The customer services market is focusing too much on the receipt or engagement layer, which ultimately will largely be automated via web self-service or AI chatbots. Enterprises should instead be putting more emphasis on the ‘middle office mess' and orchestrating work across departments, in order to truly better customer experience.
This is the view of John Ball, who was appointed SVP and GM of ServiceNow's Customer Workflow business unit in December last year. Ball has joined the company from Salesforce, where he was most recently in charge of the vendor's AI Einstein platform, but also has a 25 year history working in the field of customer service, AI and analytics.
As we recently discussed with ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott, customer and employee engagement is key to the vendor's organic growth strategy. ServiceNow's primary offering to the market is workflow, where the platform allows companies to orchestrate and automate tasks - across multiple departments - to ‘get work done'. Ball is pitching the Customer Workflow business as a key driver for growth as part of this, where he argues that improving middle office operations with the Now platform can better both customer and agent experience.
What I've seen in the Customer Service market is that the market and all the vendors have been obsessed with what I call the engagement layer, which is basically the receipt of the requests. For example: I have a problem, what's my order, status, whatever. But they haven't actually followed through to deliver the end-to-end customer experience, which requires what I call, operations.
If you think about a task that is not super simple, you have to orchestrate a series of tasks to get the job done. And if you think about the engagement layer, the receipt of the request, it's going to increasingly go to web self-service or powered by AI chatbots.
Yeah it is super important, you need to meet the customer at the point of need and the channel of their choice, but it's where the request goes into a black hole, the middle office, where you have all these different departments talking to each other over email, over Slack, over chat, phone calls - it's literally the image of swivel chair, that's where the customer experience breaks down.
Ball argues that ServiceNow is in a unique position to tackle this challenge, given the company's workflow proposition. The company has long argued that its one data model and platform-of-platforms approach means that it can help buyers orchestrate work across a number of business functions, which clearly plays well into this customer service challenge. Ball says that ServiceNow's customer workflow unit now has over 75 customers with over $1 million annual contract value.
Citing Lloyds Banking Group as an example of how this looks in practice, Ball says:
Lloyds Banking Group is a great example, where payment operations is something that most consumers and businesses don't think about. But payment operations is pretty complicated - you can have payment disputes, you can have someone who fat fingered the routing number and sent money to the wrong person, etc. There's hundreds of people dealing with these requests.
So, the request comes in, and in the old world at Lloyds, it was very messy - that's why we call it the messy middle. You had 16 different steps, spanning across multiple departments, with six different systems that they had to log into. We collapsed that into two steps in one system of action.
There's now a whole bunch of different KPIs that they track, but to make it simple, Lloyds now has 70% better resolution times. That's important for a couple of reasons. One, the customer experience is better. You can imagine when you've got a payment dispute, or when you have a payment issue, your anxiety levels are already pretty high, so you're not gonna want to wait. So the faster that gets resolved, the happier you are. And it's a great example where just logging the requests is not sufficient, you actually have to go all the way through and finish the job.
Ball argues that whilst the end goal is clearly about improving the customer experience, it is critical that the experience of agents is also front of mind. He believes that this speaks directly to the ambitions of ‘digital transformation' in that organizations should be thinking about the end customer, but also about improving operational efficiency. He adds:
If you're innovative, you're going to do both. We all know that customer service is also a function of how happy those agents are. If they're doing mind numbing tasks all day and they're not very happy, that bleeds off into the actual human interaction, when there is human interaction.
Ball explains that this customer service market was already seeing huge growth prior to March 2020, but that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change for companies, particularly as we see shifts towards direct-to-consumer and everything-as-a-service. He says:
At the beginning of the pandemic, literally millions of customer service agents went home overnight. And so the companies that had actually invested in modern digital customer service fared well, but if they only worried about the engagement layer, they still had the problem of getting the work done. And when everyone was home you needed to have a system of action to workflow that to actually get the job done.
So I think everyone's sort of woken up to the fact that it's time to modernize. And so I think that the demand for great end-to-end customer experiences is definitely going to accelerate. And that's where you have to do the whole thing, you can't just handle the engagement.
And central to all of this - which Ball says is a common struggle for buyers - is thinking about the business process itself. Getting this right requires work on the part of the enterprise to understand how work flows through its organization and how this can be streamlined to better the outcome for the customer. He adds that even with the greatest tools and the greatest technology, if you don't think about the business process, it's "going to be a mess".
Unsurprisingly, Ball believes that ServiceNow's platform can help customers play a key role in getting this right. He explains:
One of the big reasons why I also think that we have a leg up here is that payment operations at Lloyds is going to be different to payment operations at Kiwibank. You have to have a flexible platform that allows you to adapt to the specific business process of your customer.
And so one of the key features of the platform is the fact that we have a low-code/no-code setup. It's powered by App Engine Studio and it's part of the underlying platform. And so what you can do is you can visually design your process and you can actually use process optimization to then find where the bottlenecks are, and improve it. And important is starting with something super concrete and making sure that you've got that process running well. That usually then involves integration into multiple systems, which is why we talk about being a platform of platforms.
We're not trying to replace the core banking system, or trying to replace the core insurance policy system, we're making the workflow actually go really well through the end to end process.
Ball is obviously taking a very ServiceNow-centric view, but I think his core argument is an important one. How many times have you been on a website to make a complaint or a query, been presented with a chatbot, only to find your request has disappeared into the abyss? It's pretty simple to present a front-end that feels engaging for a customer, but all of that work to offer usable tools will be quickly undone if the work behind the chatbot (or whatever) is not followed through with. Enterprises are complex and silos are the norm. But we now live in a world where if you are truly thinking about stellar customer experience, you have to connect up those middle office dots and not rely on disjointed methods of communication. If buyers are just thinking about that front-end, they are missing a trick.