Liz Tsai of HiOperator: “Response time is essential”

Response time is essential — Customers don’t like being left on hold. Switching a majority of your phone-based customer service to SMS can increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. SMS has a longer shelf life than phone calls and saves customers from long wait times. As part of our series about the five things a business should do to […]

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Response time is essential — Customers don’t like being left on hold. Switching a majority of your phone-based customer service to SMS can increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. SMS has a longer shelf life than phone calls and saves customers from long wait times.


As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Tsai.

Elizabeth Tsai is the founder and CEO of HiOperator, a customer service-as-a-service solution that allows businesses to handle client tickets faster and more accurately through the power of human and AI technology. Tsai is an MIT graduate with nearly ten years of experience researching and developing emerging technologies. To learn more about HiOperator, its technology and its cost-competitive pricing structure, please visit hioperator.com.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I attended MIT, where I studied engineering. Over the past ten years, I’ve spent my career researching and developing emerging technologies, and I decided to create HiOperator in 2016. Customer service is often an overlooked industry, and customer service representatives don’t always receive the recognition they deserve. I was inspired to create HiOperator because I understand the importance of having a good customer service team. Businesses often hire customer service teams to have people on hand to respond to service tickets but don’t always provide adequate training or resources. In reality, customer service is a complex industry to work in, and it’s a key component of any business. These teams need to be properly trained to provide quality service. Utilizing both AI and human collaboration is a much more effective approach than traditional methods of handling customer service because it saves time and gives agents the data they need to meet customer concerns more accurately. AI systems are meant to complement humans, not replace them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Not sure if this is “funny”, but like many entrepreneurs new to customer service, we certainly started out overconfident in our ability to automate customer service in the beginning. Ultimately, customer experience is all about exception handling, which means that the problem space is very large and you really have to start by finding a way to structure the chaos.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

HiOperator really only exists because of all of the incredible people who have supported the journey along the way. One friend, in particular, convinced me to quit my job in Singapore and move out to San Francisco to work on his startup with him.

I don’t quite remember who told me this but, one great piece of advice I try to keep in mind is that — as an earlier stage startup — you can’t hire your problems away. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that you are one hire away from success!

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Customer service plays a huge role in the success of a business. A positive customer experience is what will most likely generate positive customer reviews, as well as create word-of-mouth marketing. You want customers to share their positive experiences with others because you will acquire more customers. Additionally, customer service is an essential tool because you can receive an inside look at how your customers feel about your business. The interactions your customer service team has with clients will provide you with knowledge on where your business is succeeding and areas that may need improvement.

A great example of this is Nordstrom’s customer service, where employees are empowered to do what is best for their customers. You may have heard the story of the man who attempted to return faulty tires to Nordstrom in 1975. The man had purchased the tires several weeks before at an auto store, but when he pulled up to return the tires, he found the auto store had closed and a Nordstrom was in its place. Despite the store not selling tires, Nordstrom’s employees listened to his story and allowed him to return the tires and refunded his money. Not only did this result in decades of free publicity, but it also shows that they will listen to the needs and wants of their customers. If you look at Nordstrom’s reviews, countless people reference the superior service and note they are willing to pay a premium just for that alone.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

There are many reasons why businesses may have poor customer service. Not having the proper staffing to manage customer tickets is a common issue companies face, especially when they are quickly scaling.

I created HiOperator to allow businesses to scale up or down quickly. This means that companies with an influx of customer service tickets can scale for added support rather than have internal customer service teams rush through tickets or provide late responses.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

You know, as much as we care about customer service, true customer experience (and certainly customer satisfaction) is really a broader reflection on many factors. We try and evaluate Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSAT), which rates how pleased a customer is with the level of service, through the lens of “people, product, process/policy.” Really great service can sometimes make up for shortfalls in product or process. Similarly, customers may overlook poor service if there is truly a stellar, unique product.

I think each company needs to make the same evaluation and think about what they want to invest in, but certainly, incredible customer service can be a huge differentiating factor in crowded markets.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

We’re grateful to have many great partnerships, one being Man Crates, an e-commerce brand focused on special occasion gifting. Man Crates has many seasonal spikes, specifically around holidays. Man Crates has improved customer service efficiency tremendously since partnering with HiOperator and enjoys the flexibility we provide to accommodate all customer service caseloads. We charge on a cost-per-ticket basis, allowing Man Creates to keep core expenses down without sacrificing the quality of support they offer. Last holiday season, our Customer CSAT stayed above 9.75.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

In our first year working with Man Crates, we acted as a support team, but over time we’ve grown to do most of its text-based customer service. We’ve become an integral part of its business, and as Man Crates continues to grow and launch new markets, our partnership continues to deepen. We began the partnership managing its overflow volume and now consistently handle more than 90% of the brand’s overall contact.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Implement tagging systems — Customer interactions should be turned into corporate knowledge. It can be challenging to keep track of tickets when you’re receiving hundreds or thousands each day. Tagging systems give companies the control to run analytics regularly on inbound contacts in a fraction of the time. With a tagging system, you can quickly see the most common issues your clients are dealing with.

2. Response time is essential — Customers don’t like being left on hold. Switching a majority of your phone-based customer service to SMS can increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. SMS has a longer shelf life than phone calls and saves customers from long wait times.

3. Have proper staffing — Prepare in advance for peak seasons. When a spike is expected or has occurred, have customer service ready to address concerns related to this matter for 4–8 hours.

4. Utilize CSAT surveys — To measure customer satisfaction, send CSAT surveys to customers after a ticket is resolved. This will allow customers to rate their experiences and share feedback. CSAT scores will help to identify areas for improvement.

5. Internal feedback is important — As customer concerns are addressed, customer service teams should connect with other internal departments to create permanent solutions. This will improve customer satisfaction and minimize repetitive tickets.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Effective action always starts with measurement! Net Promoter Scores (NPS), which rate how likely a customer would recommend a product, company or service to a friend, are a great way to get a sense of how happy your customers are and how willing they are to promote you. If you find that you have a high customer NPS, running referral programs and publicizing CSAT and NPS scores can be a great way to find new customers and build trust with them.

My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Pricing will always be a strong force, but customer service can be a differentiating factor, especially for gifting, higher value and experience purchases. There is always going to be a customer segment that cares only about price, but for the rest of the customer segment, in the evolving world of e-commerce, trust is becoming more important.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Believe it or not, we think that automating customer service — and more broadly, building the tools to automate manual tasks that humans do today — will bring an incredible amount of good to a large number of people. Specifically, we believe that automation in this manner is not about replacing human labor outright, but rather about increasing service industry output and providing more interesting, more leveraged, and fulfilling jobs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Liz Tsai LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-tsai

HiOperator website: hioperator.com

HiOperator Facebook: www.facebook.com/hioperator

HiOperator Twitter: twitter.com/_hioperator

HiOperator LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/hioperator/about

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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