From The Editor | September 7, 2018

3 Software CEOs Share Advice On Customer Support Operations

Abby Sorensen July 2017 Headshot

By Abby Sorensen, Chief Editor

Customer Service Through Mobility

My favorite question to ask when I’m talking to someone who works at a software company is, “What keeps you up at night?” Almost everyone mentions culture, hiring, or employee satisfaction. Most also mention growth strategies, sales/marketing, or acquiring new customers. Lately I’ve been hearing more people mention customer success. What’s keeping software companies up at night is, you know, the usual.

In the past 12 months, I cannot recall one single person who has mentioned customer support. Is this because every software company’s customer support operation is best in class and operates so efficiently that no one worries about it? Is it because members of your customer support team are so easy to hire, train, and retain that this team runs itself? Is it because software users don’t care about customer support? I don’t think so.

I think the software industry as a whole isn’t talking about support because it’s just not a trendy, sexy topic. Investors don’t stroke checks because they are awed by support operations. Offering 24/7 support is table stakes for many types software companies now, as is offering free support, so fewer and fewer companies are offering those features as differentiators. My two cents is that you should be talking more about support. In fact, you can read my recent article about it here, plus there are smart people in the Software Executive/SoftwareBusinessGrowth.com community like David Duncan and Tom Sweeny who also talk about the importance of support.

It’s important to keep close tabs on your support operation. Don’t take my word for it – ProfitWell’s Support Benchmarks show 15 percent better retention rates for companies perceived to have good customer support.

Still don’t believe me? Here are three software CEOs – each of whom serves on the Software Executive editorial advisory board – explaining why they care about customer support, why it matters to their customers, and how they measure its effectiveness.

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Alessandra Lezama, CEO of AbacusNext

Q: How do you prove to your employees that customer support is a central focus for the company?

If best-in-class support isn’t your number one priority from a customer care perspective, it won’t make the top five. Operationally, your organization needs to revolve around support and its mission of client success. In our new headquarters we built this principal into the physical layout of the office, placing the support team right in the middle of everything, surrounded by the engineering, development, and professional services teams that must be marshaled and coordinated by support in order to meet clients’ needs quickly and efficiently.

Q: How do you leverage the strength of your support during the sales process?

A: We’re proud to offer our clients 24/7/365 support entirely based in the US and Canada. Client references are a routine part of the sales process, as prospects often want to speak to a current client to hear about their experience with a particular product, but we also give references specifically for our support team. Encouraging your prospect to talk to an active user who’s experienced a serious support issue might fly in the face of conventional sales wisdom, but it works for us because testimonials from clients who’ve experienced our commitment to their success when they need it the most is the most compelling pitch we could ever give.

A: We look at the typical indicators, like average time to ticket close, client evaluations that are solicited after every closed ticket, and other metrics that relate to the performance of individual technicians—but as a whole I believe the KPI that support can have the greatest impact on is client retention. Nothing makes users go shopping for alternatives faster than lack luster or inadequate support, and conversely, nothing keeps them in the fold better, even in face of stiff competition, than consistent first-class support.

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Kevin Kogler, Founder & CEO, MicroBiz

Q: What are the top metrics you use to measure the effectiveness of you support team?

A: We use a cloud-based CRM system that offers a wealth of data to help manage our support organization.  But given our size and management bandwidth, we focus on a handful of key metrics:

  1. Response Time – One of the philosophies that we think helps our customer support stand out is our focus on immediately responding to customer's requests.  Response time is the best measure of this.
     
  2. Ticket Volume – This provides information on both the effectiveness of our support team as well as the overall usability and quality of our products.
     
  3. Cases Per Agent – Over long time periods, this provides insights into the productivity of different support employees.  This includes phone, chat, and email interactions.  We are careful to adjust for things such as the difficulty of calls certain agents take on.
     
  4. Open Tickets – Unsolved support issues lead to customer unhappiness and churn – so we closely watch the number of open tickets.
     
  5. Customer Satisfaction – We send out a short survey when we close a support ticket.  This provides great insight into overall customer satisfaction with our product and support.

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Patrick Campbell, CEO & Cofounder, ProfitWell

Q: How do you ensure your support offering stands out?

A: We've seen in the data that support has become a bigger and bigger differentiator, because customers just expect more from us with our products. At ProfitWell we make our support standout by focusing religiously on response time and going beyond just answering the question. Response time gives the "wow" factor when talking to a customer, because even if you're not able to answer their question right away, you clearly show you're attentive and care. You need to make sure it's not just an auto-response though (like most support software provides), because then it doesn't look like you're attentive at all. 

Going beyond just answering the question is also incredibly important. There's an enormous difference between showing someone the answer and then creating an actual experience that gets deeper at what the customer is really trying to do with their request or question. You need to do more than just paste a link to your help docs in an email. You need to answer their question, but then give them additional context to go deeper on how you can help them, because then you reinforce your expertise and show the customer that they're more than just a number or a task to be cleared.

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For more advice on customer support from your peers in the software world, be sure to subscribe to Software Executive magazine (it’s free). Other members of our editorial advisory board will tackle this topic in our October 2018 issue.