Ricardo S. Gulko has been helping large companies as executive and global strategist such as Samsung, Amdocs, Ericsson, Vodafone among several other to enhance their services,delivery, customer experience to ensure customer success with a hands on approach.
In his interview with me, he shared his insights on the current state of the customer service industry, upcoming trends managers should be aware of and best practices in standing out.
Saltz is a strategic, transformational services, customer experience & customer success B2B global executive and strategist helping large corporations to enhance their services delivery, customer experience and success deliverables with a operations hands-on approach helping companies with their teams.
Which recent innovative trends do you recognize in the customer service industry?
Value for Customers
I see an increased focus on delivering added value for customers through either human or digital interaction. Great customer experience is becoming more important than price. Many of us are willing to pay more for getting better services and customer experience in B2B or B2C.
Today’s amazing analytical tools allow us to hyper personalize our customer’s experience. One great example is Salesforce. They are constantly adapting their cloud based solutions and provide incredible flexibility in a very hyper personalized manner.
AI, chatbots, augmentative reality and virtual reality, are all finally in full stem ahead. I think AI and chatbots will help in certain types of digital interaction, but there is still a way to go until we have those systems thinking like us.
I believe that virtual reality will make shopping easier – it is already happening. Imagine browsing Amazon wearing our VR glasses, we would be able to check out our products practically being there.
Ensuring Customer Success
The key trend as several companies are improving their focus in making their customer successful, and it was so well implemented and evangelized by Salesforce. Follow their lead by always delivering great quality, amazing products and outstanding services by listening your customers and applying what their requirements are to your roadmaps and delivery.
Purpose and authenticity are key success factors! This is not an easy path since many companies still not thinking about the real value of helping others, but philanthropy and giving back will actually increase your organization’s ability to engage and to generate much more revenue, satisfaction and improve NPS core measurements and metrics.
Purpose driven organizations are very often more successful than those that focus only in their profitability, therefore it is not a trend but a fact to be well analyzed.
What inspires you in your line of work?
Well, what inspires me is to see well-designed services and customer experiences with practical results for the company, customers and growth and revenue generation. These days customers are expecting a level of satisfaction they have received from leaders such as Amazon, perceived as one of the only nearly “perfect” digital user experiences.
The goal is to deliver with real purpose of serving, ensuring your customers, employees and partner’s successes and satisfaction in a consistent manner without being perceived as repetitive or robotic. A great example of it is Salesforce, and Starbucks! Those companies really inspired me in several levels.
What makes great customer care?
Any great company delivering great customer care has or should have a great team of well engaged and serving focused employees. All of us are used to the phrase, “the customer is first,” the truth is that employees are first since they are the face and the real representatives of any organization, especially in customer care positions and any interaction with customer’s positions.
As Richard Branson says, putting employees first and customers second is actually the basis for delivering great customer experience. The people who interact with customers in any sector are one of the key influencers of your customer’s engagement, loyalty, retention, on-boarding, pre sales, post sales and product.
Happy customer care representatives make happy customers. Zappos is undoubtedly a great example of that. To do that and to achieve this level of services and customer care several basic personal things are needed:
Finding the Right People
As part of Medtronic’s interview process for customer care positions, they ask several questions about how the candidate helped or served other people in the past, requesting them to describe the situation in great detail.
By doing so, they really try to dissect people personality and tendencies to serve and help others beyond the normal limits, and this is partly why they hire such amazing kind of employees. The point here is beside of finding the right candidates, is to find the wrong ones upfront.
This is a subject vastly discussed in several articles almost every day. The question is how to make your employees having the sense that this is their place? I could write here several pages. The key thing here is the sense of engagement, the belonging feeling and the sense of ownership, like this company is also my company. How to get it done practically:
Give employees a purpose that they will stand for. Salesforce donates to several causes around the globe with what they call the 1-1-1 model or integrated philanthropy, standing for difference causes that they believe across the global community with 1% of their net revenue.
There are many different models of helping, the goal being to create a sense of purpose with creativity which influence employees significantly and might even influence decision makers in certain cases.
Listening to your Employees
Feeling like you have a voice in the organization generates a sense of belonging and ownership. I call it the value of engaging employees. In the case of employee working closely with customer care, or improving or impacting services, their ideas are well worth listening to.
With the right culture, commitment toward customer in a positive manner will help uplift the customers and employee engagement within your organization. Salesforce, Nice, Singapore Airways, BMW are a great examples of a great service culture really focused on their customers.
What can differentiate your company in customer services and care?
Friendly and well trained people, that will serve well, which have the natural tendency to help others and serve, serve and serve. Additional success key factor is to create a secure environment for the employees in case mistakes happen. Knowing how to revert those situations is important for generating loyalty, satisfaction, engagement and a smooth onboarding process.
Additionally, the more your customer knows, the less it costs your company in customer care services. Therefore I advise clients always to be very informative and help customers with available information as much as your company can. Focus in any existing Omni channel interaction and touch points – all interactions count.
Salesforce, Starbucks, Zappos, BMW have several great characteristics in common. Here are a few tips to following their lead:
If you are aware of issues in your products or services, never wait for your customer to tell you, be always pro-active, inform them and solve the issues in a most clear and transparent way possible. This will ensure your customers loyalty and trust in your organization, as far as they know you are trying to solve their issues and they respect that.
Customers expect your customer-care team to be well informed about their issues prior to their arrival. To achieve that your team must to know all internal details and risks about products and services, always.
Try to find out as much information as possible about your customers prior or during your interaction using CRM systems. Always use analytics tools with all customers and during and prior to any interaction. Data will help you to better interact and personalize the experience with each individuals.
Remember that Change is Constant
To achieve great results constant adaptation is necessary as well as the ability to listen to your customers. Some are strongest in delivering services; some will outstand in design, others in usability, others in customer service or support and some others in properly addressing customer’s afflictions, obtaining the exact right analytics about the customers.
Do you have any tips for customer service agent retention? What is your strategy for preventing help desk burnout?
Hiring right is number one. Another aspect which can help prevent burnout are great work conditions, being customer service agent can be a stressful job. Skimping on your customer care team can cost you big time in the long run. Provide the best salary, rewards, conditions recognition and career path. This will aid in creating both employee retention and top notch customer service. Give more to get more.
Educate, educate, educate and give trainings to enable great performance. More than that it is key to make the new hires to understand the company culture, focus and customer services strategies while interacting with customers. Constantly deliver trainings and develop the careers of your employees.
This should be treated as an ongoing process, not a one time thing. Ensure your team is always reading new articles and books about their work, maybe give them as gift or recommend readings.
Foster an environment of teamwork, and support between individuals. A super friendly environment will support them during difficult times which are many in customer services.
Communicate, communicate and communicate in both ways. When you are doing appraisals listen to the other side too. This is key to retention of employees especially those directly helping customers. Sharing ideas, diversity and conjoint creativity can generate new and new ideas to deal with special situations.
Always check employee satisfaction measurements and talk, talk, talk and try to adopt their ideas in your employee retention “road map” and execute on it.
You mentioned education through recommending books, could you name a few?
Sure, here are a few of my favorites:
The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon
Amazement by Shep Hyken
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
Hug Your Hatters by Jay Baer
The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli
Be Your Customer’s Hero by Adam Toporek
Services Failure by Jeff Toister
Uplifting Services by Ron Kaufman
What can you tell us about the new book you are currently working on?
My first book is a result of my work with several global companies such as Oracle, HP, Samsung, Amdocs, Ericsson, and several medium and startups during the last 15-20 years. We are focusing on the practical side of things, reflecting on our reader’s current situation and how to improve it. Our focus will be on Services and Customer Experience and our ultimate goal is to empower companies to help their customers succeed.
It is not enough to be good and nice to our customers and employees we need to engage them and form real authentic and honest purpose. Although this sounds theoretical we will demonstrate how to get it done in a profitable and engaging manner as several top performers did.
We will be explaining using different models how you can make it happen with your brand redirecting your company to a new and much more satisfactory, engaging, noble and profitable way.
I believe that we and our companies should engage in helping continued research in the field. As such, we will be donating 100% of our revenues to 3 key research labs around the globe, which have agreed to work with us. One of them been Faustman Lab at Harvard.
If you could envision any single technology (real or fictional) to improve the customer care center, what would this technology do?
What I would like to see in customer services is the ability of utilizing my VR glasses or AR or even AI solution like a video conference, where I can interact talking and seeing eye to eye from my office, mobile or home the other “human”. This can be relatively easy in a company managing digital and human interaction.
Additionally, I would like to see ONE customer view of my customers not several systems with different or repetitive information. For any voice interaction and human interaction, CRM, VoC digital software’s learns the customer habits and creates one source with data. Maybe databases of customers will be shared between different companies. This will help any customer center to focus in downloading specific information about customers.