Establishing Employee and Customer Engagement with Suzzanna Rowold

Establishing Employee and Customer Engagement with Suzzanna Rowold TW

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen uncovers the secrets to establishing employee and customer engagement with expert Suzzanna Rowold. Suzzanna has over 12 years of leadership experience and is currently working on a PhD with a focus of entrepreneurship and innovation. Listen to the podcast below to discover how Suzzanna transforms CX teams to excellence.

Tips for Hiring Talent and Lowering Turnover Rates

Hiring is one of the earliest engagement touchpoints in which an organization can set clear and specific expectations for interviewees and incoming customer experience agents. The hiring process for a high-performing CX team in organizations can be quite difficult, especially with high turnover rates. Recognizing how brands with high turnover rates struggle to efficiently produce the best CX, Suzzanna says:

So really looking at the cost of turnover for an organization, if you have constant turnover, how can you be effective in customer service? You can’t because you’re constantly training new staff. So you never get up to that level of efficiency. And in looking at that, the research has shown time and time again, the United States alone is spending over $600 billion a year in turnover costs. That’s expensive.

Keeping this in mind, she offers some helpful tips for hiring managers to help keep employees motivated to stay. By detailing expectations on the job listing, setting clear standards in the interview and coaching new employees as soon as they are hired, this helps retention rates skyrocket and turnover rates lower. Additionally, Suzzanna discusses how certain modifiers can get organizations in legal trouble in some areas around the country as those modifiers on job postings tend to discriminate against qualified applicants (i.e. “You must have 4 years of experience”). To steer clear of this, it’s best to offer each applicant an opportunity to present their strengths and qualifications.

Helping Employees Identify Their Purpose

When shaping a company culture, two of the most important things customer experience leaders can do is to align their CX reps with the company values and to help reps find a purpose in their roles. When employees feel that they have a purpose in their role and when they are wholly aligned with the company’s values, time after time successful customer engagement interactions and high NPS scores shine through. Suzzanna notes when walking into a new office space, “You can tell which of those employees are actively engaged simply by their demeanor and their behavior.” Not only is it important for employees to feel they have a purpose to pursue with determination, it is also important for CX leaders to find the value within their employees and to hold themselves to a high standard of excellence. Suzzanna remarks, “So you really need to think as a leader for how and why each of those staff make a difference and how directly that difference impacts that customer experience. And that’s both for internal and external stakeholders. Both of those are extremely vital.” Ultimately, the success of a CX team reflects on the example set by the leadership.

Creating a Culture of Learning by Habit

As a highly regarded leader in the realm of CX, Suzzanna helps other leaders to establish habits of success within their daily operations. One of these habits is urging leaders to invest in their employee’s success and to provide opportunities for growth. To do so, Suzzanna advocates that leaders should regularly be having these conversations with their employees. Another habit is to create a safe work environment in which CX agents feel safe to voice their concerns or problems they may be experiencing which is crucial to smooth operations. “Nobody should feel like they’re going to be retaliated against for bringing up concerns about things that aren’t going well, let alone making a mistake, but setting up the culture that if you make a mistake, the expectation is you learn from it and we don’t continue to make that same mistake.” Creating a learning environment for CX employees and hosting a culture that encourages discussion will help employees stay in the long run. Suzzanna leaves the audience with one last helpful tip before signing off, “Don’t leave room for mediocrity.”

To learn more about establishing employee and customer engagement or how to lead a CX team to excellence, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday and Thursday.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Best Practices of Employee and Customer Engagement | Suzzanna Rowold

TRANSCRIPT
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 get going today. We’re going to be talking about employee and customer engagement and the best way to do that and our special guest to help us on this journey is Suzzanna Rowold. She is currently an Employee and Customer Engagement Expert. She’s actually setting up her own consulting business, working on her PhD in organizational development. 12 plus years in leadership. Fortune 100 companies, brings a lot to the table. Suzzanna, thanks so much for joining. How the heck are ya?

Suzzanna Rowold: (00:44)
I’m doing great. How are you doing?

Gabe Larsen: (00:46)
Well it’s good. It’s always fun to have a guest, especially with somebody with your background. You have a lot of things going on right now. Tell us a little bit about some of the fun things you’re working on both current and maybe even in the past.

Suzzanna Rowold: (00:58)
Sure. Sounds great. So I’m currently in the process of completing my PhD. I’m wrapping up my last four classes before the fun dissertation starts. That’s always exciting. People think I’m insane because I cannot wait to get to the dissertation part, which is always funny. So that is actually in organizational development and leadership and I am specializing in entrepreneurship and innovation. So it’ll be exciting because my background is as a licensed clinical therapist for behavioral health. So once my PhD is done, I will have the full gamut of in individual behavior all the way through organizational behavior and can stand across that whole segment. And then in addition to that, like you mentioned, I’m in the process of setting up my own consulting business, looking into some other options of potentially teaching at college levels and things like that. Definitely something I want to get into is moving forward. And my history and experience has been working for large national companies, different markets, multiple states, tens to a hundred of employees that have reported through me. And really in behavioral health when it comes down to it, even being a leader in behavioral health, most of that scope really does have a customer experience component to it because you’re either dealing with providers or hospitals, your internal different departments, as well as those members that are receiving those services. And so customer experience and customer excellence is very much at the top of what needs to happen and really be focused on for all of those staff.

Gabe Larsen: (02:50)
I love that. Yeah. What a well-rounded, the clinical background. You’ve got the PhD. You’ve got experience in customer and in employee. Now all I’ve got to do is see if I can suck out of you some of this knowledge, your experience and knowledge because I know you know a lot of it. So, appreciate the overview, let’s dive into the topic. So throughout your career, you find different ways to be successful. You and I were talking pre-show a little bit about some of the secrets. Things maybe people don’t often think about as much in the way you’ve been able to be successful in your career. Would love for you to start at the top. What’s kind of that thing that comes to mind first? Your first secret and why you’ve been able to be successful in different elements of your career.

Suzzanna Rowold: (03:39)
Well, I think that the primary area that you have to start is understanding really the why behind what those secret tips are. And so really looking at the cost of turnover for an organization, if you have constant turnover, how can you be effective in customer service? You can’t because you’re constantly training new staff. So you never get up to that level of efficiency. And in looking at that, the research has shown time and time again, the United States alone is spending over $600 billion a year in turnover costs. That’s expensive. So that just keeps continuing to rise as well. And then you look at the other component of what are those drivers of why staff leave their company. That primary area falls to being more times than not, the lack of professional growth and development. And who’s your leader? Are they supportive? Are they providing the things as a quality leader that they really need? That is the two major areas that are going to drive that staff satisfaction, their engagement and their dedication to the customers.

Gabe Larsen: (04:49)
I love that. Yeah, it’s funny because we often think of employee engagement around just compensation and certainly there is a base of that. I’ve always found if you pay 50% below market, yeah, you’re gonna have a hard time keeping people, but assuming you’re in the ballpark, it does, right? It moves to different elements like the career path. I love the leader, the manager, somebody you trust that inspires you, that cares about you as a person, right? Those types of things, it’s harder because sometimes they’re a little softer. I think I’m with you on that being a big driver of the overall turnover. How do you feel like the engagement of employees then translates to the impact customer service?

Suzzanna Rowold: (05:43)
So really, without having those employees who feel like they are fully part of that company, they have a purpose, they really have that investment because they’re seeing it on the other side. That comes through in their every interaction. And you can tell just walking into an office that maybe you know nobody in, you can tell which of those employees are actively engaged simply by their demeanor and their behavior. And so those are key elements that people think of, “Oh, customer service is one specific area or foresight that you need to focus on.” But at the same time, when you really think about it, you’d need to look to the internal side of the organization and what those behaviors are that are being shaped.

Gabe Larsen: (06:28)
Interesting. Yeah. I just feel like that’s often one of those misconnections. They feel like they want to go after the customer experience, but they forget that obviously the employee drives that so much. So let’s dive into a couple of these employee elements. Want to start a little bit with one of your top tips around hiring and onboarding. How have you felt like you’ve mastered this and, or potentially maybe lessons learned or mistakes you’ve made to kind of overcome this barrier of just getting the right people on the bus?

Suzzanna Rowold: (06:59)
So one of the very top parts of ensuring that your onboarding is really focused to your needs is setting those clear expectations. You really need to have your job descriptions and what you’re posting for those positions be exactly what it is that you’re needing them to do. I know for myself, during the times of looking through different postings and positions, it’s very difficult at times to be able to really see, what does that mean? Every company calls it something different. Every company wants something different, there’s different expectations. And there’s always that one little catchall. So the more specific and detailed you can be to what that environment is going to look like and setting those clear expectations once somebody comes in the door is going to be very critical for that success of both that staff and the company and hiring them.

Gabe Larsen: (07:54)
Yeah, do you feel –

Suzzanna Rowold: (07:54)
And then you want –

Gabe Larsen: (07:58)
So I’m just curious.

Suzzanna Rowold: (07:58)
Oh, go ahead.

Gabe Larsen: (07:58)
Do you feel like people, where do people miss on this? Is it mostly on the expectation side of the house? Where’s the big gap when people try to tackle this hiring element? And I might be jumping just a little bit ahead. I apologize.

Suzzanna Rowold: (08:15)
No, that’s okay. So when it comes to the preceptor of the hiring, many times employees aren’t filtering their recruitment accurately, or they are creating too strict of a bucket for those candidates that they’re letting through the door. Many companies now, especially large organizations, are utilizing different identifiers that automatically disqualify people just through a computer system or through a talent acquisition staff that immediately eliminates some really great qualified people that you don’t understand their backgrounds with, or you don’t get where they really could excel because you’re only looking at a sheet of paper, or you’re only looking at a submission online. And so you really have to be cautious of those things, not to mention using modifiers, such as you must have this number of years of experience. Really, there are many, there’s many counties, there’s many states, there’s many nations that can get into a lot of legal trouble by using those specific things that discriminate against a quality candidate getting through the door.

Gabe Larsen: (09:35)
Wow. Yeah, that’s really interesting because that’s been, I feel like a big conversation lately around using science in hiring, right? It’s like, how do you do that? But what I’m hearing you say is that sometimes you got to be careful. That science can point you in the wrong direction.

Suzzanna Rowold: (09:51)
It really could. And I mean, even myself for example, my background is very unique. And so when people look at that, they immediately make an assumption about what those qualifications are, what those strengths are. And many times they couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just what people associate to certain aspects and certain competencies that may or not be accurate.

Gabe Larsen: (10:17)
Yeah. Yeah. That’s really interesting. I think that’s a really different way to look at it. A lot of people, I do think that, and it’s this whole AI conversation with data. It’s like, if you ever let the machine completely run your business, there’s probably a good chance you’re, it needs AI data analytics. How does it enable us, not eliminate us? And so I think you make a good point on that. Okay. So you talk a little bit about clerics, but continue down the hiring. How do you continue to optimize that one?

Suzzanna Rowold: (10:49)
Sure. So once you have somebody in the door, you need to shape that environment of feedback, openness, transparent communications and coaching that needs to happen right from the start. Without those things, you are shaping a culture that does not embrace them and however you set the stage for an employee coming in the door is going to be what you are going to get out of it. And same thing with effectiveness and applicable training. Really making sure that they’re getting all of those resources and tools and training necessary to be successful in that role, the minute that they’re coming in the door. And those are really, those three primary areas for that onboarding once somebody does get hired.

Gabe Larsen: (11:33)
I like that. So you got kind of the expectation idea. You’ve got the feedback, environments, coaching, and then you just have a dedicated training. Any examples you found that can kind of help us visualize a little bit more on this training example or different ways you’ve actually set clear expectations, something like that?

Suzzanna Rowold: (11:53)
So what I’ve done in previous roles is developing a whole employee life cycle of surveys. And so utilizing new hire surveys, inquiring about their experience with the onboarding, with the candidate process, looking at different, even seasoned staff surveys, are important as people are there for awhile. Also looking at the missed candidate surveys and being able to capture information from people that you wanted to hire in, but they declined the offer. And so that gives you a lot of insights. Now, the biggest catch with all of this though is you actually have to do something about the data that you’re getting. And so, as you’re doing the onboarding and as employees are going through your training programs, when you’re getting feedback about the efficiency of it, you need to make those tweaks and adjustments if it’s not hitting the bar.

Gabe Larsen: (12:47)
Hmm. Yeah. That iterative process seems like that’s always something cognizant of it’s just iterate, iterate, iterate. Okay. So we hit a little bit about hiring, onboarding. Where do you go next as far as some of your secrets?

Suzzanna Rowold: (13:01)
So next is really looking at the focus of aligning the individual to the purpose of their roles, as well as their purpose and contribution to the team metrics and as a whole for the organizational strategic goals. So you really need to think as a leader for how and why each of those staff make a difference and how directly that difference impacts that customer experience. And that’s both for internal and external stakeholders. Both of those are extremely vital. In the past, I’ve created a career mapping to where as part of the regular quarterly reviews, staff looked at what their role was and worked with their leaders to really identify concrete on a document that they kept at their desk to be able to see how those things linked. And so maybe one person deals with providers and that level of satisfaction builds into some of the team metrics for maybe an NPS score that somebody needs to have as a measurement for their overall goals, which then ties into the success factor of expanding network when it comes to an organizational standpoint. And so really showing staff how, especially your frontline staff, how those pieces link and how they really contribute to that overall goal and effectiveness because they need to know their values.

Gabe Larsen: (14:30)
Yeah. So it’s about really getting, it’s kind of what you were saying almost [inaudible]. We just have to align people with that overall vision, the strategy, where the company wants to go. It is funny. It’s, I sit in sometimes these Kustomer town halls and things like that, and I’m always amazed to see leaders present the numbers as if people care about them. And I say that a little bit with an offensive joke, but I know and don’t get me wrong. The number the company has to grow with, it’s capitalism at its finest, but to kind of have that be the front and center like, “We hit our number. We didn’t hit our number,” rather than have kind of like this mission goal. Like, “Are we actually helping 10,000 new businesses turn themselves around?” Or something that people want to aspire to? I am always, and I’m guilty of it, but I’m just, I was in one the other day. And I was thinking, “Does this person actually think that anybody cares about the LRR?” Some data metric. What does that even mean?

Suzzanna Rowold: (15:45)
Well and [inaudible]. Nobody knows what that means. Nobody even knows if you say, “Oh, we have an NPS score of 40.” Okay well, where does that relate to the rest of the nation? Is that good? Is that not?

Gabe Larsen: (15:58)
That’s right. That’s right.

Suzzanna Rowold: (15:58)
Nobody knows what that means.

Gabe Larsen: (16:00)
Yeah. But bringing the two together. If you can connect, because I love the big picture vision and I love when I go into organizations and they have that just transformational mission that they keep moving towards and kind of aspiring to. But then to your point, tying it together with what the frontline is doing is awesome. Examples of how you figured out how to do this? This one’s a little harder. It’s a, how do you kind of bring this one to bear?

Suzzanna Rowold: (16:30)
Well, and as I mentioned, I mean that really is something that needs to be discussed with your employees in both a team concept, as well as an individual concept when you’re having those lunch and learns, your supervision, your department meetings, those need to be the things that are openly talked about because not only do your staff need to know how those relate, but the leader needs to believe that that relates and they need to be able to demonstrate and show that and show that the leader actually values the fact of what purpose each of those staff bring. The reality is no company is going to be successful without those frontline workers. They are your largest volume of staff. They’re your largest workhorses. Like you need that support and efficiency at those levels and they need to know how their behaviors and their expectations trigger over to the bigger picture. And so many just don’t.

Gabe Larsen: (17:27)
Yeah. There’s so many that just don’t. Very true. Okay well, I want to continue. I want to make sure, our time’s close, I want to get to secret three, where do you go for secret three?

Suzzanna Rowold: (17:41)
Sure. So in secret three, this really comes into where you have to invest in your employee’s success. You need to provide opportunity for growth and development. You need to regularly have those conversations. Developing a culture of learning is extremely important for not only internal satisfaction, but external satisfaction with the company. Creating a safe atmosphere for a fail fast mentality. Nobody should feel like they’re going to be retaliated against for bringing up concerns about things that aren’t going well, let alone making a mistake, but setting up the culture that if you make a mistake, the expectation is you learn from it and we don’t continue to make that same mistake. We improve and we continue to drive forward for what our purpose is.

Gabe Larsen: (18:29)
Right.

Suzzanna Rowold: (18:30)
I mean, really for myself and for any of the teams that I’ve ever been over, my thought is you don’t leave any room for mediocrity. So if that’s what you’re expecting, that’s what you’re going to get. Just like they say, what you measure is what you get. So set the bar high and strive for it and work together as a team to get there.

Gabe Larsen: (18:53)
Oh, fun. Yeah. I really liked the fail fast mentality. It just, it’s a hard one to get into a culture, but when it’s working, it really creates a different, really creates a different atmosphere. How have you kind of, any examples of how you brought this to life or brought this to bear in different organizations?

Suzzanna Rowold: (19:09)
Yeah. So with this, what I have done in the past is set up an annual customer service training theory and that focused on building quarter after quarter with advanced skill sets, leading up into pulling that into culture. As well as running different decision-making and solution-focused, problem-solving rounds so that when some staff were dealing with certain challenges, it was an open forum and discussion to be able to piggyback off of each other and being able to demonstrate how that can be generalized into more common scenarios that staff are facing. And really helping them understand how to have effective and meaningful resolutions without jeopardizing that integrity of the relationship with whichever stakeholder that was. And really looking at one of the things that are my absolute favorites for this area is a quote by Aristotle. So, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The leaders need to role model that because after all, all of their staff’s success is a direct reflection of them. And if you look at it that way, that creates a bit of a different mindset for how you’re interacting and developing your staff to really be that extension of you and success.

Gabe Larsen: (20:37)
Okay. Well said. Really fun secrets, Suzzanna, appreciate you jumping on and talking to us about these different things you’ve found to be successful in your career. If somebody, if we, as we wrap here, if somebody wants to reach out to you and get to know you or continue the dialogue, what’s the best way to do that?

Suzzanna Rowold: (20:56)
LinkedIn works great. That’s probably the easiest way to find me.

Gabe Larsen: (21:01)
Awesome. Awesome. And we can, and we’ll make sure we put that in the show notes. So Suzzanna, again, want to thank you for the time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Suzzanna Rowold: (21:10)
Thanks so much, Gabe for having me. Have a wonderful day.

Exit Voice: (21:18)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed to hear more Customer Service Secrets.

 

Happy Team, Happy Customers with Adam Maino

Happy Team, Happy Customers TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Adam Maino from FinancialForce to uncover the secrets to transforming a world-class customer support team. Learn how Adam builds a strong company culture that allows his team to fail fast and learn from those challenges by listening to the podcast below.

Proactive Team Culture Through Intelligence Swarming

Director of Customer Support at FinancialForce, Adam Maino has some astute insights about the world of customer service and creating a proactive company culture. He believes that a proactive team culture is brought about by hiring the best and brightest customer support talent. Adam finds that when completing the hiring process, candidates who are customer-centric tend to be more genuine and authentic with customers. To further explain, he states, “it’s about looking for people who really look at the customer and not just a case and not just a number and it’s not just a problem I’m trying to solve, but it’s something for the customer.” According to Adam, viewing the customer as a person and treating their needs with empathy is crucial to the success of daily CX team operations.

Typically, CX teams have a tier system of agents who handle incoming cases. Adam’s team has completely removed the need for a tier system by adopting the method of intelligence swarming. This method breaks down any pre-existing tiers by shepherding cases to the team members best suited to handle them. Adam elaborates by stating, “What that allows us to do essentially is have cases be routed to the best person able to take the case and have some faster resolve times because you’re not being hung between teams. And the customer’s experience is obviously much better.” Eliminating the need for multi-step solutions is a great way to conserve customer loyalty and help customers quickly and efficiently.

Utilizing Knowledge-Centered Services

Adam also emphasizes the importance of integrating Knowledge-Centered Services (KCS) into CX standard practices. He uses the KCS model from the Consortium For Service Innovation to improve his customer service team interactions. While discussing how incorporating KCS into standard practice greatly assists and accelerates scaling CX teams, Adam says:

KCS is your knowledge is on demand. So you’re not going through some 18-layer approval process to get a knowledge article out. Every analyst is writing those articles, updating those articles, and publishing those articles. And then coming out as soon as the case is closed. That article is going out; there’s no wait time.

The main purpose of KCS is to motivate CX teams to frequently improve their knowledge base by contributing individually written articles based on agent-customer cases. This is to solve future difficulties, leading to quicker resolutions and delighted customers.

The Secret to A Happy CX Team is A Coaching Mentality

Adam has identified multiple methods to leading and managing a happy and successful CX team. He notices time and time again that when his team of agents are happy, his customers are happy. Adam mentions one method in particular that has helped him continually motivate and empower his team is allowing his agents to work at their own inclination; more independently and with more autonomy. He says, “I think what we should be really focusing on … coaching our employees and not managing them so much, right? Let them kick open the doors and let them do their job.” He figures that a team works more efficiently when their environment is collaborative and the leader exemplifies a coaching mentality rather than a managing mentality. Additionally, he notes that positive feedback and recognition are what help him keep his high performing CX agents. By focusing on quality experiences and services, agents and customers are more likely to have positive interactions.

Adam urges companies to approach new ideas head on and to not be afraid of failure, as failure helps CX teams adapt and produce the best possible customer experience.

To learn more about the secrets to transforming a world-class CX team, check out the Customer Service Secrets Podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

Listen Now:

Listen to “Secrets to Transforming a World Class Customer Support Team | Adam Maino” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

Happy Team, Happy Customers | Adam Maino

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 get going today. Today, we’re going to be talking about secrets to transforming a world-class customer support team. Want to get into the scaling aspect and to do that, we brought on a guy I’ve been bugging a lot lately, trying to get him and I got him. His name’s Adam Maino. He’s currently the Director of Customer Support at FinancialForce. Adam, thanks for joining. How the heck are you?

Adam Maino: (00:37)
Good! Doing great. Thanks for that.

Gabe Larsen: (00:37)
Really appreciate you jumping on. Appreciate you responding. Cool background. Can you tell us real quick, just a little bit about yourself? Some of the things you guys do over at FinancialForce?

Adam Maino: (00:47)
Yeah, so we have multiple applications based on the Salesforce platform with accounting and PSA being our top applications. We also have SEN each as well.

Gabe Larsen: (01:04)
Yep.

Adam Maino: (01:04)
Very nicely in the same environment. Yeah, having a good time serving our customers with those.

Gabe Larsen: (01:13)
Love it. Love it, man. And I always like to ask, outside of work, what’s your go-to, man? Any crazy hobbies, high school band, a dog lover, anything like that?

Adam Maino: (01:24)
Yeah, I love making music, so I’ve got a bunch of guitars and fly fishing and hanging out with my family.

Gabe Larsen: (01:32)
Nice, man. Yeah. I’ve been trying to get my nine-year-old into guitar. I’m a total hack, but something about acting like you can sing and strumming that guitar just makes you feel better about life. Just makes you feel better. All right, well, let’s jump into the topic at hand. So you’ve obviously done this for awhile in some incredible areas, driving customer support, scaling it. As you think about some of the lessons learned and secrets, where do you start?

Adam Maino: (02:01)
I think culture really is one of the most important things you can have; to start with and so I think that’s something that you just have to have by default in order to really just scale teams and have fun doing it along the way. So, part of that for me is looking for the best talent. Really focusing on talent that’s customer-centric and always putting the customer first and online and that’s from your application layer, support, all the way up to support engineering. So it doesn’t matter who’s on point, everybody can speak to a customer and they can do it well.

Gabe Larsen: (02:43)
Yeah. How do you, two follow ups on that. I mean, people want to have a good culture, they want to hire well and get good talent and any things you’ve found to kind of tilt the statistics in your favor to actually bring on more talented reps, agents?

Adam Maino: (03:02)
I think we’re pretty lucky. We have a solid employee success team and they are really good about giving into our other candidates that come online and so, when we do get candidates, we usually have a pretty good run of really good candidates. But I think really, when you dive into those questions and put them on the spot, it’s about looking for people who really look at the customer and not just a case and not just a number and it’s not just a problem I’m trying to solve, but it’s something for the customer.

Gabe Larsen: (03:38)
Yeah. I love that. Do you, when you think about organizing your team, I mean, you mentioned this idea of like support engineers and customer service reps, that’s often something people have asked about, how do you think about the structure? You’ve got a gold, maybe like a top-tier team. You’ve got the support engineers, like a tier-two, maybe a tier-three support. Any quick thoughts on, it’s a little bit out, but the support engineers flagged that for me, how you’ve kind of thought about, either in your own org or coaching other orgs on just kind of the overall structure of what support should or shouldn’t look like?

Adam Maino: (04:15)
Yeah, so we took an approach called, intelligence swarming, which is an agile support methodology, which actually crushes the tiers. And so, what that allows us to do essentially is have cases be routed to the best person able to take the case and have some faster resolve times because you’re not being hung between teams. And the customer’s experience is obviously much better. And it really builds on this idea of having a collaborative environment, so you can reach out to them. And I think our team has actually changed because of this process. And before we literally had two separate channels where we had an application support report, and then product support engineering report into action in the product. So now our teams are actually made up of different layers. So my team, I have product support engineers, I have application support, I’ve got technical account managers, and programmers.

Gabe Larsen: (05:24)
Wow, interesting. You nixed the tiers. Is there a book or something on that? I mean, agile customer support.

Adam Maino: (05:35)
[inaudilbe] great. I cannot tell this organization enough, but it’s called the Consortium for Service Innovation. They’re amazing. So they’ve come out with KCS. So that’s the gold standard for learning and creating knowledge programs and our state program and then intelligence swarming and they’re also looking at things like predictive customer engagement models, was just a big event actually. But yeah, they’re absolutely incredible. I highly recommend checking out their site and then ownership to me is worth its weight in gold.

Gabe Larsen: (06:27)
How do I not know about these? What? What? Oh my heavens. Yeah. I’m just looking at them as you talk. I felt like I’ve at least come across a lot of these. I don’t even know how to say it. Consortium, Consortium for serviceinnovation.org is where I’m at for the audience.

Adam Maino: (06:54)
That’s great.

Gabe Larsen: (06:54)
And the intelligence swarming, you mentioned KCS. What’s KCS? I think I got the intelligence swarming from your last, what was the KCS thing?

Adam Maino: (07:04)
Knowledge Centered Services. And so what that allows you to do, and this is great for, I think really important for scaling teams. It doesn’t really matter if you’re spread out. In fact, when I joined the company that I’m at now, we only only interned people, and so it was the first program I brought in. I feel like if you’re going to scale a team, that’s sort of the layer, the concrete layer that you want to put in first and then start building up your team from there. It plays nicely in tandem with intelligence swarming. But basically, KCS is your knowledge is on demand. So you’re not going through some 18 layer approval process to get a knowledge article out. Every analyst is writing those articles, updating those articles, and publishing those articles. And then coming out as soon as the case is closed. That article is going out; there’s no wait time.

Gabe Larsen: (08:04)
Yeah, that sounds right up my avenue. I’ve been, we’re going off topic a little bit, but I’ve been having a harder time finding some more. That sounds like some real, just practical, tactical, how to get stuff done. And I keep finding orgs that it’s, I don’t want to say same old, same old, but it’s kind of the higher-level, fluffy, “Let’s talk customer service.” That sounds like a little more getting into the science and the process. And some, I like it. That sounds cool.

Adam Maino: (08:30)
There’s great measures in there for when you, like our measurements for our team are, 50% of their performance metrics are knowledge-based.

Gabe Larsen: (08:38)
Wow.

Adam Maino: (08:38)
That’s like a big chunk of how well they’re doing is how much they’re contributing to the knowledge base, how much they’re writing good articles. You have coaches that look and evaluate the articles and how well they’re linking those articles to those cases and that’s [inaudible] linking the article to the case when you solve it.

Gabe Larsen: (09:03)
Yes. Yes. Do you just want one more click on that with compensation? You mentioned part of comp, like maybe their variable for example, is based on the knowledge base or knowledge based interaction or engagement. Going back one step on compensation. How do you think about coming to drive motivation? It sounds like you believe in a variable, for example, for the reps.

Adam Maino: (09:28)
It’s interesting. We have a global team obviously, and not all regions do you comp. Europe’s just not that at all. That’s just not part of, it’s like, “You did your job good,” right? So like, if you’re going to score a C-SAT score and you get an eight out of ten from somebody in England, that’s like a ten out of ten in the U.S. right? You’re jumping up and down and screaming and going and grabbing a pint afterwards.

Gabe Larsen: (09:54)
I love that.

Adam Maino: (09:54)
That’s a totally different world. My mom’s a Brit, so I can make this and my dad’s Italian. I can draw that. That’s fine. I can say this aloud. So yeah, I think that’s sort of the big push is, depending on the culture, it does have some push, some drivers. But in all honesty, I think things like recognition and being recognized and valued as an employee go a lot further. I think the other stuff is really sort of icing on the cake, but as long as you’re feeling valued as an employee, as long as they’re feeling like they can contribute to any processes that you push out and they’re part of that integral part of those processes that you roll out, and that they’re not feeling micromanaged, they’re feeling coached and not sort of this overhanging, like with my employees, I never ask them or I never tell them what to do. I’m always just, I ask them what to do, right? It’s a request. There’s no demands there. I think what we should be really focusing on and that’s coaching our employees and not managing them so much, right? Let them kick open the doors and let them do their job.

Gabe Larsen: (11:19)
Got it. Do you find there’s this kind of cliche statement, that’s “happy employees equal happy customers?” Is that a philosophy you guys adhere to? And if so, why? Do you have data to back it or you just believe it?

Adam Maino: (11:35)
Yeah. I definitely think that, so it’s interesting. So one of our management metrics that we run is team happiness.

Gabe Larsen: (11:45)
Okay.

Adam Maino: (11:46)
And you have a tiny pulse and a regular, tiny pulse and we watched the trending. And so if our team is happy, our customers are happy. You’ve got to have both, and you can’t push to the extreme and have them fall over and then get crushed in the process and then you have great people leave. So, you’ve got to keep your team happy. You’ve got to keep them healthy. You’ve got to keep them invested in what you’re doing and I think all of that really comes to you’ve got to have good leadership, period. They’re going to want to work. No one has to show up, they could leave for another job, right? I think that’s sort of the great myth is people are like, “Ah, you know I have to be here,” but you don’t so they could leave just as easily as –

Gabe Larsen: (12:32)
They came, right? Yeah. They come, they go. You mentioned a little bit on metrics. The happiness score is a cool one. Other metrics you’ve found that are kind of those game changers for other leaders to be considering, or maybe unique to you guys that you find maybe other leaders don’t look at as much?

Adam Maino: (12:51)
I think there’s, I started putting them in two buckets, right? As like the management metrics and then the individual metrics and individual metrics should be driving the right kinds of behaviors. So I would definitely stay away with how many tickets you’re closing and almost like the speed of closing those cases out, because now you’re focusing on throughput and quantity, and that is not a metric to go for. You’re not going to have great customer interactions at that point. You’re going to get analysts going, “Can I close this case now? I’m gonna close this case now, okay?” and then, you’re like, “No, no, no, no, no, I still have a problem.” You’re going to get those really bad behaviors. So I think, yeah, focusing on the quality, focusing on collaboration, try to look at things where you’re measuring collaboration. And so on the individual level, and obviously C-SAT, I think C-SAT is great. But you’ve got to write the C-SAT. So it’s, or the analyst, it’s not some general metric that they’re looking at like, “Oh, well, they’re unhappy with the company. So I got a three,” I mean, you kind of have to write it so it’s very tailored to them, that you’re asking the right question. And then on the management side, I never put the numbers of how much throughput somebody is having in terms of like, that’s not a metric that we’re looking at. But I do use what I call, gray metrics. So I use throughput to look at how well they’re doing against the team average. So not against whatever value is just placed in the sky, but how well are they doing against the team? And it’s not the full story and that’s why I don’t put it out there. You might have a really high performer that is dealing with some incredibly challenging cases and maybe they’ve only had six cases that they’re being able to tunnel through that week, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing a bad job, it’s just that’s what they’re working on, right? And you know that, and if you’re a good leader and you’re a good coach, you know what they’ve been working on so you’re not making those value judgments, right?

Gabe Larsen: (14:55)
I like that. That’s right, man. I like the rep and kind of the management focus. And boy, I do find a lot of people go in too far on those rep, the quantity stuff, right? Then it definitely seems like it impacts the overall quality, but I know there’s always a balance on that. Well, I appreciate the talk track, a lot of fun ideas. I’m real interested in this organization. I’m going to have to double click on that a little bit, but it sounds like it really comes down to culture, a lot of collaboration, and then this philosophy. These agile ideas and processes and numbers have really been some of your keys to success. We hit on multiple topics. What’s that last piece of advice you’d leave for CX leaders trying to scale, trying to transform amongst all the things that are going on?

Adam Maino: (15:40)
I would say don’t be afraid to try new ideas and don’t be afraid to fail at them and build a culture that allows your team to fail and learn from those challenges.

Gabe Larsen: (15:55)
Yeah, fail fast, right? Easier said than done. If someone wants to get a hold of you or learn a little bit more about some of these topics, what’s the best way to do that?

Adam Maino: (16:05)
You can definitely find me on LinkedIn. LinkedIn profile, that’s probably the easiest and fastest way to do it.

Gabe Larsen: (16:12)
That’s how I found him.

Adam Maino: (16:16)
So yeah, definitely. I’m sure you’ll put the link in there, but yeah, hit me up on LinkedIn. I usually respond pretty quickly. I’m on there quite a bit. So, yeah. Let me know. Happy to talk through any more challenges.

Gabe Larsen: (16:31)
Awesome. Awesome. Well again, hey, appreciate the talk track and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Adam Maino: (16:37)
Great. Thank you so much for having me on.

Gabe Larsen: (16:38)
Yep.

Exit Voice: (16:39)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more Customer Service Secrets.

Great CX Starts With Happy Agents

Great CX Starts With Happy Agents TW

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

Fostering Relationships Leads to Better CX

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

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

Utilizing Data as a Tool

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

Building on Each Other’s Strengths

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

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

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Listen to “Derek Hixon | Lessons Learned in Running 15 Years of Successful Support Operations” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Great CX Starts With Happy Agents | Derek Hixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek Hixon: (21:27)
Exactly.

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

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

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

Exit Voice: (23:40)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more Customer Service Secrets.

What the “New Normal” Will Look Like in the World of CX

What the “New Normal” Will Look Like in the World of CX TW

While at times 2020 can feel like a real-life “Black Mirror” episode, it did force many CX teams to transform at lightspeed, re-evaluating how they got their work done and what a successful customer service interaction looked like. According to research conducted by Kustomer in April 2020, 79% of customer service organizations reported that COVID-19 had impacted them significantly.

But 90% of those organizations also believe that customer service is more important than ever in these times of crisis. Many organizations are struggling to understand when they’ll go back to “business as usual”. And the fact of the matter is, they likely never will. The new way of working that 2020 forced upon CX teams will have lingering effects, and consumers are now used to doing business in a whole new way. We’ve outlined the changes and challenges we predict will stick around into 2021 and beyond, and how organizations should prepare to cope with them long-term.

Digital Transformation Is Here to Stay

Practically overnight CX organizations were forced to work entirely remotely. Some agents didn’t even have laptop computers to work from home with, others had slow internet making it nearly impossible to handle inquiries in laggy legacy systems. According to Kustomer research during COVID-19, 39% of CX professionals reported difficulty working remotely, and 23% reported that they did not have the correct tools in place to successfully work in a remote environment.

More than five months later, many organizations have put processes in place and applied technology bandaids to make remote work function. And the good news is, it’s entirely possible to deliver efficient and effective support in a remote environment. According to PWC, 82% of office workers would prefer to continue working remotely, at least part of the time, even after COVID-19 has subsided. And a whopping 73% of executives say working remotely has been a success.

These shifting attitudes are here to stay, and provide many added benefits to organizations. Workers have more flexibility in their schedule and save time commuting, and businesses can potentially garner cost-savings by downsizing office space and cutting back on in-office perks. So while some organizations have implemented temporary fixes to get through this quick shift to digital-first, a long-term technology solution to enable smart remote work is now imperative.

Customers Want You to Show Them They’re Valued

During times of crisis, customer needs change. 2020 has never made that more apparent. Some organizations chose to shift their success metrics away from average handle time, as customers demanded (and valued) longer interactions. Zappos even opened a customer service line that people could call to chat about literally anything … even if it was completely unrelated to shoes. According to our COVID-19 research, CX teams reported that customers valued empathetic service above all other customer service attributes during the pandemic.

This shift in consumer expectations may have boiled over in these strange, isolating times, but customer expectations have long been shifting in that direction. Customers aren’t satisfied with being treated as ticket #12558369, that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible without any real human emotion or interaction. They want to be treated like a valued customer, with real thoughts, emotions, feedback and values.

As AI and automation take on more of the busy work in the CX space, and more consumers shift to online vs. in-store shopping, customer service agents will take on a much more important — and challenging — role. They will become the face of the company, reflecting its values and building lifelong relationships. Think of all of the DTC disruptor brands with cult-like followings — yes they have chic branding, but they’ve also built a community of advocates based on how they treat (and value) their customer base. We could all take a page out of their book.

CX Will Be More Important Than Ever

It’s clear that the “Superhero of 2020” award should go to customer service teams. The influx in customer service inquiries, the immensely challenging questions, the need to provide empathy and humanity during an incredibly stressful time … all were imperative in a strange and stressful year. But good customer service can do more than just solve a customer’s problem. It can also proactively drive revenue.

Kustomer’s recent consumer research looked at data across generations, and one thing is clear: younger generations demand, and value, excellent service. Consumers aged 18-24 ranked customer service as the number one attribute when choosing where to do business (whereas the general population ranked it below price). Additionally, younger generations are more willing than older generations to pay a premium for good service (61% of consumers 34 and younger vs. 48% of consumers 55+), and they are willing to pay more of a premium at that (20% of consumers 18-24 are willing to spend up to 15% more for exceptional service, vs. only 7% of consumers 55+).

This demographic data allows us to take a peek into the future. In the next five or ten years, these individuals will become heads of households, and customer service will determine where they spend their money, and how much they spend. It is imperative to prepare now for what is to come — and exceptional service is no longer optional.

Want our full list of predictions, along with tips on how to deliver exceptional service in 2021? Download the full guide here.
 

Why 92% of CS Organizations Report a Need for Greater Efficiency

Why 92% of CS Organizations Report a Need for Greater Efficiency TW

We all know that businesses strive to be efficient — not only within the customer service department, but throughout the entire organization. However, as customer experience continues to become more important than price and product when it comes to loyalty, the goal for CX departments to be highly effective can at times feel at odds with the efficiency mandate.

Kustomer wanted to hear from CX workers on the front lines, and surveyed over 120 professionals to understand how they’re feeling. Read on for the findings from our research, and for strategies to achieve efficient customer service without compromising the customer experience.

The Efficiency Mandate

It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of respondents reported a need to be more efficient. A total of 92% of organizations say more efficiency is needed, but 51% also reported that there is a greater need for efficiency than a year ago. Only 6% of respondents said that the need for efficiency has decreased in the past year.

Whether it’s a recession, a pandemic, or changing customer expectations, the success of a business can swing downward swifty and without notice. Organizations have felt this impact strongly in 2020, and the gaps in their strategies that they may not have felt a year ago are now staring them directly in the face. Perhaps efficiency isn’t the number one priority for a customer service organization when business is booming and resources are available. But the power of an efficient AND effective customer service organization can make a massive impact during both challenging and successful times.

A few factors are impacting how organizations are achieving efficiency: 63% of respondents reported having limited staff, while 44% reported being on a strict budget. A total of 42% of customer service professionals reported not being able to currently manage 24/7 support, while long wait times and access to the right tools seemed to be less of a concern for CX organizations.

However, when staff and budget are unexpectedly slashed, having technology tools in place that can minimize that impact and make agents’ jobs easier, is of the utmost importance.


Challenges Associated With Delivering Efficient Customer Service

It’s clear that customer service professionals know they must be more efficient, and aren’t sure how to do so in a way that provides a positive experience to their customers. The fact of the matter is, all customers must be served, and oftentimes there are roadblocks to doing so in an efficient manner.


Challenging inquiries are the number one reason CX teams report that they can’t deliver efficient support. While automation and self-service tools wouldn’t be effective in resolving challenging customer issues, the implementation of these technologies can actually free up agent time to tackle these inherently more time-consuming tasks. Instead of answering simple inquiries like product and policy questions, customer service teams can spend more time on higher level support and relationship-building.

Another top roadblock to delivering efficient support is unclear or unknown policies. When agents have to go searching for accurate information, across a variety of systems, customers are sure to suffer. Ensure that you have a solution in place that can surface relevant policy information, with the ability to update it in real time as policies shift and change. Intelligent chatbots can even tap into this knowledge base and surface highly relevant and always-accurate information to consumers instantaneously.

Beyond the nature of customer inquiries, there are additional external factors that customers report are preventing them from adopting efficiency tools.



The top reasons that organizations aren’t adopting efficiency tools, are a lack of executive buy-in and a lack of budget, which unsurprisingly go hand in hand. If leadership doesn’t understand the value behind adopting efficiency tools, they likely won’t allocate budget for them.

Ironically, adopting efficiency tools could completely transform a CX organization from a cost center into a profit center, ultimately benefiting not only the executives but also the business as a whole. Think about it: time is money, and when valuable human time is spent on low level tasks that technology can handle, no one benefits. Tagging conversations, routing conversations, answering very simple questions … all of these tasks can be menial and brain-numbing to customer service agents. With the advent of technology, customer service agents no longer need to be relegated to low level work, and can take a more prominent and important role within an organization.

Not only will agents spend their time answering more challenging and important inquiries from customers, they will also have the time to build long-lasting relationships, proactively reach out to customers, make customers feel heard and valued, and even close more business. This time spent by agents will truly contribute to the bottom line of a business, increasing loyalty, advocacy and brand sentiment.

For the full findings from Kustomer’s latest research, including breakdown by industry and business size, download the full Efficiency Research Report here.

 

The Importance of Empathy, Compassion and a Truly Human Customer Experience

The Importance of Empathy, Compassion and a Truly Human Customer Experience TW

Here we are in 2020, a decade full of opportunities and challenges no one could have conceived only a few short months ago. Our families need us, our friends need us, our countries need us, and hidden amongst these needs is an implicit truth more important now than ever: our customers need us. Imagine the cashier wearing a contagious smile, or the support e-mail which asks how you and your family are doing? These moments of kindness, compassion and empathy are in this day and age a brand’s greatest asset.

We can implicitly understand the importance of caring for your customers, but for several years now, the data has been showing much the same:

Treating your customers with compassion and good old fashioned kindness are now must-haves, not should-haves. And the uncharted waters of 2020 have emphasized this fact even more. The global pandemic has forced nearly all communications between customers and businesses into a digital interface. That means you can’t go into a store with a problem anymore — the only means of getting your problem solved is through phone, email, chat or social media. Therefore, the main cues a customer service representative uses to understand a person’s emotions (body language, tone, etc.) have been stripped down significantly.

Organizations must take this opportunity to invest in the heartbeat of their brand’s resilience, and taking care of your customers is where you must start:

1. Technology

You are running a pet grooming business, and supply your staff with hedge trimmers and power hoses, how happy do you think the pets and their owners will be? The exact same logic is fundamental in how you support your front line support agents. Ensure they have a full-spectrum, omnichannel view of customer history, enabling them to treat people like valued humans, not tickets. When an agent can see historical conversations, provide support over multiple channels, and see the customer profile and not a ticket, they are equipped to provide compassionate, human-centered support.

2. Training

Lead by example. Before expecting your employees to provide world class, compassionate customer service and support, you must prepare them and care for them at “home”. Think about things like compassion training, support coaching, platform training, and any other form of investing in your customers’ caretakers.

3. Tone & Language

With human interactions, one can utilize body language, notice visual queues and react in ways simply not possible in the digital realm. For all online or voice support, tone and language is crucial to achieve positive, efficient and
compassionate customer service. When it comes to supporting your agents, who take on challenging and pressure-filled conversations regularly, brands can leverage an internal knowledge base (IKB) , multi-language tools and short or “canned” responses. The IKB offers answers, support, and advice on dealing with any number of customer service scenarios, offering an agent their own repository of self-help in a predetermined language and tone. Multi-language tools such as snippets, in conjunction with shortcuts in Kustomer, offer agents contextual, error-free, multilingual canned responses which are simple to use and provide perfect tone and language, enabling agents to support customers worry-free.

4. Customer (Human) First

Remember that each customer is not a ticket, but a person with needs. How is their day? How are they feeling? Start and end each interaction with a compassionate human touch, and your customers are sure to notice the difference. Just like a smiling cashier, or happy delivery man, these small details can make a world of a difference.

5. Understand Emotions

What is the general sentiment of your customers? The way in which you interact with a customer drastically shifts if, before starting on the conversation, you already know how they are feeling (natural, positive, very angry, etc). With Kustomer’s sentiment analysis, understanding sentiment takes zero human effort and allows for segmentation or prioritization of negative sentiment. “I understand that you’re not so happy right now, I’m here to make things better.” Proactive and compassionate messages like this can make a world of difference.

6. Reporting & Analytics

Once you’ve built up a repository of customer interactions, analyzing and understanding themes and patterns becomes essential for resiliency and customer success. What are your top five contact reasons and how can you create proactive solutions to these key customer challenges? Through these insights, could you begin to develop deflection strategies?

7. Artificial Intelligence

You understand why your customers are writing in, you’ve built better operational/product efficiencies to resolve some inbounds, but will always get questions such as “where is my order?” (WISMO), cancelation/refund requests, etc. With the advent of Kustomer IQ, you can now deflect such repetitive questions and enable your customer to walk through quick and easy self-service. This allows them to receive the fastest resolution and decreases overall inbound demand on your customer service teams.

8. Routing & Assignment

With the remaining inbound conversations, it is important that the customer’s query gets to the right agent as efficiently as possible. It is incredibly inefficient to have humans manually delegate support requests when a queues and routing system can do this quickly and efficiently. This allows managers to focus on other priorities, and strengthen the team’s overall experience. Intent Identification allows you to proactively tag or assign contact reasons to conversations and use this prediction to route the conversation directly to the required team. When done well, this will allow your team to resolve all issues within their scope and mandate, not wasting time rerouting or escalating conversations meant for other teams or departments.

We hope it is quite evident that empathy, compassion and a truly human customer experience will add priceless qualitative and quantitative value to brands and customer experience across any vertical. In this day and age, humans want to be treated like humans, not support tickets. When these practices are combined with a technologically sound support system, organizations will see decreased inbound requests, increased brand advocacy, and provide an enjoyable experience for both customers and customer experience specialists.

 

How to Turn Data Into Action and Measure the Success of a Support Team

How to Turn Data Into Action and Measure the Success of a Support Team TW

Data is powerful, perhaps more than many of us realize. It contains nearly infinite applications. Yet while its limitless possibilities are seductive, they also provide ample opportunities to get lost in the weeds. One of the most useful applications of data in the support world is the measurement of your team’s performance. With the help of historical data, you can learn a thing or two about how your team performed in the past. But how can you take it a step further? Turn your data into action and use it to build a strategy for the future.

Define Success

Think through the ultimate goals that you are trying to achieve. While it may be tempting to chase a quick average handle time or a CSAT benchmark, you might find more use in pursuing customer outcomes as your primary goal. As CA technologies notes, “measurements don’t always indicate the outcome of the work, and whether it’s truly impacting the business.” Are your customers happy? Are you providing the service that you advertised? These outcomes, while abstract, can elicit more empathy from your support team than a simple number. Use your metrics as a secondary focus. If your agents are instructed to simply make your customers happy, they’ll be less likely to game the numbers in their favor.

Monitor Your Team in Real-Time

One of the most difficult aspects of measuring team performance is the fact that we are continually looking towards the past. Average handle time, first response time, and similar metrics only show you what’s happened. A real-time view of your support team can be a powerful tool.

Use something like a Team Pulse dashboard to understand how your agents are performing in the present. A dashboard like this can show you how many conversations are currently being handled, how many conversations have been recently completed, and which types of queues are currently in use. What’s even more insightful is the ability to understand which agents are at full capacity and which agents have bandwidth to take on additional tasks. If you notice that one of your agents is perpetually at or over capacity, that may be a signal that they need help.

Dig Deep

If you are working in the customer support space, chances are high that you already have a good handle on the basics. You know that fast average response times are desirable and long average handle times should be avoided. Instead of rehashing common knowledge, let’s dig deeper into a sample dataset. For this exercise, I’ll use the 2018 customer survey data provided by San Francisco International Airport.

I’ve cleaned the data to focus on a handful of variables: day of the week, gate, boarding area, STRATA (AM, MID, PM), peak vs. off-peak, and satisfaction score. Satisfaction scores are ranked from 1 – 5. Let’s say I’ve been tasked by SFO to understand why certain passengers may have ranked their experience lower than others. Are there trends to discover?

First, I want to see if I can predict which variables are most likely to affect the CSAT scores.

There’s a couple of interesting things to note here. “STRATA” is the most highly correlated with satisfaction scores. In other words, whether a passenger flies at morning, midday, or evening can influence whether they are satisfied with their experience. This correlation may be a hint that I need to analyze the teams that service the airport during those chunks of time. As a disclaimer here, this particular model captures only a sliver of data. It still provides a good sandbox.

Knowing that time of day may be a factor in customer satisfaction, I dig deeper.

We can see here that the overwhelming majority of respondents are happy with their experience (ranking SFO with a 4 or 5). However, we do see that respondents who fly at STRATA 3 (ie, on flights departing after 5pm) are more likely to report lower satisfaction scores than other times of day.

Finally, I want to understand how satisfaction scores are reported by boarding area.

Another interesting observation emerges. Passengers who flew through boarding area A were more likely to report lower satisfaction scores. It’s worth noting that this boarding area also had the highest number of respondents.

Given what I’ve uncovered through the data, now might be the time where I want to approach the team to understand what’s happening from their perspective. Maybe there aren’t enough staff for the number of passengers moving through boarding area A after 5pm. Maybe there’s construction. Either way, I would start by speaking with the team to understand, rather than using the data as a weapon.

While this example may seem hyper-specific, consider the fact that SFO could be your support team, STRATA could be their shift schedules, and the boarding area could be something like the type of customer request.

Adapt and Evolve

Consider how new technology can affect your support team’s KPIs. Be on the lookout for “red herrings” in your data. Let’s say you’ve invested in a chat deflection tool as part of an ongoing initiative to drive efficiency through artificial intelligence. Part of this investment means that many of the common support requests typically fielded by your agents are now handled by AI. Initially, you celebrate the rise in deflected inquiries, but you become concerned about dropping CSAT scores. You determine the cause after careful investigation: your chat deflection tool is handling simple requests while your agents are working on more complex customer issues. These complex customer issues don’t always have a straightforward answer and satisfaction scores are suffering as a result.

It may be tempting to pull the plug on your deflection tool to save your satisfaction scores and the team’s morale. But instead of retreating, dig deeper. Consider the fact that you may need to start documenting a new type of data like a complexity score. Find a way to measure the complexity of your customer requests and use that data to paint a more accurate picture of your team’s success.

Want to learn more about how the right customer service software can help your team perform to the best of their abilities? Download our Buyer’s Guide here.

 

Designing Great User Experiences During COVID-19

Designing Great User Experiences During COVID-19 TW

At Kustomer, we design features based on customer needs, so it’s always been a normal part of my work to be on Zoom calls with users from all across the globe. Now, however, I typically talk to people who are calling from their kitchen tables or tucked into corners of bedrooms. Even though I’m personally working from a glorified closet, it’s been a silver lining to continue to connect with users and learn about their needs (and sometimes meet their dogs and babies). So how do we continue to design great experiences for our users, remotely?

Understanding Remote Needs

Understanding users for any SaaS product has a lot to do with understanding their environments. A lot of Kustomer users are in our product all-day, every-day. What does it feel like to use our product at work every day? What does it feel like to use our product on a large monitor? As part of a small team? As part of an enormous team?

When our users’ environments change, we need to reframe our understanding of needs. There is much less likely to be a large, bustling room with a team that’s sitting together. Certain integrations become more important. Communication is more asynchronous. Users in different countries, and across different industries, may be experiencing the impact of COVID-19 in vastly different ways. Consider the new environment and reframe your understanding of your users as quickly as possible.

Understanding Needs, Remotely

To help with understanding “as quickly as possible”, the design team at Kustomer uses a suite of tools to gather both qualitative and quantitative data. We use UsabilityHub, Canny, InVision, and Zoom, among others, to communicate with our users and gather feedback as we design new features. As much as we miss on-site visits to our customers, these remote-friendly tools allow us insight into our customer needs, even as they change and grow. I have found that more than ever, our users are happy to provide feedback and help us shape our features to align with their goals.

It’s an interesting new reality for all of us, but the more we can learn and adjust to shifting circumstances, the more successful we will be. At Kustomer, we are looking to perfect the customer experience, and constantly searching for others to join us in making that mission a reality. Interested in joining us and helping create excellent user experiences? See our open roles here.

 

5 Ways to Make Your CX Organization More Efficient and Effective

5 Ways to Make Your CX Organization More Efficient and Effective TW

Doing more with less seems to be the struggle for most business leaders these days. It’s interesting, and unfortunate, that it takes a pandemic for companies to start focusing on efficiency. But issues that you used to be able to ignore, are now staring you directly in the face.

The problem with a focus on efficiency is that it is often implemented at the expense of the overall customer experience. The easy response to cutting costs would be to reduce staff, making it harder to reach out to support, and delaying responses. But the outcome of this strategy would ultimately lead to unhappy customers. And take it from me, customers won’t forget this bad experience when things get back to “normal”. The businesses that are able to do more with less in a way that meets or exceeds expectations are the ones that will exit this pandemic with an even more loyal customer base.

So how can you achieve this? How can you significantly cut costs while not degrading the level of support? Read on for our five tips to efficient and effective customer service:

1. Optimize Your Operations

Fix things in your product that cause customers to reach out to you in the first place. This might be offering the ability to track your order status, or completing a return without contacting customer service.

2. Increase Your Self-Service Offerings

Gone are the days of putting up an FAQ page and hoping your customers find the right answers. You need to leverage intelligent automation to put the right information in front of your customers at the exact point they need it. With tools like AI-powered chatbots, you have the ability to not only extract exact information from knowledge base articles, but allow customers to complete actions on their own.

3. Empower Your Agents With Better Technology

Your agents shouldn’t be wasting time looking up key information in multiple systems. I’ve seen examples of companies looking up information in 8+ systems to handle one customer issue. How are agents supposed to be efficient if their computer screens are covered in post-it notes and they have multiple tabs open? Find a solution like Kustomer that connects to all of your core admin systems and allows agents to search and take action on data in the platform they are already operating out of. The below example shows how a delivery service can consolidate all key order information directly into Kustomer.

4. Route Intelligently

You should be able to route issues to the right team based on issue type, customer value, skillset or capacity. There is no experience worse than chatting with support and hearing: “Sorry I don’t have the answer to that question, but let me forward you to the team that does.” Don’t force the customer to guess which of 10 phone numbers is the right one to call, or make them e-mail multiple departments to solve their issue. Instead, use technology that routes based on keywords or even better custom objects about that customer (status, order value, country, etc).

5. Get Ahead of Issues

Proactively reach out to customers before they reach out to you. Get ahead of any problems, like fulfillment issues and weather delays, or educate customers about how you’re keeping them safe and healthy in uncertain times. Use a platform like Convey to give full transparency into the delivery lifecycle. Then utilize a platform like Kustomer to engage with customers based on delivery updates.

Hopefully, you found these five tips helpful. The most important piece is balancing doing more with less, while making sure customer expectations are met…or even exceeded!

 

Why Efficiency Is More Important Than Ever During the Global Pandemic

Why Efficiency Is More Important Than Ever During the Global Pandemic TW

Even during the best of times, businesses strive to be more efficient. There are always things to improve upon, always more customers to service, always proactive outreach to do. But when circumstances shift rapidly, and businesses are asked to do more with less, finding ways to be more efficient suddenly becomes priority number one.

Kustomer recently surveyed over 150 customer service professionals to better understand how they are being impacted by the pandemic, how their business is adjusting as a result, and what customers are expecting during their greatest times of needs. One thing became abundantly clear: being efficient and effective is not optional.

More Inquiries, Less Time

Across industries, customer service teams are seeing a 17% increase in customer service inquiries during the global pandemic. Phone inquiries are seeing the largest uptick, with a 34% increase, followed by e-mail (28% increase) and web (24% increase). Social channels are being impacted the least, with only a 7.2% uptick.

Why Efficiency Is More Important Than Ever During the Global Pandemic Stat

Not only are companies having to handle more conversations, they are having to do it in a largely remote environment. Thirty-nine percent of respondents reported difficulty working remotely, and 23% reported that they did not have the correct tools in place to successfully work in a remote environment.

It’s essential to have a customer service strategy, and the correct technology in place, to handle bursts in activity and enable productive remote work. Look for tools that leverage AI and intelligent automation to power self-service and low-level information gathering. This will free up agent time for more high level and urgent support, while allowing customers to get their questions answered immediately.

Ensure that the technology you have in place allows for collaboration between remote team members, so you can pull in the necessary individuals to solve customer issues quickly. You should also be able to manage your team with confidence, even if you can’t be beside them. Having a view into what your agents are working on, and being able to intervene if necessary, is key to a successful remote CS team. And most importantly, your customer service platform should be easily connected to by all of your agents with a basic internet connection and standard browser.

How Organizations Are Adapting

The circumstantial changes associated with the global pandemic are causing some real changes for organizations. Unfortunately, 63% of CS organizations reported a need to cut costs during the global pandemic, with 46% reporting a need to reduce staff. All of this means efficiency is incredibly important. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said there is a need to adopt more automation for efficiency, and 56% said there is a need to invest in new technologies. And unfortunately, customers aren’t giving businesses a break when it comes to speed. Quick service is one of the top three most valued customer service attributes during this time. Doing more with less is the name of the game in 2020, so put the tools in place to adjust sooner rather than later.

What CS Teams Need

63% of CS organizations report the need to cut costs
46% of CS organizations report the need to reduce staff
90% of CS organizations report the need to adjust policies
56% of CS organizations report the need to invest in new tech
59% of CS organizations report the need to adopt automation for efficiency
80% of CS organizations report the need to reach out to customers proactively

Why Efficiency Is More Important Than Ever During the Global Pandemic Stat 2

While the current environment won’t last forever, it’s important to properly prepare for extreme circumstances if and when they do occur again. Our full report has a plethora of additional industry-specific and general data, as well as actionable takeaways you can put into practice today. Download it here.

 

Just How Is the Global Pandemic Impacting Customer Service Success?

Just How Is the Global Pandemic Impacting Customer Service Success? TW

Customers are anxious. They’re stressed. They want answers quickly. And customer service organizations are being asked to do more with less than ever before. Unfortunately there’s no escaping the current environment we are living in, and customer service teams are seeing changes as a result. But how exactly are these organizations being affected?

Kustomer surveyed over 150 customer service professionals to find out.

Circumstances Affecting Customer Service Success

Businesses are having to change how they do business and interact with customers during this time. One of the biggest shifts? Adjusting policies. Seventy-seven percent of individuals reported that they have had to learn new policies due to COVID-19. It’s essential to arm your team with the information they need to instantaneously service customers. Make sure your technology can intelligently surface relevant information from a knowledge base, so all agents are delivering consistent and high-value service.

Additionally, 64% of respondents reported a need for greater efficiencies during COVID-19, while 57% reported having to deal with more complex issues than usual. It’s more important than ever to automate low level support with the help of AI, to free up agent time for issues that are more complicated and emotionally-wrought.

Just How Is the Global Pandemic Impacting Customer Service Success? Stats

How Success Metrics Are Changing

Luckily, it doesn’t seem like customer service success metrics are being significantly impacted by the global pandemic, and in some cases, organizations are seeing improvements. There are large differences from organization to organization, even in the same industry, implying that the way a customer service team handles the current circumstances has a huge impact on how customers react. Improvements in success metrics may be happening for a couple different reasons:

  1. Customer service organizations are taking extra measures to proactively help their customers and deliver empathetic service
  2. Customers are more understanding and know that organizations are struggling, so don’t have as stringent standards

It’s imperative to keep a customer-centric mindset, as loyalty becomes more essential to secure, and continue to measure the success of your team, adjusting accordingly. Make sure you have access to reporting and analytics, and understand where you’re falling short and where there are greater needs.

While the current environment won’t last forever, it’s important to properly prepare for extreme circumstances if and when they occur again. Our full report has a plethora of additional industry-specific and general data, as well as actionable takeaways you can put into practice today. Download it here.

 

4 Easy Ways to Maintain a Strong Culture While Transitioning to Remote Work

4 Easy Ways to Maintain a Strong Culture While Transitioning to Remote Work TW

The global work environment is undergoing a massive shift, and with recent events forcing the acceleration of remote work, leaders everywhere are scrambling to find ways to maintain and continue building a strong team culture within their organizations during this abrupt transition. Luckily, thanks to modern technology, there are many ways to create an environment of positive behavior, togetherness and productivity even in a remote team.

Of course, with any types of changes, there are a few adjustments that need to be made. Here are some of the ways to not only maintain, but to build a strong culture while transitioning to a remote team:

1. Ensure that your team is equipped with the right tools that match your culture and encourage collaboration

The concept of “the path of least resistance” comes into play in all aspects of life, and building a strong team culture in a remote environment is no different. When I think about some of the work friendships I’ve made in my career, many of those friendships were forged with people who were in the same “new-hire onboarding” class as I was. Those friendships were strengthened if they happened to be on the same team, and even more so if we became deskmates. The same concept applies to remote work. Work relationships are built with those we communicate with often.

When it comes to building culture in the context of a remote environment, the easier it is to communicate and collaborate, the more those behaviors will be reinforced. It is especially important in a remote setting to err on the side of over-communication as opposed to under-communication, as rampant miscommunication and missing information can dismantle trust and culture fast. With a wide variety of instant messaging and video conferencing platforms, along with the internal notes and comments sections of your customer management platform, an environment of open communication and collaboration in remote teams is no longer just a dream, it is a very achievable reality.

2. Create opportunities for remote social interactions

In a remote work environment it can feel as if you should only reach out to a colleague when problems arise or help is needed. During those times, stress levels are high and there can be a buildup of negative emotions towards an individual, especially when all interactions with them are stressful, demanding and require deep thought. Without a foundation of trust and camaraderie, it’s much easier to misinterpret the intention of an e-mail or message.

This problem is often alleviated in an in-office environment since colleagues will inevitably bump into each other during coffee or lunch breaks. In a remote work environment, not so much. This is why it’s smart to have fully optional, but regularly scheduled, virtual coffee and lunch breaks. By encouraging remote team members to bond virtually, and foster a “remote office social life”, teammates can feel much more comfortable asking each other questions and giving honest feedback when it comes to business.

3. Setting clear goals and expectations

While setting clear goals and expectations is important in any environment, dysfunction from a lack of direction becomes more apparent in a remote team. While some remote employees may disappear into the abyss when there is a lack of direction, others may overcompensate and overwork to appear productive, which could potentially lead to burnout. Neither of these scenarios are beneficial for the employee or the employer. It is up to leadership and the managers to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound) and hold employees accountable, giving direct feedback if expectations aren’t being met. This allows remote employees to stay connected to the overall mission and goals of the company as well as empower the employee to engage in their work. The happiest employees have a deeper sense of meaning to their work than to simply clock in and clock out for a paycheck.

4. Foster an environment that celebrates wins

While it is important to see reality for what it is and to find gaps and weaknesses in the business, it is equally, if not more important, to find strengths and reasons to celebrate. In an in-office environment, it’s easy to celebrate all sorts of “wins”. Whether you just brought a promising new hire on board, ran a smooth implementation of new software, or helped turn an angry customer into a happy one, news will get around. In a remote environment, employees may often feel isolated and lonely. Negative and urgent news may travel faster than the small wins, but it is crucial to to emphasize the wins. By fostering an environment that celebrates all the wins and allows the cheers to reverberate across communication channels, you encourage a culture of positivity that lifts employees up.

Want more practical tips for working remotely? Check out our latest infographic on how to stay sane and productive while working from home.

 

7 Ways Busy Teams Can Best Leverage the Kustomer Platform While Working Remotely

7 Ways Busy Teams Can Best Leverage the Kustomer Platform While Working Remotely TW

As much as we may not want to admit it, we are living in a whole new world, and customer service leaders are having to learn new ways of being successful, from the way they treat their customers to the way they manage their employees.

As your organization makes necessary changes to stay connected and responsive during this trying time, here are some additional ways you can leverage capabilities within Kustomer to stay productive and collaborative:

1. Tap Into Unlimited Collaboration

As part of Kustomer’s Ultimate Package, now available to all customers, Unlimited Collaboration allows you to loop in anyone from any department within your organization to help resolve inquiries more efficiently in a remote environment. Features like Notes, Following and @Mentions let cross-functional teams conduct internal communications and ensure customers get the expedited service they need right now, no matter where they are in the world.

2. Manage With Team Pulse

Another Ultimate Package tool, Team Pulse allows you to see what your agents are working on in real time, enabling teams to manage performance and effectiveness seamlessly. Supervisors can quickly jump to the customers and searches that agents are viewing in real-time as well as adjust queue assignments and availability, all from the Team Pulse dashboard.

3. Expand Your Shortcut Library

Companies are updating policies to accommodate for the coronavirus, and your agents should be armed with the correct information to share with customers. Add in any new policies or FAQs to your shortcut library to ensure your agents have everything they need at their fingertips.

4. Introduce Users to their Performance Dashboard

Your teams may be experiencing an influx of conversations due to customer concerns. Ensure your agents understand their traffic volume, performance, satisfaction, and peak times of interaction, so they can anticipate busier times of day and easily keep tabs on how customers are feeling.

5. Activate Your Social Media Channels

As customers contact you across an array of channels, make sure you’re ensuring seamless communication by having all channels in one holistic view. You can quickly install Facebook or Twitter DMs directly from the Kustomer App Directory, and customers can get consistent attention if they reach out over social media.

6. Set up These Useful Business Rules

Your team doesn’t have to get bogged down trying to keep conversation traffic organized. Business Rules are a great way to automate routine tasks. Here are a few you can set up right now to drive more efficiency:

  • Send Messages: Watch our video and start sending automated messages whenever you need.
  • Auto-Mark Auto Responses ‘Done’: A single rule can cover a lot of ground. These conversations may contain a variety of subject lines that all mean the same thing. Create a rule that can automatically mark any conversation that’s titled: automatic response, automated response, auto response, etc. as ‘Done’.
  • Assign a Specific Team to Multiple Channels: During these rapidly changing times, you may need to shift priorities quickly. Create a business rule that automatically assigns any conversation from specific channels to a designated team, to make sure all customers are covered.
  • Automatically Tag Conversations: Business Rules can automatically tag conversations based on context, such as any conversations related to the novel coronavirus. Just make sure you’ve added any tags you need to your library, and build rules to apply them.

7. Route Conversations based on Customer Attributes

Cut down on unnecessary busy work by intelligently and automatically routing customers to the most appropriate agent, based on information like language, sentiment or customer history.

Remember, the Kustomer platform is accessible from anywhere—requiring nothing more than standard WiFi and an internet browser. No downloads. No plugins. No premium internet connection needed.

Want more practical tips for working remotely? Check out our latest infographic on how to stay sane and productive while working from home.

 

How to Scale Your Support Team

Growing your business is hard enough—but growing your service organization alongside it comes with its own challenges. More agents customers mean more complexity. To help make sense of your growing CX team, we’ve listed some common stumbling blocks and some intuitive solutions to get around them.

Agent Collision

Tickets coming in from multiple channels makes it hard to separate out who owns what. When a customer gets annoyed with wait times, they will often start reaching out over several different channels with the same problem. Agents working in these different channels then have no way of seeing that it’s the same person, and the customer ends up getting a response from more than one team member on chat, email, and wherever else they reach out.

The solution to this problem sounds easy, but is a huge shift in service philosophy. Give your agents ownership over the customer relationship, so that they are responsible for satisfying individual customers over many channels, instead of all the customers in one channel. By making your service omnichannel, agents are aware of every conversation happening with each customer.

Disconnected Data, Disconnected Systems

As your business expands, so too do the places and ways you store customer data. If you don’t rein these in, then agents end up wasting time switching between applications and hunting for information in back-end systems.

If agents have to go into multiple systems—ordering, shipping, customer information, and more—to see all the information about the customer, then copy that information and paste it into another screen, their workflow grinds to a halt.

To overcome this obstacle you need to be able to have all of your data in one place, with systems that integrate with one another, and a way to turn that insight into action. When agents don’t have to spend time hunting in separate systems for information they need, that makes everything in your service organization easier to scale—because your agents are more efficient and productive than ever before. Just the ten seconds agents save from not having to switch applications can translate to days of work saved in one month alone.

From Reactive to Proactive Service

When you scale your business, you do everything you can to keep up with your customers. However, all the effort it takes to simply respond to and stay on top of their queries leaves no time for any forward-thinking, proactive engagement.

You soon won’t have the luxury to pick up the phone and call every customer who gave you a low CSAT score. You need to be prepared to deliver that same level of 1-1 service, but on a much greater scale.

Automation is going to go a long way towards freeing up your agents’ time. Anything you can do to learn more about your customers and their needs before they’re transferred to an agent is going to massively increase your efficiency. Chatbots that ask a few simple questions about the issue a customer is having can simplify the experience for customer and agent alike. Smart segmentation that makes it easier to determine the right actions based on informed personas will save even more time and effort. Proactive outreach can inform an agent to send an email, or even automatically send an SMS, if an item is going to be delayed, giving customers options for how to proceed.

Team Reporting and Monitoring

As your team grows, so too does your need for detailed reports and insights. However, these reports are often in separate products for different channels, forcing you to spend a prohibitive amount of time creating and combining separate customer reports. To make matters worse, these reports are often delayed by hours or even days, meaning you can’t really see what your team is doing in real time. Many businesses that are scaling quickly also tend to start using more remote agents and teams to work faster. You are going to need a way to effectively monitor them in order to provide proper coaching.

The answer to your reporting problems is to be able to query, segment, and display reports through custom dashboards in real time. If your current solution doesn’t have these features built-in, they aren’t going to spring up overnight. And without proper reporting, you won’t be able to fully understand what’s happening in your growing team.

It can be difficult to successfully scale your support team—we know. Without a modern platform for customer experience, it might feel nearly impossible. Learn more about how Kustomer can help you avoid the common pitfalls of efficiently scaling your team here.

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