Regardless of industry, most support teams have a shared goal: to understand and better support their customers. So what can B2B support teams learn from their B2C peers in terms of improving their customers’ experience?
On the surface, B2B customer support issues might look quite different from those of B2C. Typically, B2B issues can be more complex, require the collaboration of a lot more departments within the company, and are often in direct dialogue with the consumer, rather than a buying team or committee. But despite these differences, Farhan Virji, VP of Customer Happiness at Later, believes that there is actually quite a lot that B2B support teams can learn from their B2C colleagues.
Later is an Instagram marketing platform that allows users to be more strategic about how they plan, publish, and report on their social media content. Working with both individuals and businesses, the team at Later needs to implement tactics from B2C and B2B to ensure they’re always providing the best experience for their users.
From his background in software development and project management, Farhan learned how a data-driven approach is key when it comes to scaling your business – but for this to be effective, you need to keep your customer at the heart of everything you do.
We recently spoke with Farhan to learn more about where the future of customer support is heading, and how understanding customer behavior can help to drive revenue in the future.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the conversation:
Historically, support has been about dealing with issues when and where they occur. But with customer expectations at an all-time high, it’s no longer good enough to simply react: you need to be able to spot patterns and proactively anticipate your customers’ needs. Farhan notes that B2C support teams are rich in customer knowledge and context, and that this proximity to the customer puts them in an excellent position to give feedback on the customer journey to other areas of the organization – so B2B teams should consider mining their support teams for ideas on where they can proactively solve customer pain points, too.
“A lot of times, we’ll see patterns: if a customer has the issue A, they’re also likely to have the issue B. They reach out to us for a particular issue, and two hours or days later, they’ll reach out to us again with another. If we can identify what those patterns are, then we can start to anticipate, “If they’ve reached out to us for issue A, we may as well talk to them about issue B and try and get ahead of that.”
Businesses are quick to invest resources in acquiring more and more new customers, but that’s not necessarily the best approach. Instead, Farhan suggests that you should look for opportunities to add business value to your existing customers. That doesn’t mean upgrading their plan or selling more products (not always, anyway); sometimes, it’s just a matter of really understanding their use case and pointing out how they can leverage a particular feature that’s already in their plan. “Support teams have a huge opportunity to contribute to retention,” he says. “And we do that every day, in terms of providing great service.” Adding this business value develops trust, and that trust directly affects your bottom line. As Farhan puts it:
“Customers who trust their brands will spend more money, even if it’s more expensive than competitors. Because trust is not something you easily get anymore, especially when it comes to service. The service you get from the brand you interact with is more highly correlated to what your impression of that brand is than what the marketing and the product actually are.”
One of the key things that B2B should adopt from B2C, Farhan says, is an increased emphasis on user behavior data. Rather than relying on things like surveys for feedback, invest in tools that will allow you to really drill down into what your customer is doing, and when. For Farhan, understanding the psychology behind this user behavior could unlock some interesting new avenues for B2B:
“Depending on your business model, you might have paths you can add to your existing product purchase. There could be things like that, that the social commerce models can float into the B2B world because you can look at how you can gamify it from a product standpoint.”
Caught your interest? We’ve gathered a list of articles, videos, and podcasts you can check out:
- LaterCon 2020, a free social media conference by Later co-hosted by Farhan
- The ElevenTen Experience podcast with Farhan Virji
- 3 B2C support trends and lessons learned
- The Future of Support Has Arrived: It’s Conversational, a report by Intercom
- Proactivity in customer support, by SupportDriven
This is Scale, Intercom’s podcast series on driving business growth through customer relationships. If you enjoy the conversation and don’t want to miss future episodes, just hit subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. You can also read the full transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, below.
Dee Reddy: Farhan, you are so very welcome along to Scale by Intercom today. Thank you so much for joining us. We’re delighted to chat with you about your work at Later. But to kick us off, would you mind giving us a little bit of background about yourself, your 20 years of experience, and your background as a software developer?
Farhan Virji: Thank you, Dee, for having me on the podcast. I’m really excited to talk to you today. My background, as you outlined, started as a developer. I was a software developer, and I always loved to build things, but honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. I chose the quickest path to work, and so I took a two-year program that allowed me to get into the workforce sooner than most of my friends who spent four to five years in university. And that’s how I became a software developer. I wasn’t aspiring to be a developer. For the rest of my career, things just happened on their own. I never had long-term plans of what I wanted to do. I had two inflection points in my career, where I moved from a software developer to a project manager, managing primarily large software projects.
And I got into that at an opportunity doing some volunteer work, where I was project managing a large sports festival. I’ve always been passionate about sports, and it opened my eyes to this world outside of software development. And I really loved it. And so, I got the opportunity to do project management at the same place I was doing software development. And I got to be involved in things outside of the tech team: looking at communications and marketing and thinking about member experience, which is the same thing as customer experience. And I really loved bringing together all these aspects.
I love doing project management, being in the center of a project, and pulling all different people together. And from there, I joined a startup, and that was the next inflection point in my career. Being in a startup, you get to wear multiple hats, and your job or the scope of your role is not really what your title is. I was a project manager, but I was doing so many different things. In many startups, you get lots of opportunities to try out new things, and positions change all the time. They asked me to go and bring some project management principles to the customer success team. At that time, our success team was a small team of four or five people who did everything from implementation to support.
“I have a lot more confidence in communicating with customers or people on my team when I have a level of understanding about how things are built”
I ended up leading that team and growing with the company, leading the customer success organization. And so, for the last 10-ish years, I’ve been primarily in the customer success or customer support type roles, where I’ve been building and leading and scaling small teams into larger teams. I’ve been primarily in the tech space, and more recently in product-driven tech companies, whereas, in the past, I was in financial services. So, that’s a bit of an overview of who I am.
Dee: It’s interesting that you find yourself in that kind of product-driven tech organizations. Do you think your background as a developer has informed your work in CX to a certain extent?
Farhan: Yeah, I think so. I always attributed my success as a project manager and even in my work in CX to my technical background. From a product standpoint, you have developers building the product. I’ve always loved to know how things work, what’s under the hood, how things are put together. But more importantly, I have a lot more confidence in communicating with customers or people on my team when I have a level of understanding about the technical components or how things are built.
I have the ease of having conversations with developers. I have a very logical mind, I think through things in a very logical way, which is what developers do, right? They solve complex problems. And I can still use that foundation when I’m trying to solve complex problems that have nothing to do with building products. Process improvement, for example, I think it through in a very logical way. When I’m approaching people leadership, I also think about it from a very logical standpoint. And so, I’ve taken that training, and I wouldn’t even call it training, it’s just the way my mind works.
From reactive to proactive support
Dee: So, we recently met at the Support Driven webinar and you had some really great insights around customer support trends for 2021. And this was kind of born out of a survey that Intercom did recently, where we surveyed 600 support leaders and revealed that many companies are turning to conversational support at the moment to manage high conversation volumes more efficiently and obviously exceed customer expectations.
There were five key trends that we talked about in that webinar. There was the move from reactive to proactive support; satisfying your customer’s need for speed; how to go about supercharging team efficiency; bridging the customer expectations gap, and the perception of the shift of CX teams from a cost center to value driver. I loved chatting to you about all of these, but you spoke particularly well on that first one there, the move from reactive to proactive support. Do you want to tell me how you’re going about this at Later and what your advice to other support leaders would be?
Farhan: Definitely. I mean, I was fortunate in the past since I’ve managed teams outside of just support. Customer success teams are traditionally more of a proactive team, and we can bring in some of those experiences into the support organization that’s, as you know, typically reactive. To move from the reactive to the proactive state, there are a couple of components that I’d look for. One of them is around this idea of, “How can we anticipate customer’s issues?”
“A lot of times, we’ll see patterns: if a customer has issue A, they’re also likely to have issue B”
And I also see that as a very dynamic category. On the one end, in a B2C environment, the customer support teams typically have so much knowledge about their customers, how they use their product, what their pain points are, where they fumble along with using the product, that when a new feature is going to be released, for example, the support team is likely the best team to anticipate where their customers are going to have problems. They can contribute to the testing of that feature, and in some test scenarios, they can contribute even as early as the design of the feature.
But even with the communication plan, customers reach out if they’re confused about the communication. We can have a lot of input into the whole process of building the features all the way to releasing features. And so, customer support teams can have a seat at that table to provide that level of input, again, from the mindset of knowing our customers, to help product teams and marketing teams with releases.
Another area about anticipating customer issues is in your actual interactions when they reach out for help. A lot of times, we’ll see patterns: if a customer has issue A, they’re also likely to have issue B, and we’ll see that they reach out to us for a particular issue, and two hours or days later, they’ll reach out to us again with another issue. So, if we can identify what those patterns are, then we can start to anticipate, “If they’ve reached out to us for issue A, we may as well talk to them about issue B and try and get ahead of that so that they don’t have to reach out to us in the future.” And I know I’m being really generic with saying issue A and B. I’m going to be really specific.
“We’re improving the overall experience because we’re anticipating what they’re going to do next”
For example, at Later, part of our onboarding process, the self onboarding process, is connecting their Instagram accounts to their Later accounts. At times, we get issues from our users where they can’t connect their Instagram accounts. And so, they reach out to us for that, but we know customers who are unable to connect their Instagram accounts are not going to be able to properly enable what we call auto-publishing.
And so, once we’ve solved the issue, we may as well start talking about, “Well, your next step is likely to be enabling auto-publish. Let me walk you through that now since I have your attention versus letting you go off and see if you can figure it out yourself.” And most of the time they will, but at the times they don’t, we’re reducing that one touchpoint. We’re improving the overall experience because we’re anticipating what they’re going to do next or what we’d want them to do next. That’s where we’re trying to spend more time, the anticipation of what comes next. And that’s where I think our biggest area for turning from reactive to proactive comes in.
Support as a value driver, not a cost center
Dee: I love that. And another one of those trends that you were particularly passionate about when we spoke before, was trend number five, that shift of perceiving CX teams as value drivers. What are your thoughts on that? And do you think there is a difference in that perception between B2B and B2C companies?
Farhan: I’m super passionate about this. This is an area where customer success organizations have thrived in the past 10 years, of making a name for why retention is extremely important to the overall success of the business, especially when you’re a customer-driven organization. And there’s a theme that has been around for a while, but it’s getting a lot more momentum this year, which is that retention is the new growth strategy. There are a lot of times where your growth strategy is bringing more customers into the funnel, but now there’s the shift of, “We need to be able to grow our business by retaining our customers.” Because you don’t want to have the leaky bucket syndrome.
Support teams have a huge opportunity to contribute to retention. And we do that every day, in terms of providing great service. But another big area that’s also starting to take front — and again, it’s not new — is this idea of net revenue retention, looking solely at your current customer base. And retention is one of them, so you’re keeping the money they’re paying you. And then, customer expansion is another one, which is, “Are they spending more money with us?”
“You’re not there to help customers spend more money. I’m not suggesting your support team turn into the sales team”
And that can come in different flavors. They’re adding new products, if you have multiple products, they’re adding more licenses, if you’re a licensed-based model. And again, that expansion area is, I think, one that’s underserved from a support organization because you’re typically there from a reactive standpoint, to solve issues. You’re not there to help customers spend more money. I’m not suggesting your support team turn into the sales team. But I think there’s an opportunity there because the support teams are engaging with customers, they can add more value to that interaction, and that value could turn into expansion in the future.
There’s a little bit of a difference between B2C and B2B models. The biggest one is that, in B2C, support teams are typically the team that’s having most of the interactions with their customers. You don’t typically have account managers or CS managers interacting with their customers because, in B2C, you have potentially millions of users. Typically, you don’t have a sales team because you’re logging onto a website and subscribing to the platform. And so, support teams have a large impact and level of influence for net revenue retention other than just product-driven net revenue retention, which is really important as well, or the marketing efforts that happen.
In B2B, there are a few different roles that are interacting with the customer. And depending on whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise, the scale starts to shift more to higher-touch models, in terms of human interaction, as you go to enterprise. You’ll have a sales account rep, you’ll have a CS rep, an implementation team, a support team. So, there are four or five different groups of people in your organization that are having regular touchpoints with your customer. Not all are the decision-makers that are going to renew or spend more money. In B2C, the support team is typically interacting with the person that has made the decision to subscribe to your software. So, we have a lot more ability to impact the decision-makers versus in B2B. That doesn’t mean that the support team doesn’t have the ability to influence.
“If I can add more value to your business, you’re going to trust me more as a brand”
But just going back to this concept of being able to add value, which I call value-based support (I’ve also seen it titled support-driven growth or growth-driven support), which is this opportunity to first solve the issue. Then, the next step is, “Is there a way I can add business value to my customer?” And I think the key there is it needs to be genuine. It’s not about trying to sell. We haven’t rolled out value-based support at Later, that’s one of our key initiatives this year, but the way we’re looking at it is, it’s not about trying to upgrade them, finding features that would help them, that makes them spend more money. It’s, “Let’s find out things about our customers that they’re missing out on.” And maybe it’s a feature they already have in their plan.
That’s important because one, if I can add more value to your business, you’re going to trust me more as a brand. You’re going to say, “Wow, this company, they really know what they’re doing. They really get what I need to do for my business, not for me using Later.” So the trust just automatically increases if we do that.
And two, from the data that I’ve seen, customers who trust their brands will spend more money, even if it’s more expensive than competitors. Because trust is not something you easily get anymore, especially when it comes to service. The service you get from the brand you interact with is more highly correlated to what your impression of that brand is than what the marketing and the product actually are. People associate the service they get with their impression of that brand, and then they talk about it. So I think that’s where B2C has a much higher level of impact than B2B.
“Understanding your customer is important, but understanding your customer’s business is more important”
Dee: And I love the point that you made around the integrity of the advice someone might give in a CX, rather than a sales setting. It is genuine. You do have to pay a little bit extra, but it’s going to solve this problem for you, rather than it being the bottom line.
Farhan: And again, I think it’s not always about having to pay extra. It’s about making sure that we care about helping you with your business. Knowing your customer, we have all heard that tagline. Understanding your customer is important, but understanding your customer’s business is more important. Knowing how our product adds value to their business.
And that’s why I think it needs to be about adding business value, not just adding value. Because adding value could come in different shapes and forms. If I’m a business owner and you were one of my software providers, and you came to me and said, “Did you know that you can do these things with our product that you already paid for, and here’s the value it’s going to add to your business?” I’d be super impressed because you just helped me with something from my business standpoint that I may not have known existed.
The power of segmentation
Dee: Later, as you said yourself, was predominantly B2C users. But your users are currently diverse. It could be a social media influencer that one of your team is dealing with one day, or it could be a team in a company that needs help using their subscription. How does your team adapt on the ground of those differences between the customers?
“When you have the scale, what becomes really important is having the data”
Farhan: To be fair, we could be doing a better job of that. Because when you have the scale, what becomes really important is having the data. So, knowing we’re talking to an influencer versus someone in the team. The key is having that level of segmentation, being able to understand if I’m talking to this category of user versus a different category of user. So that’s step one, having the data and defining what those segments are.
Step two is defining the persona for that segmentation. What’s the difference between an influencer and a large brand that has a social media team? How is their life different from a user or customer perspective? Because if we don’t know that, it’s going to be very difficult for us to provide a different level of support.
And that’s where we’re at right now, defining our levels of segmentation and those personas so that we can educate our support team. If you’re talking to a social media influencer, here’s what’s important to them. Here’s what their life is about. And here are some features that best align with what they do or the pain points they’re trying to address. It goes back to this idea of value. And you really want to be able to tie your service to what’s going to drive the most value. There are probably two dimensions to look at. One is the personas of the segments we, as a company, are trying to understand or even define the value chain or the value workflow for them.
“What are your goals or expectations? If we know that, we don’t necessarily have to segment by category”
But sometimes, you want to get that from the customer. You may also want to capture the reasons why they’re using our software, “What are your goals or expectations?” And if we know that, we don’t necessarily have to segment by category. We’re just trying to deliver a service that ties to their expectations or the value. How do we capture that? How do we capture their purchase intent and the goals behind their intent? And then, make sure the tours they get in the product or the content they get delivered from marketing or the service they get from support are all tailored to their purchase intent and the goals they have. So I would say it’s still an area we’re still exploring how to do that properly.
Dee: You touched on the personalization there. One of the biggest changes in B2C over the last decade has been the rise of focused propositions. There are really niche offerings out there. That personalization of experience, that segmentation in terms of the types of customers, is this something you think B2B support teams need to be aware of as well?
Farhan: Absolutely. I think it’s just as important for B2B. When I think of the difference between B2C and B2B, it’s not just volume. You could have a company with millions of customers, even in B2B. What I see as the difference between B2C and B2B is if there are these renewal events or not. In B2C, it’s typically a monthly subscription, or maybe even an annual subscription, but there’s no contract. That’s where I see one of the big differences.
“If you don’t know what your customer’s business is about, what their intentions are, what their expectations are, you’re hoping that you’re meeting their expectations with your responses versus being educated”
The other big difference is the number of people interacting with the customer, as we talked about. And also, the expectations. As a business user with the software product that we use at our company, I have a different set of expectations when I interact with that brand, versus me as a consumer, where I probably expect to get some sort of response on the weekend, instant gratification. So I think the level of expectations is different in B2C and B2B.
But segmentation is extremely important. If you don’t know what your customer’s business is about — whether it’s B2C or B2B — what their intentions are, what their expectations are, you’re hoping that you’re meeting their expectations with your responses versus being educated. I think it’s actually more important in the B2B world, primarily because you have higher contract values. Renewal is a big event, and support is a really big team that has the ability to influence renewal events. There may not be the same level of segmentation from a “who services who” segmentation perspective, but segmentation from “how do we interact with this type of customer” segmentation.
Dee: And as a follow-up, what about a B2B, CX experience where there are multiple stakeholders on the customer side? So you might be dealing with a different type of person in the company?
Farhan: One of the first startups I joined, where it was more enterprise B2B, we spent a lot of time mapping this out because we had a sales team, and they were the ones who were working with the decision-maker on the customer. This is a large enterprise product. And then we had a customer success team. We called it customer value. We had an implementation team there for a year to two years with the customer because they would implement the iterations. Then we had a support team. So, we had a minimum of four touchpoints on our side, not always interacting with the same people on the customer side.
“But that was something we knew — as we grew, we needed a system to capture the key moments, the value drivers for that type of customer”
And we found it to be extremely important to define the owners of those relationships. We said, for example, “Okay, account executive, you own the relationship with what we called the sponsor, which was the decision-maker.” They decide if they’d renew or extend. And then we said, “Customer value team, you own the relationship with the business owner.” And they may be one and the same, the business owner and the purchaser. But we went through that process of really defining who owned the relationships. And then it became important to make sure that we were all in the know of what was happening for that customer.
We were small at the time. We didn’t have a lot of customers, so we were able to solve that by meetings or having interactions over Slack, for example, versus having a system to capture all of this. Because it’s easy when you all work in the same environment, right? But that was something that we knew — as we grew, to scale that, we needed a system to capture the key moments, the value drivers for that type of customer.
We started off by asking our customers, “What are your goals? What do you want to do with the next year with our product?” And we found they had so many different types of goals. From a product standpoint and an implementation standpoint, it became difficult to always meet our customers’ goals. And as we started to define the key goals you should be trying to hit, and talk about that with our customers, we had a lot more receptive feedback from our customers on like, “Oh yeah, I didn’t even think about that. That’s a really good goal we should be thinking of.”
Now, it didn’t work for everyone. But we had a lot more standardization on what the key drivers were because we were seen as the experts. A lot of times, when you purchase, even the software you use, you look at the software provider as the expert in those industries versus they’re a software provider. So, that’s something that we found to be very valuable — to define the relationships, the drivers, and the value chain. And where does each of those teams fit in that value chain?
Expectations are changing
Dee: That’s such great advice. One thing you alluded to earlier, Farhan, when talking about the difference between these types of customer experience, is just how much, on the B2C side now, the customer service paradigm has shifted in recent years. Nowadays, you call an Uber, and you expect to see it moving towards you on the screen. And you order a pair of shoes online, and you want to track that retail order as it moves through various stages before arriving at your door. How do you think those shifts in expectation impact when we engage with a customer experience team at work? There’s a knock-on effect there, as you said of, “Oh, I expect somebody to get back to me on a weekend?” What can B2B companies do to manage expectations around that?
Farhan: It’s a big challenge. Some of these companies like Uber and Amazon, with their prime shipping, have really changed people’s expectations with the brands they interact with. Even small to medium-sized companies have to keep up with these expectations, or they won’t survive. I think it’s had a huge impact on how brands need to adapt to the changing needs of our customers.
“In the past, companies would be defining the SLAs, defining the ways their customers had to interact with them. They were almost forcing them down a path”
I think we’re seeing this paradigm shift where, in the past, companies themselves would be defining the SLAs, defining the ways their customers had to interact with them. They were almost forcing them down a path. And customers had, I wouldn’t say no choice, but their choices weren’t as open as they are today. And now the shift is, brands need to adapt to be able to meet customers where they’re at. And what I mean by that is, you can’t just continue to force people down opening a ticket. You need other technologies. Otherwise, you’re going to fall behind.
Companies are using WhatsApp to interact with their customers. That’s more on the B2C side versus B2B, but the number of channels is expanding all the time. And I think B2B companies need to start to adopt some of those other channels. You don’t need to be a trailblazer in all B2B companies. Obviously, it’s nice to be that way. But managing expectations is extremely important, understanding what your customer’s expectations are and meeting them where you can.
“Chatbots, user communities, those are 24/7, right? Nothing is stopping other users to respond to questions you have. You may not have people on your team responding, but that’s the beauty of a user community, which is other people are joining in and helping you solve that”
Being on top of what’s happening within the industries you serve is going to be important. What’s also extremely important to help these companies stay on top of it is automation. There’s lots of technology out there to help companies automate a lot of their repetitive tasks or repetitive support inquiries. We’ve talked about chatbots on the webinar. Chatbots aren’t new. But their technology has improved recently, in the last few years, where it can solve at least 30% of inquiries, even in B2B organizations. Chatbots, user communities, those are 24/7, right? Nothing is stopping other users to respond to questions you have. You may not have people on your team responding, but that’s the beauty of a user community, which is other people are joining in and helping you solve that.
And we see how much it’s happening around the world with users helping each other out. There are so many different forums out there that showcase how much people want to help each other. And even in B2B world, I think that still would be the case. So I think that’s another area, if a company hasn’t adopted a user community yet, they should be thinking about that. Another area is the need for social media support or social support. And it’s not just with the big brands, it’s with all brands. I think customers expect to be able to interact with the brands they choose in the channels that they feel comfortable choosing. Social media channels are constantly growing, and it’s going to be hard to keep up. It seems like every other week there’s a new social media channel popping up. Like Clubhouse just popped up. Not that we support Clubhouse, but they just pop up everywhere. And staying on top of that is going to be tough.
Dee: Yeah. And what about this rise of social commerce that we’ve seen? That’s very much a B2C trend at the moment. Do you think that will follow?
Farhan: I think it’s hard to say if it’s going to follow in B2B. I think that’s very much a B2C right now.
Dee: It’s a more challenging way to do business, I think, for B2B companies because of that longer cycle that it will take to make a sale. It’s not just, “Oh, I’m on Instagram. I’m going to buy that.”
“What B2B organizations need to do is look at the user behaviors, the psychology behind the purchase intent”
Farhan: Totally. What B2B organizations need to do is look at the user behaviors, the psychology behind the purchase intent. I think that’s where they need to spend some of the time. And I think the opportunity for B2B companies is probably more on the customer expansion side of it. And again, maybe not through social commerce. But, how many times have people made purchases where they just got caught up in the hype of it? And then because of the ease and the simplicity of being able to buy something, you do it versus in the past where you have to walk into a store, you can think about it, you see other options around you. And now, people are just pressing buttons. And the psychology behind it is changing rapidly.
I don’t think it’s going to change that much in the B2B world because again, approvals have to happen before things can get purchased. But being able to add another license, there might not be approvals, for example. Or depending on your business model, you might have paths you can add to your existing product purchase. There could be things like that, that the social commerce models can float into the B2B world because you can look at how you can gamify it from a product standpoint. I still think B2B companies will have product purchases happening either inside their product or within a contract. But you could probably use social commerce to direct customers into the product purchasing flow. That might be a way to look into it.
Farhan: I mean, how many of us bought stuff on Amazon last year just because we don’t have anything else to do? And then, Amazon recommendations just get you. It gets me all the time. Luckily, I can return stuff, so it’s okay.
It’s all about data
Dee: Well, exactly. We all can. And that’s the great thing about a B2C over B2B. You don’t have to answer to anyone except yourself. Are there any other emerging technologies being used particularly well in the B2C world that we should be adopting?
“One of the things that I think the B2C world does really well that B2B could adopt is the amount of data we have on user behaviors”
Farhan: I wouldn’t necessarily say technologies. One of the things that I think the B2C world does really well that B2B could adopt is the amount of data we have on user behaviors. And B2B companies could have this as well, I just haven’t had the experience with it, unfortunately, to have so much data on understanding the way our users are using our products. Whenever we release a feature, we have the data to see how many people are accessing it, in what way they’re accessing it, if they access it after we sent out a blog post. We have so much data to understand our users’ behavior, to make better decisions and to release better features for them, rather than having to just send surveys out. Who likes to answer surveys? Data capturing is an important thing B2B companies need to get good at.
We do a lot of analysis on retention because again, you have the volume of users, and we’re month-to-month subscriptions. We do a lot of cohort analysis, which is looking at different groups. We might look at a group of customers who joined in January and compare them to those who joined in February and so on, so you can do monthly cohort analysis and start to get a better understanding of why one cohort did better than the other. Better at retention, better at activation.
“Cohort analysis is a really good way to understand the things that are going to make an impact versus having to wait six to 12 months”
When you do it at a cohort level, you can get a lot better insights into user behaviors and what actually moves the needle on certain things. I think, from a retention standpoint, and B2B companies may not get a lot of value out of that, cohort analysis would be really good.
We also do a lot of experimentation. If we released a webinar, we want to be able to make sure that we can follow our attendance to the webinar, and again, do cohort analysis, compare them to those who didn’t attend the webinar, see if whatever features we talked about in that webinar, the usage goes up and stays up for a period of time. Cohort analysis is a really good way to understand the things that are going to make an impact versus having to wait six months to 12 months to see if things are actually making an impact.
Dee: Love it. That’s really good advice. So before we wrap up, Farhan, what’s next? Have you any big plans or projects for 2021?
“Moving into proactive, we can train the chatbot to detect certain user behaviors and then prompting the user with other pieces of content we might have”
Farhan: We’ve got lots. Some of the things I talked about, we haven’t yet implemented at Later. So the chatbot is one of the big projects that we’re implementing this year. We have big plans for the chatbot, it’s going to be a phased implementation. I see a chatbot as starting as a reactive chatbot, meaning someone has a question, the chatbot can respond. Moving into proactive, we can train the chatbot to detect certain user behaviors and then prompting the user with other pieces of content we might have.
For example, if the user seems to be getting stuck somewhere on a page, there’s an error message, the chatbot can prompt them and say, “Hey, have you tried this?” Or, “Here’s an article that may help you,” before the user even reaches out to us. If they’re on our subscription page, the chatbot can respond and say, “Looks like you’re interested in our pricing plans. Do you need help on selecting the right package for you?” The chatbot is a longer project, but it’s a really important one for us.
The other one is we also haven’t launched our user community. We have a Slack-based community, which is really more about social engagement, but we want to have a full-blown user online community. So those are the two big projects for us in value-based support, like I talked about, where we’re hoping to launch that in the second half of the year.
Dee: That all sounds brilliant. Given this series is all about hearing how companies scale their growth, I would love to know if there was a key event in your career that helped you scale professionally.
Farhan: I would say joining my first startup. When I joined, they were about 40 employees and 10 customers. When I left, there were 450ish employees and about 110 customers, enterprise, big customers. So customer growth was still quite substantial in the five years I was there. When you work in a startup, if you’re fortunate enough to work in a small startup, you get to do so many things that you typically wouldn’t get opportunities to do in larger companies because everyone has to wear multiple hats. Startups work really fast. There’s not a lot of bottlenecks in processes. There’s not a lot of processes, which is why we get to do things really fast.
“I’m a big believer in experiential learning, meaning you just have to get in there and do it, and you’ll learn as you do”
You get to try out new things as well, and that was my inflection point for how I grew professionally really fast. I went from being a project manager to managing a team for the first time and getting to do it myself and learn and grow through the mentorship of people in the company without formal guidelines and whatnot. I’m a big believer in experiential learning, meaning you just have to get in there and do it, and you’ll learn as you do. You get that a lot in startups.
Dee: Brilliant. I’m much the same. So lastly, Farhan, where can our listeners go to keep up with you and your work?
Farhan: The best for me, I’d say, is LinkedIn. I love chatting with people, so reach out to me on LinkedIn, and we can connect there.
Dee: Super. We can link to that in the show notes. Well, listen, it was a pleasure chatting with you today. Thank you so much.
Farhan: You as well. I appreciate having me on your podcast and look forward to all the future episodes you have.