Most Founders and CEOs grow a Customer Support team because they have to not because they want to. No matter how well a product is designed, customers wind up having problems and when they do, they prefer a company that provides them with the support they need instead of letting them struggle to solve their own problems. In fact, study after study shows that high quality support can be more impactful than innovative products.

To fill this need, companies start by asking employees to answer customer questions in their free time. The “free time” model never scales; therefore, a dedicated Customer Support team almost always soon follows. The mindset of “someone has to answer the emails” leads companies to use productivity-based metrics to judge the performance of their Customer Support teams. Reporting things like the number of emails answered, time to resolution, and the costs of the headcount give a basic sense for how costly answering all the emails has become. It’s a cost-based mindset; the goal is the most production for the least investment.

But, a properly run Customer Support team has loads more strategic value to offer. Specifically, talking to thousands of customers every week is a secret weapon that allows your company to make customer-driven decisions. That is, decisions resulting in happier customers due to improved experiences using your products or services.  

…talking to thousands of customers every week is a secret weapon that allows your company to make customer driven decisions.

How do you give your teams the ability to make customer-driven decisions? How you do you unleash your secret weapon? After all, you can’t just forward thousands of emails each month to your product, marketing and other teams who need to know this information. Companies try things like “all-hands support,” where every employee takes some time each week to answer Customer Support emails. In this case, each employee only learns what they anecdotally see. Anecdotes do not provide the conclusive insights necessary to be confident in your decisions.  

Similarly, the thousands of conversations you regularly have with customers are dispersed across many Customer Support agents. Agents are not normally empowered within the organization and even if they are, there is the problem of the dispersed information. How do you make sure the right agents are speaking to the right people within your team? Furthermore, agents are often not the best people at your company to be doing this work. Hence the relatively recent rise of “Voice of Customer” or “User Research” teams.

You must discard the cost-based mindset to unleash the value in your organization. Idiomatic was designed to combat the problem of dispersed information, but even if you aren’t ready to adopt our tool you can read our post about how to get started tagging your Customer Support cases as they come to create a shared set of structured data for your entire company to learn from. Instead of using productivity metrics to judge your Customer Support team success, you need to measure and judge the things that matter for collecting and communicating insight.

Metric 1: Tagging Accuracy.

Start by measuring your tagging accuracy to measure your team’s ability to collect data accurately. The best approach is to manually measure the consistency of your tagging by doing audits. Choose a random sample (start with 1,000 each week) and reassess the tags on those cases. Whatever percentage are properly tagged is your accuracy percentage. Use this percentage as your KPI and track it over time to see if your tagging accuracy improves. A good rule of thumb is that this number should be over 85% if your tagging is well thought out.

Metric 2: Product Specific Contact Rate

Measure the contact rate being produced by each feature or area of your product. In order to do this, you need to make sure your tags are specific enough to answer the question: “have more or less people contacted me about this feature this week?” Customer-driven improvements should measurably reduce these numbers because a better product experience that produces less friction and reasons for contact from your customers. If your product or service improvements do not reduce your contact rate then you have identified an error in your attempts to be customer-driven. This means that for each product feature / area at your company you will have a separate KPI known as “contact rate”.

Start by measuring your tagging accuracy to measure your team’s ability to collect data accurately…

Replacing your traditional productivity KPIs with these metrics will allow your team to focus on higher value goals. Instead of rushing to solve as many cases as possible, your team can focus on learning from the interactions, reducing contact rates and eliminating future efforts. It is far more efficient to not have cases then to solve the faster. As such, you must choose the right KPIs to incentivize your team to improve on this learning.

The benefits of being customer-driven are improved retention and growth through improved customer experiences. One of our customers is Slack, an incredibly successful company that attributes a lot of their success to customer-driven product decisions. If you want your customers to love you as much as folks love Slack, change your mindset and don’t set KPIs around cost; choose KPIs that incentivize your Customer Support team to help your company learn from each interaction. Only then will you be able to make customer-driven improvements to your products and services.