In an era where effective communication forms the crux of customer satisfaction, it's imperative to understand the best strategies that propel client engagement to the forefront. As we navigate through the dynamics of client communication, the spotlight invariably turns towards innovative solutions that can enhance interactions between businesses and their clients.
To find out more, DesignRush talked to Kenji Hayward, the Head of Customer Support at Front, a customer operations platform tailored to streamline support, sales, and account management communications. In our interview, Kenji unfolds the narrative of Front's customer-centric ethos, the challenges and solutions in client communication, and the pivotal role of AI and automation in reshaping the customer support landscape.
Kenji Hayward is the Head of Customer Support at Front, a customer operations platform that enables support, sales, and account management teams to deliver exceptional service at scale. Kenji has over a decade of experience in support, and with his guidance, Front’s award-winning support team consistently outperforms industry benchmarks and attains top-tier global customer satisfaction ratings.
Can you give us an overview of Front’s approach to customer service and communication, and how it stands out from usual conversation routes?
Unlike companies that may lean heavily on tickets and impersonal bots that degrade customer experience, Front views support as an opportunity to deliver exceptional customer communication and build deeper relationships with customers.
Front's priority is responding to customers with genuine care to provide the high-quality support they deserve. And this isn't necessarily done through one support agent. We purposely set up the team and our technology to prioritize collaboration, and we don't measure reps exclusively on ticket resolutions. Instead, we employ a team-focused approach to collectively serve customers, which allows us to resolve cases faster.
What are the biggest hurdles companies face when communicating with their clients, and how to address them?
One of the biggest hurdles is meeting clients where they are. Companies face challenges to invest in the right channels of communication. Sometimes it’s limited by budget and scope. For example, phone support may be something some customers are asking for, but that requires a much larger investment than chat or email.
My advice is to focus on creating the absolute best experience with the channels within your means. So if there is something out of reach, double down on your existing channels to alleviate the customer's pain point. Do they feel like they can't reach you immediately? Explore live chat. Are you unsure if your team would be able to handle it? Soft launch it to a select few customers to better understand your workload.
Proper customer communication requires coordination between several departments, especially in large companies. How do you ensure communication flows well within the company before reaching the customer?
I love this question because it captures the heart of what we do as a customer operations platform, which is to take a holistic approach to all the teams, tools, and workflows required to create an exceptional end-to-end customer experience.
Luckily for us, Front Support runs on Front, so we’re able to use our own product to centralize channels and customer context and collaborate efficiently behind the scenes. When it comes to customer communication/service, we make sure that support is not siloed at Front. While 93% of customer queries are handled by our Support team, when a case does need to be escalated, we can easily tag in an engineering or other relevant team member to quickly provide input.
What helps here is our customer-centric culture, where we believe that every employee can contribute to customer satisfaction. There is a company-wide OKR tied to customer care and empathy, and this year we launched a customer care rotation, where every employee will respond to customer NPS surveys.
When dealing with customers, companies need to consider feedback if they want to improve the support they offer. How does Front ensure that this feedback reaches the appropriate departments?
We use Front’s Required Tagging feature to create an overall view of trends and patterns around what our customers are reaching out about. We’ve created a list of support categories that get assigned to each of the hundreds of inbound messages we receive daily (thankfully we have beta access to Front’s automatic AI tagging feature!), so we can quantify and categorize our support topics much more efficiently.
We use this data to help teams across the company as a whole. For example:
- The Engineering team can get insight into product health and identify performance trends. They, in turn, can use this data to build a consistently stronger product.
- The Product team can track tags relating to new feature releases to see how often customers are writing in with positive or constructive feedback about a new feature.
- Our go-to-market teams can track trends for their managed accounts and even provide customer feedback on plans and pricing.
All this feedback is a pathway to better understand our customers’ journey and their pain points. Better understanding leads to better service, which keeps the customers happy!
Front Academy is one of the resources you have available to clients. Can you share more details on its function and benefits?
We set up Front Academy for all customers to get a high-quality onboarding experience with Front, as well as to continue to uplevel what Front can do for their businesses. It’s the next best thing you could get to a real person guiding you through how to set up and use Front. We’re constantly adding new courses to ensure you get the most out of Front, and the best part is courses are available on-demand, so it’s easy to work as quickly or slowly as you want.
In addition to Front Academy, we have Front Community and even launched our Front Certified Administrator (FCA) program. Our goal is to create a wide variety of tools to empower our customers to get the most out of Front, and in turn, create advocates that will champion our product to others.
Automation and AI are now a big part of customer support and communications. Can you tell us how Front leverages these technologies to enhance its platform?
This is top of mind for us, and we even hosted a virtual keynote Frontlines in September 2023 to address this topic. We recently launched a ton of features that enable our team and our customers to leverage AI to optimize their customer operations.
With AI answers (currently in limited beta), we’ve layered AI on top of our native knowledge base and Front Chat to resolve live chat inquiries without a team member ever needing to be involved. When a customer writes in with a question that’s already addressed in a company’s knowledge base, an AI model will find the right content and suggest the article back to the customer as an answer — even if the keywords don’t exactly match. Soon, AI Answers will even be able to craft responses based on those Knowledge Base articles, so that customers can instantly get complete answers in the chat.
Front support has also been utilizing Front’s new AI Tagging feature. Instead of requiring teams to manually add tags (which are a way to identify and categorize message content), Front’s AI does this categorization based on the content of the conversation. AI tagging will initially suggest tags for approval, and as the model increases in confidence, it will start to automatically add tags. With accurate tagging to structure conversation data, users can trigger automatic workflows, increase visibility into what’s happening with customers, and measure trends over time to inform process improvements.
Customer loyalty is vital to business growth. Can you share tips on how companies should approach customers to improve their loyalty?
At the end of the day, it’s all about providing exceptional customer service, making deep human connections, and gathering feedback from your customers. Two of our company values at Front are "high standards" and "low ego." High standards are probably easy to grasp: we’re ambitious and want to be operationally excellent.
A low ego is one of the ways to maintain those high standards. As part of our low ego mentality, we actively seek feedback and make it easy for customers to push us to be better. For example: we have a public roadmap and a way for customers to submit feature requests to our Product team. Low ego doesn’t mean that we aren’t proud of the work we do – we make sure to celebrate wins as a team – but it means understanding that constructive feedback is a way for us to progress fastest in the areas that matter most.
As another example: a while back our team was receiving DSAT feedback, or customer dissatisfaction scores, around customers wanting a live chat channel to get in touch with our support team. We were consistently receiving over time, so we had assurance that this was the right channel for us to launch, and for Front to build as a native capability in Front.
Recently, you released a native Knowledge Base and made updates to Front Chat as new features. What are they, and how will these features help users?
Front Knowledge Base has been one of our highest-requested features, and I’m so glad it’s live! Like most knowledge bases, it is simple, searchable, and entirely self-service. What sets our knowledge base apart is its deep integration with Front’s core inbox experience. All knowledge base information is seamlessly accessible from a Front inbox in just a few clicks. Teams can browse all content from within Front and even link to relevant articles in Front’s message composer when responding to customers. This means less context switching between apps and the ability to resolve inquiries more efficiently than ever.
Live chat is the fastest-growing preferred channel for customer service. As a result, we released updates to our existing Front Chat experience with powerful automation and deflection capabilities to make it even more efficient for users to manage live chat. Since Front Chat is integrated with Front Knowledge Base, website visitors can browse and search for articles directly from the chat widget. It’s a win-win for both customers and users. Customers get instant, accurate answers while users save time from responding to frequently asked questions. Front Chat also utilizes a simple, visual editor for users to quickly build custom chatbot flows. That means users can gather relevant details for a seamless handoff from bot to agent for faster resolution.
How do you see customer communications evolving in the upcoming years, and how is Front ensuring its future-proof?
If there’s anything the past year has taught us – between a challenging market and swift advancements in generative AI – it’s that things are moving fast. Businesses are going to need to constantly adapt by updating their processes, retraining their teams, and hiring for new skills. Rigid, unwieldy systems are just not going to work.
Our focus is on building an operations platform that is flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of our customers. We’re making sure that Front is easy for admins to manage and customize. The key is being able to maintain and update systems in-house to give teams the power and ownership to quickly adapt to whatever new challenges may arise.