Nearshore Americas

SanDisk Weighs In On the Cultural Minefield of Omnichannel Customer Care

When Urvashi Sheth joined SanDisk, now a Western Digital brand, as Senior Director of Global Customer Support nine years ago, the company’s customer care approach was strictly single channel, with a focus on the traditional call center and client phone calls. In order to buck the trend, Sheth and her team set out to transform SanDisk, resulting in a truly multi-channel customer care environment.
The company now offers phone, email, chat, SMS and robocall in parts of the world where the customers welcome it. Most of these channels are also mobile enabled and are complimented by a robust knowledge base. “SanDisk offers support worldwide. It is very intense in terms of different cultures and different cultural needs, so omnichannel becomes very important,” Sheth told Nearshore Americas.
urvashiThe result has not only garnered customer praise, but has also led to several industry awards. Sheth said that SanDisk’s approach to the initial omnichannel implementation was cautious. “We were purely single channel so the reliance on agent knowledge was the only thing available,” Sheth said. “The first step was to implement a robust searchable knowledge base. Eight years ago, we started with 5,000 answer views per day. We went from three languages to 12 languages and now we have a tenfold increase in answer views a day worldwide,”
She added that an important part of the process was looking at the responses to what the customer was telling us. “We built in a feedback loop to let the customer tell us what was working and what was not. We took the feedback extremely seriously and it helped us to improve.”
The second step was changing the CRM system. “This gave us an extremely feature-rich tool that we could offer to customers,” Sheth explained. “We included things like the ability to send an online email, which integrated Smart Assist. The Smart Assist feature looks at the email, looks at the keywords and then presents the customer with the answer. If it solves the problem then the customer doesn’t have to send the email.”
Sheth emphasized that the idea was to constantly listen to the customers. “This listening was not easy because we expanded very quickly and the depth and breadth was huge.” Taking cognizance of the cultural differences in SanDisk’s diverse demographics, Sheth and her team adopt different approaches for different customer groups. Recently they expanded a new channel of robocall to India. “We had to cater to our customers differently; they like to talk to us differently and they use services differently, so we opened up 40 different depots in India to meet their demands.”
In addition, when a customer in India contacts SanDisk for warranty replacement, the agents ask the customer if they would like to receive a call when the warranty status changes. “Whereas countries in the US and Europe are fine with checking online themselves, in India they were really open to the idea. We did automated calls to customers in India to inform them of changes to status of their warranty replacement. This was an opt-in process. Not only has this given us the cost savings, but our customers are very happy to receive proactive services like that,” Sheth said.
When it comes to enacting omnichannel strategies, Sheth said the most important thing is listening to the customer, acknowledging feedback and not implementing something that customers will ignore or not expect from a cultural perspective.
Sheth’s own approach is hands-on, taking time every day to talk to agents and listen to customer calls. Given the multicultural and multilingual customer and employee base, this often means employing the services of a translator. “The idea is to actually understand the challenges and feedback, because when an agent is on a call they know what a customer wants,” she said.
Omnichannel strategies like these have translated into brand loyalty and offered ROI, but have also been a market differentiator for SanDisk. “My personal vision is that nobody should see me or my team as just a cost center; we are providing a market differentiator,” she said.
This investment has allowed SanDisk to keep its budget at a similar level and expand to a level of triple-digit million devices a year because its customers are able to help themselves online and in different channels. “When I do a robocall, it costs me in cents instead of dollars,” commented Sheth. “This makes it simple to understand the cost effectiveness of each channel and the level of satisfaction it brings to our customer base. We have seen up to 97% customer satisfaction from countries like Japan, which is phenomenal.”
Employees have also benefited. Although SanDisk’s call center teams are very small, they get to spend quality time on training and they get to learn about different technologies, not just SanDisk’s own. “We have people in our India and China call centers who have been there nine years and who have more knowledge of our devices than I do,” Sheth said. “I don’t believe in providing the script; I believe in providing them with thorough training.”
Sheth stressed that the enactment of omnichannel strategies requires a cautious and considered approach. “Don’t overdo it and don’t push the customer, because different cultures react in different ways. A person in San Francisco who is using the same USB drive as someone in Mumbai requires a completely different support approach.”
Achieving team buy-in can also be a challenge. Initially there was some resistance to certain ideas, but once the company’s agents saw how their lives became easier they were immediately on board. “My whole India team volunteered themselves when we were doing robocalls and were so appreciative of that novel idea,” Sheth said. “Essentially, robocalls are counter-intuitive to their business, being outsourced call centers, but they just loved it.”
The contact center industry is rapidly evolving, but Sheth is convinced that, although this change will continue, human assistance will still be around for at least five to ten years. “The need for manual answering does reduce over time, but it won’t go away,” she said.
When SanDisk initiated the mobile enabling of its support channels in 2014, the company began with about 5-7% mobile phone access. Now, between 25% and 27% of channel usage like knowledge base and chat comes from mobile phones. “Over the next two years I see it reaching 50% or even more, as much as 60% to 75%,” Sheth said.
SanDisk has also been exploring new offerings, such as the virtual person, which is a knowledge base assistant represented by an avatar. However, Sheth remains skeptical, given the cultural difficulties in certain markets. “For the English-speaking market that might be easier to do, but for a company like ours catering to multinational and multicultural customer base it will take a long time to get it right,” she said. “I do see the augmentation of channels like robocalls and SMS taking place. I am thinking about integrating other widely used SMS platforms as the next possible channel for our customers, especially in India where the usage is very heavy. I do believe in innovation. So my view is pretty balanced at this point.”

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Bianca Wright

Nearshore Americas Contributing Editor Bianca Wright has been published in a variety of magazines and online publications in the UK, the US and South Africa, including Global Telecoms Business,, SA Computer Magazine, M-Business,, Business Start-ups, Cosmopolitan and ComputorEdge. She holds a MPhil degree in Journalism from the University of Stellenbosch and a DPhil in Media Studies from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

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