Technology is changing the way people are demanding customer service. There is a fundamental shift in service being purely a post-sale role, to now scaling across the entire customer journey starting far before a purchase is made.
I had the honour of sitting down with Peter Schwartz, SVP Strategic Planning and Chief Future Officer at Salesforce, for some insights into what this world of customer experience (CX) will look like in the future and how organisations can keep up with expectations and deliver excellent customer service.
Check out a quick video highlight from the conversation or read on for the full Q&A.
Kelly: You have a very unique role at Salesforce. Tell us a bit about what you do.
Peter: I am the Chief Future Officer, as Marc Benioff likes to call me, or the SVP of Strategic Planning.
My job is 3 parts. First is taking on the big strategic issues Salesforce faces - where are we going in the world, what should the future of our products look like, what types of companies make sense for us to acquire, things like that. Second thing I do is the Futures Lab, which is a set of experiences for our customers to learn from each other. Finally, I spend a lot of time with our customers sharing our view of the future.
Kelly: We’re in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution - it’s really changing peoples lives and expectations. And it’s fueled by emerging technologies like AI, robotics, IOT, etc. What is your favourite advancement as a consumer yourself?
Peter: Single best example is the digital technology that allows things to happen in the background where you do not have to think about it.
I’ll give you a concrete example: I just purchased a new car and downloaded the car’s app. Before you can use it you need to put a lot of data in it. I didn’t know this information off hand, so I decided to wait until I actually got into the car when the details were in front of me. And as soon as I got in the car the next morning, I got a notification that the app automatically gathered all of the information. It anticipated my needs, it executed it, and it was like magic.
Kelly: Wow, that is cool! Have you had any other experiences in recent past where something has happened seamlessly for you that just a short time ago was entirely different?
Peter: I travel a lot for work, and finally hotels are able to know us like never before. They have a clear picture of who you are, what you want, how the room should be set. For example, I like sparkling water rather than still. Now whenever I stay in hotels they know this about me and can stock the room accordingly. It makes a big difference for me as a customer.
Kelly: In Salesforce’s 2019 State of Service Report, it says that 81% of service decision makers in the UK say their company’s customer service must transform in order to stay competitive. How much of this is a personal transformation for the employees and how they interact with customers, and how much is it technology?
Peter: To transform service you need both, it’s not an either/or. It’s important to recognise that expectations have risen, so people have the same expectation of the service they receive across every business or industry, whether it’s financial services or retail.
That being said, the technological infrastructure behind any service is critical. Brands need a 360 view of their customer, but beyond that you also need a human being. Because service is really about empathy, sometimes your customers just want to talk to a person. That human engagement is crucial for remarkable experiences.
Kelly: And it’s those remarkable experiences that create and build your loyalty as a customer.
Kelly: Where do you see the world of customer experience going? What changes should service leaders prepare for?
Peter: Service is now a very broad concept - it isn’t just about the call centre anymore. It is part of every stage of engagement with the customer, whether it’s sales, service, or marketing.
In many cases the product is the service. I have a friend who started a clothing brand. She used to sell clothes, but now she is providing clothing as a service so people can borrow and send clothes back. More and more the expectation of the customer is that embedded in every product is service. It is the combination of a human and the infrastructure that makes the product an exceptional service and a memorable moment.
Kelly: In the UK, only 15% of service teams are using AI today, but there is a 177% projected growth rate of AI use over the next 18 months. How do you see AI changing customer service for good &/or bad?
Peter: The role of AI is to take the friction out of every event so you don’t have to think about it. In more and more things there are bits of intelligence embedded. If you buy a stove today, it can be smart and guide you on cooking using AI. This is a combo of AI to look things up and a human that can step in as well, creating an entire ecosystem of engagement behind your stove.
Kelly: What advice do you have for organisations looking to transform their service business? Any strategies you’ve seen work as far as where to start? It can be daunting for many.
Peter: Try stuff and experiment, we are at the early stages of this. Sometimes things can be “creepy”, we don’t know yet what the “right way” is. You also need to be culturally significant, things may be different across the UK, France, and Japan. A good experience can quickly turn into a bad experience if the technology fails. Know your customers and who they are, so you can bend over backwards to provide great service every time you engage with them.
Curious about the trends in customer service this year and how you can keep up and transform service in your organisation? Check out Salesforce's State of Service Report to learn more from service leaders and agents around the world.