This past year was dubbed “The Year of the Customer,” and it’s no surprise. After all, the importance placed on customer experience (CX) by businesses and consumers alike continues to increase at a rapid pace with no sign of slowing down. A recent Walker study indicated that while only 39% of organizations have identified a C-level executive responsible for CX today, that number is expected to more than double to 81% by 2020.
On the consumer side, I’ve observed customers have more power, more freedom of choice and more demanding expectations than ever before. In fact, according to 2017 research conducted by Microsoft, 54% of consumers have higher expectations for customer service today compared to the year before.
As a serial entrepreneur with nearly 40 years of high-tech marketing and management experience, I’ve witnessed the incredible growth of CX as a key business differentiator. In particular, as the co-founder and CEO of a CX optimization solution provider, I’ve seen firsthand how customer support and success professionals (or, as I like to call them, “customer heroes”) are at the forefront of making stellar CX happen.
For the sake of efficiency, I’ve observed that many companies today are turning to automated tools and chatbots to replace customer-facing agents. But in doing so, they’re stripping away a valuable human point of contact: the people who interact with their customers each day and are on the front lines of cultivating the company’s relationship with them.
These customer support and success professionals play a critical role in creating a positive post-sale customer experience. Although these two teams often get grouped into the same bucket, they engage with customers in distinctly different ways. Customer support agents resolve specific issues in a timely manner with empathy. They assuage customer confusion and frustration at the moment it matters the most — when customers reach out with problems. Customer success professionals, on the other hand, tend to be far more proactive. They reach out to customers and collaborate with them to ensure customers are able to achieve their goals using the company’s products or services.
Despite their differences, support and success, each contribute greatly to customer satisfaction and retention, which in turn impacts the business’s bottom line. According to a study by Bain & Company, “A 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.”
Because my company is in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space, I’ve also found that customer experience is both an opportunity and a pain point for many SaaS companies and the subscription economy as a whole. SaaS and other subscription-based businesses must minimize churn. Their valuation depends primarily on their ability to generate a strong annual recurring revenue (or ARR). Any time customers reduce the amount of money they’re paying or, worse, quit paying altogether (aka “churn”), the ARR is going to decrease, likely taking the company’s valuation down with it.
But that’s a “glass half-empty” perspective. Looked at differently, the ability to keep and even grow revenue from existing customers is going to increase ARR and valuation. Buyers tend to be more open to paying more for a product or providing more information if they also receive a better customer experience, according to a 2018 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In this way, post-sales customer support and success are very much a revenue driver, as well as a reputation driver.
I believe customer support and success roles are only going to become more critical as the industries they support continue to grow. Gartner predicted that, by the end of this year, SaaS-driven revenues will reach $85.1 billion. SaaS companies will obviously be counting on their support and success agents for long-term viability. But to make this happen, these same companies must provide their agents with the tools they need to successfully provide top-notch CX.
Customer relationship management applications, knowledge bases, ticketing platforms and a myriad of other software solutions enable agents to provide more personalized interactions. (Full disclosure: my company specializes in this type of software.) But this is ultimately a double-edged sword. With more and more applications to learn and systems to navigate, agents are forced to wade through copious amounts of information across disparate databases to find the answers required to solve customer problems. This time-consuming endeavor can ultimately backfire and sour the customer’s experience.
I believe the best way to overcome this obstacle is for business leaders to be very thoughtful when implementing new technology. In addition to considering data privacy and security, it’s important to consider how easy the software will be to actually implement and use. Moreover, managers must think critically about how well the new technology will integrate with the company’s existing customer-related software to ensure agents are well-equipped but not overwhelmed. After all, happy customers are profitable, repeat customers — and happy agents get you there.
Every year might be the year of the customer, but let’s endeavor to also make 2020 the year of customer support and success agents. These professionals are essential to business success, and leaders looking to ensure the continued health of their bottom line and longevity of their organization must invest in them by equipping these heroes with the proper resources.