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3 Ways Customer Service Is Like Home Design

Celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus, Salesforce, and IKEA offer surprising lessons leaders can use to redesign customer service and build experiences customers will love.

Designer Nate Berkus
What if we could create amazing experiences for customers, just like designer Nate Berkus does with his clients’ homes? [Ashley Burns Photography]

Imagine walking into a good friend’s home for the first time and experiencing an acute sense of anxiety. At first, you’re confused by this feeling.

But then you realize that the foyer of this home is awfully narrow — if you try to stretch your arms out your elbows would hit the walls. The ceiling is so low your head grazes it, and you aren’t tall. Your chest tightens, and you can’t seem to take a full breath. Sadly, you’re not going to want to spend much time in your friend’s home, and will probably even avoid it. 

Your business could be creating the same feelings in your customers with the experience you provide. Just as a well-designed foyer creates a welcoming feeling for guests, a thoughtful customer service experience creates positive associations with your business for customers. A poor experience is as bad for business as that low ceiling is for your anxiety. Deliver an unpleasant experience, and no customer will want to stick around. 

What if we could create amazing experiences for customers, just like designer Nate Berkus does with his clients’ homes? Clara Shih, CEO of Service Cloud, sat down with Berkus (who counts Oprah among his fans) and Umesh Sripad, chief digital officer of IKEA U.S., during Dreamforce 2021. Together, they uncovered three principles from home design that service leaders can use to create incredible experiences customers will love. 

You’re only as good as your last design (or customer) experience

You might say that your friend’s foyer was a design fail — perhaps they should have hired a different interior designer. Each new project is an opportunity for the designer to wow the customer with creative ideas, brilliant execution, and excellent service. If all goes well, they may win a client for life. 

In business, each interaction with the customer is an opportunity. When you create effortless, personalized experiences for your customers, their satisfaction and loyalty grows. 

But it only takes one bad interaction to lose a customer. As just one example, 67% of consumers would switch or supplement insurers after a bad experience, according to our “Connected Healthcare Consumer” report. 

It’s important to deliver the very best service — and the very best design — every single time.

Nate Berkus, interior designer

“It’s important to deliver the very best service — and the very best design — every single time,” Berkus said. “Because you’re only as good as your last offering.”

Providing quality, personalized customer service matters. In fact, 71% of customers have made purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service, according to our “State of the Connected Customer” report. Fifty-two percent expect offers to always be personalized — up from 29% in 2019. If you get the service experience right, customers will reward you: 91% agree that a positive customer service experience makes them more likely to make another purchase. 

That’s why IKEA, a Service Cloud customer, has put so much thought into the customer journey across every touchpoint. “We’re prioritizing digital experiences to make things super easy for our customers, and scalable for our digital HQ,” Sripad said.

Let’s look at how customers could interact with IKEA to design their dream kitchens. A customer — we’ll call her Gemma — starts at IKEA’s kitchen design website with a question about cabinets. She quickly types her question into IKEA’s chatbot and gets a rapid response, making it easy to find the answer she needs.

Umesh Sripad, chief digital officer of IKEA U.S., shows how customers could interact with IKEA to design their dream kitchens.

Next the bot helps Gemma schedule a virtual consultation with an IKEA planner. Gemma gets remote assistance at home, meeting with the IKEA planner over two-way video. She shows the planner her space, and together, they select and order her new cabinets. Such an easy experience for Gemma! 

Just as good design creates an inviting home that people want to spend time in, an effortless customer service experience makes customers feel welcomed by your business — so they’ll want to come back. 

Check out this related Dreamforce session to learn more: Connected Customer Service Designed for Effortless Experiences

What you don’t see matters as much as what you do see

In your friend’s uninviting foyer, the low ceiling and narrow width made you feel anxious. A ceiling light flickering on and off like a strobe, caused by a faulty electrical system, may have also been a factor. 

In home design as well as business, what you don’t see matters as much as what you do. In the foyer what you didn’t see was bad electrical — and you really wish your friend had hired an electrician. In customer service, automation works like your electrical system — hidden but oh so important.

Automation is powering your customer experiences and empowering your teams to make your offerings shine.

Nate Berkus

“You may not be aware of it working behind-the-scenes, but it sparks the action behind your processes,” said Berkus. “Automation is powering your customer experiences and empowering your teams to make your offerings shine.”

For example, when a customer calls your support center, the agent may need to take multiple steps to resolve the issue. They might log into different systems to check the status of a warranty, or request an authorization for a return. They may need help from a team member across the building or in a different time zone — or from a business partner outside the company. When the agent switches between systems and screens for each step, the customer waits — typically on hold.

“Today’s reality is that many service organizations are still operating in silos,” said Shih, CEO of Service Cloud. “Just think about customers who get transferred from interactive voice response to agent to agent, and have to repeat information each time, and agents who have to toggle across multiple different screens, just to get a single ticket resolved.”

Automation streamlines customer service processes so that agents can focus on what really matters: the human on the other side of the call. Add artificial intelligence (AI) to the mix, and service teams more quickly and efficiently resolve customer issues. 

To see how this works, let’s return to our IKEA example. Gemma, the IKEA customer, realizes she miscalculated the size of her refrigerator and needs to change her cabinet order. She opens up her IKEA mobile app and sends a message to customer service for help.

Astro holding a phone with a chat message from IKEA customer support.
A chat message from IKEA appears on Gemma’s phone.

The agent has all the information about Gemma’s order right in the case, and quickly initiates a cabinet exchange through an automated process. The exchange requires warehouse approval, so the support rep sends a message in Slack to get the warehouse team’s approval — fast. 

Gemma wants a callback, so the IKEA agent uses Service Cloud Voice to make the call. On the back end, Service Cloud Voice transcribes the call in real-time, and artificial intelligence analyzes the call content and surfaces next-best actions for the agent. 

The AI identifies a faucet that would match Gemma’s kitchen hardware — and the agent is able to make an upsell. Now the service team has become proactive, offering helpful recommendations to the customer and driving the business forward.

Just as an up-to-date electrical system makes it possible to light your home beautifully, automation and AI make it possible for your team to deliver personalized service that helps your business shine bright. 

Check out this related Dreamforce session to learn more: How AI and Automation Are Reshaping the Customer Experience

The experience has to be personalized to your buyer

Your friend’s foyer may be unique — but the impression it leaves isn’t flattering. In both home design and business, the experience must be thoughtful and personalized to be successful.

“The best spaces are always the ones that are deeply personal,” said Berkus. “When I walk into your home I want to immediately know who you are, and what you care about — from the family photos on the wall, to a woven basket from your trip to Mexico, to your grandmother’s vintage side table.”

Just as personalizing a home makes it special, knowing who your customer is and how they like to interact with your business creates a thoughtfully personalized experience. The customer service channel mix you provide should reflect your customers’ preferences. Today people like to connect on multiple channels. In fact, 76% of customers prefer different channels depending on the context, and 74% say they’ve used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction.

Serving customers on their favorite channels, knowing their preferences, and being empathetic … [takes] the customer experience from transactional to transformational.

Nate Berkus

IKEA kept this in mind in designing the experience for customers like Gemma. She interacted with support through a range of channels: chat, two-way video, messaging, and voice. Throughout her IKEA journey, everyone Gemma met knew who she was and had a history of her interactions with the business — which is what’s possible when you connect your contact center with your CRM. AI-powered technology even helped the IKEA service agent suggest a faucet that would appeal to Gemma — and an additional sale was made.

“Serving customers on their favorite channels, knowing their preferences, and being empathetic,” Berkus said. “When all of these elements are connected, they take the customer experience from transactional to transformational.”

Check out this related Dreamforce session to learn more: From Bricks to Clicks: How IKEA Is Boosting Digital Service


Erin Carlyle is editorial lead, Service Cloud, and a former journalist and home design writer. Outside of work, you’ll find her gardening, hiking, sewing, Peloton-ing, or cooking globally-inspired meals.

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