3 ways brands are using communities to foster customer engagement

Techtronics, Xero and Family and Community Services NSW share how they're tapping the power of customer community building

Xero: Personalised automation and education

Cloud-based accounting software provider, Xero, has been on a rapid growth trajectory in recent years, building its base of users to 1.2 million customers globally. And over the next five years, head of customer success, Nigel Piper, who oversees the service environment, education, content, curriculum and the help centre, is expecting change to be a constant for his team.

“The real challenge I have in my role is what we look like in five years’ time,” he told attendees at this year’s Salesforce World Tour in Sydney. “We know we have 1.2 million customers today, and we should have millions more by then. The problems I’m working through and trying to solve are about that longer-term horizon.”

Personalisation in service is the key to sustainable success in Piper’s book. “People want that Amazon or Apple experience from everyone they deal with every day,” he continued. “For us, it’s about saying how we deliver that personalised automation to a customer. They have told us something about themselves, we know who and where they are, and we know key events in that journey. We need to use that information in a way that’s contextually rich for that customer.”

Xero initially brought on Salesforce Sales Cloud three years ago, followed by Service Cloud two years ago. Both provided significant operational efficiencies, Piper said, but weren’t enough on their own to lift customer connections to a new realm. Hence it deployed Salesforce Community Cloud to foster better collaboration, engagement and service across the user community.

“We see community as the enabler to grow to millions of customers and then millions of users on top of that environment and through our focus on knowledge,” he said.

And content is the key. Xero offers a raft of content helping users get the most out of its platform as well as do their jobs better, stretched across its .com site, Xero TV Xero University, help centre and corporate blog. The problem was sources of information were siloed, making it difficult for customers and staff to find what they were looking for.

“We spent 12-18 months bringing all that knowledge together and into one place, using some of Salesforce’s partners, such as Coveo, to help us deliver across all knowledge points and provide a much better customer experience,” Piper said.

While significant technology back-end work had to be done to achieve this, “personalised automation” is still about the people, he continued. “Tech is an enabler that allows you to make the gains you need. But it still comes back to experience of the brand.

“Xero has a massive focus on wanting to help small businesses grow. We’re contributing to better schools and hospitals, so we want that engagement to be here.”

Read more: How video production is helping Xero attract and retain customers

How marketing automation is helping Xero achieve real-time and personalised communication

As a subscription-based product, it’s particularly important for Xero to engage prospects in the trial phase and then customers during the first three months of use. That’s the point where there are lots of “how do I do…” questions, Piper said.

“We also see lots of questions we could answer in a different way. I hire degree-level accountants to answer customer questions. If the answer is simple, I don’t want to use them for that. Employing machine learning for instant answers firstly, to anticipate what customer is asking, and then secondly, to provide a response, is critical.”

Piper pointed out Xero also has 500 ecosystem partners that customers want recommendations around, plus 1000s of banks, accountants and book keepers contributing to the community.

The next focus for Xero is tapping machine learning to route cases through the service environment.

“We don’t have 0800 numbers, and you can’t inbound call Xero. So we use email and raising cases as the way to contact us,” Piper explained. “We’ve become much more efficient about routing cases to the right people based on words, expressions and what we know about that customer.

“In the future, we see ourselves using that information and providing information back to the user directly. At the moment, we’re providing knowledge articles to our team, and we’ll shortly be able to use these articles to direct the customer as we’ll know what someone is trying to do.”  

Piper saw the advent of machine learning and technology like Community Cloud as a significant disruptor in the service world.

“We’re moving to an environment where we are proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “We want to use machine learning to go out to people. We should be intelligent enough to know something has gone wrong – a bank fee connection is broken, a key event is happening - then use AI to deliver better experience back to that customer.”

ChildStory: User-centred design

According to Family and Community Services NSW (FACS) product manager, Kieren Dight, ChildStory is a once in generation opportunity to build a new child safety management system.

The agency oversees case management and monitoring of children at risk of neglect, abuse and removed from their homes. ChildStory is the next-generation IT management system and supporting program that delivers this. It kicked off in 2014 and is aimed at putting the child at the centre of all work done by the agency.

“To do this, we needed everyone to work together – government staff, police, non-government associations such as Mission Australia, parent and carers, plus young kids to be involved,” Dight said. “We must put the child at centre of our practices and foster collaboration.”

For the first time, a technology platform exists that can support that practice, he said.

In order to tackle the challenges from the child’s perspective, FACs took up human-centred design, a practice that helped focus teams on end users, and provided a deep understanding of the end user’s needs.

“We looked at user backgrounds and situations, environments and interactions with FACS,” Dight explained. “The important thing is to talk to users, which for us are the kids that left care, case workers, other organisations working with families, parents.”

The group had 270 people participate in co-design workshops, generating more than 150 problem statements that were whittled down into prototypes. The team also incorporated all consumer experiences into journeys, which it could articulate.

“We learnt that children may not go through every journey but the feelings across these are the same,” Dight continued. “This proved a great tool for building empathy in our team.

“We came up with heaps of problems and insights, started to pick up threads and started to see where concepts could be formed. We also prototype designs early on to get these in front of kids and case workers in order to get feedback and iterate.”  

Related: Why design and human-centred design thinking is so important to IBM

The concept of ChildStory changed over time based on feedback before going live in November 2017.

“User involvement did two things – it refined products early on, and focused us on the things that gave us most value,” Dight said. “But we also importantly built rapport and trust with our users. That’s exactly what we wanted to do… create engagement and give them a voice in situations where usually they don’t have one.”  

The latest piece in the ChildStory puzzle is the YOU portal, aimed at giving kids access to their own information and providing a safe and secure online environment to better understand their identity and culture. It also allows users to actively participate in decisions about their care in the physical community. Salesforce Community Cloud has been used as the foundation platform support the new portal.

The YOU portal allows a user to capture and build their life story in digital form via an online timeline, store identity information online, collaborate with other people in their community, as well as interact with case workers all via one platform. The portal is built with a mobile-first approach.

Four experiences were created based on a child’s age and cultural background, and will be reflected back in the dynamic front-facing pages of YOU through profile data, branding, functionality and language a user sees when they log in.

“Everyone sees the same record, there’s no complex integration between systems, and it’s on the one Salesforce platform, so the team could access tools such as our process builder tool [for automating business processes],” Salesforce solution architect, Shahar Banay, explained.

For example, a user can create a request to talk to a case worker, search their timeline, access a social feed personalised based on their interests, store a birth certificate and also have other approved parties contribute to their individual history. Because the platform is linked to other Salesforce platforms, such as chatter, the portal can also generate push notifications when an update is made or a request granted.

“Children have never had this level of access to their information before,” Dight added.

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