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CRM is about more than management - it’s conversations

Mike Gozzo Profile picture for user Mike Gozzo May 11, 2022
Another term has hit the CX landscape. But conversational CRM is far more than a buzzword. Mike Gozzo of Zendesk shows why it’s a series of concrete innovations that change how we think about sales and service, and how we measure success.

People carryng speech bubble icons sitting in a row, CRM conversation concept © - Shutterstock
(© - Shutterstock)

In the past, many of us were running our businesses and thinking about customer relationships differently. Leaders may not have viewed them as wells of long-term value, but rather as costs that we had to manage for our companies. The whole SaaS industry has built software that’s focused on making agents extremely efficient and contact centers extremely lean — let’s minimize every human cost in a given customer interaction.

Well, times they are a-changing — and they keep changing too. One idea is central to how we’re thinking about the evolution of customer interaction at Zendesk — it’s no longer transactional.

I’m really excited about one opportunity in particular. It involves how we survey and assess an entire business. We are turning the idea of the customer relationship on its head and saying: This is no longer about us, or speed, or efficiency. Rather than optimizing for transaction length and for the intensity of the work that’s required to service the customer, we are optimizing for the customer outcome and for the ongoing relationship with the customer. 

The ability to build relationships will differentiate companies from their peers more often than not. Now that’s becoming a battleground of the highest-level experiences — and not just the product or service, but of success.

What is conversational CRM?

We’re hearing this term more and more in customer experience and in the entire space of customer engagement. Yes, it signals where we’re trying to connect the dots and build software that is efficient and allows teams to operate extremely effectively.

And there’s an additional and vital layer.

Conversational CRM is also designed so that different people within the organization can see conversations that are going on with customers, make use of them, build processes and automations around them, and ultimately, bring more people into the discussion.

Not cases – customers

We’re trying to surface the stories of customers here, not cases. Rather than treating each contact as a ticket, or problem to solve, conversational CRM seeks to surface ongoing conversations with customers to agents and businesses in a way that is comparable to how you catch up on conversations in your favorite messaging apps. We want to bring that same paradigm to customer interaction. Vitally, these contacts, your customers, are people your teams have an ongoing relationship with — not people to manage away. 

The potential business impact is substantial. In our Customer Experience Trends Report, we found that high performers are almost seven times more likely to have already implemented the measures we’re discussing. They’re moving conversations outside of something siloed in call centers and making them an area of growth.

In 2022, businesses are generally not throwing money around. There are hard decisions being made every day. But the outcome of investing in conversations justifies the expenditure for everybody. By starting to take an approach that connects customer understanding across teams, you start to have impacts on your business beyond cost savings.

How Loft achieved clarity through data consolidation

Loft, a Brazilian startup dedicated to helping Latin Americans own homes, uses Zendesk Sunshine Conversations to manage and optimize relationships through messages and AI tools. Bruno Domingues, lead program manager at Loft, says: 

We needed to scale support for a BPO — outsource it to a call center. I was able to assess how much Zendesk could help us address these challenges. 

With Zendesk’s support, the company could redefine internal processes and monitor agents’ adaptation to the company’s changes. Loft also added flexibility and scalability to the service team, opening space for contracting new solutions if necessary. It was also possible to consolidate customer data and gain greater clarity about what happens in the operation.

Before, customer data was spread across multiple systems, spreadsheets and even agents’ emails. Now, we find everything in one place.

How this might play out

Let’s say you were car shopping — browsing dealer websites while you were at work in the office, browsing from a desktop computer. Hey, there’s the new Tesla and the new Audi! You go ahead and ask some questions about it, but you’re definitely not ready to make a decision.

But you’ve probably expressed a bunch of concerns, and questions, and hopes — all based on what you want out of this purchase. For the car dealership, there’s an opportunity to use all of that data, all of that interaction. When you the customer are back on the couch two weeks later - on your phone this time - you might see you’re re-targeted by a Facebook ad, say about an Audi. Click on it and you can launch right back into a conversation that’s informed by the discussion you were having weeks ago on a different machine.

What’s great about this is you get that sense of familiarity with the brand. You don’t have to repeat yourself, and it’s going to personify a business and blur certain lines. Back in your messaging app, you have all sorts of chats and content with your friends, your mom, your sister. And businesses will lead there too. The brands that do best at this will be hard to discern from the real people you know. Software is going to be a big part of delivering that.

Let’s take a step back, though. It’s not that brands are all going to become our friends — that can sound a bit strange, after all. The idea, rather, is to give companies the flexibility so that they can build a continuous relationship that fits their brand identity and the experience they want to give to their customers. Each touchpoint — on any channel — can preserve elements like clarity of conversation, as well as the contextual nature of it, even as customers move from one chat or topic to another.

This is a huge shift from that old model of churning through as many calls as possible in an hour, and rewarding agents for how quickly they can get a customer off the phone.

How sales and service are blurring

Sales and service are fast becoming one and the same — and the experience behind them becomes a differentiator. Conversational CRM is not just limited to service. The same interactions, the same richness that we get out of the conversation becomes a really interesting channel if brands want to market to you later on. That can also include how new outbound selling and sales opportunities are delivered. There’s just a wealth of information here to build a long-term sales-meets-service relationship. Or even to use for product research.

A good example that businesses can learn from is in fast fashion — an industry led by brands like Zara and Shein. These companies spend time and analysis to understand the micro trends happening in a region — from the latest colors to cuts and styles. Then they optimize for what they’re producing in real time based on that.

With Conversational CRM, all of that transactional, one-off ticket data can be turned into a rich analysis of trends identified by your own customers based on what they ask, search for or even click on in a WhatsApp chat. This analysis can inform service development, and connect people to customers in your business that you previously couldn’t even identify because you weren’t having those types of discussions. The minute you start blurring those lines and breaking up some of those constraints, that’s when you start to get value from the relationships that would be locked in otherwise.

Whether or not actual sales and service teams within your company do more collaborating? Hard to say. But it’s compelling to frame interactions as business interactions with a customer versus service and sales interactions with a customer. Every service conversation is really a sales conversation.

Tools like IVRs and restrictive webforms may have been the efficient service tools of the past. But as we move to new digital eras of connection, the technology has opened up for a more personalized, conversation-based relationship, delivered at scale. So the real question is, where should we start the chat?

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