Why Fast Customer Service is a Must-have in 2021: Growing with Speed and Quality

Customer churn peaked in 2021, and businesses are scrambling to find the secret ingredient of retention. The answer lies in the speed of service. Customers expect to be heard and catered to within minutes, and digital-first CX is the key to delighting them. In this conversation, Ramesh, Kat, and Susana discuss the benefits of a high-quality, high-speed service strategy, and the tools businesses will need to implement it.

Kat Olsheske

Sr. Manager of CX, OpenPath

Susana de Sousa

Sr. Manager of Support, Loom

What's in this interview

  • Why CX is directly linked to growth in the post-pandemic era
  • Why the shift to online is a blessing to businesses looking to deliver great CX
  • How brands have maintained pre-pandemic levels of service through 2020
  • Speed of service: the new north-star metric for customer service teams
  • Best practices to deliver high-quality service at lightning-fast speeds

 

 

Part 1: Customer service is transitioning from a cost-center to a profit-center

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): To start with, I’ll give you some context around what we want to talk about today. So one thing that we believe is that 2021 will be the year of change. And what we are noticing is that more than 60% of consumers across the world, and even more so in North America, are trying new brands due to economic pressures, stores closing, and changing priorities. So these customers are now going online in their search for better and safer ways to transact with businesses. And that translates to tremendous growth opportunities for companies that provide excellent customer service. With blurring lines between sales and service, every customer interaction has become an opportunity to sell. In fact, some of our clients are seeing 70% of sales related queries come through customer service channels. 

So given this entire context, how is your organization currently viewing sales and service? Do you find that increasingly, customer service agents are doubling up as salespeople and guiding prospects towards purchasing your products or services? And does this create the potential for customer service as a profit-center?

Susana de Sousa: That’s a great question. And there’s no doubt that support departments are often seen as cost centers. That is accurate. The resources that we spend in support are definitely a cost to the business. There’s no way around that. However, the message here is that being a cost center and a growth center are not mutually exclusive. So at the end of the day, IT support experience shouldn’t just be about solving an issue. It’s more so an opportunity to help customers discover more about your product. At Loom, specifically, we’re not just fixing issues, we’re preventing new ones from happening in the future. 

Also, every interaction that we have with our users or paid customers is an opportunity. To give you a concrete example, if a Loom customer contacts our support team, our first mission, obviously, is to delight them with a fix to the issue that they reported. But then if we’re successful, we then have the opportunity to help the customer discover more use cases and unlock additional value. Whether that is by upselling, whether that is just by explaining more use cases or features. The value is the most important thing here. We believe that our superior customer experience is a key competitive advantage and that sets Loom apart from its competitors.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Kat, how do you approach this? What’s your take on customer service having potential to generate revenue?

Kat Olsheske: I have a similar sentiment to Susana’s. Here’s an example. If you’ve paid attention to how teams are scaled, you’ll see that the sales team is scaled quicker than the support team is. This has a lot to do with support being a non-revenue-generating function. This is an opportunity for leaders to create a revenue stream out of support – for instance, I created an enablement team as a branch of support that started generating revenue. You need to get creative on how your support team can impact the business.

Sales brings the customers in. Support should be what makes the customer stay. I will refer to OpenPath Access Control, which is a dinosaur industry. They’ve been here forever, you hear of other companies who've been around for years doing the same thing. And it’s not one of those industries where good customer service is the number one goal. So for us, being able to deliver that allows our customers to make the right choice while choosing between similar products. It's definitely a deciding factor for people to purchase. But it’s also a factor for customers to want to stay and help you grow your business and spend more.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Personally, when I go to a supermarket, somebody might walk up to me and ask me if I want something. That is a sales activity, right? Do you try and think about it that way? That is, is there an opportunity to deliver proactive support, where you find opportunities to cross sell, or upsell? Or have proactive conversations with your customers, instead of waiting for them to come to you with a problem? That typically has aspects of sales and growth associated with it as well. Is that an expectation that’s being created, or a conversation that’s being had right now in your organization?

Kat Olsheske: It’s definitely being had. Post-pandemic, most businesses are experiencing hyper growth, with everybody wanting to use stuff again, travel again, and purchase again. So we’re trying to decide between staffing and making the most of our resources. And this is where some creative solutions come up where you can be more efficient with what you have, create proactive solutions, solve the problem before it even becomes a problem. That way, you don’t need to necessarily staff more to support the volume, you just have to make smarter decisions. Susana?

Susana de Sousa: We’re certainly having the conversation around how we can be more productive, and how can we tie that dollar amount to our support team to help with upgrades and revenue as well. One thing that stands out to me is, during those conversations, we wanted to make it seamless and not forceful. So there should be a customer experience where, if you have a conversation with the customer, it should be completely natural. You shouldn’t force an upgrade on them.

Part 2: How B2B customer service differs from its B2C counterpart

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Kat, you’ve had experience working in B2C and B2B. Do you see a difference in the way support operates between these two segments? Also, post-pandemic, are there any shifts that you might be seeing?

Kat Olsheske: There isn’t an extreme shift, but the type of support offered is different in terms of volume. For example, for OpenPath, there’s a B2B and B2C side of the business. B2B consists of installers who buy products, go to the buildings, and install access control systems. So they're more tech savvy, they need more hand holding. That’s why we have phone support for them, because they need more one-on-one support, versus B2C, where the end users are just using the product and not installing it.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Susana, you worked at AirBnB in the past, right? How would you compare customer support there versus Loom?

Susana de Sousa: Yeah, they’re two very different worlds. It's very different providing support for a software application/product, versus answering the phone and speaking to a family that’s waiting to check into their AirBnB, but it’s midnight and they’re locked out. There’s more urgency, it's very sensitive. But the foundation is the same: you want to deliver extremely impactful support, that not only solves issues, but that is educational, and that creates customers for life. So even in very different worlds, you can apply hospitality support to SaaS support and create fantastic experiences where you’re delighting customers over and over again.

Part 3: Service quality matters – service speed matters more

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): So would you say that speed is more critical for B2C, rather than B2B service?

Susana de Sousa: Speed is important for both. Everyone wants to have a great support experience. And part of that great support experience is not feeling blocked. And the whole point of having a support experience is to unblock customers. The speed factor plays a huge part in the satisfaction of the customer.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): This leads me perfectly into my next question. At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is not just provide great support, but provide great support at speed, because time is money. And therefore, we analyzed 107 million customer interactions from Freshworks’ customer service product, Freshdesk, and we found that speed of service is the most critical factor in determining customer customer satisfaction. In fact, everyone recognizes the importance of cost and the importance of faster customer service. Often, organizational roadblocks hold most companies back. A few examples of such roadblocks are how organizations invest in sales and marketing for growth, while saving costs on customer service, leading to staffing crunches, extended wait times, and backlogs. 

What are the challenges or roadblocks you faced in trying to bring faster customer service to the forefront of your organization’s priorities?

Kat Olsheske: We’re in a day and age where everybody wants immediate gratification, right? So we’ve talked about this previously: speed is not something you can fake. Regardless of how nice you are, or how courteous you are in talking to the customer – if you replied slowly, or if you didn’t get back to them right away, it always leaves a bad taste. There are definitely tools that I’ve implemented to help with that. 

We've launched omnichannel support now, which is actually unheard of in access control. We make it easy for the customers to find help, regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. If you have a phone, call us. If you can email, email us. If you can chat, chat with us – we’ve set it up. Each of these channels get you the right answer. We’ve got help articles and bots set up that can guide you to a fix to your problem. Do you need tier-2 support right away? The bot senses that and connects you with a human agent. And likewise, with email, we automatically route support tickets so they reach the right agent faster . Susana?

Susana de Sousa: I agree with what Kat shared. I think it’s so important to be where the customer is, and be smart about triaging and routing support requests. And you also mentioned challenges and roadblocks that we face: trying to bring customer service to the forefront of the organization’s priorities. 

I wanted to share something very anecdotal. Loom’s leadership team is very customer centric. So discussing customer needs is just never an issue. One of our company’s core values is to lead with transparency. And that is literally applied to every decision that we make. 

We believe that, when information is open and accessible, we’re able to make better and faster decisions. It can be really hard to focus on the support team’s needs if we don’t quantify our impact, or show the return on investment. There’s many ways that we can do that. We can start by putting a dollar amount on the impact of support on revenue. For example, do we have an understanding of how many times the support team is helping customers upgrade? Are they upselling new features or products? Are we using data to paint a clear picture of the work that the support team does? Are we bringing anecdotal evidence to the leadership team? Are we sharing actual customer feedback that influences how the product gets built? 

All of those things matter a ton. Making sure that we’re tracking the right metrics and showcasing the team’s performance to the leadership team is incredibly important as well.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Susana, you mentioned that, in Loom, your support is efficient, educational, and human. How do you define those support pillars?

Susana de Sousa: Here’s how I think about it.

  • Efficient: Speed plays into this. But we also make sure that we are where the customer is, and that we can speak the same language as the customer. We need to be accessible, which I believe is also a topic that we’ll talk about in a little bit.
  • Educational: It means that if someone comes to us with a question, we also want to educate them on other questions. If someone tells us “Hey, my video isn’t recording”, we want to fix that but also educate them on other features or other use cases, like “Hey, have you noticed how you can use Loom to add a CTA or trim your video to not include this beginning?” 
  • Being Human: Loom is all about adding that human element. We’re all about bringing our personalities into work communications that may be via email or Slack communications. But at Loom, we can just be ourselves and communicate in the way we would in an office environment, but we can do that at scale and asynchronously now, which is awesome.

Part 4: Using technology to accelerate customer service responses

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): How has technology helped solve for speed in service? How do AI, bots, and other technology play a role in your support processes? 

Kat Olsheske: I wouldn’t necessarily say a huge role simply because it varies depending on the industry. There are a bunch of different tools out there that you can implement to potentially help with speed, but you also need to know your audience. I know bots and AI are the big thing now. But if you’re servicing customers who aren’t tech-savvy, bots may not be well-received

So yes, there are definitely tools that we’ve used and are currently using, bots being one of them. We’ve also used complex routings and rules within our CRM to help speed up the response process. But we’ve also tailored it – for example our B2B clients just want to jump on the phone. So we’ve created routing specifically for these installers so they can get to someone quicker. We call it priority queuing. So they can basically jump the line. 

But for B2C, it’s just your average app user who’s maybe just locked out of their gym and just wants to get in. Here, we make it less complex. 

Susana de Sousa: As Kat mentioned, it depends on who your customer base is and the type of product that you’re looking at. We’re big believers in automation, because it’s not easy to support 30 million users. So we have to find ways to help us provide helpful, friendly, and efficient support at all times. We just like to focus on our Help Center, or chatbots. Those are the two customer-facing automations, or self-serve resources that we have right now. We’ve been able to decrease headcount needs by two people just in the first couple of months after implementing our chatbot. And as we train it, we expect it to continue helping us keep the team lean, and our customers happy. 

We try to automate as many workflows as we possibly can. Because that directly means less wait time for our customers, which as we mentioned before, is a big factor in customer satisfaction. We do that with a chatbot. We trigger certain responses based on the use of certain keywords. So in terms of results, our automation strategy helped us deflect about 40% of support requests using self-serve resources last year. And this was very important for us because it allowed us to stay focused on scaling documentation and automation instead of spending a ton of time hiring and onboarding. We call it ‘wait and automate’. Those are words that I definitely try to go by as much as possible because they help prepare you for the future.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): But at the same time, it’s important to be human as well, and do handoffs at the right time, so that the customers aren’t left frustrated. Being smart about that matters a lot.

Here’s an audience question. We get a lot of customer feedback, and we share it with each team. But it’s rarely considered by the product team. What’s a more efficient way to share it? For example, should we create a special meeting to discuss it and define a roadmap? How should we integrate customer feedback into product functionality?

Kat Olsheske: You need to be able to identify trends. Because there’s going to be a lot of feedback. But at the same time, your product team does not have unlimited resources. They have to fix issues and also put out new features. 

So for us to be able to get to the product team and make those interactions impactful, we need to come prepared with data. When you have customer feedback, you need to start tracking trends. How many customers are reporting this feedback? Based on that, what’s the size of the account, how many users within that account are impacted, or how many total users overall are impacted if this feedback is not addressed? From there, you can then start creating your own priorities to receive this feedback. 

Creating a special meeting is definitely a good road. I meet directly with product and engineering leaders and highlight the customer feedback before it even becomes an issue. I’ve created a tagging system, it’s nothing new. It’s just the P-system, a lot of places use it. So when I go to those meetings, I tell them, “Hey, this is a P1”. So it’s super high level, a lot of people are impacted. There’s no workaround. Here, you're speaking the product team’s language, right? So they understand that better. Or they won’t necessarily know what to do with feedback, because they’re not in the trenches, like us. They don’t know what the impact is. 

Part 5: Look beyond CSAT: Defining new metrics to gauge service quality

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): I’ll bring up a contentious subject. Our research suggests that speed is the most important factor influencing CSAT scores. So what are your thoughts around that? 

Kat Olsheske: I’ll take this because I have some very strong feelings about this. But I definitely think CSAT is not the best metric. With CSAT, somebody could be having a bad day and just take it out on your team, regardless of whether they offered the best support, or the customer may just not have the answer. So they leave bad feedback, which affects CSAT. Or maybe it was a very good interaction and the customer just doesn’t leave a CSAT at all, which also affects the overall number. You can have a lot of room for error. So response time is a bit more impactful, it tells a bit of a real story versus CSAT.

Susana de Sousa: I make sure not to look only at CSATs as an indicator of customer satisfaction, but ensure that it’s considered in combination with other metrics. As Kat mentioned, First Response Time is a great one to consider. But at the end of the day, each team and each product is going to have its own specific set of KPIs that just work best for them. 

At Loom, we’re exploring alternative ways to measure customer happiness. Maybe Customer Effort Score will work. I’m sure that we’ll have something to share about this later this year. So stay tuned.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Something that I’ve been noticing is that Customer Effort Score is becoming a really important aspect. Despite this, when you report to your organization at a leadership level, do they still consider CSAT as a north star?

Susana de Sousa: CSAT is not our north star, for sure. We prefer to look at the number of customers that we actually have helped versus the ones that we couldn’t get to – we look at backlog and first response time. We look at CSAT as a secondary metric that fluctuates: if we can get back to customers quickly it tends to be higher, and vice versa.

The reason it might have dropped is, maybe we were understaffed, or there was a bug or an incident. These are things that are outside of my team’s control. So we don’t use CSAT as a measure of whether we are doing great or not. We look at the quality of tickets. We do reviews, we make sure that the team is trained, we make sure that everyone knows how to do the job, that they can find the information that they need.

 

"CSAT is not our north star, for sure ... CSAT is more of a secondary metric that helps us explain what is going on in support. And it’s a strong indicator that something else may be wrong, and it needs to be fixed."

Part 6: 5 ways to deliver high-speed customer service

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): What you would have realized over the entire conversation is that speed in customer service is extremely important. It’s as important as anything else. It’s not that speed in customer service leads to greater customer satisfaction. In fact, speed and customer service itself is the most important thing to measure. You also look at first response times, and how quickly you are addressing customers' issues, and nailing those metrics automatically leads to satisfaction.

 

5-steps-to-speedy-customer-service

 

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): Here's how businesses can deliver fast service:

  • Make your service accessible. Ask yourself: How are you ensuring that your customers are finding it easy to reach out to you? Are you available on multiple channels? Are you using messaging-based support? Are you providing a chatbot? Are you providing self service or do you have a knowledge base? Do you have live chat enabled? All of these are immediate support channels that also make your customers feel comfortable and believe that they get immediate responses. In fact, if you think of the Amazons and the Ubers of the world, they are heavily self-service focused. And the reason they do it is also because that provides fast service. 
  • Go automation-first. It’s easier said than done. But the intent has to be to go automation-first. And the tickets that you cannot solve using automation-first approach should be those you should look at figuring out what’s the right time to handoff to a human. 
  • Shift from reactive service to proactive service. Think of a scenario where you’re driving a car and your car is up for service, you’re probably not conscious about that. But the company that’s providing the car, or the customer service team, can be proactive and say, “Hey, there are some issues cropping up. We are tracking some data on your car, and we feel that it’s up for service”. Now that’s proactive This way, you can actually embrace automation as well. For example, think about Google sending you an email saying that your storage is going to run out, and you need to upgrade quickly. 
  • Empower your agents. One of our most important suggestions is around empowering agents, as much as you empower customers. Empowered agents will result in empowered customers. And being smart about using AI, canned responses, and finding out quick agent-assistance solutions are extremely important in providing fast customer service.
  • Refresh your metrics, like we were discussing earlier around CSAT, we need to start looking at Customer Effort Scores and how easy it is for customers to reach out to you. And that that becomes the most critical aspect of measuring service instead of the standard approach of using customer satisfaction. 

In fact, we’ve developed a customer service speed test that will help you objectively gauge your speed of service. If you want to find out how fast your customer service is, go ahead and take the test. Meanwhile, Susana, Kat, what do you think resonates most to you? What do you think is the most important thing which will lead to speedy customer service?

Kat Olsheske: To me, making your service accessible is important. With OpenPath, as I mentioned, it’s a dinosaur industry, where most of the support team’s phone numbers are hidden. Unless you are a paying customer, you can’t even talk with customer support. 

We changed this by plastering our number everywhere. You can email, you can chat with us, you can even message us on social media and somebody will get back to you. That was very important to get people engaged and know that we really care and value them. 

It also depends on what stage your company is in. If you’re very new, your five steps may be very different. For us, it’s about making service accessible. People know about us, so people can reach us easily. Automation is not even important at this stage for us. But we want to make sure that we’re there and we answer quickly. As your company evolves, your five steps will also evolve. Because at that point, you have more customers. You have more agents, hopefully, and your priorities shift. All of these are good, but to me, making your service excessively accessible is what resonates with me and will be for a while.

Susana de Sousa: Accessibility is important to us, too. We definitely like to be where our customers are. We want to make sure that we speak the language of the customer, that we have the proper tools to communicate. For instance, sometimes video may be better than text. So we use Loom for that, of course. We try to make sure our communication is as human as possible. 

Automation is definitely a big one for me. But I should point out that this only applies if the automation does not feel like customers are dealing with a robot – automation that feels smart and helpful. If companies want to do automation right, it needs to be personalized. And once again, in our case, by adding video, we can add a human element to an interaction that otherwise might feel a little bit dry. So it's really important for us to create content that is impactful.

Ramesh Natarajan (Host): I completely agree, it is important to have empathy towards your agents as much as the customers. In fact, something that I wanted to add is that in terms of empowering agents, one of the things that we are also looking at is to ensure that we provide omnichannel service. It’s not enough to just be available across channels. But it’s also important to have a single timeline across every channel you provide support on.

You might provide the opportunity for customers to contact you through messaging, through email, through chat – but on the other side, agents shouldn’t have to be burdened to check every channel. And it’s extremely important to make a single timeline available where agents can just look at queries and answer them. So if your support is already multi-channel, you should ensure that it becomes omnichannel as well.