Your Secret Weapon for Gamer Loyalty: Seamless AI-powered in-game support

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Aug 24, 2020

How gaming companies can keep fans engaged, loyal and advocating with incredible fan experiences 

In the gaming world, complaints are loud. Gamers voice criticism and frustrations on social media, amongst their virtual and in-person networks, and across popular online communities. When something goes wrong, the gaming community is quick to speak out and air their grievances.  

A CNBC article sums it up perfectly: “Every industry has its critics, but few are quite as vocal as an enraged video gamer whose game has just inexplicably stopped working—especially when a new console or game is involved.1” 

When an issue arises, gaming companies need to provide effortless, seamless support (in-game, preferably) to cause the least disruption to a gamer’s life. If the customer experience is poor, it could lead to widespread backlash. In this post, we’re going to explore how the post-launch customer experience is more critical than ever for gaming companies to get right in order to maintain engagement, drive future revenue and build long-term super fans. 

Competition, Netflix: While The Gaming Era is in full swing, the CX is critical for long-time viability  

There are now more than 2.5 billion gamers2 across the world powering an industry that’s expected to reach a $300bn-plus industry by 20253. Gaming is getting more competitive by the day with the biggest tech titans competing against creative, independent developers4. It’s truly the Gaming Era, where it’s part of mainstream culture and captivating gamers time for, on average, 7 hours and 7 minutes each week5

Part of this surge in popularity came as the Coronavirus stay-at-home measures forced people to seek new entertainment and ways to virtually connect with people. This shift increase can be seen in subscribers for Microsoft’s Game Pass service surpassing 10 million and Twitch reporting 1.49 billion gaming hours watched in April — a 50% increase over March6. And these are just two examples. 


“We are heartened to see many people using games to be entertained, to find inspiration, and to strengthen social connections through shared adventures.”

— Head of Xbox Phil Spencer  


As long-term fans and newcomers alike become more immersed in and obsessed with content, gaming companies need to focus on the post-launch gamer experience. Keeping gamers engaged, committed and happy is critical to future revenue streams, whether it’s purchasing new releases, storylines, fighting to reach the next level or making other in-game purchases. Even more, gamers are known to be fiercely loyal and are the best promoters. Ensuring they get the help they need when they need it is emerging as a crucial differentiator in an ever-diluted market. 

This is because gaming companies are also competing to be the source of entertainment and escape from streaming companies like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon and Apple. For years, these companies have heavily invested in the customer experience – creating truly frictionless ways to get support, troubleshoot, and discover. Gaming needs to follow suit. 


 “Your players, your community, are often your best tool in terms of advocating for the game,” says Emma Siu, a community engagement manager at Electronic Arts.


What makes gaming customer service so challenging 

Providing stellar customer service in gaming, though, is more challenging than in other industries. This is due to a few key reasons: 

  • Games are usually released before all bugs are fixed and sometimes even before they are completed. When something goes wrong, it often takes time to figure out if it’s a hardware or software issue. Ongoing development also sometimes sees new fixes lead to other issues. 
  • Gamers require special treatment. They are immensely passionate and want empathy for their situation. 
  • Typically more technical, gamers need more nuanced and advanced support than other industries. 
  • There are many (expected and unexpected) surges in ticket volume with product releases, as new bugs are discovered, etc. This results in often long resolution times. The agony of wait times is amplified with the instant-gratification demands of gamers, especially when it comes to engaging with a new release. 
  • Gaming companies have a global customer base. Staffing human support agents to provide 24/7/365 coverage who support multiple languages is cost-prohibitive for just about any company.  As demand for gaming increased in the wake of Covid-19, gaming companies found it difficult to resolve a surge in tickets with a ballooning customer base. 

Traditionally, gamers have sought help on peer-to-peer networks, FAQs, comment boards like Reddit or Discord7. As mobile gaming continues to command the most time, though, seeking help on community forums is difficult and requires a person to close the game, find a forum and post their issue8. It completely disrupts the gaming experience.

The perfect gaming use cases for automation that takes the CX to the next level 

With gaming customer service, the most critical aspect is to resolve issues quickly and conveniently and get people back to engaging with content. Even better, it’s anticipating issues and providing the right information, to the right person, at the right time. Whether a person has a black screen, can’t access saved games or is experiencing other glitches, the anticipation and urge to get back to playing mounts with every passing second. 

To resolve issues effortlessly and quickly, the gaming companies that prioritize the CX are bringing AI into their organization. AI can respond immediately to common questions and proactively resolve issues before they even happen. Customer service automation allows companies to scale up in seconds, even if there is an unforeseen influx of tickets, and manage an infinite number of tickets at a single time. 

More and more, companies are looking towards keeping people in the game, playing more, and not needing to exit to find support or self-help on third-party apps, communities or even web chat. The core way of providing that in-the-moment experience is through live chat support within the game itself. By leveraging in-game support, human agents and chatbot tools alike can understand key information like the person’s platform, operating system and other factors to more efficiently help them – without having to ask. 

The top customer service use cases for gaming AI chatbots 

  1. Proactively let people know if there are issues currently being addressed: When a person reaches a certain level or part of the game, anticipate potential issues they might face and let gamers know if there are current bugs that are being worked on. Enable gamers to follow up with questions on expected resolution time, workarounds, etc. 
  2. Inform gamers when an issue that they reported has been fixed: When a person reaches out to report a bug, leverage AI to capture relevant information behind-the-scenes such as an operating system and a platform. An AI chatbot can prompt the user for all relevant information, and as soon as a fix has been deployed, it can proactively communicate the update with every fan that initially reached out. 
  3. Report hacked accounts: If a person believes their account has been compromised, AI chatbots can gather information from the gamer, pull up account activity, update passwords and prompt the user to conduct additional security checks. 
  4. Troubleshooting, lost data and managing connectivity / streaming issues: Resolutions to common technical issues like game loading issues, downloading issues, lost game progress and game crashing errors can easily be resolved with little disruption to the customer. Gamers have traditionally sought self-help in these situations, and leveraging AI to help in a conversational interface (as opposed to search), brings a new level of convenience. 
  5. Assist with unlocking features: Answering questions around unlocking game features like badges, coins and tickets to ensure customers maintain interest and are rewarded properly for progress.  
  6. Discover new content and cross-sell: Recommend new compatible games based on equipment, engagement and player preferences. 
  7. Get players in the game: Get players up and running by answering questions like “how do I move, how do I navigate, where is this button, etc. 
  8. Broken equipment/tracking returns: Help gamers instantly track orders, report broken equipment, and initiate returns. 
  9. Account assistance: AI can automatically resolve simple requests for log-in assistance, resetting passwords, payment issues, suspended accounts, restoring accounts, and updating membership plans.  

As gaming continues to infiltrate mainstream culture, companies need to focus on making it a seamless experience when people reach out with an issue. As a way to differentiate and capture long-term engagement, loyalty and revenue, gaming companies must provide effortless and immediate resolutions to issues. With AI customer service, companies can keep gamers waiting less for support and playing more. 

Can we show you how you can address every issue, build life-long fans and the ultimate advocates with incredible gaming customer service? We’d love to level-up your CX with AI. Let’s chat

References: 

  1. CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2014/03/05/why-customer-service-at-video-game-companies-seems-so-bad.html 
  2. Newzoo: https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/the-global-games-market-will-generate-152-1-billion-in-2019-as-the-u-s-overtakes-china-as-the-biggest-market/ 
  3. Globaldata: https://www.globaldata.com/video-games-market-set-to-become-a-300bn-plus-industry-by-2025/ 
  4. Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/90457843/gaming-most-innovative-companies-2020 
  5. Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinanderton/2019/03/21/research-report-shows-how-much-time-we-spend-gaming-infographic/#db29ec73e076 
  6. Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/05/12/video-game-industry-coronavirus/ 
  7. Zendesk: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/keeping-gamers-game-customer-service/ 
  8. Limelight: https://www.limelight.com/resources/white-paper/state-of-online-gaming-2020/ 

The Top 25 Trail Blazing Customer Service Professionals of 2020

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Aug 7, 2020

The top CX practitioners making the most impact on employee and customer experience 

Customer service is more important today than ever before. The customer service teams that are driving revenue, wow-ing customers and building long-term relationships often have a strong leader at the helm. Sure, you can hire a customer service leader consultant, but if you are looking for the best in-house operators, you’ve come to the right place. We wanted to recognize our 25 favorite customer service practitioners doing incredible work in the CX space today.

Whether it’s customer-obsession, innovative uses of technology or an intimate focus on employee happiness and engagement, each of these leaders featured is pushing the boundaries in customer service. Read why each makes our list below (in alphabetical order!): 

1. Alfredo Tan, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, WestJet

WestJet is looking at digital as a means to transform and raise the bar for the guest experience, not simply augment it. With an ever-expanding customer base, WestJet’s Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Alfredo Tan realized that the airline needed to embrace innovation whole-heartedly in order to keep up with customer expectations for personal and convenient support.

Alfredo led the airline’s adoption of AI as a way to meet the rising guest expectations for immediacy, accuracy and effective resolution, while also easing the burden on its human support agents. Launched initially across Facebook Messenger, the airline’s virtual assistant Juliet is now on WhatsApp and Google Assistant, fully resolving 87% of support tickets instantly, without human intervention. As a result, CSAT has increased 24%.

Having automation in place really paid off during the early weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak in North America. Capable of answering hundreds of the most frequently asked questions, Juliet deflected tens of thousands of calls from its human agents, allowing them to focus on more complex interactions. Alfredo’s vision and leadership helped the airline scale consistent customer service in times of crisis and maintain high customer satisfaction.

Connect with Alfredo on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://ca.linkedin.com/in/alfredotan

Twitter – https://twitter.com/AlfredoTan

2. Ali Rayl, Slack, Vice President of Customer Experience 

With a product like Slack, the range of queries varies greatly. Some come from brand new users who are just getting acquainted with the platform, while others have been using the product for five years and have very specific API questions. That’s why Ali created groups of specialists who become experts in certain areas of the product. Customers are not escalated through various tiers of knowledge and instead land with the right expert immediately. As a result, the company’s CSAT score hovers around 98%.

Ali admits she’s never satisfied and spends a lot of her time looking for the next opportunity to improve the customer experience. This is why they started implementing Customer Effort Surveys. She’s taking the learnings to find the next frontier for Slack CX.

Connect with Ali on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/alirayl 

Twitter – https://twitter.com/alirayl

3. Andrew Stein, Chewy, Sr. Director of Customer Experience 

Andrew’s LinkedIn profile says it all: I wake up every morning with one question: How do we make sure Chewy has the best customer service in the world?

With passionate people like Andrew leading the charge, Chewy is well on its way to being as customer-obsessed as Amazon. His daily mission manifests itself in many ways, like the 11 million handwritten cards sent annually to new customers, birthday cards to customers’ pets, and sympathy cards when pets pass away. This personal touch to customer service, though, doesn’t stop here.

Chewy associates are empowered to do whatever it takes to win customers over. The company issued a statement saying: “We empower our [customer service representatives] to go above and beyond for our customers, and they do so with the knowledge that our commitment to our customers is our number one priority. We engage with pet parents thousands of times per day, and we embrace the opportunity to “WOW” our customers each time, from surprising them with a hand-painted pet portrait to sending flowers to a family who has recently lost their pet.”

The company has taken the Amazon approach to customer obsession. This doesn’t even mention that their agents can be reached on many channels, 24/7, 365 days per year.

Andrew is charged with ensuring that Chewy continues to be an incredible place to work by bringing in top talent and collecting input from front-line team members to continuously push the envelope on the customer experience.

Connect with Andrew on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-stein-3556a119

4. Brett Frazer, Sun Basket, Vice President of Customer Service

On Brett’s LinkedIn page, he says: Your customers deserve the best.

And he has spent his career helping companies create experiences that keep customers coming back, and also leading them to recommend others to join them.

He’s currently the head of customer service for Sun Basket, a meal kit company, where he trains his agents to wow customers the first time they ever reach out with a question or issue. Brett believes that this moment – the first time an issue arises – is the deciding factor for whether or not a customer will do repeat business. When a customer reaches out, Brett’s ensures that they get “the best of the basics: Access, Understanding, Empathy, Commitment, Timeliness and Follow through.”

Connect with Brett on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brettfrazer

5. Charlie Cole, TUMI, (former) Chief Digital Officer 

TUMI is a company now known for being customer-centric. When Charlie took on the role of CDO, he recognized that the company was not executing well on customer-centricity. He stepped back to look carefully at the entire customer journey to identify ways to help the customer as much as possible.

According to Charlie, the company “keeps humans in the forefront of how we interact with customers, routing customers to the last agent they spoke with, and offering them the continuity, immediate historical knowledge, and empathetic insight of that agent.”

When he was the CDO for TUMI, he focused on the long-term, lifetime relationship with the customer, not an immediate sale. As a way to accomplish this, he oversaw the company’s adoption of Gladly to be able to arm agents with a customer’s lifetime history and historic data to nurture relationships at every opportunity.

Connect with Charlie on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/charliecole/?miniProfileUrn=urn%3Ali%3Afs_miniProfile%3AACoAAABlY5YBET6rzbZcnxZnhiE3tDyNIWP3R-Q

6. Chris Vetrano, Lyft, Head of Partner & Customer Engagement | Bikes, Scooters & Transit

With over 65 social channels and applications, figuring out which channels to leverage to offer support that will be the most impactful end-to-end customer experience is crucial. It’s up to Chris and his team to analyze channels, figuring out why the company should offer support, what issues they would try to resolve on social channels and how quickly they can offer resolutions.

Leading customer engagement for the bikes, scooters and transit group, Chris understands that when someone has an issue, they are often in the “last mile” and need an immediate solution as they are trying to get somewhere in the moment – work, an appointment, etc. Customers don’t have time to send an email or call a support team. Chris understands this need for immediacy and to respond in as close to real-time as possible. Currently, 90% of responses on social channels are under 30 minutes. As a result of his team’s efforts, LYFT’s NPS on social channels is almost double other channels, simply due to the time to resolve.

Connect with Chris on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/cmvetrano

Twitter – https://twitter.com/CMVetrano/

7. Drew Chamberlain, Joann, Director of Operations and Customer Experience

Drew leads daily operations of the chain’s 865 stores, focusing on increasing productivity and efficiency. He is also responsible for ensuring customer satisfaction and leads the customer service team, handling millions of loyal customers across phone, email and social.

Within the first month of adopting Gladly, JOANN reduced its email backlog by 93%, and decreased email response times by 70%. The company now responds to emails in hours, not days. Want to hear more of Drew’s story? Watch this webinar.

Connect with Drew on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/drew-chamberlain-2a2a6148

8. Erin Miller, Glossier, Head of Loyalty 

Skincare and makeup company Glossier has a cult-like following. And it’s in large part thanks to Head of Loyalty Erin Miller. 

She leads the company’s “gTeam,” which is a combined support and marketing team that is seen by leadership as a value-driver. The team helps to drive customer loyalty, retention and conversions. Every “editor” on the team (as they are called), is encouraged to maintain their own vibe, and provide an authentic, candid response to customers. Each editor has a dedicated channel: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, email, FaceTime  or phone.

Erin’s team is encouraged to go above and beyond. Digiday reported on one simply amazing customer service story:  “A bride-to-be panicked about the fact that its website was out of its Haloscope highlighter, which she was hoping to use on her wedding day. One of the gTeam editors messaged everyone in the office to find out if they might have an unopened Haloscope sitting in their own makeup bags for the brand to send. They tracked one down and sent it her way.”

Connect with Erin on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/erin-miller-012571b

9. Fawad Ahmad, State Farm, Chief Digital Officer 

A few years ago, the 100-year old company recognized that it needed to digitally transform to stay relevant. Fawad Ahmad led the transformation. According to Fawad, in order to remain a market leader, “we have to continuously and rapidly adapt to remain relevant to our customers.” 

When adopting new technology, he applies it where it’s needed, he doesn’t build something for the sake of being able to say the insurance company uses it. 

The company adopted Salesforce Financial Services Cloud to help the 19,000 contracted agents with before- and after-sales service. He sought to give agents a holistic view of customers regardless of the channel they reach out on. Agents get a clear history of the customer, including past interactions, regardless of the channel and can send updates to customers on their preferred channel.

Connect with Fawad on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/fawad-ahmad-3a48594

10. Hernan Giraldo, Bark, VP of Customer Experience Ops

For Bark, dogs are the customer. The human or the dog parent is there, simply, to facilitate that transaction. 

To make an emotional connection with dog and human customers, VP of Customer Experience Ops Hernan Giraldo doesn’t compromise on hiring dog people. We’re a company of dog parents. He wants his team to relate at every level of emotion to what the dog parent experiences.

Hernan’s team maintains personal friendships with the customers they serve. Agents are encouraged  to visit the office card station where they can send personal notes ranging from congratulations to condolences to customers. They have even been known to Facetime and video conference with customers to show off Bark’s super dong friendly office – with tons of four-legged friends walking around.

“We see ourselves much more than a customer support team because we’re hoping to deliver an experience through personal connections with customers. The way we accomplish that is obviously in different forms with a very unique, and kind of an informal tone, if you will. It’s pretty common that when you interact with us, we’ll use a dog pun or two, or use a funny dog GIF.”

This human-approach to customer support for dog lovers is something special.

Connect with Hernan on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/hernan-giraldo-2aa733b

11. Holly O’Neill, Bank of America, Head of Consumer Client Services for Consumer & Small Business

Holly’s twitter profile says it all: “All about getting it right for our clients.” 

As Head of Consumer Client Services for Consumer & Small Business at Bank of America, Holly is dedicated to monitoring and improving customer experience across email, social media, the BAC mobile app, the phone, and, of course, in person. “We want to make sure we create that personal connection with clients no matter how they’re interacting with us,” she has said.

Under her leadership, Bank of America has created a culture obsessed with client care. According to Holly, “consumers are more empowered than ever to choose where they do business, so it is critical to deliver exceptional client care. If you don’t, the consumer will choose another relationship.” 

One of the ways her team provides great service is by listening to (good and bad) customer feedback, and using it to constantly improve the business. To do this, the company sends 90 million email surveys a year to retail and small business customers following a customer interaction.

Holly also encourages her team to share great client wins. “Who doesn’t want to hear about a happy client you’ve helped, right? The more stories we share across our workforce, the more we continue to collect as our employees take great pride in helping clients,” Holly has said.

Connect with Holly on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/holly-o-neill-240328123

12. James Ashworth, Southwest, Vice President Customer Support and Services

Before mention of profit in Southwest’s vision statement, the company strives “To be the world’s most loved” airline in the world. A lot of this love grows from the airline’s top-notch customer service. And the man leading the customer support and services department is James. While amazing customer service stories from the airline are talked about frequently (and we love them), James makes the list for his effort to help visually impaired reps provide the Southwest standard of service.

James spearheaded the adoption of Salesforce Service Cloud’s accessibility tools to enable the airline to tap into a broader workforce. This initiative plugs customer data formerly housed in 15 different platforms into one place that’s accessible for reps who are visually impaired.

According to James, “It’s important for us to identify a way to bring data that existed across multiple systems to life in a contextual way for our frontline people to be able to serve customers and deliver the hospitality we want to deliver at Southwest.” 

Connect with James on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-ashworth-04b11658

Twitter – https://twitter.com/jamesashworth_

13. Jeff Bezos, Amazon, Founder and CEO

Jeff created Amazon with one goal:  “to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”  Today,  the company continues to push the limits of “customer obsession,” which is one of the company’s leadership principles. According to Jeff, “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.” 

There’s an infamous story that occured in 2018 during the busy holiday season. He asked the head of customer service at the time how long phone wait times were. In front of over 30 Amazon executives, Bezos reportedly grew furious when he waited 4.5 minutes. He, of course, felt this was unacceptable to his customers.

This idea of customer obsession is not just an aloof vision, but it’s something he lives every day and pushes his team to do the same. In fact, he has a customer-facing email address that customers can write to because “hearing from consumers helps him identify pain points.”  One email even resulted in the happy reunion of a dog with its owner.

Because Jeff puts the customer at the center of every decision, and continuously improves the experience as expectations shift, he is easily one of the top customer service practitioners of all time.

Connect with Jeff on Social Media (Let us know if he follows you back on Twitter!) : 

Twitter – https://twitter.com/jeffbezos

14. Jennifer Duguay, Sweetgreen, Director of Customer Service

As head of customer service, Jen Duguay knew that she needed to check in with her team regularly during Covid-19. She puts calendar holds for virtual, casual “office hours” where agents “check in on ongoing projects, talk through any new issues that have come up with customers, or to simply say hi and have a one-on-one conversation.”

She also asks her team to conduct “heart checks”, sharing on a scale of 1 to 5, how they’re feeling about work that day. Her focus on agent happiness puts a smile on our face! 

Connect with Jennifer on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-duguay-74066a23

Twitter – https://twitter.com/jen_duguay

15. Kelley Kurtzman, Verizon, Vice President – Global Consumer Sales & Service Centers

Kelley strongly believes that in order to compete and win in the marketplace, you have to win in the workplace. Afterall, happy employees equal happy customers.

Kelley focuses on the end-to-end customer experience, putting in place opportunities for customers to help themselves with simple issues and saving complex issues for human agents. As the company looked to automate tasks, she has ensured that it is “built for reps, by reps.” Kelley ensured that Verizon’s human agents are the building blocks in the company’s adoption of AI. Feedback is solicited to ensure agents feel part of the process and to get buy-in on new automation processes.

Kelley believes that company culture is the most important thing and strives to be an employer of choice. She understands that being a customer service rep is a stressful job, and she seeks ways through to make her team as successful as possible – whether it’s with new technology or daily stretches.

Connect with Kelley on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelleykurtzman/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/kelleykurtzman

16. Laurie A. Meacham, JetBlue, Leader of the Social Media and Customer Commitment Team

JetBlue founder and former CEO David Neeleman sought out to create an airline that revolved around customer service. 

Today, Laurie leads the airline’s busy social media team. “We call ourselves a customer service company that happens to fly planes,” she says. “We want our employees to engage smartly, and for the conversations to be organic and natural. We look for opportunities to add value and connect with our customers, not just respond to every single mention that comes our way.” 

The airline empowers agents to be responsive and creative when assisting customers. Especially on Twitter, where the airline is highly regarded for the customer service it provides. The company’s social media team responds not just to customers who @mention them, but to customers who talk about the brand in general but didn’t tag it in the post. That takes commitment!

Connect with Laurie on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lmeacham

Twitter – https://twitter.com/laurieameacham

17. Lisa Oswald, Travelzoo, Senior Vice President of Global Customer Service

Travelzoo has a commitment to deliver ‘100% happiness, 100% of the time.’ The company provides 28 million members with insider deals and one-of-a-kind experiences. Under Lisa’s leadership, the company’s customer service has become a special part of the company’s brand promise and is a way it differentiates in the industry.

Her team’s philosophy is one of continuous improvement, “where the department strives to fine-tune every aspect of the customer experience. We don’t have an army of people, and we don’t have an unlimited budget. However, we do have a relentless focus on making incremental changes that matter.”

Lisa is constantly experimenting and testing different initiatives to get the right balance between efficiency and quality, including a Voice of the Customer initiative. Using a combination of technology and machine learning, a daily newsletter is curated for front-line team members reporting on what went well and areas for improvement. By putting power in the hands of the agents interacting with customers with personalized, actionable feedback, the company has seen a 68% increase in CSRs earning pay-for-performance at the end of the month.

Connect with Lisa on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisaposwald

Twitter – https://twitter.com/lisaposwald

18. Mara Castro, Warby Parker, Director of Customer Experience

The founders of Warby Parker, having set out to make shopping for glasses easier and more fun than it’s ever been before, ensured great CX was an integral part of their business

Mara Castro leads the lifestyle brand’s Customer Experience team. With a background in non-profit and leadership development, she began as Warby Parker’s first employee and now overseas customer experience strategy, and customer engagement through phones, emails, sms, live chat and social media, and customer experience, among other things.

According to Mara“customer service is woven into Warby Parker’s DNA – it’s at the core of the brand, and has a huge influence on the hiring and training processes that have been implemented over the years.” 

Every new employee participates in a program called “Customer Connection” in which they play the role of the customer for both home try-on and completing an online purchase. She strives to keep her team engaged throughout their entire tenure with the company and promotes from within as much as possible.

Mara also ensures that feedback is heard and actions are taken. She says, “We work with… everyone in the company to make sure that we’re always thinking about our customers, and gathering information… to make sure that we communicate that back to the rest of the team and that we’re making all of the improvements that we need to… to make sure we’re getting that feedback and using that in a good way.”

Connect with Mara on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/maraacastro

Twitter – https://twitter.com/mara_a_castro

19. Naveen Agarwal, Prudential, Chief Customer Officer 

Naveen leads the customer experience for Prudential, a company founded in 1875 with the mission of helping Americans have financial security. With more than 300 websites and 40 call centers, Naveen sought to create simple solutions that help customers and connect the dots of every interaction.

One initiative is leveraging AI for a “massive personalization agent.” The company is using information they are gathering from millions of interactions to proactively understand what customers might need in specific situations based on where they are in the customer journey.

Connect with Naveen on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/agarwalnaveen

Twitter – https://twitter.com/naveenbasically

20. Nick Martin, Harry’s, Customer Experience Manager  

Nick focuses heavily on employee happiness. After his team started working fully remote during Covid-19, the company started having mandatory mental health days, living its values and social mission. In fact, the entire customer service operation is shut off to really let their agents have a much needed break. During this remote work period, Nick has set up intentional moments for his team to connect.

One example of how Harry’s and Nick focus on the associate autonomy is called the WOW program. Each agent has a budget to utilize at any moment in time to wow a customer and have a human-to-human moment. For instance, if someone has lost their job, an agent could send a gift card or product to help them out, or send a joke book to a customer who is particularly funny. During the pandemic, the company doubled the “wow” budget to empower agents to go above and beyond to support customers who have found themselves in difficult situations. Nick hopes this program gives his team a way to connect and support a customer when a lot of our friends, family and customers are going through hard times.

Connect with Nick on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/martinnicholas

21. Nick Mehta, Gainsight, CEO 

Gainsight’s platform helps businesses build deep and lasting relationships with their customers. It does that by orchestrating all of companies’ customer-facing teams and data together into simple, actionable dashboards and playbooks. The powerful software platform gives companies the power to gain insight from customer data so they can take the right actions at the right time to maximize customer relationships. The company has clients including GE Digital, WeWork and Vonage.

Nick Mehta is Gainsight’s CEO. Named as one of the Top 50 SaaS CEOs of 2019, Nick has said “If CEOs operate with a customer-centric mindset, it benefits more than just the customers and the bottom line. When a business and its customers are succeeding, it’s validation and a celebration for employees.”

Connect with Nick on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/nickmehta

Twitter – https://twitter.com/nrmehta

22. Paul Brandt, Pizza Hut, VP Customer Experience

Paul is a self-described “CX Junkie.” As the head of Customer Experience for the national pizza chain, Paul is laser-focused on “delivering an experience for our customers where they feel happy, valued and cared for.”  

And to do that, Paul believes it starts with employee happiness. “Ultimately our customers’ experience depends on our team members, so we do everything possible to deliver a great team member experience and that will translate into a great customer experience.”

Paul instills in his team accountability. “If a team member sees that a customer is not feeling happy, valued, and cared for, we trust them to do whatever they can do to turn the situation around,” he says.

Connect with Paul on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-brandt

23. Rob Siefker, Zappos, Senior Director of Customer Loyalty  

Zappos sums up its customer service in four words: Obsessed. Maniacal. Radical. WOW.

While you might think Zappos sells shoes, clothes and other items, it’s actually a “service company.” The pioneer in providing customer service above anything else, Zappos truly raised the bar for customer experience and still today is “ maniacally obsessed with making sure customers are happy and proud to do business with [Zappos].” The company’s Customer Loyalty Team sets out to “WOW” every customer, and  create deep and emotional connections with our customers.

As the director of customer loyalty, Tony ensures the team keeps the focus on the customer, always. Every customer needs to “experience a WOW service,” with agents surprising and delighting them and always looking for ways to build a connection. There are stories of agents sending baby blankets if they hear a crying baby in the background of a service call, requesting shoes marked for return be donated to charity instead or delivering flowers to customers going through a difficult time. Agents are not rushed to resolve tickets fastest, but to provide the best and most meaningful interaction. In fact, Zappos’ current record for the longest customer service call is 10 hours, 51 minutes!  Read 10 other reasons Zappos’ customer loyalty team stands out here.

Connect with Rob on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/rob-siefker-77b33866

24. Shea Jensen, Nordstrom, Former SVP Customer Experience 

Nordstrom prides itself on providing white-glove high-touch customer experiences.

According to Shea, “Nordstrom is a brand. Not a channel.” This is why she spent years creating seamless experiences between channels, meeting customers where they are. She wanted to give control to customers, giving them the accessibility and convenience to decide when, where and how they shop. Shea’s team strives to “give customers back the wonderful gift of time.” 

Shea continuously looked for new ways for customers to connect with Nordstrom’s employees – whether it’s support agents or personal stylists. For instance, the company’s Style Board allows stylists to curate products for a customer, send it to their phone and then be available for a live chat. Seamless, omnichannel experiences are what customers expect today, and Shea delivers!

Connect with Shea on Social Media:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/shea-jensen-a89910ab

Twitter – https://twitter.com/jensen_shea

25. Tim Heidemann, College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving, Former Director, Customer Sales and Loyalty Center

College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving won the award for best-in-class contact center at the 2019 CCW Excellence Awards. This follows Tim’s strive for a speed of 80/30, which means 80% of calls are answered within 30 seconds. His team also works to have fewer than 5% of calls hang up before they reach an agent. 

Tim is not just focused on speed, though. When his agents get on the phone, every customer feels valued  According to Tim, “It’s not about hauling junk but providing a solution to a problem that customers have.” Agents are trained to really understand what is happening with the customer.

Tim also heavily focuses on the culture of the workplace, which was critical as he grew the team size from 10 agents to over 100. One initiative he implemented was an anonymous box “Talk with Tim” where agents could submit questions as a way to foster open communication.

Connect with Tim on Social Media: 

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-heidemann-28a2575

That wraps up our list of our top 25 favorite customer service practitioners and leaders.

Who are your favorite customer service leaders? Drop me a line at emily@netomi.com. I’m always looking to get inspired by great CX leaders and initiatives to feature.

Looking to grow your support team and reduce costs? Here’s why AI trumps outsourcing customer service

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   Aug 7, 2020

As a way to grow a support team, scale to new markets, provide 24/7 support and reduce costs, many companies hire a business process outsourcer (BPO) to farm out customer service. Over the last few years, AI-powered customer service automation has become a viable alternative to BPOs, helping companies achieve these same end-goals with less risk and higher ROI. 

In this post, we’re exploring the hidden costs of outsourcing and the risks to a company’s reputation, customer experience and bottom line. We will also explore why AI is safer, more cost-effective, and most importantly, delivers a better customer experience as compared to BPOs.

Why outsourcing became a thing…..and why it should be a thing of the past 

Companies like Bank of America, Ford Motor Company and the Wall Street Journal use overseas workers to cover all or part of their customer service. This is because in the 1990s, when outsourcing began to gain prominence, the cost of labor and overhead costs was much more favorable, and it provided a way to offer more around-the-clock coverage. 

Most commonly, outsourcing jobs go to India –  70% of consumer support in the world is managed here1 – and the Philippines. There are also near-shore hubs, including Central America and the Caribbean, that offer benefits of more aligned time zones and more native English speakers, but labor is not as cheap in mature cities like San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama.

At the time when outsourcing rose in popularity, customer service was not as critical to the health and viability of a company’s bottom line. Over the past few years, though, customers started basing their buying decisions based on the customer experiences they received. Studies have shown that 90% of Americans use customer service as a deciding factor when choosing to do business with a company2. Even one instance of poor customer service can frustrate a customer enough to switch to a competitor. The horror stories of poor experiences with farmed out call centers are well known, and we’ve all likely had our own personal experience. These poor customer interactions have resulted in U.S. businesses losing $62 billion each year3.

Not all outsourcing is bad, of course. Gartner recommends that “activities that have less of an impact on CX, like collections and data analytics …. are more suitable for a [BPO]4.”  Not customer service. 


Customer service leaders need to ask themselves what the impact of outsourcing customer care on their customer experience is worth in saved labor costs.


Hidden costs: Companies lose money when outsourcing customer service

While labor costs will be lower overseas than keeping customer support in-house and onshore, there are many fees that customer service leaders often overlook.

Customer service leaders typically plan for the expected labor and overhead costs. Dedicated agents usually cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 per month and you’ll pay higher for industry specialists with more in-depth domain knowledge5. There are also costs associated with benefits for full-time employees, Supervisor/Supervision costs and occupancy/infrastructure/technology costs.

An expensive hidden cost comes when selecting a vendor itself. According to MIT, companies expect to spend an additional 1 to 10% on vendor selection and initial travel costs6. This includes: documenting requirements, sending out RFPs and evaluating the responses, and negotiating a contract. Also consider costs associated with education, setting up the training process and retraining as business evolves.


“There are practical reasons why an outsourcer’s service level is seldom as high as what you’ll get from your own people. If outside contractors cut costs, it might be because they’re more efficient. But it’s far more likely that the savings occur because contractors pay their people less, spend less on training, or both.”

— Jeffrey Pfeffer, CNN Money7 


The risks of outsourcing customer service 

Many companies that have farmed out customer service overseas report that the costs far outweighed the benefits and brought it back in-house. In fact, Gartner says that 80% of customer service outsourcing projects that are designed to cut costs will fail8. This is because there are many risks with outsourcing customer service, including: 

1. A negative impact on CSAT

The biggest risk with outsourcing customer service is the negative impact it can have on the customer experience. One single bad experience is enough to lead 33% of customers to switch companies9. In general, U.S. consumers have a bad taste of international support, even if it has improved over the past few years.

MIT Sloan Management Review reports that outsourcing has led to measurable decreases in customer satisfaction for a number of North American businesses8. This is due to ”declines in customer satisfaction from front office offshoring may be partly attributable to language and cultural issues, and partly related to other gaps for outside service providers (offshore or onshore) to adequately serve and satisfy consumers.”10


Are the savings in labor costs worth losing your most loyal customers? 


2. The health of a company’s balance sheet

If a negative customer experience is not enough of a deterrent, a company’s shareholders might be. The average decline for a company on The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for companies outsourcing customer service is associated with a drop of roughly 1% to 5% in a company’s market capitalization, depending on what industry the company is in11.

3. Disconnect from your brand

The overseas agents hired by BPOs to be the voice of a brand to customers are not officially employees of the company they represent. The BPO hires and trains its own agents. As the outsourcing company, you have no control over who is hired. Sometimes, agents work for multiple companies at the same time. When there’s such a disconnect, it’s difficult to build the same company love.

Brain Scudamore,  the founder and CEO of O2E Brands, the banner company for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING and Shack Shine, refers to outsourcing as “the worst customer service mistake you can make.” He describes a time when 1-800-Got-Junk? outsourced customer service to a company in Atlantic Canada. “They were enthusiastic, even painting their office our signature 1-800-GOT-JUNK? blue and sending us pics of the team wearing our silly promotional wigs. But after a few months, we had to bring the call center back in-house. Why? Even with the best of intentions, you just can’t replicate your company culture from afar – and customers pick up on that.12” 

4. Fractured process to re-train 

Call center agents work off of pre-approved scripts. Sometimes, things rapidly evolve – such as during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. When your team is offshore, retraining agents is more difficult. If you use a BPO, you’ll also need to think of how to efficiently communicate changes from marketing, sales and engineering to your contracted agent team.

Learn how a virtual contact center differs from a traditional call center.

While high agent attrition is not exclusive to outsourced teams (contact center turnover typically exceeds 20%13) the impact of relying on a human-only team can’t be ignored. And there are a few downfalls that are more prominent with an international team: burnout is accelerated by graveyard shifts in which agents rarely see sunlight and experience isolation from friends and family by working off-hours. A Forbes article highlighting a call center in India talks about the “culture shock and social trauma that almost all employees suffer.12” 

6. Cultural Nuances and Barriers

Customers easily pick up on cultural differences and if any experience is not on brand as expected, it can negatively impact customer satisfaction. 

One call center worker described the training they undergo to bridge the culture gap and the shortcomings. Companies train people to think like Westerners, to talk like them, and to spend all day talking to them. The culture seeped through, but not all of the culture. They know only what they have learned in school, in training, and in their routine conversations with customers. There are enormous gaps in their mental picture of America that they simply fill with their imagination and the movies, sometimes seeing the West as little but the rock concerts, parties, and fast lifestyle the entertainment industry loves to promote it as.12“ 

While this Hollywood-interpretation sounds great, it’s not the everyday reality of U.S. customers.


“CSS leaders must not lose sight of CX needs when deciding what to outsource to prevent customer disloyalty”

– Gartner 


Why AI beats outsourcing customer service 

The ideal use cases to farm out support to another country are tickets with low complexity and high volume. As it turns out, these are also the optimal use cases to delegate to an AI-powered virtual agent.

Here are the biggest benefits of AI over outsourcing, whether companies are scaling support across email, chat, messaging, social, or SMS customer service

  1. There’s zero-risk:  AI platforms like Netomi enable you to launch AI “behind-the-scenes” keeping an agent in the loop to approve, edit, or reject AI-recommended responses. The AI will continually learn based on the agent’s actions, boosting its accuracy. Only when the accuracy reaches a certain threshold, an AI agent would start interacting directly with customers.
  2. You’re in complete control: While contracted employees of a BPO are not employees of your company, an AI agent is part of your team. You have complete control over training (and this can be done easily with historic data). Training an AI can be done in 2-4 weeks, about the same time as transitioning support to an outsourced team. An AI Agent is also easily re-trained and responses can be updated at any time, so optimizing the experience is seamless.
  3. Scale up in seconds: AI Agents can manage an infinite number of tickets at a time. At a moment’s notice, you can’t hire and train new agents, and your customers are the ones who suffer. When Covid-19 saw WestJet ticket volume increase 45-fold, its virtual agent Juliet was able to deflect tens of thousands of calls from its human agents14. Even if you can anticipate a surge in tickets, such as a seasonal spike, hiring temporary workers is costly.
  4. Expand to new channels at near zero marginal cost: Customers expect to receive service through any channel and on any device. As your customer service team extends support to new channels, the same AI can be deployed on many channels with minor changes to the conversational design.
  5. Uplift your team, don’t fire them: Companies look at AI to uplift their current workforce – replacing tasks, not replacing jobs. In fact, the ability to rationalize the company’s headcount was the least-often cited impact of bots (about one in 10). AI removes mundane tasks, letting human employees focus on work that requires higher-level thinking (which pays off in employee satisfaction and happiness). With the unemployment rate at 11% in the United States (as of June 2020), every job matters.
  6.  

Gartner research has found that customer support leaders expect 80% of technologies – including AI- deployed to return more value in the next two years than they do now15. The benefits of AI snowball over time. With outsourcing, the cost-benefit barely improves.

Can we tell you more about why AI provides a better ROI than outsourcing your customer service overseas? Let’s chat!   

For more information, check out The Ultimate Guide to Delivering Exceptional Customer Support in 2022.

References 

  1. https://www.31west.net/blog/5-biggest-us-companies-offshore-india/ 
  2. https://us.business.trustpilot.com/reviews/why-a-personalized-consumer-experience-matters-in-the-ecommerce-world 
  3. https://www.newvoicemedia.com/blog/the-62-billion-customer-service-scared-away-infographic 
  4. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/prioritize-cx-outsourcing-customer-service/ 
  5. https://www.quora.com/How-much-does-it-cost-to-outsource-customer-service-for-a-small-business 
  6. http://web.mit.edu/outsourcing/CIOmagazine-hiddencosts.htm 
  7. https://money.cnn.com/2006/03/01/magazines/business2/costofoutsourceing/index.htm 
  8. https://www.computerworld.com/article/2569384/gartner–customer-service-outsourcing-often-fails.html
  9. American Express WellActually Customer Service Research
  10. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB121441852405104029 
  11. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianscudamore/2016/08/16/this-is-the-worst-customer-service-mistake-you-can-make/#1e8c8df73cfc 
  12. https://advisory.kpmg.us/content/dam/advisory/en/shared-services-outsourcing/pdfs/archive/next-generation-contact-centers.pdf 
  13. https://applied.economist.com/articles/how-to-use-ai-to-scale-up-customer-service 
  14. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-03-03-gartner-identifies-the-top-five-customer-service-tech