Providing a positive customer experience is critical—especially in the always-on digital age. A helpful experience with a support agent cultivates greater loyalty and may motivate satisfied customers to evangelize your product or service to others. Enthusiastic testimonials activate a flywheel of loyal customers attracting more customers. But to answer expectations of high-quality service, companies need to think creatively.
Mike Flannagan, Vice President of Customer Experience Design, Digital and Global Operations at Microsoft, maintains an intense focus on innovative ways to transform and enhance customer service. “If we’re rigid about how we deliver our services based on how we’ve done things in the past, we’ll fail to meet our customers where they are and won’t deliver the experiences they want and expect,” he says. Consequently, Flannagan is always looking for new ideas, opportunities, and innovative ways to connect with his customers and drive successful support experiences that help them easily accomplish more with their Microsoft products and services.
Directly offers the agility and flexibility that we need, works well to meet our security and compliance requirements, and provides an amazing customer experience."
Mike Flannagan | Vice President of Customer Experience Design, Digital and Global Operations | Microsoft
One major customer experience opportunity Flannagan identified is common among many other large support organizations: providing a consistently high-quality customer experience in the face of large and sometimes unpredictable fluctuations in demand. Vikram Nagaraj, Support Supplier Manager at Microsoft, is very clear: “It’s tough to get access to as much support talent as we need as quickly as we need it. And then when that demand wanes—perhaps we’ve engineered out the need—we might need to quickly pivot our attention to a new product or service with entirely different support requirements,” he says. New product releases or updates and seasonal events can all push the ability of conventional in-house and outsourced support infrastructures beyond the breaking point, or at least to a point where the quality of service suffers.
For many industry leaders, Directly answers this problem of scale with an on-demand customer service solution. The company provides an innovative mix of human expertise and AI-driven automation to identify the quickest route to the information that customers are looking for. Directly doesn’t replace existing support models, but rather, it provides additional support options for a more successful and satisfying customer experience.
Qualified experts make themselves available to accept support queries, and the Directly platform matches issues to available experts. The expert helps the customer or escalates the call back to the system for deeper support. The Directly platform takes advantage of machine learning and natural language processing to understand customers’ intent and questions, which can in turn be fed back to engineering teams to inform the product roadmap. It also uses this intelligence to provide automated responses to questions—satisfying the support request without human intervention—and provides residual rewards to the experts who produced the content.
Directly’s network of experts comprises customers who have signed up to help whenever they can. They’re enthusiastic, accomplished, and have developed the right combination of technical knowledge and communication skills to provide highly effective support. The experience provided by Directly drives positive results for all parties. Customers have satisfying interactions with peers who already understand their issues. The experts develop valuable reputations and are compensated for their services. And the organization gains high-quality and flexible support capacity from experts with specialized knowledge in niche products or services.
Flannagan recognized a great opportunity to both elevate the customer experience and access top talent. “There are many super-smart people who are willing to offer their expertise who we wouldn’t otherwise be able to bring on board,” he says. “Those experts can tailor their workloads and hours to suit their lifestyles, and they can at any time indicate a change in their availability in the Directly platform.”
Microsoft Customer Service and Support has been working with Directly since 2018, but the solution proved particularly critical during the Xbox Series X launch in November 2020. Flannagan knew there would be a pool of very knowledgeable and loyal Xbox enthusiasts who would be ready to adopt the new console and help gamers with any issues they might have. He turned to Directly, which provided more than 300 prescreened experts—already trained on the Directly platform with proven technical and customer engagement skills.
We reduced staff onboarding times from months to days, and we resolved 73,000 cases in the first week of launch. But most importantly, we did this while maintaining our highest customer satisfaction numbers. It’s a win for our customers, and so it’s a win for us."
Vikram Nagaraj | Support Supplier Manager | Microsoft