As a young entrepreneur, Davy Kestens didn't quite know what to do when Volkswagen called and was interested in becoming his first big customer.
"When you're a one-man show, you try to do everything you can to not come across as a one-man show," Kestens recalls. That "failed miserably of course," he adds.
Kestens, the founder and CEO of customer service platform Sparkcentral, now leads a 100-person company based in Silicon Valley and his native Belgium. Sparkcentral seeks to "optimize the customer service experience and customer engagement workflows over social media and mobile messaging channels," says Kestens.
"When social care was just getting started, so many brands out there were making a ton of mistakes," he says. "It became rather obvious that there wasn't really any level of oversight or compliance or control within those organizations on how to handle social. The whole pitch was: People are communicating about brands on social, and here are the mistakes brands are making." Kestens included screenshots of public screw-ups - including multiple contradictory responses and brand accounts being hijacked by former employees - for emphasis.
Today, as social care has migrated from the Marketing department to Customer Service ("75% of our customers live in the contact center," Kestens reports) the focus is more operational - and that means convincing executives that putting resources behind a comparatively small customer service channel is a good idea.
"Even though the volumes are fairly low, there's [something] to be said about the ROI in regards to saving money, preventing people from actually calling and using the more expensive communication channels within your contact center," says Kestens, adding that social media usually represents "less than 2%" of all customer service. "Companies are starting to realize that it's a leading indicator of a much larger problem or a much larger opportunity."
So what does he tell the C-level executives that he meets? "It's not about social care. It's not about Twitter. It's not about Facebook. Stop thinking about those channels as a new problem to solve... [these are] merely the most prominent examples of how the expectations and the behavior of the modern consumer has changed."
Kestens explains that customers have flocked to social media to circumvent an archaic telephone customer service model that "has been broken for the last few decades".
"Social was the first wave of that," he says. "Now the whole mobile messaging explosion worldwide is the second wave of that. But it's not going to stop there. It's really about the way consumers communicate has shifted, and their expectations that come along with that." They key for companies, he adds, is "to reduce the amount of effort that customers have to put in to get issues resolved".
With the proliferation of messaging apps around the world, Sparkcentral's goal is "to enable brands to talk to customers across any channel because really it's not about the channel, it's about the customer," Kestens says.
Is this person a customer? Yes.
Do we care about our customers? Yes.
Well we should support them.
-- Davy Kestens, CEO of Sparkcentral, on why brands should focus on customers rather than channels
Messaging bots, which have received a lot of media attention recently, run the risk of becoming a "modern IVR" [Interactive Voice Response system, also known as the phone system that never seems to recognize pleas for help from a live agent] if companies don't build them correctly.
"Consumers are using these communication channels to talk to a human being," Kestens warns, "so you shouldn't be doing the exact opposite with bots."
Kestens met with me and Dan Moriarty for Episode 42 of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast to discuss the 5-year evolution of social customer care and the technology that is attempting to help brands keep pace.
Here are some key moments of the podcast and where to find them:
1:17 Background on Sparkcentral and Davy's career
7:00 How a young entrepreneur handled his first major client
9:36 The evolution from marketing to customer service owning social customer care
13:30 How Sparkcentral convinces call centers to purchase a platform for social media when the volume is so much lower than other customer service channels
20:02 Davy's perspective on the ongoing shift into private messaging for customer service
27:16 How messaging bots will affect the customer experience
33:06 What keeps an entrepreneur up at night?
35:07 What Davy knows now that he wishes he had known when he started the company