• December 22, 2020
  • By Jeff Titterton, chief marketing officer, Zendesk

As CX Leaders Learn to Adapt, Here Are 4 Lessons to Keep in Mind

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As we approach the end of this year of unprecedented disruption, many business leaders are simply worn out. We’ve adjusted expectations (for ourselves, our teams, and our CEOs). We’ve pivoted. We’ve moved on.

So, as 2020 comes to an end, what are some lessons learned, and what are the next steps for business and CX leaders as we emerge from this initial stage of crisis?

While it’s easy to be overwhelmed (and already exhausted) as we plan for the road ahead, change is also an opportunity to go back to the basics. It forces us to hold up a mirror to our organizations and ask: “Is this still what we need to be doing?”

In my team’s experience, grappling with these questions has allowed us to refocus our efforts around simple principles as we look to and plan for a new and forever-changed 2021.

Here are four lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Trust is the new currency. Customer experience was having a moment before the pandemic, but the crisis has proven that CX is the lifeblood of every business. According to a new report by Zendesk and Enterprise Strategy Group, organizations that have invested in customer service have seen more growth in the past six months and are feeling more confident about weathering the COVID storm than their peers.

Everything you do—from the virtual event to the product update to the Black Friday campaign—has to serve a real customer need.

We’ve all heard the adage that it’s easier to sell to existing customers than new ones. While that’s still true, it’s not just about selling. It’s about building trust, which the past six months have proven is more important than ever.

Customers want to buy from brands that align with their values and that truly care about them, their well-being, and the world around them.

Building trust is also about being there when the customer reaches out. We have to be faster, and we need to be present when and where customers already are. That means embracing new communication channels and making it easier for customers to self-serve on any information they need around the clock.

In a remote world, customer experience is becoming more conversational and asynchronous, meaning it doesn’t matter whether your support, sales, or marketing team is responsible for a particular issue or web form. From the customer’s perspective, they just have one (hopefully ongoing) relationship with your company, and first impressions matter.

Time to value is now your key differentiator. People simply can’t afford to wait for you to deliver.

2. Learn to do fewer things better. Like everyone else, my team spent the first part of the pandemic trying a lot of different things. Online events in multiple markets, more campaigns, new content about working remotely. But we quickly realized that less is more.

For instance, one of the bright spots of being in an entirely online world is that you’re able to reach a much broader audience with fewer events. So instead of dedicated launches for every new product and feature we roll out, we decided to streamline one value-packed quarterly webinar aimed at both prospects and customers.

It has become crucial for my team to focus on that 80/20 rule—on quality and execution. And guess what? The results followed.

From simplifying our pricing to reducing the number of sub-brands we maintain, we’re shedding the bloat and old habits that held us behind and learning to let go of things that are no longer serving us or our customers.

3. Data is only meaningful if you see the human behind it. Understanding customer needs and motivations has always been at the heart of a good customer experience. But in times of change and uncertainty, data truly becomes your anchor. And if data is your anchor, then seeing the human behind the data is your North Star. Our Benchmark data, which is based on about 23,000 businesses using Zendesk, tells us a very clear story of change across industries. Customer support tickets are at an all-time high, but there’s been a ton of volatility.

While some industries predictably saw a major boom—remote work and learning platforms, food and grocery delivery—others, like ride sharing platforms and travel and hospitality brands, experienced massive drops.

We’ve also learned that customers are finding faster and more convenient ways to engage with businesses. For instance, we’ve seen a 133 percent spike in WhatsApp usage since the start of the pandemic, along with a 30 percent increase in SMS-based text messaging; traditional phone lines, though, have stayed relatively quiet.

This sort of data is catnip to CX-driven leaders. But it’s important to remember that behind these numbers are countless stories of real human struggle and adaptation.

That’s why it’s also important to not simply rely on your analytics and attribution models but to actually talk—and listen—to your customers. Qualitative data is just as important as quantitative, and having open conversations with your customers will ultimately lead to better-quality relationships.

4. Change is a forcing function to be embraced. If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that we can adapt and emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. This is our opportunity to harness the power of change and rethink how we work and what we do. It’s a chance to focus on what matters—your customers and your team—and let go of the rest.

If this still sounds daunting, the good news is that what we’re talking about is not so much a reset but a return—to our fundamental values and principles.

Customers need you to listen to them. Employees need you to enable their success. In this sense, not much has changed at all.

Jeff Titterton is chief marketing officer at Zendeskwhere he previously served as senior vice president of marketing. Prior to that, he served in various roles at Adobe, including  head of global campaign and engagement marketing. He has also served as chief marketing officer at 99designs, a graphic design marketplace.

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