As you might expect with any modern customer service solution, Kustomer provides multi-channel support (email, chat, and text to start), workflows, and analytics/reports.
What’s unique (in my view, anyway) is what they call a “customer timeline” — where users can see the customer journey, which provides a context for the service request. This is the “customer-centric” part of the announcement that caught my eye. More on that in a moment.
According to CEO and co-founder Brad Birnbaum, the solution is also designed so it can serve as a platform, not just a point solution. This raises some intriguing possibilities of Kustomer evolving into a CRM-like solution with sales and marketing functionality offered by Kustomer or other vendors.
How Did We Get Here?
Let’s take a moment to step back and review some history. It’s been the better part of 2 decades since RightNow launched a cloud-based customer service solution, taking a parallel path to Salesforce in sales. Since then, Salesforce has expanded into a multi-function behemoth, while RightNow had a very successful exit in a $1.5B sale to Oracle in 2011.
A new crop of lower-cost and easier-to-use SMB solutions followed, including Zendesk (2007), Assistly (2010) and Freshdesk (2010). Assistly didn’t last long — it was snapped up by Salesforce in 2011 (Birnbaum was co-founder and CTO).
So here were are, nearly 2017, which makes Zendesk 10 years old (gasp) and Freshdesk a bit long in the tooth, in tech terms anyway. That’s why Kustomer’s founders and investors ($12.5M from Canaan Partners, Boldstart Ventures, Social Leverage and BoxGroup) thought the time was ripe to take a fresh (sorry, Freshdesk) look at customer service.
The key question: what to improve?
“Treat Customers as People”
Now this is a novel idea! The one common trait of traditional customer service solutions is that they are organized around tickets or incidents. In other words — numbers.
This is one of the reasons that CRM fails to earn loyalty:
I am not an “incident,” I’m a person. When something doesn’t work, getting it fixed quickly is of course important. Service/support systems can certainly help. But I don’t want to feel like I’m just another number in the system.
How does a developer make this more than a marketing slogan. Kustomer’s timeline feature, that’s how.
To provide great service, the rep must know the complete context of the customer’s experience, including previous activities like e-commerce orders, shipment notices, customer service requests and more.
Charlie Taft, customer experience director at Outdoor Voices, liked this feature, because it fits the retailer’s strategy of being “our customers’s friend.” He also cited ease-of-use and integration possibilities as benefits of switching from Zendesk.
Treating customers as people is all well and good, but let’s get real. The application better serve the needs of the service rep, or it won’t get traction. That means the right functionality and ease-of-use.
I asked customer service pro Jeremy Watkin, head of Quality at FCR, to take a look. His comments were generally very positive, calling it a “really start-up friendly application” and “right out of the gate you have three support channels under one roof.”
- “Signing up was easy. I loved all of the walk throughs when logging in for the first time.
- Adding email and SMS support was really easy and worked almost instantly. Great for a test drive.
- I enjoyed the responsiveness of the platform. It was easy to converse with customers.
- The sentiment gauge on the conversation is really interesting. I found myself as the representative actively trying to use language that would improve the customer’s sentiment. It was rewarding to see the score go up after I solved the customer’s problem and they were happy. It felt covertly gamified 🙂
- There were some things I had questions about like how to create an email signature and how to merge my text and email conversations under the same CRM record and conversation. I’m sure those questions still need to be answered in their development though.”
However, he also noted: “In a post on their blog, they show screenshots of prominent ticketing systems and how they are working to improve and declutter. When in the system, the interface doesn’t feel all that different from Zendesk and Desk.com which I found kind of funny.”
And he wanted to know when Kustomer will integrate with voice and social. Kustomer replied with this statement:
“Kustomer is currently focused on the channels used the most by its customers. This includes email, text messages and chat. As to the future, Kustomer has plans to roll out new and innovative forms of support for voice and social channels in the coming months.”
Kustomer is publicly available, but pricing won’t be available until January. Company officials say it will be “competitive” with similar solutions, which I read as they are not going to set off a price war as the way to win business.
Instead, the company wants to attract customers that really want to treat their customers as people. That’s refreshing to me, Mr. Customer-Centricity, but I wonder how many companies really think about customer service that way. We’ll soon find out.
My take: the real payoff is the platform. Salesforce used SFA as the entry point. At one point founder Mark Benioff told me he wanted to build a sales solution that he would enjoy using himself. But before long, he added other solutions and turned the Force.com platform loose, creating a true ecosystem.
Kustomer is a long way from that, but I like the strategy. Build a killer customer service solution that agents love, and helps create a great service experience, while connecting and collaborating easily with the broad array of cloud-based solutions. Watch this space.