Venk Korla Of HGS Digital On 5 Ways To Create a Wow! Customer Experience

As part of our series about the Five things, a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Venk Korla. Venk Korla is President & CEO of HGS Digital, a global leader in the customer experience (CX) lifecycle, digital transformation, and business process management. A visionary entrepreneur and technologist, Venk has a proven record of delivering outstanding shareholder returns through innovative growth strategies and strong execution. Before joining HGS Digital, Venk was Founder & CEO of Element Solutions and also served as Director of Software Engineering for Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I went to engineering school in India and started my first company in the technology space doing electronics work when I was 19 years old. I built that up and sold it, then started another company selling computer parts. After school, I transitioned to the U.S. in the early 2000s and started consulting for an e-commerce company. After a couple of different entrepreneurial ventures, I realized that online digital experiences were calling my name. Focusing on the online experience was relatively new, so I really leaned into the solutions and offerings that would shape a better experience for retailers and even the healthcare space. My consulting company was ultimately sold to HGS and that’s what brought me here today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Back in the day when projectors were still a thing, I showed up to a presentation, ready to give it my all. We wanted to essentially hold a live whiteboarding session at a small Chicago hospital, so to better control the light from the projector, I taped a small journal to the light not knowing that it would begin to smoke within twenty minutes. Luckily, no fire broke out and I can say that we got the deal as a result of our quick thinking. Or maybe it was because we didn’t let our mistakes define us and we kept rolling under pressure. This helped me learn two foundational things that are pertinent to technology: always be agile, and always be ready to adapt. In the technology space, this is particularly helpful.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are multiple people that have helped shaped my career, but early on in my career, when I first came to the U.S., there was a man that helped me through a particularly rough patch in which I was contemplating quitting because I was feeling so overwhelmed and not getting enough recognition. He told me to take the responsibility as a challenge and that the rewards will indeed come later.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Exceptional customer service and a great customer experience are essential for business success as customers increasingly demand greater speed, service, and convenience and have a wider array of options to choose from in today’s competitive marketplace. Companies should focus their efforts on providing better, more personalized CX at every phase of the customer journey — from attraction to retention and even attrition — to differentiate themselves from competitors.

A positive customer experience creates a vital relationship between the customer and the brand that ultimately boosts brand loyalty and trust, reduces customer attrition, creates happy customers who advocate for the brand, and increases overall revenue.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

The disconnect between understanding the importance of a good customer experience and effectively making it a priority often lies in activation and how to employ the necessary steps to provide a positive experience from awareness to purchase and beyond. Technology plays a key role in creating a great customer experience each time a customer interacts with a brand. This can include simple tools such as the use of dedicated landing pages and customized emails, as well as more complex CX technologies like intelligent chatbots and AI-based algorithms that can help companies understand customer preferences.

As companies work to improve their customer care and experience solutions, it’s more important than ever that they respect and value their customers’ time. In the world of CX, every second counts. As organizations work to make their customer service more efficient, many have deployed AI-driven chatbots and are working to strike the right machine-human balance. Not only can chatbots dramatically shorten wait times and expediently route customers where they need to go, they can reduce the time and workload burden for human employees and free them up to handle more complex interactions.

Companies need to further understand that customer experience impacts the way they make buying decisions, creating a greater need for companies to focus on providing more than just a high-quality product or service, and consider the customer experience at every touchpoint with their brand.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Yes, more competition forces companies to improve the customer experiences they offer because the best experiences consumers have with one brand quickly become the de facto new expectation for customer experiences with every brand. For example, each time Netflix personalizes the selection of content and makes the experience a little easier, or Amazon personalizes product recommendations to make shopping a little quicker, the bar on customer expectations across the board rises.

General advancements in technology create another external pressure for companies to improve the customer experience. As customer expectations increase around personalization and providing a tailored customer experience, business marketing strategies seek to keep up with technological advancements to accomplish this.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

HGS manages billions of customer interactions every year, so I have many memorable “wow” moments to draw on. A couple that stand out include:

We worked with a Fortune 10 retailer that was struggling with a social strategy that would resonate with the digital needs of today’s new-age customers. Faced with a lot of negative sentiment about their customer service which adversely affected their bottom line, the retailer sought to revamp its social strategy. HGS Digital offered a level of hyper-personalization and in-channel conflict resolution, along with highly trained agents doubling as brand ambassadors. Combined with efficient crisis management and smart routing of queries, this engagement helped resolve more than 35,000 customer queries within 24 hours, for a savings of $200k annually.

We also helped a client that is one of the largest, private multinational players in the pet wellness and Rx space to optimize the digital CX by refreshing its website with more relevant and engaging content, streamlining the patient portal, and providing the option to start the purchase cycle and schedule appointments online. By evangelizing a customer-focused approach to website design and development, supplementing the marketing and analytics team with strategy and dashboarding support, and developing a personalization strategy to optimize both the .com and e-commerce experience, HGS was able to help our client wow customers, resulting in 32% increase in e-commerce revenue, 9% increase in orders, and 27% increase in appointment bookings.

Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Our Fortune 10 retail client is a retail industry leader that operates a chain of hypermarkets and grocery stores. With a massive worldwide presence, the client needed a social media partner that could support its growing business needs and address the demands of today’s digital customer. With hyper-personalized conversations being the key to new-age customer experiences, it was imperative to not just have a solid social media presence, but a brand voice that transcended communication channels.

The client received more than 10 million social media mentions a year. With such a large volume, the business challenge focused on filtering the noise to find actionable posts that provide the most ROI. HGS Digital set out to provide an end-to-end social engagement solution, bringing together the right people, processes, automation, and analytics to address these obstacles. The success of the project ultimately lies in the synergy between customer experience and marketing — better resolution means better customer sentiment, which also means that every dollar spent on social is amplified, not diminished by poor customer experience.

After the first two years working with HGS, the retail client was able to filter the number of non-actionable social mentions via enhanced automation, which enabled them to increase the average response rate by 35% and decrease the average response time from 12 hours to just 30 minutes. This has resulted in a cost avoidance of $12M+ and more than 400,000 customer mentions addressed annually through social channels, bringing long-term value to the client’s social media customer experiences.

 

 

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

The growing imperative of providing an amazing CX remains top of mind for many businesses. Successfully implementing an effective, autonomous CX initiative that wows customers requires some of the following strategies:

  • Design the right CX journey: Utilizing technology that can learn, refine processes, and integrate human intervention to add value. The key here is to understand the audience fully and how they will help define the overall journey. Everyone is familiar with needing to essentially fast before a surgery, but what if the healthcare space created a journey that would send you in context reminders/texts about your specific healthcare situation. If you need to fast 8–10 hours before your 8 am surgery, imagine getting a text at 6pm the night before reminding you that you should eat/drink something because you’re coming up on your deadline before you need to fast. It’s a game changer!
  • Strike the right balance of technology and people: Build businesses that have the flexibility to scale, agility to adapt, continuously learn using AI, and secure for the future. As previously noted, you need to be agile, but adaptable. We live in a world where technology is always changing and if you aren’t educating yourself, you’ll get left behind. How can you move forward if you’re stuck in the past?
  • Leverage data to create personalized and targeted offers: Build algorithms around purchase propensities and recommend unique products for each customer. Using data is in the best interest of any company because it’s about understanding the customer so innately that they know exactly what the customer wants before the customer knows what they want. Like most, I’ve bought a washer and dryer and then I get a flyer in the box that says register your product. But what value do I get by registering? You need all this information and then what? What if instead of a flyer, there was QR code that would allow me to scan, register and then I get specific text reminders on when to service/change filters etc.? It’s a more personalized approach that gives me the opportunity to get things I didn’t know I needed. We focus so much on marketing, and not enough on providing an experience that truly matters to that specific customer.
  • Fine-tune customer experiences based on segmented customer needs: Improve loyalty and brand relationships via personalized customer journeys based on segmentation and prediction models. Lead from a place of empathy. Truly understand your customers and the moments that they are in. If I book an airline ticket, I don’t want to open the app and see a generic ad to buy another plane ticket, I want to see an ad for a hotel in the place I am flying to.
  • Deliver a human-centered chatbot experience: Automate customer communication to provide greater control over their resolution journey via shortened experience times and greater satisfaction in resolution outcomes, which can lead to longer-term brand loyalty. Customers in general would rather be self-sufficient than call for help. We have mobile apps, texts, websites etc. that have made it easy for customers, and chatbots are a part of that experience. Chatbots are extremely useful for private requests/tasks. They can help with private information that you can’t necessarily get from a self-service perspective like requesting a lost credit card be replaced. They are most useful in places where there’s no need for empathy, places where there is a clear resolution — it’s a simple transactional journey.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

When a customer or client has a Wow! experience, the primary thing companies can encourage to inspire others is to provide a positive review or endorsement. Customers are more likely to recommend something if they have had a good experience with the brand and, in turn, a majority of consumers today are influenced by reviews and endorsements, which play a big role in purchasing decisions.

Another method to inspire continued brand engagement is through an active presence on social media. If a company can effectively interact with and respond to reviews of their products and services through social media, it can create more brand awareness and goodwill that can motivate others to reach out and foster brand loyalty.

My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful?

Amazon is exceptional at strengthening the bond between customers and its brand, along with curating bundles of product content based on customer behavior. For retail and e-commerce companies to be successful today, they must leverage the benefits of hyper-personalization and keep the customer as their focal point, and that means creating personalized experiences in all channels, including email, SMS, push, and in-app mobile experiences. An omnichannel approach provides shoppers with an integrated customer experience, whether they are shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, calling in via phone, or physically browsing in a brick-and-mortar store.

The majority of today’s consumers purchase products and services using mobile devices. Mobile commerce now accounts for nearly two-thirds of all online shopping, so it’s critical to create ‘commerce anywhere’ experiences that allow for on-the-go, real-time interactions in order to remain competitive and drive success.

Increasingly, successful customer experience depends on how well retailers are digitally connecting to their consumers. Understanding how technology can act as a tool for retailers to create innovative and unique experiences will be the key to adjusting to shifting customer expectations.

 

Source: GWFM Study & Research

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