There aren’t many ecommerce professionals or marketers that would answer “What is the true purpose of your Customer Support Team?” with “it’s a crucial part of how you can optimize Customer Experience”, reason for that is because until earlier times, Customer Support was always perceived as a cost center instead of a profit center.
In the ecommerce industry, many brand owners understand the role of the Customer Support team in a very liniar way:
Customers complain – You get rid of them – Move on to the next ticket – Repeat.
This approach on Customer Support and assisting consumers with their issues, as it’s perceived in my example above, I like to call “The Inconsistent Healer syndrome”.
“The Inconsistent Healer Syndrome – TIHS”
“The Inconsistent Healer Syndrome”, as its name states, is something I came up with after working or pushing myself in Customer Support roles throughout my last 10 years of career.
I always found that only by diving into the Customer Support ticket history and taking on full time or part time responsibility doing the customer support work, you can find the good, the bad and the ugly about any company. The truth.
Let’s take a practical example of how not to go about understanding your customers and helping them with their problems.
Jake ordered a pair of jeans from a fashion store.
On the website the regular shipping time is 2-4 days and just 2 days if Jake pays $30 for expedited shipping. Jake loves the jeans and is excited to get them so he decides to pay for the expedited shipping. Once the order is placed, he receives the order confirmation email and the welcome series. Nothing yet regarding the shipping.
3 days pass and Jake is worried. He writes an email to the Customer Support of the brand asking WISMO (Where-Is-My-Order).
Someone from the Customer Support team sees his email and replies:
Thank you for your message.
We are sorry you are experiencing this delay with your order being delivered.
I am going to check with our team about what happened and get back to you soon.
In the meantime, we have refunded you for your expedite shipping.
Customer Support Representative”
So, what is good and wrong about this approach and how does the “inconsistent healer syndrome” syndrome come into play?
Firstly, the problem the brand has is that they are making a promise on the website regarding their shipping times. Promise that clearly they cannot keep even though the customer expectations were high as the brand has made them be.
The Customer Support representative has treated only the surface issue – refunded the expedite shipping fees. (Money problem)
The root problem of the customer is why are they promising me things that they cannot keep their word on? (Value Problem)
The inconsistency comes because of how the internal alignment works inside the ecommerce company. If the company’s management sees the Customer Support team as a cost center, they will focus only on closing tickets, not their customers’ actual problems.
And because of that, most reps only treat the surface (the symptoms) not the cause.
They make anger, frustration and disbelief go away momentarily but the cause of those issues that arise is never treated because the brand’s management and leadership doesn’t care to collect those data points from the Customer Support team and make the necessary changes on the promises they make to consumers, promises they cannot keep – because that, would affect their short term wins – increasing sales & revenue.
The “inconsistent healer syndrome” is the biggest phenomenon happening with Customer Support teams throughout most ecommerce companies.
The common trait of the inconsistent healer syndrome is that customer support reps act like a gatekeeper to the company and provide support to the company, not to the customers.
A Customer Support representative should be the advocate for the customers of a company, a main part of optimizing customer experience, however nowadays the Customer Support representative is focused on saving face, closing tickets and getting rid of customers, dwelling in the cost center space.
OK, we feel bad about it, so how can we look at Customer Support as a profit center?
First of all let’s all agree upon the Customer Support team role in your team.
Of course their tasks include answering tickets, calls, chats and helping your customers fix their problems.
But what is really their role?
A lot of people would argue that the role of the Customer Support team is constantly delighting customers, exceeding customer expectations, pink unicorns and cupcakes, all for the sake of customer loyalty.
I want to break that myth today, together with you, and show you how you can defeat the Inconsistent Healer Syndrome you didn’t know you had.
John Larson framed it best in this article I found over at the guys Customer Think.
“Loyalty does not come by “delighting” them or “exceeding their expectations.” Rather, it comes by consistently delivering your Value Proposition on a 24/7 basis. In this context, problem resolution is really an opportunity in disguise; a way to build trust with your customers when inconsistency of execution inevitably raises its ugly head.”
The customer’s problem is an opportunity in disguise.
For the sake of my fictional example with Jake above, if you have a massive ticket volume for late shipping time issues, the problem you as a company owner want to fix is not the angry customers, the problem is your message on the website regarding shipping. It’s the expectations you create.
More expectations, more problems.
The normal and decent thing to do is to be honest about your shipping times.
If you are honest you have a good starting point to create a relationship with your customers.
If you continue on selling fast shipping, in spite of the huge volume of tickets complaining about this, you will just continue to refund shipping fees, give them gifts, discounts and lying to yourself that you are delighting customers.
If your value proposition is “amazing product, shipping in 2-4 days, quality guaranteed” then that value proposition should be delivered to your customers 24/7.
This is the only way you can free yourself of TIHS.
Profit is a consequence of non-transactional focus. A result of internal alignment around being customer-centric.
Valentin Radu says it best:
Teams tend to become like silos. This isolates people, which makes them collaborate less. And that leads to a lack of coherence and a distorted company image.
Each team has an individual set of KPIs. The problem with this segregation is that these people and their products hardly align: like the guys from acquisitions (concerned with bringing the products) with the guys from marketing ( and the things that they promote). They don’t align with the Customer Support team and the customers’ complaints, or with the guys from tech who work on the website.
Let’s take the Customer Support and the advertising teams, for example. They don’t collaborate well in this divided environment. The email team works on sending emails, click-through rate, open rate —they have all sorts of KPIs concerned with their emailing activity. They don’t look at customer’s satisfaction or at the product relevance in the emails. For example, the guys from advertising that work on media ads can send messages that aren’t aligned with the company’s objectives and the problem it wants to solve.
This renders the company… freakish. It makes it look like Frankenstein’s twin.
There’s no coherence when the email sends one kind of message, the ads say something different, and Customer Support is from another world. The alternative is to overview what customers say, the customer lifetime value, the main reasons why customers leave, and the problems they should solve to move these North star metrics, such as customer lifetime value and customer retention.
It’s essential to know what your customer wants and then create a roadmap that every team follows and deliver value at every touch point of their journey with you.
Customer Support Optimization. 15 different approaches to it.
I’m a big fan of Customer Support and I’m always surprised when people are amazed to learn about that about me.
The reality is that Customer Support should be one of the most important departments in a company, but not a lot of businesses understand it.
And oftentimes in those businesses the Customer Support team is completely separated from other teams such as Product, Marketing and Sales.
First of all, it’s a great wealth of information and data about your customers that will help you improve the onsite experience.
In particular why customers buy, what matters to them in the decision-making process, what questions they have before buying (aka what’s stopping them from buying from you).
And secondly, it helps retention: if somebody contacts Customer Support and has a great experience, he/she’s more likely to come back and purchase again (I am thinking of Zappos here).
And considering how cheap and easy it is to start a company today and how many new competitors pop up every month (in any industry), retention becomes the only focus if you want to survive.
Customer Support has so much POWER, but unfortunately oftentimes so little recognition and because of that many businesses deal with a huge churn rate and unhappy customers.
Customer Support is a function which many people don’t understand its potential for collaboration. Everyone knows how I preach collaboration, and this is a VASTLY underutilized function. At times, it’s almost free UX research!
One obvious use case:
I was working with a client to run their CRO program. We were seeing conversion rates drop not dramatically, but at a clip we weren’t expecting from a certain day. We didn’t make any changes which affected our main conversion flow, so we were befuddled. Turns out 3-4 people complained to customer service saying they couldn’t check out via PayPal. Lo and behold – session recording proved that. Users would click the PayPal button, and nothing would happen. Some code added to the site broke the PayPal API. Easy enough fix.
However, you should really try to listen to some customer complaints. Some of them aren’t always actionable (no, we’re not going to give you the product for free just because you don’t like how our website is).
Hear what customers are complaining about, and use this as free user research to factor into optimizing the site. This involves somewhat regular catch ups with Customer Support, or at least some way of collecting the feedback from those teams.
Establish a great process for collecting feedback, and you know have an additional qualitative data source to feed into your program!
Customer Support is the only resource that matters. Everyone should regularly rotate through Customer Support every six months. The Customer Support team rarely gets to take time off, there is always work to be done. Tickets don’t stop, ever.
It’s a treasure trove of data asking to be looked after by people that are often in a thankless position. There’s a lot of talk about customer experience these days being the silver bullet to creating iconic brands that endure. Those with the best Customer Support teams who can provide the best experience are right up there at the top.
In short, Customer Support is loyalty.
With every Customer Support team I’ve worked with I’ve continually focused on creating for the customer experience which starts with clean data and automation. A solid plan can reduce the stress on your support team and allow them to spend their time thinking of the bigger picture.
This is important to keep them involved in the company and not just feel like a cog in a wheel.
I like the term “Customer Experience” better. It feels more proactive and less responsive.
And that’s exactly how it should be for most Customer Support teams.
When I was 17 at Body Active (my first ever job), Customer Support was a critical differentiator to ensure repeat business. This was due to eCommerce still being relatively new, and the methods of acquisition focused primarily around SEO and Word of Mouth marketing. In order to retain customers, we needed to provide an unbeatable level of service – something that has become somewhat of a lost art due to the rise of paid ads.
We would have extensive Q&A sections under each product, where customers would submit questions under and would then accumulate as a repository for others to read/gather info about the product. We would often link to discussions from our in-built forum and feedback from other customers, and recommend synergistic products that could help the customer achieve their goals.
I learned very early on that if you have somebody’s best interests at heart, they’ll buy from you anyway as they trust you. And that’s what Customer Support should be about: trust and transparency.
People want a buying experience they have confidence in, so the time to first response, the quality of the response, and the sincerity behind your intentions is paramount in order to increase the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
It’s all common sense stuff, of course. And that’s the beauty of it: anybody can compete, as long as they’re willing to put the effort in and look beyond short-term monetary gains. But the brands that do will win in the long run, as it’s becoming a crucial way to compete in an age of commoditization.
Happy Cog’s SEO, Paid Media, and Analytics teams as the agency’s Director of Marketing Client Services. She has over 13 years of digital marketing experience and is a student of consumer behavior and user experience.
What people don’t realize is that Customer Support is a discipline under marketing.
Okay, I made that up, but a person working in Customer Support is the “face” of your organization. And your perception is an essential factor in determining how your company grows.
And that’s marketing. Service after the sale is a lost art in today’s fast-paced, close-the-deal-by-any-means-necessary type of world. Investing in fantastic Customer Support folks will make sure your customers are happy.
All things being equal, Customer Support continues to sell your customer on the value of their loyalty.
Aside from that, any marketer worth their salt should be spending time with the people who work in Customer Support. They know about the good, bad, and indifferent attitudes that your customers have towards your company. That’s a gold mine, and you can learn at least two things from Customer Support that will make your life easier in the long-term:
- Marketing messaging: how are your customers referring to your product and how using/owning that product changed their lives. Test this on your website, in your ads, etc.
- Support content: what questions do your customers ask most when they contact your support team? Adding this content to your site will help improve customer satisfaction.
That’s just a start.
Bottom line? Talk to your Customer Support people.
They have interesting insights and perspectives to share.
Nick DisabatoNick is a designer & writer from Chicago. He runs Draft, a small design research consultancy for Shopify Plus stores.
At our consultancy, we consistently mine Customer Support inquiries to drive conversion insights.
If people are confused about sizing, we improve the size guide.
If people are asking if a product is good for X, we write “good for X” on the product detail page.
Because if people are having problems understanding the value of our products, it’s probably our fault, not theirs.
I personally think companies that optimize every step of the customer journey for A+ customer experience are going to be the ones that win in the future.
I think Customer Support is one of the most obvious and important channels that brands can leverage to delight their customer base.
People usually contact Customer Support because they have questions or they’re upset about something. This presents a massive opportunity to pleasantly surprise and overdeliver for said customers.
Anytime I’ve contacted Customer Support and had a positive experience, pending the product is good/useful of course, I’ve become a repeat customer.
Anytime I’ve contacted Customer Support and had a negative experience, in most cases, irrespective of the product being good/useful, I haven’t repeated the purchase.
Think about companies like Amazon and Zappos. They’re known for their customer service, among many other things.
To me it comes down to: The kindness and quality of the response. If a brand can deliver on this + a good product, I want to buy more, tell my friends, leave a positive review, and so on.
The moral here is: If you can align and unite your brand around being customer centric, you’ll be able to elevate your customers experience.
Your customer’s experience is only as good as your Customer Support. Period.
When customer service is good, you barely notice it. But when it’s bad – EVERYONE notices. Which is why you also need to take a long, hard look at how you can best serve your customers.
If your Customer Support team is strained and your customers are mad, something’s got to change. It can be as simple as introducing a way for customers to get fast answers to burning questions without draining your team’s energy (through a chatbot, FAQ section, automated onboarding flows, or live chat). Or it can even be revisiting how you structure your business.
Case in point: a client was struggling with customizing every single element of their platform’s offerings for their customers (no matter how large or small). They were drained. And their support team was drained. And their clients weren’t happy. So we introduced a fully self-serve freemium option where customers could go in and start playing around with the platforms and customizing things themselves with minimal intervention.
They immediately started onboarding new customers this way with much success. Many of their new customers quickly saw the value and potential in the product and upgraded to paid plans within a week or two of starting. All with far less stress and strain on the client and their support team.
The Good, a conversion rate optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest online brands including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, The Economist, and more. He regularly contributes content on conversion optimization to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. He knows how to get visitors to take action.
Interviewing Customer Support team members is a key research tool when forming hypotheses for CRO.
In The Good’s work with Easton Baseball, research discovered that the most frequent Customer Support inquiries were from parents looking to purchase a baseball bat for their child, but they had no idea which bats were approved for their child’s league and what the differences were between technologies and price points.
Upon further research The Good found when searching online, parents were met with a page of similar-looking bats on the product category listing pages, and little help in telling them apart, which forced them to call Customer Support.
The Good hypothesized that adding a baseball bat finder tool based on the common questions parents had would decrease calls to Customer Support and increase online conversions. Combining Easton’s product and competition league knowledge with The Good’s user experience design, The Good designed a bat finder allowing the consumer to make a few easy selections via drop-down menus to research and find the best product for their needs.
This resulted in a much quicker path to purchase, increasing eCommerce revenues by 240%.
Founder at Day By DayWith over a decade of experience behind her, Irit has a special knack for translating the 328 tasks on your plate into concrete, step-by-step processes that propel your business forward. When you waste 0.0 minutes on inefficiency, you can get more done in far less time.
Many companies offer similar services or products.
What makes the difference between one service provider and the next is the customer experience.
From the moment you walk in the store, purchase a product, or use a service, it’s all about your experience as a customer.
But usually, we ignore these things. Until we can’t.
When we need support from customer service, that’s usually when we formulate our true opinion about a company.
I can enjoy the product and the price, but if the Customer Support isn’t up to par, then there’s a 99% chance I won’t be using the product.
Customer Support is the peak of the customer experience.
Just today, I was using a service and had a glitch. I reached out to their Customer Support.
While they could not help me, they tried various ways and they gave me the feeling that they were there for me. They even offered me compensation, which they didn’t need to.
Next time I have a need for this service, you can bet I will be using this company.
For me, Customer Support isn’t an afterthought of customer experience, it is the best place to enhance it and create brand loyalty.
Customers Who Click podcast, interviewing guests from across the marketing spectrum to give actionable insights into growth.
Customer service is just vital to the customer experience, it’s like having a sales team that your customers are reaching out to and want to speak to, why wouldn’t you want to use that to your advantage?
Customer service can answer queries pre-purchase, increasing the chances of converting visitors into customers, can answer questions post-purchase to keep customers happy, to educate them further and point them in the right direction, leading to higher rates of retention and repeat purchase.
And crucially, customer service provides some of the best and most valuable feedback to the rest of your business.
The feedback they gather will tell you what people like and don’t like about your products.
They’ll tell you what they like and don’t like about your website.
And you can put all these feedback together to improve the experience for every customer going forwards.
Back when I worked with Ubeeqo, we understood through customer service that UK customers were having a nightmare trying to verify their accounts through the app, so we made it a priority of the CS team to verify customers manually, and then I introduced an onboarding person who’s sole responsibility was to contact new customers, verify them, and help them get their first booking in place.
These customers who got the personal touch converted at a much higher rate and proved to be more valuable in the long run as well.
But you don’t have to do unscalable things like contact every customer to offer help, you’ve just got to give them a good experience, and use what they tell you to improve that experience even more.
Whether you realize it or not, you’re in the customer service business.
As we all know, it’s cheaper to keep a customer than it is to acquire one. If you increase customer retention rates by 5%, you can increase revenue by 25% – 95% (Bain & Company).
How a company treats you will make or break your overall customer experience. One of the reasons why Apple is what it is today is because of their radical way of doing tech support: In person (in the Before Times, anyways), with no unnecessary up-sells, and no confusing, technical jargon. How many other companies do tech support in this way?
DelightChat, a customer support software for ecommerce brands. He writes about SaaS & DTC marketing on his personal blog, debgotwired.com.
Customer Support isn’t considered a major function in most companies let alone being a revenue center. But it’s a crucial part of the overall customer experience.
1) Customer visits a store that sells flavoured coffee. They are browsing a particular collection and one of the products got them curious and they shoot a couple of questions in the live chat. The agent can answer those questions on the spot but that’s not all – they can simply offer them a special discount which would entice the customer to move from a consideration stage to decision stage, i.e., adding it to cart.
This is Customer Support attributed revenue.
2) Now, consider this. A customer has purchased your French Vanilla coffee and they loved it so much that they left a nice review on your site. To show your appreciation, your Customer Support can thank them and send them a $10 discount coupon on their next purchase. 8 out of 10 times, they would make a purchase.
Again, this is Customer Support attributed revenue but in this case, they’re helping retain a customer.
And in both cases, it enhances the overall customer experience – this will help in creating more brand advocates.
So, yes. More brands should adopt the mentality to treat customer service as a revenue opportunity as opposed to a function that’s only there to answer customer queries.
Customer Support is extremely important.
It’s what makes the difference between a good brand and a bad brand in my opinion. It’s something that we often do not take the time out to appreciate enough.
Good Customer Support can make your customer feel more connected to your company and can be good for retention. It also provides your customers with a better experience because they’ll feel like you actually care, as they should.
In the end do remember to lower the expectations you create so you don’t have to use your customer support team as a stronghold to your brand.
Deliver a clear value proposition and maintain it 24/7 in all the touchpoints your customers have with you.
Customer Experience is your product.
Otherwise, well, you will end up like this…
Want to learn more about Customer Support and how you can optimize your Customer Journey by introducing Customer Support in the picture?
Check out my latest appearance on the Unofficial Shopify Podcast hosted by Kurt Elster.
This article looks so pretty on our blog thanks to the help of my amazing colleague Andrada Vonhaz.