Before the phone disconnected, I wanted to hear “it” click. In your head. Whatever we were talking about. A problem, an issue, an error caused by the user. Anything.
As a support agent, my literal job was to help solve your problems. Your success or failure was up to me at that moment. If we didn’t resolve the issue, you were sunk. When I was employed at DialogTech, we made it a point to be one of the easiest companies with which you’d ever work. That entire rationale came from the idea that supporting our customers really meant making them successful. To do that, we build out several initiatives to go beyond simply answering the person’s question.
That’s an important distinction to make, that support is so much more than just answering questions. Of course, you’re there to also answer questions, but support is helping people get the help they need now while supplying them with the resources to better handle this and other issues in the future. It all starts when we bake customer success philosophies into our support protocols, something I’ve seen great companies do with intention.
Stepping into conversations with that mentality, how do I help this person win, quickly brings people to our side. We preach empathy loudly and often at Sprout because that’s how we spend time building relationships. It really does go beyond the “how do I save the company money” thought process, which is how companies used to encourage their employees to work. We spend time focusing on the person, their success, and relentlessly develop that connection. When we do this, we end up with things like stronger relationships which allow us to walk customers back from the brink of cancelation.
I’ve personally saved more accounts than I can remember, but I didn’t do it by telling them about a product or a feature when they called or emailed to cancel. Nobody does, really. You save accounts months or years before they consider canceling. If they’ve made the effort to cancel now, they’re probably canceling. Your chance to save them is practically zero. The time spent on their goals and understanding their problem long before they’ve hit a rough patch is when you have an opportunity. If you can help them create wins around your software and call back to your relationship, they’ll reconsider ever sending that communication when the going gets tough because they trust you.
When you hit that level, great things happen. It’s the point where the person listens to you, not because you’re at the company, but because they believe what you’re telling them. This is when you’ll start to see real gains in a few key areas. The first thing is they’ll likely retain what you’re supporting them on. They’ll listen and take better notes because they don’t want to miss what you’re helping them with. It could be a recurring thing, and they’ll want to better approach the next situation based on what you’ve told them. When you’re supporting someone and gain their trust, you need to continue building on that theme. Don’t lie and establish your position as that of a trusted advisor. That title is getting thrown around a lot these days within support and success teams, but it’s the best way for you to also grow roots within a company.
One thing to call out here is that support and success are so intertwined as teams that many support members themselves will be working to support their customers. Dedicated account managers (or customer success managers or relationship managers, whatever your term) are usually the first line of defense for support requests. Once you’ve proven time and again that you’re trustworthy, your champion will make introductions to other people within the organization, allowing you to create other contact points in case you main point-of-contact ever decides to move on (one of the main reasons SaaS subscriptions get canceled). But because you’ve spent so much time helping them maintain and build success, you’re trusted to meet other members on the team.
When focusing on customer outcomes, which is a huge part of customer success, what takes shape in our support teams is something very powerful. We think about the experience of the customer and how this feels for them. Customer support goes from being an “us vs. them” model to “us vs. the problem” model. Feelings shift, empathy is shown, and people take notice. These behaviors lead to big business impacts and happier customers.
Joe Huber is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Customer Community Strategist with Sprout Social.