Customer Advocacy

Obsess Over Existing Customers

Companies are often hyper-focused on growth. It strikes me as misguided. Sure, you need to acquire brand new customers, but you should not forget about retention (getting your current customers to come back)

I’ve been in situations where we would bleed customers. We’d pump crazy budgets into getting more & more new customers. Rather than focus on retention and solving the root cause of why we were bleeding customers, we focused on vanity metrics, like how many users we got by throwing promo codes (free money) at them. These hoards of new users never stayed for long; they bounced once they had their first terrible, all too common, experience. Plus we alienated our small but mighty crew of power users, who were never rewarded with a nice discount or ‘thank you’ for their loyalty. 

The customers you already have took time and money to acquire. Go invest in their experience. You don’t have to “sell” them on your company; they literally already bought it. By designing an experience that creates brand affinity and rewards loyalty, you have the chance to make them life-long (very valuable) customers. 

Some signs you are doing it wrong

  • If you reward new sign ups with discounts and perks but don’t do something to reward long-time loyalty. 
  • If you pump money into new customer acquisitions but haven’t dug into why most churn.
  • If you haven’t looked at the small subset of very successful, long-time customers, and asked: “Why are they doing so well?” “What makes this group different?”
  • If you don’t talk to your power users and brand advocates. 

Signs that give me faith

  • I’ve seen a resurgence of the hand-written thank-you note.  
  • Focus on customer marketing, customer advocacy, and a realization that word-of-mouth and referrals are hugely valuable. 
  • Coupons and rewards for long-time users or high spenders. 
  • The focus on actual relationship building. Uniting the brand to the actual people who use it. 

What are you doing to invest in the people that are already rooting for your brand? 

PM’ing the Customer Experience

Last week, I showed up at Week 1 of 5 of Product School, eager and ready to learn. The more time I spend in support, the more I think of myself as a Product Manager of the customer experience and I want to get better at that. 

Photo credit #WOCinTechChat #WOCINTECH Chat
Photo credit #WOCinTechChat #WOCINTECH Chat

You can go nuts with definitions, but in short, customer “touch points” are the sum of each and every interaction a customer has with your brand. What started for me as an Operational project last year (improving our returns and transactional emails), turned into exploring possible customer touch points and making it an aim to exceed customer expectations and over-deliver every time.

Sample Customer Touch Points

customer touch points

While it depends on your company-level goals, resources, and how your organization works, our Customer Advocacy team decided to just start with what we could do #now, with zero help from anyone else. We opted to take every transactional email (receipt, exchange initiated, refund issued, etc), and make them exceptional. 

Some things we outlined before making any changes included:

  • Tasks: What is the user trying to achieve at each stage?
  • Questions. What does the user want to know at each stage?
  • Emotions. What is the user feeling at each stage in the process?
  • Weaknesses. How does the organization let the user down at each stage?
  • Opportunities: How can we make this better?

We took the above, put ourselves in the customers’ shoes, and improved. Something small and actionable now turned out to be better email communications. However, something more aspirational on our “CX roadmap” is to invest in self-service tools, like text message tracking updates, and DIY Return Labels. 

Once I mapped out customer touch points, I discovered I was wearing a Product Manager hat- identifying a problem, an opportunity, understanding pain points, and scoping out #now #next, #later developments. Some changes are scrappy, others are cross-functional undertakings. 

I love the front-lines with customers and I don’t want to lose it, but I’m looking forward to learning more about product management and prioritization so I can get better about preemptively helping users.

Create a Solid Customer Service Agent Experience: Our Support Stack

Photo credit #WOCinTech Chat
Photo credit #WOCinTech Chat

A few years ago, I hated process. I was the queen of scrappy. However, getting to work closely with Operations in the last year and a half, I’ve found myself turning into a process enforcer. People change. I love the trains running smooth and on time, and guidelines on how we operate are a big part of this.

Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat
Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat

Rules and process are not meant to hold me down; they’re here to make my everyday life easier.

Zendesk

We route all of our support inboxes (help@, support@, inbox@, pr@, etc) to Zendesk. It’s our ticket system and Knowledge Base. While I have my grievances here and there, overall, Zendesk does all of the things I need (macros, analytics, knowledge base) relatively well.

SproutSocial

We dabbled with HootSuite and Zendesk for managing social media but love the UX of SproutSocial. We run our fair share of paid ads and Sprout makes it easiest to respond to everything from one, single inbox.

TextExpander

I could go on and on about Text Expander, but I like that they are shorter and snappier than saved replies. It’s easy to paste bits and pieces of things I type often, making them super unique and personal.

Trello

I like Trello for brainstorming and ideation. For example, our Support team likes to tackle “irritating topics” each quarter. We take things that are frustrating for us and frustrating for the customer and actually do something about it. We can think aloud in Trello, then divide and conquer. We also report bugs here, although I’m not sure how long that will last. We’re feeling a need for a dedicated bug tool like JIRA or Pivotal tracker.

Slack

It’s how our company communicates and I emoji it up. We created some channels specifically for support. Our product is complex, so we often ask hardware, software, or product for updates in dedicated #support-helpers channels.

Zapier

Automation is a worthwhile investment for anything you find yourself doing more than a few times. Any bug reported goes to our #bugs Slack, for example, so that it’s on people’s radars. We also tag certain Zendesk tickets “bookmark” and have those feed into Slack for the whole team to read. The possibilities are endless.

LiveChat

We turn this on when we can, although it’s hard with a small team! Our front end engineer was incredibly helpful and used the Zendesk and LiveChat APIs to customize for us. If we are online and available for chat, you see a “live help” icon. Otherwise, we point them to our Zendesk contact form. It helps set proper expectations.

MixPanel

Asking the customer to write a bug report for you is lazy. Be proactive and use tools like MixPanel to do some detective work yourself. Here, I find information like device, OS, app version, and I can see logs of specific events the user went through in-app.

Internal tools

On that note, tools can help empower your team. It reduces friction so they can solve their own issues autonomously. We made an internal RMA tool so we can generate return labels with a click of a button. We also got our Research team to build some queries to check for product defects. Invest in tools so your support team can resolve issues quickly, without friction or long waits. Sure, reducing time to resolve is a nice to have (ours sure went down with these snazzy tools) but you’ll get a happier customer, and most importantly, you improve the “user experience” of your own Support team.

How I got on the relationship-building career trajectory

When I graduated from UCSB with a degree in Communication five years ago, I didn’t have a solid idea of “what I wanted to be.” However, thankfully, I’d learned from internships what I did NOT want to be:

  • A cog in the wheel. Doing meaningful work is a primary motivator for me. 
  • An administrator of the “process side” of Human Resources— benefits, workers comp, admin, etc. I had learned this via two internships. Thanks, work experience! 

Armed with an idea of what not to look for, which is huge, I thought that Marketing seemed like a viable route. I’d also been fortunate to be a part of UCSB’s Technology Management Program (TMP) which sparked my interest in the tech startup world. Between my Communication course work and TMP, I took classes like “high technology sales” which at the heart, was all about persuasion, New Venture creation, in which me and my team “pitched” a panel of VC investors, and “Conflict Resolution” which was the most practical class ever. I even spent my full 4th year working on a thesis on Social Identity Theory and Homelessness, in which I interviewed many house-less adults. This was a university highlight and I ramped up my empathy skills (the #1 skill I think you need in Support). 

Presenting a year of work on Homelessness Social Identity and Health
Presenting a year of work on Homelessness Social Identity and Health

Through TMP directly, I settled on an internship in the “tech startup” scene that eventually grew into a full-time opportunity:

Marketing Intern @ RightScale

This gig was my first taste of the tech startup world and I quickly transitioned to:

Marketing Coordinator, then promoted to Marketing Specialist- Social Media & Community Programs @ RightScale

Through the evolution of my role, I consistently marketed to developers, managed social media accounts, and spent a lot of time relationship-building with our biggest customers and brand advocates. While I enjoyed content creation, lead generation, and analytical work, there was really nothing like hearing a customer rave about their favorite features and I even enjoyed the lows— hearing first-hand about confusion and pain points. Most of my time was spent on social media accounts and forums but I loved the in-person community management, hackathons, meet-ups, and building a Customer Ambassador program best.

I am still a marketer today (it’s definitely a piece of me) but everyone is doing content nowadays. Everyone is doing social media. Now, not everyone is doing it amazingly well, but it’s overall saturated and very hard to stick out unless you consistently produce top-notch campaigns. On the flip side, almost everyone does customer service poorly. I saw a great opportunity to be the best-of-the-best in this space and put in my application for a 50/50 hybrid role of Community Management (my roots), with Support (a new world that I thought my skills were very transferable to):

Senior Community Advocate @ Ning

I’m thankful for my time at Ning because it was my first time debugging complex problems myself. My manager set us up with many tools, typically reserved for developers. I learned about Terminal, the Command Line, Firebug, Jenkins, and others. We were truly a tech-empowered team and that is something I now try to emulate myself as a manager. It’s not necessarily about “cutting escalation to engineering,” but giving your team the tools they need to solve problems efficiently and removing blockers whenever possible.

Next up, my time at Threadflip, an online consignment startup which shut down in 2016:

Customer Experience @ Threadflip

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-3-14-00-pm screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-3-13-43-pm

This role was more about the opportunity to join an industry I was excited about (fashion resale). While I left this place with a few amazing friends, this was my first and only time cranking out massive ticket volumes like a machine. Again, it taught me what not to look for in my next role and I left this place having a strong opinion on why it’s important for Customer Service leaders to not only support their customers but their employees too. I also learned volumes about running Operations, supporting tangible goods, and the e-commerce business.

Now, to where I am today:

Customer Advocacy Manager @ Athos

Hanging out as Pooh at Athos Halloween 2016
Hanging out as Pooh at Athos Halloween 2016

While my stint in e-commerce didn’t go the way I’d hoped, I was still genuinely excited about the prospect of a career in Support, and learned of another hybrid Support/Community Manager role in another space I love— fitness! My career has taken a few turns along the way and today I get to support an iOS app, a software piece, hardware, and apparel with sensors inside; it’s all technically complex and new problems no one has ever tackled before. 

Why I do it

A career in Support allows a massive opportunity to differentiate with smart, proactive, empathetic Support. You can also go beyond reacting to actual problem-solving by making the entire customer experience “your problem.”

Because #startuplife allows me to wear many hats, I’d go as far as saying my core competency is “relationship-building.” While sometimes it’s direct support, the heart of it all is:

  • listening to needs & hopefully being able to address that with your amazing product 
  • preemptively addressing paint points
  • improving customer experiences before the customer notices
  • education
  • taking customers from new & confused to empowered, engaged advocates

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