How Operations Play a Role in Transforming CX with John Timmerman

How Operations Plays a Role in Transforming CX with John Timmerman TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by John Timmerman to talk about operationalizing the customer experience. John currently serves as Vice President of Operations at Mercy, providing exceptional customer and patient service. He serves for the betterment of customer experiences and helps lead teams to excellence. Listen to the podcast below to find out how you too can transform your customer experience through operationalization.

How To Hire the Right Talent

Overseeing multiple aspects of the healthcare realm and having plenty of experience in the service industry, John Timmerman demonstrates what it takes to build a successful and memorable customer experience. Transforming a customer experience team from subjective to objective is no easy task or a quick one. To help CX leaders on their journey to building a successful team and finding the right talent, John discusses the importance of hiring the right people who enhance the customer experience. He says:

So we’ve got alignment between our brand positioning and the criteria for a selection of our talent, how we onboarded them in a very intentional way to orientate and co-locate them into our cultural values. Organizations do a good job of typically giving people technical requirements of the role, but not the belief system. How we reinforce that is through repetition.

John believes that everyone is born with talent that can be utilized for success. He urges leaders to ask the right questions when hiring CX agents and to be frank in their interview process. In his experience he finds that holding frank discussions and asking questions that easily display the point, he has been able to find top-tier talent and save time by using this vetting process. It wastes time when employees don’t live up to the company standards and expectations and by asking the right questions, time and resources are saved because the best talent is found.

Defining Values that Resonate

Companies would be wise to define their core values and beliefs early on in its creation. Doing so can help in the decision making process and in setting goals. All too often, executives create these company values and paste them on a wall but forget about them as soon as the first meeting comes around. Identifying, sticking to, and incorporating company values is essential for building lasting success, especially when the brand as a whole is aligned with those values. When hiring new employees or agents, these values can be brought up in the interview however, it can be extremely taxing when working with pre-existing employees who do not align with new values. On this topic John expresses, “It’s so difficult if you’re inheriting people that aren’t aligned with those values to begin with. And it’s a lot of hard work and you’ve got to put together a stage plan to have a lot of critical conversations over time and fairness for them and the organization.” There is no singular correct set of beliefs or values and these change from company to company depending on multiple factors. The biggest takeaway from John is to implement and remember those core values in all aspects of CX and business operations and to align the brand with its purpose.

Journey Mapping with Employees in Mind

Journey mapping has become quite a hot topic in the customer experience world as of recently. Typically, a journey map includes every touch point of the process it takes for a customer to achieve a goal within the brand. John presents the different approach of creating a journey map with employees in mind. One of the most distinctive features of this strategy is the connecting of different departments and helping them understand their expectations of one another. Noting his experience at Mercy, John explains, “We have some of the brightest clinicians on the planet that work at this organization, and yet they really haven’t had the opportunity to step back and clarify expectations in these interdisciplinary teams. So that’s kind of like the first step before you do the sophisticated approach.” Furthermore, this is especially effective when expectations are broken down into feasible action plans, focusing on particular steps of the journey map. For example, when working for Ritz-Carlton, John implemented a tactic to improve specific areas. He found ways to improve areas such as the arrival and the departure that further structured the relationship between the organization and the customer. Not only does this tactic work for hotels such as Ritz-Carlton, it is also applicable to all businesses that serve customers. Keeping the employees in mind in the journey mapping process works simultaneously to build customer loyalty.

John hopes CX leaders will streamline their processes from subjective to objective experiences with his helpful advice. To learn more about operationalization, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday and Thursday.

Listen Now:

Listen to “Secrets to Operationalizing a Transformational Customer Program | John Timmerman” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

How to Activate a Customer-Centric Organization | John Timmerman and Vikas Bhambri

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 really excited to get going. We’re going to be talking about operations and how that really plays into the role of helping you transform your customer experience and to do that, we brought on a good friend of mine, John Timmerman. He’s currently the Vice President at Mercy. John, thanks for joining. How are you?

John Timmerman: (00:32)
Good. Thank you, Gabe. Delighted to be here with you.

Gabe Larsen: (00:35)
Yeah, yeah. We want to take a minute and we’re going to dive in. I think the talk track will be fun. A lot of cool stuff in your background to dive into, but before we do, can you take just a minute to maybe introduce yourself just a little bit more on some of your background?

John Timmerman: (00:50)
Certainly, Gabe. I work at Mercy Health Care in St. Louis and I oversee service lines, support oncology and cardiovascular, respiratory, food service, environmental service, a number of areas that are all operational and how we bring our patient family experiences alive. And we do it here at Mercy through our mission, which is to bring the healing ministry of Christ alive every day with compassionate care and excellence. And prior to Mercy, I worked as the Global VP of operations for 4,700 Marriott hotels. Prior to that, Global VP of quality and operations for Ritz-Carlton brand worldwide. And then health care before that. So I was a hotel worker. Cleveland Clinic was the first health care organization that I was part of.

Gabe Larsen: (01:44)
Yeah, well you’ve definitely seen the movie before so I’m excited to jump in and then as always, we’ve got Vikas Bhambri, Head of CX and Sales at Kustomer and myself, Gabe Larsen, Vice President of Growth. So let’s dive in real quick, wanting to start with this one, John, a lot of companies run into this problem of trying to transform their customer experience, but it just feels soft, right? They’re often talking about the subjective side of the customer experience. The thing I’ve admired about you as I’ve followed you to talk to you, you just seem to always have such an operational mindset, this fanatical maniacal focus on data and process and systems and structure. Big picture, how do you, how do you kind of coach organizations to shift from the subjective side to the objective side?

John Timmerman: (02:34)
Well, it’s kind of common, organizations understand that they — “Survival is not mandatory” as Dr. Deming has said. And so they know they need to evolve around the consumer, their requirements, wants, needs and expectations, but how they do it is usually the failure point. So they’re looking for a campaign, plug and play recognition program, training, and there’s a lot of good training organizations, so nothing against training, but we would have a lot of people come to us at Ritz-Carlton and go through our training program. There’s other good ones like Disney. And so, there’s a lot of good ones out there, but they’d always be surprised when they kind of get an insight of how we activate the customer-centric organization and how we hire the talent. So we’ve got alignment between our brand positioning and the criteria for a selection of our talent, how we onboard them in a very intentional way to orientate and co-locate them into our cultural values. Organizations do a good job of typically giving people technical requirements of the role, but not the belief system. How we reinforce that is through repetition. And so you take a look at something like our organization was architected on personalized service and in your first 30 days, we’re going to reinforce personalized service 30 different ways for you to touch, feel, and be a part of that. So it’s not abstract. I think a good example I would give is one of the things I would do when I was younger is teach scuba diving. And that’s a sport where there could be some really high stakes for people who [inaudible] and we train a student, we would reinforce any technique 15 different ways before we felt comfortable putting them solo. And it’s similar to, if you want to activate a customer-centric organization, there’s no quick fix. Folks can give you insightful information and training programs. You might get a few golden nuggets, but you’ve got to really engineer the processes to reinforce, align those behaviors, those expectations you’re looking for. And that’s the hard work that organizations most times miss.

Gabe Larsen: (04:56)
Yeah. Yeah. I liked the re-engineering of the process. You mentioned a couple of things and I want to go back to one thing you said before we go into process. Sounds like one of the secrets you found is on the hiring side, which is not, a lot of people are talking about customer journey. They go into that re-engineering, they’re like, “Okay, well, let’s get customer centric. We want to get more data-driven, we don’t want to be soft. Let’s map the customer journey and see how we can optimize it.” But you talked about the hiring process. I mean, it always seemed like, at the Ritz-Carlton in particular, with my experience at Disney, like they hire different people. How do they do it? What’s the secret?

John Timmerman: (05:43)
Yeah, so it’s kind of funny because well, I was with you, Gabe, at Gallup, they’ll be flying around all the world, talking to CEOs and COOs. The common thing would be the C-suite would say, “I don’t like my culture. I want to change it.” And they ask “How long will it take to change?” And I’d ask well, some basic questions like, “What’s your turnover,” right? And so it’s 25%, maybe four years, because if you don’t hire right, it’s very challenging to align someone to something that’s not natural to whom they are. And I believe God’s given everyone talent. It’s just, the problem is you might not be in the organization that best fits your talents. And that seems to be the problem. So the first thing is defining what are those, what are those core principles? So when I talk about Ritz-Carlton, it was a personalized service. When I, the Cleveland Clinic, it was around patient-centered care. When we’re at Mercy, it’s activating the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. And so there’s no one right value system or brand positioning, but you have to define it. And once that’s defined, you have to look at people that naturally do well, the top performing and those that don’t do well, the contrast group, and kind of see what’s driving those behaviors between those two groups and then start to develop some recruiting, some employer, brand marketing. So the messaging that you send out is incredibly important. Not here at Mercy, but I was working at another large hospital organization and they were having trouble with their nursing staff. And when we did the root cause analysis, it was just the communication they were sending out is on the recruitment front end of it. But once you get that, then you have to look at how do we identify? Do these people have these innate behaviors with them? And so you’ve got to have the right guy to ask the right questions of the individuals to know if they’re going to conceptually match to that environment. And then you’ve got to kind of not assume they’re just going to activate themselves because people can have these innate talents, but they have to be brought out in many cases. And it’s a spectrum. So some people, just there’s no off switch and they’ll go from day one. And other people require a lot of coaching and creating the right environment to help them activate it and everyone in between. But it really comes down to what is our brand positioning? What do we want our consumers to say about us? We want them to see, touch and feel. And then what are the people in the organization? You probably have some, no matter where you work, that are doing that today. Let’s study them, don’t study the people that are no better than the average, because you’re going to just get average results, but study the ones that are doing it today and let’s figure out how we can recruit to those behaviors as best as possible through both the communication, the brand positioning and the employer base comms, as well as the questions and the discernment that you think through people through when they come into the organization. So for Mercy, we’ve, our hurdles, our first few are the technical requirements, the experience, the credentials and education, and the second hurdle is you have the talents for the role. So if you’re going to be a manager, do you have management talents? Can you develop a team or if you’re in a business development, can you influence? And then the third one is our Mercy fit. Do you, are you going to feel comfortable with, on activating everyday, dignity and excellence and compassion and service and stewardships and charisms like bias for action and entrepreneurship? And so once you’ve got that, that’s at the front end of the funnel, then he got to kind of have to look at the entire journey of the employee especially through the first 21 days, because that’s usually when you get them really aligned or you kind of lose them, they start to go off tracks and those organizational norms start to kind of have an effect on them.

Gabe Larsen: (10:05)
No, I love that. Vikas, go ahead.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:05)
I was going to ask, I think one of the things you mentioned is about the brand value or brand promise that people call it. You mentioned some amazing examples, including Mercy. I think one of the things I see as a challenge is people create these values. They put them on a wall or whatever it is, but it never really permeates through the organization. So that would be question number one, if you could give some tips or tricks or how do you actually then orchestrate it through the organization? And two is not everybody always comes on board, especially if this is an evolution that a company may be going through. How do you then kind of identify those people that aren’t in line with the new philosophy and kind of gracefully exit them out of the business if they’re not a fit? I’d be curious about your experience there.

John Timmerman: (10:55)
Yes. All great questions. I’ll answer the last one first, and that was VP of Operations at Ritz-Carlton. We would open a hotel. So then you have a chance to do it right from the beginning as you’re hiring 200 to a thousand people depending on size of the hotel. And to get that, so you know, we selected one out of 20 qualified applicants that had our DNA.

Gabe Larsen: (11:22)
How many was that?

John Timmerman: (11:22)
I’m sorry?

Gabe Larsen: (11:22)
How many was that?

Vikas Bhambri: (11:24)
One out of 20.

John Timmerman: (11:24)
One out of 20.

Gabe Larsen: (11:26)
One out of 20.

John Timmerman: (11:26)
So that means we were willing to go without people to get the right person, because we knew that we had the wrong person, it just cost you dearly. And that’s a discipline, some organizations just quite frankly don’t have. They lower that requirement. And when I would meet with new employees and we’d be opening a new hotel or bringing on a new department, I’d be very frank. I talk about our values and say, “If there’s anything here that you feel uncomfortable with, please, we’re going to take a break and do not come back because this is not the right organization for you. There’s an organization out there for you. We’re just not the one. And that’s okay. We want you to kind of come to that self-discovery now.” It’s so difficult if you’re inheriting people that aren’t aligned with those values to begin with. And it’s a lot of hard work and you’ve got to put together a stage plan to have a lot of critical conversations over time and fairness for them and the organization. So anytime you go to hire someone new it’s like, “Let’s get it right,” because downstream is just so much more difficult. But in terms of, what’s the second part of the question or the first part of the question?

Vikas Bhambri: (12:46)
Yeah, [inaudible]. How do you permeate it through the organization?

John Timmerman: (12:49)
Yeah, most of those are quite worthless to be quite frank because you have some consultant or some marketing company, and they could be good consultants and marketing companies, but they developed some textbook vision statement, mission statement, whatever word, label you want to put on it, and it gets transferred to posters and to a buttons in a campaign. And then it collects dust over that. And so really the proof point is, how you can wire it in to create an affinity to one your human resource processes, and then two, your leadership processes and three your operational processes and four your information now with analytics processes. So for HR, we talked about, it’s like calibrating that to the psychometric or that the hiring criteria for leadership processes. And it’s just a basic, “What’s my role as a leader for activating this in my communication?” And so if I had a meeting here at Mercy or Ritz or at other organizations I’ve worked, one of the things is typically the values tend to be at the bottom of the agenda, but it’s intentionally bringing it to the top. So the first thing you talk about is mission, vision, and values, or whatever you call it in your organization, clear. And even though profit is a fuel that keeps us moving forward, and you got to talk about that by all means, that’s not the first thing. And by the way, I’ve been all over the world and profit gets the leader excited, but I’ve never met a frontline employee that get excited on –

Gabe Larsen: (14:24)
Amen. Amen.

John Timmerman: (14:27)
So talk about the things that are going to resonate to them. And it’s the things that are relevant, tactile to them and how that relates to the values. One of the just quick best examples, I can’t mention client names, but we were working a large banking client and the banking client were developing a value system, and this is in California and they were, they were just dead set that the executives were going to define this. And we pushed back a little and said, “Yeah, the executives have a big role for defining those, but really it’s your frontline that’s going to be the proof point for this.” And we kind of had some healthy discussion with them and we finally agreed that, “Hey, the executives will develop a mission statement, and then you get consultants, go ahead and create something with the frontline and we’ll work at it and consider it.” And so we did that. Parallel tracks and an executive did a great job, but the final test was we took the mission statement, the values that the executive created. We took the ones that project team of frontline workers created, and then we randomly picked frontline, these were bank tellers and cashiers and such, and we asked them, “Take a look at these two value statements. Which one gets you excited and in less than 30 seconds, which one can you create a story right now about how you’ve either done this or how are you going to do this?” And take a guess which one they picked?

Vikas Bhambri: (15:49)
The frontline.

John Timmerman: (15:51)
Yeah it was. Frontline wins every time. And so, it needs sponsorship of executives, but if these things don’t resonate within the culture that you have, it’s dead on arrival.

Gabe Larsen: (16:04)
Wow. Wow. So maybe one follow up to that, John, I just feel like a lot of people ask, especially when it comes to the Ritz-Carlton, these, the it’s, and maybe I’m just, maybe I’ve heard rumors, maybe it’s not true, so maybe you can dispel them. But, when someone like goes in a room, the operational rigor that before somebody checks in like what that person actually does in preparation to get that room, like there’s a 50 point checklist or a hundred point checklist, or there’s a lot of operational rigor that goes into actually providing that optimal experience. I’m trying to think of some of the examples I’ve heard, but maybe you can confirm or deny. How operational significant do you get on some of these small things to make it that Ritz-Carlton-type experience?

John Timmerman: (16:53)
Yeah. So, and a good reference for this is, it’s a Gallup book that was published a while ago and it’s around the notion of how do you create excellence? And when you take a look at a new coworker, employee in an organization, against a requirement, first got to make sure, is there a requirement well defined? So you’re pretty close, Gabe, in that in a guest room, we had about 127 key points of cleanliness and operational requirements. And then you take that and then you say, “Well, how do I make a highly reliable system against that?” So you wouldn’t get the training, the hiring, the inspection process. And so one example would be you just, you have worker fatigue if you kind of ran them against 127 points for 16 rooms. They would clean [inaudible] cleaning a room at a clip of a room for every 30 minutes on average. And so you take that and break it down to what are the 14 vital things that are important to the customer that we got to get a hundred percent, right? So the 127 are still important. We’re not going to ignore them, but we’re going to allow a different level of variation for 127 versus these 14, have to be just bulletproof a hundred percent right. And then be really rigorous on our inspection and reinforcement on those things at high frequency rates. So that’s every room, every housekeeper. One of the things we learned with our housekeeping staff too was, we got to a point where we said, “Hey, we’ve got some people that are so good where they just don’t even need inspection.” So we stopped the inspection and we got pushback from them, they said, “You know what? We know we’re really good and we got low error rates, but we actually want leaders to come in and recognize the great work that we do,” So be careful too, when you go to complete self inspection with top performers. Sometimes those employees value the feedback and the validation that we give them. So it’s designing the right level of inspections so that we’re not burdening with a lot of unnecessary costs, preventative costs, but it’s making sure that for those things that are vital to you, you got a high reliable system. Like one of the things we can never guarantee when we were checking in a customer at Ritz was they’d get the room they wanted. The right view, the right floor and all that. So we stepped back and said, “Well, what can we guarantee?” Well, we can guarantee and we can operationalize that. We’ll use their name at least three times when they check in. And so how do you do that? Well, at the bell services, the door, they’re trained to look at the tags on the luggage. And then they got them. We give them a tool, a microphone, and a radio to communicate it to the front desk. And then we got a follow up call from someone on duty once they checked in the room to see how they’re doing. And so there’s constraints in any order. And then people also say, “Well, you probably pay people more at Ritz-Carlton. That’s why you got it.” Guess what, we paid the same market rate as the Red Roof Inn and any other brand. It’s just that we had some really super good processes and the same would be for Mercy. We focus on, there’s an ocean of things you can work on and that are important so you’ve got to have those accounted for, but you got to really narrow it down to how are you going to differentiate and what’s going to be critical that has to have a hundred percent reliability, and then just really design around that. Because if you try to design a hundred percent reliability, especially in a human dynamic situation where you’re relying upon human technology and not automation, you got to really pick the areas that you go for very carefully.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:44)
John, you made a great point at the end there, which is a lot of times people, when we use brands like Disney or Ritz-Carlton, et cetera, people are like, “Look, of course people are paying $800 a night or a thousand dollars a night to stay there.” You’re going to, and the assumption is that you said that we’re paying our people more. My belief has always been that there’s some core elements that you can have in any business, whether you’re a restaurant, whether you’re the local delicatessen, whatever it is, that it doesn’t matter if you’re the Ritz-Carlton. What are some of those kind of key principles that really any business can adopt? You said you’ve got a 127 point checklist, but there’s 10 things that every business should think about or consider or adopt to provide that premium level of customer experience.

John Timmerman: (21:36)
Yeah. That’s a pretty common question. And I’m not going to skirt around it, but I would say that I’m a little bit hesitant because of sharing specifics because then, as you know, Vikas, Gabe, people run out and try to implement that and may not be right for the context. When I first got to Cleveland Clinic from Ritz, they said, “Make us like Ritz-Carlton.” I said, “Well, let me come back to you in 90 days and tell you if that’s right.” And there’s some things we use from Ritz, but there’s a lot of things we didn’t use too just because of the context and the brand positioning. So, but here’s what I would say though, I give you some fallacies to stay away from. So maybe I’ll go the other direction, not saying what to do, but what not to do. The one thing is to draw the assumption that training’s going to solve it. And I learned this as a young 20-year-old manager, when Ritz was just being formed. When I joined the organization, the president Horst Schulze, we all the time, you get general managers with, you would call them excuses. Excuses why they couldn’t deliver a perfect customer experience for our guests. And the typical excuse was training. And then what Horst would do on the phone, Horst would say, “I’m flying down to your hotel right now. I’m going to offer everyone of your employees a thousand dollars if they can do this the way that we’re asking them to do it. What time do you want me to show up?” And the GM would always say, “No Horst, don’t get on the plane. It’s not a training issue. There’s other issues. We’ve got to clarify the expectation. I got to go back and make sure they’ve got the tools and resources. We need to know if we’ve got the right measurements and metrics in place to answer the question. How do we know this is being done the way that we want it to be done? Are we reinforcing the right behaviors, both positive reinforcement as well as you gotta be truthful.” Hey, there has to be negative consequences when these things aren’t done after you’ve given everyone, you’ve set the table with what they need to be able to do it and you can’t just say, “Happy employees and happy customers.” Yeah. It’s easier to serve customers if the employees are happy, but there’s other processes and tools and resources that have to be brought in to play too. I really wish it was that easy. Then we’d all be getting better customer service across the board. So stay away from that training fallacy. Also stay away from the fallacy that if we just paid more, because for any savvy manager, put the data aside and the data sites this, is that pay is abhorrent. So that’s not right, it’s an obstacle. But if it is right, it’s very short-lived and what’s going to give you, get you in terms of performance. And if there’s one thing I always learned from Gallup, when you look at what drives behavior, you have to ask, you have to know that it equals one level with each coworker. So for someone, it might be economics, for other people, it’s going to be public recognition. Other people, I mean, they quit if you gave them public recognition and it’s some autonomy and their job, and it just varies across the board. And that’s why leadership is not easy, not for everyone, because you’ve got to dial into those nuances of people once you’ve set that table and give them those basic tools and environment.

Gabe Larsen: (25:03)
Wow, I like that. I want to talk just for a minute about the, you hit some of the operational elements, but a lot of people talk about this customer journey map concept and how you can actually start to go from end to end and start to find some of the checkpoints or the areas you do need to improve. How would you coach organizations to go through that process? I mean, it seems like you’re so methodical in the way that you walked through that customer journey yourself and find things that, I remember this one we did at Toyota together, and you were thinking of things I didn’t even, there were so many signatures, you were like, “That guy had to sign 130 times. Like that’s crazy.” And I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t even see that one.” Is it just take an eye for it? Or how do you do a customer journey map, John Timmerman style? You know?

John Timmerman: (25:52)
Yeah. The most I’ll give you is, if you’re at maturity stage one, but the first thing to do is to most, and by the way, most of the breakdowns occur in service organization between handoffs, between departments. And so if you kind of know that, and that’s a working hypothesis, then one easy thing is just to get two departments together and clarify requirements and expectations. So I can’t tell you the number of times I walk into a hotel and meet with the culinary and the banquet servers and ask the question, “Do you know what you want from them? And do they know what they need from you?” And they’d be working together for 10 plus years and really not have a clear definition around how they support each other and those requirements. And that’s true for hotels and hospitals. We need, we have some of the brightest clinicians on the planet that work at this organization, and yet they really haven’t had the opportunity to step back and clarify expectations in these interdisciplinary teams. So that’s kind of like the first step before you do the sophisticated approach. Let’s say you got some clarity around basic requirements between departments, teams, multidisciplinary units. Take the customer experience at Ritz, we calculated that there was 1800 potential touch points for travel or stay in 1.5 nights. So again, that’s the ocean of what can happen. And then you got to say, “What are the critical phases of the 1000 plus that inform the consumer’s opinion of you?” And really determine whether they’re going to come back and what they say and feel all that. And you break it down into a little bit, the arrival phase. It’s like mom said, first impression. So let’s focus right now on the arrival phase and get that right. And then if it’s not the arrival, maybe you got that, we know recency theory that the departure, the fond farewell thing. So maybe let’s go take a look at that. And then maybe let’s circle to what’s in the middle between those two bookends of the phase, and let’s look at it, or what are the transactions, the things that they’re doing? Like filling out those application forms. What are the things that we’re doing to reinforce relationship? How do we intelligently design something unanticipated? Organizations don’t have endless resources to gold plate, the experience. So you’ve got limited amenities and things you can do for consumers to drive their loyalty. So whether it’s on the site, visual site with gamification, or it’s a physical interaction, how are we going to find design, design in some of these things that are going to drive delight and make this more than just a reliable, transactional thing, but also experience that drives relationship and some level of memory and printing for that experience?

Gabe Larsen: (28:57)
Hmm. Interesting. I like it. Do you, as we get to kind of close here. Certainly the world has changed and that’s changed for Mercy. It’s changed for Ritz-Carlton has changed for so many companies with all that’s happening in the world. What are some of those things that you’ve learned through this change that you would want to leave maybe with customer experience leaders trying to transform their businesses, knowing that digitization is on us more than ever, knowing that COVID is obviously changing everything we do? What are some of those principles that you’ve kind of maybe either had to adopt or didn’t you feel like you could pass on to an audience of customer experience leaders?

John Timmerman: (29:36)
Yeah, I actually, a great question. I actually have three of them. There’s many, but three. The first one is this is a tragic situation that’s occurring. A lot of people are put in a very bad situation and let’s take this bad situation and try to use it for good as much as possible. And you can do that through many different ways. One is compassion. So we don’t lower our standards but we’re also looking at things through the eyes of not just our consumer, but our coworker. And so maybe there was a policy that you never compromised in the past and not suggesting what organizations do or don’t do, the policies, but let’s reevaluate it through the lens of, you’ve got one parent that’s trying to juggle somebody at home and another one that’s trying to juggle their job and the school’s closing. And let’s reevaluate policy through an eye of compassion for people and make sure that we put them at the center of it. The second one is let’s just try to automate as much of these things as we can. So, per capita, the US, we’re extremely high in terms of per capita cost for health care. And so if we can take out some manual process and automate it and allow people to practice at the top of their license and allow people more human contact versus paper shuffling, let’s do that as much as possible too. And the third thing is for leaders, I can speak for myself and the leaders I work with, you’re going to have to take a step back and rethink the new requirements because the world has changed. And a lot of the things that I would do yesterday that would drive performance results and success just quite frankly don’t apply today in this new environment. And so we’re all having to learn how to, if you’re right-handed, write left-handed. And make sure you’re spending time with your teams to define, “Hey, what are the new requirements? Because things have changed.” I just can’t say that it’s the things of yesterday are going to work today and give people the breathing room to kind of go through that discovery phase because the demands of co-workers, of consumers, of leadership, I suggest is very different today and that’s going to require some change and growing for I think, all of us, that whole leadership responsibility.

Gabe Larsen: (32:14)
Awesome. Awesome. Well John, love having you on. Vikas, closing thoughts or closing questions on your side?

Vikas Bhambri: (32:18)
One, I think we could do another 30 minutes.

Gabe Larsen: (32:21)
Yeah. Dang it. I’m sad I only booked 30.

Vikas Bhambri: (32:25)
Can we do a part two? No look, I think the key thing, and we learned a little bit about this last week with our previous guests is, your customer journey mapping is all the rage and everybody’s doing it. But I think my key takeaway from John’s discussion is the employee side, because, it is, there’s two parts of the equation and the employee, everything from hiring to then enablement, and then the management of those of those team members is absolutely critical in delivering that ultimate customer experience. So thank you so much, John. That was my big takeaway.

Gabe Larsen: (32:58)
Yeah.

John Timmerman: (32:59)
God bless. Take care.

Gabe Larsen: (32:59)
How many touch points was that again, John? It was how many?

John Timmerman: (33:04)
It was about 1800 plus per just for a 1.5 length of stay.

Gabe Larsen: (33:10)
That is just crazy. Alrighty. Well John, again, really appreciate you joining and taking the time. Vikas, as always, thanks for being on and everybody have a great day.

Exit Voice: (33:22)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed to hear more Customer Service Secrets.

 

Driving Loyalty and Retention Through Personal Gifting

Driving Loyalty and Retention Through Personal Gifting TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Greg Segall, Sean MacPherson, and Vikas Bharmbri to exchange views on the personal experience movement. Learn how these leaders relate to their customers on a deeper level by listening to the podcast below.

Take Advantage of Investing in Relationships

CEO of Alyce, Greg Segall, has created a company that drives customer retention and renewal through personal gifting. Personal gifting invests into clients and customers and helps create a sense of empathy between them and the brand. To better understand this, Greg says:

When you think about gifting and you shift your mindset and what we call, “personal experience,” you’re thinking about it in terms of, “How can I actually use this as a way to be able to relate to somebody else,” right? To be able to actually invest in that relationship and then learn something about them and to be able to actually drive that relationship as you move forward.

To avoid perceived bribery in gift giving, Greg understands that it is important to choose a personal gift and present it at the right time as a token of appreciation, rather than a gift of anticipation for completion. This same concept can be used in CX. Making customers feel appreciated and cared for can help bring about a sense of surprise and delight to most CX situations. Rather than rushing in anticipation of the solution, taking the time to understand the needs of the customer and to genuinely connect with them can host tones of appreciation and gratitude, making it less likely for a disgruntled customer to leave a poor review. By investing in a relationship and going deeper than surface level, companies enable better support, greater solutions, and loyal customers.

Providing a Tailored Approach to CX

Alyce was created as an option for companies to provide more personal gifts to potential prospects. The concept of five to nine was brought about at Alyce as a way to tailor gifts for potential prospects based on their interests outside of their typical nine to five work schedule. Both Greg and Sean have seen a huge shift in the ways of gift giving as a result of curating to the prospect’s hobbies and interests. Sean notes, “Think about the people you are targeting in the rough persona, make it more than just like a DoorDash gift card, for example. Give them the opportunity to go and select something a little bit more personal.” Instead of providing a generalized gift or something as commonplace as company swag, prospects are more likely to enjoy something personalized to their interests. CX agents would be wise to apply this method to different aspects of customer interactions, not specifically just to providing gifts, but also to tailoring interactions to the customer’s needs. This further drives and advances customer relationships by providing a more personalized approach to customer service.

Improve Your Brand by Learning From Support Cases

Head of Customer Success at Alyce, Sean MacPherson, elevates CX by learning from experience and listening to his customers. He feels that it is extremely important to build a lasting connection beyond simply just fulfilling support cases. He says, “If you have someone of a user that is submitting ten support cases on a week over week basis, that’s probably not because they want to talk to your support team. They may be running into a bunch of hiccups and maybe you just need to kind of surprise and delight them a little bit more.” Sean utilizes his experiences working with customers to improve upon Alyce’s abilities as a company to better provide exceptional service. A prime method to ensure company improvement is proactively adapting to the needs of the user base. To do this, Sean urges brands to take advantage of customer feedback and support cases to improve upon UX and UI, creating a more seamless customer experience and overall brand interaction.

To learn more about the secrets of connecting with customers on a deeper and more personable level, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

Listen Now:

Listen to “The Personal Experience Movement | Greg Segall and Sean MacPherson” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

The Personal Experience Movement | Greg Segall and Sean MacPherson

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 here. Today, we’re going to be talking about this personal experience movement. How personal gifting, delighting customers, supporting retention and renewals, and to do that and brought on a couple special guests, our friends from Alyce. They’ll just take maybe just a second. Greg, Sean, if you can, tell us a little about yourself and also what you guys do over there at Alyce. Greg, let’s start with you.

Greg Segall: (00:37)
Yeah, sure. I’m CEO of Alyce. I’ve been running the company now for a little over four years. We are what we call a “personal experience platform.” So we use personal gifting as a way to build relationships with individuals throughout the entire prospecting world and also the customer world as well. Sean, how about you?

Sean MacPherson: (00:58)
So I’m the head of Customer Success over at Alyce. A little bit about kind of where my functional areas lie is customer success. I also oversee our Service Department, so our support team and also our account management team. A little bit about my five to nine too, because I love to throw that in there and being personal. You will see, I am a skier. I’m also an avid cyclist and you may see my doggo pop-up. She likes to kind of photo bomb all of my Zoom meetings. So she might pop her head up over my shoulder at some point.

Gabe Larsen: (01:27)
We’re seeing with the skis there, man. I’m a Salt Lake City native. So I’m gonna get you one of these times and we’ll race down the hill.

Greg Segall: (01:38)
I forgot my five to nine too. So, guitar for sure. Been playing guitar since I was 12. Major shredder for those that matter. I also have my four year old daughter and I would say that these are not actually my books, even though those are the most fun ones to read so.

Gabe Larsen: (01:52)
I love the books in the background, they’re always, you get to know people. Vikas, I guess you’re up, man. You’ve got to give us the who you are and what you like now.

Vikas Bhambri: (02:03)
Yeah, everybody who listens to this show knows me by now. But yes, I guess nine to five, the well, nine to five, the Head of Sales in CX at Kustomer. Five to nine, I’ve got two girls that are just going to be seven and eleven. That wasn’t planned, next month. And for me, it’s a lot of things, but where I’ll boil it down to as of late it’s swimming and Kenpo Karate. Kind of started that back into last year and well, swimming has been obviously on hold, but thank God for Zoom and been able to catch up on my karate via Zoom.

Gabe Larsen: (02:45)
Well, I think everybody knows me. I’m Gabe. Unfortunately, I have no hobbies right now. All I do is work. Vikas is on me all the time. He knows this, it’s his fault. I got a lot of things that, he’s waiting on me for. So, well, let’s –

Greg Segall: (03:02)
Is that you surfing the background though? Who’s surfing in the background?

Gabe Larsen: (03:05)
Oh yeah. That is. That’s me in Hawaii. I’m a surfer. I’m right here. No, that’s not true, but I do love Hawaii. Kauai is my island of choice –

Vikas Bhambri: (03:15)
Gabe’s got his hands full. From five to nine he’s a dad.

Gabe Larsen: (03:20)
That’s true. I’ve got four. I took two and I took two more. I don’t know why. All right, let’s dive in. Greg, I want to start with this. I don’t believe in gifting. I think it’s not right. I’m being facetious here, but give us the foundation of why it’s so important. We’ve got a lot of people are like, “It’s too expensive. I can’t do it. What? Like, I know about phone. I know about email. I know about text message. Like, what? Gifting? That sounds stupid.”

Greg Segall: (03:51)
Yeah. I think you have to start, take a little bit of a step back, right? Because I think gifting in general, people have a misconception as to what gifting or direct mail or swag and all these different places are. If you think about it, it’s an investment in a relationship, right? You’re basically taking money and you’re saying, “I want to get to know this person better, or I want to actually offer them something for building that relationship and establishing that.” But the problem in business up to this point has been that everything has been done for me, meaning my crappy water bottles or my chocolate feet to get my foot in the door, cheesy campaigns or whatever it is and they’re not thinking about the other person. So when you’re thinking about it, it has to be something where you’re reframing it and thinking about this is something for somebody else in a consumer world, or if you know any of your family members, you’re always thinking about what’s best for them, not what’s best for me and what’s going to promote my brand that’s there. So when we think about gifting, yeah. When you think about gifting and you shift your mindset and what we call, “personal experience,” you’re thinking about it in terms of, “How can I actually use this as a way to be able to relate to somebody else,” right? To be able to actually invest in that relationship and then learn something about them and to be able to actually drive that relationship as you move forward. So, when you’re thinking about all the digital noise that’s out there now, everyone’s emailing, everybody’s LinkedIn spamming, everybody’s leaving voicemails, or even a lot of people are –

Gabe Larsen: (05:08)
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Hold on, spamming? What are you talking about?

Greg Segall: (05:15)
I don’t know.

Gabe Larsen: (05:15)
We had a few people be like, “Hey,” because when you go live, you go broadcast to the group. But I’ve had a few people be like, “How do I not have you like broadcast to me when you go live?”

Greg Segall: (05:25)
I teed that up for you, Gabe. No worry. That was set up well.

Gabe Larsen: (05:31)
You were saying, you were saying. Go ahead.

Greg Segall: (05:32)
Yeah, so the key thing is that if you’re investing into that relationship, and you’re doing that at the right moments, then you have an ability to actually advance the relationship instead of just using your own agenda, right? And so again, us at Alyce, the way we believe it is that you should not be thinking about it as yourself. It should be something for the other person. That’s why we believe in the power of choice, person gets to choose what they want, right? And it’s not about what you want to send them, it’s about what they, what they’re actually going to take. And then the Alyce model is also when they pick something, like if they pick tinker crate, then I’ll be like, “Oh, well, pick from, Vikas has a seven-year-old or must have some-year-olds. So I’m learning something about, I have an ability to start asking you about what we call, “the five to nine.” Everything that’s in your interests, your hobbies, your family, your pets, all the things that really matter to you. So is it expensive? It’s more expensive, but is it a heck of a lot more impactful? Does it build an emotional resonance which actually drives you deeper into rapport and trust and then loyalty? That’s the big thing that you have to understand. And when you look at that spread out across all the time you’d be spending, in a numbers game, spending them sending a million messages versus really getting honed in on a one-to-one thing, that’s where you can totally change the game on how you’re actually building those relationships.

Vikas Bhambri: (06:39)
Greg. I’m good. Go ahead. Sorry, Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (06:40)
No, no. Go ahead.

Vikas Bhambri: (06:43)
So, Greg. Look, I think gifting is an interesting strategy, right? And I think that’s one that we’ve employed in B2B through the ages, right? But kind of on, I hate to say on the sly, but it was one of those things where whether it’s presale or post-sale, if you got to know somebody and you have that comfort level, maybe you drop off a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates or something to that effect. Now I will say, I feel like of late in particular, over the last three years, I’ve even had customers that we have very good relationships with push back because of the concern about the impropriety, right? Like, people are going to think I am endorsing you as a vendor because I have this relationship with you. So if you leave me a big bottle of wine on my desk and everybody sees it, it’s like, okay, you awarded the contract for this reason. What are your thoughts there? And just corporate policies and how does that weigh into the entire gifting experience?

Greg Segall: (07:49)
Yeah. I mean, that’s one of the root questions that always comes up. And the key thing there is when you get into that moment where it’s tit for tat, right? Or there’s pre quid pro quo, right? Which I usually screw that up so I actually said it pretty well at the time. But when you’re thinking about in terms of, Sean always knows that because I always say that to the company and I screw it up 99% of the time. So you guys have just witnessed a miracle. But, if you think about it in terms of that quid pro quo, of course, if you’re dropping off a bottle of wine or you doing something for that person and it’s connected to the action that you’re actually trying to get them to take, then of course it’s bribery, right? But when you’re starting to think about the relationship you’re building with that, and you’re giving them the power to choose, and you’re not tying it to the action, then it’s about investing in the relationship. And again, if you think about it in terms of an investment to learn about the person, it’s a different mindset than if you’re saying, “Oh, this is me because I’m trying to actually buy you off and I’m trying to actually do that.” And there’s a thin line there, but it’s a matter of how you message it. It’s a matter of the moments that you’re actually using gifting to be able to drive that through and again, we were talking about this topic being specifically around customers. When it’s a customer, it’s a much different perception than when you’re like a cold prospect in the beginning where you’re like, basically like, “I’m basically paying you off for a specific event that’s there.” So again, in the way that we think about it at Alyce is it’s not about, “Take this meeting and you get this thing,” like the whole thing where I’m trying to send you like a drone and keep the controller type of thing where it’s like, I’m literally like attaching the event to that. So from my perspective, it’s very much about how you position it and it’s also about how you invest in that relationship and it’s also about how you use that as a way to actually advance the relationship at the right time too.

Gabe Larsen: (09:33)
Yeah. Do you feel like Sean, in COVID-related times, can you even do physical gifts? I mean, is that basically– wow, a lot of people aren’t in offices, I wanted to send them something they’re not there. They might be nervous that that gift is dirty. You know, I there’s just a lot going on. Is that a problem? And if so, how do you guys get around that?

Sean MacPherson: (09:59)
Yeah, it’s a really good question. And it’s actually very similar to what we see in the event space too. Basically you had to take direct mail and make it a little bit more digital. So how you do the digital transformation of gifting and direct mail. I’ll selfishly say with Alyce it’s much easier, but I’m going to be very generic here. What we have seen with, we work with a lot of our customers, is how do you still put those customer experience moments and embed them still into a flow, make them feel a little bit more natural, whether this is just via email or via LinkedIn message? You’re still going to use those similar tactics in those surprise and delight moments with the gift, but you’re just making it digital instead. Now, to answer your question a little bit more like, has there been struggle? Oh yeah. There’s definitely struggle when you’re with smaller businesses, for example. If you’re trying to do something very more specific, so you do have to get a little bit more creative with that. And how do you partner better with some of the merchants to actually deliver it? And how do you help some of these small businesses and work together with those, if you are the software provider, for example?

Gabe Larsen: (11:05)
Got it. So you do, you’ve kind of digitized it basically. So you’re not necessarily, and the key to that is, and you refer to this, Greg, is basically allowing somebody to opt in so that they can basically say, “Send it to this address, that address,” wherever they may be comfortable rather than sending it cold to an office that they’re probably not at. Did I get that correct?

Greg Segall: (11:26)
A hundred percent. The flow, there’s two flows, right? One is you need to actually get their home address first or second is you send them something digitally and let them go through the flow after they opt into the process. To me, when you’re talking about personal experience, you’re trying to be as respectful as possible. So we have this three R’s right. The relatable is your nine to five, make sure that you’re actually connecting it to the, sorry. The relevancy. The relevancy of who this is. The relatability is the five to nine, right? Who are they as a person outside of work and then being respectful across every channel that you reach out to them. That’s how you get to a moment with them. And to me, when you’re asking for an address upfront and being like, “Hey, I’ve got something I want to send to you,” that’s there unless you have a really tight relationship with the person like, that just seems super creepy. And that’s the antithesis of being personal, right? It’s actually going towards the opposite side of it, versus where we’re saying is, send them something, show them what, let them go through the experience if they want to opt in, great. And then put in the address and then send that thing off to that person as you go through the process. It’s just much more of a personal, they’re investing into the process and the experience itself.

Gabe Larsen: (12:33)
Yeah. So Vikas, I wanted to throw this one to you and maybe you guys can jump on it. I mean, Sean, you’re in customer success. Vikas, you’ve got customer success and customer support. Is there relevancy, gifting in both of those worlds, one of those worlds? Have you, what’s your quick thoughts on this, Vikas?

Vikas Bhambri: (12:52)
My thought process is, there are many moments in that relationship, as Greg was pointing it out, where I think it’s appropriate, not in advance of, but in appreciation of where you’re thanking your customer, you’re celebrating something with them. So, whether it be thanking them for perhaps a reference or a case study or a video, I’m obviously talking about B2B software world, but those types of things where people, people take time out, right, to do some of these things, right? To speak to an analyst on your behalf, et cetera. And then it’s those celebrations, right? Maybe it’s a Go Live. Maybe they had a big launch. Maybe it’s a promotion of a team member. All of those types of things. As I think about the customer journey and where would it be appropriate to celebrate those moments as Greg referred to them? I think those are some of the ones that come immediately to mind.

Gabe Larsen: (13:56)
Yeah. What would you guys add to that, Greg or Sean?

Sean MacPherson: (13:59)
Yeah, I was going to say it’s all about being proactive here and thinking about what I like to call again, that surprise and delight experience. So there are a lot of companies that you can implement this very fast and wrong and one of the key mistakes that we always see here at Alyce is tying it a bit too close to these commercial events. So, like we were bringing up earlier is the quid pro quo. And I said it right, right there, it’s Greg will nod his head. So that’s one of the big things. So making it too generic. Think swag for swag’s sake or the same gift for everyone or the same handwritten note that’s triggered for everyone. This is definitely personalized, but it’s not personal. And that’s what we always challenge our customers and our prospects to think about here at Alyce. And just to add a couple of more examples that we do too is like, brand new customer brand new stakeholder. And whether it’s prior to the kickoff meeting or after, at Alyce we’re always breaking the ice with the five to nine. You saw us do that in the beginning of this meeting. And it’s learning a little bit about your customer. One of those examples in practice is one of our CSMs actually learned a bit about one of our customers that was an avid Duke basketball fan. Right after that meeting, we’re starting to nurture that relationship a little bit more on that interest. So that’s an easy way to start learning a little bit more and being proactive with your relationships there. Same thing with the business outcome, milestones, engagement with end users can be light there and also building more champions and exec sponsors.

Gabe Larsen: (15:30)
Yeah. Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (15:32)
Is there a dollar value threshold? I mean, can I go and do something for $5,000? Is there a dollar value that you cap at or what are some of the interesting gifts that maybe outside of the normal swag that people think about that people have purchased through the platform or selected through the platform?

Greg Segall: (15:56)
There’s a million. We have 36,000 that we’ve curated in our catalog and go to like the Duke basketball example, that Sean was just talking about. We ended up getting Duke basketball tickets for the new stakeholder and surprising her and it was an awesome relationship building thing. And what you’re trying to do when you are getting, you’re building a new relationship, and this is what personal experiences and just to like take a step back like, customer experience, what everybody always talks about is a very many to many concept. Same thing with ABM, right? It’s very much like all the folks on the vendor side, all the folks on the customer side and then how do you actually connect those people together? And everyone always thinks about it as like a unit to a unit. Personal experience is taking those individual people and saying each one of them, whether it be a CS, a rep and the specific administrator of the product or the end users or the influencers or whoever it might be, like, those are three separate relationships and you’re starting from a, “I need to build rapport. I need to build trust. And then I build into the loyalty stage there.” And that’s done by actually being relevant, making sure you’re actually delivering value to the person, but also like learning who they are as a person. The intangibles of the emotional resonance with that person is just totally different. So when you’re actually investing in that from a monetary perspective and doing it in terms of like what their, knowing that person to be able to relate to them, then that’s a huge thing. And again, we have a kind of unfair advantage at Alyce because it’s the exchange process that helps us learn more about the person. I saw a LinkedIn question come in just a couple seconds ago. And it’s like, how do you make it personal if you don’t know that relationship, or don’t have a deep relationship there? Well, you can send something that’s more generic, that still is unique to like work from home and it can relate to the work from homeness of this, but they can exchange for something else. If they exchange for BarkBox, then you know they have a dog, right? So like you can actually take the investment and then learn who that person is. That’s the entire background of the five to nine and what we try and drive with here at Alyce. You can start more generic and then they tell you how to get more detailed with that. Even if they exchange for like a Nike gift card, now you just know that I like Nike and I’m like, “Oh, I was in Beaverton, Oregon. And I went to their headquarters or whatever it might be.

Vikas Bhambri: (17:59)
Makes sense. I’ve seen a big move of late where a lot of people are asking when we even do have the discussion around gift is, “Can you do something for a charity that I support,” right? I think especially a lot of executives, right? I mean, at the end of the day for them, a $50 item is not going to fundamentally change their world. So that’s been a big thing that I’ve seen where even from a marketing strategy standpoint, when people are trying to entice to get that meeting or whatever it is, is people saying, “Look, here’s one of three charities, if you guys can make a donation and that would be great rather than give me a gift.” Is that something that’s available through the platform?

Greg Segall: (18:44)
Yeah. Alyce is, that was actually one of the reasons and the foundational elements of Alyce platform. When I started it four years ago, it was like, I wanted to be able to figure out a way that we can take this trillion dollars or pretty close to that, of all this money that’s being spent building relationships with folks in business and how like 90% of that goes to waste, how we give that back to folks. So we ended up seeing about 11%. We have, every charity’s on the platform right now. We’ve highly curated, about 360 of those charities, the highest rated ones that are out there, but you can also choose to actually donate to any other charity if you want as one of the options that are there too. So we’ll sometimes, especially with like higher level folks, we’ll lead in with donations and Sean can go through more details on like the specifics on this. But we always like to see how many people are donating and right now the percentage has skyrocketed in terms of how many people are actually donating to civil causes right now, LGBTQ causes or Black Lives Matter, or NAACP. Like, there’s a million different things that are happening or things like, “Hey, my mom,” we just had a note I saw come in the other day where it’s like, “My mom had cancer. Thank you so much for allowing me to actually donate back to a cancer society.” So, those are the things that are really, really magical because then you also show that you’re being selfless. And that also shows that it’s not about me. It’s about you. It’s the shirt, right? That’s a little subtle plug there.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:07)
That’s awesome.

Gabe Larsen: (20:08)
That is, that’s super powerful. Guys, before we end, a couple more, we got a couple of things coming in on Facebook, just about other examples or practical ways to use gifting in this kind of post sales world. I’m definitely feeling like you got the relationship, you want to solidify or build the relationship. Are there other kind of use cases or situations that you’d recommend? Is it, again, maybe it’s you’ve done something wrong, customer is angry or something, and it’s an apology thing or celebration, or are there other situations you’d recommend that could spark people’s minds as they think about using gifting in this post-sales world?

Sean MacPherson: (20:45)
Yeah, definitely. I’ll talk a little bit on more of the support side because we haven’t really talked too much about that yet. You’re hitting a couple of those core examples and kind of the two themes that I like to say is reactive to delight. So think about a customer that is going through a bug issue. Maybe it’s taking longer to resolve that bug. Maybe you just don’t want to surprise and delight them, whether it’s after a bug or thank you so much for your patience, service hiccups, outages, you name it, anything where it’s just not a great experience for your customers, it’s perfect to kind of make that a little bit more personal with them. Same thing with being proactive on the support side. So some of the ways that we like to be proactive is think about the number of support cases. If you have someone or a user that is submitting like ten support cases on a week over week basis, that’s probably not because they want to talk to your support team. They may be running into a bunch of hiccups and maybe you just need to kind of surprise and delight them a little bit more before they leave a negative review or something like that. Build that brand with them and build that connection beyond just the support cases. Same thing with introducing to other functions like, that same person submitting all those support cases, maybe a perfect UX tester for your UI tester for you. So getting that introduction that way too, and kind of progressing that stuff and thanking them for that time.

Gabe Larsen: (21:59)
I like those. And then your recommendation is on top of that to try to make it personalized rather than use something that’s quote unquote generic, right? Like the XYZ gift, right? You’d recommend taking the time, learn a little bit about them and see if you can personalize accordingly.

Sean MacPherson: (22:13)
Yeah. And even to help our friends a little bit more at scale that can’t always deliver on the one-to-one is, think about the people you are targeting in the rough persona, make it more than just like a DoorDash gift card, for example. Give them the opportunity to go and select something a little bit more personal about them and if you’re working with like IT admins, for example, they’re much different than a marketing admin, their interests are going to be different. So always keep that in mind. That’s how you can do a little bit of more one to many scale, whether it’s with a solution like ours or just on your own.

Gabe Larsen: (22:45)
Yeah, no. I’m loving the charity idea. Well, guys really appreciate the time today. I wanted to just go through and maybe get a quick kind of summary or recommendations for people who are trying to jump on this journey and kind of get gifting into their post-sales process. Thoughts, recommendations, closing statements? Sean, let’s go to you then Greg and Vikas we’ll have you close. Sean?

Sean MacPherson: (23:03)
Yeah, I was going to say one thing that always comes up with all of our customers is talk to me a little bit about the gifting and the ROI of gifts. And the biggest thing I always like to say is software as a service is a reoccurring revenue business. You by nature building all of those experiences and delighting your customers, that’s not only going to pay out on adoption advocacy, but you’re going to get referrals. You’re going to get all of that. So when you’re thinking about cultivating your business plan for the gifting strategy, keep all those things in mind because at the end of the day this is going to reduce your customer acquisition cost. And that is a big reason to put into your business plan and reasons why to think about gifting long term.

Gabe Larsen: (23:43)
I like that. Great add. Greg, over to you.

Greg Segall: (23:46)
I would say that to sort of piggyback off of that is when you’re thinking about the personal experience, the deeper you have the relationship with somebody, the deeper you get to that loyalty aspect, the more you can screw up and they’re still going to stick with you. So the more you can actually understand and be able to provide value with them and every single company does, we screw up, everyone does, customer screws up, like you’ll know that –

Gabe Larsen: (24:06)
What?

Greg Segall: (24:06)
The deeper that you have that, sorry, I forget it. Yeah. Just like use –

Vikas Bhambri: (24:11)
Cat’s out of the bag.

Greg Segall: (24:13)
Cat’s out, forget it. We’re done. We’re not called Kustomer anymore. But the key thing you have to understand is that you can always deliver value to the person, but there’s going to be moments where you’re not delivering value or you’re delivering negative value. And where it’s going to pick up for that is going to be the relatability and your ability to just be human and be able to be personal. Human is not an emotive term. Being personal is. When you create that emotional resonance and you learn who that person is and you’ve done that with a deep amount of people inside of the organization, your customer organization, you’re gonna get so much further with them. And you’re going to be able to allow them to be more open and transparent with you, and you’ll be able to drive the value with them exponentially further.

Gabe Larsen: (24:49)
I really liked the personalization concept. I think I’ve been guilty at times of kind of being a little bit more generic because it’s easier, but I can see how that just flipping that switch would probably change the game a lot. Vikas, kind of closing thoughts or recommendations?

Vikas Bhambri: (25:02)
Yeah. I think what Greg and Sean have touched upon is it’s not B2B, right? It’s human-to-human. At the end of the day, I think that’s the critical thing to remember that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and this concept of personalization. We often look at it from our lens. Gabe, like you alluded to, what’s easy for us. It’s easy to send something generic. It’s easy to send swag because we’ve got piles of it in a store room and we can direct an intern to just ship it out. But really think about thinking about it from the customer’s perspective and that individual’s perspective and what matters to them and everything from a Duke basketball game ticket, even though I hate the Blue Devils myself, but all the way to charity that they want to go through. And I think that’s a unique thing that will, I think you’ll see probably a higher take-up, from customers when they have that opportunity to self-select. So I think it’s really something exciting, which I think we’ll see more of in the industry.

Greg Segall: (26:05)
One last thing just to take off on that, Vikas’ last thought is there’s a difference between personalization and being personal. I want to make sure that like I hit upon that is personalization is about data that you’re using to drive value to a user or drive somebody through a buyer’s journey. Being personal is about how emotionally you’re connecting to somebody. Big difference in turning to that and how you get to the one-to-oneness is about how you get personal. Personalization is how you use data to get some one-to-many. So there’s a difference in how you start to think about that and we’re trying to drive that concept while we’re not calling it personalization experience, it’s a personal experience, like a big piece there, as you’re thinking about that.

Gabe Larsen: (26:38)
No, I like that and I appreciate you guys. I think the thing for me is it’s just different and when it comes to post-sales yeah, I’m used to talking to people on the phone, I’m used to talking to people via email and some of these other channels, but this idea of gifting, it’s just, it would be different and because it’s different sometimes I think that’s good. So that’s my quick closing thought. So hey, everybody, really appreciate you joining. For the audience, appreciate you taking the time and hope you have a fantastic day.

Greg Segall: (27:10)
Thanks so much.

Sean MacPherson: (27:10)
Thanks everyone.

Greg Segall: (27:11)
Thanks. Appreciate it.

Exit Voice: (27:17)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more Customer Service Secrets.

How CX Leaders are Winning in Challenging Times

How CX Leaders are Winning in Challenging Times TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Vikas Bhambri, Rob Young, and Jamie Whited to discuss different tactics to make CX teams successful during challenging times. Learn how each leader has trained their teams to provide exceptional customer service during COVID-19 by listening to the podcast below.

Navigating CX

Vikas Bhambri, SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer, discusses how teams are adapting to the new temporary normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers are coming to CX agents in states of heightened anxiety and stress and in turn, the CX agents are overwhelmed in their workload. For teams to cope in the pandemic landscape, Vikas has helped them to understand the importance of human-to-human interaction. He notes, “So I think the more we can make people just generally aware of that human-to-human relationship and remind them of that, I think that goes a long way.” He goes on to encourage teams to ask what they can do for the customer beyond just quickly responding to conversations. Strategies such as creative problem solving can effectively guide the customer to the best result. Ultimately, showing the customer genuine empathy through human-to-human interactions is what cultivates lasting customer loyalty and happier customers.

Focusing on What Can Be Controlled

Rob Young, Director of Customer Support at Bamboo HR, highlights the need for attainable and realistic customer service standards for CX teams. He says, “Make this moment count, make this day count. I can impact what I can impact. That will help my customers and my company,” in reference to what CX teams can do to stay motivated during these challenging times. To help CX teams accomplish the best possible outcomes, he adds that proactive communication between the team member and the customer is the key to success. Methods such as asking specific questions will garner specific answers, effectively leading to a desired end result. He further discusses how when CX agents focus on what they can control in their day-to-day business responsibilities, it sets the precedent for more positive and impactful customer service interactions.

Three Methods to Drive CX Success

Jamie Whited, expert consultant in Client Service and Experience, emphasizes three crucial things each CX team needs to successfully deliver the best customer service. The first is optimism. We are living in an ever changing world with this pandemic and Jamie believes that CX teams should embrace this new normal with optimism. As optimism is often infectious, it has the possibility to spread and cause an overall positive effect on the outcomes of CX interactions. The second point is innovation. Something that applies to all companies is the possibility to innovate and adapt when opportunities arise. To further expand on this second point, she says, “There’s a client I work with that’s … doing cross training. So they’re getting people exposure to other job positions within the company.” This is an especially useful tactic when companies are seeking to promote internal growth and reinvest in their existing employees. Additionally, the third point is to move quickly. With each new innovation, companies have to move quickly to ensure company growth and continued success. Jamie believes these three tactics are extremely useful and applicable to all companies.

To learn more about how CX leaders are winning during these challenging times, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

Listen Now:

Listen to “How Customer Service Teams Are Winning in Challenging Times | Vikas Bhambri, Rob Young, and Jamie Whited” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

How CX Leaders are Winning in Challenging Times

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Welcome everybody to today’s broadcast we’re on LinkedIn live. I’m excited. These guys know I’m excited. With so much digital going on. This is an audience we wanted to make sure we tapped into. In today’s a very specifically relevant topic. As we talk about how customer service leaders are winning in these challenging times. Now, I always have something to say, but I felt like it would be best to mix that up a little bit and have some other thought leaders, practitioners in the space, bring their knowledge to the forefront as well. And so real quick, we’ve got Vikas Bhambri who’s the SVP of sales and CX here at Kustomer. We’ve got Rob Young who’s a Director of Customer Support at a great company called BambooHR. And then we got Jamie Whited who is currently an expert consultant in client service and client experience. So guys, thanks so much for joining. Why don’t we take just 30 seconds and have you guys introduce yourself. Jamie, can we start with you?

Jamie Whited: (01:22)
Yeah, absolutely. Hi everybody. It’s a pleasure to virtually be together with you today. My name is Jamie Whited and I’m a client service leader and client experience consultant. I have over 15 years of experience building and leading teams in customer service, client success, client experience, and business process improvement. I’m incredibly passionate about people, problem-solving data and creating an unforgettable customer experience.

Gabe Larsen: (01:47)
I love it. All right, Rob, over to you.

Rob Young: (01:49)
Yeah. Thanks, a pleasure to be here. I love seeing faces even if it is virtually. Appreciate the invite. Rob Young, I lead our customer support teams at Bamboo HR. I’ve been leading customer support or customer success teams for a little over 15 years. Won’t tell you how much over, but we’ll just go with a little over for now.

Gabe Larsen: (02:11)
I love it. Awesome. Vikas, over to you.

Vikas Bhambri: (02:14)
Yeah, pleasure to meet everyone. Over 20 years of being in the contact center world, everything from implementing solutions to training agents, and now here at Kustomer over the last three years where I’m responsible for sales and customer experience. And for us customer experience means a combination of professional services, customer success, and of course our support team as well.

Gabe Larsen: (02:39)
Yeah, yeah, multithreaded there. So and last but not least you have myself. I have zero years of experience. No, obviously, I’ve got a little bit of experience, but in a slightly different environment, I run the growth program here over at Kustomer, which mostly consists of our marketing and our business development reps. So excited to get going. Let’s start big picture. You guys, world changed obviously, just in the last two, three, four weeks, depending on where you were and why you were potentially operating in different places. Rob, let’s start with you. Big picture, how did it change from four weeks ago to now with all that’s going on with the virus, the economy, et cetera?

Rob Young: (03:21)
Yeah. So, aside from the large geographic chain, right, our entire workforce is now at home and we’re socially distant from one another. So that is a massive change and that norm, that switched very quickly for us. And so on top of that, we have individual personal lives have also been turned upside down, which is a lot of what we’re dealing with with both our customers and our team members, right? So we’ve gotta be conscious of, we have children or spouses and significant others, or in some cases, roommates that are all trying to get their work and their school done in the same household. So that’s been a big change. It’s been hard to get our heads around just from a work environment, but also from a social, kind of emotional environment as well.

Gabe Larsen: (04:14)
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, Jamie, you’re talking to a lot of companies out here in your role. What are you seeing? What would you add to that?

Jamie Whited: (04:21)
Yeah, I would add to that some of the companies that I work with were not big fans of remote working, so they were not prepared for that. Other companies who love remote working, so they were fully prepared for that. Unfortunately, some of the companies I’m working with, they’ve had to have their call centers shut down. They’re international and they are not prepared. So their frontline service was down for a while. Their disaster recovery plans did not include that. Leading industries have toppled overnight and we’re seeing that impact on some of the companies that I work with. At the end of the day, as Rob mentioned, kids are also forced to stay home and have to learn how to go to school remotely. As a parent of four, in middle school and high school, it’s definitely been an interesting adaptation there in addition to working with my quoty-finger ‘colleagues’.

Gabe Larsen: (05:11)
Oh my goodness. You have four. I thought I had the most out of this group, but Rob don’t you have a couple of kids? You have a couple of kids too.

Rob Young: (05:17)
Yeah. High school, middle school, elementary, just the whole gamut there.

Gabe Larsen: (05:22)
Oh man, this is the bad group. I think all of us are feeling that pain as we move into homeschool. Vikas, let’s go. Let’s kind of end with your thoughts. Anything you’d add, even from your own experience or some of the customers that you’re dealing with?

Vikas Bhambri: (05:34)
Yeah, I think the biggest thing for us is we were able to make the move to work from home pretty seamlessly from a tech perspective. But that’s just, that’s a fraction of the overall change management, right? The big thing is how people are adjusting to their new work environment, because there is that there are certain benefits to being co-located and being able to grab a peer and talk about something, a problem that a customer may be having that you’re trying to resolve, and so on. And then the very natural, as Jamie was saying, some of us that are parents are adjusting to that, but even for other folks, they’re dealing with everything from, “I’m now spending more time with a roommate than I ever really expected to spend,” right, “we basically share an apartment.” And maybe people dealing with their significant other more time than they actually ever planned on spending with them and having to deal with that. So there’s a lot of that element, especially from a leadership perspective, that we’re trying to deal with. So the tech was easy. We always have to remember, and I always remind people in the support world, it’s a human, we used to call it bums in seats. It’s the human beings that really are the core of it. And so really dealing with that side of it is what we’re focused on.

Gabe Larsen: (07:00)
Yeah. I love that. So let’s talk through that. I mean, I love kind of the level setting of: you got work from home challenges, you’ve got obviously infrastructure challenges, you’ve got parenting challenges. As we move forward, obviously the world has changed. I want to hear some of the strategies you’ve now tried to implement or coach people on to see if you can’t get a little better, make it a little bit better for your employees and your customers. Jamie, maybe let’s start with you. Where do you go from here with all these challenges?

Jamie Whited: (07:31)
Yeah, so I would probably say my top three that I’m looking at are first and foremost optimism. We have to remember, this is not going to last forever, but we have to accept the current new norm and be able to embrace it with optimism. A lot of people struggle with that. So, if we can lead with that and help influence others to feel that same way, I think it’ll just be a trickle down effect in a really positive way. I would say secondly, is innovation. We got to have innovative solutioning for all the problems that we face as customer service leaders. Yes, tech is probably the easiest, infrastructure a little bit harder sometimes depending on how your site is set up. But it’s everything from, if somebody had a problem, they would turn around and look at their colleague. Now they’ve got to wait for a response on Slack or they have to text them. They have to call them. So their response levels are going down. So how do we approach that? We just have to get innovative with what we do and how we do it. It’s an opportunity for us to adapt quickly trying new fun methods that maybe nobody wanted to try before. And even, how do we complete our day-to-day responsibilities in a new way? And then I’d say lastly, we have to move fast and we have to pivot quick because some of these new methodologies are not going to work. The sooner we recognize them, we pivot very quickly and try something else so that our companies and our employees and ourselves continue to grow and have the company day-to-day business continue.

Gabe Larsen: (08:51)
Yeah. I mean, that’s actually trying this and this LinkedIn live, right? I mean, that’s one of the things we were wanting to try fast and see if it worked and goes out. And how do you interact differently with your customers? Can you get a quick answer and then if it works great, if not, maybe you throw it in the garbage and try something new. Vikas, what would you kind of add to that? From strategies to see if you can operate more successfully in this new normal?

Vikas Bhambri: (09:13)
Yeah, well look, I think at the end of the day, you have to remember that it’s anytime you’re talking about customer service, you’re talking about the two sides of the equation and in the middle of it, as Jamie said, it’s that empathy and the empathy needs to be extended both to your team, the agents or the ninjas, or the gurus, whatever you call them and then your customers, right? Because both sides, don’t forget, there’s that element as well. Your customers also are in a heightened sense of stress and frustration, right? And it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, whether you’re in the software business, like we’re at at Kustomer or you’re in food delivery or you’re in pharma delivery or whatever it is, right? So I think that’s the key thing is there’s two sides of that equation and once again from a leadership perspective is having empathy with both sides and the education, so the education for me to make sure my team is aware. Look, customers are also dealing with this new temporary norm, and they’re going to be a heightened level of frustration. So you may get somebody who’s normally very easy going and easy to work with might be a bit more challenging. And on the same time, I actually had to coach a customer to tell them, “Look, I know you had a rough interaction with one of my folks, but they’re also in a heightened level of stress.” So I think the more we can make people just generally aware of that human-to-human relationship and remind them of that, I think that goes a long way.

Gabe Larsen: (10:51)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think we’re all going to have to be a little bit more patient if some of these things go on, but that’s what I think we’re starting to see that Jamie mentioned that some of these industries that are struggling with more cues, more hits, people are getting more frustrated because they want to change their flights. They want to do stuff and obviously that makes a little bit difficult. Rob, it sounded like from your guys’ standpoint, you guys had some teams that were being bombarded, like getting more requests, and then you had some teams, which I think is an interesting problem, that were actually slowing down. Like they’re not getting the service requests. How have you, is that true? And if so, how have you handled that?

Rob Young: (11:28)
Yeah. It is true, which has been a really interesting thing to try and sort out. So we’ve had to, first of all, the communication is just key, right? We’ve had to step up communication with customers and of course with our reps and then helping them be okay with change, like moving workloads around. We’ve had to shuffle some workloads to try and help teams that are just buried with requests and then teams that those requests are just trickling in. So that’s tactically, we’ve had to do that for sure, but also at a higher level helping our reps be okay with change and we’re pulling together, we’re all on the same team. We provide software and support for HR professionals and I don’t like the abbreviation of HR because you forget the human side, right? It’s Human Resources. So we’ve got to step up the human side as we continue in this new norm, for sure.

Gabe Larsen: (12:31)
And do you feel like, this is actually a question from the audience, this is kind of a cool feature in here, we got a question just about how your customers are reacting. Are you finding that your customers are being more empathetic or are people, I mean, Vikas you were kind of alluding to this a little bit, but are your customers more anxious? They’re more impatient? Rob, maybe let’s start with you and then we’ll go around.

Rob Young: (12:53)
Yeah. So, normally we ask, “How are you doing today?” That doesn’t cut it either with our team or with our customers anymore. So we’re instructing leadership and our frontline reps to ask specific questions. “How are you managing your workforce now? How is your life at home with your spouse or your significant other, your children going?” So asking very specific questions, “How are you doing?” It’s odd. We’re all doing okay. That doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Trying to get very specific answers in areas that we can then focus on and help. Yeah.

Gabe Larsen: (13:31)
Oh, I love that. Vikas. Your side of it. Anything, first of all, do you feel like customers in general are being more empatheti? And if they’re not, how are you managing that contextual language? Kind of like Rob said, are you trying to open it up and have people be a little more friendly? How do you navigate around that?

Vikas Bhambri: (13:49)
Yeah, I think customers themselves, we’ll look at the end of the day where we’re all human beings, I think they’re even, agents are saying, or my team is saying that, they’re asking, how am I doing? Which normally, if I’ve got an issue with software, I’m not going to necessarily have those niceties, right? And so even the person who’s coming in with the inquiry’s like, “How are you doing?” And I think on the flip side, the team is making sure that they’re understanding what the current environment is that somebody is dealing from. So you’ve got this particular issue, how are you operating? So I think asking a bit more than just jumping right into the thick of the problem that the individual’s having.

Gabe Larsen: (14:40)
Yeah. And Jamie let’s finish with you with this one. I mean, and maybe it’s just a recommendation. It feels like contextual messaging is super important. Whether your customers are being more empathetic or maybe they are being less, any advice you’d give out to people about how you should be approaching that conversation as they come in?

Jamie Whited: (15:00)
Yeah. I mean, it goes back to what Rob and Vikas also said earlier, is that we can only control how we react. I have one company that works a hundred percent with the cruise lines who was heavily impacted. So there are people who’ve lost their jobs or people who are now off the ship. They’re not having any income coming in. So a little problem is turning into a bigger problem and they’re coming unfortunately, very angry and just losing patience. So, we told the teams, you can only control your reactions. If somebody is coming at you like that in a very frustrated manner, then you turn around and you just give them the biggest virtual hug and empathy that you can potentially give them, retell them you understand where they’re coming from, and you are so sorry for their loss, and that we’re going to do everything we can to make this right for you. And that seems to obviously calm people down in pretty much any industry. There are other companies where people are being a lot more empathetic and compassionate. So we’re seeing a little bit of both, depending on the company and the industry.

Gabe Larsen: (16:01)
I love that. So one question that has come up and it’s actually posted here by one of the team members, Rob, you were just touching on it, but for those who are experiencing actually lower volume in service requests, because things are slowed down for them because now the economy has been hitting, creative ideas to keep people busy? I mean, obviously we don’t want to go to the furlough conversation or things like that and so company’s like, “How do I still make these people effective?” Vikas well, let’s start with you Vikas. Quick feedback on how you think you can get other people who are slow moving?

Vikas Bhambri: (16:34)
Yeah, that’s the inverse problem, right? Is you don’t have enough work and the first thing that anybody’s going to think of if they’re sitting in at home is at what point does a company say they no longer need me because there’s no volume, right? If you’re in that situation. So to me, once again, we have to think, go support holistically and part of support is about things like your knowledge base, right? And things like that. So now if there is latency or there’s bandwidth within the team, how can we optimize ourselves? Because at the end of the day, I think Jamie mentioned this and I think it’s very important for everybody to be cognizant of this, this is not the new norm. This is the new temporary norm, right? And so when we go back to quote/unquote business as usual, we will have those inquiries. So how do we optimize for that eventuality? So can we use people from the team to create new knowledge base articles, new FAQ’s, new training guides, new, obviously I’m talking about it from a software business, but it applies to a lot of other industries as well, right? How tos, things like that. So I think there’s plenty to do when we think about the support realm holistically and what the can be doing beyond just responding to conversations coming in from the customers.

Gabe Larsen: (17:55)
Yeah. Rob, anything you found or any quick tips or tactics you’ve applied?

Rob Young: (17:59)
Yeah, probably two things there. One is proactive communication, right? We are using some of our staff as almost CSMs to reach out. The CSMs are being inundated and so we have a switch that kind of proactive outreach to our customers raising our support reps to manage a lot of that workload.

Gabe Larsen: (18:23)
I think that’s important. This proactive, I think whether that needs to be happening, even if people aren’t experiencing downtime. All right. One more thing. I kind of want to leave the audience with, because definitely there’s an employee part of this and you guys have touched on it just a little bit, but maybe you could just give one tip for the, it seems like across the board, right? A lot of these reps are, in some cases nervous, some cases they’re overloaded, some cases they’re slowed down. Generally speaking, they’re at home and they’re feeling sometimes a little more nervous or apprehensive. What have you been able to do to try to drive a little bit more security, belief in the vision of your company, keep them on the boat, because again, they’re important for the overall vision and mission of the company. So let’s go through, maybe we can kind of end with this. Jamie, do you want to start?

Jamie Whited: (19:12)
Yeah, I would probably say, there’s a client I work with that’s retail and it’s not necessary to what’s going on right now. They’re doing cross training. So they’re getting people exposure to other job positions within the company. They’re also doing education, so they’re showing them that they are data lean six Sigma. So they’re just reinvesting in their employees.

Gabe Larsen: (19:36)
Yeah. I love that. Finding a way in this, while it’s slowed down, let’s actually find a way to reinvest. Vikas, over to you.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:43)
Yeah. Boy, if I see one more picture of a Zoom, a happy hour and those are great, don’t –

Gabe Larsen: (19:53)
– one of those, so watch it, dude.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:55)
Yeah. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. Look, those are all great. But I think what I’m hearing from the team really is helpful. If you normally do weekly one-on-ones, doing daily one-on-ones, daily stand-ups, making sure, especially from a leadership perspective, sometimes we can, especially I’m guilty of it, Slack is not my friend at all times, especially when I’m super busy, but being more aware –

Gabe Larsen: (20:21)
– He is really slow on Slack.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:24)
Right. Just being super aware of Slack, right? And being hyperresponsive. So I think those are some of the things that I think any team member would appreciate.

Gabe Larsen: (20:36)
It’s almost an over-communicate, whatever you were doing, almost double it. Rob, we’ll end with you here.

Rob Young: (20:42)
Yeah. Specifically, I love what’s been said about focusing on what we can control, right? If we focus on what we can control, one of our core values at Bamboo HR is make it count. Make this moment count, make this day count. I can impact what I can impact. That will help my customers and my company and leave the rest outside.

Gabe Larsen: (21:02)
I love this. Great. Alrighty. Well, thanks Rob for joining. Jamie, thanks for joining. Vikas, thanks for joining. Such an important talk track, as we all try to figure this out. So I thought it’d be fun to bring you together. People who are really working in it, doing it, living it, breathing it to give some tips and tactical advice. So I hope the audience enjoyed it and have a fantastic day.

Rob Young: (21:23)
Thank you. Take care.

Vikas Bhambri: (21:24)
Thanks everyone.

Exit Voice: (21:31)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more Customer Service Secrets.

Managing Customer Expectations Like a Pro with Mike Miller and Vikas Bhambri

Managing Customer Expectations Like a Pro with Mike Miller and Vikas Bhambri TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by two CX leaders, Michael Miller and Vikas Bhambri, to discuss managing customer expectations during a global pandemic. Both Michael and Vikas have had to adapt their teams to the new CX issues spawning from the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn how these leaders have successfully managed customer delivery expectations during COVID-19 by listening to the podcast below.

Simple Tricks to Earn Customer Loyalty

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has greatly impacted businesses across the globe. As a result of these uncertain times, a new customer has risen, the highly anxious user. In response to this, companies have had to diversify their CX tactics to keep up in the new, highly anxious user arena. To help businesses keep up, Chief Product and Strategy Manager at Convey, Michael Miller dives into three simple ways to earn lasting customer loyalty that will continue after the pandemic. The first is setting expectations for product arrival. Second, frequently providing status updates to the customer so they have an up-to-date understanding of product handling and delivery time. Lastly, the typical customer wants flexible delivery options. Various businesses have opted for curbside pick up and home delivery instead of in-store shopping. Michael concludes, “So being early, setting expectations, communicating frequently, those are the things that we are seeing not only customers expect, but the companies that do well are going to earn loyalty that’s going to carry on well beyond this period.” Businesses would do well to implement these three simple tricks to retain customers long after the pandemic is over.

Proactive Communication

SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer, Vikas Bhambri sets the standard high for other CX teams. Vikas understands that customers are happier when they feel their needs are being handled in an effective manner. He says this is accomplished through setting delivery expectations with honesty and by being available to solve customer’s issues promptly. He adds that the concept of too much communication between the agent and the user simply doesn’t exist in the realm of CX. Proactive communication happens when product and order updates are sent at each relevant step. If this is too much communication, Vikas explains, “Give them the option to opt out. But otherwise at every juncture that’s relevant, I would make sure that I was proactive with my communication.” By showing up and being openly available, agents are better able to get to the root of the customer’s issues in a timely fashion. The more openly a business communicates right now, the better.

The Role of AI in CX

Recently a controversial concept, AI, has come to the forefront of the CX discussion. While not completely replacing the importance of human-to-human interaction, AI has infiltrated the service industry through easing the roles of CX agents by better filtering user issues. With the new COVID-19 business-scape, highly anxious customers have been on the rise and the burden of customer care agents has been significantly increased to the point where they are overwhelmed. Companies are integrating AI into their CX to get a better handle on customer care. Michael has deployed an AI program at his company to help catch carrier delivery problems before they happen. This AI is helping meet the new customer expectations previously mentioned and helps their business have proactive communication. To further explain his AI integration, Michael emphasizes:

When you can reach out to the customer, you can reassure them, you can appease them, you can reset expectations, you can talk to the carrier about the issues. So it’s really for us all about identifying stuff that the carriers aren’t telling you and that you can’t otherwise as explicitly see in the network so that you can get out in front of these issues and create better customer experiences. That’s the biggest place where we’re deploying it.

Companies can reach out to their users with AI and filter their needs so their CX agents have a better handle on incoming customer situations, resulting in happier and more loyal customers.

To learn more about how to manage customer delivery expectations and how to create lasting customers, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

Listen Now:

Listen to “How to Manage Customer Delivery Expectations During COVID-19 | Mike Miller and Vikas Bhambri” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

Managing Customer Expectations Like a Pro with Mike Miller and Vikas Bhambri

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Welcome everybody to today’s broadcast. Today we’re going to be talking about a couple interesting topics, but specifically, how to manage customer delivery expectations during all of these challenging times. And to do that, we brought on Michael Miller, who’s currently the Chief Product and Strategy Officer at Convey, and then Vikas Bhambri the SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer. Guys, thanks for joining. How are you?

Vikas Bhambri: (00:37)
Thanks for having us.

Michael Miller: (00:39)
Doing well. Thank you.

Gabe Larsen: (00:39)
Yeah, why don’t we just take a minute and have you guys tell us a little bit about what you do and the companies that you work for. Mike, let’s start with you.

Michael Miller: (00:49)
Sure. Hi, I’m the Chief Product and Strategy Officer at Convey. We are a delivery experience management platform, and what that means is we help some of the largest retailers in the world with a set of tools all across the buyer’s journey, all geared towards creating a better customer experience and better delivery outcomes.

Gabe Larsen: (01:07)
Love it. Vikas, just take a second.

Vikas Bhambri: (01:10)
Sure. Vikas Bhambri, head of Sales and Customer Experience here at Kustomer and we are a customer service CRM platform that enables brands to engage their customers regardless of channel, with an optimal agent experience. So really excited to have this conversation today.

Gabe Larsen: (01:31)
Yeah guys, this is such a fitting conversation. Let’s start big picture, and then let’s dive into detail. Vikas maybe let’s start with you. As we see the current environment changing, what are some of the trends, challenges that customer service organizations are facing?

Vikas Bhambri: (01:47)
Well, look. We just went to something that’s never been seen before. In fact, Mike and I were talking earlier in the week and I think one thing that really resonated was Mike telling me that we are at e-commerce projections of 2022 level here in 2020 because of the accelerant called COVID-19. Right? Because all parts of the country and really across the globe, we have moved to a pure delivery model, right? If I just think about my own experience, I haven’t been to a grocery store now in five weeks here in New York, we are getting literally everything delivered. Flowers for my wife for our anniversary, cakes, grocery items, prescriptions. So we’ve fundamentally transformed the way we shop and interact with brands, in the last 30 to 45 days. What that does for the brand is it’s created an unprecedented opportunity and some simply can’t handle it, right? Because they were not built. I was talking to a CEO of a food delivery company the other day who said that his business has grown 10,000%. 10,000% through COVID-19, which if you told any CEO of a company, “Your business is going to grow 10,000%,” he would probably, he or she would probably jump for joy. Not if you’re not set up –

Gabe Larsen: (03:24)
Yeah, that’s right.

Vikas Bhambri: (03:27)
– overnight. So what’s happening for a lot of these people, if you go to their websites, they are taking, either some of them have gone to full transparency. “We can’t take any more orders.” Which I think is commendable, believe it or not. Right? Be honest with your customers. Some, unfortunately, are taking orders and then on the back end, they’re saying we can’t fulfill them after the fact, or after you submitted your order. Now you realize orders are out seven, ten days. And then the other thing that’s happening is, there’s a heightened level of tension in the consumer base. So when I order something, I used to order something from Amazon and just sit back. It was up the next day, two days later, whatever it is. Now I’m hitting refresh because I’m worried about feeding my family. Like, “Where’s my order, where’s my order?” and so that’s the new norm, right? Both on the brand side with their experience, as well as consumer expectations, is people have a heightened level of anxiety and are really expecting brands to live up to that brand promise, which it’s hard to do when your business can grow ten thousand percent.

Gabe Larsen: (04:37)
Yeah. I love that. I mean, the refresh on the Amazon order, I didn’t mean to laugh, but I know the feeling. Mike, what would you add to that?

Michael Miller: (04:49)
I think that’s all 100% accurate and we’re seeing it really all the way through the supply chain, which is under enormous strain. So with this spike and shift to e-com, just some data that we’ve seen across our network, on-time delivery percentage at an aggregate level has slipped from about 90% to 70% over the last two months. We’ve also seen a spike in exceptions, meaning delivery problems of almost 200% over the last month. So the issues that are happening all the way through the network that is under strain and how that manifests and sort of miss customer expectations, it’s pretty dramatic.

Gabe Larsen: (05:31)
Wow. Wow. So basically, from a data perspective, if you had to pin it, are companies actually meeting expectations when it comes to delivery during COVID? It sounds like there’s struggles; that the supply chain is having problems.

Michael Miller: (05:46)
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Vikas Bhambri: (05:50)
Mike, you’ve probably seen this because I noticed something I’d seen for the first time, the other day. As I was mentioning, I bought a cake online, first time ever, cakes being delivered. And when I went to see the tracking, basically it was a tracking link to UPS and they had said that due to things beyond their control, orders were being delayed and I actually got my cake a day later than what was intended. What are you seeing from that side? Because it’s interesting. I think the delivery functions are also having their own issues, which impacts the brand doesn’t necessarily control that.

Michael Miller: (06:32)
Yeah, absolutely. So the carriers in general, and we have relationships with pretty much every carrier in North America, and they are absolutely straining to keep up with the overall surge of demand. And you see that again and slippage and on-time delivery percentage. The bigger carriers like FedEx, UPS have actually started tracking COVID related exceptions specifically, and reporting on those and those are through the roof. Week over week as you might imagine. And all of that manifests in if a retailer made their delivery promise, that the carriers are having a hard time adhering to that, that is a missed expectation and that’s where it starts to hit your world with the, “Where is my order?” calls and those kinds of experiences.

Gabe Larsen: (07:20)
Wow. Do you feel like there are certain, as you’ve looked at the data and you see different companies, are there places or industries that are excelling at this? Actually doing it right? And if so, what are some of the things, do you feel like they’re doing well to combat this?

Michael Miller: (07:40)
Yeah. I’ll jump in. We actually do a lot of customer surveying and we’ve actually ratcheted it up during this period. And, we hear pretty consistently that customers at least, are looking for three things and the first is setting an expectation around when something is going to arrive. That is harder to do today than it has been historically, but that is absolutely expectation. They want frequent updates as early as possible as to when that’s going to change, if it is going to change. And then lastly, they’re looking for flexibility about delivery options. So, this surge in people who may not want to go into a retail environment grocery or otherwise, and so the rise in curbside delivery we actually saw early on during the quarantine periods a spike in return to senders because people were trying to deliver things to offices in locations that were no longer open. So being early, setting expectations, communicating frequently, those are the things that we are seeing not only customers expect, but the companies that do well are going to earn loyalty that’s going to carry on well beyond this period.

Gabe Larsen: (08:53)
I love it. So frequency, communication, flexibility is some of the key themes you’re finding different companies are doing in order to be successful.

Michael Miller: (09:00)
For sure.

Gabe Larsen: (09:00)
Vikas, on your side, and then I want to come back to Mike on something. But that’s on the delivery side, but if I’m a CX Lead, I’m a customer service leader. How do I keep up with these changing expectations, especially as it relates to delivery?

Vikas Bhambri: (09:17)
Sure. I can’t even imagine the stress they’re under. I think number one is the more information you can give to customers. It goes back to the transparency I said, right? Which is, ideally you’d like, your brand to kind of take the step, the extreme step of maybe saying, “Look, I can’t take on any more orders,” but I know that’s difficult, right? At the end of the day, this is also an opportunity for a lot of brands to acquire customers and acquire customers away from Amazon because people are looking for new options. So I can’t expect anybody to take the stance of, “I’m not going to take on any new customers,” but if you are going to do that, right, who am I to ask? Unless it’s me. But if you are going to take on those new customers, right, and then they are going to submit orders, then I think really kind of owning up to the transparency. So when they come to your website or they engage in your portal or whatever it is, being able to see real time status updates on where their order is in the process. Is it still being packed, right? If it’s out, is it out for delivery? And if it’s out for delivery, where is it? So I think that piece of it, then look, you’re still going to have this heightened level of tension in your consumer base. They are going to reach out to you. Be available across channel. Right? Don’t make it so like, “I gotta go email you,” because nobody really trusts that you’re going to get back to them in a timely fashion. Be available in real time channels, like chat, the voice channel. Right? And if they’re going to go to social media and rip on you because you’re not giving them information, be there to answer their call there. Now when your agents then are engaged with them, let’s make sure they have the data because that’s the worst thing that can happen for a poor agent is, “Now I’m dealing with this very frustrated customer who’s asking about the flowers, the food, the cake,” whatever it is that they’ve ordered from you, and you don’t have the answers. And so you’re sitting there going, “I wish I could help you, but I don’t know where your order is.” Right? But here’s where the brands that are going to separate themselves from the rest of the pack are the ones who are proactive. The ones that reach out to you to keep you abreast of where your order is. So you don’t have to come to me. I’m sending you text alerts, I’m sending you emails, right? I’m letting you know where your order is. And then if there is any change in that, I’m also letting you know, to let you know that you can make a change. Let me give you a really quick story. Went out and ordered a ton of groceries from a delivery provider and at noon that day, I got an alert that your shopping cart is being packed. I’m like, awesome. Right? Food’s coming. I’m super excited. Five hours later, still no delivery. I go into a panic. We were running pretty low on some supplies. I went to another provider and bought groceries. At 10 o’clock at night, that original grocer delivered. Now I’m sitting there with two X because the other person also fulfilled their order. So I went from being really worried about food supply to now I’m sitting on so much food that I’m kind of worried that I’m taking away from the overall supply chain and I’ve got stuff that’s going to spoil. And so if you had just kept me posted as to where my stuff was, day one with that original order, I never would have gone out and doubled my spend unnecessarily so –

Gabe Larsen: (13:09)
You went to a competitor, right? Or went to another person, right? When it comes to your experience and your value. Do you feel like, you guys, that there is best practice when it comes to communication? What is too little right now and what’s too much? I mean, it sounds like Vikas, you experienced too little. Is it more [inaudible] does it pick up during and then once it’s delivering? Any tactical recommendations there?

Vikas Bhambri: (13:35)
Sure. I’ll start and I’ll let Mike chime in. But from my standpoint, especially in a situation like this, you can not take the position that you are over-communicating. In fact, let the consumer tell you, “You know, what, I’m going to unsubscribe or stop sending me alerts.” I’d be shocked in this event, during this event, if that would be the case, but give them the option to opt out. But otherwise at every juncture that’s relevant, I would make sure that I was proactive with my communication.

Gabe Larsen: (14:10)
I like that. Mike, anything you’d add?

Michael Miller: (14:12)
I mentioned our consumer surveys. We’ve got a data point that says 68% of consumers explicitly want more frequent updates than they did pre quarantine. So, I think absolutely the point is right. Early and often should be the bias and I think that’s what customers are looking for right now.

Gabe Larsen: (14:32)
Yeah. I’m just amazed at some of the changes companies have had to make in order to facilitate some of this. I’ve got a friend who, I think you highlighted it Mike, he closed down obviously his retail shop, and now they do tons of business curbside, but I love that flexibility. I like that frequent communication. Times have changed. We got to change it. One other thing I wanted to kind of dive into is obviously artificial intelligence is a topic of conversation and has been for a while, but boy does it feel like it kind of moved into fourth gear, fifth gear here as companies are looking for more ways to do things with less. As you think about the supply chain, as you think about the customer experience, how can AI start to infiltrate and make things better for us? Vikas, let’s start with you.

Vikas Bhambri: (15:20)
We just rolled out the biggest stress test to any customer service operation that I’ve witnessed in 20 plus years, right? Like I said, the level of anxiety, the level of expectation of volume of inquiries, right? So for every one order now people are seeing four to five inquiries coming in or tickets, or however you want to designate it. But basically customers reaching out, right? Four to five X, what is the traditional inquiry rate per order. So that’s significant and your customer’s care operation is not set up to handle that volume. And guess what? It’s really hard right now to go out and hire more agents because it’s hard to hire them. It’s hard to recruit them. It’s hard to train them. So you’re kind of making it, exacerbating the challenge. So this is where artificial intelligence can be a really powerful solution in this time. So what we’ve done at Kustomer, we kind of rolled out our Customer IQ Suite, and this allows a number of key things. One, that initial self service that I was talking about before for customers to be able to self serve and answer some of their own questions. For you to update them with your policies and procedures. And you need to be nimble. It’s not going to be static, right? So you can’t go to IT and ask them, you need a three day turnaround on updating something. You need to put it in the hands of the business users, right? Every time, if you’re, for example, an airline and you’re going to constantly be tweaking your refund policy, right? Put it in the hands of the business users to update those knowledge based items, which then get passed on. But then when the customer comes to you, how do we prioritize those requests? So using intelligence to then route those inquiries. If I’ve got an order that was delivered two days ago, and Mike’s got an order that is out for delivery right now, let’s make sure we prioritize Mike because Mike is probably really concerned about where his order is, right? Over Vikas, who got it two days ago and maybe was like, “Hey, you forgot to check.” Right? So being able to do some really cool things like that, using artificial intelligence, then when the agent gets engaged to help them suggest next best action. So yeah, if you didn’t have an AI strategy before, now’s the time because I know people are like, “No. It’s going to take me time. It’s going to take years. I don’t have the expertise.” There’s some really quick things that you can do to fundamentally change how you operate in this environment.

Gabe Larsen: (18:13)
I like that idea that [inaudible] AI basically from that customer journey [inaudible] makes it better. A little more easy. A little more [Inaudible] for the customer and for the brand. Mike, what would you add to that?

Michael Miller: (18:29)
For us, it’s all about what you guys mentioned earlier, which is getting more proactive. So we’ve got nearly four billion shipping events on our platform right now, and we’ve built machine learning models to crawl all over those specifically so that we can predict when an estimated delivery date or a promise date is going to be missed. So for example, just last week, we identified over 300,000 shipments that were going to miss their promise date and we did it up to 36 hours before the carrier even reported the problem. So you’re talking about up to a day and a half before you would otherwise know there’s a problem. When you can reach out to the customer, you can reassure them, you can appease them, you can reset expectations, you can talk to the carrier about the issues. So it’s really for us all about identifying stuff that the carriers aren’t telling you and that you can’t otherwise as explicitly see in the network so that you can get out in front of these issues and create better customer experiences. That’s the biggest place where we’re deploying it.

Gabe Larsen: (19:33)
Yeah, that’s incredible. The 36 hours. That’s a long time before obviously the carriers knew about it. Well, let’s wrap, guys, a lot of fun conversations, obviously challenging times need to figure out the best way to do that. Specifically, thinking about this idea of, “Where is my order.” Before we leave, advice for customer service leaders. Give me kind of your summary or your takeaway. Vikas, let’s start with you.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:58)
Yeah. I mean, my advice to customer service leaders is you have a once in a lifetime opportunity, right? For the last few years, every leader I speak to, not just in the customer service, but the C level in the boardroom has said, “My threat is Amazon and Walmart. When do they come into my market?” You have an opportunity here to take customers away from them because they’re having their challenges just like you are. So it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity because you have this opportunity to acquire customers. I mean, I’m seeing CACs have literally zero, right? Customer Acquisition Costs of zero. But if you drop the ball, and now the pressure’s on you Mr. or Mrs. Customer service leader, if you drop the ball, when this pandemic ends, those customers won’t be there. What do you do? Think about quick wins. What can you do? Whether it’s on the agent experience, the automation piece, the bringing in of this order data into your contact center environment, into your customer care world, to be proactive with, there are ways that you can fundamentally change your business, not just for the short term, but we’re all going to come out of this. How does this actually put you in a better stead for when we come out of this pandemic? So that would be my feedback to customer service and C level folks all across the globe.

Gabe Larsen: (21:26)
You’re right and when we come out of this, there’s going to be winners, right? And if you do it right now, you’re going to be standing on that pedestal. I can’t agree more. Mike, what would you add?

Michael Miller: (21:36)
Very similar. I think there’s a strategic lens and a more tactical lens. Strategically, it’s exactly right. I mean, evaluate your partner ecosystem and the extent to which you can identify tools that allow you to get proactive, that allow you to get more efficient, automate tasks, I think is an incredible opportunity. More tactically, if you’re in the care center, our advice is, we’re seeing specific spikes in things like general delays, address issues, COVID related delays. So if you can build targeted workflows around getting proactive and issuing customer communications and reassurances around those, that’s going to serve you really well these days.

Gabe Larsen: (22:23)
Yeah. This proactive nature, now more than ever, I think we’ve gotta be proactive. Guys really appreciate you taking the time today to talk about COVID and all the different challenging times we’re participating in. And for the audience, I hope you have a fantastic day.

Michael Miller: (22:37)
Thank you so much.

Vikas Bhambri: (22:37)
Thanks Gabe.

Exit Voice: (22:38)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri

Podcast: Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

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

How Has the Economy Changed

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

The Value of Self-Service

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

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

The New Relationship With the Customer

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

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

 

Listen Now:

Listen to “Adapting Your Business to a New Economy | Improving the Efficiency of the Customer Experience” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

Adapting to the New MEconomy With Vikas Bhambri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikas Bhambri: (10:44)
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Gabe Larsen: (12:45)
Yeah.

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

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

Vikas Bhambri: (14:54)
That’s it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gabe Larsen: (20:10)
Yeah.

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

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

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

 

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

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

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

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

“Omnibot”, The Omnichannel Bot

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

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

How to Humanize a Customer’s AI Experience

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

Best Practices and Final Advice on How to Optimize AI

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

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

 

Listen Now:

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

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aarde Cosseboom: (06:31)
[laughing]

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

Vikas Bhambri: (06:36)
Optimus Prime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gabe Larsen: (09:32)
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aarde Cosseboom: (14:11)
Yeah.

Vikas Bhambri: (14:11)
Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aarde Cosseboom: (21:20)
Thanks everyone.

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

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

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

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

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

Increases in Inquiries and Changes in Media Channels

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

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

The Challenges of a Remote Workforce

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

Why CX is More Important than Ever Before

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

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

 

Listen Now:

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

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Paul: (29:42)
Thanks guys.

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

 

How to Combine the Best of Both Human and Artificial Intelligence to Kindle a Successful Customer Experience

How to Combine the Best of Both Human and Artificial Intelligence to Kindle a Successful Customer Experience TW

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Vikas Bhambri, Senior Vice President of Sales and CX at Kustomer, joins Gabe Larsen in discussing how both human customer service agents and artificial intelligence (AI) are mutually beneficial in the development of real and positive customer experiences.

AI Bots Alone Cannot Solve Customers’ Problems

The artificial intelligence bots of today’s world are not only growing in popularity, but they are also growing in capability. They are the focus of various customer service conferences around the globe; but are they being utilized in the correct way? Vikas Bhambri, with his 20 years of experience in customer service, claims that even though they are receiving growing amounts of attention, people do not seem to understand where AI bots show their strengths.

Bhambri discusses how everyone is “hyper fixated… it’s getting kind of buzzwordy… [but] the key to me is, let’s think about the customer. Let’s start with the customer and the experience that they want, whatever you want to offer them, and then let’s figure out where you appropriately position the bot versus the human being.” Only in the future, when innovations permit even further data for both bot and human, can they coexist in beneficial harmony.

Knowing Your Customer

Human reps and bots will more successfully coexist when the bots are able to recall previous data from individual customers. Doing so will enable customer service branches to personally help clients, rather than run everyone that calls for assistance through the same AI loop. Vikas goes on about the necessity of “AI machine learning… [bots should be] looking at the results of anybody who’s ever asked a similar question and what has been offered to them and what actually resolved their issue… that’s where it gets… more in depth.”

He also gives an example of treating customers differently by comparing clients that have different demographics. Your company will have “all [of] these different issues that have been resolved across [your] entire customer base and now a multimillion dollar customer comes to [your] website and asks a question.” Your bots of today are “probably going to offer them the same solution as [it] did to the last 20 people that asked that question… they’re only looking at the question, and they’re not looking at who [they] are.”

Where the Bot and Agent Best Work Together

Once the customer has been personally identified, it is vital that both the bots and reps focus on the customer’s needs. Not only is the client’s problem important, but the means, or channel, that your company uses to resolve it should be an additional focus. It is essential to understand the customer’s situation, and realize whether a personal interaction with a rep or an automated conversation would be more efficient.

Vikas and Gabe talk about the idea of whether the customer wants “to speak to somebody [or] if [they] don’t, and want to do it [themselves].” Vikas gives the potential example of using new tech-advances like geolocation to aid in the customer experience as well. He says, for example, “I’m an airline, and when you’re reaching out to me from an airport the moment I kind of initiate that, [I] should be like, ‘Oh Mr. Barry, I see you’re booked on the flight from Orlando to New York because — and I know you’re in the airport right now. You know what, we’ve already rebooked you. Just head over to gate 43.’” The future holds great potential for the merger of AI and human reps, but the customer experience can only really be elevated when the customer’s needs and situations are understood by both.

Do you want to enjoy more in depth ideas about how to better the customer experience? Listen to Customer Service Secrets episode “Bots Vs Human: How to be Successful in AI Customer Experience” to hear it directly from the experts.

 

Listen Now:

Listen to “Bots Vs Human: How to be Successful in AI Customer Experience | Vikas Bhambri w/Kustomer” on Spreaker.

You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:

Full Episode Transcript:

How to Combine the Best of Both Human and Artificial Intelligence to Kindle a Successful Customer Experience

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

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody to today’s show. Today we’re going to be talking about bots versus humans, all things customer experiences. We’ve brought on Vikas Bhambri where he currently is the SVP of sales and customer experience over here at Kustomer. Vikas thanks for joining man, how are you?

Vikas Bhambri: (00:26)
Glad to be here man. My partner in crime. Guest number what, 56 on the podcast?

Gabe Larsen: (00:32)
No, when this comes out man, this is, you’re going to be earlier than that.

Vikas Bhambri: (00:37)
I asked to be number one. I would like to quickly dismiss it… Now it’s like 56, 57, somewhere along those lines.

Gabe Larsen: (00:45)
If you could see me right now, my face is red. I did tell him that but I’m not going to fulfill that promise. Well you’ve been on vacation for like a whole four days. So what do you expect me to do, wait?

Vikas Bhambri: (00:55)
I’m glad the place is still intact, you know?

Gabe Larsen: (00:59)
So I probably didn’t do justice introducing you. Tell us just a little more about your background, some things you do over here at Kustomer, etc.

Vikas Bhambri: (01:04)
Sure, I’ll give you the short version. You can tell me if it’s not short enough or if you want me to go into more detail. Twenty years, CRM, contact center veteran. A lot of people don’t actually know this about me, but I started my journey, or my career in the contact center. I was a guy who carried a pager around, got the call — the page at two in the morning that something was wrong with my application. So back in the day, you have to actually be the coder and the QA, and the help desk for your product. So I did that, but then found myself actually implementing contact center technology. My first client was CSX transportation. If you don’t know them, they’re a big commercial railway on the East coast. And I actually implemented the contact center solution where if you were at a railroad crossing and the crossing was down or broken or the gate was smashed, you call the 1-800 number, it would route into the platform that I implemented with the agent.

Gabe Larsen: (02:10)
What was this 1970, 1960?

Vikas Bhambri: (02:15)
I’m not that old. It was probably just around the .com, so 2000, 2001. I went from there to implementing contact centers, like Bank of America, UPS. So I’ve been on this like CRM contact center journey since its inception.

Gabe Larsen: (02:31)
Was that on purpose or was that just by accident? I mean, are you that passionate about the space?

Vikas Bhambri: (02:36)
You know what, I’ve become passionate about it. I mean, you know, initially it was a job. Oh this is interesting. And you know, for me it was more around I love technology. So it was the perfect role to be a business analyst or project manager working with technology. But then as I got into it more and more and spent more time in the contact center, in the trenches, and then in the CRM world, which now encompasses sales, marketing, etc. And just seeing that evolution. So it’s been fun. I’ve worked across the globe, I spent five years in Europe. I’ve done CRM sales service marketing, you name the industry: retail, TELCO, financial services, insurance, healthcare… so it’s really been a great run over 20 years.

Gabe Larsen: (03:23)
I love it, man, that’s right. It’s funny, you and I have known each other for a few months now, but I forget that history, that’s a pretty rich history.

Vikas Bhambri: (03:31)
Yeah, a lot of people, they get caught up in the title, the most recent title, right. Like, oh you’re sales and CX leader and reality is, I actually started my career as a developer. It’s been a wild ride.

Gabe Larsen: (03:42)
Yeah, that’s a little bit of a change, right? Board room to dev room. So let’s dive in: Talk bots and humans for a minute. So obviously it’s a little controversial, isn’t it?

Vikas Bhambri: (03:55)
It is, because I think, of late, everybody is hyper fixated. You go to any conference, you go to any meeting and everybody wants to talk about bots. It’s getting kind of buzzwordy right? And everybody now says they do it. Everybody says they’ve got one. The key to me is, let’s think about the customer. Let’s start with the customer and the experience that they want, whatever you want to offer them, and then let’s figure out where you appropriately position the bot versus the human being. And I think ideally, and I think that the future will actually be where, they coexist. And so we can stop having this…

Gabe Larsen: (04:37)
One eliminates the other, one pushes the other out.

Vikas Bhambri: (04:42)
Right? And even the way some people talk about bots is they’re like, “look, we’re going to — we’re going to implement the bot and they’re going to solve the problem.” And then what happens when they don’t? Now the customer’s frustrated, right? Now, they pick up the phone or they called the agent and the agent has no idea that they just went through an eight step process with a bot and it failed. So even understanding like how do I take a journey that may start out with a bot, and actually escalate it to a human experience.

Vikas Bhambri: (05:11)
And what nobody talks about is, when did it start out in a human experience and then maybe kind of escalate to a bot, right? So you actually empower the human agent with more information, more data, more automation for them to give intelligent solutions back.

Gabe Larsen: (05:27)
Let’s go back to it. So maybe take one step back real quick because I want to dive into those two use cases. But when you say bot, how is that different than chat versus AI versus… give us a little click on that.

Vikas Bhambri: (05:43)
Sure. I think for me, when you think about bot, I kind of liken it to just robots, right? It’s technology that does a task. Now when you get in a chat box that’s just serving technology through a medium, which happens to be chat. But I would argue chatbots are already outdated because chat is only one digital interaction. Why wouldn’t you do the same on Facebook messenger? Why wouldn’t you be the same on WhatsApp or SMS? So even the whole nomenclature now it’s already outdated.

Gabe Larsen: (06:13)
Well and it did feel like chat — chat’s been around for so long. It’s like wow, is this really something that new, adding a little more of a bot or a push notification in a bot? But it seems like maybe as we take it to different channels, that would be one thing that would certainly be different. It’s this automated interaction in a channel, chat particularly, that allows you to potentially deflect or get rid of some of the human interactions.

Vikas Bhambri: (06:39)
Chat was rightfully kind of the first kind of place to offer it. Because at the end of the day, people are already used to doing pre-chat surveys and asking certain questions. So it kind of made sense to offer it there, right? And you know, you’ve got companies like Drift and others that are doing it in different styles. So it makes sense. But why wouldn’t you offer some sort of automation when somebody goes to your knowledge base? So now we call that — now we’ve kind of pocketed that into self-service deflection. At the end of the day, it’s still a bot. It’s still technology that is looking to the customer to answer certain questions or make some self identifiers and then offer them a solution.

Gabe Larsen: (07:21)
Got it. Got it. Okay, perfect. That’s great to just get the fundamentals. And then one step above that, where do you feel like it’s, maybe it’s where we are currently or where we should be going, but there’s stuff that’s like pre-programmed, like branching stuff you could put in. So they like press a button or they answer yes and then it delivers them a message versus true intelligence, like they write something, the bot reads it and actually responds back in an intelligent way. Are both of those happening? Is just one of those happening? Where are we in this evolution of the bot, so to say?

Vikas Bhambri: (07:57)
Sure. So, to me it’s kind of the if, then, else, right? Like the choose your own adventure. For those of us that are old enough to remember those.

Gabe Larsen: (08:04)
Those books were good. I should get one of those for my eight year old, actually.

Vikas Bhambri: (08:13)
But here’s the thing: So the if, then, else, the branchable logic that’s there. It’s been done. I think you see that quite often now.

Gabe Larsen: (08:22)
That’s pretty table stakes now.

Vikas Bhambri: (08:24)
Right? That’s table stakes. I think true AI, where you’re looking at the question the person’s asking, analyzing it, then comparing it to other questions… When we talk about true AI, machine learning, it’s now looking at the result set of anybody who’s ever asked a similar question and what has been offered to them and what actually resolved their issue. So that’s where it gets a whole much more in-depth. Now, I still think the problem with even that concept and why I’m excited about some of the things we’re working on, is that it’s still very limited to all the problems that people have asked and answered. It still doesn’t really take into account who that customer is. I think that’s still one of the things when we talk about bots and you’re only as good as your data. So what I describe to people is… look, imagine you bought a robot to clean your house and you only put it in one room of your house and said learn and then you unleashed it on the whole house. You’d probably end up with a wreck because the dimensions of your one room are not all of the rooms. And I think that’s when people create these algorithms, they’re only thinking about one problem area and then all of a sudden they unleash it. For example, I’ve got all these different issues that have been resolved across my entire customer base and now a multi-million dollar customer comes to my website and asks a question. I’m probably going to offer them the same solution as I did to the last 20 people that asked that question. Now taking into account that they’re a $5 million customers, now I’m going to wreck my house.

Gabe Larsen: (10:00)
Oh, interesting. Almost like a tiered… you know, we talk about like tiered support where if I’m a gold member, I call in and I’m treated different. But you’re not really treated different with a bot because they don’t know a lot about you, and they’re only looking at the questions.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:14)
They’re only looking at the question, and they’re not looking at who are you.

Gabe Larsen: (10:16)
So that might be one of the future trends, as you think about bots and how they… I can’t think of anybody doing that, that’s pretty… wow, that’s different.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:27)
That’s it. The more data you can feed this, the more intelligent it’s going to be. I think the problem is when people are thinking about it, they’re not thinking about what data am I going to keep using with the robot? Because that’s easy for people to say, “what information you’ve giving the robot?” And if you’re not giving them all the details, they’re going to make foolish decisions.

Gabe Larsen: (10:47)
What else do you have? If you had to kind of say a couple of years from now, I mean I just thought that was interesting. Kind of the personalization of the bot around the individual, the company, whoever it may be, and then treat them slightly different. Any other things you see in a couple of years from now, where the bot is going to that might be a little outside of the norm?

Vikas Bhambri: (11:06)
I think the big thing — well, before we even get there is I think there’s going to have to be this harmony between the bot and the human experience, which I don’t think exists today.

Gabe Larsen: (11:17)
So lets click into that, and then we’ll come back to the trends. So right now people are kind of thinking about it: as I interact with the bot and then there is a chance I would maybe escalate to human.

Vikas Bhambri: (11:31)
It’s still clunky. The hand off is clunky because a lot of times, well we’ve all experienced that as consumers. I get asked a bunch of questions by the bot, I get served up to human agent because the bot can’t actually answer my issue. And the agent actually asks me all the questions again. That’s like the most fundamental failure of the hand off because they have no visibility. They may know that you did communicate. A lot of brands won’t give their bots names. So like you, you asked Jeeves or you asked Elsa, right?

Gabe Larsen: (12:06)
Elsa is a Frozen reference in case anybody’s wondering.

Vikas Bhambri: (12:11)
Right, anybody whose kids are listening, they got it. All of a sudden, they talked to Elsa before me, but you don’t know what they asked and answered. So that’s a very fundamental flaw, but people are getting better at that. They’ll at least give you the tree, showing everything that the person went through with the bot, right?

Gabe Larsen: (12:27)
Do they? I sometimes question if they’re even getting that, but fair. Yeah, they could get that far.

Vikas Bhambri: (12:34)
There are some people who are a bit further along, if you look on a maturity index, so now I know what questions you asked the bot or answers you gave, and why they can’t resolve it. But to a degree, I almost have to still go and do my own due diligence and figure things out. So I think that’s step one. Now the other thing is, how do I take that data that I did get, plus what the agent captures and now offer up intelligent suggestions to the agent to resolve? That’s where I think you start getting true harmony is automation on the front end, smooth pass off, but then also helping the agent be smart by giving them smarter answers.

Gabe Larsen: (13:16)
But help me visualize that a little bit. So what would that look like? The first part I get, so you get the automation. I like the second part, the smooth transition, because that just feels clunky in my own experience with bots. But that third part. It’s like, ooh, how can we enable the effectiveness of the agents so they are responding back smarter? Any examples, like tactical examples that may come to mind?

Vikas Bhambri: (13:38)
Think about this and let’s just use your cable box provider. You just went through an eight step troubleshooting process with the bot. It failed. You’re on the phone with the human agent and the technician is saying, “Ah, okay I see that you went through this process.” Maybe the agent gathers one or two more details from you. You know what I mean? You check the remote, you know the batteries in your remote or whatever. Now, the intelligence to the agent says I’m going to take all the steps that the customer did with the bot, plus what you gathered and now I’m going to offer up a solution. Take both sides of that discussion and then offer up a solution.

Gabe Larsen: (14:20)
Cool! Interesting. So now flip it, because that’s kind of the standard idea, that can we deflect –? Well, do one more quick double clickback on that. So I liked your three step process. You have automation. If you need to escalate, you pass it off smoothly and then you kind of provide real intelligence or a recommendation. A lot of people are wondering how far you can go with a bot before you have to escalate. That’s, I guess, the elimination conversation. Where do you kind of recommend companies who aren’t thinking about that? Try to get rid of the small stuff, focus on the return? How far can you automate that bottom part of customer service?

Vikas Bhambri: (14:58)
I think the two factors you have to look at are one, what can the customer do themselves or can you kind of use the bot to guide them through to conclusion? So that to me is number one, because at the end of the day, as much as brands don’t want to talk to customers, customers don’t want to talk to brands either. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (15:20)
Do you think that’s true? I mean is that kind of where we are? I mean people don’t want to really do it.

Vikas Bhambri: (15:25)
They don’t want to. It’s not a bad thing. And I think we need to get away from that. If I’m booking a round trip flight from New York to LA, I don’t want to talk to anybody, I want to go to a website, I want to go to a mobile app, I want to book the ticket, get a reasonable fare, select my seat and I’m done. It’s paid for it and everything, right? I don’t want to ever speak to a human being and the airline doesn’t want to speak to you either.

Gabe Larsen: (15:53)
It just sounds bad.

Vikas Bhambri: (15:54)
But quote unquote, we’re talking, right? Because we’re obviously transacting business, but we don’t have to have an elongated discussion. Right? So that’s number one. Number two is when do you want to get that human being involved? Because now I’m booking New York to San Francisco, to LA, to Portland.

Vikas Bhambri: (16:19)
It gets more complicated. I want to be able to speak to somebody if I don’t want to do it myself. Number two is there’s an adverse event, right? My flight to San Francisco gets canceled. Now everything is going to be botched. I want somebody to jump in. And third, you have customers whether it’s ato demographic, whether it’s a high end customer, that you want to offer, that additional level of service, if they choose to use it. And that’s why I said bots can be a one size fits all because if you’ve got a premiere business traveler, you want to be able to say, look, if you want to go and book that round trip ticket yourself, go for it. But by the way, we’re here for you.

Gabe Larsen: (17:00)
And maybe it’s just where I am. Don’t get me wrong, I like to book stuff on my app and things like that, but I’m in like a Delta premiere or whatever that is, gold or medallion, and maybe I’m driving, you know, I’m just gonna call them up and have them walked me through it and book my roundtrip ticket or something. I like that sometimes, so I do like that option. I like the complication. The emergency totally resonates, right? It’s like when your flights booked and you’re trying to go home for Christmas, the last thing you want to deal with is a bot. Is my flight canceled? Just help me, I need to talk to someone.

Vikas Bhambri: (17:35)
So that’s why I think brands need to look at where is that inflection? Where does that point where the customer is going to yell? Now there might be some customers, they don’t care if they’re yelling all day long, right? But certain segments of customers, we care, the brand absolutely does care because they want your repeat business. Right?

Gabe Larsen: (17:54)
So do you feel like if you implement some sort of automated bot program, are you affecting negatively or impacting negatively the customer experience?

Vikas Bhambri: (18:02)
No. If it’s done thoughtfully where you’re thinking about that journey and go back to the customer journey, or customer map. It may actually benefit the customer. If I want to change my address, do I want to speak to somebody by changing my address? No I want to go in, I want to punch it in and I want to hit submit and let it go.

Gabe Larsen: (18:25)
I think the problem people are running into is because it’s such a trendy word now, I think I’ve run into this in the past a little bit is you’re like, well, let’s throw a bot on our website or let’s throw a bot somewhere and you don’t watch the rest of that customer journey and that’s where you drop off on kind of points two and three. We have a bot, but the experience actually got worse because we didn’t help them.

Vikas Bhambri: (18:42)
I think like anything, A, you need to AB test, and B, you need to do the what if scenario. What if a customer wants to do this? What if they do that, and you need to really think it through. But the easy thing to do is just… you almost need like a program management around iit.

Gabe Larsen: (18:59)
You really do. What I learned in my last gig is, we got a bot and it was cool. We threw it up there and pretty soon I was like, I need someone to own this and own the journey. It’s not just a side gig that someone else can do by themselves..

Vikas Bhambri: (19:16)
Like in marketing, right? You have somebody who does your search engine optimization. You need a bot optimizer.

Gabe Larsen: (19:28)
So flip the other way then. Is there a reason or a method to go to a human, then to a bot? Is that in our future, that certainly would be kind of a side scenario or side use case. But is anybody doing that? No.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:47)
No. I don’t think anybody’s doing that. I think right now it’s about bot to human. But where I think is a missed opportunity in the near term is to empower that agent with more choice for automation, where they can do things. And you’re seeing in some industries I think TELCO is actually ahead of this where your agent will take action on your behalf, like so you don’t have to get up and reboot your cable box. There’ll be like, we can do it from our side.

Vikas Bhambri: (20:19)
It’s things that financial service institutions are able to do, where the agent can initiate fraud detection and things like that. So I do think there is things happening on that side, but I’d like to see more of that across the board.

Gabe Larsen: (20:31)
See if we can’t bring that together. Okay, last two questions and I’ll let you get back to your day job. So one is for people who are starting to go down this journey, human versus bot, I think you’ve given them a lot of material. Where would you kind of say, if you’re starting this journey, here’s a couple things I think about or if you start, here’s the baby step you could do now, what’s kind of that easy step that you could take starting the journey of maybe getting a bot into your program and your customer service journey?

Vikas Bhambri: (20:59)
I would start with my knowledge base, your FAQ’s. The reason I think people should be putting FAQ’s or their knowledge base together is they’re like, oh this stuff is so darn easy that I expect my customers can do it themselves. So start there and start putting that into your initial bot journey. Where you’re basically pointing them to existing artifacts, things that exist. And then as you start triaging through those, then it’s like what are the next level of… let’s actually sit down with the agents or the reporting, and look at what are people reaching out to us about. And ideally you want to look at the end of the day, you want to fix the end solution. But if you can’t do that in the near term, what can we do that can automate the solution.

Gabe Larsen: (21:54)
I love that, I love that. That’s a great place to start. Okay. Last question is, we touched on it a little bit before, but there’s a lot of movement in the space. A lot of new technology is coming out, all different languages. Obviously some buzzwords. Any kind of predictions as you move into the future, thinking about humans, bots, anything kind of on your mind that says, I think it’d be fascinating if we saw X or Y in the future as bots evolve and iterate?

Vikas Bhambri: (22:20)
I think the biggest thing is, how much data can we feed? What I mean by that is, look, if I’m on my mobile device and you’ve got so much information, whether we believe it or not, the brand potentially has access to my geolocation. They have access to certain data about me on my phone. They have a profile on me. They understand the question I may be asking. Where to me almost get to the point where you’re doing predictive analysis. Before I even ask you my question, you know the question I’m going to ask because we have so much data about you. So we’re like, wait a minute, most of the time when somebody is reaching out to us, I’m an airline, and when you’re reaching out to me from an airport. The moment I kind of initiate that, you should be like, “Oh Mr. Barry, I see you’re booked on the flight from Orlando to New York because, and I know you’re in the airport right now. You know what we’ve already rebooked you, just head over to gate 43.” That’s the Nirvana.

Gabe Larsen: (23:28)
You know the funny thing is I used to be nervous a little bit about the data thing and giving too much data, but now I’m like, I want to give, and I think there’s people like me in this world who are willing to give up less privacy. They’ll have less privacy to get better service, to get more personalization. I’m like, dude take my social security number and take whatever you want, but give me that type of service.

Vikas Bhambri: (23:51)
I think that’s ultimately it. Like look, GDPR, you’ve seen the California Consumer Privacy Act, all of this stuff, people are still hitting every website. You know, I was in Europe, and every website comes up with a pop up and everybody hits accept. Why? Because I’m giving you data because at the end of the day I’m hoping you’re going to market to me better, sell to me more intelligently or are you going to give me better service. There will always be people that will opt out. Most people think, “if you’re going to offer me more value, I’m willing to give that.” And there is so much you can do with it to benefit the consumer.

Gabe Larsen: (24:31)
Could you be proactive? You’ve heard some of those stories where you know people are the target. Did you hear the target story where they were buying this family was buying different things and then they sent them like a gift card or a coupon for… I won’t get into the details, but basically send them a coupon and they were like, “Hey, we’re not, we’re not actually experiencing that. We’re not doing it.” Well they went and asked their daughter, and it sounded like that person is sick or is not working. But based on the behavior, their AI triggered, and sent a coupon for something, this father got it so it can get a little bit out of hand. But my goodness, the stuff you can do with data, wow. You can take this pretty far.

Gabe Larsen: (25:17)
Cool man. Well, I appreciate it. So if someone wants to get in touch with you, learn a little bit more about what you do, you know, continue the dialogue, what’s the best way to do that?

Vikas Bhambri: (25:26)
LinkedIn is always a great place to hit me up. You can hit me up at kustomer.com as well, either or.

Gabe Larsen: (25:34)
Love it, man. Well, I appreciate you joining. Great times. Audience, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (25:47)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.

 

Kustomer Talks Exceptional Customer Service at CCO

CCO 2020 Atlanta Twitter

Customer experience leaders are coming together next week in Atlanta to learn and network with peers, and understand trends and best practices in their field. It’s Chief Customer Officers, USA 2020, and Kustomer will be there to deliver the keynote on how technology can enable omnichannel, personalized customer service.

Placing the customer at the center of any organization has never been more important. Competition is high and customer patience is low, and according to a recent Kustomer survey, 78% of consumers would not shop with a retailer again after a bad customer service experience.

CCO, USA will see customer experience professionals come together to understand how to utilize the latest technology, what strategies can prompt organizational changes, and how to professionally develop your staff. It’s an opportunity to debate, discuss and learn, with some of the leading minds in customer service today. What better way to start the year?

Be sure to join Kustomer SVP of Sales & CX, Vikas Bhambri, as he discusses how technology can help deliver on customers’ growing expectations in 2020. The consumer of today expects seamless, personalized service on every platform, instantaneously. Bhambri will explore the importance of a 360 degree view of the customer, how technology can help deliver a personalized experience, and how today’s leading organizations are achieving this mandate. Join us at The Westin Peachtree Plaza Atlanta on Thursday, February 6th at 11:30am.

If you can’t make it to CCO 2020 in Atlanta, but still want to chat about how Kustomer can help you reimagine customer service, contact us anytime.

 

Deliver effortless, personalized customer service.

Request Live DemoStart Interactive Demo