Why customer support in SaaS is a marathon, not a sprint

September 12, 2018

Customer support is crucial in any business (even though some people see it as the second cousin who gets invited to the wedding when slots open up). And in SaaS, that’s even more true.

We’re talking about a global market that is likely to be worth more than $100 billion by the end of 2022, according to the Transparency Market Research.

But what impact will customer experience have in all this? A lot more than you think.

In spite of those working in SaaS worrying a lot more about pricing or product, their key brand differentiator by 2020 will be customer experience. This probably explains why companies lose more than $75 billion due to poor customer service.

Keeping customers happy as you grow can be a daunting task. And, truth be told, in SaaS, it doesn’t get any easier. There’s just so much at stake. Dynamic pricing, complex technical products, bureaucratic legal processes, yearly subscriptions, up-selling opportunities.

How can you keep up with all this?

Well, from what I understood over two fascinating interviews with Mafalda Faria, Customer Support Analyst at Unbabel, and Edouard Verrier, former Sales Manager at SAP and now Sales Development Director at Unbabel, is that it’s all about establishing long-lasting relationships with your customers.

However, that’s not an easy job to master. You need to know exactly what to do, learn how to be a customer oriented business, improve communication between teams, use the right channels and, above all, figure out how you can grow with your customers.

You’re in it for the long game — how to build trust

According to Mafalda Faria, who has always worked in B2B and SaaS it’s all about establishing deep relationships with your customers. “If it were in B2C you would probably solve the issue, and then you’d move on to the next one and probably never speak to that person again, but in our case, that’s completely different”.

You need to have a personal and trusting relationship and not see every customer ticket as just a ticket, “you see it as the customer, as the person behind that issue.”

And for Edouard Verrier, that trust is built from the very beginning of the relationship, even before the deal is formally closed. “In this kind of business, it’s absolutely crucial for you to establish a good relationship with your customer right from the start. In SaaS, you close big deals that usually involve implementing a complex solution, and you have to answer a lot of questions. So trust plays a major role here.”

However, we have to bear in mind that we live in a fast-paced, digital world where technology has groomed us all to expect immediate gratification and results. This makes sales and building customer relationships harder than ever. And with some much competition chances are if you don’t solve your customer’s problem someone else will.

So how can you make it work?

The key is to understand your customer. Put yourself in their shoes, know the problem you’re solving and set the right expectations. Be available for them whenever they need and fix their issues as quickly as possible.

In the end, it’s just like Mafalda said: “Don’t just be a good listener, guide your customer through the processes and fix their issues fast. If they send you an email with all sorts of difficult questions, be ready to jump on a call and talk to them directly. Your goal is to make their life easier, not harder.”

Getting all the teams aligned and ready to help

Nonetheless, one of the hardest challenges of working in customer support in a SaaS business is communication and cooperation between teams. In a sea of emails and requests, the risk of potential misunderstandings is high and your response time can increase dramatically. You need to get all the teams on board if you want to improve customer satisfaction overall.

The secret, according to Mafalda, lies in being a customer oriented organization: “It’s not just about having the customer-facing teams care about your customers’ problems, but rather the whole company.”

However, being a customer-centric organization is harder than it looks, and communication between multiple teams added to the fact that your product is highly technical makes it even more difficult.

“We’re B2B SaaS, so the issues that our customers have are more complicated and take a bit longer to get fixed. They usually require work from our technical teams. And our engineering team may have other things that they’re working on, and some issues get left behind.”

So how can you make sure these issues don’t get left behind?

The trick is to “make other teams realize the value they get from focusing on our customers.” In Mafalda’s case, the team that she talks to the most is product, “and they are particularly interested in knowing what our customers want, how our products fit into that and how we should adapt our solution to those needs and expectations.”

And a great way to do that is keeping the product team in the loop and have them talk directly to customers: “At Unbabel we often have calls with customers together, which also helps our customers understand that there’s a person behind our technology, that that person is working every single day to make sure that great quality translations get delivered. Being transparent about this kind of thing adds a lot of value to our customers. And on the other side, it also recognizes the work that’s being done by our product team, and they also feel they’re contributing towards the success of the company. The positive feedback that we receive plays a huge role in keeping our teams motivated and moving forward.”

Treating your customers as partners

So far we’ve covered team communication and how to establish meaningful relationships, but it’s time to look into growing with your customers.

And that’s the good thing about working SaaS. You can expand and grow with your current customer base. So what may have started with a low volume contract can expand into something quite bigger.

According to Edouard Verrier, this is where things get interesting for companies working in SaaS: “If you have happy customers then your chances of growing your business volume are much higher. First, because you can expand the use of your product within the company. Second, because you can get referrals to potential customers”.

In the end, it’s all about treating your customers as partners, or as Mafalda puts it “as your advocates within the company.”

But for that to go well, you need to be focused on your customers’ needs and having a dedicated team to manage that relationship may help. At least that’s what we’re doing at Unbabel: “Before we had just the Customer Success team that would deal with everything related to customers. But as we’ve grown, we’re dividing into two teams: Customer Success, which is responsible for managing the relationship with the customer and focused on revenue; and Customer Support, which is responsible for solving customers’ issues and solving them as quickly as possible.”

In this case, Customer Success takes the lead in putting an up-selling strategy into place. This means keeping track of all information regarding your customers and meet their needs whenever you can. “If a customer tells you they need something that you can’t yet deliver, keep that in mind for the future, and when you build the new integration or feature they asked for, reach out and give them the good news.”

The bottom line is, happy customers will bring you more business. “In the end, it really pays off when you have happy customers who are more than pleased with your product and with the service you’re providing. And when our customers refer Unbabel to other companies, that’s when we realize the impact that our work has on people’s lives. That’s the best scenario you can possibly have, when you don’t need to knock on people’s doors to sell your products, they come to you directly because they were referred by your customers. It’s a great sense of accomplishment.”

Combining self-service and live support

It’s clear that you need to make yourself available to your customers and fix their issues as soon as possible. As Mafalda puts it: “In customer support, there’s a lot of pressure. Everything is urgent. And at the end of the day what matters is that you solve the issues as quickly and smoothly as possible.”

This usually means empowering your team with the right tools and training. There’s no need to hire hundreds of CS agents when you can deliver the same results with fewer people. All you need is to automate what you can and know how to get it right.

Here’s where self-service comes in. More than 8/10 of your customers dig around your website for a solution before they email, text or call you. And it can help you deliver a better and cost-efficient service to your customers. Harvard Business Review claims that the average cost of a live interaction between customer and agent in a B2B company is $13. That’s a lot of money, which is why so many companies are now investing in self-service options.

And Unbabel is no different: “One thing that we’ve been focused on a lot recently at Unbabel is our help center, and we learned a lot in the process. Self-service is a great way to solve some of the most common issues. Just be honest, and keep it simple and jargon-free.”

This way, your customers will only reach out when there’s something they can’t solve themselves, and that’s when your agents take over the conversation. “The main channel we use for support is actually email, but we’re always more than ready to jump in a call and talk directly with the customer. This increases their trust in our service tremendously because they know we’ve got their backs, no matter what.”

A final question: is the service you provide a source of frustration and negativity, or simplicity and efficiency?

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