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Interview: How Customer Service affects brands Special

By Tim Sandle     Nov 5, 2017 in Business
Customer Service can have profound effects on the marketing of brand, both negatively and positively. A new platform has been devised called HelpU to help businesses. To discovery more we spoke with Nick Francis, CEO of Help Scout.
Companies depend on customer service professionals to be the frontlines of their businesses. For example, Business 2 Community Reports show that 45 percent of consumers do not remember having a successful customer experience.
Another factor to take into account that while standards for customer service are on the rise, consumers are becoming increasingly vocal, through feedback forums and social media, of their sub-par experiences.
To aid businesses a new platform has been launched for these professionals to build the skills necessary to ensure successful customer interactions. The platform has been developed by Help Scout and it is called HelpU. The platform sets out to be an objective, independent resource for companies and teams who want to create exceptional customer service experiences.
To find out what HelpU can do for a business Digital Journal spoke with Nick Francis, who is the CEO of Help Scout.
Digital Journal: What are some of the biggest challenges facing businesses at the moment?
Nick Francis: We’re entering an age of micro communities, which is great for the consumer, but it presents a more complicated marketing equation for companies.
As the amount of services, software, blog posts, apps, platforms, continues to explode, the desire for individual connection increases. And number of people you trust, ironically, becomes smaller. The ever tightening trust circle is giving rise to micro communities - small groups aggregated around more niche topics and interests. This makes it harder for companies to market their product as they now have to develop more targeted campaigns and figure out their Word of Mouth strategy.
Both of these are great for the consumer and speak to the larger trend we’ve seen popularized in 2017, which is the rise of customer experience as an engine for growth. Companies like Amazon and Best Buy have proven time and again that the customer experience is the most important aspect of fostering brand loyalty and the success that comes with it.
If businesses want to stand out in the age of micro communities, they must truly get to know their customers and use that information to develop a more personalized marketing strategy that is centered around community building and excellent customer service.
HelpU is a free  online educational tool for customer service professionals.
HelpU is a free, online educational tool for customer service professionals.
Help Scout
DJ: What impact does customer service, in terms of benefits, have on a company?
Francis: When individuals have a great customer service experience, they are likely to tell their friends about it and to recommend the service or store in the future. When your customers talk about your business to their friends and followers, they are likely to develop trust for you better than you can do yourself.
Consider this: 80 percent of all business-to-consumer and business-to-business purchases involve some form of word of mouth, according a recent study by the influencer platform, MAVRCK. That study also found that user-generated posts drove higher engagement than brand-generated posts. Even more encouraging is that user-generated content featuring a brand drove 6.9 times higher engagement than brand-generated content.
This may seem like a long tail benefit, but that’s where technology still plays a differentiating role for companies who utilize it: they can activate their fans into vocal advocates faster via social platforms, thus broadening their reach exponentially and at a faster pace.
If businesses make one bet in 2018, they should bet on customer experience and building community. Those two together will be the most long-lasting and different investment we can make.
DJ: What are the negative effects, when customer service goes wrong?
Francis: A negative customer experience can be one of the worst daggers a business can deal for themselves. Simply swap the positive word of mouth model I just outlined with a bad experience and that negative advertising can spread faster than a positive customer experience story.
Consumers have a sounding board like no other these days with social media sites and review sites like Yelp at their fingertips. Once a brand has been labeled as providing poor customer service, it can be near impossible to get rid of that negative connotation.
And there’s simply no excuse for it. Technology may be so ubiquitous now that it is no longer a differentiating factor, but that doesn’t mean businesses can’t still use it to stand out. There are a million different customer management software options available today giving businesses more the leverage on cost.
When we founded Help Scout six years ago, there were few help desks on the market, let alone CRM software, chat software etc. Today, every company is an all-in-one solution to all customer management needs, and all of us have to work harder to provide better customer experience software.
I consider this a win for the customer and for companies who care about providing great service. It’s on businesses to capitalize on it!
Office block in London.
Office block in London.
DJ: Are online forums and other media for consumers to express their views on company performance making things harder for businesses?
Francis: I touched on this before, but generally, I would say if you care about your customers, the answer is no. Online forums and social media are not necessarily making performance harder for companies, they are simply holding them accountable for sub-par experiences. Because there are so many options a consumer can look to for any given service, businesses are being held to a higher standard than they ever have before.
That doesn’t mean businesses can’t make mistakes - the opposite is true in fact. Mistakes handled with integrity, humbleness and immediate action can actually work in a company’s favor. We saw this recently when Help Scout experienced a brief outage. Our customer support team communicated openly and honestly with our customers - both 1:1 and publicly - and we ended up receiving a ton of praise for how we handled it, rather than getting an influx of negative reviews.
DJ: Please explain what HelpU does for customer service?
Francis: HelpU is a free, online educational tool for customer service professionals. The site provides articles, tips, guides and video webinars with top-tier influencers in the customer service industry for customer service professionals who are looking to continue building their skill set within their profession.
Up until now, a tool like this has not existed for customer service professionals who are all too often overlooked, even though they are the frontlines of a company’s communication with its customers. HelpU aims to empower these employees to hone in on their skills with an online community of customer service experts.
DJ: How was the HelpU content developed?
Francis: HelpU sources content from customer service experts across various industries. Much of the content found on HelpU has been curated by Help Scout, the provider of HelpU. Help Scout is the leading provider of customer support service and software, the team lives and breathes customer service issues and best practices and the content reflects that.
In addition to content from Help Scout, HelpU is populated by carefully vetted materials from experts in every vertical of the customer service industry and features monthly content from well know industry influencers like Shep Hyken and Adrian Swinscoe.
File photo: While offices can be built in almost any location and in almost any building  some moder...
File photo: While offices can be built in almost any location and in almost any building, some modern requirements for offices make this more difficult.
Danny Choo (CC BY-SA 2.0)
DJ: What were the major challenges with the development?
Francis: There are so many hot button issues within this industry. We really had to sit down as a team to decide where it made the most sense to begin, and to develop a strategic plan of where to go from there.
While most organizations understand the value in creating exceptional customer experiences, many are still unprepared or lack the resources to provide their support staff with the training and resources needed to deliver it. There's plenty of information for customer service in general, but far less for people transitioning or growing in this massive new online customer service area. So we started with the problem statement and developed the site and content strategy from there.
Each month, HelpU focuses on a new aspect affecting the industry, so the content is always fresh and relevant to what is going on in the world. The benefit of that is that there is never a shortage of issues to discuss and the skills a customer service professional needs to be successful in their industry are constantly changing, making for plenty of fodder for the site.
DJ: What has the response been from businesses?
Francis: The responses from businesses has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve received messages from business and individuals alike who have applauded the platform and let us know that, especially ahead of the busy holiday season, this was exactly the type of tool they needed to train their employees.
HelpU is especially effective for small businesses who may not have the budget for a more extensive training process for employees. Since HelpU is a free site, employers have access to all the training materials they could possibly need.
DJ: Which types of businesses have adopted the technology? Have sales been good?
Francis: The site is adapted to be relevant for customer service professionals in any industry. From retail to hospitality, if you work in a position where you are dealing with customers and customer service issues, you will benefit from HelpU. Businesses who are looking for a way to improve their customer experience but don’t necessarily know where to begin find even more value in HelpU as it lays out the steps to providing a stellar customer experience and teaches employees and employers how to get there.
DJ: What other projects are you working on?
Francis: The way businesses help their customers continues to evolve, and we’re evolving our product offering to meet those needs. We’re making a tool that will make any product or website more useful, by putting relevant help content right where the customer needs it. When a customer has a question or is confused by something, we want this tool to be able to surface the right answer at least 30% of the time, before they even think to contact customer service.
What about the other 70 percent? Well, this same tool will back up to a human, so that the customer can start a chat or send a message to customer service requesting help. We’re really sensitive to what it takes for teams to offer live chat support at scale, which is why being able to answer up to 30% of the questions instantly is so important. The best tool for any business should include both a self-help component and back up to a human for the more challenging issues.
DJ: What other types of technology interest you?
Francis: We’re paying close attention to advancements in AI, and how those innovations impact customer service teams. While some low-level AI can be helpful to any business, what’s really magical are the machine learning technologies that learn based on your business’ unique customer service interactions. Once it builds a large enough data set (which requires upwards of 5,000 conversations/month), it can start predicting automations and suggesting replies for you.
My favorite thing about this technology is that it’s behind-the-scenes and human-assisted. Rather than robots talking directly to customers, in this case the robots are merely making the humans smarter, more efficient. When you do it right, the personal touch from a real person is still there.
More about Customer service, Business, Consumer, customer experience, Help Scout
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