Industry Leaders Agree: Customer Support Is a Revenue Generator, Not a Cost Center
Customer support has gone through a noticeable evolution in recent years. While traditionally viewed as a department that racks up costs, industry-leading organizations have begun recognizing opportunities for their customer support teams to actually generate revenue. We at Guru have had some great conversations recently with thought leaders in the customer experience space and beyond, and the same theme kept coming up: support is an underutilized means to drive revenue.
Here’s how 6 leaders from companies like Shopify and HubSpot are rethinking their companies’ approach to customer support:
“I think what’s really different about our approach is that we don’t view support as a cost. It’s an opportunity to drive revenue. We’re focused on helping our customers increase sales. Their success is our success.” - Marcie Murray, Director of Support at Shopify
Shopify tasks its support team with more than simply solving problems for customers; the team’s mission is to help its customers sell more products and make more money. Because Shopify is an online commerce platform, their customers’ successes take the shape of increased sales for their individual stores. To help customers achieve that success, the Shopify online support team takes a consultative approach to every support interaction: the agent solves the immediate need, then opens a discussion about the merchant’s business goals to figure out how else they can help them succeed.
“We expect a lot from our merchant support folks,” says Dana Tessier, Director of Knowledge Management, “we expect them to coach merchants on how to grow their business, how to do online marketing, and how to use the product, but also expand around that and use the fringes of the product to sell online and grow their business.”
While some companies rip through tickets to solve problems as quickly and inexpensively as possible, Shopify empowers its customer support agents to spend meaningful time with their customers. This service-driven mindset is paying off: Shopify is on track to cross $1B in revenue this year.
Shinesty, an online retailer, also subscribes to the support-as-a-revenue-generator model. As Antonio King, Director of Experience, mentioned on the Guru blog, “Fortunately, a lot of companies have begun moving away from the mindset of customer support as a cost center. That archaic way of thinking is what stirs up a lot of the negative connotations people have about customer support.”
According to Antonio, “As an industry, we are gradually moving in the right direction as more companies buy in to the understanding that it’s important to have customer support fully engaged and fully thought-out.”
Moving in the right direction is a great start, but what about organizations that are still stuck in the legacy, “archaic” way of thinking about support? When we asked Antonio how he would counsel support leaders struggling to get internal buy in for viewing customer support as a revenue generator, he shared this powerful anecdote for how he approached that hurdle at Shinesty:
“When I interviewed at Shinesty, I looked directly at the CMO and CEO and I told them both: you can have all the aspirations of what you want customer support to be, but unless you’re prepared to back this department emotionally, financially, and technologically, we’re wasting our time. I made it clear that support will not be looked at as a cost center – we’re better than that.
“Taking that stance up front set the tone for the organization that support is equally as important as any other department, and as a result of that, we are now at the forefront of a lot of discussions,” Antonio continued. Simply starting a shift in internal behavior is the first step in making significant changes in the position support occupies in an organization. And implementing a mindset that support can drive key business metrics is already paying off for Shinesty:
“There are areas in which support has made a positive impact on revenue – such as increased average lifetime value and increased average order value – but you really have to have the right strategy in place first in order to stake out what value support can bring from a financial point of view.” – Antonio King, Director of Experience at Shinesty
Mark Bangerter, Director of Customer Success and Support at ClickFunnels, spoke at this year’s Support Driven Expo about how he empowers his support team to drive revenue. We caught up with him after the event to dig deeper into his strategy:
“Our agents contribute to revenue in two specific ways,” said Mark. “One is that we actually end up saving a lot of customers from canceling. Often, customers come to us because they’re frustrated that they couldn’t figure something out. If we can help them solve their problem, then they stay with our company, and we’ve stopped real revenue from leaving our door.”
“The other way we contribute to revenue is in upsell. We have some services and other add-ons that can help our customers get much more value out of our solution. Often, when we’ve delivered a great customer experience, the customer is highly receptive to hearing about what else our company and our solution can do for them. Think about how hard it is to get time with a prospective customer, or even a customer unless they have a problem. But they come to us willingly, and for free, every time they engage with support. Why not treat this as a revenue opportunity, assuming of course that we have solved their problem quickly and effectively?”
“Our agents contribute to revenue in two specific ways: One is that we actually end up saving a lot of customers from canceling. [...] The other way we contribute to revenue is in upsell.” – Mark Bangerter, Director of Customer Success and Support at ClickFunnels
During a recent Guru webinar, Michael Redbord explained how his Service Hub team at HubSpot tracks the impact customer support interactions have on revenue. His team uses a metric known as Service Qualified Leads (SQLs). Support team members flag SQLs when they have interactions with customers that lead them to believe that they would benefit from additional features or a plan upgrade. Those leads are then passed to salespeople to follow up on. This approach gives both teams a chance to do what they do best, without eroding a customer’s trust. Service professionals don’t have to do any actual selling, but they are credited for recognizing an opportunity to upsell or cross-sell.
“My firm belief is that service people know they are not salespeople, but they’re also not stupid. We know as service people when the solution to a customer problem is to buy something else. I think it’s totally fine to plant a flag and turn to a salesperson and say, “Go dig here, there’s something there.” Those SQLs passed from CS or support are some of our highest converting leads sources. That gives you a very clear sign of money made by CS. Talk about ROI calculations.” – Michael Redbord, General Manager of Service Hub at HubSpot
Roz Greenfield is an expert in all things enablement, and noticed this shift in the support mindset from the sales side. While she originally focused on the practice of “sales enablement”, she explained to us in a recent webinar that “Companies are realizing that everyone in customer-facing roles needs to have the same level of enablement as salespeople. Salespeople were often the first people companies focused on enabling because they’re the revenue generators, but post-sales is revenue-generating as well and retention is just as important for revenue as what you’re bringing in the door.”
Because of this perspective shift on revenue generation, Roz now focuses on cross-functional enablement. “I’m happy to say that the industry is evolving, and that companies are starting to look at it as revenue enablement and not just sales enablement,” said Roz. “The reason why this is evolving is because the customer journey is an infinity loop. [...] Customers today expect anyone they interact with during their customer journey, both pre- and post- sales be able to provide the same level of service and knowledge. They don’t really care what the person at your company’s title is or if they sit pre-sales or post-sales. They expect everyone to be able to give them what they need when they need it, with the same level of service and expertise.”
“Very often there is money being left on the table in terms of expansion and growth. Usually the people who are talking to the customers and working on adoption and usage are on the post-sale side of the house. That’s low-hanging fruit in terms of growth. You want to make sure your post-sale individuals are able to recognize growth opportunities and have the skills they need to play it out.” – Roz Greenfield, Level213
At Guru, we’ve always known that customer support is a revenue generator.
“While historically considered nothing more than a cost center, customer experience departments are starting to be seen as critical ties to creating the positive, enduring relationships companies want to have with their customers,” said Guru co-founder and CEO Rick Nucci in a recent post for the Forbes Tech Council. “Emphasis is starting to be placed on customer service teams because let’s face it: They have the most touch points with the customer, lasting long after the initial deal is closed. They play a massive role in customer loyalty and propensity to renew or upgrade services.
“Despite this growing trend, many tech companies today that build offerings for customer service teams focus on creating technology that distances them from the end user. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to either deflect the customer away from engaging the customer service agent, or to create bots programmed to simulate conversations between companies and their customers. [...] Putting algorithms in between support and your customer just lowers CSAT scores and frustrates customers instead of actually solving their problems. That’s why at Guru, we focus on using AI to empower people to have better conversations with customers and prospects that actually drive revenue.”
Rethinking your approach to customer support
If you’re not on the same page as these leaders in terms of empowering your support team to drive revenue, it's time to rethink your customer support strategy. Customer support agents are people with whom your customers voluntarily interact; give them the freedom and the tools they need to make the most of those interactions. Any support strategy that prioritizes speed and quantity of tickets resolved over quality of customer conversations is a missed opportunity. You have the opportunity to see your CX organization deliver better value to your customers and help realize key business outcomes. All it takes is a small change in perspective.