Wooden road signs attached to a post and pointing to different directions. They say, "This way," "that way," and "my way."
PHOTO: Jon Anders Wiken

When Julien Rio thinks about the best customer experience he’s ever had, he recalls shopping at Waitrose and Partners in London. He was short on time, and after asking the sales person for help, he was surprised to see the employee look the product up on his smartphone instead of going to a nearby computer. In a few seconds, the sales person found that the product was out of stock, but available in another store a few blocks away. He reserved the item and 10 minutes later, Rio was in the other store with the product he needed.

“What was so amazing about this experience is how seamless it was,” said Rio, AVP, International Marketing for RingCentral. “I didn’t have to wait, the employee was able to offer me a quick solution, and he even managed to build a personal relationship by chit-chatting. This prevented me from going to a competitor, whether it was another physical or online shop.” 

RingCentral is a provider of cloud-based business communication solutions based in Belmont, Calif., and a sponsor of Simpler Media Group’s virtual Digital Experience Summit (DXS) Conference. During the conference, Rio presented the session, “Re-thinking CX in a Post-Pandemic World.” We spoke with him about how developing seamless communication between multiple channels can help improve both the customer and employee experience. 

Empathize for Better Experiences

Simpler Media Group: Thinking back on your roles in marketing and customer care, is there one overarching lesson you’ve learned about how organizations can deliver the most effective customer experiences? 

Julien Rio: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. That is both the simplest and the most commonly overlooked rule. Technology, budget, programs, customer journey mapping — all these are tools to achieve better customer experiences but are worthless if you don’t know your customer. Whether in B2C or B2B, working with small companies or large enterprises, in the toys or tech industry, the rule remains the same: understand what your customers care for, what matters to them when making a purchasing decision, how they use your products and services, and which aspects matter most to them. You can learn all of this by researching, interviewing and spending time with your customers.

SMG: How have the expectations of customers and agents changed in a post-pandemic world and how do these changes impact today’s organizations? 

Rio: Twenty years ago, companies were in control, limiting customers to a physical address or a hotline number to resolve their issues. Today, customers have the power. They decide when to engage, which channel to use, and they can make things public via social media when unsatisfied. Companies have to adapt and offer flexibility. Be available on the channels your customers frequent, make it easy for them to engage, be transparent about response times and don’t transfer customers to a different channel for them to repeat everything over again.

From an agent perspective, the post-pandemic world is different. As the frontline, customer service representatives often face angry and frustrated customers, but have to keep smiling, even in a fast-paced contact center. With the pandemic, many reps have changed jobs or are now working remotely.

To remain competitive, companies should cater to both the employee experience and the customer experience. Give employees a career path and make them feel valued by using AI in the contact center to answer mundane questions and let them focus on more complex situations where their skills matter. Make internal communication and collaboration stronger to offer additional flexibility and hybrid work. 

For a better customer experience, merge technologies and teams to answer as a single voice regardless of the channel and ensure you’re available in the channels where your customers want to engage. 

A graphic that has Julien Rio's headshot to the bottom left, a DX Summit logo to the top left, Julien Rio's name and company (RingCentral) written to the top right, and this quote to the bottom right: “To remain competitive, companies should cater to both the employee experience and the customer experience.”

Customer Interactions Are a Benefit, Not a Cost

SMG: Where do you think organizations are falling short when it comes to customer experience, and why? 

Rio: The general customer journey is often broken. As a customer, you think in terms of problems, not internal processes, and you want your issue resolved regardless of the channel you choose. But most companies don’t work like this. They ask customers to dial a different number, re-explain the problem, or transfer them multiple times until they get to the right person. Lack of internal communication channels make it difficult to help customers if the agent isn’t an expert on that topic. In order to resolve this, you need to think the way your customers do, breaking down your technology silos for better experiences.

SMG: Why do you believe organizations need to rethink the way they interact with and service their customers? 

Rio: Contact centers are often seen as cost centers and customer inquiries as expenses. Because each interaction costs money, we need to build more FAQs, encourage self-service, reduce the number of reps and make our interactive voice response systems more complex to filter the noise. This is the wrong approach. 

Customer inquiries are a blessing. Your contact center database is an endless source of wealth. Looking at your contact center stats is the easiest way to understand your customers, their biggest concerns, what works or doesn’t with your product, what’s missing, and what you should develop next. It’s also a way to understand which channel they favor, and how best to engage. Not to mention that customer engagement is the best way to remain top of mind and unlock upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

CX Trends That Differentiate Brands

SMG: In your presentation you discussed the five trends that will improve CX in 2022. What are these trends and why should organizations pay attention to them?

Rio: The following trends that can help companies keep up with customers’ expectations and differentiate themselves:

  • Keep innovating after the pandemic: Pandemic restrictions forced companies to reinvent processes and accelerate their digital transformation. The challenge for brands now is to find which innovations are relevant to “the new normal.”
  • Embrace voice and digital for the best CX: Phone service remains essential for some groups of customers, particularly older generations who tend to rely on traditional channels. Voice is also a powerful way to connect in situations requiring urgent assistance or empathy. The question is not about choosing between voice or digital, but how to integrate both to provide a unified experience.
  • Use conversational AI to improve productivity and CSAT: Conversational AI is a powerful way to assist customers 24/7. We often experience this in the form of chatbots and virtual agents. This technology has many benefits, such as helping agents be more productive. Increasing the use of conversational AI allows companies to assist their customers better and provide the seamless interactions they expect.
  • Tap into Workforce Engagement Management to retain employees: In the last few years, we’ve seen a shift from Workforce Optimization (WFO) to Workforce Engagement Management (WEM). While WFO refers to optimizing resources and costs, WEM has a more employee-centric focus. It’s about the full agent experience, including hiring, onboarding, training, development and more. By relying on tools such as quality management and performance management, supervisors can empower agents and help them improve customer satisfaction.
  • Go back to basics: While innovation can help you keep up with customer expectations, companies should also address basic needs such as long wait times and redirections across multiple channels. By analyzing the customer journey and fixing frustrations, you’ll be able to deliver more enjoyable experiences in the year ahead. 

Balance Basics with Innovation to Come Out Ahead

SMG: Can you give us an example of how one of your customers was able to improve the customer experience by removing technology silos? 

Rio: A major player in the insurance industry, AXA, has been using RingCentral to launch multiple new digital channels aligned with what their customers would traditionally use in their personal lives and regroup those channels within a single platform. With that approach, they removed technological barriers, offering a unified experience across channels. They then went one step further, empowering customers to take advantage of call deflection by choosing to transfer from a phone conversation to a digital one for time savings or simplicity. 

SMG: What are your top recommendations for acting on the major trends you covered in your presentation? 

Rio: The most important advice is thinking about customer experience basics before launching any new initiatives or jumping on new trends. Why launch a new trendy channel if you can’t even answer emails in a timely manner? Again, getting customer feedback and putting yourself in their shoes is required to identify any issue. 

Once these basics are covered, keep an eye on best practices in multiple industries, not only those of your direct competitors. Customers are quickly raising their expectations based on new standards from the most innovative companies. Finally, monitor your internal systems and collect your team’s feedback to find ways to improve your processes — particularly by adopting new technologies such as AI or WEM.

Watch this DX Summit session on demand here.