Financial software company Xero uses technology to support its customer service efforts.
How do businesses that rely increasingly on technology and data become more “human”? It’s a question that’s front of mind for Rachael Powell, Chief Customer and People Officer at financial software business Xero.
“It’s a conundrum and a constant balancing act,” Powell says. “You have to ask, ‘How can we get the economies of scale that AI and machine learning give us while not losing that personal touch?’ It’s really important to us that we remain human.”
Powell says the first way Xero does it is by looking for ways to engage with customers and partners directly. This might involve, for instance, providing direct customer advice from a professional bookkeeper or specific content that will help them understand an accountancy issue. “Our customer support teams are qualified accountants and bookkeepers – they’re purposeful people, degree-level accountants. We don’t outsource any of it.”
Rachael Powell, Chief Customer and People Officer at Xero
The other way, she says, is through customer experience (CX) technology. “Intelligent search allows us to look at all of the sources of information across our content and curriculum team, and anything externally,” Powell says. “[It can] anticipate customers’ needs in terms of what questions they might ask based on where we know they are in their customer journey.”
Another tech-based CX tool is Xero’s classification engine, which channels customer cases to the right expert. “[This is about] using machine learning to understand the context of those cases so they can get diverted to the right person to answer the question in the most timely fashion. We have different levels of support based on customer inquiries. And we’ve got six sites over four regions that are operating with this so we can ‘follow the sun’ … it’s 24/7 customer support.”
Powell says Xero doesn’t have an inbound telephone service – cases are monitored using technology. But the company has established metrics and KPIs around how quickly the customer success team responds to customers.
“We’ve just launched a new piece of technology that clears any ambiguity for our customers – it tells them what the anticipated response time will be. We know from talking to our customers that it’s not so much about them wanting answers within an hour – they want to know when the answer might be so they can get on with other work [in the meantime].
“Sometimes it’s immediate through content that answers their question or they’re directed to a help page, leveraging the masses of information we have sitting behind the scenes. At other times it takes a human-to-human interaction.”
Powell says that she has conducted many roundtables with Xero’s CX representatives since starting in her role. “The question I ask them is: ‘how many times and how engaged are you with the customers on an interpersonal level?’ Quite often I hear a divided audience – a lot of people actually like to solve cases through email correspondence by serving up some content. The other half will say they enjoy the human-to-human interaction. They will pick up the phone and ring that customer and explain to them what they need to do, talk to them about a new product feature or put them in touch with somebody who can talk to them.”
“We’ve seen our cost to serve go down over the years. We’ve also seen our transactional net promoter score go up.”
Powell points to research that shows most customers prefer to use company websites to get answers to questions rather than using the phone or email. “We know that more than 50 per cent of customers think it’s important to solve product issues themselves rather than rely on customer service, because they’re learning the product,” she says. “That’s why our education and curriculum team sits under customer success.”
Powell says customers who have ready access to support and information “fall in love with the brand”, and this helps them stay engaged. “It’s all around ease of use for them,” she says.
Xero believes in a flexible approach to dealing with customer queries. It can’t be just solved with technology or human intervention only – these days, companies must be excellent at both. “It’s very much a judgment call that needs to be made by the qualified customer experience professionals we have in our organisation,” she says. “They have a sense of meaning and purpose in terms of the role they play, and a lot of autonomy in how they respond to customer inquiries.”
Powell says Xero’s “horses for courses” approach is working – for customers and the bottom line. “We’ve seen our cost to serve go down over the years,” she says. “We’ve also seen our transactional net promoter score go up.
“We run an autonomous environment where the team [members] are left to their own devices to make decisions about what is the best and most effective way they can anticipate the customer’s requirements. [We want to] meet the customer’s needs in a way that delights them and over-delivers on what we’ve promised.”
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