110: Fireside with Craig Stoss

110: Fireside with Craig Stoss

Craig Stoss talks to me about “flipping Support”. And that’s not a Brit euphemism – he really means it: turning attitudes to Support on their head.


I’d love your thoughts on this episode! Comment below, and like/love/share/support if you found this inspiring, thought-provoking, or useful!

Charlotte Ward 0:13
Hello, and welcome to Episode 110 of the customer support leaders podcast. I’m Charlotte Ward. Today I welcome Craig Stoss for a fireside chat. I’d like to welcome back to the podcast today, Craig. Craig, it’s lovely to have you back for a fireside episode. And today I think you said you wanted to talk about kind of flipping support on its head somehow. So welcome back. And maybe you can start by telling me kind of exactly what that means.

Craig Stoss 0:56
Thanks. Thanks, Charlotte. Glad to be here. Yeah. Something that’s been a recurring theme recently for me is just the idea of, you know, the metrics we measure within support being all about kind of the negatives, we talk a lot about deflection, we talk a lot about, you know, self care and trying to use knowledge bases to remove tickets. And, you know, we talk a lot about handle time, which is ideally low, you know, which means less engagement. These are all negatives, and and we do it because traditionally, support has been considered a cost centre. And so having less demand is a good thing. And I think what I’ve been, you know, through conversations with, with my peers and leaders, senior to me, I think I’ve started to change that that mentality that support should be focused on providing the quality service to the demand that exists not on reducing that demand. And I’m just trying to think a lot about ways of how to actually accomplish that.

Charlotte Ward 2:07
Yeah, that’s really interesting. Because I guess, there there are lots of ways we can talk about reducing demand out there. But ultimately, I think I think you’re right. I think that somewhere reducing demand loses the bond that you can invest quite a lot of money quite a lot of time in, in building with your customers and therefore, can I think, be an impediment to their to strengthen their relationship with you to the health their relationship with you and your, your company and your brand? Right.

Craig Stoss 2:44
Yeah, I think I think that’s exactly it right is what are you losing by reducing that demand if, if you didn’t, you know, turn off, some do something drastic like turning off a support channel for whatever reason, and Then you say all the demand went down? Well, that doesn’t mean, the demand, the demand to your team went down. But that doesn’t mean that the demand doesn’t exist somewhere out there. And it’s just not being seen by you. You know, a core correlation of that is, you know, let’s say you do something drastic to your support. That could be viewed as negative to the customer experience. But your smiley rate goes up. And you can say, Oh, well, the people who are contacting us are happier with the offering. But what cost? What is a 10%? Increase in smiley rates actually mean to your your business? Does it correlate to retention rates? Does it correlate to new business? I don’t think people can answer that question. I spoke with a leader A while ago who had a really neat concept of, of customer experience to cost as a spectrum. And the idea being that, you know, you could provide the ultimate customer experience and it’s going to cost a tonne of money, or you could provide no cost experience and it’s not going to cost you much money and He’s sort of a Where do you want to sit on that spectrum? And I think that’s an interesting way of looking at at the concept is that how much money are you willing to spend spend for how much customer experience and and that’s not about reducing demand that’s saying I want to set a bar, and I want that bar to exist and whatever that bar costs, I’m willing to accept that as the cost of doing business to provide that service.

Charlotte Ward 4:27
I think that I like the idea of the spectrum. Definitely. I don’t think it’s scalable to maintain it in terms of like a one for one growth on both ends of that you you can’t for ever spend the same uplift in money and see the equivalent uplift and experience I think, so I think that one thing that we’re always looking for in support and customer experience in general is is economies of scale. Right. So I think I think that is like for me often what talks about when we talk about deflection is making those economies of scale that deflection or reducing demand one way or the other, helps make those economies of scale. So how do you think making economies of scale sets with the idea that the more you spend, the better experience you have?

Craig Stoss 5:24
Yeah, but I think you could also be high scale and still maintain a certain level of engagement. So I think that’s, that’s how I would counter that is. You know, for example, I talk a lot about in many of your podcasts about the idea of supporting customers where they are in real time support in the channel they’re in whether it be in a mobile app, a website, whether it be, you know, through through pop up ads based on certain actions or trends or auto creation of one of the things I did early earlier in a previous role of mine was have a assist. To set up where we would recognise a trend inside our application, and we could, in real time, send a note to the customer and say, Hey, this might make you less successful. There’s legitimate reasons why you might want to do this. But if you don’t want to do this, you don’t understand it. And you might want to go in and change it. And and that was highly successful programme because there was a ticket created with all the context with all the widget numbers and all the things that support needed. And so when the customer responded and said, either, you know, I don’t understand what you’re talking about, or Oh, you’re right, can I get some help changing this? I didn’t understand what I was doing and support me at least traditionally, it’s provide traditional support without having to ask all those probing questions. Oh, well, what what widget Are you on and what screen Did you click on etc. And that was a hugely successful customer experience, because we were we were analysing the things that customers were doing and engaging with them. But that was a scalable thing because that could have happened 1000 times overnight? And if half the customers read that and ignored it, because it’s like, Nope, I meant to do that on purpose. Awesome if the other half said, okay, yep, you’re right, this is a mistake. And maybe only 10% of them call called us because the other one said, Yep, they’ve given me the support I need. And it’s right there all the knowledgebase articles and they solve their problem. And so we maintain high customer experience, while not losing the engagement piece. And so I think you can apply that to anything. I’m a huge believer that this new IoT world is going to bring forth all sorts of creative ways to do this, you know, have your, your TV self diagnose, have your thermostat, provide information to the support departments instantaneously. You know, all of these things that are connected now, you don’t need to call it a number and provide serial numbers and provide an error. codes and test five or six different things because they’re going to have all that data, and SAS and IoT, to me are the two areas that in the next five years, you’re going to see the most drastic changes in support, because you can you can do the engagement piece at very high scale without reducing the customer experience. Hmm,

Charlotte Ward 8:23
yeah, I see what he’s saying. Everything that you described there is really just taking away the mechanical aspects of the support. Journey, isn’t it? So you don’t have to spend time on a phone getting that serial number or describing what you were doing? Actually what you’re left with if you if you automate all of that one way or another is the human side of support. And I know we’ve talked about this before, but that’s the economy of scale that you provide there is still a reduction in the the donkey work side of the demand, right? And actually building on building on the value side That’s the flat, isn’t it?

Craig Stoss 9:01
Yeah, that’s the clip that you start to say that there is an amount of demand for our services, we’re going to provide those services in a really high engaging way that it’s a smooth customer experience. without all the clunkiness. I mean, I had a I have a physical product in my house, and a few months ago, it started malfunctioning. And I, I couldn’t find a way to contact their support team on the website. So I tweeted them. And to their, you know, to their credit, they got back to me within about an hour and said, and said, oh, we’re sorry to hear your products malfunctioning. Can you explain the problem? And I did give him a bit more detail. And then it was like, Oh, no, that’s definitely going to have to be a support issue. Here’s an email address. So I emailed that email address. And the first question was, can you explain the problem and I thought, Oh, I just did that. But okay. And then after displaying the problem, they said, ooh, this is gonna need some troubleshooting steps. Could you call this number? Well, I think you know where this is going. I call the phone number. And I and the first question was, could you explain the problem? None of those systems, their social care, their email care and their phone care, were connected. And and now they solved my problem. And I still have that product. And I still still use it to this day. But what a horrible experience and what a what a what a not scalable experience. That was, right. I mean, three individuals had three had individuals had to waste their time asking me questions, and I had to waste my time explaining those questions. That’s the piece that I think we need to flip on its head and connect those systems talk to tech, don’t even say email this thing. Why isn’t the Twitter support person going to their email their their customer care group and saying, Hey, you know, here’s the problem. Can you email this person directly or call them or arrange a phone call, whatever it might be? You know, those things are the systems we need to create because, because because that That, to me, is how companies are going to succeed in the future.

Charlotte Ward 10:57
Hmm, yeah, absolutely. And I mean that the story you described there is not only not scalable, it’s it’s, it’s very, very far from from being efficient even at the most basic one to one level on that spectrum you just described and, and yet it’s such a common story, isn’t it so many times, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you a story. It’s not quite as nice. Not quite as far as that. But we left an energy supplier a year and a bit ago. And what they tried to obviously convince us to stay we didn’t want to stay simply, we got a better price elsewhere. A full year after we terminated that contract. In the middle of a pandemic, they sent us a physical check for a refund for a slight overcharge on our account, and it was one pound 36 I think it was or something which is in us what’s that that’s like $1 60 or something. Okay, I’m not their customer anymore. But not only are they so inefficient that they made the mistake, they made the miscalculation. It’s taken them a year to get the difference to me. It’s a minuscule, relatively minuscule amount. And they expect me to walk it into my bank is physically in the middle of a pandemic. The next layer of inefficiency here is that three days later they sent another check for another shortfall. And I must, I must have got the photos and post this on LinkedIn very soon because the remaining shortfall after the initial calculation that was on the second chair was something like 40 Pence, or like, like 6060 cents or something 60 us cents. And so now I have two checks that are not worth frankly, they won’t pay for my bus fare into town. Not I want to ride a bus right now. But neither can I really be bothered to walk those to the bank?

Craig Stoss 13:06
Well, and I mean, I mean especially in the UK, your banking system is so much better than than ours here in Canada and North America right. So, you know, the direct deposit thing should be the simplest thing to do. You know, here we are a little bit behind the days when it comes to nice Electronic Funds transfers. All right, but but you know, imagine that experience on that how many hundreds or thousands of customers of theirs or ex customers of theirs have had that experience and and the cost of that. I remember at a previous company of mine, someone actually they had an award for innovative processes. And someone actually won an award because they they found it an inefficiency where the processing of certain invoices was done in one country, but they had to ship the the paperwork to the country, the local country, to be mailed out, don’t use it using the physical mail. And so they were spending thousands 10s of thousands of dollars on sending stacks of paper between various countries that then had to be then mailed out again, it’s in the cost of the delivery. And and someone you know, said, This is insane, why are we sending PDFs to the countries and having them, print them and spit them out themselves? Like, why are we printing them physically and sending them out? And these are the things that that I think companies need to look at. Right? And that particular example is probably not a support example. But it happens in support all the time. You know, we, we do these things thinking we’re, we’re providing value to the customer. But what we’re really doing is is either blatantly showing them the door like, oh, we’re deflecting this, we’re not going to talk to you. I actually just posted speaking of LinkedIn message where I received some For my bank, and notice that was wrong. There was a there was an incorrect amount on a notice in my email. And it said right that the first line of email before it even said, Hello, Craig was do not reply to this email. And nowhere in the email did it tell me how to contact the bank to correct this error. But even before they said, you know, dear Craig, they were telling me, I stopped. Don’t talk to me. We don’t we don’t we don’t have it. You don’t have a way of contacting us? Yeah. You know, like, what an experience that is, right? How, how impersonal is that?

Charlotte Ward 15:32
I had a very similar one. I just I wish there are as many hours in the day as there are poor customer experiences that I collect because I could just post about this all day long. I had a really similar one to you, except that the subject of the email said something to the effect of thank you for contacting support, we really value your time. The first line was do not reply to this email. That was a bad That was a bank as well. It’s no surprise.

Craig Stoss 16:03
Well, and it’s, it’s it’s true everywhere. Right. And I think that that’s what that’s that’s the crux of all of my this kind of new way of thinking is, you know if we started embedding support and attributing supports value to the business as opposed to this whole cost centre mentality, say, Okay, I might use the smiley example. So what does a 10% increase in your cset? rating? mean? Does that mean 10% revenue gain? Does that mean 1% revenue gain? Does that mean a negative gain? And I don’t think many support leaders could I could tell you, you know, I think if someone were to say, you know, do that on the sales side, how much revenue does every additional sales rep pay to pay into the company? How much the advantage of the value of a sales rep, I bet you there’s VPS that would know that answer off the top of their head without even thinking what about support What’s the value of an additional support? Rep. We always are fighting for head counts. Whenever whenever I’ve been a leader in any in any company that we’re always focused on head counts, we have to fight for every single headcount. But I’ve never been able to argue, well, here’s the value of that. You’re here’s how, here’s how these things impact the business because we’re a call centre. And so it’s all about deflection over lessening that demand. And I got started having a lot of conversations recently about handle times, you know, if you went into a conference room full of support leaders and said, you know, handle times better to be high, better to be low, and well, I would bet 90%, if not more, would put up their hands and say low is better. But that’s a lack of engagement. You’re, you’re saying I want to engage with my customers less and then we’re applauding ourselves when we do it. I had a team a long time ago, but that was that was actually a very goal that was actually an OKR for the team was to reduce handle times. Wow. And make sure you want handle times to be, you know, effective, right? You don’t want these tickets to last for days and months and years. And, but, but is that really the goal? The goal is to solve the problem and if that problem takes hours or days or weeks or whatever reason, then that should be acceptable. People shouldn’t be penalised. I mean, I’ve been compensated as a variable comp on average handle time being below a certain rate. I looking back at that I actually think that Yeah, awful way to compensate a support at the time it made sense because that was the goal of the company.

Charlotte Ward 18:42
And it’s so easy to gain. Not that nothing else is which is just me. I mean, I’ve given workshops on how meaningless that kind of target is for any individual contributor and certainly for leaders like it’s just so easy to gain any metric has As it becomes a target ceases to be a valuable metric. There you go. Good hearts law. And, yeah, I mean, I mean, that’s crazy for a start. And yes, we would love our handle times to be lower. But I just, I think I think it was the last panel we did. Possibly, very recently. I certainly talked about this a lot of the last year. The fact is when you’re talking about handle times, the story I usually tell is it is what it is this, which I really hate saying because it just sounds so defeatist. Yeah, but but but as I handle time, this is how long it takes genuinely now, it might be that next week, it takes us less time, in which case all we’ve done is become more efficient through the right kind of efforts. That you know, are not you hope detrimental to the experience, right, but you do everything that you just said if you remove the donkey work, then your average child Time might go down, in which case you’ve got a whole new world of this is how long a ticket takes, but it’s not a target.

Craig Stoss 20:08
Well, and I mean, you know, the take the drastic example, right? If you want to reduce support volume to zero, just fire your support team. Right? I mean, I mean, yes, that’s the way to do it is is to just say we don’t offer support, and then your support demand goes to zero. And by every metric that that’s a good thing, right? Because demand is lower, you know, which is which is obviously ludicrous. But, and there’s all of these things have that happy. Happy medium, right? I mean, handle time should be relatively low. I’m not arguing that it should be high. But it shouldn’t be a goal to make it lower arbitrarily, it should be low because you’re improving the product or you you’re using your data more effectively. See, your conversations can be lower or your development process allows you when you submit defects to be very quick Say, you know, this defect were either never going to fix or it’ll be fixed by the next week and you can give the expectation to the customer directly. And and you know, handle time is low all of those things contribute to good handled times and and you want them to be low but you don’t want them to be arbitrarily low there’s no there’s no magic world that says if no, if your tickets seldom greater than one hour a year, you’re an awful support team that’s that’s nonsensical. And I think we just as support leaders, I just feel like we need to think about these things from the customer. One of the things that’s always baffled me here, and it’s actually one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about supporting why I love these conversations is that it’s probably the one unique experience that everyone has, at almost any age, you know, from from kind of even an early age when your mom and dad gives you some money to go and buy candy from the store. But But race, gender, nationality unifies us as we’re all consumers in some way, some less some more, you know, whatever it is, and, and, and yet, we all put up with poor experiences along the entire way. And that it’s always been a kind of a conundrum for me like, it’s a baffling thing for me because I just feel like for such a shared experience, we would be demanding service levels be higher, we would be demanding that our experiences better and and then, you know, you and I, as support leaders have an opportunity to change that for at least a segment of the population. Albeit probably relatively small segment. Um, you know, and yet we don’t we don’t we don’t do it. We don’t some of us just don’t do it.

Charlotte Ward 22:47
I think I think it staggers me how few people recognise that we as you said, we receive support and customer service almost every day of our lives from quite often buying offers Candy at the store, right? And I’ll give you a little insight into my hiring strategies, my hiring protocols here. One of my favourite questions begins with even though we’re support professionals, and we’re all customers too. And I, I asked anyone who I’m looking to hire, tell me about a time that you had a great customer experience. Tell me a time you had a crappy customer experience and tell me why both cases. And in the case of the bad one, what could turn it around? So if anyone’s listening to this and wants to come an interview with me, that’s a big heads up to a potential question that might pop up. But everyone should be able to answer that question and everyone, regardless of whether you know what the tech stack is, I move on surely gonna ask you to support or you know what the product does or you’ve heard of the cast company or you can you know, you can read our website, you should know what a customer experience feels like. Because You’d have to be a hermit not speak customer somewhere, right?

Craig Stoss 24:04
I asked I asked the same thing I asked people to define customer experience and and then and then separate that into what’s good about what’s what’s the good person customer experience and bad I do that myself because I I think that’s ultimately it, you know, I’ve worked in pretty technical support roles and I’ve worked in more Customer Care focused roles, you know, less technical but more focused on the, on the experience and the journey and and it’s one of those things where I’ve truly found that if you people it’s a mindset, you can customer experience and that helpful. attitude is a mindset. It’s very hard to teach and it’s it’s something that comes from I don’t know, where I wish I did is I would I would go to wherever that demographic exists and start my hiring process. But I mean it even in myself when I went when I was reflecting kind of back on on how my career’s progressed You know, I, one of my first jobs was teaching computer courses internet specifically, it was back in the 90s when the internet was becoming a thing. And it was teaching senior citizens how to use the internet to get government forms and to get to get their pension checks and things like that. And that was it was one of my first roles and I really loved that I could combine technology, something that I loved working with, with, with the, with the customer with the people side of it. And in my entire career, I were only worked one job that wasn’t customer facing it was a four month internship. I mean, it was for a bank. So probably there’s probably a bit of a skewed result here, but I hated every second of it. I hated seeing that cube not talking to a soul I hated staring at a spreadsheet. And it was it was a QA role where I was writing different testings requirements. And it’s you know, I just I just realised right there and then I cannot work in a career that doesn’t talk to people. Like I just can’t do that. And, and I’ve, that’s the only job I’ve ever had in my life that wasn’t a customer facing role. And so why that attitude is in me and I have no idea. I love to talk. That’s probably part of it. Uh huh. But I mean, they’re definitely it’s definitely a mindset. And when you interview someone that has that mindset, you really can tell you can tell the difference and goes, Yeah, absolutely. And I think those are the people that are going to change this industry. And as we bring it back to the topic, we’re flip this on its head.

Charlotte Ward 26:29
Yeah. And and actually, just I think that when I support this, when I support a person, or potentially great support person, even if they’re new to the role, can describe a great customer experience. And it it kind of shines out of them as well, because they get it right, they get they get the link between what they’re telling you and what they what they can do to provide that as well, I think, and the best answers I’ve had to that question. Tell me about a good customer experience you’ve had As a customer, are the ones that are really personal. And they’re the ones that you you know, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it’s not necessarily I called my broadband providers technical support line, it’s, it’s the people who have got stories about their, their favourite restaurant or, or the shop where they like to buy clothes or whatever. And this particular the way this particular person makes them feel is quite often a part of it, you know, I go there because when I when I go there, I feel like this, I feel they are, for instance, paying me attention, I feel that I am important in that moment. And all the other things I feel they are listening and all the things we know that ultimately are great qualities and support. And I think the people who recognise that that carries from a restaurant to like a highly technical support role. I think they are the people who make great for people.

Craig Stoss 27:57
Yeah, and that’s absolutely true. There’s a rescue When I, when I used to live in New England, that I went to, not often but I mean a few times, probably a few times a year. And I remember one particular time I went and the the waiter satis at the table and, and he said, you know, Mr. stauss, the wine that you typically order is no longer on the menu. But I have found a suggestion that is similar to that one. And, you know, may I recommend that one to you? And I was like, what a, which is what a neat touch. Right. And it’s true, I hadn’t thought about it, but I typically went with the same bottle of wine when when I had dinner that place and, and and yeah, I mean, does that does that make me want to go back? You know, more? Maybe not, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to go back less. That fits nicely into the the customer effort, score type model, right, where if you read the effortless experience where they talk about the loyalty Caf Where, where, you know, there is a certain amount of loyalty and, you know, going above and beyond. That’s great. But it’s not sustainable because customer loyalty can only get so, so high. And that, to me was an embodiment of that situation. And imagine that on a support call. Right? Oh, you know, last time you called in you were talking about this feature set. And, you know, how did that is that all working now, like, Can Can I confirm that that’s good so we can get onto this new issue? Or, or is that potentially related to this new issue? You’re talking to you now? I mean, something as simple as that. You know, the value. It’s hard to measure that. But it doesn’t take any more time. It won’t increase your handle time. And it certainly won’t. It will certainly will decrease. retention and it might not increase it a lot, but it certainly won’t be.

Charlotte Ward 29:44
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s not to say it’s not too great a leap to systemize that either is it you can there are technology, you don’t have to have your support folk holding that knowledge in their head. tools will do that for you, but you can grow Write the same experience. And ultimately, which is ultimately the point, the customer feels the same whether it’s your local waiter who happens to know you, or maybe he just did have a screen in the back. And who knows,

Craig Stoss 30:15
the customer? Probably doesn’t matter unless it feels fake right there. Yeah, you failed. Yeah, where it’s like, you know, this is this is a force interaction, you know, that felt very genuine. And and, you know, it was it was a good experience. I knew a new sales rep. Who used to keep a Google notification list. I don’t even know if they still do that in Google News. But I used to keep a Google notification list of all his prospects. And so when things came around, if they got extra funding or what they maybe had an IPO or whatever they might do, he would make sure to send his prospects a note and say, Hey, I heard about your funding heard about you know, this, this great thing that happened your company Oh, you know, you merged with this other company. Congratulations, whatever it is, you know, again, he did very little extra manual work there. But what a nice touch, right? Those the types of things that I think are, are possible and support. And that I think that’s the model. I think this has been happening in sales. And I met with another leader a couple weeks ago who was talking about how he was hired to be the director of success at a company. And he came in and looked and was like, we don’t, you don’t need a success team. Your problem right now is customers are unable to get the support they need. And so they had like one or two developers kind of doing part time support. And so he said, I’m not going to worry about we can’t worry about the retention side or the or the the business side of relationship management side without first assessing, you know, that your customers are getting the product they need and getting better are able to be successful with the product, you know, from a from a usability perspective. And so, you know, he was hired in this role and he went to his boss said, I’m not doing this role, I’m going to give you a support team first. And then once the support team is done, we’ll gauge when we should add a success Rep. And I was like, that. That’s awesome, right? Because that’s not I don’t think that would happen. In many cases, people come in, oh, well, success is here to get renewals. And let’s start success. And let’s start making sure customers renew, you know, and retrain. And, you know, where is assessing what the business actually needs is a problem is probably a bit more important. And I mean, we could talk for another, another half an hour on my thoughts on success and renewals. But the The point is, is that your customers support is there to make sure that your your customers can be successful with the product and your, your, your success team should then take that outcome and make sure that they’re getting the full advantages and the full value from it. And you know, if we do those things correctly, we better really done?

Charlotte Ward 33:02
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Craig, you’re you’re absolutely right. We could talk for another half hour about that at least. Let’s do that another time. I’d love to have you back. Unfortunately, we are out of time today, and you didn’t even bring a fireside today. Wow. I mean, I don’t think it was summer or something. Um, maybe next time.

Craig Stoss 33:28
Thanks so much.

Charlotte Ward 33:29
Awesome. Thanks. Lovely to talk to you. Talk to you soon. That’s it for today. Go to customer support leaders.com/110 for the show notes, and I’ll see you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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