The other day I went into a Starbucks and as the baristas were furiously working to prepare a massive order for a nearby school, they were apologetic about the longer than usual amount of time that it was taking to make my latte. “We’re sorry to keep you waiting, Sarah” the barista said. This was the first of many through my time there where I was referred to by my first name.
Now, I don’t want to pretend that this is something more than it is. It was clearly a technology-enabled interaction that printed my name on the order label affixed to the cup because I used a Starbucks card registered to me. The fact that Starbucks trains its baristas to leverage this information to create a better customer experience isn’t particularly surprising, especially since Starbucks has always focused on a consistent and familiar experience across their stores. But what I found fascinating was how this small programmed gesture caused a chemical reaction in my brain that just made me feel good. And it was 6:30 AM on a particularly cold autumn morning and I hadn’t even had my coffee yet.
Starbucks has always been one of those brands that prides itself on great customer service. But this time, I couldn’t help but think that they won. They won by leveraging something so small at a time when customer delight isn’t what it once was. The in-person experience now has layers of plastic protection paired with generous doses of sanitization. And there is some debate as to whether the digital customer experience was ever able to truly achieve the same wow factor experienced in person.
Can we still deliver a wow-worthy digital customer experience?
Perhaps the world has changed. Perhaps we tried too hard and were unsuccessful. Who knows. One thing that I do know is that I’m not ready to declare customer delight dead just yet. I think that there is a huge opportunity for us customer experience professionals. The time is now because so many people have simply been worn down by overly common lackluster customer experiences—as evidenced by one too many friends who aired their grievances on social channels. The bar in many cases has been lowered because too many brands have simply failed to meet simple expectations.
The good news? Now the little, seemingly obvious, service quality promises are where delight has the opportunity to shine through. And no, I’m not changing the definition of delight. I’m actually taking it quite literally—"a high degree of gratification or pleasure" as defined by Merriam Webster—because I truly believe that a great customer experience where we focus on delivering a consistent level of quality can bring a high degree of pleasure. Especially at a time when the average customer service interaction tends to skew towards disappointing.
When I joined Smile, the structure and mandate of our customer-facing team were very different. But so was our business and, frankly, so was the world. With a vision of helping as many entrepreneurs as possible, I knew that we needed to make a lot of small changes that would add up to a big transformation. To accomplish this, we needed our values to be seen and to make the most out of every customer interaction so that they could feel that we cared deeply about their success.
How Smile delights thousands of global customers around the clock
In a high-volume, 1:many SaaS environment where we support tens of thousands of customers across the world, here is what we did to start driving a better customer experience for our merchants:
One of the first things that we did was create a centralized inbox for the entire customer-facing team. This was important because we had a lot of technology spread across the sub-teams and many people on the team were drowning in work that we couldn’t see in their personal inboxes. By creating a central place for all customer communications, it is easier for the work to be distributed across the team and to see where the bottlenecks or inefficiencies were.
Set a goal of 24/7 coverage
Despite supporting a global customer base, Smile.io was still primarily a M-F, 9-5 ET operation. Operationally speaking, that meant that we were persistently in a stop and start cycle of supporting our customers which, simply put, slowed us down. In August of 2020, we hired our first team member who would start their day hours before the rest of the team and also push our coverage into the weekend. Following this, every new front-line hire widened our coverage until we reached our 24/7 goal 10 months later.
Become a global team
Tying into the 24/7 objective, we wanted to ensure that we were hiring the best talent wherever they were. We also didn’t want to be geographically constrained and see that negatively impact our ability to hire because the schedule was undesirable. Building with a global mindset required us to really invest in our tools for asynchronous work. A globally dispersed team also brought diversity and better work-life balance as people could close their laptops at night and know that someone else was online to help a customer if they needed it.
Focus on needs
To ensure that we are alleviating points of friction, we established some dedicated functions on the team:
- We created a dedicated technical support function from our more generalized support capabilities to work on quick resolution of any technical hiccups experienced by our customers.
- We formed a dedicated live chat team that works 12 hours daily to supplement our other front-line functions. We noticed that two-thirds of our inbound conversations were coming in through our in-app messenger and we wanted to deliver faster response times to customers who reached out to us this way (as chat functions are known to come with expectations of prompt replies).
- We worked on automated approaches that could quickly deliver information at times when merchants had questions as well as proactively provide assistance, which reduced the burden on the team.
Establish value-based KPIs
Internally we knew that we needed something to help us measure the value we delivered to our customers because this is not seen in the usual business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) focusing on revenue growth or churn.
We established a north star metric that was the closest proxy for actual value we could measure. This kept us focused on growing the value our solution brings our customers while also contributing to our culture of customer-centricity as it kept the end goal of helping as many entrepreneurs front of mind.
In addition, we started to focus more on public reviews of our app. We set an ambitious internal target, which took us nearly a year to finally hit, but it helped us generate a culture of nurturing customer advocates, celebrate our accomplishments, and create additional social proof for our solution which helps drive installs of our app.
So, what's next?
While our customer-facing team is now based in 10 countries, and I am beyond proud of our team for pulling off this transformation, I do know that our work is not done. Frankly, it’s probably never going to be fully done, but that’s part of what I enjoy the most about working with people—the target is always moving.
At the end of the day, I know that the people we interact with will forget our names and likely even the specifics of our interaction, but I do know that the lasting impression that will linger on in their memories is how we made them feel. Putting quality over quantity so that we can consistently meet the boring promises of quality service helps us keep our values front and center in all that we do. The reason we do anything is to help another human succeed and because of this, we approach our work with open hearts and complete authenticity, always remembering how our actions impact the human on the other side of the screen.
Sarah is Smile.io's VP of Merchant Experience.