen : (13:02)
I love that. When you get someone to tell that story, I’m sure it can come out. You can just gauge very quickly kind of the passion and the realness about stories. Do you want to hear my story, Doug?

Douglas Kramon: (13:13)
Of course.

Gabe Larsen : (13:13)
I’m thinking of The Last Dance. I’ll make this one brief. I don’t remember if it was ’97 or ’98, but I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m thinking Jordan game six, Byron Russell, driving to the whole Jordan memory. Jordan does that push and he sinks it and puts Utah out of it again. I mean, Utah is never going to win an NBA championship. They had their chance, but obviously they had to come against the Jordan era.

Douglas Kramon: (13:47)
That was the first Karl Malone game, if I’m correct.

Gabe Larsen : (13:50)
Yeah! Karl Malone, John Stockton. I mean, that was the team. Again we’re a small market company and so [inaudible] every year and –

Douglas Kramon: (13:57)
Was Clyde Drexler on that team possibly? That was a power team.

Gabe Larsen : (14:02)
It was.

Douglas Kramon: (14:02)
It’s the storytelling that you see, it brings it back, the memories. That’s what sports are about. Now, don’t get me wrong. I work in customer care, I’m constantly dealing with things that are issues, broken links, incorrect team logos, pages that are broken that won’t display, let’s say video issues with stutter, jitter, or black screen, et cetera, fantasy confusion. We’re constantly triaging. It never ends. But deep down, when you peel that layer of the onion back, you’re speaking to a fan just like you and they’re more likely to appreciate the conversation and remain an ESPN fan if there is a human element to that.

Gabe Larsen : (14:47)
Yeah. So that would be my followup on that. When you kind of mentioned, and it sounds like you got a decent amount of sophistication in this, you do have some bots, you have some deflection, you’ve got some knowledge base, you’ve got live agents, IVR intelligence on IVR. Without going into extreme detail, how do you kind of find that balance of the individual interaction, but also being efficient and effective and deflecting and making sure that people can self service a little bit? Quick thoughts on that?

Douglas Kramon: (15:19)
So we have tools that determine, based on frequency, recency, frequency, sentiment, and velocity. We know what fans are saying to us via– and I’ll talk on live channels, chat, phone, SMS, right? So those are the ones that we’re doing. Email is not live.

Gabe Larsen : (15:40)
So which one’s most active for you guys?

Douglas Kramon: (15:43)
SMS is growing by leaps and bounds –

Gabe Larsen : (15:45)
Really?

Douglas Kramon: (15:45)
– because the younger demo loves it and we’re finding C-SAT highest on SMS because you move at the pace of the fan. When the fan is texting back and forth with you, they might be doing other things during their day, whether or not in quarantine. They’re moving around and they ask a question. They don’t expect an immediate synchronous response. If they do, our SMS is faster, the agent responds quicker. If not, we see a top C-SAT score with an average response time between three and eight minutes of a response back to a fan, meaning it’s moving at the speed of the fan. So we know the most common questions that are coming into us based on a rapid analysis of keyword extraction rate. And so we immediately put the things up that an FAQ could respond to and put it out there for our bots, our chat bot or SMS bot, our traditional and all of that. But, if you get passed through to an agent and the bot has failed, you immediately move to the top of the queue [inaudible] trying to address. And we then capture, what is that question? And we determine maybe that’s something where we can put that out. [Inaudible] The goal is, if you reach my agent, we have to do what’s called a plus one. Not only do we give you the answer, but we know you didn’t want to reach out to us to begin with. Reaching out to customer service is not fun. We need to make sure that you’re satisfied and that we surprise you with a sports knowledge opportunity, information of an article that might interest you about what we just discussed. So for example, if you’re talking fantasy football and it’s information that now Frank Gore has signed a one year deal with the Jets and you want to understand how you can use Frank Gore, when will he be available in fantasy on the Jets? We will just say details on that and, “by the way, check out this article.” [inaudible] gives details about what Frank Gore’s impact may be on fantasy with the Jets. So always an opportunity just to do a little bit more. Why sports is based on emotion and fans retain that.

Gabe Larsen : (18:13)
Yes. Yeah. I love that. I think, actually, fans do want the self service. For a while, it was a little at a negative connotation, but as a fan, I kind of want to get– if I have those quick answers or quick questions, getting quick answers, I’d prefer to self serve.

Douglas Kramon: (18:29)
Yes. It’s exactly. I think fans prefer self service.

Gabe Larsen : (18:33)
I’m open to chat with somebody and obviously there’s very specific things sometimes where it’s like, look, there’s no bot that can help me with this. I gotta make two transitions from two airlines in two countries. Like I got to talk to someone about this flight, it’s too complicated.

Douglas Kramon: (18:48)
You used to say to our bot, “Agent.” Boom, it goes right to an agent. Our bots don’t take themselves too seriously. They know when to say, “Okay, I’m done.”

Gabe Larsen : (19:00)
Oh, yeah. Well, Doug, we’re coming to the end here. But, you’re my new favorite customer care expert. Loved our conversation. So fun to kind of hear some of the things you guys are doing to react, some of the priorities you’re taking and then just some of the advice you’ve given. And I’d like to end with that. As you think about the audience, other customer care leaders fight the same battles you’re fighting — obviously different brands, different situations, industry, but a lot of the same. We’re all we’re all in quarantine. Let’s see what last piece of advice you’d kind of give to make everybody feel, give them that tip that they can use to win.

Douglas Kramon: (19:35)
That’s a great question. Honestly, you’re not going to have great customer service or fan support as we call it. If this were Disney, we call it like guest support, or viewer support, or whatever it may be. Last year agents were feeling good. Now granted, our agents are now all working at home. They used to work in a center because it’s sports is collaborative and we know that a center is best for that. But when they’re working at home, my recommendation is you have happy agents. You will have happy fans. And it’s a challenge. So we have identified three things. We want to make sure that we have a motivating workspace for our agents. We want to ensure collaboration daily with other agents like you’re in the center. And we have a website where we do constant coffee breaks and we also award agents on a regular basis through what we call nutrition. So it’s workspace, collaboration, and nutrition. Remember these are [inaudible] agents. They’re with their families. So you had a great C-SAT? You’re going to get a family size pizza arriving at your door with a little note from ESPN saying, “Thank you for doing what you are doing.” with the C-SAT review directly below it and letting them know we appreciate them. That means they’re more likely to go to a comfortable workspace that they’ve set up for themselves, that they’re collaborating with others as if they’re in the center and they’re feeling good that we appreciate them. And we’re feeding them where the opportunity presents itself, because these are incredibly challenging times for family and for individuals. Our best is all about making sure we’re keeping our workplace agents happy and it shows in our C-SAT.

Gabe Larsen : (21:18)
I love that, man. Especially the food part. You know, it must be the young person in me. It’s like the food. I mean, it’s something small, but it makes a difference. So I love that idea. I think –

Douglas Kramon: (21:32)
I agree. We have UFC 249 coming up this weekend, which is the first real live sport opportunity — wings for everybody. So we’re excited about this.

Gabe Larsen : (21:42)
Douglas, we are bringing you back, man. I want to hear about that last part. We did not go deep enough into some of the things you’re doing with your employees. So consider yourself tapped again for round two, maybe in the next couple of months, but appreciate you joining. If someone wants to get in touch with you, learn a little bit more about what you’re doing, what’s the best way to do that?

Douglas Kramon: (22:01)
Sure, Linkedin. I’m right on there as Douglas Kramon, K – R – A – M – O – N. I’m happy to chat. I’m always open to learning new things and to sharing.

Gabe Larsen : (22:10)
Love it. Alright well hey, really appreciate your time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Douglas Kramon: (22:15)
You too Gabe! Thank you so very much.

Exit Voice: (22:22)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

The Digital Customer Service Revolution With Paolo Fabrizio

The Digital Customer Service Revolution With Paolo Fabrizio TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Paolo Fabrizio, author, speaker, and customer service expert to discuss digital customer service. Paolo has plenty of experience working with the integration of digital channels and with hiring and training digital customer service assistants. Paolo does this by leveraging conversations in social media, live chat and instant messaging apps for various industries with his knowledge of the digital landscape. Given his past experience and insightful courses, businesses would benefit from his advice on this episode. Listen to the full podcast below.

What is a Digital Customer Experience?

Paolo starts his conversation with Gabe by defining digital customer experience. This type of service is the conversation happening with the customer over digital channels. When Paolo refers to digital customer service or digital channels, he focuses on three main types: social media, live chat, and instant messaging apps. By learning to leverage these platforms and channels, businesses will notice an increase in customer satisfaction. To further define digital customer experience, Paolo states, “Digital customer service is not just using digital tools, digital platforms or digital channels; it’s taking care of each digital conversation you have with your customers in order to leverage conversations, to retain and attract customers.” Simply using the digital channels is not enough, instead these tools should be used with purpose and strategy.

The Digital Customer Service Assistant

Paolo goes on to discuss the importance of the characteristics of successful customer service reps in the digital realm. There are different skills required for reps in digital customer service than in more traditional channels. He says, “One of the most important traits that I look for when I hire agents in order to let them become digital customer service assistants is emotional intelligence. The ability to build empathy is the ability to instantly detect customer’s sentiment from the very first incoming message. That makes a difference.” Having this ability to empathetically communicate with the customer builds a sense of trust between the customer and the emotionally intelligent rep. It’s this empathetic communication that initially assures the customer that the agent will take care of their needs. Due to the dynamics of the digital platform, being able to immediately detect the tone of the customer and their needs will help harbor a more efficient and productive customer experience.

Courses to Help Your Customer Service Team Embrace the Digital Landscape

Lastly, Paolo speaks about three of his courses he offers on his website: Road Map, Coaching, and Crisis Response. The “Road Map” course offers help with designing an effortless experience when creating a customer journey map. By creating an effective journey map, especially when it comes to digital platforms, businesses will see customer satisfaction improve. The second course, “Coaching,” widely demanded by an array of customer service managers, helps to integrate customer service management skills into the digital realm. Paolo goes on to introduce his newest course titled, “Crisis Response.” Paolo mentions that this course helps everyone from managers to smaller teams with how to develop, “Your conversations across social channels, in order to help you optimize the quality of your conversations and be able to handle even very complex situations and conversations.” These courses are available through Paolo’s website, customerserviceculture.com. These three principles, journey mapping, management skills, and crisis response are frequently discussed among traditional CX channels. As businesses learn to apply them to their digital platforms, their customer service team will be able to keep improving with the industry and the customer.

To learn more about digital customer service and the work of Paolo Fabrizio, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

 

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Listen to “Using Digital Channels to Reach Your Customer Base | Paolo Fabrizio” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

The Digital Customer Service Revolution with Paolo Fabrizio

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about digital customer service and to do that, we brought on author, speaker, customer service expert, Paolo Fabrizio. Paolo, thanks for joining and how are you?

Paolo Fabrizio: (00:26)
Fine, thanks Gabe. Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:28)
Yeah, well, Paolo, we were just talking pre show a little bit about him being in Milan, Italy, and with all that’s going on in the world. I’m glad to hear that he is safe and secure, at least for the moment. So that was all good news to hear. Today, as I mentioned, we’re going to talk a little bit about digital customer service. Paolo, can you take just a minute and tell us maybe just a little bit more about yourself and kind of what you do?

Paolo Fabrizio: (00:54)
Yeah. Well, I have clients and integrate digital channels. When I say digital, I refer to three main pillars, which are social media, live chat, and instant messaging apps that will have clients of many various industries integrate such channels and hire and train digital customer service assistants — maybe we’ll talk about this topic later — and also helping managers manage new digital teams, setting up new KPIs as for digital channels and sometimes software selection. So I think we’ve got something that’s struggling together, talking about [inaudible] products and doing a lot of interesting stuff here in Italy and also in Europe as well.

Gabe Larsen: (01:40)
I love it. Oh, wow. Yeah. Well we better talk a little more. I didn’t realize there was so much connection on the software side as well. We’ll do that post post recording here. Awesome. Well, let’s dive into this topic maybe just for the big picture– you were touching on a little bit, but for those of us who aren’t as familiar with digital customer service, how would you define that? Or kind of label it, big picture?

Paolo Fabrizio: (02:02)
Yeah. Well, my first idea and what I bring with passion and every day is that digital customer service is not just using digital tools, digital platforms or digital channels; it’s taking care of each digital conversation you have with your customers in order to leverage conversations to retain and attract customers. So, I’ve always– I’ve been working so many years within companies before becoming a consultant five years ago, and I had the chance to cover so many customer facing roles. But I’ve seen then, and I still see sometimes today, that customer service organization is still much underrated. And it’s still much seen as a cost area instead of a profit area. The only way to turn this key and to turn this engine on is to work on interaction and conversations. So we’re living in a world where everything is based on speed and time. So if you make my time wasting, I get disappointed. If you let me save my time, I will be more– I will tend to stay with you for a longer time. So in terms of loyalty, that makes a difference; how quick we are and how effective we are makes a difference.

Gabe Larsen: (03:26)
No, I love that. And I think that’s obviously what we’re all looking for especially as times have changed, we need to be more and more effective. How do you kind of think about this question, I think it comes up often, it’s kind of the agents versus digital customer service assistance or people versus technology? How do you kind of talk through that when we think of this customer service, this digital customer service concept?

Paolo Fabrizio: 03:53)
Yeah. The starting point is that there are a lot of people doing a great job, helping customers using traditional channels, such as phone or email.

Gabe Larsen: (04:03)
Yes.

Paolo Fabrizio: (04:04)
But what I’ve seen as a consultant in many various industry is that if you let them change and switch from a traditional channel and let them handle the same customer, talking about the same topic on apps, on live chat, on social media, sometimes they make a mess because they are not ready, even though they got a big– a long expertise. They’re not ready to handle that situation because there are new factors that emerge on conversations across digital channels. In fact, one of the most important traits that I look for when I hire agents in order to let them become digital customer service assistants is emotional intelligence. The ability to build empathy is the ability to instantly detect customer’s sentiment from the very first incoming message, that makes a difference. So it’s partially a brand new job, even though we’re talking about sometimes very experienced people doing a great job. And after a couple of years — talking about this topic on my books and on my other online activities — last year I started working a lot with clients here in Italy and Europe to help them hire and train internally or sometimes externally — if they work with outsources — people who had some specific experience traits and some other areas of their potential that can be a power working on that. And we’ve seen great results after six or 12 months after they started to benchmark the results of these small digital team insight within customer service and the major, the bigger one, working on traditional channels. So they noticed. I got a client, the retail area, supermarket area that after 12 months they experienced that they’re small seven people team of digital customer service got one point better at customer satisfaction, four stars compared to the 3.2 of their same room, big traditional channel customer service. They increased 25% productivity. So in their peak hour, which is between 11:00 and 12:00 AM, they usually serve between six, eight customers over the phone. And they served between 15 and 17 customers over digital, especially on the social. So, you can enjoy, I wouldn’t say immediate, but very, very fast, great results in terms of productivity and also from the customer side, which is crucial customer satisfaction.

Gabe Larsen: (06:55)
And how do you, I mean, you touched on this a little bit, but how do you train them and hire them differently? I mean, we have kind of the standard agents, but then this is kind of a new world. These are sometimes different channels. What does that look like? Is it a lot different in the way you trained, is a lot different the type of people you hire?

Paolo Fabrizio: (07:11)
Yeah. Yeah. Because sometimes I’m working with different industries and also different structures, different people in terms of the level of expertise. But, my approach is more or less the same. Of course I customize, but the first thing for me is to listen and watch and analyze what they’re doing now. So I’ve got a first assessment step, which is also made online, of course, and then I’m able to detect what’s not working in their conversations. So I can find the pain points from the customer side, having worked so many years on the other side, okay, within companies; and after detecting the pain points, I define with managers, new guidelines, do’s and don’ts and tone of voice. And then I start working with them with the HR manager or customer service manager together to select a small group of people based on the current and predictable volumes of digital conversations. And I prepared, and I usually assess people with private personal interviews, temporize tests based on sentiment detections–

Gabe Larsen: (08:26)
Yes.

Paolo Fabrizio: (08:26)
— and then other tests. So I am able to learn how much they are motivated to leave the contact center. So do you want to lift the phone, or are you willing to roll your sleeves and try to learn something new? And second, do you have just a customer service approach or do you also have a commercial sales approach, which is very important when you deal on public channels, such as social media or online review sites? So I’m looking for those traits and when we define, when we hire together a small group starting from small, and then scalable group of people. I prepare and deploy a training program, which is usually divided into three steps, a workshop based on the guidelines we already set and define with management line.

Gabe Larsen: (09:17)
Yeah.

Paolo Fabrizio: 09:18)
Half of the time, try exercise. Exercise on your platform, on client’s platform, dealing with real live conversations with customers.

Gabe Larsen: (09:28)
Yep.

Paolo Fabrizio: (09:29)
So in the morning, there is theory; new guidelines, new laws, so to say. In the afternoon, you need it to apply so you can fix and realize what are the issues that you may find. After a couple of weeks, a follow up with a laboratory training in the morning and checking out what’s going on or what needs to be fixed in the afternoon. And the third part is that one to one coaching in order to get a consistent tone of voice by each of the digital customer service assistants. So it’s pretty articulate, but very interesting.

Gabe Larsen: (10:04)
Yeah, no, I love it. Interesting. I didn’t want to go into this too much, but it is very interesting. We talked a little bit about this idea. You’re really focusing on the digital side of it. And when you have– I just feel like those channels are more underused, right? As you said, they’re not the typical channels, phone and email are the typical channels. When companies are handling support through social media or live chat messaging apps, what are some of the peculiarities that you see, some of the differences you see when you work with some of these companies through those channels? Anything you could share there?

Paolo Fabrizio: (10:41)
Well, I still see many mistakes. So the first mistake is not considering how important an incoming message through social is, but it’s important if the same message is delivered through email. So in terms of “Shall I respond?, When do I need to respond?” So in terms of considering what the customer’s expectations are. So today, if you ask a question to a customer service through email, you may expect a response within 20, 24 hours maybe, or less. But if you send the same question, which is a neutral question, no urgency through Facebook, you expect an answer. You’re telling me that you expect an answer within six or eight hours. And if you use Twitter, you expect it within three hours. In motorway lanes, so email is the slow lane. Social is lower. Facebook is low. Twitter is very, very, very slow. So I’m using all the– pushing on the throttle to overcome the rest of the cars. So, first of all, you need to realize what’s behind the use of different channels. Then you need to customize the content because I usually work on what’s been said. I always say that if you write an excellent answer on this, on this paper, right? It’s an excellent answer for the customer. But if you use the most wonderful platform and you write bullshit, that’s bullshit. And that does not really depend on the platform or the access of it. So you need to customize, and beware that you need to change tone of voice moving from, switching from a digital channel to another. So social media– sorry, Facebook has got an informal party voice; Twitter, more journalistic, pragmatic tone of voice, live chat: professional informal, instant messaging between social and live chat? And then there are also other things when you have a live chat conversation, which to me is the most difficult channel to be served by agents because it’s a live direct conversation like the one we’re having right now. It’s like having a phone conversation. You cannot distract. You cannot check things for two minutes without advising what you’re doing, otherwise, the customer think, “Are you still alive, are you having another conversation? You’re not interested in me?” So you need to, taking care of each detail in terms of tone of voice, in terms of rules of engagement– engagement rules, and other things. This is much underrated. Still now, even though here in Italy and Europe something’s changing very, very rapidly in the last 12 months.

Gabe Larsen: (13:40)
But a lot of them moving more towards this type of stuff, I assume, correct?

Paolo Fabrizio: (13:47)
Yes.

Gabe Larsen: (13:48)
Yeah, absolutely. Interesting Paolo, I love this topic. I just feel like there’s so many people who are starting to see the benefits and really the customers are pushing them towards this digital, these digital channels that they weren’t as used to before. No more is phone and email. I mean, certainly those are still the primary ones, but so many businesses are experiencing some of these and I think you’re right on the cusp of, we did some training. We need to know how to use them, why to use them, how to integrate them, how to train around them, et cetera. So if someone wants to learn a little bit more about you or some of the stuff you do, what’s the best way to do that?

Paolo Fabrizio: (14:23)
Well, the best way to do it is to have a look at my website, which is called customerserviceculture.com. Then from mid-April on, it will be totally translated into English. That’s good news, including new blog posts. And also my online training courses will be available also for English speaking.

Gabe Larsen: (14:43)
And what are those courses?

Paolo Fabrizio: (14:46)
You know, the main focus are three. So the first is called the roadmap. It helps you develop a digital customer service strategic plan. So where should I start from with video lessons and other interactions? The second one Is called coaching digital customer service managers. And it’s been demanded by customer service managers, who are experienced, that need to integrate their digital skills. One-to-one live coaching. The third one, the newest one, is called crisis response and it’s also extending not just to managers, but also to small teams of five people. And where we work on your conversations across social channels, in order to help you optimize the quality of your conversations and be able to handle even very complex situations and conversations.

Gabe Larsen: (15:40)
I love it. I love it. Alrighty. Well, Paolo, I really appreciate that. We’ll make sure we include some of that information so everyone can check that out. Thank you again for joining and hope you have a fantastic day.

Paolo Fabrizio: (15:51)
Thank you so much, indeed. Best of luck for Kustomer.

Exit Voice: (16:00)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Employees: Your Most Loyal Customers With Vipula Gandhi

Employees: Your Most Loyal Customers With Vipula Gandhi TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Vipula Gandhi, the current Managing Director at Gallup, to discuss customer service data and the connection between customers and employees. Vipula has a wealth of experience, working in several industries from banking, to hospitality, to consulting. She has also worked all over the world in India and Singapore; and cities such as Dubai, London and now Washington D.C. As a true expert in the field, her insights on customer and employee engagement are sure to help businesses improve their customer service experience. Listen to the full podcast below.

Customers Feelings Are Facts

Vipula discusses with Gabe that companies need to understand their customers to succeed. She notes that while most CX tactics and strategies are focused on rationale, logic, and the process that the customer goes through, the most important and effective strategies involve the emotions of the customer. Data, effective strategies, and measurable company growth can come from a study of the effects of emotion. Vipula wisely states, “…to customers, the feelings are facts. So what our research and science has shown is that customers make their decisions largely based on emotional factors.” This science of the impacts of emotion is relatively new, but dramatically improves the customer experience. Gabe responds and summarizes this point by stating, “…it’s about trying to tap into some of those maybe emotional aspects of the customer experience, but then bring that back to actionable or rational drivers that you can do to drive that emotional experience.”

How Complaints Can Actually Increase Brand Loyalty

Another interesting discussion point between Gabe and Vipula is the idea that if complaints and problems are handled correctly, it increases the emotional connection customers have with the brand. It ultimately leads to organic growth as they share their experience with friends or post about it on the company page. Vipula describes this with the following example: “You use the product or service, you had a problem, you call a customer service agent, or you did that over email, and you explained your problems and the way they recovered that problem for you made that emotional connection stronger. So data tells us that within complaints are your opportunities.” Seeing complaints and problems as opportunities to not only improve your customer experience process, but to show the customer that you are there for them and are capable of helping them is the necessary mindset that all businesses need to have.

The Importance of Treating Your Employees With Care

Lastly, Vipula highlights the importance of treating employees with as much care and respect as the customers. She states, “Employees are consumers of the workplace and just like we treat customers, if you want to keep them, if you want to build an enduring talent brand that transcends time, employees have to be taken care of.” Employees that are taken care of and know they are valued and appreciated will work harder and build relationships with customers. This will increase productivity and profitability. Vipula notes that people cannot share what they do not possess and so employees that feel valued will be able to share that and help customers feel valued. In turn, that will increase brand loyalty. To continue to highlight the power of the relationship between employees and customers, Vipula ends by sharing this point of data from their research. “When companies harness the power of these two insights … they had about a 240% boost to their key metrics like sales, referrals, retention, growth.” This strategy works and businesses are already seeing the benefits of it.

To learn more about customers, employees and how to drive customer engagement, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

 

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Listen to “Vipula Gandhi | Employee and Customer Engagement” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Employees: Your Most Loyal Customers With Vipula Gandhi

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi welcome everybody. I’m excited to get going. Today we’re going to be talking about employee and customer engagement, the power of managing both of them to drive customer loyalty. To do that, we brought on Vipula Gandhi. She’s currently a Managing Director at Gallup and Vipula and I actually go pretty far back now that we’re getting older. We were chatting the other day and it’s been multiple years, five plus years since we’ve spoken, but Vipula has an international array of experience. Originally started in India, London, Dubai, Singapore. She’s currently residing in Washington, D.C. and has worked in hospitality and consulting and banking. And so when it comes to the customer experience and the employee experience, not only is she kind of eat, drink and sleep some of that in practitioner land, but also from a consultant, and now obviously at Gallup helping companies figure out this interesting dynamic between the employee and the customer engagement. So Vipula, thanks for joining. How are you?

Vipula Gandhi: (01:13)
There you go. Thank you Gabe, I’m excited to be here.

Gabe Larsen: (01:16)
Yeah, I think this is going to be a fun talk track. Again, we have some fun history together as we both worked for Gallup in Dubai, five, six years ago, but I gave a brief overview of Vipula, but can you tell us just a little bit more about yourself and then specifically kind of what you guys do over at Gallup?

Vipula Gandhi: (01:31)
Absolutely. So Gabe, as you’re very, very aware, I’m passionate about leveraging human potential. Whether they are employees, they are leaders or they are customers, I guess just directing all the potential towards organic growth with health societies and countries. So that’s why I am really excited to turn up to work every day, whether or not in quarantine times, just to my office here in the house. At Gallup today, I am the managing partner and I look after the business strategy, the business performance and talent for the consulting side of Gallup, and really excited to be here today.

Gabe Larsen: (02:10)
Yeah, no, I appreciate it. Gallup’s been legendary, not only in its research, but I think in the private domain, in the business domain, but obviously in the public domain. Do you do much with any kind of polling or the stuff around that stuff? No, right? You focus more on the business…

Vipula Gandhi: (02:29)
I focus on the consulting side, where I help organizations drive organic growth through employee and customer work. Although a lot of our polling work is also of interest to our corporate clients, so when those two merge, I work on that. For example, we have a corporate client whose vision and mission is to focus on women’s health globally. Now, we can dip into a lot of our expertise and polling across the world to figure out the current state, the challenges and the opportunities, and track measurement of future progress made. So sometimes the worlds collide.

Gabe Larsen: (03:05)
I just love that side of it, right? I mean, the thing that I’ve always valued about Gallup is just the research based approach, right? Sometimes when you get into this employee and customer world, it can get a little more touchy feely, but some of the research and the data that you guys have brought to it, I think is interesting, and hopefully we’ll get into a little bit of that there. So with that in mind, let’s just set up the big picture. We think about employee experience, we think about customer experience, what is wrong with the way we are currently thinking about customer experience today?

Vipula Gandhi: (03:37)
Thank you so much, Gabe. And I think that’s an awesome question. And as I think about how do we really compete in the market? In any organization that you work for, we compete on either price or we compete on the product and service features, or we compete on something called this customer experience, that’s a bit more gray and hazy and an area that allows you to innovate and do new things. So customer experience is what helps us differentiate in what we are trying to do. Now, even before the COVID-19 hit us five weeks ago, at least here in Washington, D.C., what we were seeing was two big challenges organizations were facing with customer experience. The first was really, we are information rich today, but insights poor. Now, we all know that we need insights that we can impact, or immediately action, as well as think about how we can strategically focus our work in the future. So once you have the right data, you need those insights that you can action on and then you have people who are enabled and empowered to deliver on those experiences. So the first question is, do you have the right data? A lot of organizations focus a lot on rational aspects of relationships and Gallup talks a lot about our research and experience on the emotional aspects of customer relationships. So, do you have the data and is it at the right level at which you can create action? And what we have seen when we work with organizations Gabe, is that the focus really gets on administering a client experience platform or a program and managing data rather than focusing on actually implementing the changes that we need to do from the insights we gathered from the data.

Gabe Larsen: (05:32)
That’s so true, right? It’s like —

Vipula Gandhi: (05:33)
Yeah. Absolutely. You just, all the focus goes there, Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (05:36)
Yeah. We love the net promoter score, right? We love to administer that survey to our customers and then we don’t do anything with it. It’s like, “Okay, our MPS is blank. Alright, moving on,” and then we kind of go somewhere else.

Vipula Gandhi: (05:52)
I would just talk a little bit more about that Gabe, really, because it is easy to say it’s actually hard work. You and I have done that, changing stuff. But the other challenge I’ve seen organizations facing, Gabe, is around difficulty in managing the cumulative experiences across multiple touch points and multiple channels over time. Now, we all know that our research has very clearly demonstrated that customers do not identify their relationship with an organization to one channel or — but a sum of every touch point. So, it is not easy in the world of omnichannel when people are looking you up on the internet and actually doing the transaction somewhere else, and the connectedness between the two is something that organizations face challenges with. And then COVID-19 struck. We haven’t even spoken about COVID-19. I mean, managing change and managing change and managing customers was difficult to say in stable times and over the last five weeks, if you’re not a healthcare and not a grocery organization, you’re actually risking irrelevance in the market. And all your customer satisfaction matrix and customer journeys have been thrown out of the window in the times of crisis, and all they’re talking about is addressing our customers; what they need today, here and now. How do we, Gabe, provide our services to them to empower teams and foster decision making in a safe way today? But right now, even government organizations and our clients are realizing that we have now come into a phase of next and beyond COVID-19. So, we know that a lot has been written about how customer preferences and business models will outlast the crisis. So how are you going to endure in this new normal, in and out on blackout periods, in a more digitized world, with lower cost structures and new value propositions? So I guess all of us have a challenge in front of us.

Gabe Larsen: (07:52)
Yeah. It really is. And I want to hone in on one thing you said just a minute ago, because I think it is really pertinent to the conversation; but it’s this idea of rational versus emotional, in the way in which we kind of think about and measure that. Can you just double click on that for a second? Because I think it’s again very important to the world we’re now in, because we certainly — and I don’t know the, I’m not the expert on — but there’s certainly a rational element to it like, “I want my stuff, like I need fast recovery or fast stuff.” But also, there is an emotional element like, “My life is — I’m feeling things I haven’t felt” and to be able to tap into that. Can you talk about how you guys think through that a little more?

Vipula Gandhi: (08:37)
Absolutely. So, Gallup’s customer experience science is truly built on the foundation that to customers, the feelings are facts. So what our research and science has shown is that customers make their decisions largely based on emotional factors. I want you to think about the time you got married or you bought your new house, were you rational, or were you emotional? So if you design your customer experiences on rationality alone you will lose out. Now, rationality is important. Think about transactions, scheduling, inventory, communication models, these are very important. They build foundations, but the emotional aspects, that are trust, hope, friendship, pride, that’s what makes our decision. I’ll give you an example. Think about wait times. Right? A lot of times organizations are chasing wait times, reducing wait times for customers. And wait time is a rational phenomenon.

Gabe Larsen: (09:43)
Absolutely.

Vipula Gandhi: (09:43)
But, [inaudible] what we have found is that it’s not even the wait time that matters, it’s the perceived wait time that is more important. So, not exactly how many minutes I waited, but how many minutes I felt that I waited standing in a queue to get to a person at the branch trying to serve you. And the more that they put a television there, they give you a form to fill, they come and talk to you. They have ensured that no table looks empty because then you will feel that wait time is longer because the number of agents are less than they should be. So how do you manage the perceived wait time is actually solving the emotional need. But I’d also ask, think about the best of the brands that you use and how you feel about them. And everybody knows what a great job Apple has done with it. It’s about how you feel having bought an Apple product, that sense of pride, that sense of having higher — trusting that you have the best screen size, the best processing power and things like that. But it’s really about how it makes you feel to be a customer of that brand that matters.

Gabe Larsen: (10:58)
Yeah. Yeah. That’s so interesting because it does feel like we’re not doing that. What I mean by that is if it’s not the instrument, right, the surveys that we often do, it is we’re often focusing on the rational side of it, right? The wait time thing, so interesting, right? Because we — Oh, that’s such a powerful example. It’s not about the wait time, it’s about the satisfaction with the wait time or the perceived wait time as you kind of phrased it. You may not have an opinion on this, but why do we not go into that emotional element? Is it because of the survey instruments that we’ve often created that just focus on the rationale and therefore we manage and kind of action around those? Is it, we just haven’t understood that when it comes to human decision making, the emotional side is more valuable than just the rational side? What’s the, I feel like when I’m talking to you, like, it’s so true, but I don’t think most companies get that. Am I wrong?

Vipula Gandhi: (11:59)
You’re absolutely right. And if you just think about, the rational is easy to put your arms around it, right? Emotions are tougher. I can give you the fact that when you say emotionality, what you’re measuring in your surveys are things like, how long did you wait? Did we meet your needs of what you’ve called us for? But rather thinking, how this individual felt that entire exchange went? Does he feel that the promises that were made to him were kept? Does he feel that they are proud to be a partner to you? Do you feel that the promise is kept, and this is a [inaudible] company that solves my needs. Now this is a, you know, a little bit of an ambiguous concept. And the other fact is that neuroscience and behavioral economics that have brought this emotionality aspect of economic decision making of humans being emotional is just, maybe 50, 70 years old; not like other sciences, which are, economics, which is based on rationality, which has been there for hundreds of years. A little bit of a new field of science, relatively difficult to put arms around it. However, now Gallup has written a lot about it. We have figured out how you drive these emotional outcomes to some rational drivers and behaviors and obviously values [inaudible]. A little bit tougher, but can be done.

Gabe Larsen: (13:30)
That makes more sense because I’m thinking, some of the questions you asked and I’m thinking of instruments, just because of the world of customer service, customer experience, we all love our net promoter scores and our C-SAT and things like that. But the questions you were kind of phrasing and you’ve said them, but I’m forgetting them, but they weren’t the typical, “Do you recommend” question? How satisfied were you? They seem to go a little above and beyond, but I love the tie in that you mentioned, it’s about trying to tap into some of those maybe emotional aspects of the customer experience, but then bring that back to actionable or rational drivers that you can do to drive that emotional experience. That’s a cool, tie-in, that’s fun.

Vipula Gandhi: (14:15)
Maybe also give you another example Gabe, now that we’re talking about that subject, right? We all want to ensure that no customers are dissatisfied with us or not complaining to us. What we have found through science and through our experience and working with clients in this area is that we don’t want people to complain, obviously, but when people complain, there’s an opportunity for you to actually increase the emotional engagement with the brand after the complaint, more than what it was possible before the complaint. Let me explain that to you. You use the product or service, you had a problem, you call a customer service agent, or you did that over email, and you explained your problems and the way they recovered that problem for you made that emotional connection stronger. So data tells us that within complaints are your opportunities. And I just want to mention this thing about this company called Chewy. Now, because you have pets Gabe and we love our pets–

Gabe Larsen: (15:17)
I just got done walking my dog. I just got done walking my dogs. Yeah.

Vipula Gandhi: (15:20)
So I love the example of chewy.com on customer experience because a lot has been written about Apple so we don’t want to go there. But, Chewy is the online provider of pet foods and supplies and tries to provide differentiated customer experience, and it competes with Amazon. They have raised, doubled down on the customer centric culture and basically it’s very refreshing when you hear chewy.com say how they trust agents to treat their customers right. And they provide empowerment to the agent level. So there’s a couple of stories going on on Facebook. I don’t know whether it came to your wall or not. It’s about a lady who basically wrote to chewy.com that she has these bags of pet food; a dog, and a cat pet food, and she lost the dog 15 days ago and then lost the cat two days ago. It was really bad timing for her. So she said, “Can you take my two pet food bags back?” Chewy.com actually responded to her. They basically told her that they refunded her money, they asked her to donate those bags of food to the local shelter. A week later they sent her a set of flowers and it was a non-scripted e-mail, non-scripted handwritten letter saying, “We really think,” they named the pets by name, and they said, “Losing two, this is so sad,” a beautiful message with big flowers. And this lady actually went up online and organically gave feedback about her customer experience. And that’s not the only one online on Chewy’s customer service and lots of people have been about pet portraits and how they get mail saying that it’s getting hot right now, “How to prevent your dog,” and they always name the dog by name, and how — in this weather. So you see how they go above and beyond. And that’s the connection you mentioned about employees, right? You can deliver this kind of service that our employees and the customers of chewy.com are really their brand ambassador. I don’t know how many of my friends are actually coming to me about using them, keep in mind that they don’t have a reference program for customers. Customers are doing this because they are just so happy with what they have, whether it’s their videos on YouTube, whether it is 24 seven phone service, it’s just amazing how they are dealing with it. And it’s out there for everyone to see on wall street.

Gabe Larsen: (17:54)
No, I love it. I’d love it because that’s a great example of just doing it differently. And again, I think tapping into some of both the rational and the emotional side of the equation. As a followup to that, one of the unique things about Gallup is this employee side and how you guys try to kind of bring both the employee and customer experience together. Can you touch a little bit on the employee side and how you guys kind of see that fitting in?

Vipula Gandhi: (18:22)
Absolutely. So, employees are consumers of the workplace and just like we treat customers, if you want to keep them, if you want to build an enduring talent brand that transcends time, employees have to be taken care of. And talent is always important and I know we went from historically lowest unemployment rates a couple of months ago to 26 million unfortunate job losses in the last few months, but talent will always be important and treating customer right starts with treating employees right. Gabe, you can’t give away what we don’t have. You can’t bring happiness if you don’t have it yourself and you feel unfairly treated. And a lot of founders, whether it’s the founder of Virgin or Southwest, they all have spoken largely about the importance of treating employees right, and especially in the service industry Gabe, it is extremely important that we understand the role employees play to deliver that experience. At Chewy.com, ensuring that they feel they can bring their talent to the role, and then they have the empowerment to do that. And everybody knows Ritz-Carlton’s empowering their people to deliver great service. Some of the iconic brands have always, always trusted their frontlines, ensuring they hired the right people with the right talent and give them the empowerment they need to bring delight to the customers. So, it’s a crucially important role in any customer experience that you will design.

Gabe Larsen: (19:55)
Yeah. I love that because I do feel like it’s, oftentimes we manage them separately. We think about them separately. We’ll get an NPS score and then we’ll get maybe an employee engagement score or some sort of employee satisfaction score. One is run by product or by customer experience or by marketing, and the other is run by HR and they don’t make a correlation. They don’t see that, “Hey, maybe our customer service reps are the most dissatisfied and they’re the ones who engage with our customers the most.” Should we talk about that because they’re always so separate? But that philosophy of kind of bringing that together makes, I think, a lot of sense and I’m surprised that more organizations don’t do that. Why do you think a lot of organizations don’t do that? Is it just because the one’s kind of typically been run over here and one’s been run over there?

Vipula Gandhi: (20:48)
So it’s really the organizational structures. You and me are very aware Gabe that activating great customer experience takes commitment from leadership. It does take measurement. That’s important. It takes advanced analytics, and more importantly, it actually takes accountability and follow through in the front lines to actually deliver it. Now, we know that when employees create an emotional connection with the customer, it does have a profound implication for productivity and profitability. When was the last time you went to a store and you entered the store in a retail environment and the person was there not even helping you choose dresses? And sometimes they really help you and you really kind of end up buying four things when you went up to buy one. It does matter. And when employees know how to make most of those moments that engage customers, we know that customers will spend more, they visit you more often, they will resist competitive overtures and they promote the company brand to others, and also forgive the occasional service blunder that we all commit. So it’s important to build that connection. In the organization, generally, these two things are looked at in different places. However, by serendipity, one of our clients, sometime like 15 years ago, we actually discovered that we were working with them on both employee side and customer side, driving those experiences, and we looked at the stores, the top 10 stores on employee experience driving, and we looked at the list of top 10 stores that customer experience was being done well. And we hypothesized that there’d be a lot of commonality between the two. Low and behold, we found that those two lists only had one store in common. That was something that surprised us in the data. And then as we started looking and doing some business analysis on the impact on business value, they looked at the fact that if companies just focused on driving employee experience, they got a 70% boost. If you look at companies that only focus on customer experiences, they also realize about that much. However, when companies harness the power of these two insights and parallels and they were doing both well, they had about a 240% boost to their key metrics like sales, referrals, retention, growth. If you found the data, it came as a surprise to us as well, and we then repeated this hypothesis with multiple other clients, and we found that data tells you, it is just better to look at both these matrix together. So we can have employees who are engaged, who are talented, who want great experiences and who are empowered to then deliver on those engaging customer experiences, which will be great for organic growth.

Gabe Larsen: (23:47)
Oh, wow. Interesting. And that was, what kind of industry was that?

Vipula Gandhi: (23:51)
That was the retail industry because they had hundreds of stores across the U.S. and you need good data to at least do the first few experiments. So that really worked well. And it was so serendipitous that we came to this finding.

Gabe Larsen: (24:04)
Wow. So like a 2X, 2.4, 2.5X, when you were able to kind of start looking at those together. Interesting Vipula. Well, I love the talk track. We might have to do this again. You seem to be just full of interesting facts and tidbits. Obviously you’ve been doing it a long time, so I’m not surprised. We’ve hit a lot of different items, the rationale, emotional, the customer, the employee, and kind of managing them together. As you think about customer experience leaders out there, customer service leaders, is there a word kind of advice you’d give them as we leave today about how they can do their job better, especially in the current environment?

Vipula Gandhi: (24:44)
Absolutely. And I would start by saying, you have to, in this next and beyond phase of COVID-19, you have to restart with customers. What you have done so far to engage your customers, don’t take that for granted. I was a big loyal person of Marriott, and I loved their CEO’s talk about, very emotional talk about LinkedIn, actually about how he had to let go of people and how they’re hoping for things to start again. But in spite of all that, I love them. I love their leaders. I was concerned that they lost so many people, they lost money, is this still a safe place? Would they really, clean displays [inaudible] that’s important. And then I’m reading about how they are getting the hospital grade disinfectants in hospitality now. So all I’m saying is you need to regain engagement of customers in a limited budget and time. So we have to restart with customers and you have to redesign your customer experience because how to target new channels, how to target different customer segments, and how to cater to post COVID safety and quality and other concerns that your customers will have. New channels, if your expertise was meant to say branch experience, things that moved on to digital more, now how we want to deliver a human experience through technology? How to cut off new channels that you didn’t use before, like WhatsApp. How are these channels going to be safe? How are they going to be error free? How are they going to be — what would the new channel experience look like? So we have to restart with the customer. We have to redesign our customer experiences and we have to keep close to our customers, listen to our customers and listen to our front lines because that’s where we get fast ideas in a limited budget to think about what the future holds for us. So, you know, I’m deep into — I love thinking through this, this is a new challenge, and I truly believe in the era of the great human spirit. We will come over this challenge and forge ahead.

Gabe Larsen: (26:57)
I love it. Those are inspiring words. We need to overcome it because it certainly, for many people has been a very, very challenging time. Well Vipula, I really appreciate you joining. If someone wants to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about Gallup and some of the things you guys do over there, what’s the best way to do that?

Vipula Gandhi: (27:18)
Digital, LinkedIn. My name is Vipula Gandhi. Do connect with me on LinkedIn and I would love to continue the conversations. This is a subject close to my heart so –.

Gabe Larsen: (27:24)
We can tell, we can tell. Again, thank you so much for taking the time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Vipula Gandhi: (27:30)
Thank you so much.

Exit Voice: (27:37)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Providing a Golden Experience With Jason Henne

Providing a Golden Experience With Jason Henne TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Jason Henne, Director of Customer Service at Momentum Solar, to discuss customer service for high-end brands and how to maintain brand reputation in new and existing industries. Jason Henne started his career in CX 26 years ago working for a telecommunications company as a service rep. After moving his way up the company and switching to luxury packaged goods, he has spent the last 15 years at the VP/Director level on customer service for luxury or big ticket products. He and Gabe discuss valuable insights into ideas of tired customer service. Listen to the full podcast below.

Examples, Definitions and Results of White Glove Customer Experience

Gabe and Jason start their conversation off by discussing the definition of white glove customer experience and if it only applies to big ticket customers. Jason notes that while there is a need to make sure that high paying customers get their money’s worth, every customer is valuable. When you work with luxury brands, that expectation is already there. White glove customer service is going above and beyond what the customer expects, even when they are expecting a lot because it is a luxury brand. Jason shares an example of luxury dealership vs any other dealership. He states, “You go into a Lexus dealership, for instance, … you are getting red carpet treatment. “Okay, sir, would you like a bagel? Would you like me to make a cup of coffee for you?” And they keep you updated regularly on your situation and you’ll get a loaner car if you need, you’re not going to get that with the lower end brands.”

How to Uphold Brand Reputation and Recognition

Another important aspect of customer service that Gabe and Jason discuss is the need for positive brand recognition and reputation. Jason is currently working at Momentum Solar, a new industry that typically has a negative connotation. However, his company has done a few things to separate themselves from the negative connotation of their competitors. The first thing they do to build recognition and reputation is educating the customer on the industry, then the company. Jason states, “And then after they’re educated on solar in general, we also want to make sure, obviously as our selling point to let them know the benefits of going with us again, brand reputation, white glove customer service.”

The next thing Jason does with his team to ensure a positive brand reputation is taking every review seriously and getting other departments involved. Solving problems and having the budget to go above and beyond for customers requires department coordination. Positive discussions have to take place with the finance department and the sales team so that they can approve budgets and be aware of any changes made. To summarize, Jason notes, “we’re all working … and coordinating and going into conference rooms and huddle areas and coming up with ideas and talking about issues. … Number one, because we need to make it right for the customer. Number two, if we need to implement a company wide change so this specific issue doesn’t happen again, we need to make that change. So then our sales team can be informed of that change. So they’re educating the customer correctly.”

The Goal of Golden or White Glove CX Experience

As a final piece of advice for companies trying to adjust and improve their customer experience, Jason reminds companies what the goal is for the CX department. He states, “By the time we get them off the phone, let’s have them realize that they are glad that they did call us.” No customer actually wants to call the customer service department to try and get their issue resolved, but it is necessary. Because of this necessity, Jason points out that it is the job of the CX department to make sure that the phone call or interaction with the customer is as effortless as possible and that the customer leaves happy and satisfied. For a final piece of motivation for companies to remember this goal and strive for it, Jason states, “By keeping and making these customers happy, you’re going to keep that positive reputation and you’re going to keep giving them that white glove customer service.”

To learn more about how to adapt your business to the new market, 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:

Providing a Golden Experience With Jason Henne

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right. Welcome everybody to today’s show. We’re excited to get going. We’re going to be talking about two things here. Number one is, how to really drive customer experience with high-end brands. When you’re talking about big ticket items, that real red carpet experience. In addition, we want to navigate through how to manage reputation a little bit in challenging times or in challenging industries. We’ve got such an interesting guest with such a diverse background. We wanted to hit a couple of different topics today. So to do that, we brought on Jason Henne. He’s currently the Director of Customer Service at Momentum Solar. Jason, thanks for joining. How are you?

Jason Henne: (00:51)
I am doing great. Thanks very much for having me today. I really appreciate it.

Gabe Larsen: (00:55)
Yeah. Yeah. It’s always fun to talk to someone who’s got such a — a lot of experience in CX, lot of different roles, et cetera. I think it will be a fun talk track. Can you just double click a little bit on your experience and background and talk a little bit about that?

Jason Henne: (01:10)
Yeah, sure. Sure. First and foremost, I just want to make sure everybody is safe and sound and healthy and doing good and all that, especially in these crazy times, but yeah. So I’ve been in customer service now, this is my 26th year. I started in 1994 in telecommunications as literally a customer service rep on the phones for a telecom company working the 4-40 shift. So I worked 10 hours a day, four days a week, the overnight shift, and then got three days off in a row. And through the years I worked my way up from a call center rep to team lead, to manager, to national account manager, to senior manager. And then I shifted out of telecom into consumer packaged goods on the luxury end where I became a director. And I’ve stayed at the director and VP level now for the past 15 years and anything from, like I said, I started in telecom, but, at least over the past decade or so, I’ve been in what we would consider luxury or big ticket items where you really need to give that white glove and red carpet customer service.

Gabe Larsen: (02:19)
I love that. Yeah, that’s quite the diversified experience. I think it’ll be fun to hear about some of those different experiences. So let’s dive in and maybe we can start with this high end customer service experience; big ticket items, “white glove” as you kind of phrase it as. How do you, if you just kind of for the audience, is it really that much different of motion when you kind of are working for a Porsche versus a Toyota for example. I mean —

Jason Henne: (02:49)
Sure.

Gabe Larsen: (02:49)
Isn’t it customer experience or is it really that much different?

Jason Henne: (02:53)
So you’d like the customer to think that customer experience is customers experience; however, in reality, that really isn’t the case. When you’re working telecom or a cable company or anything like that, they get you on the phone, they get you off the phone. They take care of your problem. That’s it. However, when, just like you said, when you’re talking about Porsche, Cadillac, any luxury brand where they’re spending the money in one big lump sum, whether it’s a finance or a lease or a large purchase, or just sometimes the brand name itself, there’s a reputation that you have to uphold to keep that brand reputation and that brand recognition. So the customers expect that and the customers demand that. So whether it be, I’ll give you an example. When I worked in telecom, we got graded as reps on our average call time. They wanted to keep the calls at, I believe it was, four minutes or less.

Gabe Larsen: (03:57)
Got it.

Jason Henne: (03:58)
I moved on into luxury and I became a leader in the luxury realm. I took call time and threw it out the window. I don’t care if you’re on the phone with a customer for an hour, if you are giving them service that they need at the service that they deserve. And most importantly, resolving their problem, if possible on that one call, that one call resolution. That’s what matters because they’re going to then get off the phone and say, wow, I was really treated great. And then, say they’re at a dinner party or talking to their friends or something and they’re comparing what brands they use or what company they use, that one person could tell the 10 or 15 people that they’re at a dinner party with; “Yeah, well, I’m using X brand and I had an issue with them a few weeks ago and I called them up and wow, they handled everything I needed in an hour and they didn’t rush me. I didn’t feel rushed. And they handled my situation perfectly.”

Gabe Larsen: (04:54)
What I love. And I love that. So it’s a different, there’s certain things you can do in kind of that luxury environment that you probably just can’t really do in kind of that velocity environment, where you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of transactions and customers.

Jason Henne: (05:11)
Right. And you nailed it when you did the comparison versus Porsche and another type of car. You go in to get your car service and say, you have, I don’t know, a Ugo from like the eighties, if you could find a place that services, and you go and, “All right. Yeah. We’ll take care of it, have a seat.” Well, whatever. You go into a Lexus dealership, for instance, or a Porsche dealership, you are getting red carpet treatment. “Okay, sir, would you like a bagel? Would you like me to make a cup of coffee for you?” And they keep you updated regularly on your situation and you’ll get a loaner car if you need, you’re not going to get that with the lower end brands.

Gabe Larsen: (05:49)
Right.

Jason Henne: (05:50)
So again, it’s brand reputation, it’s word of mouth. And that’s what I take in, in where I am now at Momentum Solar. We are a big ticket item. We really are. It’s not an inexpensive purchase and there are so many benefits to it. And because we know that the customers are spending a good amount of money on their product, if they have an issue with their product or with their contractor, a billing issue, which we have to explain to them, I don’t care how long we’re on the phone with them for. I don’t care if it takes 60, 90 minutes to go over step by step of the agreement or go over their billing with them piece by piece. I want to make sure that when the conversation is done, their situation is resolved, they have peace of mind, and they were wowed by our customer service.

Gabe Larsen: (06:43)
Yeah, I do. I think that’s the right mentality. I love the examples. So one is the phone call, for example, right? Where you kind of ditch the call time and said, “Let’s just focus on whatever we need to focus on to get this right.” And ditch that kind of call time. As you’ve worked with some of your luxury brands in your past, are there other of those types of examples where you did, you kind of got into the specifics of doing it differently, kind of —

Jason Henne: (07:14)
Yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (07:15)
Asked differently, et cetera?

Jason Henne: (07:18)
Yeah, absolutely. I was at, I spent a year as a head of customer service for a very high end interior wall covering company. And my boss who was the chief operations officer, his name is Mike. He was, and what he taught me, and he was so big on integrity. And listen, I’ve always been big on integrity, but they took it to another level and say something wrong happened and you know it was our fault or it was just something that couldn’t be out of everybody’s wheelhouse, right. We knew it was no one’s fault of our own. Maybe it was a shipper or something, but it fell on us and we needed to make it right. Not only do you give the apology, do you make it right, you then, we then went above and beyond. Right. And what I mean by that is, okay, let’s make this more personal. We’re going to send them maybe a bouquet of flowers with an apology note, or we work with a vendor that supplied fudge and brownies for us. So we would send them a box of chocolates with an apology note, or a simple thing such as a balloon or something like that, just to apologize. And I think the integrity and taking accountability of maybe it wasn’t our fault 100%, but we know the onus does fall on us and we’re going to make it right. And we’re going to show you that we’re sorry, and we’re going to show you that we are continually there for you.

Gabe Larsen: (08:50)
Got it. Yeah. So you really did, I mean, you’ve found a way again to just go. It’s almost like in a regular brand, they have these, I say regular brand, but they have these kinds of premier, platinum, the gold, silver, bronze, but it’s like you’re only delivering that gold service, right? Whether it’s a phone call issue resolution. Do you find that, I mean, more companies want to deliver, more companies want to do some of the things you’re talking about. It’s just that it’s too timely and too costly. Right? There’s just gotta be a balance. You just can’t, you can’t do that, you can’t give the bagels to everybody. Right?

Jason Henne: (09:29)
Right, right. You’re right. So, what you have to do is a lot, I don’t want to say begging, but make sure you’re vocal in your finance meetings when you’re talking about your operational expenses, when you’re talking about your capital expenses for the next year. “Hey, Cap X for next year. Okay. On the operational side, we know we might need a few more reps because our call volume, our average call time is still higher. Let’s make sure that we have the Cap X in there for some extra computers for next year. So balance out any additional headcount. Let’s make sure, put your ideas to them, to the finance department when you’re going over your budget for the next year. Make your case, state your case, create a PowerPoint presentation, give reasons why, get surveys from your customers and show them what the customers want. That really does help.

Gabe Larsen: (10:27)
Yeah. Yeah. Do you recommend, I like the planning because I think some people want to deliver that exceptional customer experience, but you mentioned Cap X for example, it’s like, they’re not thinking about the things that need to be in place to do that. Well, you might need some additional headcounts, some different machines, technology, computers, et cetera. Anything else you’ve done double click on that. Like, “Hey, if you’re going to really plan to deliver a great customer experience or go above and beyond a budget people,” anything else you’d highlight in that aspect?

Jason Henne: (10:59)
Yeah, training. You make sure your reps are fully trained on every type of material, product, or service that you’re delivering. So when they’re on the phone with the customer, they don’t have to say, “Ah, I don’t know. Let me find out and call you back.” You want to make sure —

Gabe Larsen: (11:16)
That empowerment, right?

Jason Henne: (11:18)
Yeah. Yeah. And you want to make sure that rep has that knowledge right off the bat. And if it’s a lot to take in, make sure you have a very well rounded and full and easy to navigate knowledge base.

Gabe Larsen: (11:33)
So they can actually get the answers that they potentially want. Right?

Jason Henne: (11:36)
Exactly. And make sure that the knowledge base stays updated because things change constantly and you don’t want to miss anything and tell the customer something from four years ago that might not be applicable now.

Gabe Larsen: (11:48)
Yeah, welcome to everybody’s world. Right? That, that, that darn going, gonna curse. What would you kind of advise? Or, how would you advise clients who are thinking about, I’m forgetting the name I’ve often heard about it, but it’s kind of the tiered customer service program, right? It is that if you’re a gold platinum member, if you’re a high end member, you kind of do go to this and you do get treated differently. Is that, maybe you’ve done that or not done that, but do you think that’s a wise thing to go for? Is it just like, just treat everybody valuable?

Jason Henne: (12:20)
I agree with treating everybody valuable. However, I do understand that companies do tier A, tier B, tier C, depending on the amount of money that a customer —

Gabe Larsen: (12:30)
Yeah.

Jason Henne: (12:31)
Depending on the amount of money that a customer spends either lifetime or through a five-year, four-year or three-year span. However, I think with that, there can become number one, confusion; number two, you then have to make sure your CRM is updated on what level they are; and number three, you then have to

Gabe Larsen: (12:51)
You have three different policies. Don’t you? It’s like–

Jason Henne: (12:54)
Then you have, yes, then you have three different policies and then you have to worry about how do we automatically make sure we know that customer is an, A, B and C when they call. Do you have to put their phone number in your, your call center phone system to make sure they go into this segmented queue? Or does it go into the general queue where they could get everybody and are they first in, first out? There’s a lot of planning in that.

Gabe Larsen: (13:21)
Yeah, yeah. That, that last part, I mean, personalization was before COVID, I think a bigger buzzword. It’s kind of dropped, I think people are talking about a few different things, but yeah, that ability just to do phone lookups and keep the history of all the transactions that somebody has done to really be like, “Hey, I noticed you had a flight in the last couple of months, or you did these purchases.” That’s not a ticketing system. That’s consistent with the CRM system and not all CRMs. So you are sometimes talking about multiple layers of complexity there. Not that, I’m certainly, you’re probably more expert than I am, but I did just want to highlight that because I’ve heard multiple people, we don’t have a CRM, we have a ticketing system. Case management is not CRM.

Jason Henne: (14:09)
Right. That’s such a great point. So I guess to answer your question, I’m not a fan of first class, second class, third class customers. I think everybody should be treated the exact same because that customer that maybe was once a one time purchaser might end up being a multiple time purchaser, giving a ton of referrals if we treat them the same way that we’re going to treat someone who’s spending a hundred thousand dollars on a claim.

Gabe Larsen: (14:36)
Interesting. Interesting. Okay. I want to turn for a minute and attack this, kind of your guys’ space. One of the things that I felt was interesting in your background and actually more in your current prerogative is solar. Solar has, it just has an interesting history, right? It’s had some government stuff, you’ve had some door knocker people. In some cases, in some areas it’s really taken off. In other places, it has a little bit of a bad rap. How have you been able to manage through what let’s maybe call an emerging industry? Something that’s not Telecom. I mean, that’s been around a hundred year. Solar, it’s just got a lot of different players. It’s got a lot of different attitudes, reputations. How does it kind of work managing through some of those intricacies?

Jason Henne: (15:30)
Well, number one, you’re right. Solar has not been around for a long time. It’s still emerging and we’re still getting into more States, as governments are approving it for more tax incentives and that sort of thing. And with that, there have been some negative stigmas because… like you said, people canvassing houses, however, it’s all about proper education and the proper way to go about it. We want to make sure here at Momentum Solar, we want to make sure that every customer is educated correctly and not just on Momentum, but solar in general.

Gabe Larsen: (16:04)
That’s fantastic.

Jason Henne: (16:07)
And then after they’re educated on solar in general, we also want to make sure, obviously as our selling point to let them know the benefits of going with us again, brand reputation, white glove customer service, where multiple climbs on inc 500, our CEO, one in 500 speaks word, um, for CEO of the year for New Jersey. There’s a lot to be said about brand reputation when the industry itself might have a negative stigma about it. We’re not the same solar company as XYZ solar company that might have a million bad reviews. We’re A+ rated on the BBB and we use that. To have it and maintain an A+ rating in the BBB is pretty darn good. And it’s pretty darn important.

Gabe Larsen: (16:57)
And what do you tribute that to? I mean, just double click on that, because that is a big deal. Is that, I mean, you’ve obviously not just, that didn’t come — that took a little work. Right? So [inaudible] I love the education part. So it sounds like you guys focus a lot on education to kind of say, “You know what, let’s sell you on solar first. Let’s talk about Momentum second.” What are some of the other things you’ve done to make sure that you keep that reputation up in the air? That’s impressive. That rating.

Jason Henne: (17:30)
Yeah. So our Better Business Bureau complaints do come directly to my department and we handle them internally. And, because we take such pride in our customer service and we take Better Business Bureau, like I said, is very important. Some companies might not think so, some companies might not care about their grade, but we do. The Better Business Bureau replies, once we go call the customer and try to rectify their issue with them, myself and my management team, it’s either myself or I assign in seminar management. We’re the one that personally writes the replies.

Gabe Larsen: (18:07)
Wow. Wow, cool.

Jason Henne: (18:09)
I don’t want to find that out to anybody.

Gabe Larsen: (18:12)
Yeah.

Jason Henne: (18:13)
I want my department to handle it. We might work with other departments to get the situation resolved because we’re one big team, which is another thing when talking about industry reputation and how to still, how to change that stigma by providing white glove customer service. Constantly, constantly interacting with different departments on a daily basis. When we’re all not working at home, we’re all working in the office and we’re constantly getting up and coordinating and going into conference rooms and huddle areas and coming up with ideas and talking about issues. So every issue is not just, “Hey, look at this, let’s get this done,” it’s, “Hey, we need some time to talk this issue out.” Number one, because we need to make it right for the customer. Number two, if we need to implement a company wide change so this specific issue doesn’t happen again, we need to make that change. So then our sales team can then be informed of that change. So they’re educating the customer correctly.

Gabe Larsen: (19:12)
Nice closed loop process on that. You’re kind of bringing —

Jason Henne: (19:17)
Absolutely. And solar, like I said, solar is not an inexpensive ticket. However, in the long run, it does save you money because of the solar energy that you’re producing and then consuming. So that’s one big piece of education that we have to give the customer. Yes, it might be right.

Gabe Larsen: (19:39)
Maybe that makes tons of sense. So, so number one is you guys have done a lot of education too. It sounds like you’re pretty maniacal about, you’ve identified something like a reputation management tool, like the Better Business Bureau and take it very serious. To the extent of action planning, results, you get feedback, you close that feedback loop fairly quickly, put the change and get it back to the sales team and see if you can do it. Anything else on the mind as you think about your customer service and really trying to drive a different approach in kind of this emerging solar industry that you guys do?

Jason Henne: (20:16)
Yeah. So it goes back to what we were talking about in the beginning with white glove customer service. If you call our customer service number, we don’t have an IVR where you’re saying something and then we’re giving you an answer via AI or anything like that. I want —

Gabe Larsen: (20:34)
You don’t like AI? You’re a human guy, not an AI guy. Huh?

Jason Henne: (20:39)
I absolutely like AI. However, I think for certain price ticket items and certain issues, you need the human touch.

Gabe Larsen: (20:47)
Interesting.

Jason Henne: (20:48)
You need that. You need that human touch. So when a customer or a prospective customer calls, they only have two options in our phone tree, sales and customer service. That’s it. And they’re going to talk to a live person every time. Maybe in the future we’ll implement some AI. If they won’t get there.

Gabe Larsen: (21:10)
You’ve made it available. So yeah, they can basically, there’s no crazy phone tree to go through. You’ve made it simple. It’s quite an effortless experience.

Jason Henne: (21:21)
Right? And the other company I was referring to earlier with our luxury wall covering company that I was the head of customer service for, they don’t even use a phone tree. They, every single call was answered in nine seconds or less live. No prerecording first, press one for this, press two for that, every call was answered live. And if customer service had to transfer that call to a specific person, maybe it was a client asking for somebody in a sales department, we then transferred the call, but there was no recording at all. Every call was answered live in nine seconds or less.

Gabe Larsen: (21:57)
Cool. That’s awesome. I mean, it’s those types of, I just that word of making it easy, right? I mean, the AI is, I think it’s a big thing and in the right time, this word deflection and finding a way of good balance is important, but I like your approach. It’s like where we are right now. Want to make it easy for the customer. Let’s do it. Let’s get it quick and see if we can’t start that process to make sure they’re happening quickly. Jason, I appreciate the talk track. It’s fun. Just to kind of hear about some of your different experiences, again, quite a wealth of experience, both luxury and telecom and now solar. Sounds like there’s some overlap, but definitely sometimes you’ve gone more high end, spent more time, more dollars. Other times you’ve tried to find a bit more of a balance there. As you think about customer service, certainly it’s a challenging time with all that’s going on. What advice would you kind of summarize with, for customer leaders who are trying to figure out how to, and I’ll use a generic term here, but just win, survive, manage all the leads that are coming in, keep the customer service levels high while the satisfaction still is maintained as good. But what would you kind of move in with?

Jason Henne: (23:03)
You know, this is you’re right. This is a really trying time right now. Every customer service department for the most part is working from home and oddly enough, it’s working. Its working. Our service levels are so high right now and our productivity because people aren’t being, I guess, their attention is being kept. What they have to do. They’re not in an office with 300 people. If we need to have meetings, we’re going to zoom it or message or anything like that. Keep remembering that when the customer calls you, they don’t want to call you. It’s a nuisance to them. They’re calling to have a problem taken care of and to give them the peace of mind that they want. So what I can say is what, one thing I tell all my employees is the customer is not wanting to call you. However, by the time we get them off the phone, let’s have them realize that they are glad that they did call us.

Jason Henne: (24:07)
And that’s yeah, that’s the advice I can give.

Gabe Larsen: (24:11)
Yeah. It was like the guys, they’re calling for a problem and that problem needs to be resolved. Let’s not forget the fundamental purpose of customer service. Forget all the times and the numbers. And it’s like, here’s the problem, how do we solve it? Let’s make it easy.

Jason Henne: (24:27)
Yeah. And you know what, let’s make them happy. Let’s make them happy that they did call so they don’t think it was a waste of time. And by doing that and by keeping and making these customers happy, you’re going to keep that positive reputation and you’re going to keep giving them that white glove customer service.

Gabe Larsen: (24:47)
Right. I love it. Well, Jason, again, really appreciated the talk track. Fun to kind of talk through a little bit of these different items. If someone wants to get ahold of you or just continue the conversation, what’s the best way to do that?

Jason Henne: (24:58)
Okay. They could send me a direct email at J H E N N E@momentumsolar.com. M O M E N T U M, solar, S O L A R.com. Or just look me up on LinkedIn, Jason Henne, J A S O N H E N N E. I’ll be more than happy to connect with you and message with you back and forth if you so choose. And yeah, this was a lot of fun.

Gabe Larsen: (25:22)
Yeah. I really appreciate it. We might have to bring you back for round two next quarter, just to continue to kind of chat about what’s what’s the–

Jason Henne: (25:28)
I would love it.

Gabe Larsen: (25:29)
So anyways, man, have a great day. For the audience–

Jason Henne: (25:32)
I would love it.

Gabe Larsen: (25:33)
Take care.

Jason Henne: (25:35)
No problem. Thank you so much for having me on.

Exit Voice: (23:16)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Learning to Adapt in an Ever Changing Market With Nate Brown

Learning to Adapt in an Ever Changing Market With Nate Brown TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe is joined by Nate Brown to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on businesses and how companies need to adapt to them. Nate is the Founder of CX Accelerator, a virtual community that encourages and supports CX professionals in the tough work that they do. Nate is also the Chief Experience Officer at Officium Labs, a company dedicated to decentralizing wealth by investing in high quality CX products and concepts. Gabe and Nate provide valuable insights on change management and how companies can evolve and thrive in the new market.

The Need for a CX Change Coalition

Customer service is still a relatively new department and career path. Customer service professionals are becoming more crucial employees as business leaders find they need someone to take care and understand the skyrocketing expectations of their customers. The organizations that have been able to deliver on customer expectations during this pandemic are the ones surviving and thriving, while others that have failed to build digital transformation may be struggling. Nate mentions that CX professionals are absolutely essential for businesses; to benefit their customers and to help their company financially.

As CX is evolving and growing, Nate mentions that part of that evolution will be in the execution of CX ideas. He mentions the question is, “How do we drive meaningful change inside of complex organizations?” In response to this question he states, “So I feel like the work of CX is becoming more and more the work of a change management and cheerleader.” To go about doing this, one thing Nate suggests is a CX Change Coalition. This idea revolves around the CEO giving CX the time and attention it deserves and, ideally, the CEO will be including other departments in CX conversations to improve “end to end customer experience.” In short, a CX Change Coalition is the process of getting the CEO and the rest of the company engaged in, and conscious of, the customer’s experience.

The Importance of Listening in Every Stage of a Customer’s Journey

Another useful tactic to adapting in a new market is understanding how the customer communicates in various stages of their experience. Depending on the problem or the customer, they could communicate their issues through a variety of channels in a variety of different points of the journey. The customer is always going to give feedback and voice their opinions of their customer experience, whether through company channels or on their own. Nate calls these structured and unstructured channels. To elaborate, Nate states:

You’ve got your structured and unstructured listening paths. Unstructured is where you don’t get to control it. The customers are out there saying what they’re going to say. You want to try and position yourself to learn from that as much as you possibly can. … Wherever you can, you want to create those opportunities for structured feedback. And you want to supplement that with the unstructured feedback that’s already going on in the world. So the ultimate question Gabe, is how can we best listen to our customers where they are?

Companies that learn to listen to their customers whether from feedback through structured or unstructured channels, will be better equipped to adapt to the ever changing market.

Employees and How to Take On the New CX World

As the market and customer changes, companies change. However, if companies are trying to evolve but they leave their employees out of the loop, they are missing the mark. It takes a lot of effort and time to change a company mindset because it is dependent on the employees. Nate suggests that to change employee mindset and to start adapting to this new market, companies must first understand the psychology of their customers and employees. He shares a few guiding questions to help with this process:

How can I motivate my employees to serve customers better and understand what those right motivators are? And then how can I understand the psychology of my customer more? And then from there you can create the strategy and the fundamental best practices and the change management techniques…Why does our customer do business with us, and how can we increase their loyalty and work backwards from there?

With these questions Nate shares that companies will have a good foundational start to improve and adapt their businesses and employees to the new business market.

To learn more about how to adapt your business to the new market, 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:

Learning to Adapt in an Ever Changing Market With Nate Brown

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about all things CX and to do that, we brought in Nate Brown. The guy is multitalented. I ran into him at CX Accelerator, which he’ll talk about in just a minute. He’s also the Chief Experience Officer. He’s got content up the wazoo. He’s a man of many talents. So Nate, thanks for joining man. How are you?

Nate Brown: (00:36)
Oh, good Gabe. Well, thank you and happy St. Patrick’s Day to you my friend.

Gabe Larsen: (00:40)
Yeah, I noticed. You’re all green, I love it. Don’t think I’m not ready. I’m ready. You’re ready. I’m ready.

Nate Brown: (00:46)
Man, if I could pinch you, I would because I’m not seeing no green there.

Gabe Larsen: (00:48)
Are you kidding me? This is a deep green.

Nate Brown: (00:52)
Alright, fair enough.

Gabe Larsen: (00:54)
I noticed that. I meant to say that. Well I’m glad to jump in here, but before we do, can you tell us a little bit about some of the — there’s so many things going on, tell us about some of the things you’re doing and why we should care about it.

Nate Brown: (01:07)
Yeah, sure. So CX Accelerator, virtual community, just an incredible space with incredible people, especially right now with everything going on in the world. We’re just there to encourage one another, just build it up, edify those CX professionals that are out here doing tough work.

Gabe Larsen: (01:23)
Yep.

Nate Brown: (01:23)
The work of the CX professional already was hard. It is getting harder. So we need a space to encourage one another and just to be real with the things that are going on. So that is CX Accelerator. And then recently began working for Officium Labs as their Chief Experience Officer. And that has been just absolutely awesome.

Gabe Larsen: (01:42)
Yep.

Nate Brown: (01:42)
So getting to do a lot of ambassador work for NCX speaking, writing, blogging different things, and also working as a practitioner inside of some of the best video game studios in the world, which has been so much fun as well.

Gabe Larsen: (01:55)
Wow. Wow. And that’s Officium Labs. Got it.

Nate Brown: (01:59)
You’re right. Yeah. It is “service” in Latin, it’s the word “officium.”

Gabe Larsen: (02:02)
I love it. Yeah, officium, service in Latin. And we’ll hear more about that in just a minute. So, I wanted to talk about the big picture, obviously we’ve got an evolving landscape going on in customer service, wanting to just start there for a minute. How are you seeing things changing through all that’s going on now and really just the general evolution of the CX space?

Nate Brown: (02:29)
Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to put a pin on that. I mean, if we look at even like the CXPA, I mean that’s only, shoot, nine years old.

Gabe Larsen: (02:36)
Yep.

Nate Brown: (02:37)
2011. It’s still very much an emerging art. Anybody that tells you that they know everything about CX is a liar because it’s still being birthed. This function is still being created and we get to be the pioneers that are helping to do that, which is really fun and exciting. It’s amazing how cool this work is and the fact that it’s the unification of doing the right thing for people. We’re serving people really well and taking the friction out of their experiences and making their lives better in that way. But it’s also absolutely the right thing to do for the business financially because we know that those brands that are being authentic and creating compelling customer experiences, those are the brands that people want to do business with that have the customer loyalty factor and are gobbling up that market share. So it’s the combination of these two things of doing the right thing for people doing the right thing for the business. And that’s not going to change, but the way that we do this and in the mentalities around it, the best practices around it, I mean, those things are still being formed. And at least for me Gabe, I mean, recently I’ve just been going back to the fundamentals around change management because the technology has come so far in our ability to get great customer insights and great customer data.

Gabe Larsen: (03:52)
Yep.

Nate Brown: (03:53)
And that’s where the technology has met us right now. We know our customers, the hearts and minds of our customers, better than we ever have before. And we’re able to centralize and analyze that data in remarkable ways. So now we know what we need to do. The past eight years in this work, I mean, that’s kind of been the challenge and the finish line. How, how do we even know what our customers want from us?

Gabe Larsen: (04:16)
Yeah.

Nate Brown: (04:16)
Now we’re, we’re kinda there. So, wow. Now that work has changed to now, how do we actually execute on this? How do we drive meaningful change inside of complex organizations? So I feel like the work of CX is becoming more and more the work of a change management and cheerleader.

Gabe Larsen: (04:34)
Hmm. How do you relate that to some of the changing tides that we’re currently seeing? I mean, certainly change management is one of those core principles that just won’t go away. Do you see that core principle changing in the way people deliver that kind of exceptional customer experience knowing that certain industries are moving more digital, for example.

Nate Brown: (04:55)
Right. Yeah. It’s almost embarrassing to look and see the statistics around how many digital transformation efforts are failing. It’s somewhere between 80 and 95% of digital transformation efforts are failing. And I really feel like that’s because they’re not unified, they’re not partnering actively with the customer experience initiative inside of the organization.

Gabe Larsen: (05:20)
Right.

Nate Brown: (05:21)
These two things should be lockstep. I mean, when we think about DTC, digital transformation, it’s enhancing the experience of the employees and the customers over digital channels. That’s what it’s doing. So why would we not be taking the intelligence from a CX function, the abilities and the empathy and just the mentality of a CX function and be applying it to those digital transformation capabilities, because both are going to fail without the other. We need each other. So I think that’s a major change and something that will continue to evolve as the scope of customer experience work evolves into UX, user design, brand experience, digital experience as the CX professional absorbs more and more of this responsibility, I hope and I think that we’ll have more, more power to actually control our destiny and the destiny of our customers.

Gabe Larsen: (06:16)
Yeah. Why do you feel like we’ve struggled to get there so far? We’ve just been waiting for some sort of event to force us to come together, or is it just your typical kind of siloed organization? You do this, you do that. What stopped us from bringing some of those things together and under the umbrella of just kind of an overall experience?

Nate Brown: (06:35)
I think about how long it took for marketing to be viewed as a legitimate function and the role of a CMO to really be valued and respected. And that took a long time and I feel like the CXO, chief experience officers kind of there, or it’s kind of a wait and see of why are you here? Why did we need you again?

Gabe Larsen: (06:55)
You don’t own –You don’t have a specific org right? It’s like you’re this cross functional nobody.

Nate Brown: (07:03)
I mean, so either people really want you there and they are actively recruiting you for assistance and enhancing the experience within their purview, or they’re just kind of looking at you confused. And I have been in organizations and been viewed in both of those ways. And it’s really hard. Both are really hard. I mean the best case scenario, everybody’s looking to you to guide the strategy and to be the primary drum beater on how to improve CX and get everybody excited on the topic of CX. That’s your best case scenario. And what happens more often is that the chief– the experience leader is coming in and everybody gets territorial, or a lot of people get territorial, and they end up not getting to have control or meaningful responsibility across the end to end customer journey. And the work is stymied.

Gabe Larsen: (07:58)
That’s so true. That’s so true. What is optimal in that? I mean, you touched on it a little bit, but as you think about, well, even CX and experience that these two leaderships, and then you bring in some other roles, how do you see those working together to ultimately benefit the customer?

Nate Brown: (08:17)
I mean, in my mind it’s a strong CX change coalition that is cross-functional and that you have people that really want it. I mean, they’ve seen the light in terms of when we help our customers to win, we win and you’re not having to sit there and prove the value of the work. You actually get to do the work and that’s the best case scenario. And it’s the CEO, that gets to really set the context for that. “Hey, this is our number one priority. Here’s all the reasons why, if we don’t make our customer experience a legendary, then we won’t be here in 10 years. This is the way that the experience economy is moving. I have isolated this individual in this function, that’s going to help guide us intelligently in our strategy here. And we’re all gonna work with this individual as part of the CX change coalition to improve our end to end customer experience.” That right there is the best case scenario in my opinion.

Gabe Larsen: (09:15)
And I love the CEO buy in, right? I mean that’s always a — you get someone on top who really pushes it all the way down and makes everybody come sit at the same table. That can make a huge difference just in and of itself. So I love that you’ve mentioned let’s make that end to end experience great. Sometimes I feel like people struggle in the tactics of bringing some of these ideas to fruition. You’ll hear words like journey maps, you’ll hear words like, certain drivers of net promoter. You know, are we making it easier? Or our wait time, or maybe it’s different metrics that people have. As you’ve worked with different organizations or you’ve kind of thought through this process, what are some of the things — is there certain principles or best practices you’ve found that if you really want to start to get that end to end experience optimized, change — like you mentioned change management, are there different things that you’re like, “Man, you gotta get this right. Gotta focus here.” And that really puts you on that path to success.

Nate Brown: (10:17)
And there’s — it’s going to have to look different inside of each organization, of course. Highly customized approach based on the needs of the organization and your customer demographic. But, there is a bit of a formula that I feel like is somewhat transcendent. And I’ve captured that in the CX Primer, which I think you’ve looked at.

Gabe Larsen: (10:36)
Hey man, I use it to onboard myself. That’s got some goods in it.

Nate Brown: (10:40)
Yeah. That’s kinda my heart and soul in terms of my approach to CX. It starts with that leadership and strategy, establishing that strong CX Change Coalition, getting people as allies into the work. As Jeanne Bliss would say, “Identifying the power core in the organization, making them a CX ally.” That is required in the beginning, then it’s working with that CX Change Coalition. What is the right customer KPI in each of these different touch points doing your initial journey map as a hypothesis map. And then you build up your voice of customer engine. Stage two, voice of customer engine. Are we positioned to listen to our customers? Yes or no, creating your listening paths, identifying your customer segments, your personas, working through how can we listen to these individuals the best, getting those insights collected and centralized and getting a great CX dashboard created so that before you start making a bunch of changes, you can actually see how those changes are impacting your customer’s lives.

Gabe Larsen: (11:42)
Like the current– really understand that current state as different things are tweaked. You can almost see how well it’s impacting that future for your organization. Talk about this “voices” concept and being able to make sure you can hear at different touch points, the voice or voices of the customer. How are organizations thinking about that portion? I’ve certainly read the journey maps, but the voice thing is interesting. Can you double click on that for a second?

Nate Brown: (12:10)
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I like to start with looking at the different touch points. Here’s this part of the customer experience, what’s going on here, and how would a customer generally articulate their thoughts and perceptions about us in this area? Is it going to be on some website, in a social review? Is it going to be more word of mouth based? Is it something where we can create a structured channel here? Because you’ve got your structured and unstructured listening paths. Unstructured is where you don’t get to control it. The customers are out there saying what they’re going to say. You want to try and position yourself to learn from that as much as you possibly can. Then where you can be smart about it and say, “Wow, we could pop up something here just really quickly in a great UI, something really flashing and clean and compelling where the customer would be very likely to give us some structured feedback that would be very helpful in this area.” Wherever you can, you want to create those opportunities for structured feedback. And you want to supplement that with the unstructured feedback that’s already going on in the world. So the ultimate question Gabe is how can we best listen to our customers where they are?

Gabe Larsen: (13:23)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that. And it is. It’s almost by touchpoint, it sounds like, right? I mean, you’re looking at each individual interaction or on this journey and really trying to dissect what is the voice or how do we listen to that individual touch or what’s maybe a KPI that we can show how well that touchpoint is or is not driving the customer forward. Do you — so many — and I think this comes from the call center, our call center days, but so many age old KPIs, right? When you throw out a word like that, it’s like, Oh yeah, you’ve got a lot of us old school, I’m going to say us, but, I’m not probably in that as much, but she had some old school people, you know, they love some of these old school KPIs and metrics. It feels like when you talk about this modern journey map, and then really looking at these different touch points, are there some creative measurements that you’re seeing people do along that journey to be able to understand the voice and how customers are reacting at different touch points? Or, are most people still kind of using the, again, the age old debate, a hold time and an NPS and things like that as they go through their journey.

Nate Brown: (14:37)
Yeah. It’s a great question. I think that we have seen a good evolution in this area and in some of the things that I’ve been seeing. I’d be happy Gabe to share if you could somehow get this out, a sample of a good journey map that includes each of those touchpoints, some examples of different KPIs that I think are good for those areas. As you get into that marketing area, a great marketing metric is NPS. It’s a referral based metric. How do people generally feel about our product or service period? So, I mean, that’s a good marketing based question, but as you get into the sales cycle and get into the implementation of a product or service, what you’re looking for at that point is the wisdom captured in the effortless experience. You’re looking for, how easy is it to do business with us? That ease of business score becomes more essential there because of that is what is a better depicter of customer loyalty. It’s about customer loyalty. So when you get to support, a traditional customer service environment, you can look at some of those KPIs around customer effort score. You definitely need some operational data in there that’s specific to a contact center or support environment. Generally, average handle time is not going to correlate at all to customer loyalty or to a meaningful metric in most environments. There are cases where that is important and that could be applicable, but more, what we’re looking for in the support area is something like customer satisfaction and customer effort score and what we want to do, kind of the metric that really shows that end to end customer journey, customer lifetime value. We want to correlate all this stuff to be able to see how loyal is our customer, what is the share of wallet that we’re able to obtain from them and how referenceable can we make them to where they’re introducing us to their network and becoming brand ambassadors.

Gabe Larsen: (16:34)
Yeah.

Nate Brown: (16:36)
Those are the things that matter. And there is no metric that captures that as well as something like a customer lifetime value or another Jeanne Bliss-ism, the customer growth engine, where you’re just looking at your organic customer base by volume and value and asking yourself, have we earned the right to grow this? As we look at this quarter over quarter, are we growing our customer base and why? Or is our customer base in a state of decline? And then my goodness, why? Instead of getting caught up in some hypothetical around NPS, or even something as powerful as customer effort score, it’s just a hypothetical.

Gabe Larsen: (17:16)
I love those. Those are some interesting — It’s a lot of, I think, meat there, right? Some different ways to look at your business and different KPIs. I’ll have to go look at the old Jeanne Bliss, see if I can dive into some of those things you’ve mentioned, she’s such a rock star.

Nate Brown: (17:29)
Chief Customer Officer 2.0 is probably the most influential book that I’ve read in this space. It’s just the best.

Gabe Larsen: (17:35)
Is that right?

Nate Brown: (17:35)
Yeah. It’s fantastic.

Gabe Larsen: (17:36)
I have not read that, I’ll put it on my to do. Customer effort score for those of us who don’t know what that is. I mean, certainly we know a lot about the effortless experience and I love the idea of making it easy. How do you — one more click on that? What, what is, what do you mean by an effort score?

Nate Brown: (17:53)
Yeah, the question is how quickly were we able to resolve your issue? How quick and easy was it to resolve your issue? What you’re looking for, there is a resolution based transaction. There was a problem. The problem was hopefully solved. And it’s just asking how quick and easy was it for us to do that for you?

Gabe Larsen: (18:11)
How easy is it to do business with us here?

Nate Brown: (18:13)
No. So that is a different question. So that question is broader. And that’s a question that you can ask in the sales cycle and you can ask in the implementation cycle. The true effort score question, you can only ask in the support environment because there was a problem and there was a problem resolved. That’s where that question comes in.

Gabe Larsen: (18:32)
[inaudible] tied a hundred percent to that.

Nate Brown: (18:34)
Right.

Gabe Larsen: (18:35)
Got it. Okay. And then one last one, before I let you go. This is, we’ve talked a lot about on the customer side, obviously, employees feel that, especially as we move more into the service side of the house, maybe we lose a little bit on the digital interaction there. How do employees play a role in this larger CX initiative?

Nate Brown: (18:53)
The frontline employees, Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (18:56)
Yeah, yeah.

Nate Brown: (18:57)
Yeah. That’s absolutely the question we should be asking because we can have the best strategy in the world and unless it actually pulls the heartstrings of our employees to the brand —

Gabe Larsen: (19:08)
Unless someone actually lives that brand promise. Right?

Nate Brown: (19:11)
Right. Yeah. I mean, goodness, if we don’t change the mentality or behaviors of our employees, then what have we done? Nothing. We have not accomplished anything. So it really is a psychology based work that we’re doing, and the key here is to make it real and relevant and exciting for our employees. I mean, 90% of the employees that I’ve worked with out of the thousands that I’ve done this work with, want to serve customers well. It’s not about convincing them why they should, they want that. The trick is it’s showing them how. What are the specific behaviors that you could do, that you could change just a little bit in your day that would have a significant impact on this customer journey and be able to show them in some form or another what that customer journey looks like.

Gabe Larsen: (20:08)
Yeah. Yeah. It seems like — I’m glad you threw that out and I think that’s a good way to end. It seems like the whole strategy is there, but if you don’t have these people kind of supporting it, it does get, it just gets lost. So don’t forget that part. Do not forget about the employee. That is important.

Nate Brown: (20:25)
That’s a great CX dashboard you got there and wow. It is not changed anybody’s life.

Gabe Larsen: (20:31)
That’s right. You spent all that time on the dashboard. You didn’t train your employees, you fool. No, I love it. Well, Nate, that’s fun to talk through it, man. As I was saying before, Nate was pretty instrumental as I was looking to jump into this kind of CX/CS space. He’s got some fun tools, some fun content, and you can hear that logical flow as he was taking you through, as you think about a CX transformation, that leadership portion, mapping out the journey, getting those kinds of different touch points. I certainly appreciated it cause my mind works a little more like that. So Nate if someone wants to, well, before I do that, we talked about a lot of things. In summary, how would you kind of summarize this? We talked about the maps, and the employees, and the journey, and the evolution of it. Thinking about the changing landscape of where we are today, what’s kind of that summary statement you’d leave with CX/CS leaders about how to deliver this great experience as we move into potentially a new normal here?

Nate Brown: (21:30)
Yeah. I would say dive into the psychology of the work, get down to the why, take a look at something like a prime to perform and make yourself a bit of a psychologist. How can I motivate my employees to serve customers better and understand what those right motivators are? And then how can I understand the psychology of my customer more? And then from there you can create the strategy and the fundamental best practices and the change management techniques, but get down to the true why, what makes your company unique and different; that start with why, that Simon Sinek. Then your next why is why should we serve customers better? What are the motivators there for our employees? The why’s of our customer. Why does our customer do business with us, and how can we increase their loyalty and work backwards from there?

Gabe Larsen: (22:21)
Yeah. Yeah. I love it. Alright man, if someone wants to get a hold of you or learn a little bit more about some of the fun things you’re doing, what’s the best way to do that?

Nate Brown: (22:27)
Yeah. Hop on over to CXaccelerator.com. Join our virtual community. We want to encourage you. We want to help you. It’s a very safe place, a very encouraging place. So do that. And then if you want to work with me some more, hop on over to Officium Labs, and we’ve got all kinds of opportunities there, some additional content and some ways that we could work together. So, do one or both.

Gabe Larsen: (22:49)
It’s so funny. It’s like you eat, drink, sleep about everything CX. It’s so fun to see. This guy, we were talking pre show, I was like, “This guy can probably talk about this for four hours, but we’ll cut him off in about 30 minutes.” So Nate, appreciate you joining and everybody else, have a fantastic rest of your day.

Exit Voice: (23:16)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri

Podcast: Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Vikas Bhambri, SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer, 20 year CRM Contact Center Lifer, and Gabe’s partner in crime to make a big announcement. Kustomer has been selected as the only enterprise customer service CRM platform in the Shopify Plus Certified App Program. With this seamless integration, businesses can create contextualized, actionable customer profiles to drive more personalized and data driven customer journeys, while resolving conversations quickly and building long-term customer loyalty. Now more than ever, the world’s leading brands need a customer service CRM that can scale and evolve as they do. Listen to the full podcast episode below to hear their discussion on the role self-service plays in this new MEconomy.

How Has the Economy Changed

It is no secret that day-to-day life has changed drastically since March of 2020. As businesses closed their doors, curbside pickup, delivery services, and online shopping have become the new normal. What used to be a luxury for a few extra dollars is now a necessity. This is just one evidence that the economy has changed and customers’ expectations are evolving with it. Technology has facilitated agents and other employees to work from home and we wonder if companies will return to their storefronts or if they’ll stay remote. Vikas points out that this probably won’t be the case. While smaller companies are staying remote and the customer is demanding more remote services, it is a lot harder for large companies to pivot that quickly. There has been a surge in customer requests and these large contact centers even increased their headcount during the pandemic. But, is this an opportunity for businesses to start leveraging AI and automate?

The Value of Self-Service

As mentioned above, the consumer mindset has changed, drastically. They are getting used to having things delivered to their homes and they want their issues resolved, instantly. Customers want frictionless interactions and expect companies to deliver on those expectations. Twenty years ago, customer service centers believed that in order to make the customer happy, you had to interact with them constantly. But, with an ever-evolving customer mindset, consumers want to talk less with companies. Vikas states, “Part of being consumer centric doesn’t always mean that you have to talk to them or chat, whatever it is. There are times where the consumer actually wants to self serve. … customer delight doesn’t mean spending time with [them], it means getting the heck out of [their] way.”

To give customers this type of self-service experience, Vikas points out that this is an opportunity to start leveraging automation. Automation is not a bad thing and it isn’t going to drive customers away. Done correctly, it will actually help customers have a positive experience. While there is not an unique way to do it, the most important thing is staying true to your brand and treating people like people.

The New Relationship With the Customer

Customers want a different relationship with companies. “It’s not, ‘I don’t want a relationship with you.’ [It’s] ‘I want a different type of relationship with you,’” Vikas states. This MEconomy involves more focus on efficiency and giving the customer helpful tools. Vikas continues, “I don’t want to have this elongated, kind of massaged relationship, just when I come to you, whether I want to buy something, … whether I want to service something or even when you market to me, be to the point, be specific, be personalized to me and then let’s move on.” When the agent is focused on being concise and letting the customer solve their own problems, the customer will be happier with their experience.

To learn more about the evolving economy, evolving customer and how to adjust your business to those changes, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

 

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Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going here. You’ve got myself, Gabe Larsen. I run growth over here at Kustomer and you got my partner in crime Vikas Bhambri. He runs SVP of both Sales and Customer Support, customer success. Wanted to kick this off with a big announcement. We have no guests today. We didn’t want a guest today actually.

Vikas Bhambri: (00:29)
You announced me as the guest.

Gabe Larsen: (00:32)
Yes. Actually I was telling Vikas we did actually have a guest, but they ditched on us.

Vikas Bhambri: (00:40)
It’s a tropical storm here in the Northeast, they couldn’t make it to the studio.

Gabe Larsen: (00:44)
Oh man. Can you believe the weather out here? My heavens. It truly is — it rains here in the East all the time. I’ve forgotten how much it rains out here. But that wasn’t the announcement. The actual announcement is Shopify. Vikas, do you want to give maybe just the high level and I’ll fill in a couple of details?

Vikas Bhambri: (00:59)
Absolutely. So Kustomer is now in the Shopify Plus Program and we’re the only enterprise customer service platform in the program. And I think this is super exciting, not only for us here at Kustomer, but more importantly, all those Shopify customers that have been looking for a partner that not only has a robust integration from a platform perspective with Shopify, but more importantly, that strategic relationship as we think about further co-development and further iterations of what we’ve already come to market with.

Gabe Larsen: (01:36)
Yeah. I mean, this is exciting you guys. We’re super proud of it. There are kind of the Shopify plus and then Shopify and then Shopify Plus and Plus really is more for the larger companies who are doing more transactions with Shopify, looking for something a little more, a little deeper, etcetera. So jumping in on both the Shopify and Shopify Plus; and then bringing some of these feature sets that have been unique to Kustomer into that integration where you have this real full timeline view where you can do so many more interactions: refund, cancel, view shipping information by skews, see order item activity, easily refund people. Kind of all in that single interface as you get in Kustomer, but now you’ve got that with the Shopify integration, I think will be an awesome addition to some of our customers who are using it and looking forward to talking to more people. So big fronts — big announcements on the Kustomer front. Definitely check it out. We’ll put a link in the comments to some of those types of things. Now, I wanted to shift gears. What’s been on your mind, before we do — anything on your mind Vikas that you were kind of front and center as we think customer service as things go about on your day to day?

Vikas Bhambri: (02:47)
You and I have talked about this quite a bit over the last few weeks with a number of different guests is just a change of pace in the customer experience arena over these last few months, driven by the pandemic. And as I called it, I think pretty early on is the biggest stress test that this industry has ever faced. I mean, everything from how agents work, where agents work, how they’re managed by their supervisors and then this tremendous surge in ticket volume that folks have been seeing. I talked to somebody pretty recently and even today, people are like, look — really interesting. I think this person that I had a conversation with they’re major retailer. Their first impulse that a lot of these retailers had when the pandemic hit was our business is going to get hit. And so they actually let people go. And then what happened is they actually saw that their business, the sales side went up, right? Because obviously people were not going to the stores.

Vikas Bhambri: (03:57)
And so their volume went up and then they had this whole issue that they have to figure out their fulfillment, because imagine you’re doing a hundred orders a week and now you’re doing a thousand orders a week. They just weren’t set up for that scale. Well, as those orders went out is what they saw were the heightened anxiety levels of the consumer. Now getting four to five X, the number of inquiries, tickets, conversations, around those orders. And they let people go so now the existing team had — so just this amazing kind of thing over the last four months and what’s been extremely exciting to witness and experience and be a part of is how brands have reacted to what’s happened. Because I think the brands that are reacting now, not everybody’s doing it the right way, they’re the ones that when the pandemic obviously comes to an end, are going to continue to thrive in this new normal that we’re all talking about.

Gabe Larsen: (04:53)
And it is such a transition. I think my favorite thing has been watching that force digital transformation as well. We were chatting the other day about that. It’s a small retailer, a physical retailer out West and got hit with the pandemic and had to close their 20 retail locations and then the conversation and the change in mindset. And I thought this was just such a powerful example of, well, how do we double down on everything digital? And started to partner with us on this idea of in-store or curbside pickup. I guess not in-store because the store was closed — Curbside pick up and do it all online and they weren’t really set up for that. And his words directly were, “This pandemic has probably pushed us to at least two years ahead of where we would have been on our e-tail, on our website, on our digital aspect.” And you’re seeing that, I think not just in the large, but a lot of these smaller vendors, these smaller players who hadn’t maybe thought about how they can progress so quickly, forced to the forefront and seeing cool things. And it actually, it’s been very powerful, curbside pickup. He’s like, “Who would’ve thought? This is going to change our business for the better as we go forward. I wish we’d had done this earlier.” But the pandemic kind of changed that.

Vikas Bhambri: (06:11)
Here’s the thing it’s, making us wonder why we were doing things the way we were. My friends and I joke, here in Long Island, obviously we’ve been, we were extremely hard hit, so I can pull up to my local ice cream place and they can run it out to my car. Like we’re laughing. We’re like, well, look, “Hey, we get called lazy Americans all the time. This is now the true Nirvana, right? I don’t even need to go in the store anymore.” To your point about curbside pickup with your friend is — and then of course our entire supply chain in the Bhambri household is now online delivery. And to the point where my wife, who is the biggest anti online grocery shopper, Christina, “I want to feel the produce.” She’s the person who literally — people watch her in the grocery aisle where she’s sniffing the cantaloupe. It must be an English thing.

Gabe Larsen: (07:13)
Well, I always felt like I had the watermelon touch, so [inaudible] I’m like this, “Yes, No.” Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (07:20)
But now she’s a believer. And she’s like, “Wow, these Amazon shoppers, they’ve got the touch.” And I was like, “Well, worst case, you can go teach them or train them.” So it’s going to be really interesting as I say is, even for certain segments of the consumer population, what is their appetite going to be to go back? We’re talking about opening up malls and different types of retailers. If even somebody like my parents have now adapted to Amazon shopping or retailers that are delivering to them, whatever it is, why are they going to go back? If Home Depot can now deliver my dad his hose or whatever new project he has at home, why does he need to go back into the store?

Gabe Larsen: (08:04)
Yeah. One thing that’s front and center. I think even for us here at Kustomer is the work from home, work remote, work partially in the office. Anything lately you’ve heard about, in general, you feel like most companies and their service centers will find their way back? Are they finding their way back? Do you think, again, when you’ve tasted a little bit of the forbidden fruit and for some people and experience, maybe, “You know what, I’m all set now as a service agent working from home, I’m going to continue this.” Do you see that trend? How does that shape –?

Vikas Bhambri: (08:39)
No, unfortunately I think the smaller scale, the brands that have their direct workforce that have gone remote. I think if you have 20 agents, I think the BPOs, the larger contact centers are — look so much of their operation and their value to the people they do this optimization, et cetera, is cost savings. I don’t think they want to, or can pivot that quickly. And what I am hearing is that more and more the large contact centers, the ones that are BPO driven, are going back to a centralized environment. I’m assuming they’re doing the right protocols, the right testing, et cetera. But I do think that group is definitely moving back in, but here’s the other thing I heard this morning is they’re also hiring in a big way because of the surge, because brands are feeling that surge I heard one this morning where one pretty large BPO is probably going to be hiring 30,000 new agents.

Gabe Larsen: (09:49)
Well, they’ve got — I was surprised truthfully. You started with this, that you saw so many people react and I get why, but yeah, we were furloughing and people were letting people go. And for, obviously, I think for justified reasons, but, and for a lot of these people, that was a little more, head-scratching like gal aren’t they going to see a surge because of the industry they’re in and people are going to have more requests. They’re wondering where their orders are, more calls, more chats, more email. So I’m not surprised that you’re starting to see some goodness. And I think the economy in some ways needs some of that.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:22)
But what a missed opportunity, right? You’re going to go out and hire 30,000 people, but this is, not was, continues to be an opportunity to automate, right? And use tools like chat bots, article deflection, I mean —

Gabe Larsen: (10:41)
This is the time to do it right? You have the opportunity.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:44)
Absolutely.

Gabe Larsen: (10:45)
I had, and that spurred a little bit of the topic for today’s conversation, I had somebody who in passing basically said to me, “I joined the trend, but didn’t realize that it was going to take a little more time.” And they said, “Wanted to get a chat bot on my site, thought I could start deflecting, automate some of those requests, heard some big numbers.” I think he threw out in joking, “Cut your agents by 99%, it will increase productivity by 497%.” I’m making up the stats. I think he was as well. But then he kind of said, “Hey, it was a little bit of a reality. I contacted some company, threw the thing on my website and I didn’t see the results.” So I do, I mean I think this is still a good opportunity to jump on the bandwagon around automation, but it’s not that easy. Right? I mean, it takes a little more work, whether it’s a bot or automation, it’s going to take some time. Correct?

Vikas Bhambri: (11:40)
You and I have talked about this. You’ve gotta be thoughtful. It’s an entire program management, just like you would do a marketing campaign. Right? If you think of it in that mindset, you have to think about the cohort of customers you’re trying to address. What’s the problem? Is it Wismo, right? What’s the actual problem– and then tackle that one area. Solve it, go do the next one and the next one. But I think, yeah, to your point, just slapping a bot on the website and then going, “Oh, I still need — I can’t let go of 99 out of a hundred people.” I think that’s where you’re misinformed.

Gabe Larsen: (12:14)
Do you feel like companies, I mean, being forced into this, have started to find the balance better between bot and human. I know that’s been kind of the fun debate, more pre-COVID. You feel like we’re starting to get that or where is that? Is there still kind of a fine line of what goes bot, what goes human, and when they interact?

Vikas Bhambri: (12:34)
No, I don’t think it’s that well-defined, here’s what I am finding is there’s no best practice guide. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (12:45)
Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (12:45)
And so even brands are struggling with, what’s the tone we want to set. Right? We’ve always been a people first brand, consumer first brand, and now we’re going to say automation and, and it almost has a negative connotation. You use the term deflection. Even that’s a term that people are like, “Oh my goodness, we don’t want to deflect.” Okay, call it what you want. I mean, whether you call containment, whether you call it self-service, if something the customer actually wants, you almost have to educate the executive team. “Look, our customers don’t always want to talk to us.” And I think that’s a mindset where people say part of being consumer centric, doesn’t always mean that you have to talk to them or talk, chat, whatever it is. There are times where the consumer actually wants to self serve. And I think the simplest way to do this, I think by the way your podcast with the rockstar, James Dodkins was one of my favorites. Just talk to people like people. I loved his, kind of the walking through the bar with the beer. [inaudible] You got these executives that get into like this, “Well we’re a consumer first brand.” Well, what does that really mean?

Gabe Larsen: (14:03)
Well don’t you feel like it changed? I almost, I want to create one of those timelines — I love timelines, but my love as things kind of have progressed over the years, people were very product centric in their differentiation. And then there was this, you and I have hit on it a little bit, but the Zappos type thing, the light where it was like you had to actually spend a lot of time with your customers or create that presidential experience for them. And so we all went to the Marriott gold membership or the Bonvoy or whatever, they’re calling it now in Delta Gold. And we wanted to actually spend more time with them because we wanted to delight them. It does feel like there has been a shift maybe with COVID pushing it further. And don’t get me wrong, it was kind of coming anyways. But yeah, customer delight doesn’t mean spending time with me, it means getting the heck out of my way.

Vikas Bhambri: (14:54)
That’s it.

Gabe Larsen: (14:54)
But that’s still hard work because we’re coming out of, I think, what was a 20 year Zappos thing. And I’m not saying that isn’t important, but boy, even when I hear you say that it’s just like, how do I deliver a great experience if I literally never talked to somebody when Nordstrom was giving away free tires when they brought a dress back?

Vikas Bhambri: (15:17)
Well, the consumers moved on at a rate that most companies haven’t. Right? I mean, they’re reading about Brooks Brothers the other day and how casual Fridays killed Brooks Brothers. I’m like, well casual Fridays — and it happened like last week. I mean, casual Fridays has been happening, and I’m going to start aging myself, for over 20 years. So, sorry Brooks Brothers that you didn’t keep up with the times. Right? I mean, I’m sorry. I don’t know. I used to love Brooks Brothers, but the workplace attire changed and you didn’t keep up with it so that’s on you. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (15:57)
Do you feel like there’s a word for this? I’ve wondered myself. I mean, again, we’re always saying that’s kind of cliche to say consumer expectations are changing, but people talked about building relationships or friendships or customer — building that, but now you still want a relationship, but that dynamic has changed. Is there a word that you feel like kind of stamps what the new consumer mindset is? Is it just a different type of relationship? It’s a make it easy, kind of world that we’re in? Anything that encapsulates, you feel like this changing consumer expectations from a naming standpoint?

Vikas Bhambri: (16:39)
Yeah. One word that just came to my mind, maybe because we’re all kind of in this crazy world is therapist. And I’ll tell you why. I don’t want to be friends with brands. I don’t. And I think most consumers to your point like that whole, we’ve all heard the mythical Zappos story. Some woman spending 10 hours on a phone call with a customer. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a call with Zappos. No offense to the folks at Zappos. Sorry. I’m sure they’re super nice. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a phone with anybody. Think about that. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a phone with my real friend. Gabe, you and I are friends. I don’t want to spend 10 hours on a call with you. And most of the time, this is probably the most we talk, right? Otherwise I’m slacking you, I’m texting you, right? That’s the communication that we all the majority of our conversations are these days, right? People even joke how the best way to get a hold of their spouse is a quick Facebook message or a WhatsApp message or whatever it is. So to me I want to go to a brand when I have a problem. So that’s why I kind of think about like a therapist, “Solve my problem and then send me on my way.” Right? And I don’t know if therapist is the right word, but when you get where I’m going, where I don’t want to have this elongated, kind of massaged relationship, just when I come to you, whether I want to buy something, whether I want — whether I want to service something or even when you market to me, be to the point, be specific, be personalized to me and then let’s move on.

Gabe Larsen: (18:09)
Yeah, yeah. Somebody mentioned it, the word MEconomy I’m remembering, and that’s an interesting way to kind of frame it. It sounds a little selfish, but it is it’s, it’s kind of like, “Look, I don’t want to spend time with you. I want it now. I want it quick. I want it real time. I want it. I want, I want to be able to answer it myself.” A lot of “I’s” in that statement versus, “I want you to solve it. I want you to take the time to talk to me, be my therapist,” et cetera. Maybe there’s something there because it does feel like we are seeing that age old debate of, I want a relationship with my customer. Customers don’t want a relationship with you anymore.

Vikas Bhambri: (18:55)
Yeah, no, they want a different type of relationship. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (18:58)
It is different. Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:00)
I loved that term the MEconomy because, market to me. If Gabe and I are both customers of a particular brand, Gabe’s an outdoorsman, right? I’m a city guy. I like — so market to us, even as that brand. Right? But even when you’re — and I think another thing that James hit on in the podcast that you had with him was this concept of proactive service. That I’m a huge believer in, well, right. If you’re going to proactively service something that went wrong do it to the products I’ve bought from you. Right? The relationship we have. I think those are different types of concepts. So it’s not, “I don’t want a relationship with you. I want a different type of relationship with you.”

Gabe Larsen: (19:43)
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. That’s right. But it’s on my terms and it looks a lot different than it did before. So, interesting. It’s always fun catching up. Summarizing, give us kind of your take on how we — where we’ve been and where we’re going forward. Give us a quick kind of summary. We hit on a few different topics.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:02)
Yeah, so where we’ve been is just we have pressed the fast forward button on the future by two years.

Gabe Larsen: (20:10)
Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:11)
I mean, that’s just the reality and we can’t go back. We’re not going to go back. The consumer’s not going to go back. The brands can’t go back. So now it’s a period of how do you — unfortunately, most companies don’t think that far in advance; there’s very few. There’s Elon Musk, the Space X’s right? There’s Bezos at Amazon. But the majority of companies, they’re thinking about it in monthly, quarterly cycles, right? Depending on the next time they have to go to the street or go to the board or whatever, you really have to think about, what would your business have looked like two years from now? And operate it at that cadence today, which, good luck with that.

Gabe Larsen: (20:54)
Yeah. I know, easier said than done. So always a fun conversation Vikas. For the audience, thanks for joining and have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (21:06)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Leveraging AI to Power Your Contact Center With Aarde Cosseboom and Vikas Bhambri

Leveraging AI to Power Your Contact Center With Aarde Cosseboom and Vikas Bhambri TW 2

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe is joined by Aarde Cosseboom and Vikas Bhambri to discuss how to use AI in contact centers. Aarde is the Senior Director of Technology and Product for Global Member Services at TechStyle. He’s spent the last decade working in e-commerce and is the author of the book Enable Better Service. Vikas, a familiar guest on the show, is the SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer and a 20-year CRM / contact center veteran. Both Aarde and Vikas have extensive knowledge on the use of AI in customer service and they have come together to discuss how other businesses can optimize with the help of AI.

“Omnibot”, The Omnichannel Bot

Customer expectations have changed significantly over the last few months, and companies are starting to feel the strain— especially in regards to their AI. While autobots have a reputation for dehumanizing companies, we are starting to rely on them heavily as customer needs increase. To ensure chatbots have a positive impact, Vikas and Aarde focus on making sure they are used as an omnichannel tool. Aarde states, “You can’t just have a chatbot on your website anymore, and it only be in your chat profile. It’s gotta be across all of the different channels that you use to support your members.” As customers switch channels, the bot needs to be available to support your customer on their preferred channel. Gabe, Vikas, and Aarde called this adaptable bot an “omnibot.”

Knowing the need for effective AI, and bots that function on multiple channels, Vikas and Aarde discuss who should build the bots and how they should be built. Because coding and creating AI can be taxing, they recommend finding a good partner to help, as it will be a better use of resources. As for how an omnibot should be built, Vikas notes the need for authenticity to the brand. He states, “If you’re a fun hip brand, you want to keep it relative to that. If you’re maybe a more mature brand, you want to keep it in tune with your … general reputation and what your customers expect of you.” In other words, make sure that the bot matches your brand. And, as an additional note, let customers know they’re talking to a bot. Customers don’t like to question whether they’re talking to a person or not.

How to Humanize a Customer’s AI Experience

One of the main concerns with using chatbots, even ones that are authentically built to the brand, is that consumers lose the human touch of customer service. This is a valid point, but Vikas and Aarde explain ways to overcome that while still increasing efficiency. To humanize a bot experience, have a good team behind it. In regards to AI Vikas states, “You still need people that will go and optimize the program behind it.” It is a team effort to optimize a chatbot, and constant evaluative measures will ensure that it grows and changes with the needs of the customer. Good AI is not meant to replace people in customer service, but to aid those committed to helping customers. In fact, Aarde mentions optimization tactics that fix AI and help the customer at the same time. He says, “When we feed the transcripts to our agents, our agents are actually reading through and seeing where things fail and then they escalate that to the bot architects, the engineers in the background. So they could change those bugs.”

Best Practices and Final Advice on How to Optimize AI

Transcribing bot conversations and having the bots follow the customer across multiple channels helps with the overall customer experience. Additionally, not being hesitant to transfer someone to a live agent is a good tactic. If people are saying “Operator”, pressing zero, or yelling, don’t use the bot to fix the problem, have a person step in and do their job. Aarde’s final piece of advice, or best practice, is to not tackle the hardest type of AI first. Don’t try for voice AI from the beginning. “I recommend trying,” he states, “but trying it slowly. So testing with maybe a low volume channel first, just doing a small portion, maybe 10% of volume, see its success rate and then roll it out to the greater population.” Add AI to your company’s customer service department one step at a time. Agreeing with Aarde, Vikas adds, “Look at your FAQ. What are the articles that people most often go to that resolve their issue?” He also suggests, “[Talk] to your agents or even [look] at the analytics in your CRM ticketing tool to look at, ‘What are the macros they most often use?’” While investing in AI can be an intimidating venture, bots can provide increased efficiency to your company, and successful self-service to your customers.

To learn more about how to leverage AI in your customer service department, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

 

Listen Now:

Listen to “Leveraging AI Automation and Self-service to Power Your Contact Center | Aarde Cosseboom and Vikas Bhambri” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

Leveraging AI to Power Your Contact Center With Aarde Cosseboom and Vikas Bhambri

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right. Welcome everybody to today’s broadcast. We’re excited to get going here. We’re going to be talking about one of these really relevant and interesting conversations, leveraging AI and self-service to really power your contact center. To do that we brought on two special guests. We’ll let them introduce themselves. Aarde, why don’t we start with you?

Aarde Cosseboom: (00:31)
Sure. Thanks again Gabe and Vikas for having me and Kustomer, of course, for hosting. I’m Aarde Cosseboom. I’m the Senior Director of Technology and Product for GMS, which is Global Member Services for a company called TechStyle. And we’re an e-commerce retail company.

Gabe Larsen: (00:47)
Awesome. Vikas, over to you.

Vikas Bhambri: (00:49)
Vikas Bhambri, SVP Sales and CX here at Kustomer, 20 years CRM Contact Center Lifer, looking forward to the conversation with Aarde and Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (00:57)
Yeah, this is exciting. And you know, myself, I run growth over here at Kustomer. So let’s get in and let’s talk about this. Aarde, let’s start with the big picture. What do AI and self-service bots even solve?

Aarde Cosseboom: (01:11)
Yeah, this is a great question and really hard to answer specifics because every business is slightly different, but I’ll try to stay as high level as possible. Really it helps with self service, it’s in the title, but deflection, reducing contact. There’s a lot of automation that happens as well, too. So not only automating for your customer, but also automating a lot of the agent processes like creation of tickets and then auto dispositions as well too. And then one of the things that’s kind of hidden that most people don’t think about, and it’s actually one of the things that we don’t really measure that well in the industry in this area, is customer experience as well, too. So as millennials and gen X are expecting these types of tools, it creates a better experience for those people who are expecting it.

Gabe Larsen: (02:01)
Vikas, maybe you can add onto that. I mean, why do you think this is such an important conversation more so now than it was even just a couple months ago? Give us kind of that thought process.

Vikas Bhambri: (02:11)
Sure. I think what we’re running into right now is folks like Aarde are really seeing a tremendous surge of inquiries into their contact center. And the reason they’re seeing that is there’s the heightened level of anxiety and expectation for consumers. Most of what they’re shopping for, they want now and it doesn’t matter what it is. In fact, I was talking to a friend of mine who’s in the middle of buying a bike. Now, normally you buy a bike and you’re good. Whenever it shows up, it shows up. But because of the quarantine, he is literally like, “I need a bike so that I can have something to do with my kids.” So when he placed an order for the bike and wasn’t immediately notified when his bike was going to be available, he got extremely concerned and started pinging the bike shop. So I think it’s really interesting to see that behavior, particularly in these times, the ticket surge and putting pressure on people like Aarde and his peers to be able to respond.

Gabe Larsen: (03:20)
It feels like, again, there’s just more need for it than ever before. How do you think about chatbots versus social versus some of these other channels? Do you feel like they’re just different times to use them, is it different companies, is it different industries? Aarde, what’s your thought on kind of the mix of channels that are out there, why people would use one versus the other, et cetera?

Aarde Cosseboom: (03:42)
Yeah. And it goes back to expectations. So your customers expect a lot from you. And as we grow in channels in the customer service realm, growing the social and then direct social, which is things like WhatsApp and Apple business chat, direct SMS, and MMS. Those are all areas that we need to grow into and when we do grow into, we need to create an omnichannel experience. So you can’t just have a chatbot on your website anymore, and it only be in your chat profile. It’s gotta be across all of the different channels that you use to support your members. And as a member switches, as they do the channel switch, maybe they start in chat online and then they say, “You know what, I’m going to pause the conversation. And now I’m going to go to Facebook messenger.” You need to follow that with your AI so they don’t have to start all over from scratch with that automation tool.

Gabe Larsen: (04:36)
I like that. Vikas, how would you add to that?

Vikas Bhambri: (04:38)
I think Aarde nailed it. The term chatbot is so yesterday, right? Your bot needs to be omnichannel, your bot needs to be available, not just via chat as a channel, but you know Aarde mentioned Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, SMS email, right? So when we think about automation and bots here at Kustomer, we think about it regardless of channel, I mean, even email, right? Why is it that somebody sends an email and somebody actually has to enter a response? Why wouldn’t you send some responses that will allow that customer to self service, even by email, which is obviously one of the older, more mature channels. So that’s how we think about bots here at Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (05:23)
Well, look, I’m as guilty as anybody; the chatbot I’m so used to thinking chatbot and it’s something on the website. Is there a different term? Is there, I mean, obviously as you guys kind of pointed out, it’s better to think about it, maybe in an omnichannel approach, but Aarde, I’m looking for you on this one, man. How come you haven’t invented a term that is an omnichannel chatbot? What is that term, what is it?

Aarde Cosseboom: (05:49)
I haven’t invented it, but it is out there. It’s IVA which stands for Intelligent Virtual Assistant and really it’s the omnichannel bot experience, doesn’t matter how you use it, but that’s how you deliver it. So Virtual Assistant or Intelligent Virtual Assistant,

Vikas Bhambri: (06:07)
Gabe, I’m not the marketer on this call, but I’m going to give you a lay up here and you can give me credit. And if our friends at Zendesk are listening, they’ll probably copy it as they always do, but Omnibot.

Gabe Larsen: (06:19)
Omnibot! Oh my goodness! Oh, stolen.

Aarde Cosseboom: (06:22)
I like it.

Vikas Bhambri: (06:22)
I’m a transformers kid. I grew up, I’m a transformers generation. So that just sounds super cool to me.

Gabe Larsen: (06:29)
Honestly that sounds like —

Aarde Cosseboom: (06:31)
[laughing]

Gabe Larsen: (06:31)
Omnibot does sound like one of those transformers. What’s the main transformer? What’s the old guy?

Vikas Bhambri: (06:36)
Optimus Prime.

Gabe Larsen: (06:38)
Optimus Prime. Optimus Prime, meet Omnibot.

Aarde Cosseboom: (06:43)
That’s a great name for a bot too. We could brand it.

Gabe Larsen: (06:47)
It totally works. That probably is good for this question you guys. I consider myself a programmer. I wanted to build my own bot. My kids are doing little things with programming. It seems like a lot of people are building bots these days. Should someone just build a bot? Should you buy a bot? And excuse me, an Interactive Virtual Assistant. Aarde, let’s start with you man. You’re out there in the market, talking to people, can companies just build these things? Is that easy or should you buy it? I’m confused.

Aarde Cosseboom: (07:19)
Yep. Great question. There’s a lot of controversy here and lots of different companies are doing their own little flavor. As technology grows and changes, it’s enabling companies to be able to build their own. Things like Amazon Lex or Google dialogue flow, it’s getting a lot easier than it was a year ago or even five years ago. But in the current market and we assess this here at TechStyle every six months, we recommend to buy or partner, is what we like to call it, partner with an actual partner that has the technology in place. You get a couple benefits from it, ease of use, and you’ll get to market faster. You won’t have to do that long implementation, have to have those developers and experts build something from scratch. You’ll be able to lean on the expertise of your partner to help you with that. And then the other thing that’s really beneficial that most people don’t think about is, when you’re partnering with a technology partner, they’re going to be leveraging all of the AI and machine learning that they have across all of their other customers and bring all of that to you and your bot. So if there’s a best practice in your space, we’re in retail, for example, and we use a partner and they have a best practice for another retail customer, they’re going to knock on our door and give us that easy flow without us having to do all the legwork. So I recommend buy for now and partner with a dedicated partner that has it in that ecosystem.

Gabe Larsen: (08:45)
Yeah. Look, it’s becoming, I mean, there’s just, there’s enough out there. You guys, I think you can get it for a good enough price that I don’t know if you need to dedicate a whole engineering team to kind of build your own automation, roles and bots, and things like that. So I don’t think I’d disagree with Aarde. Vikas, this one just came through on LinkedIn, this is from Keith, this question, and I meant to throw this in here and so I want to throw it in now. He said, “Hey, look, we’re trying to humanize our bots. So we designed them to help people not be viewed as an application. But it still comes — begs the question of how do you think about these bots? I’m thinking more on the website at the moment. Do you name it the bot, do you put a human there? Do you — how do you balance that? Have you seen best practices on that?

Vikas Bhambri: (09:26)
Yeah, the first thing that I recommend to customers is you got to keep it authentic to your brand.

Gabe Larsen: (09:32)
Okay.

Vikas Bhambri: (09:33)
That’s number one. If you’re a fun hip brand, you want to keep it relative to that. If you’re maybe a more mature brand, you want to keep it in tune with your just general reputation and what your customers expect of you. The other thing is, I think in the early days, and most companies have gone away from this, I remember there was a brand in the UK that had announced a bot, but they branded it Lucy. Ask Lucy. And customers cannot really tell whether they were speaking to a human being or a bot. And they actually got very negative feedback because people were just asking questions and the bot at that time, you can imagine almost seven, eight years ago, wasn’t trained. It couldn’t answer half their questions. So I think the more that you let your customer know, “Look, you’re dealing with a bot” and that allows them to give some flexibility and some leeway to you to understand that look at some point, this bot may not be able to answer my question; to know that you can always escalate to a live human agent, right? So you can still give it a name, right? But making sure it’s authentic to what it is. And if the point comes where it can not resolve the customer’s inquiry, that they know there’s a handoff, a seamless transition. That’s another thing a lot of people get wrong. Right? So now I connect to the human agent, don’t make me ask the five, six, seven questions that I just went through with the bot. The agent should pick up the conversation fluidly from where I left off. Aarde what do you think?

Gabe Larsen: (11:09)
Yeah Aarde, I want to talk — do you agree because I think you might disagree?

Aarde Cosseboom: (11:15)
No, I do agree. There’s a little bit of uncanny Valley; gotta be careful about not tricking your customer into thinking they’re talking to a human. So I totally agree that you have to upfront tell them that it’s a bot. I like to brand it as giving it kind of a bot accent. So if it’s a voice bot giving it a little bit of a mechanical accent, so they know that it’s a bot or, not having a hundred percent of a fluid conversation fragmented a little bit more so they know that they’re talking. Also, you could declare it at the beginning of a chat or social conversation saying that “You’re engaging with an AI tool at this time.” And then, another key point here is you’re right, try to do it on brand. So we have 95% of our customers are females. So we have a female voice. If you’re selling golf clubs online, you may want a male voice because there may be a higher percentage of males that are listening to or engaging with your bot. So think about voice, tone, accent, especially accents, U.S. accents. So if you’re on the East Coast, don’t put words in there like “cool” or “hip” or things like that. Make sure that it’s localized to your customers and brands.

Gabe Larsen: (12:29)
Yeah, don’t use one of those weird Utah accents like you hear coming in all, all “Here y’all.”

Vikas Bhambri: (12:36)
One other thing to Keith’s question, right? And this whole concept of an application; look, it goes back to back in the day and chat, we started out with what we called a pre chat survey, which was literally, “Here are the five questions you need to answer so that we know who to route you to, who you are,” et cetera. Then it became a bit more where people were doing authentication. And so they had some data. Then we moved to this concept of conversational form, which was still a bot, but it asked the question in a humanized way. So it wasn’t just “Fill out these five questions.” It would ask you the question one at a time and maybe there was a variability where if you said you were a buyer versus a seller, the next question would change. Now Keith, where we want to take it is the bot can gather so much data about the customer before they even type in one word. So a lot of that is now picking up with the information that is now unknown to you so that you can then either answer the inquiry or then route it to the agent. So it should necessarily have that kind of predetermined, almost process flow. You can be much more mature about how you even go about using natural language processing for people to just key in things and it doesn’t have to be hard coded, right? So I think there’s a lot that you can do there now.

Gabe Larsen: (14:00)
I like that. This is, I think, one of the questions that comes up often, this is such a cool feature look at this. I can just throw this in here, right here. Look at that. Are you guys seeing that?

Aarde Cosseboom: (14:11)
Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (14:11)
Yep.

Gabe Larsen: (14:12)
Geez louise, man, look at this technology. Scott Mark, little shout out to Scott Mark. What are best practices around the handoff from a bot so we stop dropping the ball? I think that’s — we wanted to get actually into some best practices. Maybe we start it now. That’s just a big debate. It’s when you handoff, how do you hand off, how many questions do you ask? It’s just, it never feels right. Thoughts? Aarde let’s start with you on that one.

Aarde Cosseboom: (14:38)
Yeah, absolutely. And you have to think of one thing first, which we call the IVR prison or the chatbot prison. You’ve got to allow people to get out of that prison. So if you get the same question twice and it’s not — you can’t recognize the right answer like, “What is your email address?” and can’t recognize, ask again, can’t recognize, fail it out to a live agent. That’s a good best practice. Also if they say the word operator or press the zero key on their phone, or if they start cursing, definitely fail them out of the IVR. Don’t keep them in prison. Always allow them a way out of that IVR. But then when you go over into the agent experience and that handoff, even for the experiences where someone engaged with the bot for a very long time, and there’s a long transcript, maybe there is actions that were done like they updated their credit card information with the bot, they updated their billing information, their name, profile; all of that you want to transfer to an agent, screen pop not only the member profile, start to fill out the case or tickets so the agent doesn’t have to do it. And then also, feed them the transcripts so that if the customer or member says, “Hey, I talked to the bot, it updated my billing address, but I think it didn’t do it right. It didn’t do the right street address, the right number. Can you go back and check and see if it did that?” The agent should be able to scroll up through that transcript and see exactly where it failed and then fix that, that failure.

Gabe Larsen: (16:11)
Yeah. Vikas, what would you add to that?

Vikas Bhambri: (16:13)
I think the biggest, so Aarde nailed it, right? So, your initial implementation, those are all the best practices. I think the challenge for most brands is you’ve got to treat this like a program management, just like a marketer would if they were doing a promotion on their website or doing a campaign. Constantly revisiting and optimizing, right? So one, your bot is going to get smarter if you’re investing in the right technology. But two, if you’re finding that customers are constantly getting challenged, that process in your step, go and see what do you need to do to modify it, to smooth that out, right? So where are people cursing, where are people hitting zero? Where are people saying, “Get me to a live human agent?” How do we further optimize that piece before we do it? So I think that’s the biggest thing I see is where people will roll these things out and then forget about them and then six months later, they’ll say, “You know what, this isn’t working and we just have to pull it off the site.” And that to me —

Gabe Larsen: (17:16)
Why do you have to call me out like that? Why do you have to call me out like that? I mean, geez louise. In all truthfulness, that was my first experience with a bot. I mean, it’s been a few years back, but I don’t know. I thought you could throw it on the website and it would maybe like, I don’t know, do its things, some sort of magic or something. And three months later, I’m like, “This thing’s a piece of garbage.” I totally, I mean, I came to the heart of the conclusion that like anything else, it has to be iterative and optimized. I love that one.

Vikas Bhambri: (17:45)
No, I think Gabe, this is an interesting thing, right? Because people keep talking about AI just on a broad macro level. And you know, people will say, look, “AI is going to put everybody out of a job. We won’t need salespeople. We won’t need marketers. We won’t need customer service people.” No, because the role will change because the technology is great, but you still need people that will go and optimize the program behind it. Right? So I think, I think that’s an interesting nuance just as we think about AI generally.

Aarde Cosseboom: (18:11)
Yeah. And talking a little bit about supervised learning; so when we feed the transcripts to our agents, our agents are actually reading through and seeing where things fail and then they escalate that to the bot architects, the engineers in the background. So they could change those bugs. So your team members, your agents are now a part of a QA or quality assurance process on your technology, which is huge. And it kinda levels up the agent as well, too. They’re no longer just answering chats and emails and phone calls. They’re now, they now feel a part of the organization because they have a higher role in reporting this information back.

Gabe Larsen: (18:49)
I’ve been hearing more about this kind of bot, almost like a role, like a bot architect. I love the idea of getting the frontline people in front of it. Guys, give me a couple other nuggets. I think that’s where people want to go with this because I think people are getting onto the idea that they need to have these assistants or bots on their sites, et cetera. I don’t know if people know some of the best practices, lessons learned from deployment, where they get started. Our time’s a little bit short, but give us a quick rundown. Aarde let’s start with you then Vikas, we will go back.

Aarde Cosseboom: (19:18)
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll make it super short, but, it’s a huge chasm to cross from having nothing to having something. That’s why I recommend trying, but trying it slowly. So testing with maybe a low volume channel first, just doing a small portion, maybe 10% of volume, see its success rate and then roll it out to the greater population. So try to do the easier channels first. So online web chat is probably the easiest or a social chat or an SMS bot. Don’t tackle voice first. That’s going to be your hardest heaviest lift and you’re going to be sidetracked.

Gabe Larsen: (19:54)
Vikas what do you think man?

Vikas Bhambri: (19:54)
Yeah, I agree with Aarde. Look, you have to look at this as a crawl, walk, run, right? If you try to bite off more than you can chew, you’re going to end up pretty miserable. So for me, number one is, look at your FAQ. What are the articles that people most often go to that resolve their issue? Maybe that’s something you want to be more proactive serving up. The second is talking to your agents or even looking at the analytics in your CRM ticketing tool to look at what are the macros they most often use, right? Because if somebody is just cutting and pasting, we’re hitting hashtag time after time, again, that means those are probably some, that’s some low hanging fruit that you could front end via a bot, the omnibot, for them to resolve themselves. So those are some things that you could look at. Query the data you have, and then just think about, “How do you want to be proactive and thoughtful about putting some of these things in front of your customers?”

Gabe Larsen: (20:54)
I think that’s spot on you guys. I mean, my biggest takeaway from today, I’m going to trademark Omnibot. That’s what I’m doing. That’s — I could barely listen to you guys. I was thinking so much about money I’m going to be making on Omnibot here. No, I’m teasing. Aarde, really appreciate you joining. Vikas, as always, great to have you on. For the audience, hope you guys have a fantastic day.

Vikas Bhambri: (21:19)
Have a great weekend.

Aarde Cosseboom: (21:20)
Thanks everyone.

Exit Voice: (21:27)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed to hear more customer service secrets.

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.

 

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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)
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