Increasing Productivity of Your Customer Facing Teams

I came across an HBR article from 1988 about how to measure productivity of manufacturing plants, and the formula was exactly as expected:Productivity = Units of Output / Units of InputThe simple formula above can directly be translated into revenue, and it's easy to measure (and test) productivity of one plan against another.  Fast forward 30 years, the formula still applies (we track LTV as one of the  metrics for Customer Success, for example), except we need to account for a lot more "unmeasurable" factors, such as communication overhead, team morale, and customer feedback.  For customer-facing teams, it is even harder to measure exact productivity of each individual or teams.  After all, we invest money and time into our sales teams and customer service teams, we want to make sure the teams are as productive as possible.In this article, we're going to cover a few ways to increase productivity of customer-facing teams.

Effective Communication Skills

While there are many tools that help reduce communication overhead, such as Slack and ContextSmith, people generally neglect the skill set required to effectively communicate.  Think about the last time you had talk to your internet provider's customer support agent. Chances are, it was a frustrating experience because the agent was either confused or tried to upsell you another product, when the very reason you called was to cancel the service.Running effective meetings is a crucial communication skill to acquire as a customer manager.  Be able to set clear agendas and keep the team on track is something that even seasoned managers don't do well. Another way to improve communication is through training.  For example, learn how to eliminate back and forths by writing clear, concise and complete emails.  Learning from experienced sales or account management executives is also a great way to get some quick lessons about how to communicate effectively.

Get Context Around the Customer

What folds in nicely with "effective communication skills" is that having the right context can help the team better support the customers and have more productive conversations around customers' needs.  Taking your internet provider example again, the agent can help you more if s/he has information about your subscription plan, tickets, and past conversation with agents.  In a B2B setting, all of these apply as well, as your Sales team can upsell better when they know how the onboarding went, number of high-priority tickets, and last conversations with the customers.  This is where ContextSmith (and other Customer Success software) shine, because the tool aggregates all customer data, including your email communications with customers, into one place, automatically organized by your customers.

Good Record Keeping

Having your teams track their time and activities is a simple way to see who is optimizing their working hours and who is just putting in time. In professional services, this is standard practice to bill customers on the work done.  In sales, tracking the number of outreach, emails, and calls can determine how busy a rep is.   The best part about tracking these metrics is that you're able to compare historical vs now, and continuously improve your process to maximize productivity.

Use the Right Tools

Get more done with less.  Operational excellence.  To maximize output, employees need good tools.  They need the right software, the right programs, at the right time and size of the company. However, knowing what tools are necessary and which are just causing distractions can be challenging. My previous Customer Success team used Asana for task management, Evernote for note-taking, SmartSheets for project management, Box for document management, Google Docs for collaboration, Clarizen for timesheets, Zendesk for support tickets, Slack for communication, WebEx for conference calls, Salesforce to interact with sales team, and Target Process to interface internal engineering team.  11+ tools just to manage day-to-day work!  Those tool worked for us at early stages, but as the team started growing, people started using less tools and are more focused on a vertical, rather than one-person-does-everything model.

Positive Work Culture

I presented to the board once about a customer going live after 6 months of deployment and onboarding.  The board asked a great question: "What did you do to celebrate?"  If your answer is "nothing", you need to change it.It's extremely important to have good morale among your customer-facing teams. After all, how can they sell or make customers successful if they're not excited about their own product? A lot of things can effect company morale - bad leadership, layoffs, changes within the working routine, etc. Customer service reps can burn out quickly by working with toxic customers. Imagine dealing with customer complaints all day, oftentimes from people who are rude or even belligerent. This can really cause some havoc on the morale for the team.  HBR wrote a great article about how to create a positive work culture.These are some "unmeasurable" ways to increase productivity of your Customer Success, Professional Services and Sales teams.  Remember these teams are the fire-fighters and the face of the company, so it is increasingly important to make the best out of their time and move the company forward.  Let us know if you have other comments or ideas!