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Why property ad platform REA Group is continually evolving its CX strategy

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By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

March 18, 2022 | 9 min read

As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, we speak to REA Group and Zendesk about how they are working together to improve the customer experience.

REA Group

It’s often not enough to have fantastic product functionality / REA Group

REA Group, the Australian real estate advertising platform, set out in 2018 to align its customer care efforts as part of its commitment to streamlined property experiences. Working with Zendesk, REA Group was able to gain insight into customer pain points and feedback, as well as a usable history of interactions.

Today, the team has cut its average ticket resolution time by more than 90% in two years, with just one in 11 inquiries now requiring human support. The increase in efficiency has empowered agents to focus on more meaningful customer communications, increasing REA’s agent engagement and happiness from 76% to 91%.

The Drum catches up with Tim Sulzberger, service design and innovation manager at REA Group, and Wendy Johnstone, chief operating officer for the Asia Pacific at Zendesk, to find out more

How is REA Group gaining visibility of new digital and mobile-first consumers to improve customer experience?

Sulzberger: At REA Group, our strategy is about bringing property centricity to life, while building next-generation marketplaces. Visibility and insight into our audience, consumers, and customer needs enable us to provide great service and products.

We are lucky to have so many digitally engaged consumers, where over 12 million people visit realestate.com.au each month. Searching to buy or rent is a key activity for our consumers, along with finding a mortgage and other property-related research. Our business customers are property professionals, such as real estate agents, who advertise properties with us. They value the ease of doing business with us digitally and also trust our traditional support channels. Our customer’s day-to-day focus is on securing listings from property vendors and executing successful campaigns via our products and services.

I work in the customer group at REA where those moments of online to offline interaction, and vice versa, are particularly important. Bridging the gap between a fully digital product experience, to a digital service experience or human interaction is necessary and valuable for our customers to get their jobs done. The Zendesk platform helps us with this by providing a digital track for our service experiences, ranging from the help center, chatbot, and live chat embedded in product experiences, to case management via telephone and email. We get visibility of the customer’s journey and also the opportunity for feedback and interventions through leveraging the Zendesk Suite.

Johnstone: REA Group came to us in 2018 with an important customer service goal: to align its customer care efforts with its commitment to changing the way the world experiences property digitally. Today, Zendesk unifies REA Group’s many communication channels into a single platform.

Crucially, companies like REA Group have realized the power of self-service. Our recent Customer Experience (CX) Trends 2022 report found over nine in 10 consumers in APAC (93%) prefer to spend more with companies that offer them the chance to find the answers they need themselves. With Zendesk’s self-service online platform, REA Group was able to triple self-service usage in three years, with a 40% increase in just 12 months alone.

How is REA Group building capability for digital customer experiences?

Sulzberger: Through our service strategy, we focus on 10 capabilities to support our success and growth. This also helps us select opportunities with Zendesk and other partners too.

Through activating, nurturing, and enhancing our strategic service capabilities we will continue to mature both the customer experience and the contribution to REA’s growth.

Zendesk helps us keep the customer on the digital track to great service, but also offers the important channel choice from online to offline and vice versa. Whether it’s via the digital help center, chatbot, webforms or live chat, or even calls, it enables service experiences to be extremely accessible and convenient by leveraging knowledge content. In 2018 we had a 4:1 self-service ratio and improved to a 17:1 self-service ratio in 2021.

Zendesk also provides us with an evergreen platform where we have access to the CX best practices and can introduce new tech innovations, such as automation, next-gen messaging services, and more. It certainly helps in our pursuits of innovating for the employee experience too, as a good workflow is something employees can feel empowered by, and as a result, feel more trusted by their stakeholders.

Through our voice of customer program, we bring empathy and data together by actively using the voice of customer data analysis to work with stakeholders to reduce customer pain points through innovation. It’s driven by feedback and interactions REA employees capture from customers every day.

Johnstone: Delivering customer experience has become even more important in recent times, as customer expectations continue to rise. 71% of APAC consumers say their customer service expectations have increased over the past year. There is a greater need to have real-time data and have a pulse on customer sentiments and pain points.

Leveraging these insights allows companies to tap on the right tools to serve customers better and more efficiently. For instance, REA Group uses Zendesk for its omnichannel and knowledge intelligence needs across email, phone, live chat, and help center channels. From there, REA Group has integrated Zendesk’s Help Center to bolster its self-service capabilities and is now able proactively to meet customer needs online. Additionally, the company has adopted Zendesk’s live chat capabilities to ensure the help center content reaches the people who need it when they need it.

What are some of the key pain points REA Group is facing now for customer experience and what is being done to address them?

Sulzberger: Something we can all relate to is time and the challenges of borrowing our customers’ time and capturing their attention. We see this manifest when helping our customers adopt new products and in helping customers transition from legacy platforms to the latest and greatest that REA has to offer.

It’s often not enough to have fantastic product functionality, so we supplement it with great proactive customer success and onboarding assistance. The focus on reducing the required effort has led to customer effort scores for onboarding being consistently above 80%.

More broadly for product and service feedback, our voice of customer program is a feedback loop where we capture insights and collaborate to resolve the pain points.

Johnstone: Our recent CX Trends 2022 report found that more than half of APAC consumers (68%) feel like customer service is an afterthought for businesses – despite four in five reporting that the quality of customer service they receive impacts their purchase decisions.

There is a gap between customer servicing capabilities and consumer expectations, with consumers expecting faster resolution speed, always-on support, streamlined conversational experiences, and empathetic agents. For instance, three-quarters of APAC consumers feel that businesses need to improve agent training. Yet, only one in five agents in APAC express a high level of satisfaction with the quality of training available.

There’s more to be done on the CX front. Business leaders will need to take a hard look at their current CX strategies and identify the areas that require improvement and investment. In addition, they must be actively engaged in reviewing, sharing, and acting on these insights to more closely align with customer wants and needs.

What is the future of CX for REA Group?

Sulzberger: CX strategy is something that continually evolves, and our ambition is to make it easy to do business with us, across all facets of the property journey.

We recently established our customer group, led by Kul Singh our chief customer officer, combining sales and customer operations teams to ensure our customers love working with us. This focus helps connect us across the business whether it is customer, product, marketing, or tech, and unite the various CX goals. We are currently developing a new CX strategy to bring it all together.

From a service strategy perspective, we have the some guiding principles as we continue to review and align to our broader CX strategy. These are: empathy, make it personal, make it easy, successful outcomes for the customer are successful outcomes for REA, continuous feedback leads to continuous improvement and service capabilities.

Johnstone: It comes down to a couple of things that will move the needle for businesses: providing customers with on-demand services that are available when they need them and implementing tools to support overwhelmed service teams.

Customers want to have the freedom to communicate over whatever channel they choose and don’t want to waste valuable time getting agents up to speed on their order or issue. That’s where technologies such as AI and automation and conversation customer service become increasingly essential.

Contrary to claims of reluctance, our report found that 80% of APAC consumers say AI makes their lives easier, and for one in five business leaders, it has led to ’very high’ ROI.

This means that businesses looking to drive and sustain growth—both now and in the future—need to focus on these two areas because the potential gains are massive.

For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.

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