Glen West is the Chief Customer Officer of Niche Video Media, a secure video hosting software for businesses.
A remote team, Niche Video media is spread over Chennai, Atlanta and San Jose. Four people strong, Niche Video Media’s support team supports a variety of channels – email, live chat and the phone.
We managed to catch up with Glen and Raj Rajasekar, the CEO, and chat with them about life and customer support.
The Niche Video Media team, Chennai
So, how did your career in customer support come about to be?
Destiny! I joined NicheVid in 2012 as both CCO and the CTO. I have a lot of experience in this field so it was a natural shift.
What does a typical day look like for you?
As far as customer support is concerned, there is no such thing as a typical day. Every day presents us with new challenges and opportunities.
Our products are platforms with a variety of features and there is a vast diversity in our customer base which is why the customer support team in our company has a new experience everyday.
But my typical day? I usually walk to work. When I get in, I make myself a cup of my special cinnamon flavoured tea before I look into the queries or issues that had cropped up the previous night. That’s all that is typical about my day.
How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
We motivate ourselves by understanding our customer’s dreams; the passion to make their dreams come true is inspiring. Our mantra is to believe that we can only succeed if our customers do!
After all, the success of a company is largely determined by their customers.
We understand that the NicheVid support team is spread across time zones. What are the pros and cons? How do you make sure everyone’s on the same page?
We have personnel in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Toronto, and Chennai. We follow the sun to provide 24×7 support; it can be challenging.
One of the cons, in my opinion, of working in a company that operates remotely is communication.
Picking up on subtle communication cues such as body language, or inflection is not possible in case of email or even live chat.
Give us some dope on your hiring process. What do you look for in your support reps? How do you test for these traits?
An undeterred sense of determination to help our customers be as successful as possible is a primary requirement. Good communication skills are, obviously, a must too.
My favourite question is a two-parter: I first ask them what the biggest customer related problem from their past career was, and follow it up by asking them how they individually solved it. This illustrates their ability of taking responsibility to solve problems.
Tell us about your onboarding process. What kind of training do you provide your new hires?
I guess you could say my team is trained on the job.
I start off allotting a customer to each support team member whose expertise matched closest to the customer’s necessity. Apart from calls, I train them with email.
The management receives a copy of their mails so that they can correct them in areas where they go wrong.
Everything is a learning process, and when you widen your horizons to learn, you get a better understanding of the whole picture.
What, in your opinion, is the most important metric that a support rep should keep track of? Why?
A problem must be resolved within the customer’s first call. We also feel that a problem is resolved only if the customer agrees as well. Frequent phone calls by the same customer indicates an unhappy product experience. Thus, we aim to provide the best service and try to eliminate the problem within the first call.
Do you publish your customer satisfaction ratings? And why?
No, we do not publish customer satisfaction ratings, as they cannot level with the experience of the customer. We choose to publish testimonials instead, which are more powerful. These testimonials are treasured by us.
Tell us about your social media strategy. How do you make sure that your customers on Facebook and Twitter also receive exceptional support?
Social media support is actually one of the main reasons we chose Freshdesk. Any social mention of our company or product comes in as a ticket (thank you for that!). Depending on the type of request (we do not discuss specific issues publicly on social media), we either deal with them or call them. Once the call is successfully closed, we request that they post their satisfaction on the media they raised their request on.
However, this method of support is not used very frequently as our customers tend to prefer using the phone.
What’s your most memorable customer interaction?
One fine day, I got a call from a pet shop who wanted to do something different with Niche Video. The idea was that owners who had their dogs in daycare wanted to know how they were doing and hence, wanted a live stream of their activities.
This innovative idea proposed for live streaming will always be etched in my memory.
Tell us about a really tough call and how you handled it.
One of our toughest customer support experience was with a humble farmer.
He did not know much about computers and was clueless as to how to host videos onto our channel. And the worst part was that he didn’t use Gmail or Yahoo mail but AOL mail.
A seller of bulls, he wanted to upload videos of bulls-to-be-auctioned online. We helped him upload videos from his computer onto the channel and taught him the basics of screen sharing, video recording and WebEx from scratch. We now host videos of bulls too!
What do you do when you’ve had a rough customer call? How do you get back into your happy place ?
I usually run over the call with my team again. We then come up with ways to tackle issues like these efficiently, which quickly puts me back in my happy place.
What’s your biggest challenge in providing great support?
Our biggest challenge has been handling customers who want to customize the product on-the-go.
To start off, making changes to a SAAS product (cloud software) drastically affects other customers who are using the same product across other business verticals as well. Also, they demand that these changes be done as soon as possible. Handling these customers and gratifying their requirements without losing them is a pretty big challenge for us.
We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d handle them at Niche Video Media.
a) A customer writes to you with a feature request that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you don’t have an ETA. How do you handle them? Mind jotting down a rough draft of your reply?
“We’re working on that very feature right now. It’s a complicated task as we need to develop it in such a way that it applies broadly to our customers, so it will take a bit before it’s ready for everyone to use. If you are interested in sponsoring the development, please let us know and we can get it moved up the queue into an earlier release. Otherwise, we expect to have it available for use in <insert month>.”
b) What if it’s a feature you don’t intend on building?
“I can see how that feature might be useful to you in your use case. I’m concerned, however, about the impact it could have on our other customers. We could always deal with it as a custom development project for you. Otherwise, I will put it on the enhancement list and see if other customers endorse it as a generally useful feature. In the meantime, let’s look at ways you could use the product as it is today to get you as close as possible to that functionality.”
c) A customer requests a feature that’s not on his plan but he doesn’t want to upgrade to the higher plan. Do you categorically deny these requests or do you make some exceptions?
As I understand from the question, the customer is asking for an existing feature available on a higher plan, but not wanting to upgrade to the fees for that higher plan. My answer would then be :
“I understand your concern for keeping your operating cost down. We believe that the feature generates more value than its incremental cost, which is why it is on the higher plan. Our customers on that plan are telling us that they’re getting more than that value out of it. I’d be willing to give you a free trial of the higher plan for a few days at your current rate to demonstrate its value. At the end of the trial, you can decide if it’s worth the extra cost.”
How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?
We do not have a ‘tone guide’ as every situation is unique in our young company. All reps are directed to escalate any frustrated customers directly to me. That usually diffuses the problem by itself. The rest is my experience at dealing with challenging customers. I, then, give feedback to the rep to explain how they could have avoided the escalation in the first place.
What’s the best thing about working for Niche Video Media?
Nothing can compare with the experience of working for a startup. You have the freedom to experiment, space to learn and numerous potential opportunities for growth.
Niche Video Media is no exception.
What is the key thing that makes your customer support great?
I think that the key is to instantly respond to our customer queries and resolve them through all of our support channels. The management is directly involved in providing a solution to the customer’s issues and provides on-site support. I think that’s partly the reason our customer support is a success now.
What are the biggest challenges ahead for your customer support team?
Reducing human interaction in the support process without degrading quality is definitely a big challenge we face. At our price point, direct human interaction for every issue is not economically viable. We must also help the customer benefit from our Knowledge Base articles in case of minor issues while making sure they get in touch with a service representative in case of less routine issues as well. This paves the way for a more intuitive UI, more help options within the product, and more FAQ/self-directed support options.
If you were advising someone who is building a new customer service team, what would you tell them?
Build a team with people who love to talk about anything under the sun.
Customers don’t like to just hear you sell, they like to hear you connect with them.
But, remember to understand the customer’s interest level before talking too much. You don’t want to be seen as an excessively chirpy team to someone who expects a level of professionalism.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at Niche Video Media?
I understood the value of a company’s culture. The culture at Niche Video Media is what encourages me to experiment with new ideas, which I implement while attending to our customer’s needs.
What do you think is the secret sauce to customer happiness?
According to me, the secret sauce to customer happiness boils down to these two things:
a. I think the first point is to provide a satisfactory response containing a solution to their problem as soon as possible! Customers look forward to a quick solution and I think that that’s what makes a support team click.
b. When we are attending to our potential customers, we have to deal with them a little differently than how we handle our pre-existing customers. At this startup stage of our company, though we are very earnest when it comes to acquiring more potential customers we still are above board when they ask for references and the size of our company. We don’t sugarcoat or exaggerate our numbers to close the deal. There have been times when we have told our leads that this is not the right platform for their business model.
I think the secret sauce to win the happiness is to provide simple, direct, honest answers and that goes long way.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
American Express provides a pleasant customer service experience.
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 email@example.com with your suggestions.