Can you over-invest in CX? Vikas Bhambri, SVP, Sales & CX at Kustomer, doesn’t think so.
Throwing money at CX isn’t the solution, though. Vikas is frustrated that we’ve invested so many resources in technology that should enable incredible CX, yet we neglect the basics of serving customers well.
Vikas reminds us of the importance of contextualized data in CX. When used correctly, we can understand our customers and provide them with the help they need to avoid obvious mistakes.
Data can help us predict and prevent churn as well. When we look at our customers’ context, we can identify touchpoints that may lead to churn and take action against it.
Listen to this episode to hear Vikas’ punchy and practical advice to help refresh your CX.
- Provide your customers with context-specific content.
- Identify key indicators of churn and develop an action plan around them.
- “Over-invest” in CX.
Things to Listen For:
[04:00] Using data to understand customer context
[10:00] Connecting all functions of the business to CX
[13:30] Measuring CX with a composite customer health score
[19:00] Predicting and preventing churn
[21:30] Rethinking CSAT
[25:00] Driving acquisition with CX
Vikas: Years ago I worked with a big shipping firm and they had key indicators on dropping in shipping, asking for reduction in rates, they had about a five item checklist that created this score and created a churn risk that meant somebody would go and ship with somebody else. So I think those are the things, you really have to look at your business and say, let's look historically and look at: What could we have known? What could we have identified? What data points do we have? And amass that score. And then, once again, don't just sit on that score. You've got to drive an entire action plan around it.
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Alon: Being able to use metrics to recover a customer before they cross the line between unhappy and churn is the CX equivalent of the Holy Grail, right? I’m Alon Waks, your host for this episode of the Flourish CX podcast.
This time around I'm joined by Vikas Bhambri, the SVP of Sales and CX at Kustomer, a CRM platform. Together, we unpack what the end all be all of all of metrics is, and then we'll go further and touch on the ways the data from those indicators should be used, but isn’t.
While you're listening, keep something in mind that Vikas mentions a couple of times: there's a finite number of customers out there. Are you doing everything you can to both reach them and, from a CX perspective, keep them?
So listen, my friend, we know each other well, and I think the world knows about Vikas, but something they don't know. What would you be if you were not this sales CX leader? Who would you be?
Vikas: I would be sailing away. So my, my thing is if you've ever seen a, you know, below deck on Bravo? I would love a job on one of those yachts. I would be a deckhand. I would be, you know, front of house, whatever they need me to do, I will sign up. So, if I wasn't doing what I'm doing today, that would be where I'd be at and I'm so jealous of those young people that are on those boats on those shows.
Alon: But now in life, maybe you can do the reverse. You will be the guest, the person who rents out their boat for like a month to all of your buddies or people that used to work with you maybe?
Vikas: That would be one heck of a trip. Fingers crossed. We'll make it happen.
Alon: All right. Sign me up for that, that's fine. So while we talk about experiences, um, weird experiences on the sailboat, we also talk about, you know, this show about customer experience and empowering customers to do things on their own and so forth. But I think a lot of time people talk about CX and about success and about customers and there's a lot of things that are, like, overdone. What pisses you off in the world of experience? What do people not understand that annoys you?
Vikas: I still think what annoys me the most is the amount of technology and processes and people power that companies that have put into this area over the last 20 to 25 years and still, they make fundamental mistakes when it comes to the individual. And, as an example, I was thinking about this, I just look at Telcos. And I have a pet peeve with my Telco where, you know, we often travel abroad, or we did, and every time I would sign up for that international global travel plan, which is an add-on fee and then return home to the States, and yet I would still be charged for it for months. And they know I've come back to the States because they know where I'm calling from. So, why not automatically go and remove that line item from my bill without having me having to reach out to you to say that, right? Same thing on the banking side, the flip. I go travel internationally, the first time I used my credit card, you detect fraud.
So I appreciate that you're taking care of me and you're watching out for, for my protection. But now the only way you're asking me that I can get ahold of you is to call you. Well, that's really challenging when I'm traveling internationally, I don't want to pay these outrageous billing rates because of that Telco.
So, those are the things where, whether it's B2C or B2B, having a true understanding of who your customer is, what they're trying to do, and then being proactive. How is it that in 25 years of investment and, in some cases, millions upon millions of dollars, you still can't do that? That's the question I would be asking, both as a customer and as a board or C-level executive. What have you been doing with all that investment?
Alon: I think it's an important topic. So to understand somebody on a one-to-one level, i.e. personalize, data and signals are the most important things. You can't just say, ‘Hey, Vikas, where are you? Traveling? Okay. Thank you. That's all I want to know.’ That's not a good experience. Right? So, do you believe this statement: trying to understand and giving the best experience starts with collecting data and information about your customers?
Vikas: Absolutely. It's first and foremost, if you don't have data about your customer, then you don't have context as to what it is that they're trying to do at that moment in your CX journey, your customer experience journey. So data is absolutely relevant and what I find most interesting is companies are sitting on piles and piles of data, but they only leverage that data either to do sales or marketing or some kind of trending historical analysis on the finance side, but they don't use it when it comes to that point of engagement around servicing that customer.
Alon: There are so many leading indicators that you would like to collect around the customer, but to be proactive, you know, years ago in a different company, we used it to drive predictive and to engage customers. It's not that difficult, but you think, do you think the difficulty and the problem is a framework or a measurement or tools to collect the data and then drive actionability of what to do, whether it's self-service or giving it to somebody?
Vikas: Collection of the data is not the issue. And I think, you know, people have been investing in data warehouses, CDPs, customer data platforms for a number of years. All that investment is made. The challenge for most organizations is they don't have the framework to action that data. There's no way that they can actually give that data in a meaningful, succinct way based on the context of that customer's journey to the front lines, whether it's a customer success organization in B2B, or whether it's your customer service team, your, your contact center team in a B2C environment so that they can actually do something with that data when the customer engages them.
Alon: Do you think one of the things you're seeing is that a lot of this data is being collected, but still a lot of companies are saying, ‘Let's push people to self-serve, ‘cause that's what they want, we do it in our day-to-day life. Just let's give them everything to find on their own. And only when they shout, should we jump on them.’? Is that the approach you're seeing or do you think that's the right approach?
Vikas: I think what’s happened, you know, obviously in the last few years, the hot buzz in the customer service industry has been, you know, chat bots. Everybody wants a chat bot. And so what people have done is they've, they've kind of slapped these on their websites or in their application to service what they call deflect, even though now the new term is containment because deflect has a negative connotation, but to not have to engage the customer. The problem is if you're not doing it based on the data you have about the customer, you're delivering a negative experience because now you're giving them a, the same solution that you're giving everybody, without the context of who that customer is. And so now they're getting frustrated, it's almost like that old IVR tree that we all have to deal with now just in a different medium. And so they're still resulting with a negative experience or having to escalate to a live human being to actually get their problem resolved.
Alon: Could even be worse, right, because instead of giving them a direct path to ask a question, you're giving them not the answer by sending them to down the rabbit hole instead of having contextual content and the right stuff to give them. Because, I mean, at the end of the day, this is a customer life-cycle management is a way to look at it. If you look at your life-cycle view of a customer and you understand patterns around it, shouldn't you be able to tell them what is the next best action that would be good for them, whether it's automatic, self-service a chatbot, a person - doesn't really matter. Right? Isn't that the ideal thing?
Vikas: Exactly. Let me give you a quick example. So one of the first investments that most brands or companies make, and this is the same for B2B or B2C in this self-service strategy is their knowledge base, right? Or FAQs, frequently asked questions. And this is where you most often start your journey.
But here's the interesting thing. You and I, perhaps both are customers of the same brand, you own a certain set of products, I own a certain set of products. I go to that knowledge base and I put in, ‘reset device’. We will get the same articles and we'll get the same articles based on what previous people have done. But we have totally different devices and that company knows that. Why wouldn't I get the knowledge base articles that are specific to the products I own? So you own an iPhone, I own an Android. I should get the reset videos and, and features for the Android device. So just something so simple like that. And, once again, they're sitting on the data that was, they're not tying it to the knowledge base and how they would actually use it.
Alon: And the ideal state of that is of course, if you can predict somebody's journey, you should actually deliver them the content and the answers, according to the journey, like, ‘Maybe this will help you’, like, ‘Maybe you're looking for this’, ‘Oh, I see that you have an iPhone and you were looking for these articles, perhaps these two or three things can help you to drive your journey forward.’
But let's talk a little bit about, you talked about CX and about the people.There's a thing about CX that I think people are still stuck in, that, somebody owns it, like, these people own it. But if you're customer-obsessed and customer-centric, you're in a B2B company. Is that something that you believe is, it's a team sport, everybody should have a CX mindset? And if so, how do you make that happen?
Vikas: So when we talk about customer experience, it's a journey that starts from the moment you, you know, even create awareness as a marketeer all the way through that acquisition process of that customer. And then going to the other touch points but, going back to your comment about team sport, it really is across the organization at the exec level because it branches all of it, because all businesses today in one form or another are a quote unquote subscription business. And whether you actually are a subscription business, you know, such as we are as a software, as a service, everybody needs repeatable motions.
Whether you're selling a shirt, whether you're selling a food delivery item or a pharmaceutical, everybody needs that repeatability because the customer base is not infinite. It's finite. So from that perspective, it has to be across the board, even your product in R and D organization needs to be part of that customer experience. So, whether you do customer advisory board, how you listen to your customers, how you get them to actually give you feedback about features and rating, ‘this is what I'd like to see in the product’. All of that is inclusive in the customer journey.
Alon: So other touch-points that the customer have that sometimes we don't think about is, let's say, a bill or collections, if unfortunately needed, or even just, you know, a renewal alert or anything that's not just in the product or the customer-facing org. There's a lot of customer touch-points that are actually managed by the back office. Do you think that today you're seeing more and more of these functions thinking, ‘How can I make a more enjoyable, seamless, easy-to-do business experience with us?’ Or is it something that's not top of mind for all functions?
Vikas: I don't think it's pervasive. There's definitely a shift in that direction where, whether it's being driven from the CFO, let's use billing as an example, the CFO is no longer just thinking about their receivables and what it means to their business, but understanding the impact that their process has on the customer, whether they're coming at it from their own experience or it's being driven from the customer success or customer experience leadership team to say, ‘Look, you sending out a bill that's incorrect has a negative experience that then has a trickle effect when it comes to having strategic conversations with a customer, when talking about other products and features, when it comes to talking about renewal.’ So I think one of two ways it is certainly happening across the board because customers themselves are not standing for it.
Alon: And definitely the CX leader or CCO or head of whatever customer should be the feedback loop provider, because they're on the front line and they collect the data and of course matched by digital data for that, for sure. But that leads us to understanding this thing about health or value or whatever you want to find. So, how do you know if a customer is healthy and how you define the metric? Is there one metric, even, to define customer experience that you use?
Vikas: I think net promoter score is one where you can really understand from different users and different folks that participate with your product or service as to whether they would engage it, not only within their current company, if they were to move to a different company and would they recommend it to a peer group. And I think that becomes really important to understand the viability of the entirety of your offering. And I think the more comprehensive your survey or analysis is, especially if it's really distributed, gives you insight into everything, from what it was like to experience us as an unknown brand, whether you're dealing with our finance people, whether you're dealing with our salespeople, our support people, our product, gives you the full visibility into how that particular organization thinks about your product and service.
Alon: So NPS is one angle, of course, but it's a snapshot of point of time. Right? So my question is also is there a way that, to understand that a customer is maybe on the way not to be happy before they enter an NPS? How can you predict, how can you understand that better? And especially if you're trying to drive them to do digital adoptions of service, which we all want to do, what do you use to understand that?
Vikas: I think it's tying all that data in together. So NPS, as you said, is one data element. The other is usage of your product or tool, right? So are you seeing usage go up? Are you seeing it go down? Are you seeing a plateau? The other interesting element we look for, to your point about the digital adoption, is what's their engagement level with different artifacts or our team. So by that, I mean, are they accessing our knowledge base? And what many brands are doing, particularly in the B2B SaaS world is we're investing in training platforms. So we launched customer university last year. So we track the usage of that content, we're producing a lot of great training content, are people at our customers, different types of user, actually adopting that? So we can track that data as well, so that's another data input.
And then, as much as we're talking about digital adoption or digital containment, are they reaching out to our customer support team? Because you know that at some point somebody somewhere is going to need help. And when you see people that stop talking to your customer support team or to your customer success team, that's also an indication. So you almost need to bring all this data together to create a customer health score to determine whether somebody is somebody who's going to do business with you for a long time, somebody that maybe is recoverable, maybe they're not too happy right now, or is actually somebody about to churn and no longer be part of your portfolio.
Alon: And is this something that you think is off the shelf or you guys have developed it, you baseline it, you critique it, you optimize it.
Vikas: There are definitely tools out there that allow you to bring all the, all this data together and then do everything from actioning and flagging things internally, but even out to the customer themselves. Obviously you have to get the data once again into these platforms, but there are some great platforms out there that allow you to do that in the B2B world. And of course, you know, I know one that's really good at the B2C world, so that is there and allows you to really leverage that data in a meaningful way.
Alon: So who, who helps you with that? Is there like a CS ops? You think that role is becoming much more critical today in a SaaS world, especially B2B?
Vikas: It absolutely is. When we looked at revenue operations, historically, it was largely focused, started out - let's be honest - sales operations, because that's what was most important. And then eventually looked at marketing operations and maybe combining the two into this rev ops function and what we're really seeing a growth in investment - in fact, we've done it ourselves - is in this area of CS or CX operations, which looks at everything on that kind of post-sales side and ties it back to the full revenue chain. So I think that's a big investment that companies are now making so that they understand the full life-cycle of that customer engagement with them.
Alon: Yeah, for sure. The whole investment in, as a market, I know very well. We know exactly what you're trying to achieve, you're measuring everything and you've got tons of data and you always make changes. And then obviously when the funnel, as an ABM guy, you want to see how it converts, pipeline closed. But what about all the customer lifetime management afterwards, the upsell, the cross-sell, the health, churn risk? You got to be very, very much driven there with data and analytics to drive the insights, to make the actions, as you said. And I think that's becoming much more important today, but you gotta define your metric, that health score, value score, it's not off the shelf. You've got to see what works for you, right?
Vikas: Absolutely. It depends on your business and what you're trying to do. I remember years ago I worked with a big shipping firm and they had key indicators on dropping in shipping, asking for reduction in rates, they had a, about a five item checklist that created this score and created a churn risk that meant somebody would go and ship with somebody else. So I think those are the things you really have to look at your business and say, let's look historically and look at: What could we have known? What could we have identified? What data points do we have? And amass that score. And then, once again, don't just sit on that score. You've got to drive an entire action plan around it.
Alon: There's a lot of talk still in the business, not just in the B2C, but also B2B world, around cost versus scaling and health. Do you feel like the indication of, ‘we've got to reduce the cost to serve,’ is still leading a lot of companies, or is it more about ‘how do we get to health and revenue,’ that's driving service and success and customer experience now?
Vikas: I'd like to say it has the same seat at the table, but what are the buzzwords we often hear? Top-line growth, right? Acquisition. Number of new customers. I think what folks are realizing is there's only a certain number of customers out there and, depending on the maturity of your business, servicing those existing customers, especially if you are creating more products and more services, you have a contained addressable market. So, it's still coming there, but I think it's not there, yet. It doesn't have the same seat at the table when it comes to investment as the acquisition side of the house.
Alon: Yeah, for sure. Wallet share and expansion is so important and that's something that B2B, especially enterprises, can do a lot more with. So Vikas, as you know, in most of my podcasts I give you some magic power, want to set the world right, to do some things with the world. So why don't I give you this like magic wand or fairy dust or whatever the hell you want to call it from your superhero du jour and I’m gonna let you destroy a metric or one misconception like eradicate it from the world. Something you think that, it might be, so secondary. What do you think it is in the world of experience or support or service that is like, people are too stuck on?
Alon: Why is that?
Vikas: I think the way we capture it is… is very outdated. So what we're talking about is asking somebody for feedback after an interaction with somebody from your brand, right? From your company. And what we have found is: A - response rates are still really low and, most often, people are going to respond when they have a negative experience, as opposed to a positive experience, so your data in itself is tainted and they're controlling the dialogue when you're sitting on so much other data about that experience. You actually have the conversation that took place, you have the sentiment around that interaction. You have the resolution, you have the amount of effort it took that customer to get their problem resolved.
So, I now kind of look at CSAT as another data point, but really secondary or tertiary because, I hate to say it, it reminds me a lot of, you know, third party review sites where, you know, somebody goes to a restaurant and the only time people seem to really want to give feedback is when they have a negative experience, so it's really interesting to say, ‘Do I go to this restaurant?’ And it's like, wow, nobody has anything good to say about it. And then you go try the restaurant. You're like, wow, this was amazing. So that, to me, is the one thing I'm not saying I would dismiss entirely and get rid of, but I would really factor in where it weights into all the other data you have about your customer and your customer experience.
Alon: Yeah, I believe that you are right about, if you just took a CSAT as a main KPI, you're missing all the true unbiased behavioral data that will tell you so much about this person, their whole world and you know, in revenue around this intelligence of recordings, of conversations, of passing of context, of texts, all that. There's so much data that people are just telling you which talks about what they're actually feeling and emotion and the sentiment that the biased outcome survey may be even too biased and you should ignore it sometimes because it conflicts with what they're actually saying in the conversation.
Vikas: Right? I mean, you're talking about a human being giving a rating. So, you don't know what implicit biases that individual has. You don't know whether their problem was more difficult than the other person's problem. The individual may have actually done an amazing job because somebody was asking for something that was so out of the ordinary, maybe they were asking for something that was against policy and they're frustrated with the response. So is that really a direct reflection of that individual or your company's policy? And unless you're going to really go and dig deep into the nth level of detail, I think, especially when I see people take just that CSAT score at face value, it becomes really difficult to operationalize around.
Alon: Yeah. I always give this example of myself, that I used to have a cable service in New York city. And for two months it was terrible. And then one day really a technician came and finally solved it and I gave them the highest score and I said they were amazing. And then I churned two weeks later, because I didn't like this provider. So if you take that point of time of me, ‘Yeah. He's happy! Let’s move on to the next person.’ No! What was the root cause of me actually getting this and saying that? It's not enough to take one indicator to see the health of a customer, especially in B2B, but also B2C. Yeah, I fully agree with you on that.
Let's give you another magic power. How would you advise founders and CEOs, even boards about… ‘Listen, guys, this is something that your CX support or success leaders might be afraid to tell you or not sure to tell you that you really need to take to heart.’
Vikas: I think there's two things. I think one is: over-invest or over-index on CX, even if it's not attractive. Goes back to what I said earlier which is everybody, you know, you sitting in board meetings, etc, everybody wants to talk about top-line growth, how many new customers did you get? And the investment thus follows that pattern.
And I think if you over-index on it early, that's when you really create an amazing business, because, especially early on, those customers are going to fuel your marketing. So it's actually going to drive your customer acquisition in the long-term. The second thing I would say from what are your CX leaders not telling you? I think sometimes it's very difficult for them early on to really tell you the challenges that your customers are facing with your product. Most companies, these days, are driven by product founders. And so it's kind of their baby. So for you to go and tell them early on that look, there's challenges with their, your approach. These things are too difficult. This is actually much harder to do in our product than it is in a third party product. Those are the things where I find, you know, there's this, I wouldn't say it's the politics. But there's that early stage job security, where, how much do I poke the bear to say that there's actually things that need to be solved? And I would say that's where, if you empower and have the right level experience of that leader, to be able to point those things out, the entire company will benefit in the long-term.
Alon: Thank you for listening to this episode of Flourish CX. To learn more head over to zoominsoftware.com/podcasts and follow along wherever you get your audio.