How to Elevate Customer Support from Within

Historically, Customer Support has been undervalued.

It's been considered a cost to companies rather than a driver of revenue, like Sales or Marketing. After all, it's easy to measure the value of a sale or a lead. It's harder to understand the impact of a successful support experience. The result: customer support has been, in a way, neglected.

For example, Support typically doesn't have much influence over the product, yet it's still expected to assuage any problems it creates; the department has always been a fixer, a band-aid. The Product team, meanwhile, was capable of enacting change that could impact the overall direction of a company, leaving Support to pick up the pieces on the backend.

That was then. Now, the climate is different.

The market is saturated with technology, thousands of similar tools, and it's becoming harder to differentiate yourself with technology alone. Tech is table stakes, so brands that invest in their frontline people—providing the tools and training necessary to deliver faster, more personalized support—will win over the competition.

This article explores how modern organizations can elevate Customer Support from within, a process that starts with Sales, Marketing, and Support coming together and working as one.

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Enable Support, Sales, and Marketing to work together

Imagine this: A customer bought two new smart-home speakers based on the surround sound capability they saw in an ad on TV, but found out afterwards that feature isn't scheduled to be released until later in the year.

Sound familiar? These sorts of dilemmas happen all the time—and then Support is left to deliver the bad news, stuck at the tail-end, tasked with making an impossible situation better:

“I don't understand,” says the customer. “I was told this feature exists?”

“I'm sorry,” explains Support. “We're working on it, but it's not generally available yet.

The result is wasted energy, stagnated growth, and angry clients, consequences that can be avoided by aligning Sales, Marketing, and Support to create a consistent customer experience that holds at scale. Get it right and your company will stand out the way Zappos, Amazon, and othercustomer-centric organizations do.

Ready to come together? Here's how to start:

1. Agree on a customer profile.

A customer profile, or persona, will create cross-departmental consensus about who you're selling to. Because whether you're in Sales, Marketing, or Support, it's important to know your customer the same way. If you don't, how can you communicate effectively about her needs and desires, about what moves her to take action?

Crafting a customer profile that the entire organization buys into will help every department understand their role in the acquisition process.

New to personas? Here's what you do:

  1. Describe your ideal customer(s):There could be more than one. Who are they? What do they care about? Why would they ultimately do business with your company? After answering these questions, give each persona a name and a face. You're on your way.
  2. Dig deeper: Now that you have the basics, it's time to fill in the details. Why wouldn'tthey buy your product? What's their decision-making process? Understanding the nuances of your persona's psyche will help you create deeply relevant messages that engage and delight them.
  3. Determine how your ideal customer will discover your brand: To complete this step, think content. That is, what blogs does your ideal customer like to read? What social media platforms does she use? What is she Googling? Where does she get her industry news? Identifying where your customers spend time online will help you intercept their attention.

Creating personas will bring clarity to every conversation, enabling interdepartmental employees to make better, more informed decisions together.

2. Onboard new employees.

Hiring the right person isn't enough. You must also ensure that he or she understands your business: your culture, your processes, and of course, your customers. And while it's tempting to let someone with experience find their own way, sometimes it's best to pave them a path that provides context, comfort, and confidence.

New to onboarding? Here's what you do:

  1. Start before Day 1: The easiest way to do this is through a series of “Pre-start Emails” that go out to new hires a week or two before their first day. Each email should focus on a different aspect of working life at your company, from cultural elements like dress code to technical elements like tools and processes. They should work to ease every new employee into life at your organization. Think of these messages as an introduction, a friendly, “Hello, we're happy to have you!”
  2. Create an interdepartmental “Buddy” program: A “Buddy” program will help your new employee bond with his or her colleagues while providing the personalized, hands-on training that makes starting a new job easier, less stressful. Cross-departmental pairings will also open lines of communication, providing invaluable context about the company and its customers for new hires.

Whether your new hire is in Support, Marketing, or Sales, helping him or her hit the ground running will promote a healthy, well-rounded understanding of your customer.

3. Offer interdepartmental training.

People who don't communicate well rarely find alignment.

Holding scheduled interdepartmental training sessions will expose every member of the team—whether they're in Sales, Marketing, or Support—to the same information, providing a constant framework for how to think about the product and the customer. Cross-training is also an exercise in empathy, as it exposes Marketing and Sales employees to the issues Support reps have to face on a daily basis.

New to interdepartmental training? Here's what you do: 

  1. Be consistent: Train on a schedule—and stick to it. Whether the teams gather every month or once a quarter, make sure your employees know it's coming and arrive prepared to participate and learn. The more engagement you generate in each session, the more value you'll ultimately deliver.
  2. Be specific: Call out unique, departmental problems. Then walk through the solutions with everyone. These meetings are about empathy. They're about coming together, which is almost impossible to do unless you're transparent and inclusive.

Interdepartmental training—and open lines of communication, in general—will help Sales and Marketing see the customer from Support's perspective, bringing unique ideas, questions, and solutions to the surface.

Support, done right, drives revenue

Enabling Sales, Marketing, and Support to work in harmony will create streamlined and cohesive customer experiences that drive satisfaction, happiness.

Happy customers stay longer.

“Customers are bombarded with more attractive offers all the time,” writesKen Dooley, editor-in-chief at Customer Experience Insight. “They see better deals. . . Yet those are not the factors that cause them to switch from—or encourage them to stay with—a company.”

The decision to stay with a company is emotional, not logical—and when it comes to existing customers, frontline employees are the source of that emotion, good or bad.

Good support experiences create positive emotions that breed happy, loyal customers who spread the word about a business:

Bad supportexperiences breed resentment and, in turn, churn:

The longer customers stay, the more they spend.

There's a lot of evidence proving that retail customers who shop longer spend more. This effect boils down to inertia: It's hard to stop once we get going. This also applies to SaaS users.

Once a customer—physical or virtual—has a favorable impression of a brand, they're more willing and likely to spend:

  • According to Temkin Group, 86 percent of consumers reporting an excellent customer experience are likely to repurchase from their provider.
  • According to Medallia, customers reporting the best experiences spend 2.4X more annually than customers reporting the worst experiences.

But users who churn cease to generate revenue altogether.

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Invest in Support

As a department, Support has long been an afterthought. It's been considered an operational expense, a “cost of doing business.” Only recently have companies realized that Support proven is a market differentiator, capable of breeding happy, loyal customers. Customers who stay longer, buy more, and refer often.

The onus, then, is on companies to empower their Customer Support team internally. That means opening lines of communication between other frontline departments, like Sales and Marketing, enabling members from around the organization to work together, spread ideas, and solve problems.

Ultimately, if Support is to perform, it too must be supported—and that demands an investment in modern technology and total buy-in and effort from within.