We talked to Moritz Klussmann of Customer Alliance on how to help companies measure and improve customer experience, satisfaction and online reputation along the entire customer journey and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Moritz Klussmann: We are doing well, thank you. Luckily everyone is healthy and is maintaining a positive mindset. Juggling family and work during a lockdown when schools and kindergartens are closed can be very challenging. But there are also positive sides to it. Life slows down. There is less travel, and we are meeting fewer people. My private life is slower and a bit more relaxed.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Customer Alliance.
Moritz Klussmann: The short answer – we were young, extraordinarily decisive and ambitious. It all started in 2009 when I decided to found Customer Alliance and my friend Torsten Sabel, who had already gained experience in the hospitality industry. Within our first year, we won more than 300 customers! Now, eleven years later, we have more than 7500 customers in 35 countries. Since then, our product has evolved from an online reputation management tool to a comprehensive Voice of the Customer solution. Today, we enable companies to listen to their customer feedback, understand satisfaction drivers, and push actions to increase satisfaction.
How does Customer Alliance innovate?
Moritz Klussmann: Customer feedback is the CORE of our business. We use our Voice of the Customer platform to listen very carefully to their opinions and turn their wishes and needs into intuitive, easy-to-use product features. During the crisis, our Product Team has been developing and then launching a set of new functions which solve our customers’ challenges. We have revised our analytical pages and changed the way users are accessing satisfaction and review data. Introducing benchmarks and targets allows our users to compare regions/locations within the company and compare themselves against competitors within their given industry. Users can fully understand how they rank vs their peers, in which area they need to improve, and their target satisfaction rate.
Another secret of innovation is to transfer the proven features from one industry to another. Customer Alliance is already the leading European solution for customer experience management and online reputation management within the hospitality industry. So we can utilize best practices from the hospitality branch and turn them into top-notch features for the automotive industry, for example.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Moritz Klussmann: We have more than 5000 hotels and restaurants as customers. A big part of our revenue is coming from the hospitality industry. The pandemic has taken a toll on us as most of our customers had a heavy impact from the crisis. In March, when the pandemic started in Europe, we set ourselves three top priorities:
(1) Support our customers as best as we can and be flexible.
(2) Ensure constant and transparent communication within our team despite having to work from home.
(3) Manage our liquidity well.
We paid a great deal of attention to enhancing the loyalty of our customers. Understandably, we received many requests for credit notes or adjustments of payment terms. We handled each request manually and communicated personally with our clients, showing them that we care and take their concerns seriously. We have teamed up with other leading tech companies to support hotels during the crisis and push their digitization efforts. Together, we launched the initiative “Digital Hotel” allowing hoteliers to use our software free of charge for six months. Thus, they can reduce costs, optimize workflows, and reduce manual work thanks to digitalizing their processes.
It was essential to manage our liquidity and prepare for a second wave and lockdown. Financially, we made sure to plan conservatively. We ensured that we could sustain a very long period of high payment defaults in the hospitality industry. Additionally, in April and May, we used short-time work (Kurzarbeit) to reduce costs temporarily.
Despite having to work from home, we have made significant efforts to keep the same communication and openness level with our team. We do our best to ensure that everyone understands how we assess the market, its effects, and what proactive steps we are taking to come out of this as a better company.
Luckily, COVID-19 didn’t affect our productivity and team collaboration at all. Our entire team has been working remotely since March to keep everyone healthy and safe. We had a home office policy in place before the pandemic, so our IT infrastructure and all our workflows were already correctly set up. Video calling via Google Hangouts and chatting via Slack helps us to stay connected despite being physically apart. These are challenging times, but I am so proud of our team’s hard work and dedication.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Moritz Klussmann: Fortunately, we did not have to lay off a single employee due to COVID-19. Pandemic or not, the most difficult decision to face as an entrepreneur is letting people go. Telling people you have successfully worked with in the past has to let them go very tough. Such decisions will never feel normal. I’ve learned to prioritize decision-making based on what is best for the company, its customers, and the employees – as a group, not as individuals.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Moritz Klussmann: During stressful times, I love to go for walks. It helps me to sort my thoughts and to clear my head. Taking time to think helps me enormously to be able to prioritize. Being organized and having a clear action plan, majorly reduces my stress level. I also tackle stress with workouts or going for a long run to fill up my energy levels.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Moritz Klussmann: While competitive insights are significant, we generally aim to follow our path and not focus too much on the competition. We believe that customer satisfaction is a vast area that is still immature. The majority of companies know that customer satisfaction is a crucial driver for growth, and they strive to become better in managing and synchronizing customer satisfaction processes. However, very few companies are using and acting on customer feedback.
We compete with Voice of the Customer solutions such as Qualtrics, Medallia or Birdeye. With a top-notch product for the hospitality industry, we conquer other markets and let them take advantage of our customer insights and expertise. No other industry is as customer-centric as the hospitality industry. We believe that many companies can learn how to treat their customers as guests. For example, the hospitality industry is driven by a strong focus on expectation management and empowering frontline employees to be customer-centric. We take these best practices and turn these into competitive advantages for other industries.
Your final thoughts?
Moritz Klussmann: This pandemic has turned our world upside down and confronted us with a new reality of doing business. It has also changed the perception of delivering customer experiences. More than ever before, customers demand digital interactions with companies and brands.
Whether contactless check-in, automated and personalized messages or collecting COVID-19 customer data, we want to equip companies with most beneficial features. We’re proud of how we’ve evolved, and we plan to continue to do so while navigating this crisis together with our customers.