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customer service technology

In Search of the Perfect Customer Service Tech Stack

From the outside, most customer service functions appear as impenetrable black boxes.

Communications flow in from social media, live chat, and email. Smart systems presumably triage and route tickets. Agents work to answer questions, appease complaints, and troubleshoot challenges.

As outsiders, we see only a fraction of the work—until now.

We caught up with customer service and experience leaders to profile the inner technological workings at three large organizations: Volkswagen Group Australia, Optimizely, and Church’s Chicken.

Volkswagen Group Australia: “Success, Effortlessness, and Human Connection”

“It was a great example of what happens when an organization doesn’t have an intentional focus on the experiences they’re creating.”

That’s how Jason Bradshaw describes the Volkswagen Group Australia in the early 2010s.

The automaker had five or six contact center systems, none of which were fit for purpose. The average response time for a customer inquiry was more than 30 days—and that was with a third-party company triaging incoming communications. Each of Volkswagen’s sub-brand had its own siloed CRM.

It was a disjointed system built piece by piece through ad hoc decisions. 

But that all changed around six years ago.

“Quite often, my job has been to come in, throw out the old tech, and refocus on delivering an organization’s core objectives,” says Bradshaw. After joining the automaker in October 2015 as Director of Customer Experience, he did just that.

His first task was rebuilding the group’s customer service philosophy around three pillars:

  1. Success: “How do we help the customer or the employee be successful? Whether that’s downloading a car brochure or booking a vehicle service, how do we make that happen for the customer?”
  2. Effortless: “How do we make everything effortless? Or how do we make something easier than the customer was expecting? We don’t have to be 100% easier than our competitors, but if we’re consistently easier, that’s a strategic advantage.”
  3. Human Connection: “We didn’t want to be a generic brand. We wanted to create relationships with our customers because for most people the car is the second largest investment they’ll ever make.”

Those pillars became the core of Volkswagen Group Australia’s new customer service strategy. Every new offering and experience had to encapsulate each concept. The pillars even formed the backbone of Bradshaw’s software selection criteria.

After tearing down the old disjointed system, Bradshaw intentionally rebuilt the group’s customer service technology stack. Not only did he carefully consider each tool, but he critically assessed each new addition against his three pillars. Slowly, he built out a new technological core.

First was a new primary web stack.

“The busiest dealership in the Volkswagen Australia Group is always the website,” says Bradshaw. “A lot more people visit the website than go into physical stores.”

Second was a new unified customer management system. Previously, the group used a mosaic of different systems. Bradshaw implemented one centralized system capable of following a customer from their very first impression to their latest service or sale. 

“I never used the language of CRM,” Bradshaw says. “I use the term customer lifecycle management system. Someone could contact us with a sales inquiry or a warranty inquiry or a trade-in inquiry. I wanted to reinforce the idea of managing the customer’s entire journey with the organization.”

And third, Bradshaw implemented a new experience management platform. Most companies have customer-facing surveys, but Bradshaw wanted more—the customer and employee voices.

Bradshaw prides himself on the simplicity of his customer service technology stack. He says it allowed the entire workforce to speak a common language. When people understood each other, they could collaborate, move, and execute quicker. And since he arrived in 2015, Volkswagen Group Australia has done just that.

Six years ago, the contact center was processing just 25,000 customers per year. Now, that figure is 120,000. They achieved that without increasing headcount or budget.

“What changed was the tech stack, our focus, and the direction in the team,” Bradshaw says. “Ultimately, the employee experience and the tech stack drove a lot of those efficiency savings.”

Optimizely: “Customers for Life”

When Chad Wolf joined Optimizely (then Episerver), the company was on the brink of rapid growth. 

“It was a company that wanted to go,” he says. “It had the right investment, the right vision, and the right executive team.” Better yet, they had a strong bench of digital experience products and an ambitious roadmap to make them even stronger. 

But there was one gap: care for their existing customers.

Wolf’s remit was to ensure Optimizely’s customers were supported and that they continued to grow. The journey eventually culminated in a new initiative called ‘Customers for Life’, the crux of which is the creation of mutual value for both customers and Optimizely.

But getting there wasn’t a simple process.

“That culture doesn’t happen because I say it happens,” he says. “The culture is reinforced with actions and behaviors. We launched a whole set of things around behaviors. I interviewed stakeholders across the business and everybody had something they were doing to help our customers succeed.”

Instead of reinventing the wheel, Wolf codified what people were already doing. Today, they have 12 workstreams working across the company, focusing on the handshakes and simple things employees can do every day to improve customer experience.

That philosophy bleeds into Optimizely’s customer service technology stack, too. Although, not in the way you might expect.

Around two years ago, Optimizely’s executives reset their technological pillars, implementing unified functional tools for the whole company. Its customer service function relies on three:

  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Enterprise Resource Planning
  • Customer Management

Wolf’s software selection criteria wasn’t the same functionality checklist often found in procurement processes. Instead, he focused on data.

Wolf knew that Optimizely’s data was key to building a strong customer success and customer service functions. If he could see what product use led to better outcomes, he could build better education programs. If he knew what common mistakes customers were making, he could design an impactful self-service help center.

“Once the data gets clean and manageable, the technology that you use becomes less important,” he explains. “Pick a CRM or an ERP, that’s fine. But what data do you want to drive customer success?”

Church’s Chicken: “Resolving Issues Seamlessly”

Alan Magee arrived at Church’s Chicken to find strong foundations. The Atlanta-based fast-food chain had an enviable 66-year heritage, incredible food, and a core of diehard fans. However, while the core brand was strong, the chain’s digital technology was not.

“We were pretty antiquated,” says Magee, Vice President of Digital Marketing and Technology. “We had disparate partners, disparate data, and few strategies.”

Magee and his team launched into a three-year transformation designed to haul the heritage brand to the bleeding edge of go-to-market strategy. He split the transformation into three sections.

First, Phase One: Connect.

Transforming Church’s Chicken was like renovating a house, says Magee. Before thinking about decoration and fitting, he had to fix the foundations. That meant rebuilding its MarTech stack and redesigning its go-to-market strategies. He focused on things like the chain’s web experience, website, and other “bottom of the funnel” areas. 

Second, Phase Two: Calibrate.

With firm foundations, Magee could build upward, creating ambitious second and third floors. He stood up a new eCommerce platform, designed a new mobile app, and rolled out fresh social playbooks. He also implemented a centralized customer database platform. This is where Magee’s technological approach differs from his peers.

“As a brand, you need one database that provides as close to a single view as possible,” he explains. “We’re in the process of connecting that customer data to an actual profile. If you reach out to us, are you a member of our email club? Do you have our mobile app? What is your frequency of visit?”

Chasing that single customer view put restrictions on Magee’s tool selection. Every peripheral service had to integrate with this customer database platform. It required “a lot of vetting, talking to peers, and understanding how their systems worked,” but he got there eventually. Now, Church’s Chicken’s sales, CRM, email platform, mobile app, SMS service, and more all feed into his central platform.

For customer service agents, it’s a godsend. They no longer have to search five separate systems to understand customers. Now, they can check one database and understand someone’s entire customer journey.

But that was just the beginning.

Magee recently moved into the final part of his transformation, Phase Three: Conquest

Staying with his house building metaphor, the technology leader aims to transform his home into a smart home. 

“We’re bringing in automation and deeper personalization,” he says. “We want all the parts and pieces to work together in a holistic ecosystem.”

Technology unlocks customer service capabilities

For a person-centric discipline, customer service is remarkably defined by its technology. The invention of phones, switchboards, call centers, IVR, and email opened up new capabilities and expectations. Each new advancement ratcheted up consumer expectations. Providing great service quickly surpassed mere smiles and handshakes.

As new technologies emerge and reinvent the space, customer expectations will continue to grow. In order to stay relevant and continue delighting consumers, organizations must adapt. They must continue evolving, improving, and adapting, lest they be left behind.

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