For the last year or so, we’ve been refining a methodology called Support-Driven Growth.
Last month, Mo wrote a wonderful post introducing Support-Driven Growth, which included this helpful definition:
Support-Driven Growth is a business approach aimed at shifting the customer support channel from cost center to critical revenue driver.
This key shift has been occurring over the last 20 years, catalyzed by the rise of the internet and word of mouth marketing.
But in a world that’s biased toward measurable ROI, customer service is often discounted because its impact is harder to measure than some other channels.
One of the reasons I co-founded Help Scout eight years ago is because there wasn’t a customer service product that embraced this new view of the world: that support is a revenue driver, and that a personal touch at scale is a great way to grow a business.
Now that we’ve spent all these years on the product, we realized what’s also lacking is a playbook — a methodology that outlines clear principles, guardrails and tactics aimed at embracing this shift more broadly within an organization.
Support-Driven Growth doesn’t just impact the support team. The whole company has to embrace it.
So as a business owner, an entrepreneur, an executive, what’s in it for you? How does this strategy help you drive revenue for the business?
It starts with your support team
We think of them as customer service professionals. Anyone in your business who is talking with customers every day is part of this group. As your company grows, this team grows somewhat linearly alongside it, and it will be one of your largest teams. For many organizations, customer support is always “on,” offering assistance to your customers when everyone else is off for the day. They are the personification of your brand.
Your customer support team has three superpowers:
- Product expertise. No one knows your product(s) better than they do.
- Scale. The team’s size makes it possible to interact with customers in a unified voice, and there are no single points of failure.
- A finger on the pulse. They know your greatest business challenges and can often help you solve them.
With superpowers like these, why would you limit their impact to only reactively solving issues?
You wouldn’t! Support-Driven Growth is about giving customer service professionals the freedom to use their superpowers in other areas of the business to add value.
This methodology isn’t for everyone. Before I get into some areas where we employ Support-Driven Growth successfully, it’s worth mentioning some prerequisites. These need to be in place before Support-Driven Growth can work for your business:
1. First class citizenship
Customer service professionals in your company are treated as first-class citizens, just like sales or product professionals. You trust them to do good work, you pay them what they are worth and you are willing to continue investing in the team as your business grows.
Tracks are areas of the business in which customer service professionals can give your team leverage and drive revenue. Experimentation is welcome with tracks; you just have to think proactively about them.
On Help Scout’s support team, you can pursue a generalist track or a specialist track. New hires spend at least six months on the generalist track to become a product expert before they can (at their option) pursue any specialist tracks.
Today at Help Scout, we don’t have any dedicated team members with a title of customer success, support engineer, or SDR (sales development rep). Support-Driven Growth tracks and manages all of these functions.
3. Customer service is a core value
I don’t have to show you a linear path from good customer service to dollar ROI. You know it works qualitatively, and continued investment in your brand’s reputation is a key growth driver for your business.
By embracing these prerequisites, your team will be equipped to add value in a number of areas depending on your business model. How you implement Support-Driven Growth at this point is limited only by your imagination and willingness to experiment. At Help Scout, we’ve identified four benefits of leveraging Support’s superpowers so far.
Boost expansion and retention
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about key moments in the Help Scout customer lifecycle and how we can be helpful. By identifying these moments and reaching out proactively, we can address a limitation before it becomes a problem, or offer hands-on assistance as the company grows.
For instance, when your Help Scout account exceeds 1,000 tags, it’s probably time to upgrade to the “Plus” plan and start leveraging Custom Fields to stay organized. Every time this happens in a customer’s account, HubSpot sends an automated notification to our Support-Driven Growth mailbox in Help Scout. One of our Growth Specialists looks at the account in depth, then reaches out to the customer to offer some assistance.
This is one of dozens of our automated triggers, which will prompt personalized outreach from someone on the support team.
Why should you do this instead of hiring a dedicated Customer Success person or team? It comes back to the superpowers. Your support team has the product expertise already. You don’t have to hire someone full-time to take on this effort. You can start with a single person spending 10%, then 20%, then 40% of their time on this sort of work. This is where the size and scale of the support team is an advantage. All of a sudden, your support team is driving expansion revenue or preventing churn by spending a percentage of their time doing proactive outreach.
By running all or some of your customer success efforts through the support team, you can flex based on the needs of the business. When the support queue is busy, you can get all hands on deck helping customers. When the queue is slow, you have people who can focus on specialized tracks to drive revenue. In both cases, the support team’s size and expertise create leverage for the business.
Make better product decisions
In addition to the Growth Specialist track, we also offer a Product Specialist track. These folks are often a bit more experienced with the challenging technical issues, and they have a passion for improving the product.
With this track, we’ve made Product Specialists a first-class citizen on product teams. They handle bugs and triage in the support queue, but they also participate in their team’s product meetings, influence the roadmap, QA new features, and even write and comment on project specs.
When you have support folks embedded on a product team, your product magically gets better.
They have a level of empathy and understanding for the customer that your product team does not. Their product expertise adds significant value during the design and development process. And in some cases you can move faster, not having to do as much user testing or customer research because they accurately represent a broad range of customer use cases all in one.
Embrace a new way of selling
Growth Specialists are still members of the support team. They don’t earn commission; they’re just dedicated to running new experiments aimed at revenue-driving potential. Once those experiments go well, they’re rolled out at scale to the team. About 20% of the entire support team’s time is then dedicated to growth activities.
While we do have a sales team at Help Scout, more than 90% of our new customers by volume convert via a self-service trial. About 18% of our trial customers engage with Support-Driven Growth team members in some way during their trial, over email, chat, a live class or an in-person consult. Of those 18%, just over 42% convert to a paid plan, which is significantly higher than our conversion rate for other trials.
Over the years, we’ve tried a bunch of ways to impact our trial-to-paid conversion rate, but Support-Driven Growth blows them all out of the water.
It almost sounds too simple. Give a customer service professional the space and trust to drive more revenue, and they will do it.
Show some love
The potential of Support-Driven Growth isn’t limited to customer-facing communications — at least not in our view. One long-term way to drive revenue and positive sentiment for the brand is to show some love — both to customers and to Help Scout employees. It’s something we like to bet big on.
This sort of work doesn’t require a department or dedicated team, so we leverage Support-Driven Growth instead. We call it the Culture Specialist track. These folks (Shout-out to Kristi on our team for pioneering this track!) might spend time mailing “customer love” packages to customers, or sending gift cards for diapers to a teammate who just had a baby, or helping plan transportation logistics from the airport at our next retreat.
Some may say this sort of work doesn’t affect revenue or company growth, but I’d disagree. The reason Help Scout grows is because of the team we’ve cultivated, and the passion they have for the work. It’s because we value customer-facing professionals and their work, as much as we value building products that aim to make their lives easier.
This is the fun part of Support-Driven Growth. You can introduce it in your business gradually, and increase your investment as you see results. But you will see results. Customer service professionals are too skilled, too enthusiastic and too helpful to be pigeonholed. It’s high time they’re given the same kinds of opportunities to drive the business forward as other teams get.