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Top 4 Tips for the 2018 Holiday Retail Season

Maria Jiang on 17 September, 2018

With the holiday season fast approaching, customer support volume can rise by as much as 42%. How can you smoothly sail through this holiday season? Here are four tips that will give the edge on keeping customer satisfaction high and making this the most wonderful time of the year for both your customers and your company.

The most wonderful time of the year officially begins with a turkey feast and ends with wishful New Year’s resolutions — this period includes the all-time favorite holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. But for retailers, the most wonderful time of the year is already here. With the holidays fast approaching, retailers are busy preparing for the time when customer support volume rises by as much as 42%. This spike may seem unusually high, but it makes sense when most retailers bring in 20-40% of their annual sales during the weeks leading up to Christmas. This is indeed a wonderful time for retailers as they have an influx of new customers, but it is also the busiest time of the year as they get inundated with the accompanying surge of tickets with questions about returns and exchanges, shipping and tracking information, and product questions.

When ticket volume surges without advance preparation, at the risk of sounding too dramatic, walls can quickly come crumbling down with first-reply times and CSAT scores seeing the biggest dip ever. It doesn’t help that emotions are heightened with customers feeling extra stressed and acting more difficult than usual as they try to find the perfect gift for their loved ones. And nobody wants to be that guy who delivers poor customer support and ruins someone’s holly jolly spirit only to make headline news with that angry tweet that gets retweeted a million times over.

So how can you smoothly sail through this holiday season? Here are four tips that will give the edge you need to keep customer satisfaction high and help make this the most wonderful time of the year for your customers and company.

Tip 1: Make recommendations

People tend to shop differently during the holidays. Unlike other times of the year, there’s a strong sense of urgency to meet deadlines and people are often times shopping for others. This makes them highly receptive to other people’s opinions — with more than half of online shoppers making a decision based on retailer recommendations (58% for men and 51% for women). So be sure to go the extra mile during the holiday season with helpful customer support whether it is offering product information to help make a purchase decision, offering free shipping, or a free gift with purchase. Holiday shoppers will oftentimes turn into year-long shoppers if they have had a great experience with your brand during this most wonderful time of the year.

Tip 2: Scale your support team without increasing headcount

The natural tendency for most companies is to add more agents to quickly increase support coverage and manage the high volume of tickets. Adding more agents to the team can come in many forms: adding part-time seasonal agents to your core team, outsourcing a portion of the tickets to a third-party BPO (business process outsourcing) firm, or getting other team members at your company to pitch in and help out. You may have tried one or more of these methods in the past, but ultimately they all focus on increasing the number of agents working on the tickets. With this type of approach, you run the risk of mistakes from people who are not fully trained or well-versed in delivering an excellent customer experience. But what if there was a better way than simply adding more cooks in the kitchen?

For Antonio King, Director of Customer Experience at Shinesty, an online retailer selling “outrageous” clothing such as party suits and ugly Christmas sweaters, scalability is not just about adding more agents. For King, scaling can happen in different ways from optimizing workflows to automate a repetitive process like returns and exchanges or adding new technology. And that’s exactly the step King took in preparation for last year’s fourth quarter and closed out the year with a bang. Instead of increasing the number of agents, King implemented the Solvvy conversational platform powered by artificial intelligence to provide fast and effortless self-service support to eager shoppers. “I felt confident that we could handle our biggest sales season yet with just our full-time support staff, aided by the new self-service abilities,” said King. Despite 50% higher sales in November 2017 compared to same-time last year in 2016, the overall ticket volume decreased by 40% instead of following the upward trend with sales numbers.

Tip 3: Focus on responsiveness and speed

It goes without saying, but time is of the essence during the holiday season when everyone is racing against the clock to get their holiday shopping done. Of course it doesn’t help that nowadays, customer SOS calls can come trickling in 24/7 in all formats ranging from emails, SMS texts and chats, to Facebook posts, tweets, and phone calls–making it that much easier for customers to reach out. As a result, customer satisfaction (CSAT) suffers when heavier ticket volume causes support teams to resolve tickets at a much slower pace than usual. There is an obvious cause and effect relationship between response time and customer satisfaction so it is no surprise that CSAT is always the lowest in December for most retailers.

While it may seem impossible to respond to every customer immediately through a human agent, you can leverage existing content from your help center and respond immediately with an accurate response. In less than a minute, customers are able to get a response based on their specific issue, eliminating frustrating long wait times. Shinesty has a robust knowledge base built out so he wanted customers to be able to self-serve and receive immediate answers and resolutions. “Solvvy allows us to give customers their time back. They don’t have to go searching for answers, and they don’t have to reach out unless they need to,” said King.

Tip 4: Make returns easy

Giving and receiving unwanted gifts is part of the holiday repertoire as research shows that nearly two out of three shoppers make at least one return during the season. Research also shows that shoppers will change their mind about a purchase because of an inconvenient return policy — such as too narrow return windows, only store credit offered instead of a full refund, inability to return items in-store, and lack of free return shipping. Only 33% of shoppers said that the return experience was “very easy” and of those who experienced friction, 6 in 10 say that they would be hesitant to shop at that retailer again.

For King, returns is just one process he has made easy and effortless for Shinesty customers. He believes that every customer interaction should be made seamless where agents use the same consistent brand tone and voice. One thing Shinesty does to make the returns process easier is to send out a 24-hour reminder email when the returns postmark date is set to expire. “I take the time to put myself into the shoes of a consumer and ask what would be helpful. With our long to-do list during the busy holiday season, it is easy to forget return date expirations so we send a quick reminder which helps prevent what could be a very frustrating experience.” Not only is King thinking about improving customer communications to make it easier for his customers, but he is exploring applying automation to common, repetitive processes such as changing or tracking an order. Without having to contact a live agent, customers will be able to help themselves without ever lifting a finger (except maybe for a click or two).

Interested in hearing more about how to best prepare for this holiday season? Join us on September 26 at 9:00 AM PST on a webinar with Antonio King, Director of Customer Experience at Shinesty.

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To Bot or Not to Bot? Neither, Let’s Start with Strategy First

Maggie Lin and Mark Kersteen on 30 August, 2018

In our recent webinar with Kustomer, we uncovered "The Truth About Bots." In this follow-up post, we share why we encourage customers to not take an automation-centric or bot-centric approach to Support, despite having intelligent automation as a central part of both our solutions.

Customer service automation is the hot topic of conversation these days, and more specifically, how bots fit into the mix. While intelligent automation is core to both Solvvy and Kustomer, we encourage our customers to not simply take an automation-centric or bot-centric approach, but to first take a step back and identify what your key goals are.

We’ve seen companies jump the gun and add a bot because they felt like everyone else was doing it, only to find it delivered sub-optimal/disappointing results.

In reality, not everyone is using a bot—but many are experiencing mixed results. In our recent webinar, 67% of participants shared that they aren’t using any bot technology today and 72% of participants who have tried a bot have experienced issues.

So, what can we take away from this? It’s important to see the big picture and identify where automation can add value, rather than implementing point solutions like bots and hoping they make an impact. We’ve all been there–it’s easy to get swept up into adding a piece of technology just because it’s what everyone else is doing.

In this post, we’ll tackle a key goal we’ve frequently seen from our customers: how do we increase agent productivity to improve our overall customer experience? We’ll share how intelligent automation can effectively support this goal in two ways by 1. increasing efficiency for customers and 2. increasing efficiency for agents.

So, what can we take away from this? It’s important to see the big picture and identify where automation can add value, rather than implementing point solutions like bots and hoping they make an impact. We’ve all been there–it’s easy to get swept up into adding a piece of technology just because it’s what everyone else is doing.

In this post, we’ll tackle a key goal we’ve frequently seen from our customers: how do we increase agent productivity to improve our overall customer experience? We’ll share how intelligent automation can effectively support this goal in two ways by 1. increasing efficiency for customers and 2. increasing efficiency for agents.

Increasing Efficiency for Customers

Empowering customers to resolve questions on their own means agents handle less repetitive questions (and less tickets). This translates into getting back to customers faster and focusing on high-value questions that require the human touch. Increasing efficiency doesn’t have to be complicated. Depending on where you are in your support team maturity, ways to improve include investing in content, intelligent self-service, and end-to-end automation.

Content

While it seems obvious, when companies are scaling quickly, a lot of focus is given on agent enablement versus customer enablement. But, at the end of the day, customer enablement helps agents at scale. In an organization where customer interactions are often 1:1, investing in content is 1:many and scales with the business. Taking the time to create help center articles can save your support team hours of copy-pasting a macro that should be public to customers. Publishing content that helps customers find answers on their own frees up your agents to deal with more complex questions.

Intelligent Self-Service

Investing in content is step one. Intelligent self-service is the next step to making it easy for customers to discover this information. With intelligent self-service, it’s important to understand the underlying technology used to determine user intent. A lot of bots fall short here because they are keyword-reliant or rules-based and ultimately aren’t able to understand the context of a question and the relationship of words unique to a specific business. Self-service eases the workload for agents, but if a bot is falling short of expectations, it can create friction when a customer reaches an agent and has to repeat their question.

End-to-End Automation

The ability to fully automate repetitive transactions is a huge opportunity in customer service. These could be questions around order lookups, returns, refunds, and subscription changes. By handling these types of questions without an agent, support teams can direct attention to complex questions and take on proactive initiatives that scale. The interface for end-to-end automation can be guided steps, or it could be a bot in a chat window. Whichever way you deem the best customer experience, it should be clear that it’s not a human and that it is an automated experience.

Increasing Efficiency for Agents

We’ve spoken with agents who have expressed anxiety about chatbots or other technologies taking over their roles. It’s totally natural to be wary of new technology, but our answer has always been clear: We don’t think there’s anything to worry about. In fact, there’s a whole list of ways that bots and automation can assist agents and make their lives easier. Bots can take over the boring, repetitive, and mechanical tasks that drive agents up the wall, freeing up their time to focus on the interpersonal connections and more emotionally complex tasks that likely attracted them to the profession in the first place.

Conversational Forms

Just because it looks like a bot and acts like a bot, doesn’t always mean it’s a bot. Conversational forms are robots in disguise. When a customer opens the chat window, they’ll feel like they’re chatting to an immediately available agent. The conversational form will start asking the customer questions. These include important queries for identification—name, email address, phone number, shipping info, and whatever else is necessary—as well as more quantitative questions, like asking them to describe the issue they’re having. This way the customer gets the instant feedback they expect on chat, and the agent can jump into the conversation with all the info they need.

Suggested Responses

The scariest thing about pursuing a chatbot strategy is the lack of control. Once you switch on that feature, there’s nothing standing in between your customers and an algorithm that may not always provide the best experience. Enter suggested responses. This system works like the suggested text feature on your phone, but just for service. A computer processes the conversation and generates answers, but instead of sending them straight to a customer, the agent gets them first. This speeds up their reply time, and the system can also learn from the agent’s choices to become smarter. The more agents use the system, the better it gets at helping them, so you can be certain that automation is helping your experience, not holding it back.

Further Uses for Automation

There is a whole world of automation-enhanced solutions to everyday problems for your organization—and the majority of them work behind the scenes. Using an automated system to suggest tags, categorization, macros, and helpbase articles for your agents can save tons of time, and can be much simpler to set up and operate than a customer-facing chatbot. Assisting your agents’ everyday workflows and reporting may not be glamorous, but it can have a massive knock-on effect towards streamlining your experience and increasing efficiency. As Peter Johnson, Kustomer’s VP of Product, summarized in our recent webinar: “Automation is not just about helping the customer, it’s about helping your support organization scale, and identifying areas the product team can improve.”

Final Thoughts

If we can leave you with one bit of advice to take away, it’s this: before pursuing a bot or automation strategy, do your homework and consider your options. It’s crucial to have a strategy, and that you don’t just jump right in. As Kaan advised on our webinar: “Number one, define a strategy, and figure out where the bot can be useful to you, where it won’t work, then pursue new opportunities. Start with the big picture, then move towards implementation.”

Look at the data available to you, and use that to define your strategy going forward. Take some time with your reporting, and see what the most common issues are and where customers are asking for support. Once you start spotting patterns, those can dictate where you’ll go next. Maybe something as simple as an updated help page or self-service tool can cut your service volume in half? If your agents are constantly doing the same things over and over again, solve for those issues first. If your goal is to increase efficiency, then you should be focusing on finding the best method, not using chatbots for their own sake. By looking at the patterns within your support organization, you can start identifying issues that are holding back your experience to dictate your strategy, which is great practice as a whole. That’s the best way to figure out how automation will fit in.

With the right groundwork, you can be certain that when you do start to explore and use new technologies, your efforts will be a success—and will make a meaningful difference for your customers.

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Top 5 Burning Questions on Business Applications of AI

Maggie Lin on 2 August, 2018

We all have burning questions around AI and the new business opportunities it presents. At Solvvy, we are fortunate to have Tom Mitchell, pioneer of AI & machine learning, as an advisor. We recently sat down with Tom and had him answer our top questions.

We all have burning questions around AI and the new business opportunities it presents. At Solvvy, we are fortunate to have Tom Mitchell as an advisor and our in-house expert. Tom is widely recognized as a pioneer of AI & machine learning and wrote one of the first books on machine learning (aptly titled “Machine Learning”). He previously served as Chair of the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he continues to teach today.

We recently sat down with Tom and had him answer our top questions.

Q: What are the benefits of introducing AI-powered solutions to my business today?

A: AI is a huge transformer of business. I believe that companies that adopt AI earlier will have a strong competitive advantage. Today, companies have no shortage of data and AI is able to process this data at scale to unlock actionable insights. This can be identifying areas of automation or trends across your customer base that you can use to take strategic action. The sooner you get these insights, the sooner you can implement initiatives that will set you apart.

Q: When it comes to AI, how should I think about when to build something in-house?

A: Build when:

  1. It’s proprietary to maintain competitive advantage: If you’re building something that differentiates your core product, build it in-house. A robust and effective AI-powered solution is not something you can build overnight. Be ruthless on deciding what to build–if a project isn’t central to your business mission, it likely isn’t the best use of your team’s time.
  2. You have sufficient team resources: You will need dedicated resources not just to build, but to maintain, train, and improve your initiative. Machine learning solutions require sizeable engineering infrastructure–make sure you have a team in place for this ongoing commitment.
  3. No vendors can meet your requirement: Build if you’ve done your research on vendors and came up empty-handed. Don’t build it yourself unless you have to. Using an outside vendor means you can leverage their expertise and existing infrastructure, thus saving you time, effort, and money. When evaluating vendors, push for customer references and case studies to make sure they have successfully deployed their solution to companies before.

Q: It seems like every company claims they use AI & ML in their product/service. How do you evaluate how “good” a company’s AI is?

A: How “good” a company’s AI is comes down to human talent, data, algorithms, and computing power. Given that computing power and algorithms are mostly commodities, data and human talent are the big factors. There are two key differentiators: 1) the relevancy and quantity of the data used to train the system and 2) how your human talent built your system. With these two in mind, it’s about a company’s ability to accumulate the best data and the best AI talent to solve the problem at hand. Ask companies how many customers they have (quantity of data), how similar the customers are to your business (relevancy of data), and how large the machine learning team is (how the system is built).

Q: Which companies do you think are leveraging AI well?

A: The obvious examples are companies such as Amazon, Google, and Apple who are investing heavily in AI. I’m also excited about innovative and younger companies that are tackling spaces ripe for AI-powered automation. I’ve been impressed with Clara Labs and x.ai who both have an early lead in leveraging AI for scheduling. Being early to market means they have a faster accumulation of relevant training data which makes it harder for new competitors to catch up.

Another company I’m excited about is Solvvy. I joined as an advisor because the customer support industry has a large opportunity for automation to improve how customers are serviced. Solvvy has an impressive customer base across industries, which means their training data is comprehensive and can provide better customer service across verticals. In addition to offering self-service, Solvvy is expanding to deliver business insights and automated workflows that will continue to drive significant value for businesses.

Q: What do you think makes Solvvy unique?

A: What makes Solvvy unique is its approach to the challenging problem of understanding user intent from both a technology and design perspective. The core technology they are building and their approach to training data are best-in-class and the results speak for themselves–I haven’t heard of an average 25% self-service rate anywhere else. From a design perspective, Solvvy provides a single interface that is intuitive and simple for all contact channels and that no other companies are doing that well today.

Have more burning questions on your mind? Send us a note at maggie@solvvy.com and we’ll include it in our next burning questions post!

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Looking Forward: The Future of Customer Support

Ayush Saxena on 31 July, 2018

We're proud to be selected as a "Hot Vendor in Conversational AI" by Aragon Research and we have our customers to thank for supporting us since our early days. We are looking forward to the journey ahead!

After co-founders, Mehdi Samadi and Justin Betteridge, graduated with PhDs in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University, they made the move to sunny California to apply their research and start Solvvy. They knew they were onto something big when they won $15,000 in investments during their school venture competition in 2014. They joined forces with our CEO, Mahesh Ram, to formally launch the company and the rest is history.

Fast forward to today, and here we are: powering conversations for over 250+ million users worldwide and being highlighted in Aragon Research’s recently released report, Hot Vendors in Conversational AI, 2018. Our progress has led us to the point of reaching a 25% self-service rate, meaning 1 out of every 4 people who contact customer support through us never need to talk to an agent. That’s why our customers include brands such as Under Armour, Soundcloud, and Weebly.

We’re proud to be called a “hot vendor,” and have our customers to thank for trusting us to represent them where it matters most – to their customers. We were excited to have such a large pool of customer champions willing to act as references as the research firm was evaluating and selecting for the best in Conversational AI. Being at the forefront of technology that stands to “define the customer or user experience” is an accomplishment that we would never have been able to achieve without our early customers taking a leap of faith when we were just getting started.

That’s a wrap for us and our customers! Back to the Aragon report, it’s a good read for anyone in the field of customer service AI. Some of the topics featured in the report are:

  • The development of AI in customer service
  • The 4 trends leading to the swift adoption of Conversational AI
  • Which vendors are at the cutting-edge of Conversational AI

As stated by Aragon, “The sooner an enterprise begins to use Conversational AI, the sooner it can improve the customer experience and collect real data from actual users. That data alone should be far more valuable than any savings from waiting.”

Read the full report here.

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Bots – Making Sense of Conversational Technology

Ayush Saxena on 12 July, 2018

“Bots” is a term used everywhere in the industry of customer service. They come in the form of chatbots, virtual customer assistants, avatars, intelligent assistants, and the list goes on. What do these terms refer to and is there a universal way to classify them? Check out our guide on how you should be thinking about bots!

That means…

“Bots” is a term used everywhere in the industry of customer service. They come in the form of chatbots, virtual customer assistants, avatars, intelligent assistants, conversational agents, and basically whatever else a company wants to call their product. So what do these terms refer to, exactly? Is there a universal way to classify bots based on their features or internal technology? Here’s how you can think about them:

Primitive Marketing Bots:

The most simple form of bots are primitive marketing bots. These are often used in digital marketing to simply send out messages on chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger. They fulfill the very basic requirements of being called a bot, which means they allow you to enter a question to respond back to you. They fall short on basically everything else – how long they take to respond, how well they understand your question, and how intuitive their responses are. A good start on the promise of chatbots, but nothing close to their potential.

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Chatbots:

The next step in the evolution of chatbots is Do-It-Yourself, or DIY chatbots, which represent the majority of products referred to when speaking about bots. These bots must be developed over a period of months by companies’ customer service teams to include every possible user input and its corresponding bot response. “I would like to track my shipment” is different from “Where’s my package?” within these systems because the phrases contain different words despite having the same intent, so building these bots to be effective can be cumbersome. Some DIY chatbots do advertise the use of artificial intelligence or machine learning, but realistically its power is limited to synonyms of words, not the intent of a user’s question.

Customer-Service Chatbots:

When a product needs to be trained rather than built from DIY software, a product crosses into the realm of customer-service chatbots. These are “pre-built” in the sense that a company doesn’t need to spend hours programming the software on how to respond to every question. It can decipher intent regardless of how a user asks a question. Due to the advanced artificial intelligence technology that these bots require, there are very few fully developed customer-service chatbots in the market yet. The main difference between these and DIY chatbots is on the back-end – are companies building or training the product?

Virtual Assistants:

Although they aren’t used in the realm of customer service, virtual assistants represent the most advanced artificial intelligence technology today. Software such as Siri, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa can interpret voice, hold conversations, retain information, and integrate across different applications and platforms.

Where Bots Fall Short

So if chatbots have so much potential, why do 43% of people still prefer dealing with an actual person over a chatbot? Or to put it another way – when is the last time you had a great experience with a chatbot? The technology clearly has a long way to go, and here’s where they fall short:

  1. They need to be built manually: The majority of chatbots in the market are at best DIY, so customer service teams need to build out decision trees for every possible customer request, as well as every way that request can be worded. If you want a bot to be conversational, then that introduces a full decision tree, increasing input possibilities exponentially.
  2. They need ongoing maintenance: They need to be reconfigured every time new information is added to the knowledge base. Chatbots do not automatically crawl company knowledge bases once information is added. Every new product comes with a new set of questions (and new ways they can be worded!) and a new set of answers.
  3. They require heavy integration: Every industry has unique words and phrases, from “tickets” and “NPS” in customer service to “accounts” and “sourcing” in sales teams. Chatbots need to be configured from the ground up to understand every use of these terms.

Bottom line: They’re cumbersome. To build an effective bot using a DIY chatbot product would take a huge amount of both time and resources. Even for large corporations that might be able to afford that, the technology will be left in the dust when pre-built bots are released.

We’re often asked if Solvvy is a bot. The short answer? No. We’re an intelligent conversational platform focused on helping users self-service their questions. We fundamentally differ from chatbots because we are built around artificial intelligence, not business rules. This means that our customers don’t build our product, they train it. They don’t make long lists of inputs and outputs, they guide our learning engine, which can understand questions however they’re worded.

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Giving Customer Support A Seat At The Revenue Table

Kaan Ersun on 10 July, 2018

Customer support holds a treasure trove of knowledge about customers. Explore how to convert these valuable support insights into revenue-generating conversations with product, marketing, and sales leaders.

When companies think about customer growth, they immediately think about the sales and marketing teams, then product.

But what about customer support?

Many companies often overlook the role of customer support in driving revenue. It’s left out of the conversation and seen as an overhead cost rather than a revenue-generating function–and that can be problematic.

One of the first steps in transforming into a customer-first company is to lean into customer support, the team that holds the treasure trove of knowledge about your customers and embed them with the sales, marketing and product teams.

Listening to the Voice of Customers

We’ve all heard it before: Silos are bad.

They stifle collaboration and inhibit communication. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to wave a magic wand and break silos down without changing the team structure.

A new type of team structure is embedding customer support into the product team, especially during product ideation. The result of this simple change is having direct access to the voice of customer during internal meetings. Often times, product teams fall prey to building the next big thing before tackling the unglamorous (yet much needed) product fixes that are frustrating their customers.

Being a customer-first company is a full-team sport that takes input from every team.

To develop a clear and effective customer experience strategy, you could also build a cross-functional team or task force that includes product, marketing, sales, customer support.

Feedback Loops

Once a sale is closed, the worst thing that the team can do is close the file and move on.

Of course, there are more sales coming down the pipeline. But there is a lot of value to be gained from understanding the customer experience after the sale.

By communicating with the customer support team, sales teams can learn how to improve their approach:

  • How to better position the product/service to align with customer expectations To understand points of friction after the purchase
  • To identify “sweet spot” customer segments as well as those are likely to churn or request a refund

The role of customer support is to close the loop on sales–allowing sales teams to gain valuable insight about the rest of the process. This helps drive revenue by helping the sales team focus on the right customer segments with the most effective approaches.

Using Great Customer Experience as a Differentiator

Customers are willing to pay more to ensure they receive a great customer experience.

Delighting customers with a positive experience go a long way. It can drive customer loyalty manifested via positive reviews, testimonials, case studies, and referrals

Giving customer support a seat at the product table to provide the customer perspective to all discussions can ensure that you have impactful changes on the product roadmap. Leaning on the customer support for insights to improve your sales & marketing strategy can ensure you are targeting the right customer segments with the right messaging. If you are considering making similar type of changes or want to know more, we’d love to hear from you.

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How Atlassian Used Automation to Build a $4 Billion Company with More Than 100,000 Customers

Maria Jiang on 5 July, 2018

At the 2018 Customer Experience Strategies Summit, we discussed Atlassian’s growth and CX strategy with Chris de Vylder, Atlassian's Head of Sales Strategy and Operations. We learned about how--and where--they’re deploying automation to successfully streamline processes.

Back in 2002, Atlassian launched their first product, Jira.

At the time, they didn’t make a lot of waves. The company was tiny and their product was one of many in a fairly crowded market.

Two years later, when they unveiled Confluence, they were still a relatively obscure company that was only starting to gain international attention. But over the course of 15 years, they have become one of the largest–and fastest growing–software companies in the world.

Through a combination of investment and acquisition, they have grown to offer at least a dozen separate software products and a market cap of more than $4 billion.

They became a public company in 2015, and they’ve continued to grow.

In a single quarter in 2017, the company added more than 4,000 new customers.

Most software companies would be lucky to add that many new customer in an entire year. And smaller companies would be crushed by the logistics of bringing on so much new business at once. But Atlassian took it in stride.

Despite enormous growth, the company hired fewer than 100 new employees in all of 2017. With more than 100,000 total customers, their team is lean–just 2,300 in total.

They have accomplished this because they have a clear strategy that separates them from competitors. Rather than growing in size and numbers, their team has leveraged automation to rapidly scale the business while keeping overhead low.

Instead of traditional sales staff, they’ve sold enterprise-grade software primarily through a self-serve model. Whereas most companies this size would have hundreds or thousands of employees to provide customer service, they’ve scaled customer support through AI and machine learning.

Their team uses technology to accomplish more with less.

At the 2018 Customer Experience Strategies Summit, we got the chance to discuss Atlassian’s growth and CX strategy with Chris de Vylder, head of sales strategy and operations. Through the course of our discussion, we learned about how–and where–they’re deploying automation to streamline processes.

Using Automation to Increase Revenue and Sales Efficiency

Atlassian’s rise to prominence all comes down to their ability to use automation to drive new revenue and growth.

At the core of their business, they’ve used technology to scale in 3 ways:

  1. Automating sales
  2. Automating customer engagement
  3. Automating customer service

When it comes to sales, the company has embraced the software-as-a-service model at scale.

Their entire growth, sales, and operations strategy is built around acquiring new users (generally through a freemium model), onboarding them, and converting them into customers–without human interaction.

While this is common practice for many software companies, Atlassian has made it a central piece of their strategy. They’ve seamlessly blended the self-serve buying experience with automation and intelligence that help drive sales.

Customers who appear on the cusp of signing up or upgrading their service receive a nudge from human sales staff who are available to answer questions. Meanwhile, most of Atlassian’s customers just flow through the onboarding and sales process automatically.

Rather than an army of sales executives and account managers for enterprise customers, almost everyone gets this same treatment–and it works.

Customer Engagement Drives Revenue

The second piece of Atlassian’s success is their strategy for automating customer engagement.

This piece of the puzzle neatly bridges the self-serve buying process with the self-service support model. In order to help customers engage with their products, answer their questions, and upsell them on paid features, Atlassian uses in-product automation.

As a user, you experience this through pop-ups, tool tips, and other incremental nudges within the product experience.

These small interactions are absolutely critical because they help customers learn and understand the product. For those who are using free versions of the software, this initial engagement is generally what drives an upgrade to a paid plan. But, it also reduces the demand on the support and service team by helping users with proactive support.

Excelling At Customer Experience Automation

When businesses scale, the cost of providing service and support is generally a major concern. The need to respond to requests and manage the customer experience can grow exponentially.

For many firms, this is a barrier.

For Atlassian, this is an advantage.

The company has embraced self-service support technology to help customers find answers and resolve issues quickly, without the need for an enormous customer support team.

They’re tapped into a rising tide of customers who prefer self-service support over interacting with live agents to resolve problems. Not only does this allow Atlassian to lower their support costs, it also provides quicker and better service for many of their users.

Automated self-service works because it allows customers to engage with service on their own terms. If they need an agent, they can request one. But if they just have a simple question, they can find an answer without having to wait.

Solvvy’s self-service support platform is a one key component of Atlassian’s strategy and allows them to scale service as they grow, without added overhead and expense. But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle.

Self-service support tools have come a long way in the last few years. They include technology such as:

  • Knowledge bases
  • Virtual agents or chatbots
  • Troubleshooting wizards
  • Informative videos

So long as your company provides multiple automated service channels, your customers will be able to pick their preferred channel, which increases their level of engagement as well as their satisfaction.

Scaling Gracefully

Automating many parts of your business’ core functions can flip the traditional sales and customer experience paradigms on their head.

For most companies, growth means a bigger team, new teams, and more people.

With automation, companies can grow their customer base at just a fractional rate; each new customer costs less than the last because the overall cost is spread across all of the customers that can be added through the use of technology and self-service systems.

Likewise, generating additional revenue from each customer can be automated with AI and customer engagement systems that have a fixed cost, rather than the incremental costs of adding new employees .

And automated customer service tools play the dual role of both increasing customer satisfaction and lowering support expense.

Atlassian’s success can teach us a clear lesson: It pays to automate.

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Customer Support’s Important Role in Solving Common Churn Problems

Yulia Savitskaya on 3 July, 2018

While it’s easy to focus and highlight growth, churn is equally important and should not be swept under the rug--we've identified 3 common churn problems and support's ability to mitigate churn.

For growing companies (like us!), growth and churn are two important areas of focus–while often times it’s easier to focus and highlight growth because it’s more exciting and sexy, churn is equally important and should not be swept under the rug and dismissed.

Understanding why customers churn is critical to how you continue to position, sell, and support your customers and to build your product and business. Churn is also costly–it’s 5-25x more expensive to earn a new customer than it is to keep an existing one!

While churn is a problem all departments work together to address, customer support has a unique perspective and ability to mitigate churn.

We’ve identified 3 common problems and ways support can deliver impact to the business.

1. Insufficient onboarding

The most critical stage of customer retention is getting a user from sign-up to her first feeling of success and seeing the value of your product or service. While signing up a new user (or account) means revenue, if she does not experience a ‘win’ in a timely fashion, she’s more likely to churn.

We’ve seen support successfully take a proactive role in messaging customers on Day 1 or Day 3 of onboarding to open a line of communication and let the customer know that support is invested in their success on the platform! Engagement is paramount during onboarding and determines how engaged your customer will be with your product or service long-term. Don’t wait until your customers have to raise their hand, introduce yourself as a resource early on.

2. High Effort Support Experience

The art of customer support lies in making it easy for the customer to find their answer — whether that’s through self-service or through your support team. Ultimately customers want their question answered as quickly as possible.

Investing in building out help content and and ways to increase discovery of that content reduces the effort a user needs to take to find their answer and saves time and money for your business and support team.

It doesn’t matter if you offer every contact channel under the sun; if users are frustrated and experience high wait times to get their answer, they will likely churn.

Take the time to evaluate your support strategy and ensure it’s designed to meet customer expectations. A customer’s experience with your support team creates a lasting impression and influences their perception of your business.

3. Mismatch in Expectations

For any growing business, it’s natural that at times you will attract the wrong customers. At the end of the day, if a customer’s needs ultimately don’t match with the product or service that you offer, they won’t continue on no matter how much support you’ve given them. It’s unrealistic to expect 0% churn. However, there are times where a mismatch in expectations can be addressed–and is also support’s time to shine!

Support has the unique position of receiving the most customer feedback and has the opportunity to identify where customer expectations are aligned or misaligned. This can be a powerful predictor of why customers may be churning now or in the future.

Support can determine where there is a mismatch and act as the feedback loop with marketing, sales, product, or engineering.

As the voice of the customer, support can identify:

  • Are customers asking for unintended use cases that don’t align well with the product or service?
  • Are they identifying a product limitation or requesting a certain feature?
  • Are they confused with certain parts of the product?
  • What part of the customer journey is there friction or confusion? Pre-sales? Onboarding? Ongoing product assistance?
  • Where do customers need the most help?

Churn is a complex problem that requires collaboration from all functions. Customer support plays a strategic role in identifying reasons for churn and partnering with stakeholders to address potential issues and impact the holistic customer experience.

Growth often steals the spotlight, but churn is an up-and-comer and support is a key part of the puzzle and the conversation.

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Too Many Communication Blunders?

Maria Jiang on 13 June, 2018

We've all been in conversations where things get a bit lost in translation. In this blog post and our upcoming webinar, we cover the 7 elements of a successful conversation developed by Bruce Temkin--customer experience transformist and founder of Temkin Group.

Join Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner, Temkin Group and Maria Jiang, Head of Product Marketing, Solvvy in an exclusive webinar ‘Applying The Art of Human Conversations to Digital Interactions’ on July 26 at 10am PDT.

How many times have you had to say, “That’s not really what I meant.” Countless times probably. To your boss, mom and hairdresser, right? Yes, conversations can get complicated. We spend our entire lives conversing, but we’re still not able to get it right everytime. Even though we are speaking the same exact language, often times there is miscommunication.

Touchy to easy conversations

I wish I had known earlier about the human conversational model developed by Bruce Temkin, customer experience transformist and founder of Temkin Group.

According to Bruce, these are the seven elements of a successful conversation:

  1. Self-awareness: Know thyself and what you want to get out of the conversation. Are you trying to convince, inform, inspire someone?
  2. Basic manners: Don’t be an asshole and remember to “treat others how you want to be treated”
  3. Intent decoding: Find something in common and be relatable.
  4. Contextual framing: Read the room. Know who you are talking to and adjust accordingly.
  5. Empathetic agility: Listen up and pay attention. There’s more going on than just words.
  6. Supportive feedback: Indicate that you are actively listening–it takes two to tango.
  7. Emotional reflection: Show that you’re on the same page, or at least the same book.

In our upcoming webinar, Bruce Temkin will take these key elements a step further to talk about how they can be applied to digital conversations from a brand.

Looking to have kick-ass conversations? Join us for this webinar to learn how to be a great communicator with everyone — family, friends, colleagues and customers.

Join Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner, Temkin Group and me for an exclusive webinar ‘Applying The Art of Human Conversations to Digital Interactions’ on July 26 at 10am PDT.

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10 Must-See Sessions at Customer Contact Week 2018!

Maggie Lin on 12 June, 2018

Attending Customer Contact Week (CCW) in a few weeks? Check out our 10 Must-See Sessions to help plan out your week. See you there!

Whether you’re trying to jumpstart a customer experience program from scratch or you’re a CX veteran looking to learn about the latest AI tools and technology, there is no shortage of information out there–the question is how do you harness it to work for you?

Customer Contact Week is where that knowledge and opportunity meets you! With 175+ speakers, there is truly something for everyone. Truth is, you can’t go wrong with any of the incredible sessions in store. To help you plan your week, we’ve picked out our top 10 sessions you can’t miss. Hope to see you there!

1. AI, Bots and Humans – The Future Customer Journey is Here

Tuesday, June 19 — 8:15 AM – 11 AM

Jim Whatton, VP Solutions Consulting, Genesys
Chas Bowman, Senior Technical Sales Consultant, Genesys

We all know that technology is changing the customer experience landscape. What does that mean for leaders navigating the world of humans and bots? Grab your seat at this discussion to learn how both will play a role in shaping and understanding the customer journey.

2. Transform Your Customer Experience into Connected Omnichannel Journeys

Tuesday, June 19 — 11:15 AM – 2 PM

Matthew Clare, Product Marketing Manager, Mitel
George Despinic, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Contact Centers, Mitel

The modern customer journey is more complex and less predictable than ever. New devices, channels, and touchpoints require proactive strategy. Join the Mitel team for a discussion about the evolution of the customer journey and how to manage the omnichannel experience.

3. Today’s Connected Customers: Deliver Personalized Service Across Channels

Tuesday, June 19, 2:15 PM – 5 PM

Stephen Bell, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Service Cloud, Salesforce

Hear from Salesforce on the strategies, tactics, and tools you need to not only manage the service experience but deliver personalized service at scale.

4. Would You Do That to Your Mother? The “Make Mom Proud” Standard for How to Treat your Customers

Wednesday, June 20— 9:05 AM – 9:50 AM

Jeanne Bliss, President, Customer Bliss

Sometimes it’s important to just reflect on the basics. This presentation will highlight a simple and timeless approach to measuring customer service interactions. Join this session for a practical reminder and a coaching strategy for service and support teams.

5. Develop a Scalable, Transformative Support Model

Wednesday, June 20 — 2:10 PM – 2:55 PM

Janelle Sallenave, Head of Customer Support, North America, Uber

Learn how one of the fastest-growing companies in the world is able to build and scale a support model that serves millions of users nationally and internationally. Get takeaways on tactics and strategies that you can apply to your own company.

6. Create a Customer Centric Culture

Wednesday, June 20 / Thursday, June 21 — Multiple Times

Bill Gessert, President, International Customer Service Association

There’s a lot of talk about putting customers at the heart of everything you do. But is your company actually taking steps to make that a reality? Hear firsthand from Bill Gessert how customer service leaders are building a culture and a strategy with customers–and their needs–at the center of it all.

7. Build the Business Case for AI and Automation

Wednesday, June 20 / Thursday, June 21 — Multiple Times

Chris Danson, Chief Technology Officer, Mattersight
Adam Schmitt, Director, Contact Center Strategy, Macy’s

It can be easy to think of the latest automation solutions as just nice-to-haves. But, there is a real and compelling business case for integrating AI and automation into your customer experience strategy. This session will discuss how to save money, increase efficiency, and improve outcomes with better technology.

8. Are you Easy to do Business with?

Wednesday, June 20 / Thursday, June 21 — Multiple Times

Corey Robinson, Operations Director, Cigna
Brian Quigg, Sales Director, Virtual Hold Technology

Customer tolerance for friction is at an all-time low. In order to compete, companies must focus on providing a seamless, pain-free experience for every single customer. This session tackles that topic and how to measure and manage every touchpoint.

9. Deliver Success, Effort and Emotion While Leveraging AI

Thursday, June 21 — 8:20 AM – 9:05 AM

Jason Bradshaw, Chief Customer Officer, Volkswagen Group Australia

Artificial intelligence isn’t just about bits and bytes. With the right technology and a solid strategy, you can use automation to improve service without sacrificing the empathy and understanding of world-class service and support. Learn how Volkswagen is implementing AI successfully to elevate the customer experience.

10. World Class Service Starts with Culture

Thursday, June 21 — 4:15 PM – 5:00 PM

Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Join Shep Hyken, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on customer experience, for a discussion about culture. This keynote will explain how organizations can build the foundation for world-class service by focusing on the people who provide it.

This list scratches the surface of the packed agenda at CCW, but we hope you find it helpful in planning out your week. We’re looking forward to hearing from industry leaders and all the learnings we’ll walk away with–after all, it’s one of the best CX events of the year.

When you find some time between the incredible sessions in store, don’t forget to swing by and say hello to Solvvy team. We’ll be in the exhibition hall, Booth Number 720.

See you at CCW!

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