It’s no surprise companies are struggling to connect with customers in the new virtual world that’s been forced upon the workforce due to coronavirus. But how are businesses continuing to connect with customers, despite the remote aspect?

We sat down VP of Customer Success, Fred Tsai, to discuss how a working from home arrangement has changed the way Liferay connects with customers across the globe.

The challenges of remote work

Fred says the compulsory work from home environment the pandemic introduced has definitely made his job a little harder as VP of Customer Success. Once a role that involved hitting the road for half the month, meeting customers across the world and travelling from city to city has now turned into a face-to-screen situation.

So what challenges have Fred and his team at Liferay faced, and how are they building solutions to overcome these frustrating obstacles?

1. A shift for customer-facing businesses

For businesses that rely on face-to-face customer interactions, making an impact virtually can require double the effort. You aren’t able to share moments that customers appreciate, like talking strategy over lunch or dinner, or pitching a world-class idea while sitting in a board room together. It’s harder to create those human moments with customers that help to form a professional bond. 

Fred says, “That face-to-face customer interaction, which customers adore us for, is now gone. Liferay has always deliberately been very field-oriented, even for smaller customers, because we care and every customer is important to us. So I miss being able to show that differentiator of Liferay to our customers.”

2. Siloed approach to work

Whiteboarding sessions and round-table meetings are now a thing of the past. Fred says this is something his team has struggled to adapt to as, “You typically could make things happen by having big planning meetings. Everyone’s in the office, you have a big whiteboard and you forge through during the day or a working dinner, every single issue and you can usually agree on the desired outcomes. You're drawing it on the whiteboards, you're coming up with ideas.”

Cross-functional workflow was a massive component of Liferay problem solving, but Fred has noticed things become a lot more siloed during COVID-19. He says, “Everyone's doing their own Zoom calls. They're so hampered within their own departments that it’s even harder to work cross-functionally, so we’ve had to work very hard to achieve internal cross-functional alignment during the pandemic, especially around planning.”

3. Expanding with new people

As your business continues to expand, it becomes harder to train people to carry out their role when training is done virtually. Fred discusses the team's expansion, and how many of the new members have only met each-other face to face once, or not at all.

“We met once in January and that's it. We had plans to travel to Budapest, India and China, but we simply aren’t able to do that at the moment. So onboarding and training people is really a lot harder when you're doing it 100% online.”

But going remote hasn't been all bad

Fred says despite the negatives, there have been some really positive outcomes from work from home. Being a digitally-driven company has definitely put Liferay in a position to grow and adapt to the ongoing challenges by implementing technology and softwares that solve problems we face in our day-to-day. 

1. Increased call volume

While Fred’s customer call volume is up for obvious reasons, it’s usually for an emergency situation. He says, “It’s much easier now to just simply get on a call, whether this customer is in the US, EMEA, or Asia, everyone seems to be much more accessible.”

Despite increased accessibility, it can be harder to differentiate and show that you're committed to the customer. Fred says, “You want to fly out there and be in person to let them know that you're there with them — but that’s impossible. It's harder, but at least I can repeat it again, and again, and again, so my quantity is up.”

2. Using your technology to walk through customer problems

Going remote for Liferay has meant maximising the technology available to us. Fred says the team uses Loop for internal communications, “It’s sort of like our internal intranet. It runs on Liferay technology and is basically used as an internal account information guide."

“So when you talk to a customer, it's actually easier to walk them through their problems because you actually run a lot of different things on Liferay technology, and this is what it does for X, Y, and Z. You become a showcase, and during it, when you're actually online and everyone's online, it becomes that much more obvious.”

3. Productivity has soared

The good news is that while a lot of companies are struggling to move everything from in-person and manual over to digital platforms, teams are still remaining productive. While organisations may prefer an in-person setup, leaders like Fred are still seeing the same level of productivity, if not more, across the board.

Fred says, “The problem now is employees are struggling to find that work-life balance, and people are beginning to blend their work and their lives. So while we're getting more productivity out of people, it's still coming at a cost.”

What work from home will look like post pandemic

While COVID-19 introduced a work from home environment, it’s inevitable that there will be some sort of push for a work from home set up even after the pandemic ends, but how will this influence customer success in the future? 

For employees

Fred says that for Liferay, work from home is nothing new, “We had already started experimenting with most of our customer success managers being remote in the regions which they serve. So 40% or 45% of my people were remote before the pandemic, but it will definitely be the majority moving forward.”

“I think we will continue to meet in person, especially for planning meetings, and every quarter or every month we will probably meet in person. But we're going to figure out creative ways of doing it. What I mean by that is, we can meet up in common cities, so we'll have customer tours Monday, Tuesday, do planning meetings Wednesday, Thursday in London or in Sydney, wherever it is, and then go back home. It would probably look something like that and I imagine companies in a similar situation will set up an arrangement like this.”

For customers

Fred touches on how training could look vastly different in the future. He discusses instructor-led training specifically, “If you go to our learning hub, we have a lot of different learning assets, and most of our assets you can take by digital course. A lot of customers in the past, especially at Liferay, have preferred and we've tended to sell them in-person training.”

“As a result of the pandemic, I believe people are going to be more comfortable and even prefer online methods of interacting, and I believe that customer education and customer training are going to permanently be online. It will be primarily based on demand, and so it's very different metrics, whereas before, you were able to give someone credit for showing up to training that the company paid $2,000 a seat for.”

Keeping customers engaged, even while working remote

Despite the challenges WFH has brought the world, engaging technology that enables you to still communicate with customers and address pressing issues is the key to customer success. Being available and accessible to customers despite the absence of face-to-face interaction can be the difference between sinking and swimming post pandemic.

A crisis can change everything, but as a business, you need to shift your mindset to ensure customer service and support operations are still running smoothly. Learn how you can improve customer engagement with a digital customer service strategy.

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