“Our biggest thing is to make sure the customer gets a delivery by the time we say they’re going to get a delivery in — which, by the way, we can beat pizza. We race, pizza versus marijuana. And we’re winning.”
On June 6th, we held the very first Customer Centric Conference — CCC, for short — in Lisbon. We gathered over a hundred of the fiercest customer advocates to celebrate the ideas, technology, and the people who are changing customer experience at its core.
Mick Frederick, pizza racer and VP of Customer Experience at Eaze, was one of them. As he shared the stage with Kristina Mercier, Senior Manager of the User Happiness Team at Expedia and Mara Figueiredo, Global Head of Customer Support at Pipedrive, we got to hear stories of how they’re scaling their support teams and dazzling their customers.
This guide is a culmination of the insights we got from CCC. Not just from Mick, Kristina, and Mara, but from everyone who shared their story with us. It’s also the result of everything our customers, partners, and friends have taught us throughout the years, as well as the years of experience and hard work of our wonderful colleagues in customer support and customer success.
Why is customer satisfaction important?
Typically, guides start by explaining why whatever it is they’re about is of the utmost importance. Presumably to reassure you, the reader, that the several minutes of your time that you’re so kindly offering us are actually worth it. And typically, that involves a battery of statistics to scare you straight. Like saying, for example, that 60% of global consumers have stopped doing business with a brand after a single poor customer service experience.
Which is true, but then again, if you opened this article in the first place, you probably already suspect that. I don’t think that anyone running a business these days can really afford to forget that, if you’re not making your customers happy, then chances are someone else will.
So let’s skip this section entirely, and go straight to the juicy stuff.
What are companies measuring?
There’s this old adage that says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
It’s a nice sentence, sure. Has a nice ring to it, and, in a lot of cases, it’s true. But not every case. There are plenty of things that can’t be measured and must still be managed. A lot of variables that don’t conveniently fit into your excel sheets.
But the main problem with this idea is that there are several ways of measuring the same thing. We’ve all seen LinkedIn posts extolling the virtues of any number of vanity metrics. Clicks, views, sign-ups. We keep assuming that the higher those metrics are, the more successful the business. And sure, if you optimize for those metrics, you’ll reap some nice short-term rewards. But they don’t necessarily reflect the happiness of your customers, or what means the most to them, and they don’t always reflect the health of your organization. If you cherry-pick whichever metric makes you look the most impressive, more often than not, you’re just distracting from real pain obstacles and opportunities.
But if there’s one thing we can all agree with, it’s that data plays a very big role in today’s customer experience. The more data you have on your customers, the better you can get to know them, their motivations, and the pain your product or service helps them solve.
The metrics to look out for
- First Response Time and Average Handling Time — simply put, customers expect you to get back to them as soon as possible. First response time and average handling time measure the team’s responsiveness and should be as low as possible. Expectations, however, can vary across mediums.
Telephone, to pretty much every millennial’s chagrin, continues to be the preferred way for customers to reach customer support. Studies show that a majority of customers finds three minutes to be a reasonable response time to stay on hold.
Expectations for response times in social media platforms vary. According to Altitude, over 80% of customers expect companies to respond to their posts within 24 hours, although when it comes to Twitter, 77% of users feel more positive about a company when their Tweet has been replied to within just one hour.
Email-wise, they used to say customers would expect a response within 24 to 48 hours, but recently, Helpscout reported that 41 percent of customers expect a response within six.
- Net promoter score (NPS) — A straight-forward metric, and, probably for the same reason, a very popular one. It typically comes in the form of a simple survey question, e.g., “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?”, potentially with a $10 Starbucks or Amazon gift card attached as a thanks.
It’s usually measured on a scale from 0 to 10, like the one below. It doesn’t really matter the design or type of scale you use. Just pick one that’s very clear on the ask it makes, and then stick with it.
You calculate your NPS like this: take your percentage of promoters, in green, and subtract the percentage of detractors, in red.
% Promoters - % Detractors
- Customer Effort Score — Customer Effort Score is another good one, because it focuses specifically on how easy it was to complete a certain action. It can be useful for a product perspective. For example, I’d say that one specific feature was easy to use. And you would disagree, agree, or neither one of them.
Then, as with NPS, you take your percentage of agrees, and subtract the percentage of disagrees.
% Agree - % Disagree
In a controversial article for the Harvard Business Review, three experts can’t say enough good things about customer effort scores. They argue that customers “resent having to contact the company repeatedly (or be transferred) to get an issue resolved, having to repeat information, and having to switch from one service channel to another,” which we absolutely agree with, and that delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty, while reducing their effort does. We don’t subscribe to the idea that ease and high touch service are mutually exclusive, but Customer Effort Score is really useful at helping you identify which parts of your support process, product, or service can be a source of strain.
- Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSAT) — And finally, we get to CSAT. While NPS helps you measure customer loyalty, CSAT is typically used to measure customer satisfaction with a specific product or service. It’s a more here-and-now type of reaction, and less of a long-term relationship evaluator.
You would ask, for example, “How would you rate this support experience?”, and the customer would choose if they were satisfied, unsatisfied, or neither. Calculating it is also pretty straightforward:
% Satisfied - % Unsatisfied
“No one really cares about CSAT”
We heard this a while back over casual conversation with coworkers. Well, the language might have been a bit more colorful, but you get the point. Maybe there’s something broken about the way we measure customer satisfaction, and I’d even say it’s not a problem with CSAT. Maybe the problem is relying too heavily on any one metric on particular.
After all, is any metric inherently better than the other? The answer is no — because no metric is omniscient. It can’t ever tell you the full story on its own.
While digital analytics help you see how customers are interacting with your platform or a specific feature, or if they’re completing the goals you set, they don’t go much deeper than that. And you can’t just stay frolicking at the surface. Sometimes, there’s no better way to dive into your customer’s psyche than a good ole customer survey.
Crafting a good customer survey takes a bit of art, sometimes. But we’ve found that thinking about these three key aspects helps to do it successfully:
1. Think about the objective
There are a lot of forms your survey could take, so ask yourself:
- Do you want feedback on a specific feature or service?
- Do you want to dig deeper into the jobs your product helps your customers do?
- Do you want feedback that could improve the customer experience?
- Do you want to know whether they would recommend you to a friend?
Different objectives call for different surveys. Try to stick to one objective each time you send one out, so you can, bringing us to our next point…
2. Keep it simple
No matter what you’re trying to measure, you should aim for brevity. Not even the most intrepid souls can make their way through an exhaustive list of 20 open answer questions about the meaning of existence. Think about what matters to you the most — is it substance, or volume? Because, at least in surveys, you can rarely do both things.
Case in point, HappyOrNot is a company founded on a very simple premise. It provides stores with battery-powered devices with four colored push buttons, from dark green to dark red, so customers can rate their experience as they leave. Each color has a corresponding smiley face that goes from very happy to, well, not so much. And that’s it. An almost absurdly simple approach that is recognized everywhere in the world and needs no translation. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it wouldn’t be very useful to pinpoint specific problems. You would be wrong.
As an article from the New Yorker explains, “One client discovered that customer satisfaction in a particular store plummeted at ten o’clock every morning. Video from a closed-circuit security camera revealed that the drop was caused by an employee who began work at that hour and took a long time to get going. She was retrained, and the frowns went away.”
Businesses that have installed HappyOrNot get hundreds to thousands of responses a day, in real-time. Clearly, whatever they lack in substance, they make up for in volume.
3. Make it easy to fill out
You can’t always get the information you need with just four buttons, but the idea is to make the experience as frictionless as possible. Customer surveys should require the least amount of effort from the customer side. Here’s a few pointers to keep in mind when designing a survey:
- Are you asking the right questions? Sometimes it takes a bit of copywriting to really nail the question you’re trying to answer.
- Is the question clear, beyond all reasonable doubt?
- Should the answers be open response, multiple choice, or scaled?
Here’s an example of a survey we’ve sent out.
Despite the open fields, it’s still a pretty simple survey — only two questions.
To get the most insights out of your customer interactions, your best course of action is to combine tangible, hard-core customer data with more in-depth, behavioral customer feedback to understand the drivers behind those data points. This is not an easy task, no. But much like Chris Martin pointed out almost 20 years ago, nobody said it was easy. If you want to be truly customer centric, it’s the only way to go.
How to improve it
You’re armed with your tools and formulas. What now?
The goal of any customer interaction is to build trusting, long-lasting relationships — the sale isn’t done when customers sign the contract, it’s merely the start of a journey. And it makes financial sense, too, since acquiring customers can be anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than keeping your current ones.
But trust is hard to come by these days. Through no fault of our own, we’ve been struggling to trust our governments, companies, even coworkers.
So how can you build trust with your customers? We like to think you get there simply by being authentic and honest, especially when times are hard. If something goes wrong, own it and make sure you fix it. Making up excuses is not only annoying, but it corrodes trust.
1. Ask for feedback, and act on it
Your customers just took the time to give you feedback. If you don’t get back to them, explaining how you’re planning to incorporate it, or if you never implement it at all, they won’t be bothered to do it again.
Some companies, like Notion, put the score to a vote. Every time someone asks for a feature on Twitter or email, they add a vote for it on our product roadmap. The ones with the most votes, obviously, get included in the following updates.
But don’t implement things just for the sake of it. If it’s not the right time to change or add a new feature, politely let the customer know.
2. Educate your customers
It’s going to happen: everything is going to get turned on. My mother, my aunt Ruth, whoever, is going to go to the website, see this menu of 300 different products, be completely intimidated, go for the first thing they recognize, which can be a cookie or another edible, have no idea how to dose themselves, and end up on Jupiter for three days.
This was Mick again, VP of Customer Experience in a company that, if you’re not familiar, sells cannabis products. They’re dealing with a product that not only has had a social stigma around it, but with an offer that’s so extensive most people haven’t managed to catch up since pot’s legalization in California, in 2016. So yes, educating customers is a big one for Mick.
But it should be a big one for any business. Onboarding a customer properly is a big part of long-term customer satisfaction. In these early stages of your relationship, you’re responsible for giving them all the tools and knowledge they need to use your product, to guide them through the features that can help them the most, and to explain how to integrate your service into their lives as seamlessly as possible.
3. Bring humanity back to Customer Service
In B2B, it’s easy to forget you’re talking to people. Even the term, Business to Business, suggests two faceless corporate entities coolly interfacing through the cloud. But there’s an “I” behind every “B” — somebody like you and me trying to do their job the best they can.
Take Phil, for example. Phil is not a bot. He is a human working at Intercom, who committed the unspeakable act of being bald.
But Phil is a human being. Phil’s feelings are capable of being hurt. He could have ignored the tweet, or tweeted something mean in return, but he didn’t. Phil tried to connect with his bully on a deep, personal level. Well, more or less.
We’re all people. Our customers are all people. In fact, our VP of Marketing, Hugo Macedo, also a person, has been saying this for so long, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were so deeply inceptioned into our team ethic that we thought it was our idea in the first place.
Kristina, Senior Manager User Happiness Team at Expedia, believes emotional intelligence is at the heart of any successful customer experience: “When I took over managing the team, about four years ago now, we started spending more time talking about the components of EI.”
You start with self-awareness, and build it up all the way to relationship development.
- Self-awareness — the state of being aware of the way you’re feeling at any given moment.
- Self-management — how you take that awareness and react accordingly. In some situations, you may want to share that emotion. In others, you may need to hold it back.
- Empathy — Kristina believes we’re paying more attention to the empathy economy in response to the digital transformation happening everywhere around us. “The more and more we move deeper into this idea that we have to automate everything, the more we start wondering if we should automate it, and if we’re adding value to your customer.” Sometimes, the best course of action might be to keep that human element super strong.
- Internal motivation — what’s important to you? Outside money and status, what in your daily work motivates you, and helps you get out of bed each morning?
- Relationships — once you have all of these pieces, you can finally start building relationships.
4. Don’t lose the human touch
As far as we’re concerned, the future of work begins with strong emotional intelligence. We need to have that balance of high tech and human touch. The further we get into the digital transformation, the more crucial it becomes to really engage and reaffirm the human.
Mara, Global Head of Customer Support at Pipedrive, agrees. Their mission statement is to deliver fast and useful answers with a human touch. Which is easy enough when you have five or six customers, but when you have hundreds, thousands, or even millions, it becomes a challenge. Which is why Mara believes hiring the right people is paramount.
“We hire people that live by core values as simple as ‘Don’t ruin anyone’s day,’ or ‘Teach and be teachable.’” Skills can easily be taught, but attitudes, not so much. They have a five step recruitment process that involves meeting the team, the managers, and even solving a few customer interactions right off the bat, just so they how people communicate with customers.
Of course, different contexts and people call for different uses of language registers, different tones of voice. When it comes to customer service, always keep in mind who you’re talking to, the channel you’re using, and the topic of the conversation. When things heat up, avoid using negative language, show empathy, and use a professional, polite, and warm tone.
Even a small joke can go a long way in the right moment can go a long way. But above all, it’s about bringing a bit of humanity into customer service. When Mara’s team asks someone how their weekend went, they really want to know how it went!
5. Keep your employees happy and motivated
When employees are motivated, and feel good about their job, they are able to serve customers in a much more effective way. Engaged employees improve customer satisfaction scores, customer retention, and yield better financial results. In fact, according to a report on The State of the American Workplace, employees who are engaged are more likely to improve customer relationships, with a resulting 20% increase in sales.
As a manager, you need to focus on keeping your customer support specialists motivated and maintaining the enthusiasm and positive momentum among the team, especially when everything seems to go wrong. Do that, and the rest will naturally follow.
Luís Pinto, Head of Customer Support at Unbabel
At Unbabel, we like to think there are several ways to achieve this. Through regular check-ins or one-on-ones, through career paths, development programs, and learning opportunities. By amplifying their voice and encouraging them to experiment, innovate, and celebrate success.
That way, your employees will feel more connected to the job and the company. If they feel valued, chances are they will do the same for your customers.
6. Take language and culture into consideration
It wouldn’t really be an Unbabel Guide if we didn’t talk about language.
Being multilingual is no longer a choice. Half the world is online, and translation is becoming increasingly central for digital businesses looking for a global reach. A European Commission report found that “42% of consumers said they never purchase products and services with sales and support in other languages.”
But sometimes, the business reality doesn’t really justify recruiting a phalanx of multilingual agents. First of all, there’s a long tail of languages whose volume just doesn’t justify hiring a native speaker or that it would be too expensive to build an in-house team, but still widely spoken enough to deserve attention. Second, we believe in hiring amazing customer support agents for their skills, not the languages they speak. And third, you’ll want to keep consistent support coverage across time zones, weekends, and holiday peaks. This is especially true for industries with very intense peak seasons, like retail and travel, where companies struggle to keep the same response times and levels of satisfaction while still keeping operations lean.
But it’s not just about language. All international companies struggle with covering multiple languages, but for some reason, they usually ignore an equally important factor: culture. Miguel Ribeiro, Head of Growth at Zomato, explained that it was one of their mistakes when expanding to other countries. They tried “to buy companies and integrate them with Zomato without taking into account cultural clashes.” But in the end, they got it right. As he explains, “one of the things we did that worked really well was get local influencers to channel our voice and our brand and give us feedback on what we should communicate around — in our case this meant getting local bloggers for example.”
Read more on: A checklist for multilingual customer support
7. Help your customers help themselves
Self-service is always a good bet — 81% of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before contacting support. It’s easy to implement, it’s cost effective, and it works around the clock, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Not only that, but it also frees your team from the routine issues, the I-forgot-my-password-type requests. This way, agents have more time to have meaningful conversations with your customers, to focus on the more complex problems, to quickly jump on a call if need be.
They come in the form of chatbots, help centers, or simple FAQs, and shouldn’t give you too much work once they’re in place. Just be sure to translate them into as many languages as necessary, and revisit both original and translated versions regularly.
8. Leverage technology
Reagan Miller, Head of Global Analytics at Concentrix, has a lot of people coming to him for advice on how to leverage data and deploy AI.
We have access now to some truly unique, enabling insights that have never been available before. We can really listen to every single word a customer is saying to us. We can also understand what their intent is, and how they feel about it. We can understand what’s happening right now, and have the ability to predict and influence future events.
But even with all the data that’s out there today, he finds unified analytics encompassing all aspects of the customer experience, including the integrations and systems feeding into it, to be elusive at best. So a really good way to start is to go through the customer journey, to “get this longitudinal perspective of where our customers go, and what they’re saying, what they feel, what their intent is, in real-time. And also it opens up and creates the sort of baseline or platform for us to invest in AI.”
Because that’s what AI is. A tool, or a technique, to augment other areas in your business. AI, and automation technologies like chatbots, are really just facilitators. They do computations and detect patterns that would take you hours, weeks, or even years to accomplish. These technologies, once implemented, are fast, cheap and scalable, but let’s be honest. Technology only gets you so far. The beauty of it is that it allows you to have good conversations. It frees your agents to focus on the more educational and complex issues. Those are the real conversations that build trust and loyalty.
It all comes down to making smart decisions and understanding where AI can help you achieve better results, cut down costs, scale operations, and have a better, more personalized customer experience.
Ask yourself: will it dramatically improve your customers’, or agents’ experience? If in a particular area the answer is no, then skip it.
Shit happens. Now what?
Think back to the last time you had a disaster. Maybe it was during work. Maybe it was at home. Your heart’s racing. Crisis mode! But imagine then, in that moment of crisis, when you’re freaking out, or people are running around with their hair on fire, imagine you have a red button by your side. This red button, once pressed, would mean a SWAT team would literally arrive to your door, and solve your problem. Whether your house is on fire, or your kid got sick, or your dog ate a rock, anything. They’re there to solve your problem.
This is Max Klimmek, Customer Success Manager at Intercom, and that SWAT team was his. Intercom has developed a winning formula for solving even the thorniest customer problems. During CCC, Max broke it down for us, with three key steps to overcoming customer service disasters.
1. Create repeatable customer experiences
Create something that everyone in your company knows will happen when a disaster happens, no matter what that disaster is. You should have a protocol for every scenario, even the most unlikely of them, and practice them until the unfamiliar becomes familiar. If you don’t look outside of the box to solve problems, you won’t be able to face the unexpected and find something that could help you to bounce back.
2. Exude confidence
All kinds of troubles might be going down in the background, everyone could be panicking, but don’t show your customer that. “The last thing your customer needs when your hair is on fire, is more fire.”
What they need is someone to swoop in and acknowledge the problem, and say that they are working on a solution. De-escalate. Or, as Max put it: “Act like a swan. On top of the water it’s elegant, it’s smooth, it doesn’t look like anything is going on. But maybe underneath is chaos.”
Max argues that a good way to calm yourself down before reaching out to the customer, weirdly, can be something as simple as opening the newspaper. Just look over the news — it has a way of really putting things into perspective. If you don’t work at a hospital, a police or fire department, chances are it’s not literally a matter of life and death.
3. Be personal
It’s a bit of a cliché, but every disaster really is a chance to delight your customers, and you can easily turn a bad experience into a good one through efficient, empathetic, and personalized customer service.
Listen to and be honest with your customers. Know your escalation points, take advantage of guidelines, templates and macros, solve issues as soon as they come, and share some personal detail.
We’ve been through this: We’re all human, so let’s act accordingly.
Every business is operating outside the bounds of their industries — you’re not just competing with brands selling similar products or services, you’re competing with all brands, everywhere. When someone starts offering 24/7 customer service, personalized recommendations, or tailored, highly-curated newsletters, suddenly everyone expects the same from you. And it doesn’t really matter whether you’re paying for a $15 Netflix subscription or a $500 premium B2B service.
But we like to think customer satisfaction isn’t a destination at which you’ll ever fully arrive. It’s constantly shifting, edging forward. Over time, what was once good becomes acceptable, the acceptable becomes stale, and we constantly need to go the extra mile to reach ever heightening customer expectations.
But that shouldn’t discourage you from the pursuit. When times get tough, and the road gets foggy, we take a deep breath and remember Max’s words of wisdom.
“Be like Phil.”