This is the second interview in our series on Customer Experience. In part 1, I had the pleasure of speaking with Gerald Hastie of Pinterest.
My entire career, I’ve been in customer facing roles. Even as an 11 year old selling lemonade near the beaches of New Jersey, it was easy to see that if someone wasn’t satisfied, the way my little brother and I handled it would determine if they came back later... Or not. It determined what they’d say to their friends or relatives about our little stand when they got back to their beach chair and umbrella. Whether it’s lemonade, software, robotics, or anything, I’ve seen that underlying principle still hold true in every company I’ve been a part of. It has made customer support a major focus for me, and makes learning from some of the industry's top thought leaders a truly invaluable experience.
Today, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Javed Maqsood. Javed is a technology executive, with over 20 years experience operating in Silicon Valley. He is currently serving as VP, Customer Success Americas and LATAM for Algonomy, a global leader in algorithmic customer engagement, powering digital-first strategies for retailers and brands. His career spans building multiple go-to-market technology teams for fast growing software companies.
Our full conversation, lightly edited for clarity, follows.
Avery: Hi Javed, thank you for joining me today. To get started, can you tell us about yourself - what got you into customer support in the first place, how it’s been over your career, and top trends you’re seeing in customer support today?
Javed: I started to delve deeply in support about 10 years ago, when I was building a product and consulting company that was in the business of providing a white label payment processing solution for online retailers with recurring subscription models, who wanted to stay out of the hassle of back end processors, bank settlements and chargebacks. During that time, I built a support operational harness that deeply combined an L1 team of agents, with an L2 team that included developers in the back end. This was a bit of a non-traditional approach to support. But it was a good learning lesson for me on how to combine these teams into a seamless, transparent superior customer experience at the end.
Since then I have been part of companies where I have bootstrapped support organizations from the ground up at traditional SaaS companies. I have done that twice in the past 5 years. A recent role at my last company involved modernizing and optimizing a support organization that wsa 100+ engineers strong.
The trend I am seeing now in support is trying to understand how Support is being perceived as an integral part of the customer-facing team. It’s one unified experience in the eyes of the customer - whether it’s a support engineer communicating with the customer, or a PS consultant or a CS manager - customers want a simple, timely solution to their problem, however complex the problem is. It’s the demand of the SaaS ecosystem. It also has to do with the explosion of complexity of the technical landscape that these customers are drowning in these days. The myriad of technologies, the pressure to jump on the digital transformation bandwagon, pressure from competition, and the pressure to deliver on the top / bottom line that Wall Street expects them to.
Companies that are making a big stride to lead this support / CX transformation - they are building a unified CX for their customers, making it super easy to connect to their representatives, through multiple channels and providing help and tips to the customers along that interaction journey.
Avery: With Support teams being perceived as an integral part of the customer-facing team, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen, and how has it impacted both the support teams providing guidance to customers, and the overall customer experience?
Javed: To be effective, Support teams now need to have all the necessary information quickly, at their fingertips. They need to know what the customers came to the table with - their entitlement, the ecosystem that they live in, their history of interaction, and, in some cases, their health score.
Avery: Knowing those changes have occurred, looking to the future, how do you see frontline and backline support agents role, and support as a whole, evolving over the next 3-5 years, and what do you think is catalyzing those changes?
Javed: Frontline agents need to have a few very critical customer facing skills and attributes - listen, empathize, communicate with vigor and clarity. They need to be motivated and armed to dive into the problem statement quickly. The tech landscape in these fast growing companies are as disparate and silo-ed as ever. On-prem systems are still abundant. While cloud based systems are making quick inroads to address specific enterprise needs. So very quickly, these companies will need to have a unified interface that front line agents can go to and see customer critical information. They then need to be able to seamlessly manage, communicate, oversee tickets with the backline team, and resolve customer issues quickly, efficiently, and with the best customer experience possible.
Support managers will need to be ever more vigilant on the trends and signals that their customer base is sending, through close monitoring and slice-dice of customer issues / tickets. They need to educate their agents accordingly to be more agile.
The biggest catalyst of these changes is the rapid evolution of customer sentiment - I want the best CX possible, otherwise, I will switch to a competitor.
Avery: As we’re seeing these changes really kick off, it’s obvious Customer experience is the new battleground. It’s becoming more and more important as a huge competitive differentiator, and even making the difference between churns and upsells. Knowing that, how did you organize your current support workflow for managing tickets & escalations, to balance everything with the customer-first mindset you approach in your role?
Javed: Typically, this customer experience is two-fold - internal and external. There is usually a large team of internal stakeholders working very closely with field customers and partners to manage the overall relationship and health of the business. In the first line of escalation management, support leaders typically allow only internal stakeholders to open escalations. In the next major leap in their maturity process, the support leaders would normally allow customers to escalate as well.
Workflow - (Add some process on what it means for customers to escalate) - If customers are coming in with sub par service, what should they do, when should they do it, and we as support leaders want our customers to participate and have an excellent experience.
Avery: What’s the next point of focus to continue to level up your approach from here?
Javed: If I were to think about the maturity of the process, the technology explosion is there, as is the need for self service. Step 1 is to tighten up internal processes to get there. Step 2, test these processes through pilots with select customers. Step 3 - technology adoption along the way in a scaled fashion to roll out across the entire org. Step 4 - This really aligns with AptEdge. Capture, and thoroughly analyze data to make smarter decisions, faster.
Avery: How important is it to not only have one place where agents can find all the information they need, but also to automate some of the responses with the appropriate help articles to get customer issues resolved faster?
Javed: Very important - needless to say. This directly results in degraded service across many critical KPIs that today’s top notch support teams strive to achieve - CSAT, responsiveness, ticket closure rates, managing escalations and business trends.
Avery: From those successes, and within the realm of how customers are supported becoming more and more important to sales, product decisions, and really the entirety of all organizations, what excites you the most about how AptEdge has been approaching this new world of support modernization?
Data driven look at ticket trends
Very easy to jumpstart the product, with easy integration into various enterprise products
Simple workflow engine to simplify the life of the agent
Bleeding edge thinking of making all the above simpler for Support organizations
Avery: What would the impact of AptEdge be from those features you mentioned within a support org?
Impact: Ability to go into a rapid prototype/ideation and results for support transformation, and AptEdge being the vehicle to help along the whole way. That rapid prototyping is what AptEdge is bringing to the table.
Rapid prototyping: if you’re thinking about the agents to be more self-sufficient, smarter flow with edges, etc. Rapid prototyping is ideating on what the new workflow would be like with AptEdge, create a prototype with a sample of customers, (easy to segment those), and start to get those results.
With AptEdge up and running - as soon as it is plugged in, it’s capturing data on everything. Further, it’s able to segment this data to allow agents to approach new venues while, along the way, capturing all the trends and KPIs throughout the process.
Avery: Before we wrap up, one last question. If you had a chance to rewind time to when you first started, what are some things you wish you knew, or any advice you’d give to folks just starting their careers?
Think deep and with passion before you act
When you act, act quickly and decisively
It’s okay to fail and learn, the trick is to reinvent yourself
Never stop learning
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