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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.
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.
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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)
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)
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)
Exit Voice: (22:38)
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This article originally appeared by our friends at Kustomer.