Salesforce Connections 2019 - customer service is now in the growth business, not the cost business

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed June 19, 2019
Connections kicked off with the expected fanfare over the connected experience. But what does breaking down barriers between clouds entail? Nowhere better to start than the Service Cloud, where a new model of service-as-growth-engine is gelling.

Mark Abramowitz, Vice President Product Marketing, Service Cloud
Mark Abramowitz at Salesforce Connections 2019

Amidst the slew of Salesforce Connections announcements across commerce, service and marketing, the centerpiece was Salesforce bringing their Customer Data Platform (CDP) inside of Customer 360.

CDP is as bland an acronym as you can get, but it's become the buzzword of the year in the customer experience space. Why?

  1. If your customer data platform is adopted, you now have a deeper relationship with your customers than your rivals. Salesforce wants to be the customer system of record for its customers, and CDP is how that relationship is powered.
  2. Enterprises don't want to duplicate their data silos in the cloud. They want to integrate relevant data across your clouds - and maybe even those of your competitors.

Any buzzword must be put to the test: do customers care? During the Salesforce Connections opening keynote, Salesforce customer State Farm made the case:

Yep. You're not delivering on customer experience without the ability to cross channels - from marketing to sales to service and back again. This marks a big change from the early CRM cloud days, where companies might move one piece to the cloud - without worrying about the overall platform/data implications. I differ with Salesforce's Stephanie Buscemi, however, in her keynote language about "delighting customers."

Delight is commonly used in CX circles as the descriptive benchmark. Delight is never a bad thing, but I believe it's really about the consistency of experience across all channels. There cannot be a weak link. Delight me on one channel and fail me in another, and which do I remember? When it comes to customer retention and even upselling, suddenly your service channel might be a crucial revenue producer.

This will push CX vendors beyond "multi-cloud" into a more challenging place, where process continuity trumps discrete clouds. Salesforce's keynote demos of service bots integrated in the customers' environment of choice (e.g. Instagram) is a step towards service-as-a-service, a buzzword that should mercifully die on my page. The concept still matters - and I wonder if vendors are truly prepared for the implications.

"67% of people will leave a brand from a bad experience."

Which brings us to the Salesforce Service Cloud. Since my colleague Stuart Lauchlan published Service Cloud narrows the gap on Sales Cloud as Salesforce taps into a CEO agenda for a growth era, I've been eager to dig into the keys to that success. During my sit down with Mark Abramowitz, Vice President Product Marketing, Service Cloud, he dropped key stats for why service is a make-or-break area for CX:

67% of people will switch and leave a brand from a bad experience.

He added:

The old adage of "It takes years to build loyalty in a brand, and it takes one moment to lose it," I think that's even more prevalent now in the digital world. If I have a bad experience with a payment provider, I'll just go get another one. Whereas, on the other hand, 86% of people will, with a positive emotional moment or connection, will be loyal.

Those stats come via Salesforce's latest State of Service report. But with the Service Cloud keynote on deck, Abramowitz had bigger fish to fry: service is becoming a revenue driver. 

Service is not only the responsibility of the service organization, right? As I talked to customers in various industries, I see service is playing a role in pre-sales. Service is playing a role in the purchase moment.

Abramowitz talked about State Farm, who will also appear in the Service Cloud keynote. When you report an accident on your mobile phone:

That is really not post-purchase. It's your experience with that brand.

The role of the agent must now shift:

As service has started to emerge out of the post-purchase experience, the role of the agent is changing and elevating.

AI-enabled service isn't eliminating agents nearly as much as some projected. But AI is still forcing that shift:

When you layer an AI on the agent experience, agents are being asked and even need to be able to handle more complex situations, and bring more empathy.

The service impact of AI bots

Agents' roles used to be more transactional, but bots can do more of that heavy lifting now. That ties into the Service Cloud announcements at Connections about new Einstein bot capabilities. It comes down to enabling new ways of connecting with customers, including expanded text messaging. Abramowitz is looking forward to getting rid of the old school "contact us" page:

Which is typically hidden on a website. Impossible to find on a mobile device.

In its place? The channel menu.

What the channel menu does is it brings together however your customers want to start a conversation with you. That can be texts, that can be chat, that could be messaging, it can even be a phone call, and making it front and center. So you can easily create that moment of interaction. It could be pre-sale, it could be at checkout, or it could be after the fact.

Salesforce is determined to make AI consumable rather than passing a programming burden to the customer. This fits into the "clicks not code" mantra for business user customization we heard plenty about in Chicago. Abramowitz:

Customers are asking, "How do we move faster? How do we train our bots faster? How do we move faster into this world?"

Abramowitz cited Pearson as an example:

We've been working with them on their digital transformation for a number of years. If you think about it, their customers are really the students. And every summer they go away, and they forget their passwords to their online learning platform. So Pearson has a massive surge in August and September of people calling and saying, "I forgot my password."

Enter the bots:

We've worked with them to introduce a bot into that conversation to reset passwords. They've seen average handle time go down by about 20%. But what's more interesting is: average handle time may be a metric of the past rather than the future. Their customer satisfaction has gone up by 80%. Because their students are able to get their questions answered when they want it.

My take - we need new service metrics

I've had some pretty rough experiences with so-called "service bots". I was encouraged by Abramowitz's detail on how they've worked on the bot escalations and human handoffs. A bot that can solve a problem, but with an elegant human handoff when it's in over its head, is a well-designed service bot.

There is a huge conversation here about what this means for customer service reps. I've seen plenty of examples of call centers being downsized or eliminated via automation. But Abramowitz's stance about service reps moving into higher value roles makes sense. Especially if a company embraces service as a strategic asset. Or, as Abramowitz put it:

Customer service is now in the growth business, rather than the cost business.

If a company accepts that premise, then automating call centers and routing consumers via elaborate voice mail trees looks foolish. Placing those customers on hold for hours now looks self-defeating and out of step, instead of corporate business as usual. At that point, the case for higher value service roles makes absolute sense. But that doesn't mean companies can shift their service reps into those roles easily. The technology may be ahead of the humans.

I like the efforts Salesforce is making via their Trailhead community to educate service teams - and individuals - on the skill set changes that will be needed, including a big emphasis on soft skills. This is part of a bigger effort, called Trailblazers for the future, that helps service teams move ahead with a combination of on-site and online training.

I don't think we object to interacting with machines for service, as long as we get a result. When it comes to humans, I want them to understand the context of my call, and my history with the company. That brings us back to the problem of CRM data silos - and the emphasis on the CDP. Abramowitz:

That's why it's so important that marketing and commerce and service are coming together, to give you that buying history. Or give you the marketing history and the campaigns that you've received, or the ways that you've interacted with that company in the past.

Measuring service as a growth engine needs new metrics. Abramowitz acknowledged that the new metrics are a work in progress. Customer satisfaction type measurements might help, but we're not there yet:

Net Promoter Score and CSAT do an okay job. But I think we're looking and searching for what that next key driver is. It's not going to be average handle time anymore. My issue might take five minutes, it might take a minute, it might take an hour, but the end goal is that I'm satisfied. Rather than that the agent is incented to just get you off the phone basically, so their stats look good.

In other words - hard work ahead. I'm still waiting to see consistently good service experiences from just about anyone, but I can't quarrel with the vision. Now to talk with more customers.