Customer service is rapidly evolving, so it’s essential to have a conversation about the field’s major trends and topics.
Zowie’s New Wave is a series of interviews with trailblazing customer service experts. They’ll be offering insights and laying out their visions for the future.
For our 2nd edition, we’ll be talking with leaders we met up with at Web Summit 2021.
Today, we meet Erik Polakiewiez, Head of Customer Experience & E-commerce at Digipolitans.
About Our Guest
My name is Erik. I’m the head of E-commerce and Customer Experience at Digipolitans. We are a boutique consulting firm in Brussels that helps large clients with their digital transformation challenges. I’m responsible for the Ecommerce and Customer Experience Department, which relates to UX, customer experience, NPS, conversion rate optimization projects, etc.
What is your definition of ideal customer support?
Ideal customer support is tailored to the goal, and the goal is whatever the end user has in mind. If a user—a client or a non-client—wants to contact support, there’s always a goal in mind.
The goal can be commercial. It can be a product question, pre-sales, sales, and after-sales. And it’s essential to be able to detect that and guide the user to the right solution. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most overlooked areas of customer experience because many companies consider customer support as a cost center that should be as low as possible.
I remember very well, when I worked at my previous job at an online e-commerce company, that whenever users had a problem with their shipping, or when the product was broken and they contacted customer support, they were greeted with a lot of understanding and friendliness and there was a focus on finding a good solution.
Even though the customer initially had a problem, their NPS was much higher than a client who didn’t have a problem. They were helped properly, and they felt happy after that positive contact. So in my opinion, that would be the ideal customer service interaction.
Why do you think customer support is so important?
They’re critical because they’re part of an end-to-end journey. That’s difficult for a lot of companies.
Many companies are organized in silos and consider customer service, marketing, communications, sales, e-commerce, and web platforms as different business units. But as a customer, you experience an interaction with a brand. Let’s say that you buy or book something online—you have an end-to-end experience. And that customer support interaction is part of that end-to-end experience.
It’s a whole chain of experiences. And if one link in the chain goes wrong or doesn’t go as expected, that creates friction and an overall negative experience for the customer. You can have great sales, great marketing, and great shipping. Still, in the end, if there’s a problem and you can’t adequately address it, there’s a very high chance the customer or the potential client will have a negative experience overall.
And that’s why customer support is so important. It’s part of the end-to-end journey.
What are the main bottlenecks that you experience in your role?
The main bottleneck is siloed organization: multiple departments working independently with their own KPIs and their own targets and not being aligned. That’s a big problem.
As I explained before, it’s all about the end-to-end journey. If multiple people work on various parts of the customer experience, they might not be aligned. If I look at where the biggest bottlenecks are for most companies today, it’s from the misalignment of teams and siloed organization.
What about the link between customer support and customer experience?
What you often see is that customer experience is done by sales and marketing, while customer support is usually done by a different team that’s very operational. But the customer support teams are very close to the customer because they talk to customers every day.
Customer support teams are one of the most valuable sources of qualitative data about what customers’ feelings are, what their sentiments are, and what their questions are.
There must be a close collaboration between customer support and any other team related to the customer experience because they have to exchange feedback. It needs to be a feedback loop. If there are a lot of questions on the same topic coming to customer support, that information should be fed back to whoever can prevent those questions. That’s why the link is so important.
In what way can technology influence customer support and customer experience?
I’m not too much of a technical guy. But some platforms allow for easy monitoring. When people contact support, you usually need to know why they contact support, and you have to be able to provide a solution to whatever problem or question they have. It’s important to measure the contact reason accurately and then take that feedback and do something with it. There are tools out there that can make the connection.
But what’s important to remember here is that the tool or the software is not the driver. Implementing a tool isn’t the goal. It’s a means to achieve your goal. If you want to use technology to solve this problem, you need to look very carefully at what your needs are and find the right tool to build that link between customer support and customer experience teams.
How do you imagine the ideal technology solution to improve customer support?
An ideal tool can be tailored to specific situations. As I mentioned before, when you contact support, there is always a different reason. In my personal experience, many tools, especially chatbots, seem to follow a structure built from the organization’s point of view instead of being tailored to the customers’ needs.
For example—I bought a patio heater with a gas tank to heat our terrace. I bought it online, and we used it for a couple of days, but it didn’t warm up our terrace enough. So I sent it back, and on the return form, there were predefined reasons that were actually tailored to that specific product that I bought and wanted to return. There were options like “I don’t like the build quality.” And it was right there as an option: “It doesn’t provide enough heat.” So by tailoring that return form for multiple product categories, you can also prevent a lot of easy questions from coming into customer support.
In my opinion, the problem is that not many technology solutions allow for such customization. Whenever I see such solutions, they’re usually custom-built by the company itself and very time-intensive to maintain.
Although you work in customer experience, I’m sure you’re aware of how customer support teams have limited capacity and energy, and many companies are trying to prevent repetitive questions. How do you think repetitive questions should be handled?
That was one of the things that I was responsible for at my previous job. My goal was to make sure that repetitive questions were answered without contacting customer support.
It starts with measuring all the questions that come in. What questions are there? How can we categorize them? We noticed that half of the questions were related to operations—shipping, delivery, tracking, and so on. The other half were commercially-related product questions.
We then dived deeper into what type of questions people ask. And if you do that, you’ll see that about 80% of the product-related questions are always the same. When they see product-related questions, many companies think that they can’t do anything about them. But you can.
For example, we sold complex network products at my previous job, and some networking knowledge was needed to get them set up. We noticed that, first, there were a lot of returns because people weren’t able to set them up properly. Second, there were a lot of questions—always the same questions. “How do I connect my flex media service?” “How do I automatically backup?”
Customer support had standardized answers for those questions, so we put those standardized answers as FAQs on the product and category pages. We also proactively pushed those questions and solutions to clients when they ordered something.
For example, let’s say that you order a new phone. We now send you an email that says, “Thanks for ordering. It will arrive tomorrow, and here are the instructions for how to set up your email, how to backup, and how to migrate everything from your old phone.”
This was all completely data-driven based on the input from customer support. That’s one way that you can reduce repetitive questions. It’s not only good for controlling costs but also for customer support. They can focus on the tough questions and bring way more value to the customer and to the company instead of just answering the same questions over and over again.
What do you think will become more important in customer support in the next five years?
It comes back to organizational cooperation—not seeing customer support and customer experience as two separate things. Bring them together.
It doesn’t matter how you do it: put one person above it who’s responsible for the end-to-end customer journey, create agile multidisciplinary teams and put them together a couple of days per week, or even ad hoc projects where you put people together and get them to talk to each other and exchange ideas.
What do you think is important to customer support right now but will be less important in five years?
We see a lot of companies moving towards the system I mentioned before. It’s a slow process, and the speed at which it evolves is different per country. Belgium is a little bit behind, but we’re getting there.
Anything you’d like to add?
Keep in mind that the total customer experience is the sum of every single interaction on their end-to-end journey. If there is an obstacle or friction with one link, even though the other departments have done a great job, that customer will have a negative experience with the company. And that person won’t tell all of their friends how fantastic the company was.
You don’t just want to sell something. You don’t just want to connect people. You don’t just want to get a lead. You don’t just want to make sure that people book. You want to make sure that they have such a great experience that they become a brand ambassador and tell all of their friends, colleagues, and families how amazing your brand is. If you can achieve that, greatness will follow, and performance will increase. I’m very convinced of that.