Declan Ivory, Vice President of Customer Support at Intercom chats about a few ways through which brands can build more engaging online experiences across the buying-selling journey:
Welcome to this SalesTechStar chat Declan….Tell us about yourself. What inspires you about being in this B2B industry?
Thank you, I’m really delighted to be a part of this series. I have been involved in the technology industry for over 35 years, and what really motivates me is delivering exceptional customer experiences. From very early on in my career, I realized that this is the key to success for any business, technology industry or not. It sounds very logical, but it’s astonishing the number of businesses who don’t appreciate or act on this.
I’m also inspired by solving problems and delivering long-term, sustained value for customers. This is especially critical as a customer support leader, and I’m excited by how technology is advancing and evolving to transform how businesses support their customers. I believe we are only at the start of what is a quite unique digital transformation opportunity. I joined Intercom earlier this year as VP of Customer Support, and we truly are at the forefront of enabling this transformation within the customer support industry.
The customer support game has been changing over the years, with a need for B2B customer teams to follow specific processes and patterns to meet changing expectations: we’d love to hear about your observations on current trends that rule the market and what you feel customer support teams need to do more of:
Customer support expectations are evolving quickly, and many companies have struggled to keep pace. There is a real sense of urgency around transforming how customer support is delivered, especially in today’s economic climate where retaining and growing your customer base is critical.
Here are some of the key trends that I see in the market:
- Moving from reactive to proactive support: “Tell me you’ve resolved the problem before I am even aware of it” may seem simple, but it is probably one of the most difficult things to deliver today and requires innovative and groundbreaking applications of data analytics, machine learning, and AI.
- Robust self-service options: Consumers want to be able to sort out their problem without necessarily having to talk to support. This places a real emphasis on providing real-time support and knowledge to customers within your product, website, or mobile app—they should have access to comprehensive knowledge articles and product information. Finally, you should operate a very strong community environment for customers so they can share knowledge and experiences.
- Contextual human support: Customers want support from an expert. When human support is required, there is a growing expectation that whoever is supporting the customer has all of the contextual information about them, including who they are and how they use your product or service. You must deliver a very personalized and comprehensive support experience, which means having access to a customer’s previous engagements with your company, understanding their particular use case, and having all of the skills and capabilities to resolve their issue. To do this effectively requires a lot of innovation and application of technology, but it’s an exciting area.
When it comes to implementing better automation/bots to compliment these processes: how can B2B teams ensure they craft experiences that are human and effective? A few takeaways from the way you’ve done it over the years?
I am a big advocate for the use of automation in driving a better overall support experience for customers. Advances in bots are increasing the scope of what’s possible with self-service, so organizations can scale up support without straining customer service teams. Making bots smarter with AI and connecting first-party data for context makes the experience more personal for your customers, and frees the customer service reps on the front lines to handle the most complex inquiries, be more productive and efficient, and keep their customers happy. Think about the opportunity to impress a customer when they engage with you: it’s critical that the experience via automation/bots is just as good as the experience of talking with a person. This is definitely not an easy thing to achieve, but there are some fundamentals that help.
First, the same contextual information that you want available to support agents and engineers should be available via automation/bots—the experience should be personalized and contextual. There are no technology barriers to enabling this, but it does require very thoughtful design and implementation of any automation and bots strategy.
Second, the tone of the bot experience must match the culture and style that you deliver through a human support engagement. A transition between a bot and human support should feel seamless. The customer should not feel like they are dealing with two different worlds. Again, thoughtful design and implementation of automation and bots can address this.
With all of the power and applications of bots, we do not see them as a replacement for human support. They’re complementary. There will always be that need for empathy and human connection in customer support that a bot can’t provide. Businesses need to understand what types of queries and environments bots are best suited for, and where a human support agent is the better option.
When shaping a customer support team and process, what should brands keep in mind to build strong base level fundamentals?
There are some fundamentals that are non-negotiable in shaping a support function that strengthens relationships with your customers
- Hire well and empower your team: The importance of talent can’t be understated. For many businesses, support is one of the primary ways of building relationships and engaging with customers. Hire people with the right skills and aptitude for the role, onboard them well, and then trust and empower them to do the right thing for the customer. Your team will know best when to escalate an issue. They will know when it is right to move outside of the process to do the right thing for the customer.
- Understand the customer experience and lean on metrics: You need to really know how a customer is experiencing your support service. This involves analyzing the customer journey and determining how to measure all of the touchpoints via CSAT, CES, NPS, Sentiment Analysis, etc. Analyze your support interactions to really identify where you can improve. Know what your key metrics are, how they are trending, and what your response should be at certain threshold levels for each metric. Plan ahead for this — don’t rely on being able to plan in real-time.
- Engage quickly: You only begin to earn trust and credibility with a customer when you have demonstrated you are taking ownership of their issue and are making progress towards a resolution. Speed of first response is important.
- Build a continuous improvement mindset: No matter how good your support operation is today, there are always things that can be improved. Driving continuous improvement should be part of the DNA of the team. Be relentless in this. It’s how to drive exceptional customer experiences.
A few thoughts on the future of salestech as a segment and how you feel this space will shape up?
The key to customer retention and growth is ongoing engagement with a frictionless experience across the full customer journey. The lines between sales, marketing, and support will continue to blur, and everyone needs to be working from the same data. In a recent study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 56% of executives said their organization is encouraging greater cross-functional team collaboration over the next 18 months with the express purpose of improving customer engagement.
It’s an attractive market segment with a lot of players providing different solutions. The winners in this space will be companies who are transforming customer engagement, recognizing the need for alignment across all customer-facing functions, and providing compelling business outcomes for customers
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