A veteran of the support industry, Nigel Piper joined Xero over four years ago to lead Xero’s global customer experience team as general manager.
When he started, there were around 50 people working in Xero’s Customer Experience (CX) team in three global locations to match the company’s 115,000 customers. Now, Nigel manages close to 400 people across six offices in New Zealand, Australia, the US, and the UK, who look after our 1,000,000+ subscribers.
Anyone could look at those numbers and feel daunted by the work ahead. However, Nigel says the delight in working for Xero is that unlike other organizations, the support team genuinely love receiving cases from customers and helping them get the best out of Xero.
“Because Xero was born in the age of the internet, we support our customers online. It’s a completely different way to what was the norm ten years ago, when everything was done over the phone with dozens of different 0800 numbers, routing by pressing one or two, and customer often waiting on hold — or even worse, being answered offshore.”
“That was a truly awful experience, and I think because of it, lots of support organizations I used to work for would enjoy it when people didn’t contact them. If no one got in touch, that was a good thing.”
“Whereas nowadays and at Xero, we’ve got so many fantastic resources and content at our fingertips (videos, webinars, help centre, Xero U etc) that we can usually help out a customer really quickly. Mostly people are quite quite happy to look for the information they need for themselves. In fact, they get irritated if they can’t find it! It’s only when they get stuck or something goes wrong that they get in touch.”
Bringing in the experts
Because Xero is beautifully designed and easy to use, Nigel says that the number of inquiries from a customer quickly drops off once they’ve done a couple of ‘firsts’. Things like setting up their bank feed, sending their first online invoice, filing their first return, and setting up their first pay run.
Still, the nature of the service Xero provides means that when customers do get in touch, the CX team need to be ready to answer detailed, and sometimes complex, questions about using or getting the best from Xero.
“People are sometimes surprised to learn that while Xero offers an online accounting solution, we are not an accounting company where every employee understands the ins and outs of accounting and bookkeeping,” says Nigel.
“But to make sure we’re meeting our customers’ needs, we employ degree-level accountants in CX. In fact, many of them have worked in accounting practices. As we’ve scaled to a million customers, Xero has grown too from an online accounting software provider to a true small business platform. We’re about much more than just accounting. In CX we help people with their bank feeds, payroll, billing, fixed assets, report templates, and so much more. Xero is such a complex organization now that we need experts to truly support our customers in all of our areas that Xero operates.”
Doing things differently
The CX team are starting to think about how advancements in technology can be integrated into the work CX do. They want to streamline the process for both Xero staff, and its customers.
“As Xero keeps growing to reach many more customers around the world, our support team can’t just be reactive to their requests and questions. We have to be thinking and acting proactively.”
“We want to do that by learning to anticipate a customer’s needs. Things like noticing and acting upon, say, the fact that their GST is due in three days time. And based on past behavior, that customer may need help with X, Y, Z.”
“This is where machine learning is coming in handy for us,” says Nigel.
“We want to use machine learning capabilities in our CX processes to assess cases as they come in, then correlate a case with what’s on that customer’s calendar (like a GST deadline or payroll). Then we can prioritize an inquiry if we know a resolution is needed ASAP. Currently we can automatically suggest which CX expert the case would be best handled by. Maybe it’s our report templates expert, fixed asset guru, or even a legend on the team who lives and breathes our subscription transfer requests.”
“The old way of doing it was opening a case and getting a person to read through it, identify someone in CX who can handle the inquiry, and sending it on to them, not knowing they already have a number cases they need to work on.”
“Can you imagine, if we keep trying to do things the old way, as Xero grows past one million customers and more? That’d be nuts.”