Can Support Be More Like Success?

By Justin Smith

The world of customer support is fast-paced, high-pressure and dynamic. Depending on your company, there might be lots of small technical facts your reps need to keep top of mind. Alternately, you could have the kind of product that only really requires that proper documentation be available for your users. Either way, it’s important to make sure that you have systems in place to keep your support team on the bleeding edge of technology and efficiency. Tools trump relationships when it comes to meeting the support metrics in most SaaS business models.

Recently I've been thinking: What if the support team ran a little more like a success team? Customers associate good experiences with personal care. A major feature of great customer success teams is the ability to fine tune relationships and provide customized interactions with customers. Why should it be any different for your support team?

The Support Machine

Let’s first discuss two important and sometimes conflicting parts of a well-oiled support operation:

Answers need to be quick. There is nothing worse than a customer waiting too long for an answer. Support staff availability is very important, and response times are measured and analyzed. This is especially true for companies operating with phone support. Getting customers off of the phone quickly means that there are more support reps around to answer incoming calls.

Answers need to be thorough and accurate. It is important to have a team of problem-solvers; people who will think creatively to get to the bottom of a customer issue. Troubleshooting can be up to 60% of a support rep's job, and it takes time to research solutions. Being able to convey technical information to customers in a way that is clear and relatable is also critical, and that too takes time.

Many companies add to the natural friction between these two goals by having strictly set metrics and performance numbers that can push reps to sacrifice the later for the former. When support teams are required to answer a high number of questions on a daily or weekly basis, there will be a real temptation to skimp on the amount of work it takes to get to the bottom of a problem. This results in repeat calls and handoffs, which can slow down the process of getting to that correct answer for a client. This can also result in somewhat robotic interactions, instead of conversations based on understanding and problem-solving.

Success(ful) Support

What would it look like to run a support team a little more like a success team?

Issues would get personalized and specific attention. Customers love being the most important focus while they are connected with a support rep. It can be disheartening and off-putting to be treated like a number. Phone conversations and email threads carry more importance, and create a better client experience, with thought-out responses. If proper time is taken to troubleshoot and communicate about issues, they are often solved with a lot less back and forth.

Support would take a proactive approach. Support is reactive, traditionally. However, it makes sense to have reps jump into an advisory position when an issue is being worked on. Reps are likely to uncover features that haven't been adopted and best practices that aren't being followed as they tackle an issue with the client. Proactively offering new ideas and solutions to clients might take a little more time on the front end, but can both encourage customers to adopt new features and reduce repeat inquiries down the road.

Performance metrics will never (and should never) be dismissed. However, the focus given to volume might be better shifted toward a focus on tailored, thorough and proactive problem-solving. Measuring customer satisfaction by the quality rather than speed of interactions can move your support team from a numbers machine to an effective customer advocacy group. A team set up to proactively identify and solve the issues that could sidetrack a customer has the advantage of creating customer experiences that are meaningful and generate loyalty. The interesting thing is that since this is a relatively small shift in perspective, your setup is likely already closer to achieving this than you might believe. 

Need help shifting your support focus from reactive to proactive?  The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who are ready to build and develop a top performing customer success team.

Justin Smith - Justin is an enthusiastic and determined customer advocate, who builds and leads award-winning technical support organizations.  For almost a decade, Justin has worked with customer-centric companies like FedEx and VerticalResponse to create exceptional client care experiences. He is an advisor and photographer for The Success League, and works for Revinate. Justin holds a BA from UC Davis, and resides in Oakland, CA