My first day at HubSpot was eight years ago. I was hired as one of the first people on our customer support team and my title was “Inbound Marketing Consultant.”
On paper, my job was about onboarding customers and helping them get the most out of the product. But as anyone who has ever done any kind of support work on a new SaaS product knows, the reality rarely matched what was on paper.
Brian (our CEO and co-founder) would be on the phone making sales calls, while Dharmesh (our CTO and co-founder) would be helping customers with implementation.
There was the day we spent doing damage control after an outage.
- A product update that resulted in a 14 hour day of angry customers.
- The constant feeling of never having enough time in the day.
- The pain of losing customers who I had worked so hard to make successful.
There was very little process, we were just a group of people figuring it out as we went.
My role at HubSpot has changed dramatically since that first day. I went on to lead the global expansion of our customer support team, then became the VP of our support and success divisions. In that time, I’ve talked to hundreds of other support and success leaders, sales and marketing leaders, and founders about building customer support and customer success teams and I’ve learned that my experience at HubSpot was fairly standard.
Growing businesses follow a similar trajectory. Incoming support requests become too much and we’re forced into a reactive mode, we hire support people to solve the problem for us, we put some process in place to scale support efforts, then we put too much process in place, we figure out which parts to keep and which to prune, we become more proactive in owning customer success.
I mapped this journey out last year as it relates to SaaS companies, but there are lessons here that are applicable to almost any business:
At each of these stages there are common mistakes and pitfalls. I’ve made most of them. ?
But while it provides support leaders with a valuable map of the landscape — where they are, where they might end up, and what to watch out for — it doesn’t do much to tell you how to get to where you want to go. It’s the pulsing blue dot in an unrecognizable landscape when what we all want is the comforting voice of Siri saying, “Turn left in one mile.”
The inbound service framework
What I wish someone had showed me eight years ago was this simple framework, which my team is now calling the inbound service framework:
This framework is the map of how to get to your destination. The destination, of course, is a base of happy repeat customers who will keep doing business with you and turn into vocal advocates.
Let me walk through my thinking here…
Stage 1: Engage
Before you do anything, you need to support your customer. This stage of the framework usually corresponds with founding, early-stage, and mid-stage companies. Learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, to set the foundation for the transition from customer support into customer success.
Stage 2: Guide
Once reactive support is cranking, you can broaden your customer team’s focus. This usually happens once you’ve reached the mid-stage or growth stage of your company.
Take everything you’ve already learned to map out a full customer lifecycle, and pull out the common themes you see. What causes people to succeed or fail? Then, turn those insights into proactive recommendations your team can share with new and existing customers. Instead of waiting for them to come to you with problems, bring them suggestions of how they might best use your product to achieve their goals.
When support transforms from reactive to proactive, you save time and money, make your customers happier, and build the foundation of a trusting relationship.
Stage 3: Grow
This is the stage you want to be at. When you’re in Grow mode, you’ve figured out how to best serve your customers and are guiding them down a path of success. That means you’re probably serving a cohort of happy customers who are ready to be transformed into advocates for your business — through social proof, brand amplification, and referrals. Build out a lightweight referral program and ask your happiest customers to become case studies or references you can lean on during the marketing and sales processes.
These customers are also great candidates for upselling and cross-selling. Your customer team is once again your secret weapon. They know better than anyone the indicators that customer needs have evolved beyond the products they currently have.
Build out communication between marketing, sales, and customer service so all three teams can work together in identifying these customers, nurturing them, and closing new business.
Engage and Guide are essential foundational pieces of getting to Grow mode. Unless your customers are happy and successful, you won’t be able to transform them into advocates. But once they are … you’ve just unlocked your next big growth opportunity.
When you invest in customer service, your customers become more than just a revenue source. They transform your business from a funnel-based go-to-market into a flywheel. Your marketing team isn’t the only team generating pre-sale leads or buzz. Your customers are also doing that work by advocating for your brand. This creates a flywheel where traditional post-sale activities like customer service actually feed into acquisition and traditional “top of the funnel” activities.
The happier your customers are, the more willing they are to be advocates, and the louder they’ll be about your brand. The better your customer service, the faster that flywheel spins, and the faster your business grows. It’s a win-win-win.
Introducing Service Hub
And that brings us to the present.
Six months ago, I stepped into a new role at HubSpot, one which I have never done before in my life: General Manager of HubSpot’s newest product line — Service Hub. For the first time in a decade, I am not responsible for serving customers or building a team that serves customers, but rather building software tools that help the people who serve customers.
It would be an understatement to say that I am wildly excited about this.
First, I am building the toolset I wish that I had had as a support leader.
But second, and perhaps more importantly, this is my opportunity to build tools that transform how organizations think about customer service.
One of the biggest challenges support leaders face is the idea that customer service is a cost center.
Even at a customer-centric company like HubSpot, I faced the pressure to keep costs down. But traditional acquisition is changing — sales and marketing are getting harder to do well.
HubSpot has always been in the business of studying changes in buyer behavior, then building tools that help businesses adapt. Service Hub today is all about helping companies establish world-class service and support teams. Starting today, you’ll have access to Conversations, Tickets, Knowledge Base, and Feedback. These tools are table-stakes for any company to grow through investments in customer service.
Conversations: Over the last few years, we’ve noticed that customer engagement happens everywhere — it’s not just confined to support tickets and help lines. People don’t have the patience to call in and wait on hold. They want a conversational way to talk to you, and will do so through email, social media, phone calls, live chat, and maybe even through their contacts in other departments.
Conversations is the all-in-one tool that gathers all these interactions in one place, so your customers never have to wonder why they’re re-explaining their challenge to the seventh person today. With Conversations, your customer team can help anyone, anywhere, with the full context of who they are.
Tickets: You’ll also need a system to manage the influx of customer requests . Tickets are all about meeting customer expectations — and they’re getting more impatient by the day. 90% of consumers believe an immediate response is “important” or “very important” when looking for customer service support. And 72% of those consumers define an “immediate” response as one that comes within 30 minutes or less. With Tickets, you’ll be able to respond to customer requests in an organized, timely fashion.
Knowledge Base: Today’s consumers want to help themselves instead of waiting to be helped. We’ve seen tremendous growth in our forums and use of our knowledge bases. In fact, two-thirds of customers getting help on those forums are getting it from articles or tips created by other customers in the community, rather than HubSpot employees. When you take the time to build out a great knowledge base, you give customers a way to self-service, remove FAQs from your ticket queue, and free up your team’s time to handle more complicated scenarios. Use Knowledge Base to build simple, well-structured articles that automatically index on Google.
Feedback: If you don’t know how your customers feel about your business in 2018, you will fail. Tracking customer feedback over time through net promoter score (NPS) or surveys will tell you whether you are serving your customers better, or not meeting their expectations. (We have a team at HubSpot specifically dedicated to NPS analysis, and all our product teams carry an NPS goal.) Feedback is the guiding light that gives you a pulse on customer happiness and a roadmap for how to improve it.
We’re not nearly done! Service Hub’s first iteration has taken a big bite out of the Engage stage of the inbound service framework, but in the future, we’ll look to build more tools that make it easy to turn your happy customers into promoters.
Your customers are your biggest growth opportunity, and we’re excited to help you unlock that growth. Today’s Service Hub will help you stand up a world-class customer service team. Looking forward, we plan on taking the good, the bad, and the ugly lessons we’ve learned about customer service, success, and advocacy and productizing them so you can transform your business from funnel to flywheel.
To learn more about Service Hub, visit https://www.hubspot.com/products/service.
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How HubSpot’s Customer Service Team Became a Profit Center (and How Yours Can Too) was originally published in ThinkGrowth.org on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.