By Sara Caldwell, Head of Support
The easy answer for why support organizations don’t create meaningful, sticky connections with their customers is time -- there’s not enough time to invest in over-helping, not enough time to channel customer enthusiasm into customer retention, not enough time to develop proactive solutions.
At Neverware, we’re focused on what sociologists define as the three conditions to relationship-building -- 1) proximity, 2) repeated, unplanned interactions, and 3) a setting that allows people to confide in one another. Basing our support strategies on these three conditions points us towards efficient and meaningful ways of building relationships with our customers, empowering them to not only try our products, but thrive using them.
It’s hard to connect with someone you haven’t met (though not impossible). It’s your freshman year roommate, or a co-worker, or a friend of a friend, that form the pool from which relationships start.
While we aren’t able to personally meet all our customers, and we aren’t a pop star, we do recognize the first condition necessary to a bond is proximity. We seek to be as accessible and present as possible.
With our first product, we had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to provide hands-on implementation support for our first cohort of customers. The lessons learned from interacting with teachers and students using our product, as well as seeing our product perform in varying network environments, allowed us to quickly feed important feature requests directly into the product pipeline.
As we scale and change our product offering, proximity no longer means stopping by with donuts. However, in order to build the trust needed to retain customers, we’ve focused on two major areas in our support metrics -- first response time, or how long it takes for us to address a ticket once it’s opened, and issue resolution time, or how long it takes to actually resolve the issue. We’ve found over time that the first metric has a similarly high correlation with customer satisfaction as the second -- people are more likely to report being satisfied with our level of service if we respond to them quickly than actually solving their incoming request. It’s a powerful recognition that (virtual) proximity is critical to success and connection.
Repeated, unplanned interactions
Proximity isn’t enough to create a connection (you can breathe a sigh of relief, subway train riders). It’s the people that we are able to see over and over again, without specific plans, that move into real candidates for connection. One of the reasons church, yoga studios and work are such a treasure trove of friendship is that they provide opportunities to interact and get to know someone organically, over time.
With customer support, creating repeated, unplanned interactions means providing a rich set of self-service resources that proactively address customer needs. Customers don’t always need to be looking for a positive interaction -- we find ways to create them in unexpected ways. A customer crusing for information about the Google Management Console’s integration with CloudReady on our site will also find information about compatible apps in the same section, as we anticipate what might be a follow-up question. There are user groups on our support portal, allowing new customers to see what our existing partner base has found helpful or useful in using our products.
We’ve also just launched a product section to our blog, where we post information about new releases and help shed light on our product development process.
We want customers to encounter our product and our organization in many ways, both expected and unexpected, and allow them to find usable, interesting information wherever they look.
A setting that allows people to confide in one another
Implementing technology in the classroom can feel really hard. Teachers, principals and district leaders are juggling conflicting priorities, on tight budgets, with really high stakes. Between the lines of the support tickets we receive is the message that the educators we work with want a simple, streamlined experience so they can get back to the work of educating students.
So while it’s relatively rare to get a support ticket that actually includes conversation about challenges, we know that true empathy and partnership for our customer means we listen intently and adapt our resources accordingly.
One of the most important aspects of providing this type of support is keeping the interactions with our support desk low-effort. First, we make it easy to contact us through multiple channels, including phone, email, and live chat. Secondly, we strive to over-help, anticipating the needs of our customers. For example, we developed comprehensive features and exceptions lists for each of our compatible models (linked through our certified model list), ensuring that customers can find the information they need about their specific models with a single click.
There’s also something to being human in the interactions we’re having -- not assuming prior knowledge of our product, being as open and transparent about our challenges as possible, and proactively checking in with individual customers. It can be as simple as doing what you say you’re going to do that builds trust and respect.
How do we know these tactics are working? We measure customer satisfaction and retention at every stage and interaction, from small scale “how did we do?” questions after closing tickets to larger-scale collections of Net Promoter Score data. In our work, we’ve discovered that it’s not first resolution time, or responsiveness, that’s created the most loyal customers, but second contact avoidance -- the ability for us to empower customers to answer their own questions and anticipate their needs ahead of time. Those actions, stemming from our experience of creating robust relationships with our partners, continue to light the way forward for our support team, and the organization as a whole.