Innovation is Needed to Make Customer Service More Human

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Jake Petersen, Former Vice President of Customer Experience at MoviePass, discusses his experiences with customer service technology and how it can humanize support. Register to join Jake and other customer service professionals in Dallas for our MBA in Automation Roadshow on February 25th.

As the world becomes more tech-centric, so do customers, and so should customer service. Yet customer service has remained largely the same, with agents tied-down by routine scripts and canned answers, and customers waiting too long to have their issues resolved. Many see customer support as a cost center — a necessary expenditure of running a consumer-facing business. But by investing in the right technology, you can not only break even on customer service but turn it into a key competitive differentiator.  

While integrating new technology is a difficult challenge, many brands go through sudden periods of hyper-growth that can quickly inundate the customer service team. That’s why traditional tools and processes aren’t efficient enough to scale operations. That requires technology like automation to do the heavy lifting. Understandably, there are many fears and misconceptions that hinder investment in such tools, but success can be had by taking a thoughtful and incremental approach to modernizing your support center.  

Hyper-growth overwhelmed the team

I encountered such a challenge when I joined as Vice President of Customer Experience at MoviePass. I had to quickly address a customer service operation that had become overwhelmed by the explosive growth of the subscriber base. The company had gone from 20,000 to over 3M monthly subscribers in a matter of months, the fastest-growing subscription service in history! We simply couldn’t keep up with requests from our users. The backlog resulted in a time-to-first-response of around 30 days, which wasn’t doing MoviePass’ reputation any favors. 

We all know that if customer service is below expectations, word can spread quickly. Disgruntled customers will take to social media to air their grievances and negative press coverage can soon follow. Faced with a significant volume of inbound requests, we needed to act quickly at MoviePass to improve our operation. We succeeded in doing this by implementing new technology to take over the brunt of the work. 

How AI, automation, and chatbots help

While we continued to scale the number of customer service agents, I quickly discovered augmenting our team with technology including artificial intelligence (AI) powered automation and chatbots would give valuable time back to our agents and help cushion the continued volume increases into our chat support channels. While many worry that introducing too much automation into customer support will translate into a robotic experience for customers, I’ve found that the opposite is true. 

Freed from time-intensive tasks, automation gives agents their time back so they can go above-and-beyond in their roles. Instead of spending their days sifting through tickets and asking basic questions about user information, ticket classification, or probing questions, automation empowers agents to offer more personalized support with each customer touchpoint. Not only does automation improve the experience for both customers and agents, but it also enables the agility to quickly scale customer support to adjust for rapid growth and seasonal changes in demand.

Of course, any investment in technology must be aligned with your customer service goals, business strategy, and have buy-in from senior leadership. That’s why I advise taking an incremental approach. Instead of attempting to automate everything at once, consider one or two common issues that can be automated easily. For example, MoviePass customers often lost their membership debit cards and would contact support for a replacement. By automating that one process, our team saw considerable time and efficiency savings. In our case that translated to over 45,000 hours in saved handle time, equating to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Scaling to meet customer demand

Another common challenge facing high-growth companies is scaling to demand. Not just in terms of customer growth, which naturally leads to more inquiries, but also in the channels that customers use to communicate with your brand. Customers can now reach-out through apps, email, live chat, over the phone, and more. While providing good customer support requires being on all the channels your customers use, this also means they have more ways to contact you, leading to a flood of support requests. 

That’s why MoviePass relied heavily on Helpshift, because it could support our in-app communications and consolidate every customer support interaction on one platform. We disabled email support, and launched the same webchat experience on our website that our customers were used to in our app, this meant a truly omnichannel experience for our customers, and the ability to use the same automations and chatbots on both platforms. 

In addition to a unified external and agent platform, Helpshift’s automation capabilities gave the team the ability to handle high volumes without an increase in agent headcount, enabling us to meet the sudden demand for support.

Getting a competitive edge

96 percent of customers say that customer service is vital to their brand loyalty. Brands with a superior customer experience bring in over five times more revenue than their competitors. Yet, many brands put up a barrier to entry for customer support — burying support phone numbers and email addresses at the bottom of a webpage. This reflects a worry that, especially with mobile-first communications, too many inquiries will come in and overwhelm the team. But through considered investment in the right tools, you can build an operation that enables customers to reach support with one click while actually improving the experience overall. 

The first step to achieving this is to begin innovating. Small steps with technology will add up to big wins in the long term and help you overcome the fear factor surrounding the use of automation and AI in customer service. And by taking the plunge now, you can get ahead of competitors who are still testing the waters.


Jake Petersen has over 8 years of experience in the Customer Experience, Strategy, and Operations field. He previously served as the Senior Vice President of Operations and the Vice President of Customer Exerperice at MoviePass. During his time, he led the turnaround of MoviePass’s approach to customer service, as well as business operations of the company.

In addition, Jake has experience in running large customer service organizations and has previously built and managed support teams at Houzz, 1stdibs.com, and Apple. Jake also has experience working on the provider side, having worked in client services and operations in the business process outsourcing (BPO) space at TaskUs, where he managed campaigns for companies including Shopify, Tinder, and Oscar Health comprising of hundreds of call-center agents.

Published February 19, 2020
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