Kirsty Traill, VP Customer at Hootsuite, has spent her entire career laser-focused on the customer and customer experience. She recently sat down with us to talk about how Hootsuite approaches customer experience, the practical implications of chatbots, and the future of AI.
Thanks for joining us, Kirsty! Can you walk us through your background and tell us how you came to be VP Customer at Hootsuite?
I joined Hootsuite, the world’s largest social media management platform, four years ago. Prior to that I was Chief Customer Advocate at Snapfish, an online B2C photo merchandising company with 100 million customers worldwide, where I was responsible for the customer experience and global customer support operations. Before that I worked for HP in Japan.
As the VP Customer at Hootsuite, I’m responsible for five key areas of the business: the global customer support organization, customer experience, voice of customer, customer marketing, and customer advocacy. Effectively, the post-sales customer journey.
For those of us who haven’t come across the title ‘VP Customer’ before, what does that mean to you?
It’s interesting because I’ve worked directly with customers in a sales capacity, I’ve worked indirectly with customers in a marketing capacity, and I’ve worked on the operations side in a customer success and support capacity. I think that range of experience is what gives me a good understanding of both customer support and the customer experience, because I can take off the business hat of “I want to drive growth and sell at all costs” and have a pragmatic, end-to-end viewpoint of “What can we do in order to make sure that we get the right customers signed up, we get them to value as soon as possible, we check in with them on a regular basis, and we encourage them to renew or repeat?”
So, the golden thread that’s woven throughout my whole career, across all these different departments, is that I’ve really always been focused on the customer. Having worked in a diverse array of functions, I can do that in a way that’s agnostic to the department or business unit because it’s really about making sure that you deliver on that customer need. That’s what I bring to Hootsuite as VP Customer.
You mentioned that you oversee cross-functional teams like customer support, customer experience, and customer marketing. How do you unite and empower those teams to delight customers and drive revenue?
One of the key things is ensuring that you have alignment on KPIs. Where you start to see friction is when you have different teams chasing different ultimate goals. So at Hootsuite, we have three overarching company KPIs: one around delivering revenue for our shareholders, one around customer retention, and one around employee engagement.
We all know that it’s impossible to deliver really amazing customer experiences without employee engagement, so it’s important to ensure that those metrics are aligned not just at the company level, but are cascaded down throughout the rest of the organization so you have all teams driving towards those same high-level KPIs. When you align like that, you ensure that all teams are working together for the sake of the customer.
The second thing we do at Hootsuite to prioritize the customer across teams is mapping the employee experience to the customer journey. It’s really important to emphasize being a customer-centric organization at every step of the employee experience.
We look for that customer focus early on and reinforce it often. We have interview questions in our recruitment process around the customer experience. So even if you’re applying for a role that is not customer-facing, you’re still asked that same question of “Can you give an example of a time you’ve had an impact on the customer experience? What was it and what did you do?” That’s a theme that’s woven all the way through our onboarding.
So, it’s part metrics and part cultural shift.
How do your teams collaborate to pursue common goals?
We have documented workflows that everyone knows and really clear lines in the sand in terms of roles and responsibilities for different phases of the customer experience. Our teams understand which customer situations fall to them and know how they are supposed to work with other teams.
There’s a passing of the baton in the sense that ultimately, we don’t want anything to fall through the cracks. We’ve done a lot of work on our customer experience to define and document what each customer touchpoint is, and we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure that the handoff between teams across the customer journey is really seamless. Of course, a large part of this is working with the customer to understand what they want to achieve and deliver on that so they see the value that they came to Hootsuite to realize.
You mentioned in a webinar that up to 13 different departments can be interacting with customers, so it’s important that the customer get the same level of experience no matter who they’re talking to. Customers don’t care if someone is a support agent or a sales agent – they just want Hootsuite.
Exactly. To solve for that, on social, we have defined who’s responsible for picking up which types of keywords and situations. The support team will pick up keywords like “issue” or “help” or “can’t,” and then our marketing team will pick up keywords like “fun” or “funny” or “engaging.” Making sure that we’ve clearly delineated which team is responsible for answering which type of customer interaction has been key in ensuring a seamless customer experience.
And if someone accidentally picks up a tweet that isn’t within their defined charter to manage, we make sure that they understand which team to hand it off to. That’s where a platform such as Hootsuite is really able to help. With everyone in the company using Hootsuite, it’s very easy to pick up and manage different inquires across different teams and pass those backwards and forwards really easily.
That focus on customer experience across every team sounds like it makes it a real competitive differentiator for Hootsuite. How do you think your outlook on customer experience makes you stand out?
One thing we hear consistently back from our customers is that our people are the differentiating factor. Customers always talk about how the Hootsuite people go above and beyond, be that across customer support, customer success, the launch specialist team, professional services, and so on and so forth. That’s one thing that comes through really clearly from our customers.
That’s awesome! So how do you think about great customer experience in terms of being a revenue generator? There’s a legacy mindset that support is just a cost center, do you disagree with that?
We all know about the importance of customer loyalty and advocacy. It’s hard to create net promoters or generate amazing word of mouth if you aren’t delivering an amazing customer experience, because it’s usually outstanding CX that drives usage and then ultimately drives renewal.
So I think it’s critical to really drive that word of mouth in order to differentiate. Because at the end of the day, we all know that advocacy is incredibly strong in terms of driving people to a company. With “fake news” and the erosion of trust in institutions, the level of trust that people put into word of mouth from people they do trust is at an all time high. CX is one of the few ways to be able to really deliver and generate that advocacy. And effectively drive down customer acquisition costs.
Agreed. “We create advocates” is one of our core values at Guru, too. Transitioning into chatbots and AI, what role do you think chatbots play in customer service and where is that ideal line between chatbots and humans in maximizing the customer experience?
Ultimately, ten years from now, we may be talking primarily to chatbots in a support capacity. But I do think there will still be a need for human interaction. I certainly don’t think that we are in the beginning phases of technology being able to fully automate out humans yet.
The way I see chatbots is that it’s a technology that is able to automate some of the more routine back and forth questions for human agents. Those first five or six back-and-forths with a customer are mostly at a point where they can be automated by a chatbot. And then the bot can pass that transcript over to a human once it gets to a point where the customer asks something that it can’t answer. The agent then has all the transcripts available and is able to quickly understand the crux of the issue and focus their time on doing the level-two or -three triage. It comes down to understanding what the customer needs and actually providing that value-add that only a human can provide.
And the second part is I think there’ll be an evolution of sorts whereby we’ll be able to free up some of those post-sales customer resources and start bringing them further up the funnel to help customers in the consideration and purchase phases. For example, where can you surprise and delight by popping a proactive chat on your website? Where can you help somebody get through a flow that might be difficult for them to learn or understand? I don’t think that human resources will go away, necessarily, but they’ll be deployed at different places in the customer journey to help customers really maximize the value that they see from a product or service.
Right. Guru’s CEO recently participated in a webinar where co-presenter DigitalGenius gave an example of using automation to give agents time back that they then dedicated to learning how to upsell and drive revenue.
Exactly. We’ve moved away from support team productivity metrics as a benchmark at Hootsuite and are really more focused on higher quality metrics for both our customers and our support team. And I think you’ll find that legacy organizations are moving away from average handle time or number of tickets solved or what have you, and are starting to look at more of those upsell and cross sell metrics as well.
When thinking about AI in general, how do you see using AI to help people do better work?
I think AI is going to radically disrupt and transform the way that we engage with customers across all phases of the journey. AI frees up resources and empowers agents to actually spend more time doing deep thinking work. It’s going to be a huge advantage in allowing people to spend more time focusing on higher-impact activities rather than having to do the low-value tasks that can be easily automated. Whether it’s tagging customer feedback data or having a conversation with a prospect or an existing customer, I think the downstream result will be that we can focus on delivering better results for customers at the macro level.
What advice do you have for any CX leaders reading this who are hoping to implement AI but don’t know where to start?
My advice would be to start with the end in mind. Depending on what technology you’re considering, think about what your goals are. For example, in the case of a customer support chatbot, are you looking at decreasing ticket deflection? Are you looking at utilizing your staff in a better way? What’s the impact it might have on staff retention and engagement? How can you use it to deepen your understanding of customer issues? Those are the types of things that you can quantify at earlier stages to start to draw benchmarks and think about what kind of metrics you should set in place based on ideal outcomes.
I also advise adopting a test and learn approach. Pilot by pulling a small percentage of your volume and start to test and review results on a regular basis. Because it’s really only by starting to run some of these tests that you’re going to be able to learn and understand where you need to move with this type of technology. A test and learn approach is the best way for companies to start to understand how the technology will work and more specifically how it will work in their unique instance or workflow. And understand how they need to accommodate that technology to make sure that they provide a good customer experience.
It can be quite overwhelming to think about chatbots, and people get very scared by the concept of automation, but the truth of the matter is that automation has been happening in business for a really long time. Bank tellers were ultimately replaced by ATMs. But just as soon as we put an ‘AI’ label on it, suddenly everyone starts to get nervous and I think we need to scale that nervousness back and embrace that this evolution is coming. We need to think about how we might be re-deploying staff to work on more of those value-add and up- and cross-sell opportunities and look forward to a future enhanced by AI.