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A content writer who has worked for Infosys Technologies and other technology startups in India and abroad.
A freelance journalist with over 7 years of experience, she writes research-based analytical stories on technology and business.
Avanish is a Bangalore-based journalist who writes on business with a specific focus on technology companies.
Priyanka has covered every aspect of the IT industry as a tech journalist since its early days. She is now an independent writer, working on subjects like digital marketing, enterprise technology and high-performance computing, among others.
A freelance content writer, S. Sahu was the former editor of TCS's house magazine at Tata Consultancy Services. He developed tech marketing collateral for the company and helped compile and edit books and journal articles on TCS's technology innovations. He also ghostwrites print and online publications.
Prajwala is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist who writes on social issues, stories of human interest, and art and culture, among others.
Rajesh Nanarpuzha is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at IIM Udaipur. Previously, he has worked as a brand manager in Dabur, and as a business consultant in the retail and consumer goods domains at Cognizant and Tata Consultancy Services. Rajesh has an MBA from IIM Indore and a doctorate in marketing from IIM Ahmedabad.
Priyokumar Singh Naorem
He is a passionate UI & UX designer who thrives on creating engaging creative solutions.
A freelance illustrator, artist, graphic novelist and designer. She has designed and illustrated several book covers. Her personal illustrations so far have attempted to seize the fleeting absurdity and mood of places, things and people she encounters in a childlike, intuitive and expressive manner with closure, beauty and innocence – the things that she desires.
She is an artist and an educator who has taught and lectured at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Oxford University, the Victoria and Albert Museum among other institutions. Her installations, paintings, thread work and sculptures have been exhibited in Saatchi Gallery - London, C24 Gallery - New York, and Museum of Contemporary Art – Lyon, among other notable galleries and museums from around the world.
A commerce graduate from Delhi University, Parul pursued a masters in fine arts from Nottingham Trent University in the UK. As an artist, she is interested in line as a subject which has led her to follow architectural lines in built environments. She says she is also interested in how we perceive the environment that we inhabit and what happens when a subtle shift is made in things which we have been used to seeing in a certain way. We present six of her artworks here.
Shweta Malhotra is a graphic artist and designer from Mumbai, based in New Delhi.
After working with ad agencies and design studios for close to 8 years, she branched out on her own and currently works independently.s Her overall design aesthetic is minimal, bold and graphic, a response to the maximalist visual language prevalent in India.
Rithika Merchant (b.1986) received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Parsons the New School for Design, New York in 2008. She has exhibited extensively since her graduation. Recent exhibitions include a duo show “Reliquaries: The Remembered Self” at TARQ, Mumbai; “Language of the Birds: Occult and Art” at 80WSE Gallery, New York; and group shows at Summerhall, Edinburgh and Artry Gallery, Kochi. Her work has been included in multiple group shows at Stephen Romano Gallery and The Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York. Born in Mumbai, she now divides her time between Mumbai and Barcelona.
Aniruddh Mehta is an artist based out of Mumbai, India. Trained in graphic design from the London College of Communications, Aniruddh is a self-taught illustrator and currently works as an independent freelance designer. He believes in finding the right balance between art and graphic design. He has worked closely in collaboration with Bhavishyavani Future Soundz, Qilla Records, Taxi Fabric, Adidas, Dell and United Colours of Benetton. He also goes by the moniker, ‘thebigfatminimalist’ and his style ranges from bold minimal forms to more intricate pieces exploring patterns and geometry.
Paramesh is an artist who enjoys working in both the realistic and abstract style of painting. He loves working with water color. Featured in this issue are a set of water color works that he has created exclusively for us on the subject of digital transformation.
Based in Mumbai, Chandrashekhar Thakur is a Senior Art Director and Illustrator at Truebil.com and the Founder of HAPPiNESS For You. He loves working with new styles of art and considers illustration to be his forte. Chandrashekhar has completed his BFA from DY Patil College of Applied Art.
Concept and Direction
Head of marketing at Regalix, Nimish drives research in emerging technologies and customer experience, and takes a keen interest in creative arts.
Ed Powers is an independent consultant improving customer experience in the subscription technology industry. He specializes in applying neuroscience to the customer journey in order to increase customer loyalty. He has over 30 years of experience in a range of industries and companies from start-ups to Fortune 40 firms. Here he talks to us about the present state of Customer Support and its emerging future.
Interviewed by Arunh Krishnan
I’ve seen three major trends evolve: multi-modal contact (phone, chat, online, social, even real-time video), Customer Support becoming essential in Customer Experience (CX) initiatives, and increasing use of AI technology, primarily for deflection (contact avoidance).
/ / What are the technologies/trends driving CS today?
Definitely at the heart of many of the changes are the evolving use of social media by younger consumers, and availability of much cheaper and more capable analytics platforms.
/ / What are the new opportunities that companies can tap into in the CS space and what are the challenges that they face? Are companies investing enough in CS?
In my opinion, companies never invest enough. Customer Support is generally seen as a cost center, something that must be minimized. Most companies fail to realize, however, that when customers contact them with a problem, it’s a moment of truth—how they respond significantly impacts whether the customer repurchases. For years, Accenture has talked about this in their Global Pulse Survey, showing that trillions of dollars change hands every year because of poor service. Most firms still don’t get it. A rare exception is Zappos, and more should follow their lead.
/ / How is AI changing the CS function? How well, in your opinion, are businesses coping with this change?
AI offers promise for case deflection, and since most companies focus primarily on cost reduction, it’s attracted a lot of interest. I recently ran a technical support operation and about 40% of the inbound volume was questions of the type, “How do I do …?” or “Where can I find …?” Agents would send links to online resources that showed a step-by-step answer and the approach worked for customers most of the time. These are exactly the kinds of issues AI can solve—providing very rule-based and procedural answers to simple questions. Currently I see a lot of interest for deploying AI solutions in Customer Support and I expect it to continue for the next several years.
/ / Do you see automation as a threat to people’s jobs in the CS space? Why?
I think AI will slow down, but not replace hiring, and most technology vendors are positioning it that way. Machines can (and should) replace frequent, simple, repetitive tasks, but humans will always be needed to deal with more infrequent, complex and nuanced tasks. It will be many years before computers will be as creative or as empathetic as humans, so I think the labor requirement will be for fewer, more skilled agents. Turnover with this smaller workforce will be painful for companies, so they will need to pay agents more and make the job prestigious. So perhaps there’s a silver lining for agents worried about their future prospects.
/ / What role does CS play in the overall Customer Success framework? How critical would you say it is?
It depends on how you define “Customer Success”—many companies just re-label their Customer Support that way. I do a lot of work with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies and there’s an important distinction. SaaS defines Customer Success as proactively onboarding, retaining and growing customer relationships and Customer Support as reacting to problems as they come up. Both functions play a critical role in the overall customer experience (CX) and both significantly contribute to customer loyalty.
/ / Can you give us a few interesting CS initiatives that you have encountered?
Much of the work I do with my clients is applying lessons from neuroeconomics (the combination of neuroscience and behavioral economics) to the customer experience. For example, science has shown that humans experience every moment of their lives but remember only a small fraction of it. The hippocampus records memories as episodes and the amygdala marks them with emotional information. If the marking is strong enough, the brain stores the memory in the neocortex when we sleep through a process called memory consolidation. Otherwise, the brain discards the memory. During recall, scientists have demonstrated an effect called the peak-end rule. In an episode that is homogeneous, clearly bounded, continuous, completed, and in which the participant plays a passive role (describing most Customer Support transactions), people remember the difference between the emotional peak and how the event resolved. The greater the delta, the less “pain” people remember. Customers often contact Customer Support in a high state of frustration (emotional pain). If the agent ignores or worsens the customer’s state and fails to resolve the problem, the difference between the emotional peak and its end is small and the customer remembers a bad experience. They will then later switch providers, impacting the company’s revenue. On the other hand, if an agent soothes the customer and resolves the problem, ideally reversing the experience with a moment of “Wow,” the emotional difference between peak and end is substantial. The customer remembers a great experience, becomes a fan, and tells their friends. In this manner, Customer Support is a revenue generator instead of a cost center. Keep in mind that AI simply can’t do this. While AI can answer quick, procedural questions, agents must still be ready and able to help customers in aroused emotional states. Much of the work I do is helping my clients understand these key differences and make a blended AI/human strategy work more effectively.
/ / In a study that I came across recently done by the Northridge Group, those surveyed said that access to customer service through digital is still often difficult. Nearly half of consumers do not feel that companies make it “easy” for them to contact customer service. Your comments?
I’ve experienced this first hand. Many companies now don’t even publish a phone number—the only way to reach them is through an online form. If you have an urgent need (or want to buy something) you must wait and take your chances. I asked for product information from a company a week ago and I still haven’t heard back! Companies must understand that context matters. While communicating electronically may be more efficient, they must anticipate that customers will use whatever medium is relevant at the time or they’ll simply go elsewhere (like I did).
/ / In the same study, social media came out as the channel with the lowest response rate for resolving customer service issues. While social media is being increasingly used by consumers to request for support, companies have not responded as well. What advice will you give companies to become more responsive?
I’m always amazed when B2C firms spend millions to market through social media but don’t spend a dime to support customers in the same channel. Unfortunately, most companies must learn tough lessons about the impact of bad comments on social media before they make a change. My advice? Open your eyes and get on with the program.
/ / What are the trends/technologies that you think will drive Customer Support in the future? How should businesses gear up for this?
I think there will be a backlash as most companies stampede to AI seeking to completely replace agents with machines. But we’ll also see other companies do a better job of “humanizing” the customer experience. For example, Amazon introduced a “Mayday” button on the Kindle Fire HDX back in 2013, giving customers a live video link to a Customer Support agent within seconds after pressing the button. The agent could respond, see and control the consumer’s screen while presenting a friendly face. Neuroscience has shown that humans respond to faces, subconsciously encoding initial trust value when they see friendly expressions. This creates a gateway to higher levels of trust, and higher trust in a vendor translates to higher loyalty. Other companies are following suit. In fact, a new company called vee24 is offering this same live engagement technology on multiple platforms so anyone can do what Amazon does. While some companies will use technology at the expense of humans, the top performers will use it to make the human experience better. They will be the ones to watch.
Social media: Supporting customers on the ‘edge’
Digital technologies make organizations function smoothly and business function processes efficient.
I think requests via social media are made more out of frustration
Kia Puhm, Head, KIA CX Consulting
Messaging through voice - that’s the trend that I see emerging in the near future
James Waters, Vice President, Customer Service, Booking.com
AI-based chatbots are central to transforming CX for next-gen customers
Rajesh Balaji, Global Delivery Leader, Enterprise Application Service, Cognizant
I believe chatbots will be custom-built for different situations
Pradyot Ghate, Associate Vice President and Product Lead, Zomato
We live at crossroads of rapidly changing customer experience today
Immanuel Kingsley, VP and Head of Innovation Lab, Hexaware