Customer Experience Leadership at the Table

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June 1, 2021
the road to success
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Customer Experience Leadership at the Table

Starting a CX team from scratch? Program Director Kyle Medutis shares three steps to building a solid relationship with product teams and getting customer pain points on the roadmap.

The queue is out of control and it feels like no one else at the company understands the pain customers (and your team!) are experiencing. You’re tired, scattered and slightly nervous that your best employees might leave because they're drained from dealing with the same issues over and over again. It might seem like one of those afternoons where you need to double down and just “work harder.” In fact, this type of pain is an invitation to show your leadership and bring additional value to the entire business. 

In this article I’m going to outline something that often eludes CX managers, ultimately leading to burnout and frustration: We, support team leaders, have the power to impact customer and product outcomes at our companies. There is no rule saying that support has to wait for other teams to discover and expose problems that are causing our customers and teams headaches. Support teams have the ability to define, collect, crunch, and present relevant findings. We don’t have to wait for permission to generate effective change from our own corner of the office. This article is a step-by-step guide for support managers to grab a seat at the table by using data, insights and stories to build strong cross-functional relationships, making it easier for your voice, and your customer’s, to be heard. 

Step 1: Getting Our Own House in Order

Before we can approach other teams with requests we need to get our house in order. Product isn’t going to listen to our suggestions if we don’t know which of them will have the biggest impact or have a sense of how our requests stack up against other company priorities. Pointed feedback with data allows product to make a plan to solve issues we bring up. Data without insights is just data and the product team may or may not choose to do the analysis themselves. In this situation, we need to not only collect data but also crunch the numbers to find relevant insights. Without that piece of the puzzle, other teams will not be able to understand the issues we’re facing. Ask yourself the following questions: 

Answer the following questions: 

  • How do my team’s KPIs relate to the larger business goals?
  • Are my team’s high level KPIs defined and reflective of our work?
  • Do we have the correct tools to support our customers?
  • Are we able to support our different levels of customers properly?
  • Is our agent training defined and organized?
  • What is our escalation process for both bugs and enhancements?
  • Is the QA program required? Is it calibrated properly?

You don’t have to have the answers to all these questions. As long as there is a clear plan for each item, you are in a good place to start bringing valuable information to the product team. For example, your answer to the first question is the key to making sure that when you share insights and data from your team other teams can recognize the importance to the broader business. 

When I was Director of Support at Tipalti I was starting from scratch. There wasn’t a key number to explain the overall health of our customers or team. I didn’t have a defined SLA or a CSAT score. The B2B model also meant that new deployments of our product would go out, and I needed some measurements on health per deployment. I came up with what I called a customer index. I took the number of seats a customer would deploy, and used the number of support cases generated. This allowed me to see if the deployment (coming from the onboarding team) was actually successful. It allowed me to call out our overall health based on the number of seats vs tickets and it helped with staffing too. I could predict the number of tickets based on users/admins. When I focused on the index, we made improvements to training, onboarding handoff, and customer resources. We were also able to focus on customers that had more issues and a higher index to alleviate their pain. This helped me see what levels of work the team could handle, and even defined our CSAT. This single KPI created an opportunity to measure and fix many areas.

Step 2: Define the Relationship (DTR)

When was the last time the product team did a review of the product roadmap with the support team? Is the support group grumbling about needed fixes to the product or tools? Let’s get ahead of the gaps that are between support and product by reaching out to them and defining how we work together. Just like you, these groups have other goals and objectives, and may not even realize the gaps that exist around them.

  • Define your team and define the product team. You’d be surprised how little teams know about each other - not because they don’t care but because they are really focused on their projects, almost to the point of tunnel vision, so go basic with this one. Clearly explain what your team does, what your goals are, what a good day looks like, what a bad day looks like. Learn the answers to the same questions for the product team. 
  • Set up a regular cadence for checking in on areas where your work overlaps. That could be a quarterly or twice annual product roadmap along with quick monthly check-ins to learn about the biggest pain points for each group. 

When I was Director of Support at Tipalti, I had a very specific need for a product fix. I had communicated the issue to the product team, but they had not prioritized a solution. I could have complained and simply let it be an open issue - a space support team managers often find themselves in. I knew that this fix would improve customer experience and save the support team time but didn’t have the data to show that. These are the hardest fixes to push because it’s not tied to revenue. I met with the product manager and laid out the problem. She talked to her needs to push something like this through, and we came up with a plan. With the help of the analytics team I built a model to define the problem in terms of hours and dollars. The key part was that I was willing to go further to help the product manager. With her help and my additional data, we were able to get the fix roadmapped and completed.

The most important part of getting “unstuck” was to reach out and work cross functionally with product and analytics and incorporate the needs of the product team in my request. 

Step 3: Put on your storytelling hat and dust off your megaphone 

Now that you have a clear understanding of how your team impacts major business initiatives AND you’ve set up robust feedback loops with the product team, the final step is to dig deep on customer stories and get LOUD. Your customer’s issues may sound very loud and clear to you but, to everyone at your company who isn’t looking at the queue, they probably sound pretty quiet. If you don’t change this, nobody will. 

In steps one and two you covered your basis from a quantitative perspective, sharing insights and numbers to back those insights up. Doing this is a first step to getting your initiatives on the radar (and hopefully roadmap) of other teams. The next step is about humanizing your customers. Combining the quantitative and qualitative data is incredibly powerful and, as a support manager, you have the opportunity to do both well. 

When I was Program Director for Rachio, I was challenged with highlighting the good coming from the support side. The Exec team at Rachio was interested in more feedback on what customers really thought and felt. I did a weekly round up called “Customer Stories.” I found 2-3 tickets that exemplified major feedback trends and turned those tickets into relatable stories so others at the partner could get a real sense of what that customer had gone through. I tried to have the stories roughly follow our quantitative data so there was a good balance between positive and negative feedback, that matched our customer satisfaction. The Exec team loved these stories and, coupled with the quantitative data that I was churning out on a regular basis, they delivered a really compelling message. It helped build a case around the importance of the customer experience, and was easily utilized on the product side to steer improvements.

Another partner that we work with at PartnerHero has a Slack channel called “Customer Quotes” where the support team regularly posts direct quotes from customers. They share a lot of positive messages but also mix in some customer pain points so people across the company can see the good and bad of what happens during the day to day. Also, when the product team sees your quantitative report outlining an issue they can relate it to a real customer’s words. That’s powerful. 

If you don’t have a mechanism for sharing customer experiences with a broad audience within your company I recommend giving it a try. If your company is on Slack, try creating a channel where you  share customer stories in real time - I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be one of the most read channels at your company. 

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Setting up these systems may seem daunting but they are the first step toward having a real seat at the table. Instead of banging your head against a wall you can take matters into your own hands and create your own destiny, improving the experience for your team and your customers and even highlighting your leadership at the company. If you have questions feel free to reach out directly to me


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