It’s Customer Success, Not Support

March 09, 2015Reflections

The assumption, it’d seem, is that a happy customer is a customer who will buy things — apparently this is the mantra at Apple’s Genius Bars across the globe. One must marvel at the genius behind the bars — their processes, the service, and care with which support is handled is heavily curated, and delivered with perfection. And while some may say it’s going overboard — you have to admit that the zealots at AppleCare and Genius Bars have truly mastered customer success.

At Artoo, we salute the stalwarts that have managed to provide care with a “human touch.” We often think of those that seemed to have figured it out — Apple, Amazon, Flipkart — and wonder how we too can ensure success for our clients.

But, these guys have been serving the technologically savvy, those that have been on the internet since the dial-up era. How do we deliver technical support and customer service to those that are using technology for the first time — those that may have never used Microsoft Word, let alone enterprise software in an industry that has a history of technology aversion?

This was the challenge we faced at Artoo a couple of months ago. We had always given importance to the “human touch” when building technology to help our partners serve low-income borrowers with financial services. This entailed extensive field visits to understand their ground operations to customize our software and eventually help them disburse USD 3 Million in loans every month.

It didn’t come easy. We struggled to extend the “human touch” to the 500 first time technology users that are now live on our platform. Here are some of the lessons we learned along the way -

  • Recognize scaling challenges early…and fix them (the right way). Transitioning from mere pilots to nation-wide deployments can break things. This was difficult for us to swallow — not just for the engineering team that literally poured their blood and sweat into the product, but also for the larger team that didn’t quite understand why something that was working a week earlier on our web interface suddenly disappeared. Recognizing scaling challenges for a start-up as a reality is critical. We sat down, assured ourselves this isn’t the end of our world — when the likes of Flipkart could break, so could we.

Then we got to work — while the Geeks re-architected systems that were not built to scale, the Rainmakers hustled to minimize downtime for the users, working closely with clients to build workarounds and manage expectations. We realized that our product had not evolved to the point where client IT teams could effectively manage support. So, we’ve been spending the last couple of months adding a variety of admin tools and controls, so our clients can manage what has become a business critical technology, with ease.

  • Understand user culture. Till deployment, we work closely with client teams that have some knowledge of technology, albeit in the form of traditional legacy software. They communicate in English, and understand that new technology takes time to stabilize within businesses. Post deployment however, the difference between a client and a user is hugely pronounced. In India, where regional behavior and culture play a prominent role in business, language was the most obvious hurdle we had to get past, given our limited internal capabilities. We managed our support resources such that someone would always be available to handle calls from Tamil speaking users who had difficulty understanding other languages such as English and Hindi. Beyond language, we had to also get accustomed to cultural nuances; users in the Delhi NCR area have a casual demeanor about them — so, we’ve adopted a more conversational approach during issue resolution, and users in the South are extremely formal when interacting with us, so we’ve minimized the small talk with them.

We’ve come to celebrate the telecoms in India that have truly localized their products and services to each region. Like Airtel and Vodafone, we too have moved past user behavior to grasp the intangible — user culture when delivering support.

  • Build a sustainable business function. During the initial scaling period last year, Kaushik (@ kaushikb9), an awesome engineer on our team spearheaded support — taking calls, resolving bugs, managing feature requests, and working with the larger engineering team to ensure the users were happy. While Kaushik became the loudest voice of the users internally, we immediately realized how much of a group effort it actually took to manage support. We were busy with building new product features and client customizations, and lost sight into user experience. So, we have decided to take the plunge and make “human touch” a permanent pillar at Artoo.

We started to build a function around customer success — we’re taking Apple’s approach to curating each and every support tool, to ensure that our users achieve business results. And, we’re hiring Firefighters that will help us understand our users better. Oh, we’re also tracking all things support; we heard that data is everything…or something like that.

Our product transforms completely when it is in a user’s hands — we expect that our Firefighters will experience this transformation and frontline everything — engage users, resolve issues, receive feedback, and channel that information into new product features. Artoo’s Firefighters are product experts who will promote best practices with users. We’d like to make Customer Success one of Artoo’s core competencies — we’re putting a lot of heart into this, and hope that it makes all the difference for our clients, but especially for our users.

  • Ask for help. Learn. We studied how companies we admire handle support. We asked our peers what they’re doing. We reached out to our partners to help us build custom support tools that will help us manage this function internally. We’re now opening this to the rest of the world. How are you managing your support? With limited people on the team, how do you handle a linguistically and culturally diverse user base? What do you do when you break things?

While we are ways away from what Apple has achieved, we’ve grown up quite a bit in the last few months — we’ve taken that small step for Artoo, and that giant leap towards the FinTech revolution, delivering digital financial services for the masses. As Sameer (@ sameersegal) aptly put it, we have always been about “high-tech” here at Artoo, but now we’re delivering on the promise of “high-touch” too.

Akhila Singaraju is a Rainmaker at Artoo, managing Business Development and Operations. Follow her at @ akhila1 .

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