Empathy is not the answer

In its January-February issue, The Harvard Business Review reports on a survey of customer service reps that destroys the idea that high-empathy reps are the best. In fact, the most effective reps are the ones who take charge, direct the customer interaction, and anticipate and solve future problems. (The article calls them “controllers”, which I think is a poor choice of word, but the research resonates with me.)

In contrast, the not-so-effective reps follow scripts and prescribed checklists, and only solve the problems the customer brings up.

What can you do to attract and retain more effective reps?

  • Hire for fit. If you recruit blind rule-followers, that is what you will get.
  • Get rid of scripts and rules and instead provide recommendations that reps can adapt as needed.
  • Train for judgment and on-your-feet thinking. (This is the essence of The Art of Complex Support!)

What are you doing to encourage proactive thinking? Please share in the comments.

Creating a Customer Success Staffing Model

This is the third post in the series about Customer Success ROI. The first one discussed the wisdom of not doing ROI analyses. The second showed how to calculate benefits. In this post, we build a staffing model that can be used for ROI analyses and also to forecast headcount and test all manners of hypotheses and experiments. It requires a bit of work to set up, but you will use it for many years to come.

Let’s start with the magic formula to calculate Customer Success headcount:

headcount = effort hours / available hours

The denominator is straightforward: available hours are simply hours worked that are actually focused towards customer efforts. So vacations, meetings, or administrative email wrangling need to be taken out from the 40 hours a week or whatever figure you use for a full week’s worth. A typical utilization rate for CSMs is 75%.

Effort hours can be computed with a simple multiplication:

effort hours = # accounts * hours per account

For this, it’s best to work by customer segment (since larger accounts have more deliverables, hence more hours per account), and to separate onboarding from retention (in other words new accounts from existing accounts). So if you have 2 segments you may have 4 different calculations, for large new accounts, large existing accounts, small new accounts, and small existing accounts.

Here’s a sample staffing model for a single segment, separating onboarding and retention efforts.

Once the model is validated, you can use it to run experiments. For instance, let’s say you introduce self-service tools that decrease the number of onboarding hours to 2 per customer. You can see that the headcount can remain stable despite the growth in customers.

Or you can see what happens if you focus the program on just the large customers:

Do you use a Customer Success staffing model? Tell us about it in the comments. And if you need help creating yours, contact us.


Presentation Schedule for TSW San Diego

I now have time slots for the presentations at TSW in San Diego:

  • Tuesday May 2nd at 11 for Turning Hard-Core Techies into Customer Conversationalists, a discussion with Cloudera about soft skills training.
  • Tuesday May 2nd at 3:15 for the panel discussion moderated by John Ragsdale on the topic of the social impacts on the customer experience.
  • Wednesday May 3rd at 10am for Blurring the Lines: Recruiting and Training Services Staff Members as One Big Family, a discussion with OSIsoft on using support as a training farm

Come listen and especially ask questions! I will also have a booth in the Expo hall. Make an appointment to catch up or just drop by. You can register for the conference here.