Support and CS

Keeping Support and Success in Sync

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By Steve Schwartz

When last we met, the topic was Supporting Success in an Early Stage Startup. Now that you’ve made it through those early days of scrappy firefighting, the team roles have begun to specialize and you should be getting ready to scale. You probably have a Customer Support team and a Customer Success team, each with different day-to-day jobs, and it’s definitely hard to keep the teams’ goals aligned. How do you ensure these two critical groups are working in lockstep to constantly deliver value to your customers?

CUSTOMER SUPPORT

As a Customer Support professional, it’s often easy to get caught in the dry brush fighting fires without feeling connected to customers at a deeper level. It might seem like a never ending reactive battle to keep up with the queue, but it’s extremely important to be proactive whenever possible. Remember, you are the first line of defense and will often see trends earlier than others.

Here are a few things you can do to boost your super powers:

  • Stay in the loop on big customer launches or expansions which may result in higher than normal ticket volumes. A constant communication channel between Support and Success will only help here.
  • Look for trends across tickets where a product enhancement could help a large subset of clients. Your Product team will thank you for helping current and future customers.
  • Don’t be afraid to raise red flags with your Customer Success team when issues are trending negatively for a particular client.

CUSTOMER SUCCESS

As a Customer Success professional, you’ve successfully launched your customer and now they’re in a relatively steady state. You’re keeping a close eye on the relevant customer health or customer maturity metrics, but are there things you might be missing? It’s important to maintain a connection to your end users, even when they might not be influencers, champions, or otherwise involved in purchasing decisions.

There are a number of ways you can easily do this, but here are a few that I’d recommend:

  • Periodically review support tickets and reach out to individual users to ask for more in-depth product feedback. This helps users to feel more connected and your Product and Customer Support teams will appreciate the reinforcements.
  • Take a look at the product enhancement backlog and see how you can advocate on behalf of your customers. If you can expand on the frustration that a user is having or anticipate a growing pain, it can help drive product change for the better before overwhelming the Customer Support team.

SUPPORT AND SUCCESS TOGETHER

While Customer Support has historically been reactive and Customer Success has come into being to fill the proactive gap, they cannot and should not exist in a vacuum. Each team member should be equipped and feel empowered to guide customers through their ever-evolving journey, while removing roadblocks along the way. Just as a customer’s business changes over time, their needs from your product will also change. The best companies keep in close contact with these transformations utilizing the skills and experience of their Customer Support and Customer Success teams, and you should too.

Are you a customer success leader who needs ideas on creating roles, structuring your team, and hiring the best? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CS Leadership Program designed to give you the models and tools you need to create a top performing customer success team. For more information visit the Leadership page at TheSuccessLeague.io

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Steve Schwartz - Steve is a customer success leader who enjoys starting and building high-performance teams at early-stage startups. He has worked in energy startups for the past 10+ years in a variety of customer-facing roles. By engaging with customers during the sales cycle, he ensures customer expectations are fully understood and can be exceeded. When not writing for The Success League, Steve is leading Customer Success at FreeWire Technologies. He holds a BS from Tufts University and an MS from Virginia Commonwealth University, and spends his free time with his wife and two kids exploring the Bay Area.

7 Surefire Steps to Optimize Your Support Help Center for SEO

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By Jeremy Gillespie

Chances are, you’ve heard about search engine optimization (SEO). But, what about SEO and customer success? When developed properly, your help center can be a huge source of organic traffic. And today, you’re going to learn how to make sure your support center is properly optimized for search.

Before jumping into specific steps to optimize your content, let’s discuss the foundation of SEO. I won't try to explain Google’s algorithm, just know its sole purpose is to spoon-feed searchers with high-quality, relevant information about their query. They determine the quality and relevance in a few different ways, but the core pillars are:

  1. Content
  2. Links
  3. Structure

Content

This consists mostly of the written content on the page, but also includes images, videos, and other content on the page. It’s important to point out, this includes something called “meta description tags.” Most help centers will let you edit these and they should concisely describe what is on the page.

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Links

Links are incredibly important and often overlooked. Links fall into two categories:

  1. Internal - link to other pages on your site
  2. External - link to page on 3rd party sites

For your help center you’ll likely focus on internal linking more often. When writing content, be sure to link to other helpful content on the topic they’re researching. Referencing another page (i.e. linking to it) gives Google more context about the content on the page.


Structure

This is a little technical for what we’re covering today, but “structure” refers to the site architecture, how Google crawls your pages, and what is indexed (shows up in search results).

It’s important to note - one area where many companies run into issues is having duplicate content in the help center. Duplicate content will confuse a search engine, because it won’t know which page to rank over the other, which can cause lower rankings.

Now that the basics are out of the way, the next 7 steps will put you ahead of the pack and get you in the good graces of your marketing team.

Pro tip: Work with your marketing team to develop a strategy specific for your company and relevant keywords.

1. Be original.

All content you create should be high quality, but keep in mind that search engines also favor original content. When writing content make sure it specifically addresses the user’s problem in detail and is unique. In-depth and specific articles keep the user engaged longer, and the time a user spends on a page signals to Google the page is relevant and helpful.

2. Provide a great user experience.

Ensure your Help Center looks good and is easy to navigate. To create an enjoyable experience, make sure you have:

  1. Clear and easy to understand article titles
  2. Tags or labels in your articles to easily find similar topics
  3. No broken links
  4. High resolution images for help to demonstrate solutions

A good user experience will help users get the most out of the help center and visit more pages. Visiting multiple pages in a session is another positive signal to Google.

3. Avoid keyword stuffing.

A common trap people fall into is stuffing as many keywords into their articles as possible. This will actually harm your Google ranking. Keywords should be feel natural in the article. Google recommends focusing on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

4. Use human-readable links.

It sounds obvious, but make sure your links are easy to read with keywords. Keywords in URLs will help increase search rankings and place more authority on your content.

5. Choose a title that concisely describes the content of your article.

The title is the most prominent piece of information in the search results and carries a lot of weight for rankings. It’s also what people use to decide whether to click the link or move on. Take time to write titles that are clear and easy to understand what the article is about.

6. Promote your content.

Highlight useful and high-quality content on social media or in your Help Center. Promote important and notable announcements on the homepage of your Help Center for greater visibility. This will increase your site's reputation and Google ranking.

7. Look at the numbers.

Lastly, but most important - use Google Analytics to analyze information about visitors and Help Center content. By knowing which articles have the best metrics, you’ll be able to refine future articles to improve search ranking.

It’s important to note, changes to your SEO rankings will not happen overnight. This is a long-term game and rankings will build over time. Use this article as your template when creating new content for your Help Center. If you follow these 7 steps, you’ll be light years ahead of your competition.

Are you a CSM who wants to augment your professional tool kit? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops on core CS topics like Customer Goals and OutcomesFor more information on this and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. By leveraging data and technology, he excels at creating innovative retention and expansion marketing programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Jeremy is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a Bay Area consulting firm focused on helping businesses build scalable customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.

The 3 Cs of Great Support Agents

By Justin Smith

A great hire not only solves for an immediate need, but can grow and influence your team in tremendous ways. Job skills are important, but often a person's personality traits are what take them from good to great. Knowing which traits to look for can be challenging. There are the obvious factors that apply to any role, like being honest, trustworthy, and reliable. However there are other characteristics that are specifically beneficial to a support role. Here are 3 Cs that can make a great support agent.

Curious

The original C for this section was going to be Confused. Being confused means that you don’t know the answers, which is a humble stance that many of the best support agents take. However, some reps get stuck in the spirit of being confused and don't take the next step of troubleshooting. A word that incorporates this next step is Curious. Curious people will not know what is happening, but will strive to figure out the answer. They will try many different combinations to get to a final solution, which should be another c-word (Correct!) The best thing about curious people is that the answer that worked last week doesn’t have be the answer that works this week. If things change, they’re already on top of potential differences and variations on what works.

Clever

The second C is important because not every problem can be attacked the same way. Fresh perspective is always helpful to reaching successful conclusions. Often, issues will present themselves with very similar symptoms, which might cause an agent to write them off as the same. If you’re at all familiar with the TV show “House M.D.”, you know that this was the entire premise of the show. A patient (let’s call it Top Weekly Problem) comes in. The issues that are shown are just like Top Weekly Problem from 2 months ago with a dash of Top Monthly Problem from February. The best thing about House? He was clever. He could find the one or two things that distinguished the issue, and his diagnosis always led to correction of the problem. You want that person who can really think differently. 

Compassionate

The last C here is a huge part of any customer facing role. Classic support burnout exhibits itself in the form of quick responses, followed by low first-contact-resolution metrics. Agents hear a problem, identify it too quickly, and proceed to attack that problem, all while pretending to be listening to the fine details. Customers don’t contact support to be coldly handled and pushed away with a fix. They want to be heard and understood. There is nothing worse than feeling like something must be explained multiple times, for a simple or curt response. Great agents put themselves in the shoes of the customer. This usually results in much better service, because it brings a human touch to an interaction that can easily feel transactional. A compassionate experience is often better than a complicated, albeit correct, answer.

Many hiring managers get too focused on specific technical skills or qualifications, and assume those are all it takes to create a good customer experience. The 3 Cs are traits that serve as a solid foundation for a new support hire. Hiring for these characteristics across your support team can elevate results, and provide catchy, alternative talent pitch that helps you recruit top talent. Find someone with these three qualities and you could be looking at your next support superstar. 

Need help planning the hiring process for your next customer success agent? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CS hiring kit, tailored to your company and team. Kits include a model of your ideal rep, a job description designed to send the right candidates your way, and interview questions to help you find your top candidate. Check out our website for more information and additional services – TheSuccessLeague.io

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.

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. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

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

Give Your Support Team an Identity

By Justin Smith

Customers love and deserve great service. Brand loyalty is critical today, and one of the best ways to build that loyalty is to respond quickly and thoroughly to customers when a problem arises. Companies are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from their competition. A huge differentiator is a top-notch customer support team. One thing that can get overlooked when building an exceptional service group is generating an identity. A great service experience can grow from just a simple vision statement. A little bit of planning can yield impressive results internally and externally.

Develop Vision On Your Team

Setting up a mantra, a mission statement, a central focusing idea is a great starting point. This does not have to be a grand sweeping declaration or something that is carved in stone, to be followed blindly by all members. It can be a simple sentence that describes the experience you want customers to have. Your team vision provides a firm foundation that employees can fall back on in any situation. Acknowledge and celebrate everyday accomplishments where your vision is realized: These small wins encourage adoption of the vision and embed it into the nature of your department.

A popular example of a mantra is “WOW”. The idea is to create experiences with customers that are so memorable that they change the way that your company is viewed. The product that was purchased might fade, but the impression of the service that was received sticks around. Every point of contact is a chance to WOW the customer. 

Advertise Your Vision

Incorporate your customer success mission into your website or post it in the office. Share the idea with other departments in your company. It can be something that unites the rest of the company around your customers, and establishes a standard for the quality of work that you expect to put forth. If it is something that you truly believe in, sharing your vision will serve as a motivator for your team.

Another way publicizing your vision promotes success is that it opens you up for customer feedback. Letting customers share whether or not you have achieved your goal will really keep things in focus. Incorporate customer ideas and reactions into your vision for the optimal customer experience.

Execute On Your Vision

Once you say that you will deliver something, you will be held accountable for actually making that happen. If your vision is to deliver a memorable customer experience, then all of the systems that you set up for operation should support that. Make sure that all of your team metrics, goals, and processes align with the customer experience you want to create, and that you're hiring the right team to make it happen.

Going back to the example of delivering “WOW”, in this case the quality of interactions should not be limited by the time spent on those interactions. Helping a few customers completely rather than helping tons of customers partially aligns best with this particular customer vision. Setting an aggressive first contact resolution goal would promote the "WOW" experience and help team members understand where to focus.

A great example of vision in action come from the Virgin brand. Richard Branson is known for his commitment to great service.  Virgin Trains wants to “Make every second that you spend with us awesome.” In 2015, a customer on a Virgin Train tweeted about a stall running out of toilet paper. True to their mantra, and within minutes, Virgin Trains tweeted the customer back and set up a delivery right to his specific car. This is a standout example, made possible because Virgin was committed to making that ride truly awesome. Their customer service vision is clear and well communicated both internally and externally.

Customer service is often chaotic and unpredictable. Setting your service team up with a mission statement is one important way to ground the team and produce those ever-important and consistent “WOW” experiences for customers. 

Need help designing processes and goals that drive "WOW"? The Success League works with executives who want to unlock the revenue and retention a top performing success team will bring to their business. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

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 holds a BA in English from the University of California at Davis, and resides in Oakland, CA.