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S3E05 – Why it’s Key to Help Customers Help Themselves – Mahendra Mane, Vonage

Duration 24:19

Guest Speaker

Mahendra Mane

Mahendra Mane

Lead, Customer Solutions, Vonage

Industry

E-commerce

Mahendra Mane leads the Customer Solutions team for South East Asia at Vonage. Over the course of his career, he has been a cloud communications consultant and evangelist with extensive experience in communication and collaboration solutions in SAS, CPAAS and On-premises offerings. During his 17 years of industry experience, he has gained expertise in solution design, pre-sales, delivery, and implementation that have helped customers solve critical business problems and drive efficiency. 

We cover:

  • How to manage customer expectations?
  • What goes into stellar customer service?
  • What are the best practices when choosing an AI chatbot?
  • What does the future of customer support look like?

If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe on Apple PodcastGoogle PodcastSpotify or wherever else you listen from. It means a lot, and it helps support the show. 

Transcript

Jude Gerald Lopez

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Twenty Minute Moat podcast.

I’ve got someone very special with me today.

We’ve got Mahendra Mane who is a senior sales solution consultant at Vonage.

He’s got a lot of industry experience in terms of communication, and he’s got a lot of thoughts on where the customer support space is heading in the coming years.

So, without further ado, I’ll just ask Mahendra to, you know, give us a brief intro on his role, the kind of brilliant work they’re doing at Vonage and, you know, just acquaint us with this particular role.

So welcome to the show, Mahindra.

And, could you tell us a little bit more about your role.

Mahendra Mane

Sure, sure. Hi Jude. Yeah. Thank you.

Hey guys, my name is Mahendra, and, I am a lead, I’m leading the customer solutions team in Southeast Asia for Vonage.

So, to give you a bit of background about Vonage. Vonage is a global leader in the CPaaS space that help next-generation communications that are more flexible, intelligent, and personal empowering our customers to do what is next and stay ahead of the game.

So, and, yeah, obviously, as I said, I’m leading a team of architects in the region here and helping customers to deliver the solutions.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Interesting. So, we’ve had a lot of conversations on, you know, where customer support is heading. And one thing that you can’t overlook is, you know, how great a role automation and, you know, things like conversational AI has had. Now, coming to a little bit more specific question, Mahendra, when you are talking about, you know, automation and the support industry, It’s a constantly evolving space. 

What do you, what do you think, you know, in the coming years, you know, what is the role of, say, voice bots and chatbots?

How are they helping this particular space?

Mahendra Mane

Sure. So, yeah, ideally, right.

What we see today in the customer service, right, most of the time it is devoted to of agents to do a manual search, Ok, with man valued customer interactions at a minimal 25% only. So, AI chatbots and automation, right, these technologies help free up the agent’s time from these routine tier one support requests so that they can focus more on the complex stuff.

So now, as we have seen, right, we see automation all around us today.

So, from something like ordering pizzas, checking your luggage at the airport, booking a hotel room, or even like, you know, right to book a doctor’s appointment.

So everywhere you, we see automation. So the customer service industry is no exception to this.

Like, what experts project is that 85% of the customer interactions will be handled without a need for a human agent. So that’s, that’s what, that’s the prediction from the experts.

And the key advantages of chatbots and voice, voice bots that we see, right, is they help to answer questions faster and with accuracy. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah, right. 

Mahendra Mane

So again, you know, there are not, there are not too many variations around that.

Obviously, this helps the agents to get the job done faster while reducing support costs.

Now, you know, building a virtual assistance that answers the customer’s questions directly on the front end and provides the agents with information and resources that they need on the back end. 

This is like phenomenal, right? 

Because it helps the customer service experience for the, like, It helps enhance the customer service experience.

Now, creating a complete end to end customer service with AI, from improvements in loyalty and brand reputations to new work streams, so these, these are the kind of values that customers get by, by deploying AI bots, and obviously, a voice bot.

So if you ask me, right, real-time self-service and AI assistance in customer service will bring huge opportunities to brands.

[04:16] Jude Gerald Lopez

I couldn’t agree more.

I mean, it was a very interesting point.

You stressed on, you know, in terms of, empowering both, the support agent, to pick up, you know, higher priority issues, and it also empowers the customer at the other end of the spectrum, right, with, you know, greater self service options. 

And he doesn’t have to, you know, waste time going through the entire customer support cycle just to get a very easy answer to a very solvable problem.

I wanted to sort of, you know, also now, since we spoke about it, go on to the other side of things, which is from the customer’s point of view. 

Now, almost every brand has a very digital first approach today. Again, what do you call,  support is automated. 

You get quick answers when it is a delightful experience.

Now, how should brands, or what do brands do to make, you know, that every interaction with their customer, a lot more than just a transactional interaction.

And, you know, for a brand, how do you create that sense of community with every customer experience touchpoint.

What are your thoughts on that, Mahendra?

Mahendra Mane

Absolutely. So, see, I think you are spot-on on that, right.

So, what we see today is that there are three key limits of transactional relationships. Like, obviously, like the first being, they don’t recognise the whole person, ok? 

Second is they divide rather than unify, ok?

And third is they ignore almost all outside impacts and benefits beyond the transaction. So there is no variations, right, around that.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah, yeah.

Mahendra Mane

So, the community is key to purposeful customer experience, right.

Obviously, communities thrive on the opposite of transactional relationships, because it’s more collaborative in nature.

Jude Gerald Lopez

And emotional, yeah.

Mahendra Mane

And emotional. So, by interacting in a community, people feel more of a common bond.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah.

Mahendra Mane

They feel closer to others rather than further away, so they share more of themselves and learn more from, about others.

Ok, so a space is created for relationships to deepen and develop over time, Ok. 

So, so simply sharing about, like, just, just an example, so, simply sharing information about the company or asking how do you think we are doing?

Is that, is a very, is a collaborative act which, you know.

If it happens in a community with genuine intent, this actually creates a greater impact when you deal with customers.

Like, you know, communities thrive on the opposite of transactional relations, right?

Because it is more collaborative in nature. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah. 

Mahendra Mane

So, by interacting in a community, people feel a more common bond.

That, that’s what we have seen, ok.

So they feel closer to others rather than further away. So they share more of themselves and learn more about others as well.

Mahendra Mane

Ok, so a space is created for relationships to deepen and develop, so that’s, that’s what a community brings, right, on, on the table.

So, you know, there are small things that companies need to do.

For example, you know, how do you think we are doing?

It’s a very simple question that can be asked

Which is a collaborative act.

And when this happens in a community with genuine intent, it has a massive impact on the customers.

So, small steps these like, like these, right, are surprisingly significant because of the change in the ground rules.

They create customer experiences that are not transactional.

They create a new relationship with the customer. And, you know, obviously, when these relationship, over the time, they keep on building and that’s what will make, make or break the future of the brand, in short.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Got it, got it, yeah.

I think, you know, customers are also used to, you know, a quicker resolution time for most queries these days.

How does a brand now manage expectations?

Is that a problem brands face today when dealing with customer experience? 

Having to manage the really high expectations and at the same time, you know, deliver a kind of consistent quality of service on almost multiple channels.

Mahendra Mane

Absolutely. Absolutely. So now, as we see, like, as, as we discussed, right, you know, the, the market, the needs of the market and the needs of the consumers have increased a lot.

So, to manage high user expectations and deliver consistent quality, right, or service, brands have to focus on a few key important areas. 

So, like, some of them, firstly, you see, creating or solving customer problems.

Creatively solving customer problems.

Now, what this means is, like, over 80% of customers have churned because they experience bad customer service. 

Like, obviously, in a, it also applies to me.

There are certain companies where, when I have interacted with, if the customer, I don’t like their customer service, I’ve stopped using them.

Mahendra Mane

Ok, so, that’s why you must thrive on solving problems for your customers and make it a central part of your support. So that’s the critical factor that brands need to keep in mind.

Now secondly, it’s response times. Now, 66% of people believe that valuing their time is the most important thing in any online customer journey, Ok? 

So resolving customer queries as quickly as possible is a cornerstone of good customer service.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah.

Mahendra Mane

Ok, and this is, and, I think, this is applicable when we go and we purchase any products as well, right?  

So that’s why keeping those responses quick is important.

Now, the third very important point is personalizing the service, ok. 

So, 40%, almost 40% of customers say that they want better human service.

That means they want to feel like they are being treated like a human. 

Ok, rather than just a ticket number, you know?

Jude Gerald Lopez

And not a ticket.

Mahendra Mane

Absolutely. Because, what many systems do is, when you call them, they just create a ticket and send it to you.

 So, that’s not a good CXO.

So, you want to feel as if they are being treated as human and more personal touch as well.

Ok, so they get angry when they’re treated like an individual person. 

Receiving very, like, you know, like, boilerplate responses or being treated like a tennis ball.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah, and I think this makes the job of the human agent a lot more difficult because, by the time they get to the human agent, they’re really, really mad.

Or the problem has sort of escalated in their head and…

Mahendra Mane

Correct. So, you know, customers actually want to interact with a person, not a company.

That’s what they want, right?

They don’t want, they want to interact with someone who is lively.

So although, you know, a company is are also run by a person.

That’s the feeling that they want.

So, that is why, you know, you see right, many businesses, what they do is they send gifts to their customers on their birthday.

This is just to bring that personal touch.

And, yeah, the next point would be obvious, you know, helping customers to help themselves.

So what this means is, customers, don’t always want to talk to someone to get the problem solved, right.

Sometimes we are like, say for some simple stuff, we want to get it resolved by, by ourselves.

So among consumers right, 81% of people right, they want to take care of the matters themselves, before even reaching out to a live representative.

So, what research shows is, 71% want the ability to solve most customer issues on their own.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Understood.

Mahendra Mane

So they don’t even want to talk to an agent, or talk to someone or go to some branch or do things. They want things to be resolved by their own.

And this is where, you know, self-service is obviously a scalable, cost-effective way to make customers happy in this area.

The next point would be, like, you know, focus on the, focus support on the customers.

Now, many brands, obviously, they are more focused on their products than their customers.

Now, getting that attention of customers, because you know, customers are an integral part of the business, right?

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah, true.

Mahendra Mane

Because they help you, and they, they come before the products or profit.

So you have to be very customer-centric in terms of your support.

Treating them like they are the centre of your world, because, you know, that’s what, that’s, that kind of attention is what customers today are requesting from you.

The next point would be, you know, obviously actively listening to customers.

So, if you have any mechanism to, you know, receive feedback from our customers, doing like those CSAT surveys and all. 

So you have to actively keep on knowing the needs of your customers and evolving over time. So, actively listening to what your customers need from you. 

And obviously, the last point would be to proactively help people.

Obviously, you know, everyone likes brands who go the extra mile right, in terms of support.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah, and check up on you before you go to them with a problem.

Mahendra Mane

Absolutely, absolutely.

So, the proactively helpful support is something which again makes the CX go to the next level and enhance the customer experience with your brand.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Interesting, I mean, those are, I mean, I really like the data points and, you know, I really liked this one line that you mentioned that, you know, customers want to interact with people and not just companies.

Yeah, I think that’s, that sort of nails a huge, you know, philosophical problem in the way people look at customer service.

People who are empathetic, people who understand that. What is the reception for, in general, for, say, voice or chat bots, been like from a customer’s point of view?

Do they still see that as just one hoop they need to jump through to get to a customer agent, a human agent, or has the reception been a lot better?

Mahendra Mane

No, I think the, you are spot on, right.

Now, as I mentioned in my earlier point, right, now customers don’t want to talk to someone to get their problem solved.

So if it happens self service, you know, they are more than happy.

Because, ultimately, the goal is to, you have a problem and you want to get it solved, ok, 

As quickly as possible. So, you know, in terms of statistics what I shared earlier, 81% of the customers, right, want to have the issues resolved by themselves before even talking to a live representative, ok. 

And, like, 71% already want the ability to solve customer issues on their own, without talking, like, without even having to go through a agent. 

So, they are more and more, the companies are getting receptive to have conversations with bots or with automation platforms, ok, to resolve the issues.

And, we have already seen a growing trend around this within our customers.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Got it. Coming to, you know, things that affect customer support. 

What are the tech trends that you think are most likely to affect, like, say, leaps in, you know, machine learning and automation or AI, conversational AI?

What kind of tech trends do you think are, you know, positively impacting customer support today?

Mahendra Mane

Absolutely. So yeah, I think, you know, the technology space is evolving at such a great pace, we have seen in the last five years, right?

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah.

Mahendra Mane

So some of the tech trends that we see and that will affect the customer support work, how the customer support works, right, in the near future.

So few of them that we have seen is, obviously, you know, face-to-face video communication is on the rise and will increase, in the near future. 

We have already seen that happening. So, since the pandemic, we’ve already seen so many organizations moving to face-to-face video-based communication solutions. OK, that’s number 1.

Number two is, that customers will expect an omnichannel service or experience. So, customers know, like, don’t want to sit on a single platform where they only are talking on voice, there are different solutions on, maybe chat and other stuff. So, they want something which is omnichannel in experience and provides a single interface.

Obviously, even from a brand perspective, it’s easy for them to manage an omnichannel solution. And from a user perspective, everything is contextual when they talk to the brand. So, that’s what is going to be the next trend. 

Obviously, real time messaging will out-space email. Obviously, email is already, it’s still there, but real time messaging will out-space email.

That’s a trend that’s already happening.

Obviously, remote work will become a new normal. 

So that’s already started, since the pandemic, so that’s already, we see many companies now, you know, adopting that remote work kind of culture.

The next would be bots and AI will help professionals. Obviously, bots and AI will be the trend to go.

Obviously, it will not replace humans, but they will help humans to enhance the experience that customers have today.

The next point would be, you know, self-service will become an absolute necessity.

Now, as I mentioned, customers also want to have something which is more self service rather than every time going to a brand to do some things.

So, that’s going to be an absolute necessity in the near future. And obviously, the customer service decisions will be more data-driven.

Now today, what happens is, more than data-driven, there are some, you know, traditional ways on how customer service works. 

But, what is changing now is that it is going to be based on what data you already have from that consumer. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah.

Mahendra Mane

And based on that, the decisions will be made.

So that’s very important point.

And, last but not the least, social media will become a standard customer service tool. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah. It’s a lot easier for brands because, you know, they are going where the customers already are, with social media.

They are not requiring you to, you know, come to a platform that you are not familiar with.

Mahendra Mane

Absolutely, absolutely.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Interesting. Moving on, I’m sure that a lot of folks listening to us, you know, talk about what is this, you know, secret sauce when it comes to delightful customer experiences.

Now automation and bots are here to stay.

When a brand, when an organization is now in the market looking for, you know, a suitable AI-driven chatbot solution or a voice bot solution, what should they be keeping in mind?

What are the best practices when you are, you know, trying to find the right fit for a kind of automated bot solution for your brand?

Mahendra Mane

Yeah, so, I think, firstly right, choosing an AI-driven chat solution, it’s not an easy task at all.

Because, you know, it has so many factors that the business needs to be, needs to consider before finding a one, or, before choosing a platform.

So, I’ll just talk about few of those areas that these brands need to know, or need to focus on, before, you know, deciding on a solution. 

So, one of the first considerations is what kind of bot does the company need or what the brand needs?

So like, something like, do they need a master bot, do they need a one-off bot, or do they need a bot platform?

Now obviously, there are questions on what is the difference between three, right?

Like, a master bot is where you have one central chat bot that users reach for regardless of any kind of questions they have.

So, you just have one bot and this is very similar like, to a hotel concierge, right, that you go and, any query you have, you ask the concierge. 

That can be related to your dinner, your tickets, or any other stuff that you have related to hotel, right. And they help you, 

So that’s more like a master bot. Now, singular bot is something which, you know, based on your used case, you just build one bot, ok. 

And it is just answering those questions. So, if you have multiple used cases, you just build 3 different bots and these are operating separately, they are not working in tandem. So, mostly, you see in a Q&A based bot used case right, these kind of solutions are used.

And lastly, obviously, you know, you have, you have to choose a bot platform where you have one solution that teams in organizations can use to create multiple of bots. 

So, this is more of a toolkit approach where, you know, your IT can pick one platform and then obviously, you know, it is, it has many advantages that you can have, like one team managing it for you, and obviously, from a support perspective, from a change perspective, it makes more sense.

So, you also have more control when you go to a bat, blog, bot platform. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Bot platform, yeah.

Mahendra Mane

That’s, that’s one consideration.

The second would be, like, obviously, you know, your NLP considerations. Like, the national language, the natural language processing. What kind of language do you need over there? 

Or, what kind of industry vertical are you using?

What kind of responses do you need to give? Based on what queries the consumer has asked.

So this is very important because there are many bot companies today in the market.

But, you know, they are not focused on certain verticals. Or they cannot provide responses that your business would need.

So, that’s a very important consideration that you have to do.

Obviously, the third very important point is, do you want to have a conversational based experience for your consumers, or do you want a scripted based, AI based conversation?

So like, you know, when you talk to a Q&A bot, you have to ask certain specific questions, and then it answers it.

Anything other than that, it doesn’t know.

This is where, you know, conversational is different, right?

Because it makes you more natural language kind, it is more human-like kind of conversation that 

More engaging with the person. So, that’s one key area that need to be focused on.

Obviously, the next one being, the user personalization.

So, when I say user personalization, as in, you know, a organization can have different consumers reaching out to them. So, one can be VIP, one can just be a normal customer.

They might have different , they might have purchased different products. So, you don’t want to give one canned response to every of these users, right?

It has to be more personal. 

Mahendra Mane

And this is what is important when you are also choosing your work flows with a chat bo, with a chat bot.

The 5th important point is also like, you know, understanding the AI learning and analytics.

Now this is very crucial because your, over the customer experience, right?

Your bot has to have a journey on how it is going to learn. How it is going to evolve overtime based on what your customers need?

So, having that learning experience and having those analytics of that platform is very important for the success of your brand and for, also, you know, to enhance your customer experience.

So that’s a key area that needs to be focused on as well.

The next would be obviously, the different channels and the deployment models.

Obviously, now there are so many channels that consumers use, right?

Like, depending on markets, there are different channels being used.

So, for example, you see in Singapore or in India, the WhatsApp is a predominantly used social channel. 

But if you go to Philippines, they have, they use Viber. 

In some countries it is line, some countries it is Kakao talk.

So, you have to understand what kind of channels and what kind, you would need in it and how you would deploy those channels.

OK, so, and, the next point would be obviously, you know, to understand your detailed use case and the project support as well.

What kind of use case are you deploying it for, and then, what kind of support you need. Or the project support or the deployment support you need for that solution.

 So it’s, this is, you see there are so many factors that these companies need to fir, cater for. 

Mahendra Mane

When selecting an AI bot or, or company which they are going to deploy with.

So, but obviously, you know, one key aspect is if you are thinking of deploying one of these solutions, you should have a deeper understanding of the digital workspace landscape and evaluate vendors based on how they will align with your vision of digital workspace.

Now that is crucial in that, in that thing. And this is where, you know, Vonage and Verloop, we are experts in providing this mature chatbot platform that can help customers to provide the right solution that meets their needs. 

Mahendra Mane

So we can customize the solution based on what their digital workspace need is.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Thank you so much for, that was in-detail and, I think, it’s a, very, you know, a clear answer to, , what the best practices are.

I was like, for people who are listening, this is the point where you take notes.

But, in the interest of time, coming to one final question. We’ve spoken a lot about personalization and customers wanting to, you know, talk to people and not bots. 

I mean Bots in the traditional sense, or in the sense that, you know, it’s a template response.

That is not conversation oriented.

So, given that, given that idea, is personalization and scalability still at odds?

Is that, you can achieve one but not the other?

What’s happening with, can you have personalized, delightful customer experience at scale today?

Mahendra Mane

Yeah, so now, in a highly competitive environment, right,

Personalized customer service is the reason why, you know, a brand can stand out from the rest of the people. Like I was talking about it earlier, right?

You cannot have canned, you have to treat your customers as, at the centre point when you’re providing support. 

They cannot be just like one ticket, you should not consider them as a ticket. So, a tailored customer experience differentiates the business.

Connecting with customers on a personal level builds loyalty and keeps them coming back for more, right?

That’s what I, I think even we as individuals, we, we experienced that day in and day out. 

You will always like the brands to, where you, where you are given the personal touch.

So to maintain quality with regards to high, high personalized support at scale, there are certain things that brand must keep in mind, ok?

So first is obviously, understand their customer and provide contextual information.

Now, again, I talked about it, when you are dealing with a brand, you don’t want yourself to repeat some things to the brand right?

Like, if you have already interacted with them before, you want them to know what product you have.

You don’t want them to ask you every time what is your product, what kind of, what is your service number.

So, the previous touchpoints and interaction history that you have with the customer, right, if you give this to an agent, obviously, they can serve that customer much better. 

Because they understand what, what, what has been his journey so far and what they can help to, like how they can resolve his issue faster.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah.

Mahendra Mane

Ok? So that, and obviously, you know, there are simple things that matter here, right?

Even, like, knowing the customer or addressing the customer by name when he calls. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Yeah.

Mahendra Mane

This is a very simple thing, but that actually gives you, a very personal kind of touch when you’re dealing with the, with that individual.

And also, he feels a bit comforted that, yes, this brand knows me. 

He knows where I have interacted, he knows what I have purchased and all that stuff. So it, it is, it is also satisfaction for the end-user. 

Now, obviously, the second point here would be also to be available everywhere.

Obviously, you know,  as a consumer, I want to interact with brands over multiple channels, right?

And I want them to have a similar support experience across different channels and across wherever I am, right? 

So, the flexibility to bring support directly to a customer, wherever they are, this is very important.

Whether it is embedded on your website or in the mobile app, live chat or anything, right.

So this, this elevates the experience that your consumers have with, with the brand.

And obviously, like, the third point here would be to provide automation and self-service personalized to the customers.

Obviously, automation, which we talked about it earlier, actually elevates the customer service to the next level. 

So, obviously, you know, these three points are important and, yeah, with this personalization, obviously, you know, you can definitely scale your, your customer service, and obviously, the experience for your consumers while dealing with the brand.

Jude Gerald Lopez

Absolutely. I think that sort of gives a lot of clarity on this traditional, you know, two characters that have been at odds for a long while.

Quality and quantity. Thank you so much, Mahendra. This has been an absolutely brilliant conversation.

I think there is a lot of insights, a lot of key takeaways from, you know, this little chat we have had.

We could go on for an hour or an hour and a half,  but I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

I think,, it’s given me also a lot of insights. I’ve been taking notes on the side as well, So thank you so much.

Mahendra Mane

Thank you. 

Jude Gerald Lopez

Thank you for taking the time to, be on the Twenty Minute Moat podcast,