“The whole system is established toward making sure we win the game instead of being champions at the end of the season, and that’s where Support comes in. Support makes you the champion at the end of the season.”
Whether your company is B2B or B2C, your Support team spends more time facing customers than any other team. As a result, Support comprises a significant element of your total customer experience. With more companies than ever prioritizing customer experience, it’s time to target more of the investment in the Support teams that are their front-line customer experience. Not only will 86% of customers pay more for a better experience (Oracle), but after a bad experience, 22% of customers will cut spending, and 19% will move on entirely (Temkin).
We were fortunate to host Matthew Caron, Head of Customer Support at OpenTable, to discuss how to fuel fantastic customer experiences by investing in support culture and technology. Matthew leads customer experience strategy and operations at OpenTable and manages operational directors in APAC, EMEA, and North America who manage teams that provide 24/7 support 365 days a year. His team serves a dual-sided market, supporting diners making reservations that need process and policy support, as well as supporting restaurants, the company’s software subscribers, with IT support. Read on for our top three takeaways from the conversation.
Stronger Support Leadership Will Bring More Investment
Unfortunately, because companies often regard Customer Support as a cost center, organizations are often reluctant to invest in the function. Matthew offered some insight into why this is the case.
“There’s a prevailing mentality that says, ‘if I built a product that works, customers won’t reach out.’ But there is nothing that’s ever been created by man that’s flawless. This is flawed because it’s based on assumptions that products are easy to use, based on limited focus groups, and that the engineers have thought of every single problem. Especially as more people use the product, it will break. When you accept that no matter what, it is going to break and that there will be confusion, then you can focus on improving the customer experience when they do reach out.”
By not investing in the Support function, Matthew explained that companies are putting their brand at risk. Of course, no company wants to have a high cost of support. But too many organizations cut the cost of support so much that support quality declines alongside costs —at that point, they are forfeiting everything they’ve invested in on the front end to build brand equity.
So how can companies continue investing in customer experience while mitigating the cost of support? In Matthew’s eyes, it starts with better support leadership.
Often, Matthew said, “the supervisor is just the best agent, the manager is just the best supervisor, and somehow that person becomes the director. In no way are those roles scalable. Just because you’re a great agent doesn’t mean you’re a great supervisor because now you’re leading people. The byproduct of that is you get inconsistent performance, and your Customer Support Representatives (“CSRs”) become your biggest liability. The risk is, ‘what does that front line manager think is the right thing to do?’ instead of investing in process and technology to make ‘the right thing’ scalable.”
This dynamic is one reason why scripts are still heavily used by Support teams. Instead of relying on inflexible scripts, Matthew emphasized that companies need to treat CSRs like adults. Support teams should invest in technology that empowers CSRs to improve customer experience from the front lines.
Matthew emphasized that for Support to provide an amazing customer experience, it needs representation at the executive level, whether that’s a Head of Support or Head of Customer Experience. “Support will be at its prime when the role is elevated and gets the organizational exposure and investment it needs to thrive.” Until then, Matthew says that Support will continue to get small amounts of budget leftover from over teams.
Digital and Predictive Support Technology Enable the Best CX
In addition to better leadership, Matthew highlighted the importance of better technology as a critical enabling factor to Support’s success. Whereas functions from Sales to Finance have seen significant benefits from technology adoption in recent years, Matthew pointed out that Support is a generation behind from a technology perspective.
He said, “Many organizations approach Support technology by defaulting to, ‘well, this works for the Sales team. It should work for you.’ Instead of that, we need to invest in technology to quickly identify who’s calling, what their issue is, and the fact that they’ve called seven times” so that teams can prioritize more effectively and better manage their workload.
Getting rid of phone support is one area where Matthew sees an opportunity for Support to thrive as a center of excellence. He called out phone support as simultaneously the most expensive, and the most hated channel, both by customers and CSRs. Digital channels like chat, email, and forums are much easier to use, easier to staff, and better facilitate effective workload prioritization. Moving to digital-first support will also maximize the return on support technology investments. “Digital is where everyone is going. Apps are where people make commerce decisions. Allowing support to stay in the channel, in the device, in the realm where the purchasing decision or marketing experience is happening” makes a huge difference, explains Matthew.
Matthew emphasized that as long as Support’s leadership status is elevated, his vision for winning CX features Support teams equipped with technology to predict service failures so that they can proactively solve them. Leveraging Natural Language Understanding (“NLU”) technology can identify customer language patterns across Support interactions that can improve routing and escalation to solve issues before they become major problems. Furthermore, technology can help Support teams prioritize cases more effectively. Matthew explained, “if they can differentiate between a case that can wait a few days vs. a case that needs attention right now, that’s how you maximize your customer experience while also reducing your costs. If you can’t prioritize cases effectively, then you need to add headcount.” Matthew notes the important difference between cases where customers are simply bringing something to your attention and cases where an issue required an urgent fix. Prioritizing cases, Matthew continued, isn’t just about what customers are saying, but who they are —and even then, “it’s not just about how much they spend, but how much they bring to your brand as an advocate or a detractor.” Using NLU technology to identify customer sentiment in real-time brings important context to case prioritization that allows Support teams to proactively solve issues.
A proactive approach to case resolution helps solve issues faster, reducing costs and improving customer sentiment. Matthew acknowledged that while many customers want personalized experiences, speed is most likely to impact customer experience positively. “If I get a solution from Support in 15 seconds, I’m as happy as I can be. The only thing you can do better is reach out to me and say, ‘here’s your problem, and we already solved it.’ That is the ultimate desired customer experience.”
Invest in Your People — Amazing CX Starts With Culture
Matthew believes that customer experience starts with culture. “Being a CSR is the hardest job I’ve ever done. You never know what’s coming.” Matthew emphasized the importance of investing in your CSRs as people. “It’s critical to recognize that it’s not a desirable role, and it’s tough. It’s even harder because we don’t invest in technology to support the teams.” Furthermore, Support sees one of the highest turnover rates in any team.
“Most people in companies look down on the CSR population. Support agents feel stuck, and when they’re ready to move on, they think, ‘where can I go?’ They don’t often look inside the company because they don’t have faith in the organization. By investing in CSRs as people, you can change the conversation from ‘where can I go?’ to ‘where can I go in your company?’” to retain talent and reduce turnover.
Matthew highlighted the importance of combating the negative energy that surrounds CSRs for the majority of their day. “As much as I wish this were the case, no one calls us and says ‘hey, your product works beautifully.’ That stuff happens in Tweets. When they contact us, it’s ‘hey, this is broken.’ All-day long.” For the tough job and negativity CSRs face daily, Matthew insisted that they need more than a paycheck.
“If you want my effort, heart, and passion, you better give me more. You need to mentor employees to be the best versions of themselves. It’s not just free lunches. If you focus on the experience of being a CSR. Give them a great environment outside of their calls, effective coaching, and passionate leadership, and you get a great customer experience on the other end. There’s a real return from those efforts.”
Matthew prefers coaching for behaviors instead of coaching for results —while you can’t always control results, you can consistently embrace and evaluate repeatable behaviors that correlate strongly with desired results. So how does he go about coaching? Matthew cautioned that if you’re only giving your team feedback in 1:1s, then you’re missing the point.
“As humans, we remember emotions more than facts. The more time that passes when an event happens and the moment you’re giving feedback, the less likely we are to recall what we did and why to influence an outcome. The most common question I get as a leader is, ‘why did you do X?’, and the most common response is, ‘I don’t remember.’ This is why it’s so important to give feedback and dig into meaningful interactions quickly, so you don’t get an, ‘I don’t remember.’”
When measuring overall team performance, many Support teams play whack-a-mole with metrics disconnected from the actual customer experience. For example, Matthew cautioned that you might focus on getting good CSAT scores until you realize you’re cannibalizing your hold times. Matthew explained why handle time, a popular support metric used to measure the time to resolution, is the wrong way to evaluate the team. “Handle time is important, but it drives the wrong behavior. You’re telling the agent that it’s more important to go fast above all else. We don’t want them rushing through cases at the expense of the right outcome.” Matthew prefers hold time as a performance metric since it has a more direct impact on the customer experience. Additionally, Matthew advised against reading into CSAT too much.
“CSAT doesn’t tell the whole story. If you’re chasing a CSAT score, you’re chasing an emotion. Plus, there’s no way to know what the customer is actually upset about. I am way more interested in what our internal monitoring tells us about how well we’re delivering on our expectations for the customer experience.”
Matthew advised that whatever you’re measuring, make sure you’re doing it at a high enough rate and there’s enough data to observe a trend. “Taking NPS once every 90 days doesn’t show you trends.” The most valuable feedback, Matthew says, is real-time, behaviorally based, and factually proven.
Thanks to Matthew Caron for contributing his wealth of insight and sharing his leadership philosophy with us. Check out the full recording below for more.