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For this article, our Customer Experience Manager Christian Crissen looks at what goes into making a successful customer self-care portal.

At TextNow, everything we do is for the customer. TextNow exists because our CEO Derek Ting, wanted to connect the world by creating the most exceptional and affordable phone service.

In our journey to fulfill our mission there are many pieces that need to come together. Think of it as a game of Jenga: the blocks are the product features, perceived value, customer support options, and everything else that makes TextNow successful. Every block is equally important to maintain structural integrity, and the inverse is also true, in that every block can have devastating effects on the structure should the block fail.

There are many great blog posts here that talk about how developers make magic happen and contribute to the integrity of our metaphorical structure. But today, I want to shine some light on how we at TextNow define Customer Success, and how it contributes to building happy customers.

You probably remember that old Italian saying, “All arrows point to the customer”
With millions of monthly users come the inevitable and numerous support interactions. It is our duty and responsibility to ensure customers have real-time support options. (In fact, a recent study by McKinsey & Company found that 75% of online customers expect help within 5 minutes.) More than ever, customers expectations about service and support are changing — they want answers, and they want them now. So TextNow decided to take a hard look at not only how customers connect with us, but also why.

We’re a data-driven company, so our obvious first step was to collect some data. We started collecting data on customer interactions, and quickly discovered that the most frequent interactions could be resolved within minutes if the customers had access to the right tools. From this kernel of an idea came the Self-Help Portal, our one-stop shop for the low-level types of interactions our tier-1 customer service agents were formerly dealing with over the phone in the most expensive way possible.

By now I should probably tell you I’m not a developer, nor am I a designer, and I certainly don’t have magic powers that made our SHP appear overnight. Which means many contributors around the organization had to work together to make the Self-Help Portal happen.

It was truly a group effort across the company. Our customer care, design, and engineering departments all sat down and picked apart the data. Once we had a better and deeper understanding of customer behaviour and expectations the ball started to roll as the design department took our user stories and made them into prototypes. Then, it was back to the drawing board: Will this bring value to customers? How can we improve it? We bounced these and many more questions around for a few weeks. After that, it was engineering’s turn to bring our prototype-ideas to life. Once we had a working prototype, QA stepped in with their customary “let’s break this before our customers do” mentality — and break it they did! Which of course merely strengthened the product, so by the end of the process we had a product we were excited to launch and promote. That means it was the social media team’s time to shine, as they took to our support channel (Facebook, Twitter, blog posts, etc.) to announce the new portal.

When you spend this much time building such an exciting feature, you grow to appreciate every hour, every design, every line of code, and every tweet that was spent.

Whoops, sorry. Wrong portal.

Our goal in building the portal wasn’t to completely remove human interactions from customer support entirely. Quite the contrary, our goal is to make sure we are available to assist our customers in those scenarios where technology just won’t cut it.

“By 2020, customers will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.” — Gartner Research.

How do we get there? We are empowering our customers to help themselves first. We believe in flexible, no strings attached support options. If our support lines and chat queues are flooded with questions or requests that customers can do themselves, that sets both us and the customer up for failure, because customers with inquiries that actually do require a human interaction may have to wait longer for support. By educating our customers on the number of self-serve options available to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, we are in a much better position to assist those customers that truly need human support interactions.

It’s coming up on the one-year anniversary of our version one of our Self-Help Portal. The portal continues to grow from what it was, it has become our customers preferred method of support. We built tools based on data analysis, so what does the data show one-year later?

Artist’s rendering of what our customers look like after they try the Self-Help portal.
Well, we had over 145 000 successful interactions in the Self-Help Portal. That’s 145 000 people who didn’t have to call our customer service agents, saving our customer’s important time instead of having them on hold for minutes or hours, and saving us money in the bargain. The portal is now used 3.4 times more than calls, and 1.6 times more than chat. The Self-Help Portal now accounts for 40% of all customer interactions.

The sharp-eyed among you will note that I mentioned this is just the first version of our Self-Help Portal. This is just the beginning, as we will continue going back to the drawing board with more data we can glean from how our customers use the portal, reevaluate our top customer interactions, and design more efficient solutions.

If we build simple, easy to use, and effective self-help tools, customers will adapt and will embrace them. Because at TextNow, customers are always first and last.

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