How Help Scout Became a Refreshing Exception in the Customer Service Industry


The following post was inspired by my documentary series with Drift called Exceptions, exploring why and how 10 of the best companies in B2B develop their brands. You can listen to the episode below, or read this episode's Big Idea and the 3 Questions To Ask Yourself.

Customer support is often at the frontline of enabling customers to appreciate your product or service. Often times, customer service agents may be the only face or voice someone can connect directly to the business. Yet these individuals — the very same people marching with the flag of an entire brand — are typically overworked, underpaid, and underserved.

Meet Help Scout.

Help Scout has built a kick-ass SaaS product that enables Customer Support Reps (CSRs) and others to perform faster and better. They’ve also created a culture where these professionals are valued, heard, and understood.

Their clients love the product and the company, because both are built around the user, not the “suits” (in the words of Help Scout CEO Nick Francis).

In crafting this episode of Exceptions, a docu-series about why today’s thriving B2B companies bet on brand, one idea shone through: Help Scout is ruthless about customer-centricity.

This Episode’s Big Idea: Don’t Just Relate to Your Customers—Advocate for Them

Last episode, we discussed becoming a platform for your audience, something upon which a community can relate and loudly proclaim their issues. In this episode, we go one step further. Once you create a platform and build community, every so often, you need to loudly and passionately advocate for change in your industry.

This might mean standing up for something or someone and being the voice that says what the user is thinking, but maybe lacks the clout to say out loud to stakeholders. It’s not enough to create a platform of content and community that feels RELEVANT to the audience. You have to go one step further and turn relevancy into ADVOCACY.

In B2B, we tend to forget something: Our customer’s aren’t commodities, they aren’t MQLs, they aren’t tickets. They aren’t even customers. They’re people. They have real worlds, real lives, real problems. In the case of Help Scout, they recognize that CSRs are often undervalued, and so they regularly create research reports to justify paying these individuals more. That doesn’t always sit well with people who benefit from the status quo — including some executives at Help Scout’s customer companies. But they see this approach as both good for their business and the right thing to do. To them, this level of advocacy on behalf of their end user is a responsibility, not a marketing tactic.

Ask yourself: Can you challenge more than just your competitors? Can you focus on the largest issues facing your customers, even if it’s a direct challenge to the accepted norms that some of those customers prefer?

This is the kind of relevancy-turned-advocacy that Help Scout has accomplished.

In the episode, I talked with the CEO of Help Scout, Nick Francis, about what makes Help Scout stand out from his competitors. Nick didn’t point me to “faster turnaround time,” “more ROI,” or “better reporting on CSR productivity.”

He pointed me toward their unending pursuit to change the dialogue around customer support. It’s not a cost center. It’s the frontline of your brand.

3 Questions to Help You

As we do each episode, we end this edition with three questions to help you build better B2B brands.

Question #1: What Is Blocking Your Customer’s Success?

To advocate for your customers, you must move past the tunnel vision of your product and discover the issues hindering your customers from executing well. Yes, sometimes you solve that with product. Most times, however, you’ll find yourself in the position to push for change even if there is no feature in your product that relates.

Find what’s blocking your customer’s success, address it, and remove it, whether you offer knowledge, community, or product. That is how you can become a true advocate.

Question #2: Are You Vetting New Employees to Immediately Trust Them?

Do you trust your employees to serve your customers? How long does it take before you give them that freedom?

Here’s an idea for your hiring process: Copy Help Scout’s hiring method, and ditch the Q&A portion of your interviews. Start assigning projects during the interview process.

I apply this to my own company, Unthinkable Media. I pay story producers to create anything from a small story to an entire episode as part of the hiring process. It’s fine to see a stellar resume and hear great reviews from former employers. But if you really want to know if someone can do the job, watch them do the job.

Early on, I give them writing assignments to determine their strengths, so if I move forward with an offer, I can immediately trust they will be performing the quality of work necessary for the job. Likewise, Help Scout drops prospective hires into a private queue with tickets about Help Scout’s product and industry. There’s no real customer on the other end, but the stakes feel just as real, and the work is identical to the job they’re hired to do later.

Without gaining trust right away, how can you put employees on the front lines to advocate for and serve your customers? By developing trust right away, you equip each and every individual to carry the banner of your brand … regardless of seniority.

Question #3: Do You Believe Customer Support Is A Cost Center Or The Front Lines of Your Brand?

This question comes directly from Help Scout.

The very language often used to describe customer support professionals and their industry is degrading: “cost center,” “average handle time,” “tickets,” etc.

We have to move away from this misconception and start seeing customer service as the most crucial interaction between customer and brand. They are the epicenter, the new marketing, the provider of a great experience — and today, people pay a premium for great experiences (not features, price, or pithy messages).

Treat customer support agents with that level of respect and importance, and the benefits will reveal themselves over time. The company will reap the rewards of an enhanced brand image in the long run.

You can listen to the entire episode of Exceptions here:

To explore this idea of becoming an exception more, explore the 6 fundamental questions to ask of your specific situation at work in my new book, Break the Wheel: Question Best Practices, Hone Your Intuition, and Do Your Best Work.

Posted on September 21, 2018 .