Turning Customer Support into Competitive Advantage

Customers today have more power than ever before. With review websites, “like” buttons and instant rating systems, both good and bad news about a company’s service can travel far and fast.

Customer service expectations are changing, too. Companies that deliver a friction-free, seamlessly satisfying experience have raised the bar for everyone else.

As a result, healthy customer relationships are extremely important to a company’s success, especially in the FinTech space, where money is in play and emotions can run high. Reliable service and support are critical to maintaining the strength of a relationship and a source of competitive advantage.

Céline Junke and Avi Warner of Zendesk gave a primer on customer support at one of this year’s Ynext Incubator bootcamps. Zendesk provides a software platform for customer interaction that allows companies to scale their support as they grow. Based on their experience with thousands of client companies, Celine and Avi shared some important tips that startup companies can put into practice relatively easily.

  1. Connect in the right channels. Allow customers to communicate with you via the channel of their choosing, and be prepared to answer them in the channel they used for their inquiry – whether that’s by phone, email or text. Even LinkedIn or Facebook messaging should be options.
  2. Help customers help themselves. Interestingly, customers may not always want to speak to a live person. They’ve grown accustomed to getting answers online without having to wait or interact with anyone. Tools like customer portals, knowledge bases or community forums can often answer questions without having to open up a dialogue with support personnel. And as customers interact with community-driven resources, companies can glean insights from common themes, experiences and complaints.
  3. Embed support directly into the product. Provide a help widget or a live chat button so the customer can make an inquiry or generate a support ticket without having to switch out of the product into a separate interface.
  4. Every interaction is a branding opportunity. Take advantage of each engagement to remind customers of the value you provide and how customer service is a cornerstone of your company.
  5. Foster team collaboration and improve performance. Equip support teams to collaborate and share information easily so they, too, can learn from each other’s experiences, anticipate customer issues and agree on the best solutions.

From a cost standpoint, self-service is by far the most cost-effective level of support – provided it is user-friendly and leads to satisfactory resolutions. Live chat is relatively inexpensive and is typically where Zendesk advises its clients to begin. Agents can work on multiple support requests at one time, and are often able to resolve 50 to 75 percent more requests in a day than voice-based support. Conversely, email support is ultimately the most costly for companies because of the time spent going back and forth in order to generate the information needed to address customer issues.

Junke and Warner also advise early-stage companies to factor support into their plans. Entrepreneurs should be willing to spend time with customers to learn their experiences and foster good communication. You’ll be able to determine fairly quickly whether customer support duties can be added to an existing position or whether you need to hire new full-time support positions. Third-party support providers are always an option, too. But today’s automation capabilities make it fairly easy to implement effective support strategies early in a company’s growth.

Above all, don’t treat support like a necessary evil. Think of it not as a cost center, but as a value-add — one of the best ways, in fact, to strengthen customer relationships through positive engagement.