Your Guide To Customer Support & PLG
May 10, 2022
In a product-led growth (PLG) business, should we aspire to have *zero* customer support?
My take: No!
Support plays a critical role in driving PLG. Just don’t fall in love with customer interactions; fall in love with learning from customer interactions to improve your PLG efforts.
Support is often the second team introduced at a PLG company after R&D. Support is the voice of your evolving brand and a major tool in predicting future conversion and expansion while combating churn. They’re also a great team to test out the opportunity for more proactive GTM investments like sales and customer success, as Webflow and Zapier did.
I sat down with Ron Rafalovitch, Group Lead (EMEA) of Customer Experience at PLG giant monday.com to investigate the role of support in driving a PLG strategy. Keep reading to learn about how to leverage support interactions to improve your product, what support KPIs to measure, and how monday.com evolved its support model as they scaled.
Just having great customer support for your startup can be a massive competitive advantage. So simple.
— Andrew Gazdecki (@agazdecki) April 24, 2022
How customer support fits into a PLG strategy
monday.com is a work operating system that allows folks to collaborate and work together in a way that transcends where they are or what they do. Ron joined monday.com back in March 2018 before its $50M Series C when the team numbered fewer than 130 people. Now monday.com is a public company with 152,000 customers and worth more than $6B in market cap.
https://t.co/vwnFotwKzN is growing 91% at $400,000,000 in ARR
Yes, you read that right. 91%.
Cloud is bigger than ever.
5 Interesting Learnings: 🔽🔽🔽🔽🔽
— Jason ✨BeKind✨ Lemkin #ДобісаПутіна (@jasonlk) March 17, 2022
A lawyer by trade, Ron started out as a “run-of-the-mill Customer Experience Manager (CXM).” He was enticed by the company’s PLG model and strong company values—a far cry from what he experienced at law firms. Today Ron leads the EMEA group for Customer Experience, “working with four amazing team leads and 30 talented team members.”
“I had the option to choose between growing up in customer experience (CX) and growing up in CS. I chose CX because I saw an opportunity to make an impact on a much bigger piece of land. We in CX at monday.com speak to all our customers, whether sales—attached or not. It also gave me a chance to impact young professionals at the beginning of their career journeys.” —Ron Rafalovitch
I asked about where support fits into a PLG strategy. Should PLG companies even need support if they deliver a great self-serve product experience?
Ron’s response: “There’s a perfect world and there’s the world we live in.”
monday.com’s founders decided early on that CX should be the company’s second team after R&D. They saw it as a distinct competitive advantage.
That’s because customer experience improves each pillar of monday.com’s PLG strategy. Specifically, the CX team:
- Provides a fast response time for all. “When a customer—potential or existing—hits a roadblock and is engaged enough to seek out support, we need to reciprocate and maintain the momentum.”
- Makes the voice of the customer tangible. “Customers writing in is a gift. Their experiences and feedback is a treasure trove. We put in a categorization system that allows us to provide our builders with possible product optimizations, driving our product experience forward.”
- Enables self-serve. “With the majority of customers wishing to find answers on their own, building a super-efficient feedback loop between customers and your content team is a huge win.”
The evolution of customer support as you scale
In the beginning, monday.com measured the CX team primarily based on response time; how long people had to wait before getting a reply. Their rationale was that PLG businesses have a very narrow window when they have a user’s attention. monday.com needed to reach folks in a manner of minutes while they were still using the product.
“When customers reach out about an issue when in need, they look for more than resolution. They look to understand if they have a partner in this journey.” —Ron Rafalovitch
One of their first specializations was a formal voice-of-customer program. monday.com’s goal was to make sure they were actually doing something with all of their thousands of emails and support interactions. If customers spent so much precious time away from their day-to-day work on providing feedback, monday.com knew they needed to make that effort count. They wanted to move from anecdotes to a data-driven approach where there were clear-cut action items to resolve the most important and consistent customer feedback.
Something Ron wished they would have added sooner was a dedicated support operations function. Support teams rely on multidisciplinary team members to combine client work with other responsibilities. It’s imperative to have someone who only thinks about support operations so that everyone else can focus on customers. monday.com’s support operations team helped make every CX agent more effective by enhancing onboarding for new CX members and creating resources for team members to provide the best answers faster.
“As a rule of thumb, we did support operations way too late. When you exceed 20 to 30 support team members globally, when you move from a single queue to add specializations, or when you add certifications—all of those beg for a dedicated operations person. The reasons for needing an Ops function:
- Operational sanity: A ticketing system is a complex apparatus to configure initially. Integrating with other systems, adding triggers and automations, and optimizing it across different channels further adds to the complexity.
- Reporting: Any decision you make needs to be based on data. You have to build a solid infrastructure in order to track performance, locate areas of opportunity, and provide context around future plans.
- Efficiency: Support is a time-based game. You need great minds making every second a team member spent on a case count.
- Omni-channel support and specializations: As the product evolves, the customer base expands and your presence is needed across multiple channels. You’ll need to make your operation a lot more elaborate.
- VoC: Capturing the voice of the customer and categorizations.”
Soon a team member from monday.com’s CX group started to drive sales, leading the company to wonder what would happen if they put in dedicated resources to focus on selling. In fact, a CX team member actually raised their hand and founded monday.com’s original sales team.
Today the CX team leverages customer conversations to provide a quality sales pipeline. Team members look out for cues that indicate serious intent or that can’t be resolved in a quick five- to 10-minute interaction. Examples might include requests to fill out a security questionnaire or questions about advanced security features. These are extremely well-qualified opportunities, and there’s very little room for error.
“Our CX team converses with customers all day. With a few simple guidelines and rules, you can provide people with a pipeline for expansion at no extra dollar cost. This also bolsters cross-team collaboration and communication for both celebrating great passes and learning from those that didn’t quite pan out.” —Ron Rafalovitch
Leveraging customer support to build better products
Support talks to customers all day. Why not do something with that data to make the feedback count?
A first step is to track the trends and data in your ticket flow. This requires consistent tagging: which area in the product does the feedback relate to, which specific features, etc. The tagging may hurt your team’s efficiency in the short-term, but earns support a seat at the table in the long-run.
“Anything that happens in your product generates a ripple effect in your customer experience. If you don’t track what happens later, you don’t know if you’ve solved the problem or if you’ve actually created a new problem instead.” —Ron Rafalovitch
Ron emphasized that CX at monday.com gets a seat at the table across each product domain as the voice of the customer. Each product and R&D team at monday.com has an official dedicated CX person working with them who’s involved in the full product cycle from initial brainstorming sessions to releasing a feature and gathering feedback.
CX can also be proactive in getting specific feedback to inform product ideas, creating a clear and concise feedback loop. They’re constantly plugged in about:
- What areas of interest are we looking to improve in the product?
- What questions should we ask users?
- Where can we send specific feedback?
This feedback can also get leveraged by teams like marketing or education. If a question comes up very often around new-user onboarding, that’s a great topic for a welcome email or in-app message. If a certain use case comes up regularly or a certain job role asks the most questions, that’s a great signal of where to focus from a demand generation perspective.
Support KPIs for PLG companies
Response time was monday.com’s primary CX KPI in the early days. It’s still important today, but other KPIs have also bubbled up. monday.com’s CX KPIs now include:
- Customer satisfaction: What percentage of customers rate monday.com a 9 or 10 out of 10?
- Handling time: This is a great indicator of where monday.com should invest to improve the effectiveness of the team. When handling times rise, where can they invest in specializations, trainings, automations, workflow adjustments, etc.?
- Resolution: Users don’t just want a fast response, they want an actual resolution to their problem. It’s important to track resolution rather than just response time or public comments.
- Tickets on hold: These are more complex cases such as elaborate workflows, issues requiring cross-company communication, bugs, or feature suggestions. Such cases usually don’t appear on the main queues, making the number of clients waiting seem lower than it really is. monday.com puts a lot of emphasis on their ability to track and provide a fast turn for even these complex tickets.
“People reach out to CX for many reasons, but they’re not here to converse with us. They’re here to get what they need in order to keep running towards their own goals.” —Ron Rafalovitch
It’s clear that support plays such an important role for PLG—even if they’re rarely in the spotlight. Here are four reasons why you should invest in a better support experience.
- It creates trust. When we ask folks to take their business onto a software platform, we’re asking them to take a leap of faith. Customers want to feel supported in that journey—even if they don’t need it.
- It creates a feedback loop to improve the product. Support talks to customers all day. Your support tickets are a goldmine of data. Make sure to tag support conversations and use the insights to improve your product.
- It’s a powerful lead gen tool for sales. Many of the questions that come into support are actually sales questions in disguise. Can you help with a security questionnaire? Do you support X enterprise feature? These are extremely qualified leads that you can expand into enterprise deals.
- It lets you serve more of the market. Not every user is an early adopter of tech. Support can be that bridge between what the user needs and what the product can provide.