Let’s set the scene – I’m sure you’ll recognize it. You’ve been hired as a customer service manager, tasked with delivering great customer service.
But your VPs and C-level execs are focused on profit margins and productivity. They want to cut your budget. Customer service is a cost-center, it doesn’t impact earnings, and investing money into it is like pouring money down the drain… isn’t it?
Luckily, you know different.
You know that exceptional customer service has more impact on the rest of the business than your colleagues realize. You know that customer feedback helps build a better product. You know that building relationships with your customers turns a one-time purchaser into a loyal repeat-buyer. And you know just how powerful delightful customer service experiences can be to drive positive word-of-mouth.
But how do you present this to those who are focused on ROI and efficiencies? Maybe you could send over some case studies – like these! – that show just how investing in customer service can impact the bottom line. And plead with them that no, you don’t need a million dollars to start turning things around – you just need some time and trust.
Or, you could take onboard these suggestions that will not only help you pitch and sell better customer service to your business, but will impress your management and show that you’re in control, persuasive and confident too.
In this post you’ll learn just how to turn the things you want to do to get better at customer service into business initiatives that your management can buy into.
You’ll recognize a lot of these steps from sales conversations you’ve been part of. Whether you’re buying a new washer dryer for the home, or complicated analytics software to power your business, all sales conversations boil down to these six steps:
1. Understand your business’s motivations and aspirations
2. Uncover your buyers’ aspirations
3. Prove your point with data
4. Position your initiative’s long-term value
5. Make the steps actionable
6. Ask for the close!
Ready? Okay – let’s take the first step to selling better customer service to your business.
1. Understanding the business’s motivations and aspirations
Every organization wants to get somewhere. Whether that’s to the top of the market, to fulfill a vision, or to be successful in a different way, a business should know what its long-term ambitions are.
For some businesses, it’s easy to decipher. Google, for example, says its mission is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Tesla’s mission is “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport.” At Kayako, our mission is to “help businesses get better at customer service.”
As long as there’s evidence that shows how your initiative can help achieve that ambition, it will already be better positioned to get the go-ahead.
It’s also important to understand what the business’s motivations are. Motivations are often very short-term. What is the management team concerned about this quarter? What do they predict will be challenging the business in six months? How does your proposition impact their motivations?
Motivations are primarily driven by money: revenue, profits, stock prices, and valuations.
A typical management outlook is to increase revenues and profits by selling more and spending less across the board. VC-backed companies might be tasked with increasing revenues and showing impressive growth percentages, with less regard for profit. Public companies are nearly always looking to cut costs to improve profits.
You probably already know what your business’s motivations are. Keep that in mind, and think about how your initiatives will impact them. Here are some examples that you’ll probably recognize:
- “Proactive customer service will help us cut down on failed transactions – decreasing churn and improving revenue.”
- “Building better relationships with customers will improve customer loyalty – helping to compound user growth numbers.”
- “Hiring a self-service content manager means we can reduce interaction costs by helping customers find the answers they need without contacting us.”
Takeaway: Know what is driving your business and where it’s going to position your initiative in the most relevant way.
2. Uncover your ‘buyer’s’ aspirations
This may seem a bit corny, but knowing what your director or VP’s personal goals are will help you, even if you don’t use it directly as a ‘sales’ tactic.
Think about the past projects your buyer (the person who will sign off on your initiative or your budget) has been heavily involved in, and look at their current areas of focus. More often than not, this will show a specific area they want to specialize in and champion.
Often at senior management level, people want to have owned successful projects that have driven significant material change to key metrics like revenue, profits, churn, satisfaction and so on.
Knowing this gives you the ability to appeal to their aspirational side. Think about how you can help them progress, but don’t be too direct in your approach.
- Ben wants to hire a new customer support advocate for his team.
- Ben’s Chief Customer Officer has championed the use of Net Promoter Score (NPS) within the business, and has even spoke at an event about it.
- Ben positions the initiative in a way that relates NPS with the activities the new hire will be tasked with – namely, that he or she will focus on proactive support, and reach out to customers before they need help – and if they can do that successfully, they’ll see a positive impact on NPS.
- How great would it be to champion the impact of proactive support on NPS?
Takeaway: Relate your initiative to something your buyer is personally interested and involved in, and appeal to their future progression.
3. Prove your point with data
There are two types of data that will help you to build your business case: your own data, and third party data. And while they’re both valuable, using your own data will make your business case a lot stronger.
Many businesses are sitting on mountains of data that holds a lot of value, if only you had time to investigate it. But it’s worth doing.
Using the data you already have to show what impact your initiative could have will help you position your initiative as a no-brainer. And be open to the type of data – it’s not all about numbers. Qualitative data (like feedback and comments) can help to humanize an element that might not be so quantifiable.
Take some time to dig deep and find out what impact your initiative could have on your team. This will probably involve some slicing-and-dicing between customer segments to see what impact specific approaches have had on your key metrics.
- If you want to hire more advocates to cover weekend support, find the difference between first response times and customer satisfaction scores for customers who get in touch on the weekend versus customers who get in touch on a weekday.
- If you want to empower first line reps to reduce escalations, look at the impact that escalations have on customer NPS scores and ratings.
- If you want to train your team to improve their soft skills, look at the feedback that customers have left for the most empathetic advocate on your team.
The data likely already exists, and makes your argument more contextual and evidence-based – making it harder to ignore.
There’s also a wealth of third party data available on everything from case studies and reviews to research statistics – you just need to find it first. Google is your friend.
If you don’t have the data yourself, go third-party – but be prepared for it to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s especially useful for backing up initiatives into new areas that you’ve not yet experimented with – like offering support via new channels or looking at using a new support tool.
Many vendors and software providers will have their own stats and data in the form of case studies, testimonials and whitepapers too, which help to build trust when looking at their solutions too.
Takeaway: Get the data that demonstrates your initiative will be a success – from case studies, other businesses or your own internal data.
4. Position the long-term value
Nobody likes to spend money on solving a short-term problem. Everybody wants to invest in building long-term value.
The framework that I like to use is a spin on a traditional sales methodology called SPIN selling (sorry for the pun!). Whereas SPIN selling looks at the ‘needs payoff’ (i.e. how well does it meet needs) I prefer to use ‘value’ in its place and focus on the long-term impact that a proposition can create.
So we’re left with the acronym SPIV – a framework that helps you to set the scene and describe why a new approach is needed. There are four elements that your proposition should contain – let’s break it down:
- Situation – what is your process today?
- Problem – what is the problem?
- Implication – what does that problem mean for your process/team/business?
- Value – what would resolving this mean for your process/team/business going forward?
Answering these questions in your proposition lets your buyer (your manager/VP/person who will sign off the budget or strategy!) know why you simply can’t go on anymore working like you already do and why things should change.
Let’s say you really need to hire a social customer service manager. Here’s an example of how you would break this down using the SPIV framework:
- We currently respond to customer service requests via email.
- If a customer requests service via Twitter or Facebook, our marketing department advise them to email our support team.
- The marketing team deal with more customer support queries than marketing queries.
- Customers have an extra ‘step’ in their way to get the support they need.
- The support team spends many hours replying to cases which could have been solved with a simple one-line answer.
- The marketing team aren’t able to focus on marketing queries.
- Customers find it difficult to get support and are annoyed they can’t get the answer they needed when they needed it.
- Customers may end up becoming dissatisfied, and stop doing business with us.
- The support team has less time to focus on more challenging support queries.
- The marketing team can focus on marketing that grows revenue.
- Customers can get the answer they need without leaving the channel they’re on – improving their experience, which in turn increases customer loyalty.
- The support team are freed up to focus on more challenging queries from customers who are more at-risk of leaving.
- Overall customer satisfaction will improve, along with positive word-of-mouth that becomes a deciding factor and helps us win new customers.
Whilst the above is just an example, you can imagine how deep this analysis can get. So make sure you’re relating back to the steps above – namely, your business’s aspirations and motivations, your buyer’s aspirations, and the data that proves your point.
Takeaway: Focus on solving issues that will provide long-term value, and always position against the implications that arise from inaction.
5. Make the steps actionable
Often, initiatives might seem scary to you, and even scarier to your management team who might be risk-averse to large projects. But there’s no need to create a mountain out of a molehill.
Whilst keeping the overall goal in mind, break your plan down into smaller, actionable chunks. Think about what your plan will achieve:
- Within certain time periods, e.g. the steps you can take within two weeks, six weeks, three months and six months.
- Based on indicative metrics, e.g. you will need to hire two additional customer advocates for every 2000 new customers based on a 20% contact rate.
- To build up to your goal through stepping stones, e.g. if your goal is to reduce your churn rate from 2.5% to 1%, break down what you’ll need to get to 2% and then 1.5% first.
Creating a simple timeline also helps your manager understand the plan in context and show that you understand the impact on resources and that you’re in control.
Planning small pilots and tests before jumping in not only will help you build confidence, but also shows your management that you aren’t just rushing in and making a decision.
Take a tip from your product management team and start with a MVP – a minimum viable product, or minimum viable project – and iterate from there. A MVP helps you to quickly test a concept without investing too much money or effort so you can experiment and learn – learn more about MVPs here.
You’ll also want to build in constant reviews and feedback loops with your team and management by default. They’ll want to be assured that they’ll have continuous opportunities to share their thoughts, and will want to be kept updated throughout.
Takeaway: Be realistic – plan to start small, and show the steps you will take to achieve your goal.
6. Ask for the close!
This might sound daunting – but it’s not. If you believe in your initiative, have properly planned (and have followed the steps above!), you’ll know when you’re ready to make the ask.
Depending on your situation, you might need to present your plan and talk through it, or maybe it will be detailed in a report. Either way, make sure you follow up and ask for permission to take action when it feels right.
Importantly, make sure you mention the next steps and your timeline. This cements the action they’re being asked with time-based context, and reminds your buyer that the ball is in their court.
The actual language you use will depend mostly on your business’s culture and your relationship with the person you’re asking. For inspiration, here are some examples of how you can ask for the close:
- “Do you think we can go ahead and hire for these positions with the goal of filling them by the end of the quarter?”
- “Are you able to sign off the budget request, so we can get up-and-running by the end of the month?”
- “We’d like to sign up to this tool by the end of the week so we can test the live chat capabilities before the end of the month. Can you sign this PO?”
If the answer is yes, then great! Now, you can focus on implementing your project.
If your buyer is unsure – perhaps it’s not the right time, or maybe they want to research additional options – try and get to the root of their objection, and ask what you can do to convince them. Suggest some next steps and set a time for the next meeting to review and hopefully move forward.
If you’re stuck, just ask.
“What evidence or additional information would you require in order for us to move forward with this project?” might sound uncomfortable, but the answer will be insightful.
Takeaway: Success never finds you – you have to find it! Make the ask when you feel confident, and chase up if it’s not the answer you were hoping for.
Recap: the six steps to selling better customer service to your business
Follow these steps to turn the things you want to do to get better at customer service into business initiatives that your management can buy into:
- Understand your business’s motivations and aspirations – know what is driving your business, and where it’s going, to position your initiative in the most relevant way.
- Uncover your buyer’s aspirations – relate your initiative to something your buyer is personally interested and involved in, and appeal to their future progression.
- Prove your point with data – get the data that demonstrates your initiative will be a success, from case studies, other businesses or your own internal data.
- Position your initiative’s long-term value – focus on solving issues that will provide long-term value, and always position against the implications that arise from inaction.
- Make the steps actionable – be realistic, plan to start small, and show the steps you will take to achieve your goal.
- Ask for the close! – make the ask when you feel confident, and chase up if it’s not the answer you were hoping for.
Hopefully, you’ll now have an understanding of the tactics you can use that will help you win over your board, score that extra budget and get the approvals you need to get better at customer service. Good luck!