How Freshworks built a 400+ member support team with outstanding CSAT scores – In conversation with Pradeep Rathinam, Chief Customer Officer, Freshworks

The new age definition of Customer Experience

Making your customer happy is not just about solving the problem at hand. It is often related to the cumulative experience they have with your product or service from the very beginning, This calls for a change in our perception of the customer support function as a whole, which subsequently changes the way a customer support agent works. To understand and adapt to this shift of perception, we talk to Pradeep Rathinam, Chief Customer Officer at Freshworks.

Pradeep, a.k.a Paddy has over 30 years of experience in the tech industry. In his quest to redefine customer service, he founded and helmed AnswerIQ, an AI platform for customer support. Prior to AnswerIQ he was a Senior Vice President at Harman, CEO of Aditi Technologies and General Manager at Microsoft.

Is Customer support and customer experience the same? If not, how are they different?

It begins with the vernacular. I think the definition and the way people use the word has different connotations.

When you use the word customer support, people think of them as a goalkeeper. It is like a puck is being thrown or a ball is being kicked at you and you’re trying to save the goal. When you think of the word customer service, it adds a bit of relationship context to the role. And they are pretty much interchangeable.

But when you bring in the word ‘Customer Experience’, you think about a holistic relationship between the customer and the business.

You focus on the customer’s journey and the experiences they encounter through pre-sales, sales, marketing, product and so on. This, eventually, helps in creating a CX journey map that delivers a delightful experience. That’s an orientation we need to bring about in the industry.

I think in Freshworks as a company and in general, we have to change the way we use and perceive the word support versus service versus experience. In today’s world, we need to have a lot of CX professionals, as opposed to customer support agents.

Now that we approach customer support holistically, how has this redefined the role of a customer support executive?

Customer support or customer experience is an underappreciated field. I think a lot of them stumble upon them along the paths of looking for a career and they are good at solving problems.

That could be because unlike other professions, the career trajectory of a CX professional used to be slightly undefined. For instance, when you say ‘I will be an IT professional’, you know what your career growth is like. There’s an obvious progression from where you join as a program manager, then I.T. director and a CIO. These are clearly defined roles, they have a career path and a goal. People in such roles have a clarity on what skills (technical, business, management etc.) They need to go up the ladder.

But things are changing now. Customer experience is evolving into a career that people can aspire to get into. In the world of Customer experience, you try to understand the life cycle and the journey of the customer with the product. Your customer could have a problem with the product, sales promise, service experience, or with the brand perception as a whole. These come into play. 

“There’s a clear path to becoming a Chief Customer Officer in organizations”

In fact, there’s a science emerging behind Customer experience as a profession. Considering how the perception has changed, what you seek in a CX professional has changed too.

What are the skills one should look for when hiring for CX professionals? 

#1 – Problem solving Mindset

In the world of Customer experience, your customer could have a problem with things like  the product, sales promise, service experience, or with the brand perception, to name a few.
Thus, empathy, responsiveness, accuracy and a good presence of mind become the key attributes to look for in a CX professional. 

“Looking for people who have great problem solving attributes really makes the core and the crux of what a good customer’s experience profession is”

So if you start with that as the core, you need to find people who are innately focused and have the passion to solve problems, which is the first aspect.

#2 – Empathy & ability to build relationships

The second aspect is, they need to have a relationship mentality, which is about how they listen and build relationships with empathy for their customers. Service should be a priority, which means, ‘I’m here, I will be successful when my customers are successful’.  They need to have the patience and understand that most customers who have problems will be irate. They should know how to calm them, solve their problems, and be objective, all at the same time. 

#3 – Curiosity to know the product, very, very well

Also, when you become a customer experience professional, you lead with expertise and perspective by learning the inner workings of a product or service. You should have a knack for  uncovering issues, analyzing the root cause, and figuring out the do’s, dont’s and best practices. 

#4 – Analytical Mindset

The best CX professionals are also data driven and look for patterns and analyze what went wrong and why. We’re seeing a lot of the CX professionals invest in learning analytics tools, reporting and automation to further their career.

The best CX professionals are also process oriented and can identify the repetitive processes and look for ways to automate it. It could use Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Robotic process automation or a combination of both. It is also important to think about automation first and use the groundbreaking tools to solve problems of scale. For instance, when there’s a seasonal product launch, instead of hiring thousands of CX professionals on the front line, have the right tools that can automate the redundant processes, without compromising on customer experience.

In short, CX professionals need to have great problem solving abilities, a relationship mentality, logical thinking, and a foresight to abstract the problem and solve it at scale. 

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Is it likely that technology will replace humans in customer experience? A lot of repetitive tasks are already getting automated.

There should be no need for a human being to do redundant tasks, right? So if it’s all about those simple known and repetitive issues, I believe that bots will solve them.

Natural language processing has really come a long way and it can think about unique ways a question can be phrased. The ability of the machine to answer those questions is more accurate and better than human beings. But as we all know, in the customer experience world, there are a set of unknown problems. 

The need to use human intelligence, empathy and judgment, for problems that have complexities is the reason  we would have CX professionals for a long period of time

The whole idea behind automation is to take away the redundancy or the boredom of the jobs they have.

As a result, CX professionals would still use their skills, connections, intelligence and judgement to augment their relationship skills and their knowledge of the product to solve these problems.

Talking about technology, Are there any technical skills that CX professionals should possess from now on? What will play a pivotal role in Customer experience in the years to come?

Every job requires technology skills. In fact, technology is going to play a pivotal role in customer experience in the years to come. It comes down to how you assimilate the data, understand the context and use the data intelligently to solve the problem.

When handling these problems at scale, a CX professional should be able to identify a pattern at the least. Here’s where reporting knowledge comes handy. They should be able to create ad hoc, on-the-fly reports on SQL and other reporting tools and then extend to machine learning, 

The success of a customer professional lies also in how they improve efficiency for delivering a delightful experience to customers. Automation plays a key role there. Knowledge about automation tools, be it bots using NLP, RPA, can take them way ahead in their careers as that’s where the world is headed.

Advice to founders – When would be the right time to hire for customer experience in a startup?

When it comes to startups, most of the problems are solved by the initial team and the founders in the early stages.It’s the best way to learn your product. It’s also the best way to learn what your customers are saying. But once you scale, more customers come in, and the scale of requests starts going up. At that point, they really need to think about what next. 

This where a CX professional can help. They can take these questions and solve them at scale, and conduit back to the product/development teams the feature requests or bugs that the customer reports. They play a key role in bridging the gap between customer and the product team.

What do all these mean to you?

  1. Customer support is no longer about a break-fix. It involves an in-depth understanding of the customer experience with the product. 
  2. Considering the change in perception of customer support, the skill set required for customer experience has changed too. You should ideally look for someone with great problem-solving abilities and logical thinking, with a willingness to learn and update themselves with technological advancements.
  3. CX professionals are the bridge that connects customers and the product team. Managing support single-handedly seems like a great way to learn about the market, but to provide great customer service, you need to have exceptional customer experience professionals.