Loyalty + Retention = Customer Success, says Zendesk COO on what helps them win customer experience

At the recently concluded Showcase Asia Summit by Zendesk, YourStory caught up with the COO of Zendesk, Tom Keiser, who spoke about how the company is acing the customer experience game.

With over 30 years of global experience in technology and business transformation, Tom Keiser, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Zendesk, manages its go-to-market functions like sales, operations, and customer experience.

Tom Keiser

He also spearheads the company's IT, security and compliance, enterprise data and analytics. Before Zendesk, Tom worked as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for two multi-billion dollar companies - Gap Inc. and L Brands.

Before moving to the role of a COO last year, Tom started at Zendesk as the CIO. Besides his role, he also invests in small businesses, technology startups, and advises large corporations.

At the company's Asia Showcase summit in Singapore, Tom got into a candid conversation with YourStory.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

YourStory: Since the advent of the digital economy, how have you seen CX evolve in the Asia Pacific region?

Tom Keiser: I come from a retail background, and the way customer experience traditionally worked in retail was all physical. Before digital ecommerce came in, the CX was completely dependent on the business' personal relationship with that customer, and how they crafted loyalty out of it. But it wasn't necessarily a scalable model since it was a one-to-one relationship.

If there was an issue with the product or if the customer had some questions, there was not any designated mechanism to deal with it.

The way companies are now implementing ecommerce is only around sales and automation while driving some friction out of the process. But it isn't necessarily around customer experience. So, the subject of personalisation only landed in the last handful of years, which is being driven by mobile devices, and also because of the fact that people are self-identifying themselves.

It's attributed to the evolution of technology, more bandwidth, more storage, and more computing capacity. Now that there aren't any more constraints and resources are all the more available, it is really up to companies to put the effort into thinking through customer journeys. And that's what we're trying to help them with - unlock those constraints.

YS: How did the CX trends evolve in 2019?

TK: Some of these trends depend on the type of business you're in. When fast growing businesses go to IPO, they need to balance both growth and costs. So, they think more holistically about the customer experience that they want to create. But they also think about it from an investment standpoint and a return standpoint, as opposed to just growing.

We see that traditional companies are being concerned about being disrupted and they know they have issues with their customer experience, be it airline travel, financial services, healthcare, or government.

They are all trying to disrupt themselves by launching disruptive ventures inside their businesses. Previously, it used to be the voice vs. chat battle, and now it's becoming one continuous conversation that you can move across multiple channels.

YS: How complex is the market landscape right now for CX? How do you stay ahead of the competition, compete or collaborate?

TK: We do both. We have competitors in different market verticals and different customer segments. Whether it's an SMB or an enterprise, our customers use our competitors and us both. And in many cases, we are all integrating solutions together.

With respective standard integrations, we live in an incredibly competitive space. But we also live in a space where the bar keeps rising for customer experience, and what we expect of the companies we do business with. That creates a bigger and better opportunity for us as well.

The reality of customer experience is when you are putting engineering teams and customer success teams specifically for customer experience - you never stop building solutions.

YS: What are the expectations you see from the B2C users that ideally help you build better solutions for your B2B users?

TK: I think we have moved pretty quickly from being concerned about 'What's going on with our data?' to being curious about 'How is our data is being used?' Slowly, we are seeing that our data is being used in a way that's valuable to us.

For example, in ride-sharing, with the help of geo location, from the locations we normally visit during different times of day, you get a better experience out of walking into a retail store or buying something online.

Based on your past purchases and preferences, when something relevant for you is suggested, you see that it's all an imprint of yourself but with data. Though it has a huge B2B focus, the B2C ones are easier to understand.

YS: With technology changing every day, user behaviour is also changing. How does Zendesk keep a track of this evolving behaviour?

TK: We have 145,000 customers, and since our product is free-buy-try, we have lots of companies trying our products and learning from it. We look at this behaviour and see whether the features are being used and not. We also have an ongoing dialogue with our customers through a whole series of different forums to gather their feedback.

We get pushed and learn the most with our fastest-growing customers. If we look at customers who started with the free licence, and they go up to 20, 30, and 40,000 seats, growing rapidly, that's when we learn the scale.

Through this, we learn what depth should we be putting into our products. In a way, these companies are guiding and directing us where the market is going. We also see what our most innovative customers are actually doing with our product, which directs us as well.

We do lots of collaboration with partners and competitors as well. As the bar goes up, there's a wider range of things that come into considered. We ought to keep adjusting our standards to keep the bars raising.

YS: Can you define any critical ingredients for customer success?

TK: Loyalty and retention. If you work in a business that is truly a commodity, where users have multiple options to choose from, what is so different about your product that users have to keep hitting the button to use it?

That's how you measure it and that means you have got to constantly up your game to what's most important, and have a differentiator. Speed and agility are critical and are the base ingredients that you have to have in place. But you have got to stay attuned to what the customer demand is and be different from your competitors.

YS: What are the biggest markets for Zendesk in terms of regions? How's India working out?

TK: Considering we are headquartered in the Silicon Valley, you'd expect that the US would be our largest market, and it is. Apart from that, we are quickly growing in the larger and more mature markets like the UK, Brazil, and Australia.

We are now in our third year in India, which is also a rapidly growing market for us. I think we are happy with the progress so far, but we also see the opportunity there is massive. We look forward to building a bigger and deeper presence. It's very competitive and it has a startup and tech-savvy culture in many ways, which is where we like to be. So we're excited about what it's going to become.

(Edited Saheli Sen Gupta)


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