Excellence at Every Touchpoint

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Grumeti Game Reserve, Tanzania; photo by the author

I’m fortunate to travel frequently, both for work and for pleasure. My record for countries visited in a single year is 17, which I set in 2016. This year I’ll visit more than a dozen states and a dozen countries, including three for the first time (Alaska, South Korea, and Cambodia).

There are many reasons why travel is rewarding. Who doesn’t want to explore the world’s natural and human-made wonders? Doing so introduces us to new perspectives that change the way we interpret everyday life.

Professionally, nothing compares to meeting prospects, customers, and partners in person, so I try to do so at least once a week (I’m batting over .500 this year). Travel also frequently serves as a source of inspiration for how to be more customer-focused; after all, the essence of hospitality is delivering memorable customer experiences.

One trip a few years ago redefined my interpretation of what it means to be customer-focused. When I returned to the office, I channeled what I had observed and learned from this experience into five customer service principles. These principles anchor how we interact with customers and appear on posters throughout Smartling’s office under the heading “Excellence at Every Touchpoint.”

Five-to-One

We subscribe to the mantra, “Win and lose together.”

Particularly with complex problems, no one person is capable of delivering a solution. Every Smartling customer works with an Account Manager and a Customer Success Manager, as well as with our amazing customer support team. In addition, most customers interact at least occasionally with a Solution Architect (for technical integration) and a Language Service Associate (for improving language translation outcomes).

This level of specialization serves as a force multiplier: the effectiveness of the team is greater than the sum of the effectiveness of each individual.

Timeliness

I’m a stickler for being on time. No one should ever be made to wait. Just because someone is reliably late doesn’t make it acceptable for you to be late, too; always be ready at the scheduled start time. People who struggle with being on time should block 10 minutes before and after every scheduled meeting to avoid falling victim to this problem. (This is a good preparation and follow-up practice in its own right.)

The second part of this principle speaks to the importance of time to value. All else being equal, faster is better: the vendor that can deliver on a buyer’s requirements fastest wins the sale; the company that gets to market soonest has the first-mover advantage; and so on. Customer service teams can amplify this by valuing timeliness in every interaction.

Expertise

Most of our users aren’t language translation experts; they rely on our subject-matter expertise for success, which is why we invest heavily in internal training. We dedicate three full days at the start of each quarter as well as two hours every week (one of which is a “drink and learn”).

We value self-editing so that the answer to “is this your best work?” is “yes” most of the time, and encourage radical candor as a way of constantly raising the bar. (Read the last exchange on this page if you’ve never heard the story about Henry Kissinger and one’s best work.)

Attentiveness

I’m not making a political statement about corporate personhood. Rather, this is an acknowledgement that individual people make decisions about buying and using products on behalf of their employer. There is no “customer C is happy”; there is only “person P at customer C is happy.”

Every person at a customer has his or her own hopes and dreams, as well as fears and doubts. The job of a customer service team is to discover these differences and understand them intimately, and to tailor engagement accordingly. This is how champions are built. Sometimes it’s as simple as respecting a person’s preferred communication style (e.g., email versus phone) but often it’s more subtle.

Gratitude

This principle speaks for itself. There are many ways gratitude can be expressed beyond saying “thank you”:

  • Send a gift package, ideally at an unexpected time. We usually include a handful of branded items and cookies.
  • Make introductions to other customers or partners that may be able to help with a particular situation.
  • If a champion is affected by a reduction in force or acquisition, help him or her to find a new job. You’ll be doing the right thing and probably securing a new customer in the process.

Great customer service is a differentiator and a competitive advantage. Recently we launched the “Excellence Challenge,” which encourages everyone on the team to call attention to these principles in action. It’s now common to see someone share a screenshot of a video conference with multiple subject-matter experts (five-to-one, sometimes literally!) or to praise a team member’s #expertise in a Slack message. Moments like this make me even more proud to lead such a passionate and talented team.

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Written by

Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.

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