On November 10th and 11th, CX leaders gathered virtually for another edition of our annual conference: Kustomer NOW. The two-day event was loaded with insights from CX influencers and leaders from the world’s most future-focused brands including Spanx, Delivery.com, Rappi, Ring and more.
Whether hearing from VP of Business Messaging at Meta, Matt Idema, about how businesses are starting to invest heavily in messaging as a primary communication channel, or learning about the challenges of localization when operating in different countries from Rappi co-founder Juan Pablo Ortega, there was no shortage of meaningful and insightful sessions.
But in case you were not able to join us, we wanted to gather the highlights for you in one place. Read on for our recap of Kustomer NOW 2021, What’s NOW and What’s NEXT in CX.
Utilizing the Pandemic as a Launchpad for Innovation
The responsibility of creating an exceptional customer experience bleeds throughout the entire organization, and starts with a customer-first mindset. A customer-first mindset means If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that the CX landscape can be turned upside down overnight. Our keynote speaker, founder and CEO of Built-It Productions and the creator behind How I Built This, Guy Raz, kicked off the conference with an inspiring session on how business leaders overcame adversity in the face of the pandemic. “What happened in 2020 – 2021 was that business leaders and entrepreneurs adopted the concept I call radical necessity,” said Raz. “So what do I mean by that? Well, it’s another way of looking at a crisis as an opportunity. Radical necessity is what happens when you have to solve an immediate problem with a big, decisive and disruptive action. It means doing things on expedited timelines and not worrying about doing it perfectly, and ultimately, it means transforming what you do as a result.”
Kustomer CEO, Brad Birnbaum agreed with the above sentiment and explained that people need to know that failing is okay. “Pivots are expected, they’re normal, and that’s how you learn and you evolve. That’s the other piece of advice I often give leaders is that it’s never a straight path to success,” advised Birnbaum regarding not just the struggles of the last 18 months, but those that are ever-present.
In terms of coming out on the other side of the pandemic stronger, Outdoorsy VP of Global Sales & Customer Operations, Evan Hopkins, explained in the session The Bounce Back: Supporting Travelers in a Post-COVID World how the travel industry started coming back this year after a slow 2020. “Well, definitely at the start of the pandemic, we went from having a good 2020 to nobody booking and lots of cancellations… then it came back in a ferocious way,” said Hopkins. “We went from 20 team members in our customer service group to more than 170 in about seven weeks. So that’s a lot of growth, a lot of people to find, bring on, and upskill. There are lots of different things you have to do in that state.”
For other organizations, one of the noticeable lasting effects of the pandemic involved integrating more empathy into communications with customers. Chad Warren, Sr. Manager of Customer Service at Vuori explained how he envisions a fundamental change in the way we communicate with customers moving forward. “Still today, the conversations we’re having with customers are a lot more like, ‘Hey, how are you? What are you doing?’ It’s a lot more human than it was before,” said Warren.
Keynote speaker Guy Raz had an optimistic tone as he looked toward the future regarding the advancements many organizations produced in the pressure cooker that was the last 18 months. “In other ways we’ve accelerated technological trends and changes in such a rapid and sweeping way that it almost takes your breath away — things and behaviors that were only recently unimaginable are now the new normal.”
Embracing an Omnichannel Strategy
One of the most prominent key themes over the course of the conference was an urgent call for businesses to embrace an omnichannel CX strategy. According to Matt Idema, VP of Business Messaging at Meta, consumers and businesses alike learned that they can do nearly anything digitally, from purchasing groceries to telemedicine. “We all experimented more with digital channels during the pandemic, and that’s not going to go back to where it was prior to the pandemic,” said Idema. “There is going to be some increased level of expectation from customers that your business is able to service them both in person and digitally.”
Dave Weiner, Founder and CEO of Priority Bicycles, agreed with the above and explained that for his organization it means meeting the customer wherever they prefer. “So, if they want an e-mail or phone, sure, but they might want a Facebook message, WhatsApp, text, or online chat,” said Weiner. “So, it’s really about meeting the customer in whatever method they’re comfortable in if you’re truly a digital company.”
With an eye cast toward international expansion in 2022, Eric Carlsen, Director of CX at Spanx in his session How Spanx is Shaping the DTC Customer Experience, remarked that a priority is making sure his team is able to communicate not only in a variety of different channels, but also in a variety of languages. “As we grow internationally, every country’s a little bit different,” said Carlsen. “So there’s a lot of cultural sensitivity and there’s a lot of sensitivity in terms of the way business is done and the way people communicate.”
Embracing an omnichannel strategy might prove challenging at first for some organizations, but there are benefits once implemented. “There’s a big opportunity when leveraging an omnichannel strategy to drive more engagement,” said John Jackson, Customer Account Manager at Kustomer. “With that, you can collect more data that you can use to optimize different parts of your business. A big one being your product marketing.”
Leveraging Automation to Drive Efficiency
Another key theme throughout the conference involved how businesses can become more efficient using automation. According to Andrea Paul, Director of Research at Kustomer, there are different ways for businesses to implement automation, from tapping into AI to eliminate time consuming tasks to leveraging chatbots to deliver contextual and personalized information. “With the right technology, agents can focus on building relationships with customers and fixing complex issues in a timely manner,” explained Paul.
Automating routine and mundane tasks will produce happier agents who will provide better experiences. “That’s just human nature,” explained Brad Birnbaum. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion, in terms of automation intelligence and taking advantage of AI and machine learning.”
A heightened emphasis on digital channels, especially messaging apps, opens up a world of technology that is more efficient according to Matt Idema. “Your agents can be more efficient, you can do more automation, and you can respond to multiple customers in parallel — it’s not one analog conversation at a time,” said Idema.
Guy Raz in his keynote predicted that those that embrace artificial intelligence and automation will completely change how we all interact with the world. “We know this because the trend lines exist now, today, and brands and businesses that understand this will also be the brands and businesses that win the future,” predicted Raz.
Implementing a Personalized Approach Enriched With Context
While the above speakers identified automationation as being integral to the future of CX, there was also an interesting dichotomy present, showcasing that automation should not come at the expense of personalization. “Personalization is a big expectation of customers these days,” according to Eric Carlsen. “Whether it’s at a brick and mortar store, whether it’s online, they’re expecting you to know who they are, what they’ve talked about with you in the past, what they bought and what their preferences are.”
Jed Kleckner, CEO of Delivery.com, agrees that there is a personalized human approach that is essential. “I really think that it’s important for companies to remember they are interacting with a person with a problem,” explained Kleckner. “When you can interact with them on a human level, I think it is a real shift in how the company views their customer and the customer experience.”
While integrating personalization and having plenty of context for each customer interaction might seem ambitious, many organizations have come to this realization from feedback garnered from their own customers. “We always start from the customer and work backwards,” said Evan Hopkins. “We didn’t just go into a room and make it up ourselves. We have a lot of conversations with customers. We have a very active community of owners that we listen to and then build what we hear from them.”
This customer-centric approach is not something that can be peppered in occasionally, but rather it needs to live at the core of your business according to Danielle Tiso, Customer Success Manager at Kustomer in her session Back to the Future: What the Last Two Years at Kustomer Have Taught Us. “It is one of the most effective ways to be more predictive in the future,” explained Tiso. “You know, the more you listen to your customers and keep them at the forefront of every decision that you make, the more attractive your business will appear and that loyalty is really intrinsically linked back to that.”
Driving Insights & Empowering Teams With Data
Closing out the key Kustomer NOW themes is the importance of data from both a refinement and privacy perspective. While this is not necessarily a new insight, it is one that remains foundational for any CX strategy. Jon Irwin, Chief Neighborhood Executive Officer at Ring, explained that it’s absolutely critical for every business to stay focused on data, given the amount of information companies now capture. “As we’re moving to a more proactive customer experience, you have to make sure you’re earning and maintaining customer trust around how you’re handling personalized data,” noted Irwin. “So focusing on security and privacy as it relates to data is important. In fact our vision, our north star, is to be able to support customers without ever having to see any of their personal information.”
Jed Kleckner also noted the importance of data, indicating that “information is power.” However, Kleckner spoke from the perspective of harnessing data to enrich customer interactions. “If you can put information in the hands of the people that most need it, which is the customer and the people who are interacting with them, then you’ve created a marriage that will obviously retain over time,” said Kleckner. “So we need to do everything we possibly can as an organization to put data into the hands of people who are interacting with our customers to make that experience as human as possible.”
Looking forward to the impending holiday season, Michal Paris, Director of Business Operations at TomboyX is keen to leverage data gathered over the past 18 months to help prepare. “The holidays have a lot of known factors and a lot of unknown factors,” explained Paris. “But, I will say going through a very predicted and mapped out customer support time pre-pandemic, and then going through an unknown flux during the pandemic, has given us a lot of kickass data to prepare for this year’s holiday season.”
2021 demonstrated there’s no time like the present to prepare for the future. Whether improving upon innovations born in the pandemic, doubling down on an omnichannel strategy, integrating automation to drive efficiency, heightening the way your team harnesses personalization, or getting serious about data to empower your agents, it’s clear there are many steps CX teams need to take in order to keep pace in a world that’s settled into the new normal.
Want to learn how Kustomer can help you deliver a modern customer experience? Request a demo here.