Podcast: Michael Callahan, VP CX at Orbit, Shares How His Chabot Scored Higher Than Human Reps

August 11, 2020

This week we spoke with Michael Callahan, VP eCommerce and CX at Orbit, lawn and garden care product provider. During our talk we learned:

  • The importance of CX leaders leading the conversation with the customer
  • Why creativity is essential in this field, not only when a pandemic happens
  • How to get a high satisfaction score for your chatbot

Listen to the full episode:

Defining Customer Experience

For me, Customer Experience is about reframing the conversation that executives and companies have by putting the consumer at the center of it. It’s a philosophy that the company embraces as a way to make a business decision.

It doesn’t mean you’ll always make decisions favoring the customer, but as long as you’re starting the conversation with that in mind, that’s the best guidance. 

You are the voice of your customer

There are several challenges for me as part of my position. The first one is about how customers want to engage with the company. It should be their preference, when there’s a generational gap that needs attention.

Millennials communicate via text and typing, while baby boomers and gen X are often inclined to talk via voice. You can’t get everyone to use one method, and you need to be available to your customers wherever they choose.

Businesses are often approached by engineering companies who want to “bridge the gap”, offering voice to text translation. It’s important to remember that as the customer service or customer experience leads, you own the customer’s conversation. That means you should control how the engagement with the customer works.  

Another challenge I’m experiencing is that the team has very little influence. If you’re a good CX leader, you need to make engineers nervous. If they don’t pay attention when you walk in the room, how likely is it that you’re going to get them to re-write code with a giant technical debt, adjust upcoming releases or change a relevant line to 10,000 users?

It’s important to remember that you need to be the voice of the customer. You need to speak your customers out to the product managers and engineers. Creating that degree of trust is an important and challenging thing to do, but crucial to making sure the customers’ voice is heard. 

Don’t trust others to understand your customer

I was working at a company when we hired a 3rd party vendor to create a chatbot. All they had to do was listen to 10,000 customer calls, and build the bot around that. That didn’t work, mostly because the vendor didn’t understand our company and product.

Then, I hired an in-house engineer and did the linguistic processing myself. I understood the customers, the demands and the intent when asking a question. This chatbot was a huge success, since we put more emphasis on the intentionality part of the conversation.

We would get a lot of messages praising the product, company, founder and so on. However, the second half of the message would start with a “but”, detailing the problem at hand. While most chatbots would identify this as positive feedback, due to it being mostly positive, I understood that we need to look for the “but” to understand what the customer really wanted to say. The magic is in the customer experience and knowing the customers. 

In light of Covid-19, chatbots can be helpful - they don’t take a vacation, go to sleep or need hours off. They’re not at risk. But it’s important to make sure they’re personalized enough and don’t damage the experience you have with your customers. 

Me doing the linguistic part of the chatbot led to it gaining a higher satisfaction score than our human representatives. Our customers were expecting a bad experience with the bot, and were so surprised when it helped them.

Give yourself the credit you deserve

An engineer or a vendor who doesn’t have any experience with your product can’t understand your customers as much as you can.

I think customer experience and customer service people don't credit themselves enough to have the product, customer and domain expertise. They should stay in control of that through the conversation and language with the customer. It’s their responsibility to design the communication and control the experience and flow. 

Your relationship with your customers is the most critical asset that you have - not revenue, not profitability, not anything else. Don't give that to anybody. Don’t outsource your relationship with your customer to anybody.

Customer Experience post Covid-19

When Covid-19 first hit, companies understood they couldn’t have a call center with 500 people during a pandemic, and we all started working from home. This helped companies become more creative, and it helps them re-think the concept of call centers, which is important.

You want to be creative when it comes to call centers, and it might be relevant not only during a pandemic. At a previous company, we went to US army bases worldwide to recruit moms looking for a couple of hours of adult conversation. Because they were around the world, we could have 24/7 coverage for our customers. That’s the key - you need to get creative, especially in times like this. 

Covid-19 also helped understand that leaders need empathy. There’s a lot of pressure on the team, both professionally and personally, and managing that as a human leader is important. I think that truly empathetic leaders were successful during this period.

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