One Friday late in the day, in the mountains, and we notice that the internet connection is no longer working. No problem! A quick call to customer service and it will be over in no time, I tell myself. Probably a bit too optimistic on that one… After 15 minutes of waiting on the phone — in the company of Mozart, it seems that, because the offices close in 30 minutes, there is already no one left. We try another channel: email. We’ll have to wait for an answer.
But mid-morning on Saturday, no answer, so I try the phone again, and they answer! A few moments of friction ahead: “Are you sure you’re a customer of ours?”, I’m asked, after I’ve provided the customer number I see on the bills I pay… “And when did you send your email?”, asks the friendly employee, who doesn’t reassure me about the brevity of our call. “I don’t think we got your email”. Comforting, all that. Anyway, it’ll be quicker to explain the problem and the solutions we attempted (yes, I’ve rebooted the modem 3 times already, stop offering me that as a solution).
And suddenly I hear a “Ah, I think I’ve found something”. It makes me smile although at the same time I wonder how many different systems the customer service agent has to access in order to find their information, I’ve so far heard more keyboard noises than words coming out of his mouth. And finally, we get to the solution, after a long and unnecessary technical explanation, and a remote reboot of the modem, followed by a final “see, I told you it had to be rebooted again”, to make sure we ended the call on a negative note.
In short: poor communication, no personalisation — and therefore little customer information available to the support agent; and finally, no omnichannel, which we will discuss in detail below.
Does all this sound familiar? It is not a specific industry or company size that generates these kinds of unpleasant and frictional experiences. Even though many companies have understood the importance of Customer Experience (“CX”) in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done. The article may be from 2017, but even then Forbes pointed out that the customer service industry was a $350 billion industry, but it was a big mess.
Most management teams now understand the importance of investing (budget, but also time!) in a solution and processes that allow the support team to offer a better, more efficient service, and provide customers with a self-service portal to find answers to their questions.
Customer service is no longer seen as a separate department, a cost centre, but a key part of the company, working in tandem with many other departments to deliver fast work. In addition to this, technology is evolving rapidly, and the needs and desires of customers are also changing. It is therefore crucial to use a platform that allows for greater efficiency, but also for easy optimisation of the configuration.
Processes, likewise, cannot be frozen in time. If customers need change, these processes must reflect the new reality. This is why it is so important to define and analyse customer journeys continuously (not just at the customer service point, but from the moment the customer comes into contact with your products or services).
And, of course, data analysis to understand how a change (technical, or human) can quickly impact the customer experience — positively or negatively: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” (Peter Drucker).
Finally, the personalisation of experiences is becoming a crucial aspect of customer interactions, and is of course a competitive differentiator. McKinsey indicates, for example, that large-scale personalisation can generate 5-15% revenue growth for some sectors (retail, travel, entertainment, telecommunications and financial services).
In order to meet these new needs, and the importance of a better customer experience among others as a differentiator, companies are increasingly using software to manage their customer relationships in a more optimal way. One of these players is Zendesk — no. 1 for digital customer service according to Gartner. More than 170,000 companies worldwide use Zendesk products, generating a total of almost 5 billion interactions per year on their platform. Some of the European companies using Zendesk are: Decathlon, Siemens, Lyreco, Withings and Talentsoft.
Of Danish origin, the company, based in San Francisco since 2009 and listed on the NYSE stock exchange since 2014, offers a portfolio of different products related to customer relations. A chat, a cloud telephony centre, a reporting platform or a knowledge base, and of course a ticketing tool. Some of the products can be used in stand-alone mode, but it is also possible to use several products together, offering a perfect synergy between them.
This allows companies of all sizes to start with a limited budget and needs, and, if necessary, to improve the tools they use over time and thus the quality of the service they offer. We are moving from multi-channel — I access a mailbox, then Facebook, then I take a chat, then I answer the phone — to omnichannel: all channels are directed to the same place, and this allows us to create a 360° profile of customers and to have standardised reports. No matter which channel a customer uses to contact the company, a record of the request remains and is added to the customer’s profile. The company therefore has a complete view of the customer’s previous requests. And with hundreds of apps available, it’s very easy to connect third-party software (e.g. Salesforce CRM) with Zendesk products to provide even more context and information to the customer service team when they process a request.
In the end, the metaphor I often use to sum up the situation to my clients: you have decided to invite some friends for dinner (let’s forget Covid—19 for a moment…). In order to prepare the meal, it will be simpler, more efficient and cheaper to go to a supermarket to buy the fish, vegetables, dessert and flowers than to go to the fishmonger, the grocer, the bakery and the florist.
Once you have the right tools, you can finally do a better job. So now it’s time to move on to the analytical and strategic part so that we can really differentiate ourselves from the competition through unforgettable customer experiences.
We usually start with a precise analysis of the Customer Journey (“Journey Mapping”), and if the customer is already using Zendesk products, with an audit of the configuration in order to deliver a document with actionable recommendations. The customer journey should not be limited to the after-sales part only, but to the whole cycle from the moment your customer comes into contact with your brand, your products/services. This means working in tandem with at least the marketing and sales teams. In some cases (not everything is 100% online yet), we also play the role of a ghost customer in one of the brand’s stores or call the customer service department pretending to be a real consumer (with the company’s prior agreement, of course). Once we have been able to map out the entire customer journey, it is much easier to step back and discover where things are less pleasant, or where there are frictions that make the journey more complex than imagined.
Secondly, it is now necessary to capture feedback from some customers themselves. This is done through the Voice of the Customer programme. How can we be sure that what we think is the reality of the facts is actually what the customers themselves feel? In this respect, we usually propose a combination of several methods such as NPS (“Net Promoter Score”®) surveys, sending out customer satisfaction surveys, 1-1 interviews with selected individuals, and of course analysis of reports to understand what is going on behind the scenes. The advantage of combining several methods is that it allows us to confirm the results, but above all to avoid focusing solely on the human aspect: a customer may give us a specific opinion during an interview but really have a different approach when making a purchase. It is also common to have negative results in satisfaction surveys because the customer does not separate the service side from the product side: the service offered by the support agent was perfect but the customer simply expected a different answer from them (e.g. the customer absolutely wanted a refund when this is not possible for different reasons).
After the Customer Journey and Voice of the Customer, we come to the last step: personalisation. How the products/services and support the company provides to its customers can be personalised rather than generalised. Most of us don’t even notice it but we are very often influenced (positively, I hope!) by personalisation: remember the last time you finished a series on Netflix and the suggestion of a new series to watch led you to finish the whole thing in a few days… McCarthy’s “4Ps” of marketing have been critical in the development of products/services for decades but the 5th “P”, personalisation, is becoming more and more present in our lives. A recent personal experience: while driving, the car indicates that the annual service is due in a month. Up to that point, this is normal. After that, there are normally several steps such as contacting the garage, checking my diary, and probably asking for an estimate of the cost of a regular service. But not this time! Once home, I get a notification from the manufacturer’s app on my phone: the appointment has been scheduled with the garage saved in my settings (with 2 other date options if the first one doesn’t suit me), the garage has received the latest information about the vehicle (including the rear brake pads that will need to be changed exceptionally, apparently), and I have thanks to this received an estimate by email containing the cost of the usual maintenance, but in addition to parts and labour for the brakes. The cost and date are fine? Nothing could be simpler than going to the garage on the date indicated, quite simply. This personalisation is also beneficial on the other side of the email/phone for the customer service team: who is calling us, when did this person last call us, what did this person do on our website/FAQ before contacting us, and of course what product variation is the individual using. The interaction is pleasant for the customer, and faster and more efficient for the support agent — after all, Agent Experience (“AX”) is also important.
While Gartner predicts that 15% of customer service interactions will be handled entirely by Artificial Intelligence by 2021, this leaves the majority of the remaining interactions to be handled by humans. Ultimately, Customer Experience means people seeking to make the lives of others easier and more enjoyable. To this end, it is essential for a company to have a clear strategy, to precisely communicate the channels it supports for customer service, and, linked to this, to have tools to effectively respond to customer requests across all its channels while offering powerful reporting.
One way of defining this CX strategy that we particularly like is to follow Amazon’s product development approach: “working backwards”. The aim is to start backwards from the customer’s ideal end state. This usually starts with a fake press release announcing the finished product. The press release is aimed at the end customer and contains information about the problem, how current solutions fail and why the new product will solve the problem.
Finally, provide customers with a solution rather than an answer.
Don’t just solve a problem, restore trust.