The impact of customer experience on revenue is clear. So why do so many revenue-driven organizations keep treating support as a cost center?
Gone are the days of siloed customer operations, where sales lands a deal and hands it off to another team. The customer journey doesn’t end with a purchase, and if you’re not actively working to delight and retain your customers, sooner or later, you’ll have a leaky bucket on your hands. As our very own Chief Revenue Officer, Leandra Fishman, puts it, “sales is more fun when you get to tie in the satisfaction of a great support experience.”
Leandra joined Intercom in January, mid-pandemic, with 30 years of sales experience under her belt and two decades of experience building high-performance teams and driving growth at SendGrid, Twilio, and Jive Software. She believes thinking about the customer journey as a whole leads to a better customer experience, made even better when communication is personal and easy, just like in real life. Her enthusiasm for the future of business communications is infectious. No more mass messaging. No more obstacles to reaching customer support. No more repeating information over and over as you’re bounced around from agent to agent. Just simple interactions and genuine conversations, at scale.
In this episode of Inside Intercom, we sit down with Leandra to chat about the shifting perception of support from a cost center to a profit driver and her views on the future of customer communications.
If you’re short on time, here are a few quick takeaways:
- A good experience has a clear bottom-line impact on revenue. It increases the lifetime value of the customer, and they’re more likely to become evangelists and recommend you to others, too.
- Leandra thinks about customers moving through the buyer journey as passing a baton in a relay – for a seamless experience, sales, support, and customer success need to be perfectly in sync and communicating efficiently.
- Support is right in the middle of the action – your support reps are the intermediaries between customer and business, and so they’re in a unique position to influence R&D, product, and ultimately, revenue.
- Since it costs less to keep existing customers than to acquire new ones, the customer’s lifetime value is one of Leandra’s key metrics for support.
- The age of mass messaging is over. The future of business-to-customer communication will be personalized and relevant, taking all of the history of the relationship into account.
If you enjoy our discussion, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.
When support meets sales
Liam Geraghty: Leandra, welcome to the Inside Intercom podcast. We’re so excited to have you on to talk about how support is a critical value driver for any business. But before we delve into that, could you give us a little bit of background on your role here at Intercom?
Leandra Fishman: Absolutely. First of all, Liam, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to manage both sales and support. As I believe, the best customer experience is truly had when we focus on that entire customer journey, every step of the way. So maybe I’m a little bit biased, I don’t know, but I think that sales is more fun when you get to tie in the satisfaction of a great support experience.
Liam: Actually, we always ask people what they were doing leading up to this point. So I wonder if you might even go back a bit further before you even arrived at Intercom. What did your career path look like?
“I think that sales is more fun when you get to tie in the satisfaction of a great support experience”
Leandra: I have actually been in sales, oh my gosh, forever. Thirty years in sales and 20 years of experience leading large teams and driving growth across all customer segments and deal sizes. Most recently, I was SVP of Sales and Success for SendGrid Email Infrastructure. We led the team through a successful IPO, which was really exciting. We doubled our market cap in our first year of a public company. And then we went through a Twilio acquisition. So the second adventure was really fun.
Within Twilio, I went to manage the VP of the commercial sales team. That’s really their high-growth segment, focused on growth and expansion there. So I always had a passion for solving customer problems, building and scaling teams, and now I’m excited to be here at Intercom, doing the same.
The power of a good experience
Liam: Great. It’s interesting that the customer support team reports to you alongside sales. As you know, a lot of companies still have this outdated view that customer support is a cost center, not a value driver. Do you believe customer support has a strong influence on revenue?
Leandra: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Liam, you know it’s one thing to get the customers, but it’s another thing to keep them. If you could visualize a bucket and it has holes all over it, it’s leaking, right? No matter how much water you put in the top, you’re never going to keep that bucket full. And I think duct tape is very useful in a lot of ways, but I don’t think it’s waterproof. We’ve got to keep that bucket healthy. Happy customers not only grow and expand, but they actually become advocates and evangelists for our product through other parts of the organization. Or they leave and go to another company, and they want to use Intercom again.
I think it’s important to make sure we’re viewing customer support as that key value driver. Because, Liam, I’m sure you’ve had in your life some not-great customer experiences. Let me ask you this. If you were to think about a company brand experience that you had when you encountered a problem or had a question, without naming any names, can you remember one that made you want to continue to use the company’s product or service? And then maybe one that you were like, “I’m never buying from them again.”
“They went above and beyond. And now you, as that happy customer, not only are you delighted, you’re probably going to tell your friends”
Liam: Well, there was one that made me want to continue using a product’s company. Actually, it was just last week. It was a book publisher in the UK. I pre-ordered a book, and when it came to the release date, there was no sign of this book. And in the first week of its release, I got an email from them explaining that they’d heard of their parcels to Ireland not arriving on time. So they actually included a PDF of the book so I could read it at the same time as everyone else in that email.
And then, two days after that, they determined themselves that the books were lost and they weren’t going to arrive at all. They refunded me, and then they let me know what bookshops in my area here in Dublin had it in stock. It was kind of amazing to me because these were all bad things, but they anticipated every single one of them before I even noticed or had a chance to complain about them. It was just a really great experience, and it took something that could have been quite bad into a great experience. It made me want to go and buy a whole load of books from their website.
Leandra: Completely! That is the power of support. And you can see, as you said, it’s tied to bottom-line revenue. If they didn’t have that experience, you might think, “Oh, I’m not going to use them again. They don’t have good service. They can’t get me my book.” But they went above and beyond. And now you, as that happy customer, not only are you delighted, you’re probably going to tell your friends. Right? It’s the power of communication of that experience, but then, also, they’ll have you as a customer for a long time.
Liam: I think I even tweeted about it. I was so happy about it. And then, I suppose, the flip side of that. This one was a couple of years ago. A service that made me never want to buy anything from them again was a trash collector I had at the time. It was a pretty poor service in general, but one time I decided I wanted to basically get a larger waste bin. So I asked if I could get that? And they were like, “Just leave out your current one, and we’ll swap it when we come to collect the trash.” So I was like, “Great.” So then, when they came to collect the trash, they actually took my recycling bin instead and left me the big, new bin.
“That experience clouded everything that then went to finally you saying, ‘This isn’t the right company or the right service for me'”
So then, I had two kinds of general waste bins. And it was just a comedy of errors. When I told them the mistake they’d made, they’re like, “No problem. We’ll pick it up again. We’ll do the swap again.” But when they came back, they just left me another general trash bin. They didn’t bring my recycling. I can’t begin to tell you the frustration. Basically, they made the same mistake four times by just taking the wrong bin or leaving the wrong one. And that kind of sent me over the edge. I’d been putting up with bad service for a little while, and then that just, “You know what, I’m just going to switch to a new company.” And I did.
Leandra: So painful. But you see, that experience clouded everything that then went to finally you saying, “This isn’t the right company or the right service for me.” And so, they lost that revenue because, unfortunately, there were a lot of challenges. I hope you have good bins now and you got everything sorted out.
Liam: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But it’s funny. That was a couple of years ago, and I remember it so vividly I still tell that story to people to this very day.
Leandra: Yeah. The power of the experience clearly has a bottom-line impact on revenue.
From cost center to profit driver
Liam: As support teams become more revenue-driven, do you think the lines between sales and support are blurring? Is there any overlap there?
Leandra: That’s a great question. I think it’s always going to be critical for a support team to be customer-focused, and the revenue is just an output of it all. Right? The experience you could have had, which could have been so much better, would’ve impacted positively the revenue. And unfortunately, it didn’t. But I think it’s interesting to think about that in a way or maybe in terms of overlap, for example, in technology for support response times. It’s often called Premier Priority Support. Many customers value and are willing to pay for expedited levels of support because that application or solution is really mission-critical to their business. So every minute has a potential revenue impact for them. And so, that’s an easy kind of crossover. A direct revenue impact by a support team in terms of that type of product and service offering. But as you know, it’s all intertwined, and it is blurring, for sure.
“I use the analogy of baton passing. We’re all in a relay and the customer is the baton”
Liam: And so, how do you ensure support, sales, and customer success orgs stay in sync at Intercom to provide customers with a great experience and maximize revenue generation opportunities?
Leandra: That’s not easy. And I can tell you there’s one word: communication, communication, communication. So really seeking to understand, looking for opportunities, ensuring there’s visibility for customer history through the tools and the systems. I use the analogy of baton passing. We’re all in a relay and the customer is the baton. You can think about that in terms of processes – making sure customers don’t fall through the cracks or get frustrated in the process. It’s really, really important to have that customer mindset and ensure that, every step of the way, there’s an opportunity to connect the teams together and have the right conversations at the right times.
Liam: That’s a great way to look at it. In your experience, how can customer support teams go about shifting the perception of support being seen as a cost center to the profit center it really is?
“Support teams play an active role in the customer experience and outcome. In my mind, they’re the problem-solvers, but they’re also influencers fostering that mindset shift”
Leandra: It is a mindset shift. And I think support teams just don’t have a front-row seat. They actually play an active role in the customer experience and outcome. In my mind, they’re the problem-solvers, but they’re also influencers fostering that mindset shift. Not just like, “Oh, well, I’m here to answer questions,” or “I’m here to talk about things that are broken and fix them.” It’s really cool to be like a detective, searching not only for the resolution, but also identifying the opportunities along the way. Really understanding the solution, like in technology, “Well, what is the customer using today? What aren’t they using?” Thinking about the opportunity for seed planting, like, “Hey, have you checked out our latest feature functionality or service or product? I see how you’re using this – can I make a suggestion?”
Also, being a critical partner to R&D to help us understand how we can build better products. Because, as I said, I think support is in the coolest position of all because they’re right in the middle of the action. They’re advocating for the customer back to R&D, but they’re also in a position to promote the magic of the product and the solution. They get to be in sales without all the pressure of having a quota and all the no-fun stuff. I think there’s a really great opportunity for us to evolve our thought process from, like you said, from the old cost center to the new potential revenue center.
Liam: 100%. So, what kind of metrics should support teams report on to prove to stakeholders how they’re influencing the company’s bottom line?
“This is where it could get interesting. What if support started looking at things through the lens of LTV, or lifetime value?”
Leandra: Metrics are so important. We’re tracking the success of the business and the success of the customer experience. There are obviously key metrics that most support organizations follow, like customer satisfaction or churn. But I’m always thinking about “What is within the customer support team’s ability to control or influence?” Like first response time or a total resolution time for a conversation, ticket volumes, ticket backlog, some of those things.
And this is where it could get interesting. What if support started looking at things through the lens of LTV, or lifetime value? It’s often used as a marketing or a finance metric. But support has a huge influence on that, in my opinion, because that customer lifetime value is the total worth of a customer over the whole period of the relationship. And it’s a really important metric as it costs less to keep existing customers than to acquire new ones. If you think about the increasing value of keeping those existing customers happy, that right there is a great way to drive long-term growth.
The next generation of business communication
Liam: Looking ahead to the next year, what do you think the future of customer communications will look like?
Leandra: Oh my gosh. Well, who would’ve thought we’d still be here today. How things have changed in the last year and a half. Technology is accelerating all around us. Especially in light of these times where we’re limited in our ability to connect face to face like we used to. Now more than ever, people are craving that personal connection and service.
“When you look at the current state of customer communications, in many instances, it’s really outdated and not as effective”
When you look at the current state of customer communications, in many instances, it’s really outdated and not as effective. Businesses mass message their customers – it’s not really tailored to that customer’s interest or desire. They’re frustrated when the engagement is low, but of course, a generic message isn’t necessarily going to resonate with anyone. And then, on the other side, when a customer needs support, they’re either cut off, they have to repeat themselves multiple times, they have to wait on hold, or they send an email out to what feels like a black hole.
What’s cool is that the internet has allowed businesses to scale in ways that were unheard of in years past. But the magic is making that personal one-to-one relationship with every single customer. And that’s what I love. That’s why I get so excited about Intercom, because we think that modern customer communication should be easy and efficient, just like it is in real life. But better and more powerful. We think it’s possible to duplicate the efficiency and use real-life conversations with technology. Everything that we do at Intercom is just around conversations and mirroring the way customers interact. Having businesses be able to support and engage their customers on one platform; making that customer journey we talked about at the very beginning the most important thing.
“It’s the businesses that are adapting and growing the expectation of customers that are going to succeed and thrive”
In the end, that customer relationship is built on a two-way street. And it’s all about trust. The days of customers tuning out messages from the brands they’ve chosen to hear from are numbered. Customers are not going to continue to accept the feeling of dread. It’s like, “Oh, I have to contact the business. This is going to be so hard.” It’s the businesses that are adapting and growing the expectation of customers that are going to succeed and thrive.
The vision we have is one where customers feel known, understood. The businesses are really providing that connection. And in the future, when businesses reach out to their customers, those interactions are going to be personalized. They’re going to be relevant. They’re going to take into account the history of the relationship – you’re going to actually know me, Liam. And it’s going to be fun that way because it’s going to be so much better. And that is really the way of the future. It’s the next generation of business-to-customer communications. Brought to you by Intercom.
Liam: That’s your cinema trailer voice. That’s totally true. And it just brings me back to that book publisher again. The experience and the interaction I had with them really tie into that. Before we wrap up, where can people follow you online? Are you on LinkedIn?
Leandra: Yeah, LinkedIn’s the best way. But there are just so many great channels like our podcast and our blog. Definitely follow Intercom. And if you want to follow me directly, LinkedIn’s the best way.
Liam: Brilliant. Well, Leandra, I really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat with us today. Thanks so much.
Leandra: So much fun. Thank you, Liam.