Gibu Mathew of Zoho Corporation, Building Technologies for Businesses to Prioritize Customer Experience 


by Heloise Diamante



Every interaction with customers on social media, on live chat, even on your website makes up customer experience which turns potential customers into loyal clients. Having a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software puts all interactions in one place, making an efficient tool for sales and marketing to provide great customer experience.   


Zoho Corporation is a privately owned SaaS company with online tools ranging from a simple word processor to productivity suites for sales, marketing, support, accounting, finance, back office operation and more. Widely favored for their simple UI, Zoho has over 45 applications to provide solutions to problems companies may face right from the start. Their Customer Relationship Management software is one of their flagship applications helping companies centralize customer data, reach more prospects, engage in real-time, and close deals faster.


TechShake talks to Gibu Mathew, Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific, Zoho Corporation on the growth of the company, Zoho CRM and the APAC market.


Tell us a brief background of yourself and your role in Zoho Corporation.


I am Gibu Mathew and I head the operations for the APAC region focusing on growth, customer-facing, and whatever is needed to localize our product for the APAC market. Pre-COVID-19, we used to attend many trade shows. We did our user conferences, for example, in Manila. We engaged with customers directly through community meetups. Now, a lot of that has gone online. I am glad to be part of all the action as I find pleasure talking to customers and getting their insights.


Can you share with us a brief story of Zoho Corporation and what are the needs it fulfils?


Zoho is a tech company and we are currently in our 25th year. Initially, we focused on building a technology stack for network management. Around 2000, the (dot).com and telecom bubble emerged and the company had to pivot into the IT management space. While building products for IT operations management, we realized that there was a lot of interest in the cloud. In 2005, we launched our first cloud products, the Zoho Writer and our CRM software. We were, in a way, a pioneer in using the cloud to reach business users.


Currently, we have over 9,000 employees in over 13 offices doing business in more than 180 countries. Over the last 10 to 15 years, we have built software solving one problem after the other. With Zoho as a product suite, we have over 45 software applications that serve different customers.


Even as the pandemic was taking its toll across businesses, we were able to efficiently transition our employees to work from home within three days. We put together and launched a product called Zoho Remotely to help users work from home with ease, while we were seated remotely. Our technology is not just for a specific title alone. We have products that focus on employees for sales, marketing, and those who are building websites.


Most businesses have pivoted online due to the pandemic. Some have integrated online components such as marketing strategies. Can you share how CRM technology can help these businesses, especially in APAC, to stand out and boost their branding?


CRM is a tool that helps salespersons ensure consistency on services delivered to customers, to you as a business, or to a vendor. Initially, CRM is primarily about customer service. It has evolved into something more than transactional; it has become more about the customer experience.


Let's give an example of an interior design company. As a design company, you have customers from different segments — business and residential users. As a marketer or a business owner, you may have had some ideas on what to promote to the audience. You would use your most favorite mechanism to reach out to your customers. For example, you use Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn to share some nice pictures of how you can remodel a portion of your house to facilitate the work from home setup. Maybe five or 10 of them would have answered you online. You need to call your salesperson to connect to those valid leads so that they can follow up and close that deal.


Traditionally, there is no connection between that and the actual conversation from sales. CRM would keep track of your social media brand account and map it to your CRM. If a customer has come to you through a social media channel, your salesperson can create that meeting schedule from within the CRM tool without having to switch from one platform to the other. Having that holistic view across multiple channels and keeping track of the conversation across multiple channels is one way to make sure that your customers are happy. 


If you can create that online meeting and make the phone call within your CRM, that is employee experience. It can help all the salespeople to be in sync, whether they are working from home or meeting in person. Be it your activities in terms of your marketing or activities, contact information, notes after a meeting, any aspect related to a customer could be beautifully synchronized inside one software or one platform.


The next step is, once you have your customers in-house and they start asking questions, or they may have some issues for you to resolve, there is the support aspect of it. Having all these and managing all these take us to what is called customer experience. Customers buy great customer experience and not just a product. If you don't like a company's way of interacting with you, you're not going to go back and do business with them.


Can you expound on how CRM technologies help businesses in prioritizing customer experience?


You will prioritize based on what works best for you or what is your strength as a business. CRM can help you make sure that you can define different business processes for different types of customers. For some, you may have two phone calls before you give a proposal. For others, you may have to show them a model plan. You can define those different processes for different segments inside your CRM itself.


Customer experience can either be about reaching out to you as a business through voice call, walk-in, chat or email, or whatever different ways customers can reach out to you. Making yourself available in multiple channels is again another improvement in customer experience, giving multiple channels of interaction.


What is the difference between customer service and customer experience? Why is it important to understand this?


Customer experience is how a customer feels about a brand over time. It is the result of how the customer would have interacted with the business at different points in time, using different touchpoints. Each interaction I had with the company while accessing the website, talking to a salesperson, or chatting with the sales bot all adds up to the customer experience.


Now, customer engagement is slightly different. It is the ongoing interaction between the customer and the company. Customers decide on how good the brand or a company is based on the overall customer experience. That's why it is very important.


What is your outlook in the marketing industries in 2021?


One thing that we feel is, this industry has become too splintered with too many vendors making the market very complex for customers to choose from. 


That's why we merged a handful of products into a suite which we offered to customers. We call it the Zoho CRM plus suite. The technology is already out there. It allows us to market our products and suites, provide good videos and engaging content to customers, and track what users are communicating on social media, and then we track that it into the CRM. If sales and marketing get to ensure good ROI on their investments, and the sales team continues with the customer lifecycle, then we have happy customers.


The technologies are going to have a lot more integration. There is a lot of good conversation happening, and from a business perspective, their work is more productive. We also need to ensure that security and privacy are given a lot of importance, particularly customer privacy. Whatever tool we use, we must ensure that we are not leaking customer information to third parties. That's the responsibility of the business.


How do you have strong security and privacy for your customers in Zoho Corporation?

 

We have a history of being in IT operations, and we have IT security products. We give a lot of importance to IT security. For example, if I have to access my email on Zoho mail, I have to open my mobile app. I have two-factor authentication enabled. I have the personal touch ID enabled. All our products have the best forms of security built into it, and there's no extra pay. Even the free version of it would have this capability. 


From a security perspective, we give the highest privilege and importance to that. Our data centers have all the necessary security compliance and certification requirements. We are also an ISO 27001 and 27701  vendor. Not many companies have that kind of certification.


We don't even allow any third-party cookies on our website. Cookie as a technology is used by a browser to track the state of what you do. Not many companies have a no cookie policy on record except probably, Apple. We have our software for taking care of every aspect of our business needs. That gives us the privilege. That gives us the ability to make sure that we can deliver the same levels of privacy for our customers.


In one sentence, how can you describe your corporation?


Zoho is a company that believes in "customer first," focusing on doing R&D and innovating on behalf of our customers.


If you look at the 45 plus apps that we have built, those are apps that we didn't acquire. We build our own technology stack. When customers start using it, they have a consistent feel in using our products because it's all built on the same technology. We are not just a software company, we are a tech company. 


We build our own data centers. We manage more than eight data centers globally. We maintain our own IT security. We don't shy away from technology. We work by building our cloud, not using a third-party public cloud. We do a lot of these things ourselves, giving us the flexibility to be truly creative on behalf of customers and give them the best experience from our products. I would say, that is the philosophy of our CRM.


If you’re looking for a customizable customer relationship management software for your company, click here to visit Zoho Corporation’s website or you can connect with Gibu here on LinkedIn.