Removing Operational Silos using Centralized Customer Service

Disconnected software and low visibility into the customer journey are a constant threat to customer experience teams. Siloed data translates to disconnected customer experiences, which results in attrition. Omnichannel customer service software is built to combat the silo mentality and give agents as much context as possible. How can organizations successfully implement and extract value from these solutions? In this discussion, Graeme Doswell, a CX leader at Sage Publishing, explains how his organization combated silos using omnichannel customer service technology.

gramae gramae
Graeme Doswell

Head of Business Solutions, Sage Publishing

richard richard
Richard Davies

Enterprise Account Manager, Freshworks

What's in this discussion:

  • An overview of data silos and how they impact communication and operational effectiveness
  • A case study of Sage Publishing, a global publisher that eliminated silos from its customer service channels
  • The metrics Sage Publishing uses to track the success of their omnichannel service

Part 1: Data silos are bulldozing customer experiences

Richard Davies: First, I'd like to discuss why seamless customer experiences are important in today's landscape. Understanding customer needs and exceeding expectations are becoming table stakes for businesses to compete. It's the obvious first step in creating and delivering the experiences that customers demand. It's important to note that, by customers, I mean anyone who interacts with your company. This group could consist of consumers, suppliers, journalists, distributors –  everyone who comes into contact and has an experience with your brand. Your latest business or technology partner could easily be your next customer. 

Forbes recently published an article titled ‘Customer experience is the new brand’. They highlighted that 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, up from just 36% in 2010. However, while 80% of companies believe they deliver superior experiences, only 8% of customers agree. 

In the age of digital transformation, customers expect connected journeys. For example, a shopper may begin her search for a particular handbag on a laptop computer at home. She may continue that session on a mobile phone or tablet while riding the train, and then visit a retail store to narrow down her selection by seeing the bags firsthand. This entire cycle should entail seamless handoff from one experience to the next. If that customer has opted to share her location and the store receives contextual data related to her whereabouts, she may even receive additional offers as she moves to the store. Customers expect extreme personalization. The customer experience delivers the right information and context to the right audience at the right time, throughout the engagement cycle. 

The delivery of customer experiences that engage and enhance your brand requires consistency across channels and devices. That's why we're having this conversation about silos. We've all been frustrated by this at some stage. I'm sure that you tried to contact your utility company  or media agency to try and pay a bill, or change an address. They pass you around from department to department and you repeat your name and account number to every single one. This is because of silos. 

The ‘silo mentality’ crops up too often in business departments that store information, leaving data inaccessible to the rest of the company – and resistance to sharing information benefits no one. In business, the silo mentality exists for various reasons: The most common one being organizational inefficiency, or the lack of effort in sharing information. When information isn't freely shared, your business can't make informed, data-driven decisions about its customers. When teams don’t collaborate, every team suffers. 

Customers today are now in control of when, where, and how they want to engage with your brand. This change has forced companies to shift their traditional approach of customer service to one that maximizes customer experience. To stay competitive, brands must make themselves available across multiple digital channels that their customers are using. A report by Aberdeen states that 55% of companies use at least 10 channels to interact with their customers. That's 10 channels at a minimum; and these organizations need to break down the silos between them. 

Typical support workflows consist of reading through each email coming in from a dozen different mailboxes, manually categorizing them, and either responding to them directly or forwarding them to relevant silos within or outside the organization. With this email-based process, support teams are mainly trying to categorize and differentiate queries. This can result in resource pressure and inefficiency due to the imbalance of workloads between teams and team members. What companies need is a powerful support solution with robust ticket management capabilities to handle customer queries and respond on the correct channel.

Part 2: Combating silos with omnichannel customer service

Richard Davies: Graeme, I’d like to ask you about how you broke down the silos in your organization, Sage Publishing. First, can you talk about how marketplace demands and customer expectations have changed over the years in the publishing industry?

Graeme Doswell: As an academic publisher, we've diversified our product range beyond traditional books and journals. This has brought us into more direct customer contact with our library customers. Our product portfolio is needs-based and marketing is extremely customer centric. Therefore, our support is really expected to be centered around the customer as well. 

I found that support has become a key part of the sales call. Customer-facing teams have really limited time with their prospects and obviously want those conversations to be positive. As a support team, we enable this positivity by being present during sales conversations and preemptively addressing concerns the customer might have with regard to our offerings.

Speaking of our support team, we’ve made huge strides in overcoming the silo problem in recent years. Until we implemented Freshdesk, we used a massive shared inbox in Outlook. It was difficult to manage, and caused significant difficulties in servicing customers – as a result, we saw inconsistencies in service between contact points, and it made collaboration difficult. Our business is quite complicated, so there are areas of speciality which every agent may not be proficient in handling – to deliver good service questions need to go to the right people at the right time. Of course, with Outlook inboxes, these specialized queries were mixed with the more simple ones. Understanding and triaging these tickets consumed lots of time and energy.

Freshdesk’s omnichannel helpdesk helped us get queries to the right people, removing frustrating delays when something was passed between teams. Also, the transparency we get from seeing not just the ticket itself, but the history of customer engagement with us, allows us to understand each query in the context of the customer's overall history of interactions with the team – this allows us to provide tailored experiences to every customer. Thus, we can move those queries between teams when needed, without the customer needing to start afresh. 

Part 3: Effecting organizational change management

Richard Davies: How did you break the silo mentality and create a unified customer experience? I understand that enhanced CX fosters improved collaboration and delivers a seamless experience across multiple service channels. Can you explain the ‘how’ of this phenomenon?

Graeme Doswell: I don't think there are many people that actually want to be in silos, they're forced to be there by the technologies and structures that we provide. I found that by showing them that we could use technology to break down the logistical challenges in our current setup, we opened up possibilities to introduce software that could solve our problems. So using Freshdesk to unify internal groups was like pushing against an open door. Everybody wanted to do it. 

Of course, there were challenges. We needed to agree on things like ticket design, consistent SLAs, routing, and reporting. We secured buy-in by promoting the advantages internally, so it was fairly evident that everyone wanted to go down this path. I introduced change quite slowly, so we could really get to grips with the new system, and then gradually introduce new concepts centering on consistency and collaboration. Our message has always been that our improvements will be continuous, rather than one big central change. We also engaged with internal users (support agents) to get their feedback on the implementation.

Part 4: The time-to-value and benefits of omnichannel customer service

Richard Davies: How quickly did you start seeing value with your Freshdesk implementation for omnichannel customer service, and in which areas?

Graeme Doswell: Instantly. We had some real performance issues in Outlook. Resolving them and being able to access ready-to-consume trackable metrics on customer service performance via the built-in analytics were really big wins. Since then, we've seen improvements in how groups work together, as and when we move new groups into the system. 

We've also launched some new products, such as our preprint service, where queries were either of an editorial nature and needed to go to one department, or technical ones where they need to go to another in a different part of the business. Because we're doing this in Freshdesk, we're able to create a single point of contact and a knowledge base, and provide really good service for both those customer personas, right out of the box. 

Richard Davies: How many mailboxes and teams are collaborating through Freshdesk?

Graeme Doswell: We've migrated around 50 different email addresses that service 10 functional groups across departments globally. We've kept all these email addresses in the system, but we're going to gradually retire them to focus on getting toward a central point of contact, like using customer portals to manage incoming support queries.

Richard Davies: I understand that your firm operates globally. Did you face any challenges with implementing Freshdesk across geographies?

Graeme Doswell: We needed good change management and good training. My support team is scattered around the globe already. So we've got a good mechanism for training people and keeping in touch with our teams. But we needed to be cognizant of making sure support is available throughout the night, so we had to train those teams accordingly. We traveled to the locations so we could really engage with users and make sure agents had a thorough understanding of the system, so there wouldn't be too many difficulties.

Richard Davies: Fantastic. So what are the key metrics you're using to measure improvements and efficiencies gained from using Freshdesk?

Graeme Doswell: We keep things fairly basic. 

  • Contact volumes 

  • Response and resolution times 

  • First-response times

  • Customer satisfaction

Richard Davies: How does Freshdesk enable you to report more effectively across the organization?

Graeme Doswell: Previously, our efforts were manual – we had people counting emails, and so on – this method did not provide in-depth insights. Now, we can really dig into those numbers and understand what's going on, since Freshdesk offers in-built analytics on tickets and interactions. 

Richard Davies: Have you found the agent product productivity to have risen quite dramatically?

Graeme Doswell: It certainly has.

Richard Davies: What does the future hold for Sage Publishing in terms of customer service?

Graeme Doswell: We want to increase options for our customers. We've started to roll out more advanced self-service options and a good knowledge base to allow customers to self-serve. We're looking into AI as well. We hope to use that to route queries internally, cut out some of the triage work, and provide agent-facing bots to help support reps deal with customer queries faster.

We're also looking at integrations to break down those silos even further, and provide visibility into other systems like CRMs, and so on. We can pull all that information into Freshdesk, so that our agents get visibility of what’s happening in other areas of the organization, and thereby maintain a unified view of the customer

Richard Davies: How are you scaling up your implementation?

Graeme Doswell: We implemented Freshdesk with only 8 agents. We're now up to 40. Many groups, as soon as they've come into contact with it, have seen it as the answer to a problem that they had as well. We've really ramped up our growth.

Part 5: Live Q&A

1) Many companies want to move away from the silo mentality, but are unsure of where to begin. So what's your recommendation regarding where companies should begin?

Graeme Doswell: We analyzed how information was passed between teams, and then saw where we're failing. We would set up two hypothetical teams, and then look at how they were passing queries and information between each other. We asked ourselves: “Do we need to do that at all? Can each team just cover the query on their own?”. If the answer was ‘Yes’, that was one silo we could eliminate. If collaboration was necessary, we ensured that each team had access to the same data.

Start small and build up. We looked at our migration to an omnichannel and silo-free tool in terms of getting rid of Outlook. Once we succeeded in replacing Outlook, we used Freshdesk to unify customer data, so as to remove the boundaries created by siloed information.


2) What do you see as the future of customer engagement in the publishing industry?

Graeme Doswell: For us, as an academic publisher, we have far more direct contact with our transactional partners tha. For us, that’s the University Library. But we are also in contact with readers to ensure that they get better use out of our services. We want to provide increased support so that they can use our products more and also help the librarians do their job. 

In practical terms, what that means for support is that we need to increase our channels and be proactive in pushing out information. We need to make sure that we're maintaining the quality and speed of our responses as we expand our channels.