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Coaching for Customer Retention — The Athletic Way

Eric Broulette at Flywheel (formerly with Hudl at the time of recording)
Podcast
Eric Broulette Mobile Interactions Podcast

In this episode, we talk with Eric Broulette and delve into the fast dynamics between sports coaching and tech. Focusing on communication tools used by tech companies to support various groups of users, from coaches to athletes and their fans, to get the most out of new streaming experiences.

Podcast Script:


Jean:
Why don't you give the listeners a little bit more about your background because I covered some in the intro, but I'm sure they would love to hear more.

Eric:
Yeah, my name is Eric Broulette and I'm currently our global support manager here at Hudl. I'm focused on delivering a world class support experience to all of our customers across the globe. So we have a team of about a 100 spread out into eight different countries focusing on that world class experience for our customers. So my role and responsibility is ensuring that our team has the right tools, the processes and everything in between to deliver that experience to all of our customers.

Jean:
Great. You've got a lot of great background to cover what we are going to talk about today, which is how communication tools are being used to improve customer experience especially by support staff. So recently we are seeing a lot of changes happening in how companies are engaging and supporting their customers to get the most out of their products and services and basically even helping them share their experiences with others. Using various communications channels. So that's the first place I want to start with.

Eric:
Sure. That sounds great.

Jean:
Given the broad visibility and user base you are dealing with and the fact that your company is one of the fastest growing companies in the United States, if I'm not mistaken, it will be interesting to hear some examples of things that used to be handled differently in the past and now handled with new communication strategies and tools. So any examples that you want to start with?

Eric:
Yeah, historically when I joined huddled back in 2011, we had about 2000 customers at that time. And really how we service those customers was via phone. So we trained our coaches that our phone lines are going to be open during a given times. They're going to be able to reach us and we're going to have a pretty quick response as we progressed throughout the years we've identified ways to meet our customers where they are. So email was a huge focus. Chat is a large focus for us as well. And then as we expand into our elite market, and our elite market is considered to be the top tier sports teams across the globe. You think about the Division One college basketball teams, the National Basketball Association, the English Premiere League, all of those teams use our service. And they communicate with us whatever's comfortable in their way. So via text, phone call, in person training, all that types of stuff is really the main ways that we service our customers.

Jean:
Okay. That sounds like many different things that trigger changes you have to do. I mean, you’re basically following where your customers are and as well as some of the changes happening internally as well. Perhaps you can just kind of walk us through the process a little bit meaning the strategizing part of it and perhaps testing it out before you deploy, start chatting and all the way to actual deployment.

Eric:
Yeah. So I'll take Chat for example. Chat was it implemented on our team and 2012 and we really learned that the strategy behind that is you need to meet your customers where they are. So anywhere on our website be done on the bottom right hand corner for your customers so that they can chat with you. So if they have questions on the video page or the team management page, wherever they are at on hudl.com we want to be there to service them. So we tried it with a few customers to start. It was a pretty big hit. So we started rolling it out to all of our competitive customers, competitive coaches across the globe. And now it's one of our most frequented ways that customers get in contact with us. So the strategy there is really meet your customers where they are, don't make it hard for them to contact your support team so that you're breaking down the roadblocks, the barriers that they have to efficiently use your tools.

Eric:
And we see the chat and instant messaging and text messaging and all those types of tools out there are way that we can leverage that strategy and continue to push forward.

Jean:
And then in that process when you are strategizing and testing things out with the coaches and rolling it out broader, which part of the process have you found it most challenging or more time consuming? Anything, something more specific that you want to share with people who are thinking to do the same thing that you went through?

Eric:
Absolutely. I would say our biggest challenge from the very beginning and even up until today is staffing, ensuring that we have adequate number of people that are available to chat with our customers while not putting phones and emails and other avenues of communication to the side. So staffing levels and something that we keep an eye on pretty regularly. We do some pretty complex forecasting models during non peak times to ensure that we're staffing our team in the best way possible. Knowing that that is going to be a way that our users want to get in contact with us along with phones and emails and everything like that. So it's a continual challenge to ensure that our team is staffed to meet the demand and the needs of our customers.

Time: 6:30


Jean:
The mix of your users really look interesting to me. I mean you got coaches and recruiters and the players and on all different levels and their fans. And I'm sure there are some emotional parents and friends, family members as well. I mean, who do you spend most resources on and why and then if there are any differences.

Eric:
Sure. So I'll give you a background on kind of our landscape in terms of users. So at Hudl we segment our customers into two different groups of people, and that's our competitive and elite. So our competitive a group of users is the 160,000 high school, small college teams that are using mainly the hudl.com software. And then our elite customers are really the top two customers. Like I said the National Basketball Association, the English Premiere League, Aussie Rules Football. Really those teams that you watch on TV every single day. And so when you look at the demographic of those two segments of users, there's different personas that we interact with. in both of them. On the competitive landscape, we're mainly interacting with coaches and coaches are more than just coaches. They're the video coordinator, they're the equipment manager, they have a lot of other stuff going on.

Eric:
So when they contact us, we want to make sure it's a really quick, efficient and quality interaction with those coaches because we know that they have much more going on. When we shift to the elite landscape, we're mainly interacting with the video analysts or the video coordinators. And their role and responsibility is ensuring that the video and the data are aligned to meet the needs of the coaches and the athletes. So when they do meet to go over strategy, game planning and all that types of stuff, the video and the data's right there for them. And so they're the ones that are building the data models, all that types of stuff so that our teams can be successful. So it really varies by the landscape of users that we work with and who we interact with.

Jean:
The differences in terms of, because you mentioned when you're dealing with the coaches you have to be quick and efficient. And I think as human beings we have differences in how we prefer to be communicated to and the communication is for the most part very situational. How do you find, like how do you actually differentiate what kind of communication tools to use with whom and in terms of the actual experience that you have to deliver?

Eric:
That's a good question. I would say that we offer a suite of opportunities for our customers to reach out to us. So we allow them to choose what avenue they want to communicate with us. And then we keep the same level of standard across those lines of communication. So like I mentioned, we want to be quick and efficient. So we're monitoring our phone queues, our email queues, chat queues, all that types of stuff. And we want to have a really quality experience for them as well. So we have a support experience team that's part of our support team that monitors those interactions and coaches our team up on best practices but also develops training on products so our team might not be as familiar with or needs more training on because we're here seeing higher interactions from those types of interactions.

Jean:
And the example you cited whether that's a chat or email because I considered chat being more real time, email being not real time. And that's becoming a very interesting choice. I mean, as an example, a personal example of mine when my luggage was lost, this particular airline company reached me via a messaging app, which happened to be WhatsApp in this case and which is linked to my phone number to send me actual video of the whole conveyor belt of lost luggage. And asked me to identify my luggage. I mean, I certainly don't want them to keep pinging me on WhatsApp. I save that for my mostly personal communications. But in that instant, I found it incredibly easy and fast and I actually liked it. So even though I imagine you guys having all the channels fired up and watching it. Is there certain situations where you have to trigger a different communication tool because it’s a content that needs to be communicated differently, how does that work out in real life?

Eric:
Yeah, that's a great question. Example that I'll point back to uh, back in 2016, we released a instant replay product for American high school football coaches. And this was our first time as a support team supporting a big hardware solution. In the past we have supported kind of remotes and all the kind of small different items. But this is our first time as Hudl support team supporting hardware. So it was a bit of a challenge. We obviously did some brainstorming before the season started to understand what issues we could run into, how can we train our team, all that types of stuff. But as we got into the season, we found the video chats with our users was becoming more and more efficient for us.

Eric: 
So they would call in or they'd email in and say they had issues, but we would just FaceTime with them or get set up on a Google hangouts and really have them show us what their set up is and then aid them and point them in the right direction. So using video to talk face to face with our customers was really impactful. And actually what that did is it triggered us to create more robust training for our team. So although we used video chats in 2016, it actually helped us learn more and more about the product to train our team up and actually move away from using video chats. So it's kind of an interesting evolution of using video calls to not having to use video calls because we learned so much through that experience.

Time: 13:23


Jean:
I mean, I found your operation interesting on many levels and that's certainly one because you're not only dealing with a very, very wide user base but you also deal with different products and services. You know, you have this video streaming or analytics tools, and all the way to hardware for setting up wireless connectivity and things in that nature. I just want to follow your thinking process in terms of whether they pose different challenges in the operational level. Any scalability problems, any system problems. Anything that you really had to work through differently because of that?

Eric:
Yeah, I think that's pretty obvious. The differences between supporting software and supporting hardware. So when we support software, we log literally every single action that our user takes. So in that case we can identify errors, look through logs. Kind of help us understand where the users at without having to see their screen or do anything like that. Where hardware introduces all a whole complexity of issues. Like you mentioned, we're setting up wireless networks in stadiums. There's interference that could happen with cell towers and all that types of stuff. There's different chords that needed to be plugged in in a certain way. So hardware is something where we need to be able to kind of see and feel the product along with the user. So I'd say that the biggest complexities is understanding our hardware at the very root of it. And then how's the user going to interact with this hardware and how can we train our customers more effectively before they start using it?

Eric:
But also how can we go even further in depth with our support team to train them to understand just about any issue or experience that they're going to have a when a call or an email or a chat would come in about our hardware setups.

Jean:
In that kind of moments, are they usually calling in for full support from you or how does that work usually?

Eric:
Yeah, most of the time. So with our Hudl sideline product, it's our coaches are using it in game. So most of the time they're setting it up an hour, half hour, sometimes even 15 minutes before the game kicks off. So they're up against a time crunch and we keep our phone lines open during peak times to ensure that they can call us and have instantaneous communication with our support team. So yeah, they're calling us realtime because they need to get that system up and running before kickoff happens.

Jean: 
Perhaps also, you don't have to get too technical, but can you share a picture of the customer service system that you're using, how you're orchestrating because I think that you are leading a team of over a 100 or something like that. How are you orchestrating this experience in terms of services or anything that you guys are using in terms of tools to make this happen.

Eric:
Sure. So we have a wide spectrum of tools that we use. So we're using a phone solution that's over the cloud powered by Amazon. We're using Zendesk as our email tool. Olark is our chat system and then with video and stuff like that, it comes with like FaceTime or Google hangouts. Whatever the coach has available to them at that time. How we're managing all of this is every single interaction that we have creates a ticket and those tickets are stored within Zendesk and then pushed to our data warehouse. So we're able to track and identify products and issues and use that as a forecasting model for the following years. But also as a reactive model during peak times to understand where users might be getting hung up and they need some better or some better training. Or maybe where the biggest bugs are in the product so we can relay that information along to the product team. So we're using a wide spectrum of tools, but it all comes down to managing our tickets and categorizing those correctly so we can react to any spikes that may pop up during the season.

Jean:
Now that opens up the door to one of the key things that I wanted to talk about in terms of, how much of measurement you can actually do towards ROI and what you've found worked best for you and how that is actually used to actually change your strategies and implementation that comes after.

Eric:
Yeah. So when we think about ROI the thing that comes to mind for me is our customer satisfaction. So after every single interaction that we have with our customers, we're sending them a survey to rate how their experience was with our support team. And also tell us if there's anything that we may have missed. So right now we're pretty standard around about a 95% customer satisfaction score, which is really great. So in terms of ROI, I would say that we're obviously investing in our tools and our processes and everything like that. But gathering the feedback from our customers to make adjustments on how we operate as a support team has been really impactful for us. And we measure that through our customer satisfaction scores.

Time: 19:25


Jean:
How are you actually doing the customer satisfaction scoring? Are there certain interactions they are asked to provide feedback? Do you find certain channels more effective doing that over others?

Eric:
Yep. So after every phone call and an email that we have, once a ticket is closed for over 24 hours, we'll send them an email that has a link to our survey. Really I would say between phones and emails, we're getting pretty similar responses with those surveys. And we're getting anywhere between eight to 12% response rate with those surveys. So while we have over 300,000 interactions in a year, eight to 12% of those interactions are giving us feedback. Which we think is a pretty solid benchmark to make adjustments, to provide feedback for our product team and also measure how we're doing as a support team to see where we can improve.

Jean:
You mentioned email and voice phone calls. Can you do something similar with some of the chat sessions or messaging? Do you send text messages as well?

Eric:
We don't, but that's something that we're starting to really explore. It's how to measure that customer satisfaction through those channels. Obviously text messaging is interesting. Being able to text out a survey would be really awesome. But challenges we face there is having the, the users exact phone number because sometimes they're calling us from a school phone, all that types of stuff. But yes, chat and text messaging would be awesome. We've just found that that email has been the easiest for us right now as we continue to explore how to push forward on our customer satisfaction scores.

Jean:
Jumping to another topic here. One of the things that we've been witnessing in some of the industries, especially with the retail sectors where a lot of consumers are, companies are wanting to have more personalized and real time communications. It's basically just like what you've said, they want the same way they are interacting with their friends and to interact with anybody when they have any issues to talk about. And what that brings is this of two way communication part of this. I mean email is pretty much  one way. How would you say proportionally, what part of the communications is actually happening more over two way channels? Whether it's chatting or calling versus one way kind of notifications and emails.

Eric:
Sure. So it actually depends upon the time of the year and the users that we're interacting with. We found that with our football coaches in the fall, they're more prone to be calling us rather than emailing us. So our percentage of phones emails actually skews a little bit higher on the phone side of things. And then when we shift into a basketball season, we've found that coaches are more apt to actually email us and chat us. So it really varies by the time of the year. But phones and emails are pretty equal across the board. If we look back historically on 2017, I think the difference was like 2000 more phone calls than emails. And then chats are a little bit lower number. And I think that just comes with us promoting chats a little bit more for our customers and getting that in front of them and also training them as well.

Eric:
So like I mentioned, back in 2011, our football coaches were trained to call us. So finding better ways to break their habits of calling us and pushing them more towards the tools, like an email or a chat system that allows us to scale a little bit more effectively because we can have multiple people handling multiple interactions at a given time. So I think it comes down to just training our users the best way to interact with us and hopefully as the years go down, it's more chat and two way interactions like you mentioned. But right now it's mainly phone and email.

Time: 26:27


Jean:
That's interesting because your example there, I can see how you're kind of directly and indirectly nudging them towards a different kind of communication behavior. But I'm going to ask you to put yourself in customers’ shoes. But if you were to think about what the gap might be in terms of what they are expecting or preferring versus what they end up getting when interacting with you. Where do you think the gap is that you want to address more moving forward?

Eric: 
I would say the biggest gap for us is getting our users to the right person efficiently and not creating a large barrier of entry for them to get there. So a project that we're working on right now is intelligently routing interactions to the right group of people. So there obviously are individuals on our team that are more skilled on the hardware side of things. People who are more skilled on the analysis side of things. And so we want to get those customers to those people so that they are having an in depth conversation with them or they're getting on their way sooner than if they were just kind of landing into a general pool of support resources. So yeah, I'd say the biggest gap for us right now is ensuring that our customers are talking to the right people to make sure that they're having a great conversation.

Eric:
Because I know as a consumer it's really frustrating for me when I talk to a support team and the person on the other line might not quite understand what I'm saying because I'm using different terminology that isn't familiar for them. So we want to make sure that our team is being trained adequately, but we're also creating some experts in different fields so that we can get our customers to talking with those experts and get them along the way and in return hopefully that increases their buy in to Hudl and also increases their experience with us as well.

Jean:
That's interesting because I see a lot of reports that really point to time to resolution. Really solving the problem when the call comes in and that efficiency being one of the top priorities customers have. But you mentioned something interesting there in terms of smartly, quickly routing to the right person who can solve the problem and exploring artificial intelligence to get there. How do you feel about this AI trend getting a broader adoption, use of chat bots and other AI powered communication modes? Are you psyched about it or are you skeptical still?

Eric:
I would say I'm excited but also cautiously optimistic. We've kept our eye on this market for quite a while. I think it was starting to really come to fruition a couple of years ago and we read about it, but we're really ready to jump into the water just yet. We want to see some companies evolve. Some other companies kind of test the waters a little bit and also experience it on a consumer side of things. So that's where we learn a lot about how we can support our customers, is how we interact with other support teams. So I would say I'm actually excited about the possibilities in terms of getting a customer their answer quickly while not having to talk to a member of our support team. Obviously that has tons of operational efficiencies that we can leverage. It just comes down to finding the right tool that we can together with that company make it intelligent enough to ensure that the interaction that our users are having are still up to our standards.

Eric:
So I would say that's the biggest risk is just ensuring that the bot is trained well enough and we have the right data and answers and resources available for that bot to intelligently help our customers.

Jean:
I mean we're certainly living in an era where the choices are many. But when it comes down to, when you're back to the whole strategy board and think about it. What are some of the things that are really driving you to implement or take some risk in new technology or solutions? I mean, I've seen some of the industry sectors for example, where protecting user privacy and security became this huge issue that often triggers using verification requirements and that triggers different type of communications channels to be used and so on. Can you think of your situation?

Eric:
In my situation right now and looking over the next couple of years, it comes down to operational efficiencies within our team. So historically looking at our team, we've implemented tools along the way because maybe they were like the hot new tool to have. All that types of stuff. Um, but we want to make sure that we're optimizing our support team, giving them the tools where they're going to be efficient. Because in return, if our support team is not comfortable with what the tools that they're using, they're kind of confused on that type of stuff, our tools don't interact together and they aren't integrated together. Then ultimately our customer, our customers are going to suffer. So when I think about tools and implementing something new really the questions that come into my mind is how does this positively impact the experience of our support team knowing that it will positively impact the experience of our customers?

Eric:
So operational efficiencies is top of mind for me in terms of reducing that time to resolution, reducing the amount of time that customers waiting to reach out to us. And then finding tools to, to leverage, to ensure that we're meeting our quality standards.

Jean: 
This is going to be my last question, given the various experience you had and the outcome, different ROIs, these things produce. Any thoughts and plans in terms of new changes you like to make? Perhaps within your team or you want to even bring it to other parts of your company's operations.

Eric: 
I think we touched on it a little bit ago when we were talking about AI and bots and those types of tools. To me, that's the future of customer support is more two way instantaneous messaging to get to the user on their way as quickly as possible and get their answer taken care of. So as we look towards the future, that's where we're going to continue to focus a lot of our efforts and ensuring that our customers are getting to the right person, talking to the right person or getting their answer without even having to talk to a person is really exciting, really challenging at the same time. But that's when we looked at the future of our support team, ideally we're leveraging a lot of intelligent tools to deliver a great customer service experience to all of our users across the globe.

Jean:
To that end, other than what you mentioned in terms of the technology itself, what would be the biggest obstacles for making that a reality?

Eric:
Internally it comes down to the right level of training and focusing on developing our internal team to feel empowered to give our customers a great experience. So as we develop and continue to iterate on our tools, we need to stay up to speed and even further ahead with our support team in terms of training so that we're answering the questions and our team feels comfortable. So I would say the biggest challenge that we faced as a support team is supporting the wide spectrum of tools that we do offer to our customers. And ensuring that we're training them adequately and we're doing everything we can to give them the tools and the resources at their fingertips to be able to quickly answer the questions that our customers are having.

Jean:
And is there any resources that you want the audience to check out to learn more about the topic we discussed today and see more of your work?

Eric:
Sure. So yeah anybody can visit hudl.com and check out our website and kind of check out the tools and everything that we offer to our customers. And if anybody's interested in reaching out, you can feel free to email me or find me on LinkedIn. I'd be more than happy to talk about anything that I talked about today or anything about the customer service industry in general. It's something that I love to learn more about. I love to interact with other leaders in the industry to learn how they're doing things to improve our processes.

Jean:
Thank you.

Chris:
Thank again to Eric Broulette for joining us today. You can find out more about Eric and Hudl and hudl.com. That's H-U-D-L.com. To find out more about Jean and Tyntec, visit 10 tyntec.com. Make sure you search for Mobile Interactions Now in Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or anywhere else podcasts are found, and click subscribe so you don't miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Tyntec, thanks for listening.

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