‘Customer Experience’ is often seen as just another department rather than a vital part of your organization’s strategy to obtain and keep customers. The customer experience should include all touch points your customer has with you. Especially in the SaaS world, you never are out of the sales cycle. The mentality of ‘pre-sales’ and ‘post-sales’ service offerings needs to be replaced with a customer experience plan encompassing both. The plan needs to be the complete flow through your sales funnel and to your Success, Services and Support teams, but also through your Product organization.
Product is often forgotten as part of a customer experience plan. Product Owners are meant to speak to customers and feed their research into a roadmap on which development will work. But these conversations often happen with a different set of users than with whom Sales, Success or Support talk, and are typically at a higher level. Real-time, specific feedback from a customer, or a trend across customers, is critical to understanding the tangible problems your customers are experiencing. Building a collaboration model between Support and Success and the Product team as part of your customer experience plan will ensure you are not only building a usable product, but a product customers want to buy and keep.
Repeatable and consistent process is key to a smooth customer experience. Every delay in next steps internally is a delay felt externally by your customers. The process does not have to be heavy weight or contain a lot of overhead; it need only provide the accountability and workflow such that customers and employees know what to expect and can communicate easily between each other.
Start by asking questions about how you want to work between your teams:
- What types of problems are there?
- Most of the time defects take the center stage in these discussions. However, what if you have yet to determine a defect exists and are just reaching a technical limit of knowledge on the Support team? Are those types of reports treated differently?
- What is the minimum level of detail to log a customer concern?
- Reproducible steps, logging, research, screenshots, etc.
- What criteria raises the priority?
- Number of customers affected, security, data integrity, area of the product, etc.
- What priority does a customer-reported defect have versus an internally found defect?
- While often not thought about, a customer discovered defect may have a higher priority given there is a real-time affect on your customer(s). It is worth considering if ensuring a customer’s smooth use of your product outweighs a different equal-impact, but undiscovered defect
- What is the expected timeline for assessment or response and who owns the monitoring of that timeline?
- What can your customer-facing team share with the customer? Providing this guidance up-front decreases the chance of setting an incorrect expectation
- How is this documented?
- Is storing your investigation notes important for future reference?
The answers to these questions will give you a great flow through multiple functions from the customer’s initial contact, through the investigation phase, to documenting the concern/question/defect, the communication plan and execution, and ultimately, resolution. Each time a customer calls, they will get a consistent experience, know what to expect, and be more satisfied with your service.
Transparency in communicating this process will vary. At a minimum the collaboration plan should be made available to all teams internally. This is vital to ensure that all employees communicate with the customers in the same way and that data/feedback are all fed into the same teams. Too often when a customer is panicked, so are the employees with whom they talk. This leads to missing information, false alarms and skipped steps. As a result, people who need to understand the status can be left out of the threads or decision making opportunities. By ensuring your collaboration process is clear and all of your internal teams agree to follow the plan as described, you will avoid these mistakes.
Externally, as a best practice customers should at minimum know who owns what part of the plan. Maybe the Success team handles non-technical issues like feature explanations, training or billing questions and the Support team is purely for product problems. If the product requires customization, is that a support issue, or handled by a Services team? Who should the customer speak with to kick off that work? Customers need to know this information and if they call or email the wrong person, there needs to be a smooth way to transition them to the correct person. Your customer experience plan should ensure the flow between departments is clear. At all points the various teams need to collaborate as one organization. You present one organization to your customers, why should you act like multiple organizations internally?
There are multiple types of assessment that should take place. Some high impact situations may require a full post mortem. Perhaps there are edge cases to your process you missed and need to assess how they fit into your customer experience. Largely, the main assessment is in what is coming from your customers and how you can prevent it.
For example, often a spike in incoming caseload is handled within Support through case deflection mechanisms, headcount increase, self-service tools or other dials you can turn to affect your support offering. Building into your process a way to assess the spikes can help determine if there is actually a product problem and save the costs associated with the support-focused approach. Trend analysis can show if a particular feature or functionality is disproportionately having a negative effect on your customers. Having a collaboration process in place with the Product team to share this information and see meaningful action, even without a specific defect at which to point, can drastically improve your customers’ experiences. Typically driven through a QA team, if you can identify a product area that is causing customer pain, you can examine the testing, ask a Product Owner or Success Manager to dig deeper into customer concerns, and can ensure the product experience is not the cause of your case spike. This type of assessment will simultaneously improve the product and give more visibility to the non-customer facing teams about how it is used.
There is no ‘correct answer’ to collaboration. Collaboration as part of a customer experience is all about consistency and effectiveness. Working cross-functionally will give a non-customer-facing team more insight to how the product is used and allow better products and solutions to be delivered. Understanding ownership and accountability throughout a situation removes duplicated effort, missed stakeholders and dropped actions. Your organization will include a collaborative customer experience you can advertise and of which you can be proud. Your customers will learn to trust your process and that you will meet the set expectations. This will improve your customer satisfaction rate, lower your churn, and overall improve trust within your organization. Cross-functional collaboration is vital to a smooth experience and should be a top priority..