The true cost and role of Customer Support
October Report from the Support Team
It’s been 6 weeks since I joined Invisible.
The biggest problem I am trying to solve in Support right now is how to provide the most effective customer service to our clients in terms of quality and coverage without asking them to take on the burden of paying for it.
Here’s my dilemma: My team costs the company about 33% of monthly revenue that is mostly not billable to our clients because it is not built into our pricing model. And yet we are not just a ‘customer service’ team but we are a fundamental piece in the core product. A ‘bot’ is just a name and email address/phone number at this stage. Absent is some piece of AI technology like a machine learning algorithm. So there is no bot entity to call or email (contrary to what many of our new customers think). When you email your bot, a router will route your delegation into the appropriate channel of our Digital Assembly Line and the execution of your work can begin. However if you want to ‘call or text your bot’ you have to literally call or text your Relationship Manager (RLM) — a human being that is alive and responsive and relatable. So why not let the RLM be the bot? For the very same reasons — being human — they are also limited, meaning they get sick and will leave the company at some point, they have to sleep and eat and therefore they don’t work 24/7, etc. But the ‘bot’ stays with you forever, never sleeps, has no human needs and is always available. But the problem is that your ‘bot’ doesn’t actually ‘exist’ yet. You have 1 dedicated RLM but they only work 5 days a week for 7 hour shifts and they are managing anywhere from 50–133 active clients at a time.
This brings me to the question — is this the best design solution to achieving constant 24/7 forever access to our service? Having both a ‘bot’ non-entity AND a human assistant with all the limitations that come with humans? What is the evidence that this doesn’t increase friction in the UX? And until there is an algorithm in place that is ‘learning’ my preferences every time I interact with it, that can actually know more about me as a user than any single person, then I am not actually winning from an efficiency standpoint because every human that touches my work (RLM, Router, Strategist, Project Manager, Operator, Partner, RP) has to dive deep and study the growing list of my preferences and delegations before they can be prepared to interact with me and do work for me at the level I expect. This takes time, and the more I interact, the more data I create and the more time it will take to get up to speed on who I am, what I am doing and how I want to be doing it. Someone is going to have to pay for that and it becomes more expensive over time unless automation is factored in.
I see this as a design problem. Was Invisible designed like this? If so why? If not, then was it designed differently or just not designed at all. Is this a temporary workaround for an architecture being built by our engineers in Product? I have not seen evidence that this is the case. The vision is clear, but who designed the systems to support and manifest that vision? I suppose that is what we are doing as we go. There must be a better design solution than this. I just have not cracked it yet. I think the essential missing piece is the AI technology.
I understand the vision of our CEO. It’s this great concept of synthetic intelligence — combining AI and human intelligence for the benefit of people. But in all transparency, we are still struggling to automate the process of sending a receipt to a customer at the time they purchase Invisible hours.
Pivoting to another topic that I am facing — on what base should I be making decisions as a leader at Invisible? I am here to serve our Clients, the Support team and the Company but I am getting mixed messages from my superiors. For example, should decisions be made based on the data that represents the present or a concept of the future that we are moving towards. My manager, the Growth team and the Finance team are passionate about data. They have been prioritising cleaning up our data and figuring out what our key metrics are over the last few months as the top priority for the company. Even if I am much more of an intuitive and relational person and I get information through my interactions with people, I respect the data and I see the value in having great data on which to base decisions. In terms of Invisible’s client activity, the data tells me that client delegation volume during month of October was very low on weekdays and weekends (between 8–13% of total delegation volume).
This gives me a partial picture into what the demand is at the moment. It doesn’t tell me the reason for why, or what it will be like in the future. But when the Finance team is telling me that we are going to run out of money in a few months and my team is responsible for hemorrhaging company cash, the most obvious thing to do is to cut back on Support coverage when the demand is lower. Either that or distribute the cost of Support into our pricing model, which is also justifiable if it is a true core part of our product, and increase customer fees. Are our customers going to like that? Probably not. So will they prefer having less coverage on nights and weekends or paying more overall for our services? We could even do a survey to gather that data, but it doesn’t solve the problem of whether or not to make a data-based decision or a decision based on where I imagine we are going to be in X months. So is this a defining moment for me as a Director? There’s no way to predict how my decisions will pan out, but I will be judged based on the reasoning behind my decision when I am asked why I made the choice. My CEO doesn’t want me to let the data decide. My boss is a metrics oriented decision maker. Where is the win-win here? Probably somewhere in the middle.
Finally, I keep seeing the growing gap between what Invisible wants to be and who we are today. Francis says:
There are only two kinds of people in this world. Clients and future clients. We want anyone, anywhere, to be able to delegate any repetitive digital work to us. “Repetitive digital work” means literally any digital work that someone can do for you, that you don’t need to do yourself. Anything we can train agents to do. Is it easier for us to do simple processes for 1000s of hours than to do complex processes for just minutes? Yes. Of course. But the architecture needs to support the full range. There are powerful strategic reasons and network effects to building an architecture that can support the full range.
This may be the right vision for a CEO to hold, but not necessarily for the Growth team right now. True innovation means we are presenting a NEW concept and it’s not easy for the average person to grasp. It is also a very wide net to cast, and we know that trying to make everyone happy is the best way to make no one happy. Being too general, broad, unspecific in order to appeal to the masses is risky in that you won’t be able to really carve out your niche and excel enough for those early ‘true’ adopters. Not the customers that want to help you build your business, but the customers that really need you and depend on you for the service you are providing. At the moment, I observe that we are outwardly marketing ourselves to other entrepreneurs who are a small group of innovative, visionary and busy individuals. This profile is ready for what Invisible has to offer and they will be demanding and want a very responsive, fast and interactive turnaround. But the Growth team and Operations have engrained the motto into my head over the last month that we are built for power, not speed. Power in doing repeatable digital work that can be set up, automated and run in an efficient, low-cost way. Therefore inwardly, we see that the customers we need are the larger enterprise level groups that want to outsource their repeatable digital processes to us for the long term. These are not ‘individuals’ but business leaders that are responsible for large teams, budgets and results in their domains. These are not customers that fit the first profile of the visionary and busy entrepreneur, but the customers that are looking to use Invisible to improve their own operational efficiency.
This is one gap I see between how we market ourselves and who we are really trying to target. And there is a misalignment among leaders as to who we should be targeting and why. This is not helping us to win prospect customers because mixed messages and misalignment leads to friction and confusion.
But the good news is that we lost only 1 customer during the month of October and gained 37 new active customers. That is a great metric for my first month on the job and with my team of RLMs oriented around our #1 goal of: Drive Usage and Keep our existing clients! Let’s go November!
On more personal reflections:
I have learned that one of my strengths is a keen ability for problem perception and a low tolerance for problems, which means I drive alignment. I may not know what the solution is, but I am good at identifying misalignment and gaps between team members/decision makers, and my natural intolerance for this drives me to force alignment. Thanks Marshall for this precise feedback.
I am receiving positive feedback about my leadership from Parters and my team. I see this as a direct result of my active participation in meetings and fearlessness in speaking up. To be a strong leader you have to model the behaviour you want to see in others and to do this you have to be visible. In a remote company where there is no shared physical space, being visible means you have to SPEAK up during calls and WRITE responses to emails. Not rocket science, but takes some confidence and assertiveness.