By Bernice Locsin
CALL centers capture our general attitude toward customer service: we wait.
Companies take action only when prompted by a phone call, e-mail, or a social media post — usually negative — about their product or service.
Based on this model, customer service is a knee-jerk reaction: You act when called upon.
I also began with a reactive, rather than proactive, approach toward customers.
As employee number eight at Sprout Solutions, a human resources technology provider, I began by handling account management with our clients. Whenever they had an issue, I would either work to solve it, or if necessary, escalate it to our cofounder and CEO, Patrick Gentry.
Though this kind of account management is common in the Philippines, it’s not ideal for either party.
Clients feel neglected after the sales process and fail to maximize your product. And instead of learning how to use its features, they are forced to fumble with it through trial-and-error with occasional guidance from a company representative.
The much better approach is customer success, a philosophy I learned from Ayori Z. Selassie and Melinda Gonzalez, two leaders from Salesforce.com, when Sprout participated in Acceleprise, a four-month accelerator program that focused on software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies in Silicon Valley.
Companies that practice customer success proactively reach out to clients and do whatever they can to help them get the most out of their products.
Commonly used by SaaS companies, customer success resulted in more renewals, upsells, and even more impressively, referrals: they were so satisfied with how you helped them leverage your product that they elected to become ambassadors for your brand.
Since the concept of customer success is still new in the Philippines, it would help business leaders to understand best practices for application to the local context.
Create measurable goals together. The concept of success is inherently abstract, so you must collaborate with the client to explicitly define what it means for them. We then document this in writing. Examples of goals include lessening payroll disputes by 80%, decreasing payroll processing from 4 days to 3, or ensuring that 99% of employees see their payslips on time.
As we achieve these, we then move on to higher-level goals related to reporting, analytics, or recruiting. With these, too, we make sure that our goals are measurable, so our path to success is always clear.
Force proactiveness through process. It can be challenging to adopt a proactive approach, particularly when most Filipinos come from an account management or customer service orientation. It’s thus important to create processes that encourage proactiveness essential to customer success.
At Sprout, as an example, we have regular health-checks that our customer success managers must regularly do with clients, so we are always on the lookout for how we can further help them.
Pinpoint the roadblocks and clear them. Achieving goals with your client is great, but just as important is identifying what went wrong.
When the issue is on the client side, you cannot just defer to the idea that the customer is always right: You must speak up.
If they have an issue that has stood in the way of the goals you set together — such as an outdated policy or a cumbersome process — you must tell them. Though it may be challenging to do so in a culture that values saving face, customer success extends especially to instances where clients get in their own way.
Design with customer success in mind. While Sprout’s solutions work out-of-the-box for any company in the Philippines, we often encounter unique challenges with particular clients that get in the way of our goals.
In one case, a food and beverage client had a shift in the morning, closed in the afternoon, and opened again in the evening, but our system could not yet account for this “broken shift.” I thus escalated the use case to our product team, and they iterated our system so it could read two shifts in a single day.
Customer success refers to your orientation toward all clients, but it is defined by how well you adapt to each individual one.
Customer success must be a company-wide priority. At Sprout, I now formally head the department called “customer success,” but if only my team members were concerned with it, we would not get very far.
Customers interact with your company at multiple touch points, including everyone from marketing and sales to product and admin, and Patrick encourages every person along this value chain to always have the customer’s success in mind.
Customer success must be a top-to-bottom initiative, and everyone must strive to embody it on a daily basis. When every person at your company sees to it that your clients succeed, the process is truly transformative: They will go from being only your customers to being the biggest advocates of your brand.
Bernice Locsin is the Head of Customer Success at Sprout Solutions, an HR and Payroll automation company built for enterprise teams in the Philippines.