Being a Customer-Centric Company Is About Action, Not Buzzwords
Essay published on October 17, 2017
Note: this was originally posted on the Help Scout blog.
“Support-driven growth” is a term we started using internally to talk about a market shift in which customer support is no longer seen as a cost of doing business — instead it’s thought of as a revenue generator. Whether it happens indirectly by differentiating yourself with great service, or more directly by participating in revenue-generating activities, the support team is driving growth for customer-centric businesses.
Support-driven growth goes beyond the technology and tools of support — it’s really about a shared set of values around the role customer support plays as being central to a company’s long-term success.
When I think about our own support team, these people are closest to our customers, talking to them every day and helping them achieve their goals. There’s no better team to undergird everything we do and every decision we make as a company, with regard to content, product roadmap, sales, and marketing. They give us leverage and alignment on every team.
Making that possible means investing significant time and resources in your support team so that they’re not always just fighting to empty a queue. That means hiring excellent people, maximizing your potential with self-service, and staffing so that people can have 20-40% of their time available to work outside of the queue — on self-service content, assisting other teams, or proactively doing customer outreach.
Those investments will create the space to elevate your support team to deeper and more proactive conversations with your customers. A support-driven strategy also relies on hiring the right team. It’s a shame when businesses treat the customer support role as entry level — it’s a tough role that requires a lot of skill and experience.
A lot of what we’re trying to do with HelpU is to help leaders understand the value of support in building a customer-centric business the right way. A support-driven growth strategy doesn’t always fit easily into a spreadsheet, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. People invest in billboards and other forms of brand marketing all the time and it’s really hard to measure their effect too!
Customer support is only one part of the overall customer experience, but it’s a place where your company values are clearly shown directly to your customers. We can be outgunned by companies with a lot more money and people, but we will thrive on the values that the right people will resonate with.
Those values don’t come just from me; they’re present throughout the team. I asked my Co-founders, Jared and Denny, and our Head of Support, Abigail, to reflect on Help Scout’s customer focus as it applies to their roles and teams. Read on to hear from them!
Sweating over the details removes friction and builds confidence
Jared McDaniel, Co-founder & Designer
There are certain aspects of a business that elicit trust and connection. For me, what sets companies apart is the effort put into the final 10% (which often requires 90% of the work). Whatever area it’s in — product, business, or culture — when you demonstrate that level of attention to detail it highlights that nothing you do is by accident, that you’re paying attention. It shows that you care.
And customers respond to those details. I’m always ecstatic when I hear a customer say, ‘I love Help Scout, and I can’t really pinpoint why.’ I believe they love it because they’ve experienced each and every one of those touch-points in a positive way, and it makes them feel respected as a user and ultimately connected to the brand.
Especially in a crowded market with bigger budgets and larger teams, nailing the last 10% is paramount. We have to differentiate in nuanced areas of the business to truly stand out. So whether it’s a headline or an email, free resource or paid feature — all of those pieces need to work together and require a team of people that really care about making them happen. That’s what I think creates an experience and a brand that customers stick with.
Engineers who regularly help with support build empathy for support teams and your customers
Denny Swindle, Co-founder & CTO
Support teams can too often be used to shield the rest of the company from customer issues and complaints. But if you’re an engineer building the product, you should want to know where users are getting confused or blocked. That’s why working in the support queue is so crucial for product teams.
You learn to have empathy for their role, so when you’re rolling out a feature, you have the customer and support team at the back of your mind when you’re developing it.
You can see the common issues, complaints, and requests that customers write in about. As engineers, if you have those themes in your head, you can think of them when you’re developing new stuff, and you can incorporate them into the things you’re already developing.
Everyone at the company is ultimately on the same team, and we all have the same end goal: serving customers. So learning about the product is crucial.
That’s why, as founders, Nick, Jared and I still do support. The three of us built this company because we want to empower our customers and make their lives easier. By remaining close to customers through support, we see what customers are saying. Each of us has the opportunity to help solve problems — through business decisions, product improvements and design.
There are a lot of iterations we do behind the scenes that customers never see. It’s part of the constant monitoring and improving we do every day: improving performance, refactoring code, upgrading technology. We want to build a brand and product that people love to use. And we’re perfectionists. If something is not performing well, it drives us crazy, because we know that if it doesn’t feel right to us, it isn’t going to feel right for the customer.
If you want to know what a company truly thinks of its customers, talk to their support team
Abigail Phillips, Head of Customers Team
Most companies claim they value their customers, but you’ll learn the full story once you talk to their customer support team. Anyone can have a misstep, but trends appear quickly. Are they slow to reply or disinterested in helping you? Do they rush to an answer without properly listening to the problem?
Or, perhaps even more frustrating, are they super friendly and genuinely wanting to help, but shackled by a lack of tools, resources, or the authority to do anything useful?
Every company’s true opinion of their customers reveals itself over time in those interactions. If the support team isn’t valued or listened to, then the customers will eventually start to be treated in the same way.
At Help Scout, we try to foster a culture that is customer-centric. That value shows itself in a number of ways - engineers coming to us for customer insights, or our product team asking for feedback on a new feature. We actively build that culture by giving our support team access to training, time away from the queue, and tools for healthy cross-team communication.
At our recent company retreat, everyone participated in “power hour” shifts to help answer customer questions. We definitely appreciated the extra hands, but for the support team, the greater benefit is getting our teammates closer to our customers. It not only builds empathy for the folks using our software, but it helps our company understand more about how people use our features, what problems they are facing, and the sort of help they need.
That’s not to say we’re perfect, or that there are never problems. We’re sometimes short on resources or getting help with a particular issue, but that is true for every team from time to time. The important thing is that Help Scout always strives to treat support as a first-class citizen.
When we first started talking about support-driven growth, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for my team’s day-to-day. We’re being mindful of the impact as we move forward - both for our customers and the company. We’re excited for the opportunity to level up our skills and have more meaningful conversations with the people using our products.
Help Scout creates an environment where we’re able to build relationships with our customers in a way that is more helpful to them, and ultimately more satisfying for us.