Ask this question of Tech CEOs and you can get a lot of different answers.  I can tell you from the scars on my own back as a SaaS operator, customer satisfaction is definitely not the attainment of a uniform result across all customers.  I’ve had customers who were thrilled with what I thought were completely lack luster results, and I’ve had customers surprisingly dissatisfied with what I thought were great results.  I’ve gone into conversations with the former expecting to get chewed out and instead received gushing praise, and I’ve gone into conversations with the latter expecting renewals and referrals only to get cancelled.  Customer satisfaction is not based on what you think, so be careful about defining what a good result is or is not for your customers.  Quite the contrary, satisfaction is about meeting and exceeding what your customer expects from your product or service.

Keep reading to learn about:

  • Common mistakes in managing customer expectations
  • How SaaS provider YourCause re-engineered its service delivery to reach 98% satisfaction levels and 96% willingness to rehire

Managing customer expectations and satisfaction can seem like squishy or opaque topics.  Conversely, sales figures, margins, and profit are more tangible and transparent.  So why not just manage to those numbers?  While it’s true that a lack of customer satisfaction will eventually show up in your P/L, by then it may be very difficult to course correct. If financial metrics are your primary means to measure customer satisfaction, you could end up blindsided by rising customer churn, which can kill a business. As a business grows, the organizational changes required to fix these types of problems become harder to implement.  It’s much easier to weave the best practices of customer satisfaction into your organization early on.

I see two common issues when it comes to managing customer expectations:

  1. The customer experience ‘inside the building’ (once a customer has selected your products or service) does not match the expectation set ‘outside the building’ (during the sales & marketing process)
  2. Weak or non-existent processes to listen and respond to feedback once you have a customer ‘inside the building’

With the help of the team at YourCause, I thought I would convey a remarkable story of transformation in this second area [disclosure – YourCause is one of our portfolio companies]. If you are not familiar with the company, YourCause is a Dallas-based SaaS provider that delivers the CSRconnect Employee Engagement Platform and the Orange Leap Donor Management Platform.  These solutions help employees and non-profits more effectively deploy and manage their philanthropic, volunteering, sustainability, employee engagement, and overall donor relations programs. Their client list reads a bit like a who’s who in the Fortune 500 and includes many of the world’s leading companies in financial services, travel, energy, food & beverage, ecommerce, and technology.

Entrepreneurs, by nature, tend to be passionate people.  If you’ve ever met YourCause CEO Matt Combs, you know the depth of passion he brings to helping companies, employees and non-profits with corporate social responsibility. This is a man on a mission, and back in 2014 he realized the mission was showing signs of trouble.  Complaints from end users (employees of their customers and NPOs) were starting to build in volume, and these complaints were escalating into increasingly frequent client calls to the CEO. YourCause’s Support team’s first response times (time to respond to initial customer or end user inquiry) and overall resolution times (time to fully resolve a customer or end user issue) had grown significantly. Client satisfaction surveys revealed the depth of the problem with only 56% satisfied with their account management, only 67% satisfied with on-going product development, only 77% saying they would recommend YourCause, and only 73% saying they would re-hire the company.  On top of this, only 66% of clients were engaging in providing feedback. A full third of their clients were in the blind spot so to speak.

The good news is they had a close enough pulse on the customer to surface the issue in time to correct it.

Matt knew he needed to overhaul the way the organization delivered its client experience, and he set the tone for change by being fully transparent internally with his team and externally with clients.  He published the results of their client surveys to all clients and took ownership of solving the problem.  Given the company’s growth, Matt knew he couldn’t solve this on his own.  He needed a senior team member with full-time focus on client service delivery.  As with many process issues, resolution starts by getting the right person in the right role.

Enter Odessa Jenkins – who brought a wealth of experience in account management and team dynamics – as YourCause’s new Dir. of Client Services.  She and Matt assessed the situation and implemented the following changes:

  • Separated and more clearly defined the roles of end user customer support and account management. To date, the account management team had handled all end user support. Going forward, two separate teams were established and staffed with individuals that were well suited for their new roles.  The Account Management team focused on proactively building and growing the relationship with the primary account contact(s) (the administrator/buyer of the platform), and the Customer Support team focused on the in-bound end-user day-to-day support.
  • Empowered account managers as ‘small business owners’. Each was given responsibility over a book of business and trained and treated accordingly.  As this change became embedded in the organization, behaviors shifted from expecting others to fix a problem to aggressively working internally to identify and prioritize resolution of problems. As Odessa put it, they were seeking a high touch feel with scalable delivery. Account managers now do regular outreach instead of waiting for the phone to ring.  They also moved from just dealing with issue resolution to delivering more program consultation/education (as they say, the best defense is a good offense).
  • Defined specific quality metrics to help customer support assess how they were doing. 5 key factors to quality were identified and are now regularly measured.  These metrics cover the agent’s:
    • Tone of delivery with clients
    • Ability to provide direct information (knowing what they are talking about, being an expert)
    • Level of ownership of the problem/issue
    • Ability to resolve the issue the 1st time
    • Fun (i.e. don’t just be a stick in the mud and answer questions, make the process fun for you and the client)

The team conducts weekly ‘voice of the customer’ evaluations where they review these metrics and discuss outstanding issues.

The results of implementing these changes were pretty dramatic, but it didn’t happen overnight.  As Matt recounts, it took six months for the company to get the right people in the right chairs and adjust internally.  After that, it took three months before he stopped getting client phone calls about issues.  As he only half-jokes, it took him a few more months to trust why he wasn’t getting any more negative calls. Customer surveys confirmed the impact of the new approach.  Survey participation leapt from 66% to 89%.  The jump in the rest of the metrics was just as dramatic:

  • Satisfaction with on-going product development: 67% => 92%
  • Satisfaction with account management: 56% => 98%
  • Willingness to recommend: 77% => 94%
  • Willingness to re-hire: 73% => 96%

Even as the company’s client base has increased 37%, support ticket volume has only increased 5%.  Time to first response dropped 69%, and time to resolution dropped 60%. The new process efficiencies have allowed CS agents to handle more ticket volume per agent than ever before, and have enabled the company to on-board 30 new clients (enterprise client can add tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of end users to the platform each) with only 1 additional agent.

A few key take-aways:

  • To manage the customer experience ‘inside the building’, make sure you institutionalize the process of listening to customers. Don’t guess at what you think will satisfy customers. Regularly solicit and collect feedback, and put in the effort to touch all customers if at all possible. A quiet customer is not necessarily a satisfied customer. You will build credibility and trust by putting in the extra effort to engage and understand their needs.  Where appropriate segment your customer base for high-touch, medium-touch, and low-touch account management and support delivery to ensure cost of service stays in line.
  • Define clear metrics to measure the voice of the customer and benchmark your overall service delivery. For a SaaS business, these measures will likely include lagging indicators like $/logo churn, and more leading indicators like net promoter scores, closed-loop surveys, and service level KPIs (response, resolution times, etc.).
  • If you are currently combining customer support and account management into one role, consider separating the functions. Regardless, make sure you have clearly defined internal roles, and work hard to get the right people in the right chairs.  As Odessa will tell you, customer satisfaction starts with employees that are satisfied and excited about their own roles.
  • Own problems when you identify them, and empower your customer service team internally to own the resolution. Don’t hide bad outcomes, as you will only lose credibility and customer trust.  Expose issues and turn the creative power of your leadership team and staff to solving them.