What is support in 2020? Unfortunately, I think we carry a lot of misconceptions about what it is from our own experiences and from what support has looked like in the past. We may envision call centres and the tiered hierarchy, but a lot of these ideas are changing because of a higher expectation from customers.
Universally, support is about providing resources to those customers who need help with your product. That may be because the product is broken in some way, or maybe because the user is not educated enough to get the value they’re seeking from the product. It could also be that they have insight on how the product can better serve them. These distinctions are important because it touches on the notion that as agents of support, you’re not merely fixing things that are broken; more accurately, you are educating and empowering your customer so that they can get more out of what they’ve paid for.
I worked at an Apple Store for six years, helping customers at the Genius Bar. For those that have had a Genius Bar appointment, you have likely witnessed the chaos. Apple employees zipping around, distressed Mac owners panicking as they do a quick mental inventory of their digital lives because their hard drive has failed, all while a customer is testing the limits of a $1,500 speaker with no intention of buying it (which is what it’s there for).
If someone wants to improve their speaking skills like fluency and vocabulary, if they want to practice time management, if they want to practice empathy, the Genius Bar is the place to do it. In fact, these are the kinds of competencies that are so much more important in a support service. If one day you’re hiring support people, these are the skills you should be looking for. Technical and troubleshooting skills can be learned by almost anyone, it’s not as easy to learn how to be personable and empathetic.
If I can condense my learnings at Apple into a single thought, it would be this: a customer’s request for support represents a fork in their journey. The resulting experience produces one of two outcomes: a renewed sense of trust in the product and brand, or, to put it simply, dissatisfaction. Regardless of which it is, customers will remember this experience, and they will likely tell someone else about it. They will also use it to inform future decisions. There are multiple touchpoints between the customer and the product and support service that affect this outcome, and so the support journey must be understood in as much detail as possible.
Zuora is a company that offers a variety of solutions for organizations that want to move to a subscription-based business model. They have perfectly summarized what customer expectations have become in 2020:
“Customers have changed. They’re looking for new ways to engage with businesses. Consumers today have a new set of expectations. They want outcomes, not ownership. Customization, not generalization. Constant improvement, not planned obsolescence.”
In 2020, people buy experiences, not things. This subscription economy creates win-win situations, because customers are getting what they want, and businesses are able to reap the financial benefits of renewals and upgrades.
C-levels of some of the largest companies in the world are buying into customer success, the combined result of customer experience and product adoption. In other words, how much of the product are they using, and are they enjoying it in the process? Dan Steinman, Chief Customer Officer of Gainsight and a champion of customer success, puts it bluntly: he says C-level executives care about success not because it makes customers happier and improves outcomes, but because it makes money.
In a “transaction economy”, we can recognize a single opportunity to financially benefit from our customers, which is through sales. This is a dying business model, and it’s dying because there is too much significance placed on the point of sale. If I’m only rewarded by getting you through the gate, why should I worry about what happens after? We want customers to be happy for word-of-mouth and return opportunities, but these are just examples of new prospects in the funnel. In a presentation at New Zealand’s national innovation agency, Steinman asked this daunting question: if you’re a sales funnel business model, what’s more important – the product itself, or how the product is portrayed by sales?
Executives have historically looked at support as a cost-savings opportunity. Outsource it so we can pay them less, give them scripts because we don’t trust their ability to ask the right questions, and get them to escalate anything that is outside of scope because they can’t make decisions for themselves.
What an awful experience for the customer.
Surely, we’ve all experienced some form of this firsthand, and not that long ago I’d be willing to bet. According to Gartner, 80% of a company’s future revenue will come from 20% of its existing customers. This justifies the need to invest in quality post-sale interactions, because positive experiences and continued education now lead to revenue.
Using the stages of the support journey shown above, it is critical to map out this process as it applies to your customers, so that you can accurately track their experiences. If you’re not doing this, the ability to iterate and improve the service is severely impacted. To those that feel support is not important enough to invest their company’s time and resources, I encourage you to get on the front lines and ask yourself: how are we supporting our customers so that they can be successful with our product? The answer might surprise you.