Judith Platz watched customer support go from the basement to the C-suite. It’s not going back.
Platz discusses what she’s learned over two decades working with customer experience teams, including at Salesforce. In her view, the pandemic changed CX forever.
It’s hard to overstate the impact the last two years of the pandemic have had on nearly every aspect of both being a customer and selling a product: from long queues outside shops, to the rush to modernize legacy content centers with cloud tools after support agents were forced to work from home, to learning to design digital experiences and virtual sales processes.
“We have had more change in 700 to 800 days than we've had probably in a decade,” said Judith Platz. Platz has been working in support for more than two decades for Oracle, MuleSoft, Salesforce and is now chief customer officer at startup SupportLogic, which adds AI to support ticketing.
Throughout her career, Platz has watched support go from being an afterthought to being top of mind for every CEO during the pandemic. That experience not only accelerated the migration of support to the cloud, but it set in motion lasting effects that will permanently alter the future of the customer experience market. Moving forward, Platz thinks customer experience tools and buying expectations will never be the same.
Platz's thoughts, as told to Protocol, have been edited for brevity and clarity.
We have had more change in 700 to 800 days than we've had probably in a decade. And people might say that's not the case, but it really is. The amount of transformation that occurred by shifting the workforce to remote and by support being able to show up in meaningful ways for the customers, I would say a lot of C-suite leaders never saw. Not that it wasn't there, but it just wasn't so apparent as we were living through the pandemic.
And not that I would ever want to say something good happened because of the pandemic, but for support organizations it started this period that they're in now, and they have this window to really capitalize on that, and I would say, for them, goodness came out of this in ways that were not imaginable.
Support is always kind of a given: We have to have it, it has to be there. It has to back up the products and the service we’re putting out. But if you think about the evolution, support started out as a breakeven or a cost center. And for many organizations, that's exactly what it was. If you talk to people who've been in support for a while, they'll always say that they were the last one thought of when it came to where they sat in the building.
I'll never forget early in my career, most of the support centers were truly in the basement, literally below ground. That kind of perception of “Go off, fix the broken things,” it was a necessary evil, I think, for a lot of companies. Then there was this enlightenment around customer experience and the launching of customer-success-as-a-service, as something that would differentiate the companies. Then people really started to understand: We have this group over here that touches customers 10 times more than anybody else in the company. Are we investing enough in them? Are we doing enough for them? Are we taking advantage of what they know? As opposed to support sitting on millions and millions and millions of data points about customers.
Customer success as a service line really started coming out somewhere in the 2010s, and you could actually apply for a job being a customer success manager. But the one thing that the industry didn't do well at that time was everybody's version of a customer success manager was different. We confused customers, because from Company A they'd get a customer success manager and that person did X, and then they'd sign a contract with the next company, and that customer success manager did Y. And the customers were saying, “Wait a minute.” So when people would talk about increasing time-to-sales and and time-to-value and time-to-smile, it's because we didn't really as an industry rally and say “OK, what is customer success? What is it as a science, as a service line?”
It's an interesting name that was given, because we're all ultimately responsible for customer success. But instead we picked this service line, we named it customer success, and then I think that gave some people permission to stand up and say, “Well, that's not my job, that's your job.” If you could rewind, could we pick a different term to align on that service line? I think we're getting it now. Companies are doing a much better job of saying everyone is responsible.
I'll never forget early in my career, most of the support centers were truly in the basement, literally below ground.
I think the customer experience is everything the customer has from before they're even your customer, and that’s their physical interactions with you as well as their emotional and perceived work with you. So everything from your marketing, your sales, your support, your service, what is your CEO, how do you look at diversity, how are you taking care of sustainability — all of that plays into customer experience.
Now support, who used to be “fix broken things,” is really more front and center, but also at a place where they're adding proactive value, which is requiring a new way to think for support executives and C-level executives. Because the traditional metrics, if you surveyed support executives are: How fast do we respond? How fast do we resolve? What is our CSAT at the end, what is our NPS score? But you know what, those metrics are more control and compliance metrics: They always have been for support. Now we're getting to guiding and coaching metrics because we're willing to say, “I want you doing more proactive work with customers,” and you can't measure that in the same way.
I would rather have an agent keep a case open longer if they're adding more value to the customer versus watching the clock, closing it in four hours and I've met some score. Letting our agents go that little bit extra and do the plus-one for customers is really critical, and sometimes that proactive work can't be measured. I'd say most times it can't be measured, except in customer sentiment and customer loyalty and reduced churn, things like that.
Organizations have had this outsource wave for years of: “We're going to outsource to lower-cost countries.” Because, again, the perception of support was that it was easy to just take that big chunk, give it to somebody else and they can handle it. And then we watched, especially during SaaS, when people realized how a customer could churn easily because they didn't have that big investment in you anymore, so they could walk away if they wanted to. So then there was this swoop back: We're going to have it in-house and we're gonna bring them all back in.
I'm seeing more and more companies go gig. I think we're going to see that continue because, of course, this generation of workforce is going to drive that as well. They don't want to do 8 to 5, they don't want to unnecessarily be in the office. That's a big debate right now. So I think we'll always have outsourcing, but I've also seen the outsourcers rise to the occasion, knowing it's not that factory call center. And instead of being outsourced, it really is more of a partnership, and that requires a mindset change too. You can't just take it and give it away. You have to know that those workers are as important as yours, and treat them the same as you would yours. So you may not see that cost savings that you used to see before, and I think that's what companies are really evaluating.
I think that the drive to be far more personal is going to be a huge driver. We've talked about it forever. If you think about a self-service site, people said, “We want that Amazon experience.” I want to go to your site, I want you to know me, I want you to take half my paycheck because you suggest things I never thought about, that kind of thing. But I think more personal, much, much, much more personal than we ever have been. That's going to require being able to take the data that we haven't used and present the data back in meaningful ways. I think we are finally going to get to this proactive piece right. Again, this is something if you go back 15 years, people were talking about personal, proactive, preventative, predictive. Those were the three or four Ps. I think now we're at the beginning stages of getting it right.
Support is moving in the direction of intelligence and collaborative support. I think we're going to see that extend beyond just the walls of support; it's going to be across the company, and that's going to further rally around customer experience for sure. It’s not going to stop now either. That's the thing I think people have to really understand: digital transformation, there is no end point. There's not a day when we look at each other and say, “All done!” We’re going to keep transforming, and the customers are going to keep driving that transformation because they're going to continue to expect more and more and more, and they should.
Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at email@example.com.