If it’s true that experience is the market differentiator, then customer support is where the rubber hits the road for pretty much every company’s brand promise.
The big support issue is not about machines replacing people. It’s even less about separate annual surveys gauging customer or employee satisfaction. Every company, whether they’re selling shoes or software, needs to connect all the information under the hood – product development, marketing, sales, support, and employees – to make it all go to the customer’s satisfaction.
Before my car engine analogy goes into overdrive (sorry!), let’s step back for a look at the trends, meaning the super powerful technologies behind the experience imperative. With the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, Big Data, and more, IDC researchers predicted 10 percent of companies will begin to integrate personalized brand promises into the customer experience. These analysts also predicted 30 percent of companies will exploit AI and advanced customer analytics to suggest innovative experience actions that deliver value from a segment, persona, or individual customer perspective by 2021.
Great Customer Support Can’t Happen in a Vacuum
For a professional take on how these trends translated to customer support, I reached out to Andreas Heckmann, global senior vice president and head of Support Delivery for SAP Digital Business Services. The marriage of experience data with operational data was top of mind for Heckmann. He said there’s a straight line from the experience of the employees to that of the customers. No doubt this fueled SAP’s recent acquisition of Qualtrics, a leading experience management company.
“If you have the right support strategy, you will see the customer experience improve alongside the employee experience,” said Heckmann. “You can’t do one thing at the expense of the other. You need to continuously measure the experience of both groups simultaneously, and on an ongoing basis. We will use Qualtrics to measure the experience of our internal support team alongside our customer’s, to track how we’re moving ahead.”
Next-Gen Support Gives Customers More Control
In many ways, customer support is at a major flash point. People won’t stand for “ping ponging” between unhelpful, time-wasting support points. What has fueled heightened expectations are, of course, the cloud-based systems that have become increasingly the responsibility of vendors. Paradoxically, this puts customers firmly in charge, whether they’ve realized it yet or not.
“Customers shouldn’t have to ask the same questions or tell the vendor they have the same problem over and over,” said Heckmann. “Customers should expect the vendor’s support to inform them about what they need to know. The next generation of support takes proactivity to another level. New customers with new problems will be the only ones reaching out to the vendor.”
AI Brings Faster, Delightful Experiences
Most customers in every industry have been interacting with AI and machine learning algorithms, and SAP’s are no exception. Customers who visit the company’s redesigned support website get immediate recommendations to solve their problems.
“Using AI, the system finds and shares the best answer based on a quick historical search for similar problems that often have happened before,” said Heckmann. “We’ve also begun using AI to intelligently translate highly specific documents and other content into the local language. This is important in a cloud-based environment, where we serve a growing population of line-of-business users. They expect support in their own language.”
How to Achieve Big, Audacious Goals
Heckmann was proud of SAP’s recent awards ─ and rightly so. The online support section on sap.com just received an armload of awards from siteIQ eBusiness Index, notably ranking first place for usability. It’s the highest recorded score among a group of admittedly stellar companies. Other recent prestigious benchmarks included the 2018 Technology Services Industry Association’s (TSIA) Best Practices in Support Services STAR award, and being named to the Association of Support Professionals’ annual list of the Top Ten Best Support Websites. Most recently, SAP Support won two Silver Stevie awards: one for Innovation in Customer Service for Next-Generation Support, and another in Best Use of Technology in Customer Service for Schedule An Expert.
When I asked Heckmann how SAP did all this, here’s what he told me: “We challenged ourselves to help customers quickly find what they need so they can deliver the best experience to their customers, and we wanted external validation for SAP Support as the best in the industry. In 2019, we plan to introduce a new industry standard for support, reaching out to customers, telling them about a problem they didn’t realize they had, and solving it for them.”
Customer support as we know it today is doomed, and people on both sides of it couldn’t be more delighted.
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