86% of customers say they will pay more for a better customer experience.

As customers ourselves, this makes sense intuitively. I will happily pay a premium for a consistent, convenient and personalized experience. According to a recent PwC study, “73% of all people point to customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions.” A well executed customer experience (CX) is where companies differentiate themselves in 2018.

But, most companies aren’t doing as well as they should be. When it comes to offering a high quality experience, the PwC study also found that 54% of U.S. consumers say customer experience at most companies needs improvement.

We think this is because most organizations are ignoring their most valuable resource: the customer support team.

Why Customer Support Teams Must Lead the Charge

Transformational CX programs begin and end with the customer’s perception. A great customer experience reduces the pain customers feel and increases the value customers see. You need to understand what makes customers tick and to become closely acquainted with what customers need, what upsets them, and how they make their decisions. You can only gain this level of understanding by talking with, and listening to, your customers. A lot.   

This is precisely why customer experience initiatives are often best led by the customer support team. There’s no one in your company who spends more time listening to customers than customer support. Not only do they talk to customers all day, every day, they are incredibly skilled in compassion and empathy.

Customer support has the shortest feedback loop with customers. Any improvements made will be immediately seen in support interactions with customers. They are the first to hear about things going wrong, and often have the first opportunity to change it as long as they are empowered.

Sarah Betts, Support at Olark, shares how support has the final call on downtime procedures, including owning a Big Red Button that stops all traffic should customers experience an unreliable service:

“We have a culture [at Olark] of “How is this impacting the customer,” which is deeply ingrained in the way we work. It was logical to give the authority to the person who had the best read on customer experience.”

In this case, that’s customer support. While they don’t have to use the Button often, keeping experience firmly in the hands of customer support has helped avoid some sticky situations for their customers.

Finally, improving customer experience is a selfish cause for support. As the experience improves through a better product, more intuitive onboarding and clearer documentation, customers submit less tickets. Keri Jacoby, Support Manager at Sandhills Development, explains that her team’s ultimate goal is a permanent inbox zero:

“I like to think the highest honor a support team could achieve is to work themselves out of a job because they’ve given customers all of the necessary tools and information upfront!”

Not only is support uniquely positioned to impact the entire customer experience, they also see a direct benefit from this work.

Proactive Support Equals a Better Experience

Support teams need the right tools to gather customer insights from the data they already have. Relying on intuition can find some low hanging fruit, but in order to find those hidden gems, support needs to get into the data. Whether that’s tagging tickets for future analysis, or using Artificial Intelligence to analyze trends – support teams powered with data are an unstoppable force.

For example, at Shinesty, an online retailer of outrageous clothing, two big strategies guide their customer experience programs. They focus on reducing customer effort, and “Entertaining First, Selling Second.”  Everyone at Shinesty embraces these strategies when making customer experience decisions, especially the customer support team.

Over the last year, support at Shinesty has been working tirelessly to reduce the number of times customers need to contact them. They discovered that there were three essential touch points during order delivery that drove contacts; out for delivery, delivered and a failed delivery. To better connect with customers, they decided to introduce SMS notifications.

As Antonio King, Director of Experience, explains:

“Since we know those notifications are crucial for our customers, we replaced the traditional method of communication (email), with a method that’s naturally used by everyone, that allows us to put crucial information into the customer’s hands immediately, and finally, allow us to entertain fluidly much like any other touchpoint.”

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Now, customers mention Sir Tobin – their delivery pigeon – on NPS responses and share screenshots on Twitter.

Clearly, everyone is paying attention to their delivery status! Plus, their support team has seen fewer tickets come in asking where their delivery is. As Antonio says, “No one knows what the customer needs better than support.”

Shinesty’s company culture encourages everyone to contribute to new projects designed to heighten the customer’s experience. Without this freedom, no one in support would have suggested an improvement to the delivery process.

 

Measuring Support’s Impact on Customer Experience

In order to drive the right behaviour, it’s important to reward the right actions. Traditional customer support metrics (like First Reply Time and Customer Satisfaction) don’t encourage customer support teams to step outside the inbox.

Instead, measure customer support teams’ contributions to the bigger picture. Customer support should be directly accountable for Net Promoter Score improvements and reducing customer churn.

Charles Meyer, former Head of Customer Experience at HotelTonight believes that entrusting support with NPS led them to win a Stevie award for customer experience:

“Through product changes, such as building the first in-app chat client, we maintained an NPS score of 85,”

explains Charles, who now leads support at AnswerIQ.

“We also drove cross-operational CRM integrations delivering data from our B2C side of the business to our B2B side seamlessly.”

“But wait,” many customer support managers will say, “customers churn for reasons far beyond their service experience. What could I possibly do to influence that metric?”

And that’s exactly the point. Customer support teams who have been focused on quick responses to customers will only influence First Reply Time, and won’t realize their value to the bigger picture. It’s essential that customer support teams begin to think of themselves as customer experience teams. Teams that expand their ownership to the full customer experience can influence much more utilizing the data and insights they are already collecting

Structuring Cross Functional Improvements

While support brings a lot to the table, they don’t need to take over the whole company to make change happen. Instead, support teams need to support the work of other functional teams with data, expertise and insight. Integrating customer support with customer experience projects can help ensure a customer’s perspective is heard.

For example, teams at Olark are built around goals, not function. This means customer support members work alongside engineering, product and even HR on improving the customer experience.

“Our OKRs (objectives and key results) are very specifically set towards a longer term mission to make business human. We have small teams that are cross-functional, and each has quarterly OKRs,”

explains Sarah.

“Really a lot of these goals boil down to “make this easier so people want to use us (and give us money)”

While most larger companies won’t be able to completely restructure around cross-functional goals, it’s possible to get the same benefits simply by working together. Have a customer support agent sit in on product meetings. Bring an engineer on for a weekly customer support rotation. Fostering cross-departmental connections will help bring more customer insight into the business.

Turn your customer support team into a customer experience team

Siloing customer support into an inbox of tickets prevents organizations from building with the customer in mind. Customer support teams are uniquely positioned to deliver customer insights into the rest of the business.

Embrace the power of customer insight and turn your customer support team into a customer experience team.