Read the full case study on Microsoft.com.
Fans Helping Fans
In 2011, Antony Brydon and Jeff Patterson founded Directly to address a problem with the customer service industry. They noticed that while customer representatives handle queries about a product set all day long, they don’t necessarily use the products themselves, and most aren’t passionate about the company they work for.
Directly combines human brand advocates with AI to provide better, more efficient customer service. The AI handles simpler issues, freeing up the people to take care of the more complex ones. Instead of having full-time staff sitting in contact centers, Directly recruits genuinely enthusiastic users of the products who work on a gig basis. This means gamers help other gamers resolve issues with their Xbox, for example. Directly experts pick up requests at times that suit them and get paid per request.
A Thriving Collaboration
Directly’s model appeals to large technology companies. It works with Airbnb, Autodesk, Samsung, SAP, and—since 2016—LinkedIn, which Microsoft acquired that same year. Mike de la Cruz, Chief Business Officer at Directly, explains how his company addresses a growing need in the tech sector:
“Because so many technology companies now offer their products as services, customer experience has become critical to how they compete and how they grow.”
Sue Morris, General Manager and Worldwide Customer Service Leader at Microsoft*, expands on this: “If your mantra is to create fans in every interaction, what better way than to recruit fans as your first line to talk to customers?”
Directly was already providing support for LinkedIn and the Microsoft Community when Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, decided to invest in the company in late 2017. Since then, the relationship between the two has only become stronger.
“Working with M12 is about so much more than funding,” says de la Cruz. “They share great advice about how to grow and reach more customers, and they give us insight into what companies like Microsoft could use more of from us. M12 has been fantastic for Directly. They’ve been the brokers to so many relationships.”
Today, Directly resolves more than 2 million customer support issues a year for the Microsoft Customer Service and Support (CSS) team. And M12 has helped Directly expand to work with Xbox, Dynamics 365, OneDrive, and Windows, with more lines of business to follow in 2020.
Reinvesting in Better Customer Experience
In addition to helping Microsoft automate its customer support interactions and improve the customer experience, the Directly model also makes Microsoft CSS more agile. It can take up to five months to train a traditional customer support agent. Through Directly’s recruitment of gig workers, Microsoft can tap into enthusiastic, knowledgeable advocates, who are local to customers, in a couple of days.
“Because we’re recruiting fans who are regular users of our products and services, we’re recruiting an already trained workforce that vastly reduces our time to competency,” says Morris. “And we can scale our support teams as needed—around holidays, for example, when people are unwrapping new Xbox consoles and Surface devices.”
Across the organization, Directly has helped Microsoft achieve customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores of more than 90 percent. And 25 percent of all Xbox issues are now resolved automatically. “Our service works because it’s instantaneous—it gets gamers back to gaming,” says de la Cruz. “But it also works because the support that customers get is empathetic. The automations are written by fellow gamers, and we use AI to make sure that each response is appropriate to the use case.”
The Directly relationship ensures more consistent service levels—particularly during unexpected swings in support issue volume—which results in a better overall customer experience. Says Morris:
“We save money by not using offshore customer service centers, which means we can reinvest it in local advocates who speak more languages and have direct experience of the outcomes that our customers want to achieve.”
Pursuing Closer Connection
Since M12 invested in Directly, the company’s revenue has significantly increased. It now handles more than 1 million issues each month across all customers and has a healthy pipeline of new business leads.
“Our great work with Microsoft gives us a wide-ranging set of references,” says de la Cruz. “For example, our relationship with Xbox has helped us open doors with other gaming companies.”
The next step for Directly and Microsoft is to work on tighter connections between automated customer responses and full-time customer support. Right now, engineers from both companies are developing a platform to pass issues seamlessly among these service tiers. Directly also wants to work with data from its millions of interactions to help Microsoft product teams identify common problems and incorporate these lessons into future builds.
Says de la Cruz, “We want to systematically share the insight that our data scientists get so we can help make Microsoft products even more customer-friendly.”