David Apple is the Director of Customer Success at Typeform, your best bet for beautiful next-generation online forms.
Based in Barcelona, the Typeform support team is six people strong; all of whom have only one concern: making sure that Typeform’s customers are as happy as they can be. We managed to catch up with David and chat with him about life and customer support.
Tell us about Typeform’s support team.
I am in charge of Customer Success which includes support, but it’s more than just that. Our Customer Success team is structured as 4 main pillars: customer support, customer marketing, education, and account management.
I have a team of 6 people, and everyone spends a portion of time on support tickets (around 50% of their time) and the rest of the time working on customer success projects.
How is Typeform’s approach to customer support different from that of others?
Traditional customer support is mainly reactive. There is usually also an aspect of education through the Help Center, but by and large it’s reactive.
Customer success, on the other hand, is all about being proactive. We try to anticipate where our users will get stuck, and where they get the most value out of our product. Then we create strategies to both help them avoid getting stuck, and help guide them to value.
An example of this is that some Typeform users don’t use our ‘apply design’ feature. We know that when users use the ‘apply design’ feature, they get more value out of Typeform and therefore become stickier. So, instead of waiting for them to reach out and ask us ‘How do I apply design?’, we proactively reach out to them if they have been creating typeforms but haven’t used the feature.
Our team is also very metrics-driven, so every month we prepare a report on support statistics, user pain points, feature requests, NPS, churn feedback, and other project-specific metrics. We use metrics to track the impact of our projects, and also to feed the information back to our product team to influence the product roadmap.
We are also building an account management team that is responsible for upselling and expanding our existing users. Between owning the growth of our existing users and churn, we are effectively responsible for our (Monthly Recurring Revenue) MRR churn rate.
Walk us through your typical day at Typeform, David.
Well, I have the pleasure of living in Barcelona where the work-life balance is great. My days are pretty flexible, I usually arrive at the office around 9:30 – 10AM and leave around 7:30-8PM. On Fridays, I get in at 8:30AM for yoga with some of our team, and I finish work around 4-5PM and go play beach volleyball.
At the office I spend probably half of my day in meetings; 1-on-1 meetings with members of my team, meetings with other departments, and management meetings. The rest of the time I am either working on a specific project, working on recruitment, or working on strategy.
You mentioned that your team is basically responsible for growth and retention. Mind telling us a little bit about that?
The objective is to make our PRO users so successful using Typeform that they don’t churn, but rather buy more seats and want access to more advanced features.
To improve retention, the first step is to understand the reasons our users are leaving and remedy them. We get insights from customer feedback like the churn exist survey, NPS, and tickets… and also by analyzing the signs which hint that the user is slipping away – for example, if they haven’t logged in or collected new results for a while. We then try to influence the product roadmap to improve aspects of the product which will reduce churn, we reach out individually to users who are slipping away, and we create educational material to better teach users how to use features which they might be confused about.
With regards to growing revenue, it is still early days for us because we only have one PRO plan so the cross-selling and the expansion opportunities are limited. To upgrade users from free to PRO, we launched upselling campaigns for our free users who show signs that they could upgrade – and we give them a little extra push by offering them a discount at the right time. We target users who are very active in our platform, and also users who made a feature request which we actioned and then launched as a PRO feature.
Give us some dope on your hiring process. What kind of qualities do you look for in your support reps? And how do you ascertain if they have them?
The main qualities would probably be communication skills, intellectual curiosity, hard working, empathy for customers, and the desire to be challenged.
Our recruitment process includes a test (we actually use a Typeform for the test) where we show them real scenarios of tickets we’ve received and we see both how they would react to each situation, and also how well they would communicate with users.
Do you have a formal onboarding process for your team? How do you get new hires up to speed?
Yes. Every new hire spends 1-2 weeks (depending on the department) with the Customer Success team to learn about our product, and to interact with users.
What kind of metrics do you track in customer success?
For support, we track first response time, customer satisfaction, ticket trends, pain points, feature requests, and also the individual performance of each advocate.
Outside of support, we track NPS, churn, and I also do our financial reporting so I also report all of our revenue.
For each Customer Success project, we also try to set a goal of which metrics we want to impact with the project and we track those metrics to gauge the success of the project.
How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
I think I’m very lucky because my team is largely self-motivated and we have really great people.
My management style is that I like to give people full ownership of their projects. I think it is both good for motivation and for professional development. It also helps me see which members of my team are best suited for management roles in the future.
One other thing I do is that I like to share all strategic decisions with my team and, when appropriate, I get them involved in the decision. I have had bosses in the past who did that, and others who didn’t.
I always felt more engaged when I knew the bigger picture of what direction the team, and the company, are going.
Also, they can think of things that I would not have thought of to influence our team’s strategy, so getting my team’s feedback is very helpful for me.
Finally, we have a team dinner once a month which is a lot of fun and great for team building. I also appointed a team happiness manager who is always thinking about ways to make everyone happy (and she does a great job at it).
What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges ahead for your team?
Scaling, without a doubt. Our company is growing 15-20% month on month, our user base is growing, the number of support tickets is growing (fortunately, not as fast the other two metrics).
The challenge is making sure that we grow our team fast enough to avoid getting overwhelmed, but also that we don’t hire too fast and have people sitting around with not much to do while they are waiting for tickets to come in.
Typeform’s customer service approach seems to be largely self-service centric. But today’s world demands that personalized, instant service be the norm. How do you make your users feel like they’re being personally attended to?
So for the first part of the question, about speed, we track our first response time and we reorganized our team in shifts to reduce the first reply time. The challenge with offering quick service is that we are in Barcelona, and a lot of our users are in other time zones (mostly in the US). We will be opening offices in the US next year and hiring someone in the US will help with that. That said, our average first response time is under 2 hours which is much better than industry standards, and we get a lot of compliments from our users.
For the second part of the question about a personal interaction, it is also a challenge. We have too many users and our pricing is too low to warrant 1-on-1 interactions (outside of support). What we are trying to achieve is a low-touch strategy which feels to the user like a high-touch strategy. The example I gave earlier about the ‘apply design’ message is how we are trying to achieve this. In other words, we track user ‘events’ in our platform to only send them relevant messages. I try to avoid any ‘generic’ communication with users because I think it would disengage them. If the messages are customized for them and sent with the right timing based on their actions in the platform, I think it is more engaging and more helpful for the user.
Tell us a little bit more about the NPS Survey you send customers. Does the survey go to every user, or just your most active users?
We’re still at the early days of using NPS at Typeform. The first one was sent to all our PRO users and to a subset of our active core (free) users. The project ended up being a lot more time-consuming than I had anticipated because we had quite a high response rate of around 15%. We decided to individually respond to each one, which was very time-consuming.
A lesson we learned is that responding to each person individually turned out to not be that valuable because most of them don’t reply. Right now I’m working on a strategy to automate the whole NPS process so that we can send it out to all of our users. When we receive a response, we send an automated message to the user – then if they want to follow up, we can follow up 1-on-1. That way, hopefully we can respond individually to less people and it will be more valuable.
What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on at Typeform?
We do so many cool projects! If I had to pick one it would have to be our NPS project. In a geeky way, what was cool about that was the way we set it up so that all of the metrics were automated. Our NPS score turned out to be very high, and it was a lot of fun reading the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from our users. We also got some great constructive criticism which was interesting both for me and for our product team.
You mentioned that you’re working on a project to thank your best users. What do you have in mind?
We want to send out ‘thank you’ packages to our best Typeform users and supporters. It is something I always did in Sales and I think it is great for building relationships and for general karma. It is not a marketing campaign, but rather just a way to say thank you to our best users and to people who support Typeform. The packages will be personalized for each recipient with a handwritten note. It’s also fun for our team to be able to choose a user with whom they had a pleasant interaction and send them a thank you pack with some swag.
You were in sales, previously? How did your career in customer success come about to be?
I ended up in customer success by coincidence.
I’m actually a Mechanical Engineer by background. I worked as an engineer for eight years in France and London where I designed sustainable buildings.
While I was in London I did an MBA, and then I moved over to tech. My first job was in a startup. I was Director and then VP of Implementations. And then, I was promoted to VP of Sales.
When I moved to Barcelona, Typeform actually hired me to be in charge of Sales. But as I told you: we don’t have any expensive or enterprise plans. The sales I brought in paid for my salary, but it wasn’t a home run for me or for the CEOs. In parallel, our two CEOs went to San Francisco for a conference and learned about the fairly new concept of Customer Success. Shortly after they came back they asked me if I’d be willing to switch and I jumped on the opportunity to learn something new and have a bigger impact on the success and growth of Typeform.
That’s how I ended up in customer success. I’m really happy and I really love it but it wasn’t by design. It was more by luck.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being in customer success to you?
The most rewarding thing for me, personally, is managing a great team and helping them grow. Professionally, and I guess more specific to customer success, I am lucky to have two joint-CEOs who are invested in Customer Success. At Typeform, Customer Success is at the center of everything that we do so I work a lot with marketing, product, and developers. So I guess that the most rewarding part professionally is the feeling that I am appreciated for what I do, and that what I am doing has a visible positive impact on our business.
If you were to point out one single thing that makes Typeform’s customer support/success great, what would you point out? Just one thing.
The people. Specifically my team, and the support I get from our CEOs.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve received so much advice that it’s hard to pick just one. I went to San Francisco for the Gainsight conference and spend a few extra days meeting with every Customer Success and Customer Support leader who was willing to spend time with me. I was very lucky because I met a lot of smart and interesting people.
But I guess if I had to choose…I have a mentor that I get on a call with every week. Someone who has been there and done that in Customer Success. He gives me great advice about every aspect of what we are doing at Typeform. The best session I had with him was our first one. He laid out a framework of what customer success teams should be doing. The pillars for customer success, I guess you could say. I was still in sales at the time, and after that presentation I remember thinking that Customer Success could be a cool career path.
What is your most memorable customer interaction?
Honestly, the best interactions, for me, happen when I’m at a conference. I’m usually wearing a Typeform tee shirt and people just walk up to me and go, “I love Typeform. You guys are amazing.” It happens at almost every conference I’ve been to. There’s nothing better than that.
My favourite story like that was actually when our CEO was sitting at a blackjack table in Vegas and the guy sitting next to him playing was a Typeform user. It’s exciting to see that people all over the world are using, and loving Typeform.
What’s the best thing about working for Typeform?
I know I’m repeating myself, but I’d say that it’s the people… and specifically my team. It’s thanks to them that I look forward to coming to the office every morning. Everyone at Typeform is a lot of fun to work with and to hang out with and we do a lot of fun company activities like beach volleyball, barbecues, team meals, etc.
What was your toughest customer conversation ever?
I don’t have any specific one that comes to mind.
But generally, the toughest customer conversations are with customers whom you know are justified to complain.
In those cases, I want to make sure that they feel like I understand their frustration and that I care about them. I have found that for a lot of people that is enough to diffuse the situation… but it’s not always that easy.
I try to take those type of tough conversations onto me to avoid my team being burdened with it and so that it doesn’t affect their morale. Also I think that when a customer knows that he was passed along to the ‘Director’, they feel like they are more important and that they are being listened to, which helps.
How do you handle requests for features that are in the works but you don’t have an ETA?
I am always honest even if it means that we will lose a customer.
I tell them what I know, and I try to never commit to anything that I am not 100% sure about.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to set up a Customer Success team from scratch?
There’s no silver bullet.
There is no ‘This is the only way you do it. There’s no other way.’ Every company is different; they have their own needs, their own type of customers, their own cultures, etc.
Based on that I’d recommend trying to learn as much as you can from everyone around you and apply what makes sense to you and your company based on your circumstances.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
In Customer Success, it’s not a company but a person that I admire the most: my mentor, Sharad Mohan. He is the Chief Customer Officer for Vend. He’s a really smart guy who’s achieved a lot, but he’s not at all arrogant. He’s also become a good friend of mine.
What do you think is the secret sauce to great customer support?
I think it’s the people. Everything from hiring the right people to motivating them to creating the right environment.
There is a saying that ‘you can hear someone’s smile over the phone’. I think that expression is also true with email and other electronic communication.
In other words if our advocates are happy at work it will be sensed by our users in a positive way (and vice-versa if they are not happy or motivated).
One last question, David. What’s your favorite breakfast food?
I always choose to sleep an extra 15 minutes rather than have breakfast…but it would be a Benedict Royale (eggs benedict with smoked salmon).
We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support representative and we pick their brains. We find out what a typical day is like for these support rockstars, their personal work-philosophy, support process and what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. Know a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here? Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.