Mikkel Svane says that people's expectations of customer support are changing, which is requiring a shift in how businesses handle their day-to-day operations.
The CEO of customer service software firm Zendesk has been keeping a watchful eye on the evolving trends of cloud, mobile and social media since the company launched its software-as-a-service customer support platform in 2007.
"In many ways, social media is a bunch of new communication channels for a new generation of internet users, and it's helped give them a voice," Svane tells TRPro.
"Companies that solely rely on phone and email to provide customer support need to embrace it, as it's changed the power relationship between consumers and businesses. One bad customer service experience can spread like crazy."
Evidence of this shifting landscape could be seen last year in a number of large vendors acquiring 'social media monitoring' companies such as Radian6 (by Salesforce.com for $326 million), Vitrue (by Oracle for $300 million), and Wildfire (by Google for $250 million).
Svane says the notion of customer service has "changed dramatically" over the past five years, with businesses looking beyond individual transactions and instead focusing on nurturing "lifetime value".
"Customer service used to be a cost centre, about making sure they didn't steal too much of your valuable time," he says. "Today, more companies realise that customer service is an opportunity to create a real relationship with the customer."
The rise of mobile devices has had a huge impact on how businesses go about this, he adds, as companies increasingly follow the 'bring your own device' (BYOD) trend.
This has prompted the development of mobile apps that allow agents to have real-time conversations using mobile devices, and businesses can also create a knowledgebase that its customers can access for self-service support.
"There's a massive shift in the industry driven by the cloud that's seeing revenues shift from traditional legacy applications to new cloud-based solutions," he says. "People want these new ways of working to be available on their mobile devices too, which have always been big on our roadmap. We want people to bring their self-service centre with them on the road."
He cites Zendesk as an example. It uses APIs to connect to various social media services, making it simpler for support agents to track conversations landing in agents' inboxes that may have come in from multiple directions.
"A conversation between a support agent and a customer on Zendesk may start out as a tweet on before turning into an email conversation and ending with a phone call, he says. "It allows you to have an unbroken conversation with the customer that's easier to manage as it's all on one interface."
But having tools at their disposal counts for little if businesses have no way of reflecting on performance to identify gaps in support or ways that service can be improved.
Svane says Zendesk aims to help in this area by providing a benchmarking tool that combines data from over 16,000 customers aimed at measuring support quality and comparing it to competitors.
"It gives them a picture of how they're doing customer service, and it includes things like how their response times stack up against the industry average, how efficient they are at self-service, things like that," he says.
Svane recognises that customer service is far from a one-size-fits-all scenario, with each business differing in its approach to how it provides customer service. This is where an app platform, that a business can use to build its own applications onto a service such as Zendesk, can be valuable.
"It used to be the case that Oracle or Microsoft was your platform, whereas nowadays companies are thinking that the internet is the platform," he says.
He provides the example of Zendesk's JIRA app, which is used for tracking bugs found on websites and submitting support tickets directly to businesses for them to be fixed.
"The JIRA integration was built as an app on Zendesk, so when you have a conversation with a customer, the JIRA app shows you what other tracked bugs are related to the conversation," he says.
"Being open and having APIs and platforms to build things on is very important. Of course, it makes it very easy for you to implement the self-service stuff by embedding it into your website."
Cloud computing may be the biggest trend currently driving IT, but it's not without its drawbacks, with security being one of the biggest concerns. Zendesk had to apologise to customers after falling victim to a breach back in February.
"It's something that we as an organisation have to take very, very seriously," says Svane. "Security is something we can all relate to, whether it's on the internet or within or own private homes."
But despite the security risks, Svane believes that the benefits of the cloud far outweigh the negatives.
"Cloud is here to stay, we all know that," he says. "In 10 years' time, people who install software on-premise will be the crazy ones."
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