The evolution of CX from products to experiences

When it comes to customers, experience matters.

Customer experience—commonly known as CX—is the impression customers have of a brand depending on every touchpoint in their buyer’s journey. With the rapid digital transformation of companies and the expanding use of technology and cloud computing in the global marketplace, customers now have a glut of interaction options at their fingertips. As the customer has gone nimble, so has CX. As a matter of fact, a PwC study shows that customers are willing to pay more for speedy and efficient customer service. On the business side of things, great customer experience translates into less churn and more stickiness. Therefore, in a saturated marketplace where everyone seems to be offering something new, brands can set themselves apart with consistent and delightful customer experiences.

To understand the evolution of customer experience in his time with Freshworks, we reached out to Alan Berkson, Global Director of Community Outreach and Analyst Relations at Freshworks. With his sharp insights, Alan is undeniably the ‘de facto Freshworks historian’ because, in his own words, “I just happen to have been around long enough to remember things.”

Customer experience with Freshworks

When Alan started his journey with Freshworks in the summer of 2013, the customer service industry wasn’t as evolved as it is now. If you come to think about it, a lot of social channels that are sine qua nons for customers now—WhatsApp, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, among others—were earlier meant only for personal or business use. Customer support conversations happened predominantly over the phone. Emails followed suit but without adequate technology and a customer-oriented approach, their use tapered off. The idea of ‘chat’ in customer support was unheard of. 

Even until a couple of years ago, websites would hide customer support contacts and customers had to live with it. The business-oriented model of customer service—which was the prevalent model—had made a cliché out of the fact that you could not find a phone number for most consumer companies. Their websites were often inaccessible—and deliberately so—forcing frustrated customers to go into what would be a more cost-effective route, which included checking the existing knowledge base first, then chatting or sending an email, as opposed to speaking to an agent directly.

Fortunately, with technological advances and rapidly transforming customer needs, there has been a move toward a customer-oriented approach as more and more businesses have jumped on the CX bandwagon. Alan recalls that one of the first things Freshworks focused on was to ensure that customers had multiple options to choose from when it came to resolving their issues.

Proliferation of channels

Customer experience is about lowering the barrier to what it takes to get help. Bolstered by internet-revolutionized commerce, the past few years have experienced a proliferation of channels where businesses and their customers can interact.

Omnichannel—for support as well as for marketing and product promotion—offers customers multiple, integrated touchpoints for interaction. Sixty-four percent of consumers say that they expect companies to respond to them in real-time. In terms of the progression of customer experience, then, it’s about ensuring that customers—wherever they are, on WhatsApp, Facebook, or Twitter—have the information they need to use the products better or have their questions resolved without having to stop doing what they are doing. The use of as many different channels as possible offers customers the best experience possible because they can engage how they want to.

With  Freshdesk Omnichannel, for instance, businesses have multiple ways of engaging with customers and getting them the requisite information—which includes a knowledge-based self-service, the Freddy AI engine with its conversational interfaces, and the traditional support routes. With an omnichannel customer support software,  Freshworks has the tools built in to follow the customer wherever they go in our support ecosystem. That’s a huge win when we consider the fact that 53% of adults in the US are likely to abandon their online purchase if they have trouble finding a quick answer to their question.

Intelligent search

With the proliferation of channels and the ensuing omnichannel support, the next step in our CX journey, according to Alan, involved incorporating intelligence in our knowledge base so that not only did we resolve problems faster but also started predicting issues before they occur.

When a customer opened a helpdesk ticket on Freshdesk and started typing, it automatically brought up the relevant knowledge base articles to offer contextual help. 

With the inclusion of intelligent search in our knowledge base, support teams could decide if the customer required reactive, proactive, prescriptive, or predictive support. Reactive is when a customer calls support to resolve a problem and support offers help. Proactive is when support teams contact the customer, saying, “Hey, we are doing a recall” or “There’s a problem with this. Maybe you would like to request a replacement.” Prescriptive is when an agent can look through their knowledge base and say, “Oh, this has happened before.” Predictive—a progression of the aforementioned approaches—is the knowledge that something is going to happen based on the real-time data and machine learning algorithms.

The way forward for CX

Ten years is a long time in the digital age, but if we look toward the evolution of customer experience, the progression is really to do with automation and quick access to knowledge. 

Talking about the future of customer service, Alan explains how automation can resolve problems for customers using a framework where problems could be classified as ‘simple’, ‘complicated’, and ‘complex’. Simple is following a recipe. Complicated is parking a car. Complex is raising a child.

Right now, automation can solve simple problems. In our interaction with our customers and technology, if a problem has occurred before, technology can resolve it every time a customer has a similar question. Simple problems can be resolved by automation without any need for human intervention. Complicated problems can include a workflow or several. These problems might require robotic process automation (RPA). When a customer calls up support and says, “I want to return an item”, it initiates a workflow that includes—among other tasks—sending out a return merchandize authorization and a return shipping label. Added to this is an entire process of subtasks, which includes authorization, approval, return, or replacement. At this point in time, complicated problems can be effectively resolved with automation, too.

Complex problems demand a combination of automation and human intervention. If we were to envision the role of humans in the distant future of CX, it would lie in the opportunity to handle, solve, and use critical thinking and problem-solving skills with creativity. On the sales side, humans would need to intervene when there is a brand-new problem, or a customer needs a personalized solution. On the customer side, it would be when someone calls up to report a unique issue.

Bottom line is nobody wants to call customer service. That’s not what customer experience is about. It’s about how quickly the knowledge base can identify a new problem and have the intelligence to escalate it. On the vendor side, the expectation is to be able to have people who, rather than being able to simply follow a script, are empowered to solve problems that have never occurred before. The jobs of the future would hire for creativity and empathy. Because by the time, it has gotten to the point of dealing with a human, whose problems automation could not solve, and they probably are a little bit frustrated. You need empathy to get to the heart of the problem and be able to find a bespoke solution for it.

The evolution of customer experience would involve, therefore, for an organization to make sure that customers can get their issues resolved without engaging with a human. This involves reacting better and being more aware that help is available whenever they need. It’s essentially about making sure that we are pre-empting a problem before it occurs. While it’s almost impossible for companies to make products that remain fault-free over their lifecycle, it’s about how we make sure that in terms of experience, we minimize the amount of time and effort it takes for somebody to get back to the point where they did not have to call customer support.

As Alan concludes, ”There are no such things as products anymore, they’re just experiences.”