In our sixth episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Praval Singh. Praval is the VP of Marketing and Customer Experience at Zoho.

His areas of expertise and interest include brand, product positioning & messaging, go-to-market strategy, demand generation, social media, content-led marketing, and media & analyst relations. Previously, he co-founded Media Redefined (a digital-media agency in India), where he led sales, business strategy, and client workshops for various brands including Samsung, Micromax, Aircel, Maruti Suzuki, and NIIT, amongst others.

Zoho is a b2b SaaS company that offers business software to over 90 million users globally. They offer applications that cover sales and marketing, finance, HR and legal to cover just a few. Trusted by brands such as Amazon, Levi, Philips, Suzuki, and Samsonite. The unique and powerful software suite transforms the way you work. Designed for businesses of all sizes. And built by a company that values your privacy. 

In this episode, we talked to Praval about the importance of customer experience to acquisition, retention and satisfaction, the difference between customer support and customer experience, how customer experience can become more of a challenge as businesses grow, and asked for practical tips for improving the customer journey.


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Graham  00:13

On this episode of 15 minutes worth, we’re joined by Praval Singh, VP of Marketing and Customer Experience at Zoho. Zoho are a b2b SaaS company that offers business software to over 90 million users globally. They offer applications that cover sales and marketing, finance, HR and legal to cover just a few. Trusted by brands such as Amazon, Levi, Philips, Suzuki, and Samsonite. The unique and powerful software suite transforms the way you work. Designed for businesses of all sizes. And built by a company that values your privacy. We talked to Praval about the importance of customer experience to acquisition, retention and satisfaction, the difference between customer support and customer experience, how customer experience can become more of a challenge as businesses grow, and ask for practical tips for improving the customer journey.

Shelley  00:54

Hi Praval. Welcome to the podcast.

Praval  00:56

Thank you so much.

Shelley  00:58

It is great to have you here. So I wanted to start by asking you a little bit about why customer experience is so important, particularly related to sort of acquisition, retention and satisfaction.

Praval  01:09

Sure, if you look at the way businesses acquire customers historically, and even today, what matters most is how much does a customer really trust a brand or a business to engage with them? And and in turn, buy a product or a service, right? And a lot of it is about trust. And you and I we both know, how much do consumers typically trust ads today, much less than they did even 10 years ago. So now, consumers are looking at third party validation or customer advocacy or who else in my circle has bought or endorses or supports this business. And that influences a decision while a purchase happens. We see that in b2c, we see that in b2b, it happens all the time. And now you add social media to the mix. And it gets even more interesting where a lot of social proof is driving top line sales. Now in this world, it’s inevitable for a business to be able to engage with a customer or a prospect at different touch points and touch points could be channels could be a Website, Email, an event or whatnot. But also once someone becomes a customer, how do you engage with her across the entire journey, entire lifecycle of a customer, and essentially make them your advocate, you know, because the relationship is beyond a transactional relationship of buying something against the money that a customer pays right there kind of their customer service expectations that they have the product maturity, ease of access, ease of use, there’s a community angle to it all that influences how a customer advocates your product. And I think that’s the key role that customer experience today is playing. Again, a lot of people confuse customer experience with a tool, or a product, it’s more of a practice than a tool. It’s super important from from an acquisition perspective. Similarly for retention, all of us know how, again, depending on the industry, you’re in, acquiring a new customer could be up to five times, seven times 10 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer. Right? That’s, again, customer experience takes the heat out of the mix, because you’re able to derive a lot more value from an existing customer by providing good customer experience. Now does that value come in value could could come in by translating that relationship into a higher ACD by cross sell upsell or selling a product that solves for adjacent business needs for the customer. So what happens is that positive customer experience is building trust and confidence and an emotional connection with with the customer. And that translates into more business. That translates into more cross sell upsell, engaging into higher value products and services from you. And that value is actually what drives relationship between a customer and a business. So customer experience. Yes, it sort of impacts acquisition, retention and satisfaction at all levels for a business, whether you are a b2b business or a b2c business.

Graham  04:28

And you mentioned customer service or customer support in there. And I think potentially lots of people get that element confused with customer experience, I think, well, we’ve got a support channel, and if something goes wrong, we can help people so therefore our customer experience is fixed. Clearly in our experience. We don’t think that’s the case. Can you kind of explain the difference and kind of go into why these two things are not mutually exclusive?

Praval  04:52

Yeah, sure. And you were right. When customer experience, the term first came up, a lot of people I think it happens even to this day, confuse it with offering customer support or customer customer service, I won’t say customer services is outside the scope of customer experience, it’s a part of it, you know, it’s a part of it. But it’s more around a need when a customer has purchased a product or a service and need some help some support some some guidance from the from the business. So they will reach out to you. And that’s the customer support slash customer service function. There are tools for it, there are processes for it, departments and teams for it. But that’s where it ends, whereas customer experience is something that refers to a larger picture. And again, like I said, customer experience touches all the touch points that a prospect or a customer has with your brand or business, it could be at the awareness level, it could be post purchase, it could be loyalty, and referral. All of that together, influences how a customer has a relationship with the business. And what that means is if you’re focusing on customer experience, by the virtue of it, customer service is already taken care of as part of it, you know, that’s how it is. But what you do beyond it, adjust into customer service, from pre sales, post sales, during the sales, advocacy, referral community, all that together defines the kind of experience the customer has with you. So yeah, while they may seem confusing, or times even similar, depending on how they’re addressed, I would say they are, at this point, they should be well defined and distinct in nature, within any organisation.

Graham  06:40

I’ve seen lots of information or lots of talk around the use of first party data, right? So businesses using the information they have to build on that experience. And I guess if you really had that fine tuned, using the information that you gathered during the customer service or customer support process kind of enables you to create personalised experiences out the other side so that you know, where potentially there have been issues. And if they come back to you a second time, you’re not asking all the same questions again, because in theory, you collected the information the first time, right, that kind of creates that personalised experience.

Praval  07:14

Yeah. In fact, I like to refer to that phenomenon as something called companies having to or should maintain a single source of truth. And what that means is today, a customer is not isolated from sales, marketing and support teams. So when you have a customer experience platform, it serves as a single source of truth for your customer. So everything about your customer, what was the source you acquired that customer from? Was it an event? Was it a lead gen form? Or was it a webinar? Or whatever it was? So from that information, to how long the customer has been in the system, which products or services has she purchased? And then how many support tickets has he or she raised in the past? Okay, what’s the customer satisfaction score? How is the NPS for that, all that information together, if you have it in a customer experience platform, it not just helps the salespeople do more of cross sell upsell, it helps us support people, it helps your social media team, it helps your you know, in fact, all the way to the product teams, because it gives a lot of Intel into how a customer is is using your product. And it in turn helps you build a customer persona of what kind of customers you typically attract. And then it helps you build that product market fit early on. And it helps you expand into other geographies because all that insight is very, very useful, okay. And this you cannot achieve if you put sales, marketing and service in silos. And that’s another critical problem that customer experience platforms typically solve for.

Shelley  08:51

I love how you said customer experience is a practice because everything that you’ve just explained, whatever the touch points are within the business, and they may be different for different businesses often that they are, but to explain it as a practice across that whole scope really makes a lot of sense. And of course, the larger and more complex a business is, the more difficult it is to map that whole process because there are so many potential touch points. So are there any ways any sort of philosophies that apply, whether you’re small, whether you’re complex, whether you’re simple as to some underlying principles that are important to any customer experience?

Praval  09:30

You’re right, a large business would look at customer experience as a practice in a very different way than a really small company for various reasons. It could be the complexity of the problem. It could be the size of the team and then the bandwidth that they have. It could be the nature of the business, so on and so forth. But one thing that I would say is important is we’re talking about a platform or a tool or a piece of technology that is enabling us to offer great customer experience right? Now, it could be a customers experience platform. In some cases, it could be, it starts at a spreadsheet or an email, by the way, it doesn’t start at a CX platform, very small businesses still run spreadsheets and emails and, and some form of messaging application to sort of chat between teams and collaborate between teams, the fundamental thing I would say that is important is to break silos between your customer serving functions could be sales, marketing, and service primarily, right? Breaking silos and having that single source of truth across your customer base, then that’s the how you segment them, you serve them all of them. Now, what happens is, a more mature customer experience platform would make your life easier in terms of how you manage and maintain the single source of truth, you start off with a spreadsheet, like I said, and then one spreadsheet becomes five, one team member becomes four. And then it’s all over the place, because nobody has, there’s no single source of truth, it’s all distributed. So a CRM, or a good customer experience platform solves for that need, right? It’s important to understand why it’s critical for a customer experience, operation or practice to succeed. And for that, to succeed, you have to have a single source of truth, a really small company may not really see see value or may not find it worth, they’re trying to engage in a large vendor implementation. And that’s the reason why small business CRMs exist in the world today, right there, lots of CRMs that do a lot of automation, integration, workflow management, all that and it’s becoming increasingly easier to onboard these tools is something that I think companies should should remember. Second thing is a good customer experience often gets delivered. When you offer good employee experience, okay, these these, there is a confluence of  CX and EX, which a lot of businesses kind of undermine or don’t appreciate. And the reason is, if you keep your employees happy, if your employees are engaged, if there’s there’s no silo between employees, as far as information sharing is concerned, whatever is legit and shareable and there’s good employee experience in a company, it turns into, it enables them to sort of offer great customer experience. So what we believe is an I personally proposed this idea a lot that the confluence of employee experience and customer experience is very crucial for for and as a company becomes larger, is even more critical for for them to, to understand the importance of how good customer experience is driven by good employee experience within. And there are, there are practices and tools and I would say ways in which a large company today works on offering great employee experience. And that translates into them delivering exceptional customer experiences. So yeah, these are things that I would I would keep in mind, regardless of the size of the company that that I’m speaking with, on EX and CX.

Shelley  12:57

Praval, do you have any tips or tricks for anybody that is looking to either get started on this journey, if they are a small business, taking that step, as you said, into the technology space to support better customer experience, or they’re in a larger company, and they’re aware that you know, there are things they need to be doing to improve it is there anything that they can practically apply.

Praval  13:16

So if you’re a large business, I would assume you already have some kind of system and processes howsoever, disintegrated, but you already have something, my suggestion and advice to you, as a CXO, at a large company would be to unify them, you know, to put them together so that you break the silos across customer facing teams, there are so many ways of transforming the setup, including working with different vendors, bring them on board, or choosing a single suite that tightly integrates all the three functions, primarily sales, support and service, sales, support and marketing, from a customer experience perspective. But if you’re a really small business, the first thing you have to understand is, like I said, the importance of having that single source of truth, the importance of having your customer data together. So once you are on board with an idea that provides, the next step is the tools. And I would suggest picking up a tool that A, offers the breadth and the depth to get you started, doesn’t overwhelm you to begin with. And you can relate with that tool as a small business. That’s very important, because it’s very easy to pick up large names, vendor names in the industry, and then somebody will come and sell that to you. And then it might sound interesting, but you know how complicated it can get how complex the implementation and all of that is and are also expensive, by the way, right? As a small business, you need something that works out the box, is affordable. There’s a community which where you can engage, reach out, reach out to and it’s within a few weeks, not a matter of months, but within a few weeks, you can see how your life becomes easier with automation workflow, having the data in a single system and essentially making lives easier. And there’s so many tools available in the market that enable enable that single source of truth for for small and growing businesses. Yeah, that’s what I would say.

Graham  13:16

Praval, thank you so much for your time, you have filled the episode with tonnes of really good information, and I’m sure there’s people out there that are gonna get so much from listening to it. And inevitably, as we know, customer experience is not a standstill process. So we’ll probably be talking to you again in the future.

Praval  15:44

Sure, Thank you so Graham and Shelley.

Graham  15:46

That was Praval Singh, VP of Marketing and Customer Experience at Zoho. Trust is one of the key decision factors when choosing to make a purchase. Traditional advertising does not have the same impact as it did and the advocacy of existing customers and social proof is more important now than ever before. Customer Experience is not a tool or a piece of software. It is a practice and an ideology that a business adopts. It’s the thing that keeps customers coming back. And positive shared experiences are what drive new customers. It needs to cover every touchpoint for your customer, and should be a combined holistic practice for your business. The use of first party data is vital and having a single source of truth is key to the incredible customer experience. This avoids having internal teams in silos and ensures that the personal touch is always front and centre. Don’t feel like you need to invest in a huge piece of software if it does not suit the needs of the business. And remember that employee experience enables customer experience and avoiding it is a huge mistake. Thanks for joining us on this episode of 15 Minutes With and we look forward to having you along on the next one.