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Utilizing an Outcome-Based Approach For Customer Service

Presented at Activate Customer Service 2021. Learn how to align your customer excellence and customer support programs to the outcomes that your customers are seeking-and find a way to deliver on those sooner rather than later! Learn how to ask the right questions and document the outcomes your clients are looking for so your customer engagement and support teams can provide exceptional customer service your customers will keep coming back for year after year.

Lesley Heizman, Lucidworks Product Manager


Lesley Heizman: Hi, welcome to Outcome-Based Customer Service. My name is Lesley Heizman and I’m a product manager at Lucidworks. We’re so glad to have you with us for the session today. So let’s dive in. So I started out my time at Lucidworks as a knowledge manager and like many other knowledge managers I’ve met, I’ve held a wide variety of career paths and roles. At Lucidworks, I recently transitioned from our knowledge management team to our product management team. And during this process, I was working on setting my goals and OKRs for my new position. And as I was researching more on this topic to decide how I was going to write my OKRs, I realized there is a lot of parallel between the work that I was doing for my product management role and the work that customer support and other departments do within organizations as well.

So in our session today, I’m going to talk about some of the parallels that I see between what I’m doing now and what we can do as customer support teams and how we can really align around outcomes that our organization and our businesses have with other teams to drive towards those impacts that we’re trying to have on our customers.

All right, so how did I get here? When I was a knowledge manager at Lucidworks, one of my roles was helping our support team transition to a new support help desk center. And I was embedded with our support team and really learning a lot more about their struggles, their day-to-day task, their successes, what they were doing in their roles. And I also had the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of other support teams and support departments through that work and understand that we were all struggling with similar things. And I realized that personally I believe that support organization is often one of the most under appreciated departments within many companies. I think one of these reasons is that we look a little bit at support in an old fashioned way that stuck in the past.

And what really got me thinking about this was recently I attended a session at TSIA at their conference (which is fabulous) and it was talking about statistics surrounding support departments. And here are some of the interesting stats that they shared. So 55% of support organizations today operate as a cost center within their organizations. Many of them are fighting for funding with other departments as well. And the funding that they are getting isn’t really meeting the demand that they need to achieve those outcomes within their departments. A lot of the times we think about support as perhaps like IT support answering questions or some of the easy support models of the past. When, really, today the demands that support teams are facing are a lot more complex. So the software or the services that we’re providing is more complex. The customer questions are more complex. There are more how to’s and instructional support requests that are logged. So the support teams now are dealing with a lot more issues than they have in the past. And really what this is resulting in is a lot of support service objectives that really aren’t aligned with the overall company goals and corporate imperatives hat many companies are looking at this time.

So many support departments are kind of in like you see Drake here, that reactive mode; they’re just trying to keep up with their day to day. They’re trying to help customers with their requests and to solve requests quickly and really drive those costs down. But that doesn’t leave a lot of time for being in a more proactive mode and really trying to anticipate customer needs before they even come into play. So what can we do about this?

I’m gonna have a little “Soap Box” moment here but I love the movie, Jerry Maguire, and similar to Jerry how he says “help me help you.” I think support organizations really need to realize that they have a great amount of power so they can help contribute to the profitable side of the business. They’re in the trenches every day with the customers: they know their pain points, they know their challenges and their desires, and they have an incredible power to change that customer’s experience. So we’re here to not only help our customers to be successful but to also contribute to the success of our company as a whole and to help other departments be successful as well. So we have a massive opportunity to step into a cross-functional team and to help our companies be successful. And I think a lot of support organizations don’t take full advantage of that today.

So in order to transform our organizations and how we’re working and to improve and work on the things that matter we need to all be aligning around outcomes. And when we align our teams around outcomes it really changes our perspective. We all have value that we create for the business similar to other teams within our organization we’re using the resources and activities that we have available to us to generate those outputs within the business. And those outputs allow us to achieve certain outcomes that then drive the impact for our customers and the business in general. And if I’ve learned anything in my work with many organizations it’s that in order to drive those results we need to align closely with other departments. So before we get into to doing this let’s quickly recap what outputs, outcomes and impacts are. So we can figure out how to do this.

And before we get started, I do wanna give a shout out to two of my favorite authors and books on this topic. This is a lot of where I’m drawing my information and resources from today. So if this is a topic of interest to you I highly recommend checking out “Outcomes Over Output” by Joshua Seiden as well as “Continuous Discovery Habits” by Theresa Torres. I’m stealing a lot of the examples that they have here today to talk about this. And I think you’ll find these resources really helpful.

All right, so let’s start with outputs. An output is what we are making, if you will and outputs can be different in each area of the organization. So for the product team this might be the latest new app that they’re creating for the customer excellence team. It might be taking one of their clients live, for sales it might be signing that latest contract. Many companies currently manage towards outputs. And this is because they’re often easy to measure. Leaders are more comfortable with measuring towards outputs. It’s easier to dictate outputs than outcomes. So this can be really hard to change organizationally towards thinking more of outcomes instead of outputs. But something that we know is just because something is shipped or something is completed doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good or it’s even what our clients wanted. Not every client is happy with a product that you shipped to them or not every client is happy with the go live. So just because we are producing output it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re being successful.

Outcomes on the other hand, according to Joshua Seiden in his book, are changes in human behavior that drive business results. So you can see this lady here with her shopping bags my shopping at Sephora might be an outcome. You can see my bags, you can see the transactions and the receipts on my credit card statement. Sometimes I wish that these behaviors were not observable especially for my husband, but they are, so all joking aside when we’re thinking about outcomes in our business we have to make sure that we’re managing by the correct outcomes.

So these might be things like a user’s behavior or something that we want a customer to do, or staff or employee behavior. So there are different types of outcomes. And in Teresa Torres’ book on continuous discovery she says that it might be helpful for teams to distinguish between business outcomes, product outcomes, and traction metrics. And I wanna talk briefly about business outcomes today.

A business outcome might be something like measuring customer retention. So often business outcomes start with financial metrics like growing revenue or reducing cost. They might also be strategic initiatives. So this might be growing market share in a certain region or increasing customer sales to a new segment that you haven’t explored before. And if we think about all of these business outcomes we can really tell that these are impacts that are the sums of a whole lot of different outcomes across the business. So many times business outcomes can also be lagging indicators. They might be difficult to measure very quickly. So for example, you might not know what your retention rate is for existing customers until the end of the quarter. So that’s what we would call a lagging indicator. The other thing to remember about business outcomes is they require coordination amongst multiple teams or functions.

So let’s take this example of business outcomes and look at how a company might do this across different departments. So this is my dog Cooper. I think he’s very cute. And in Torres’ book, she gives an example of a custom dog food subscription service. Now I would totally be a subscriber to this service for my dog, but they have a goal of trying to increase customer retention. That’s their business outcome. So what they do is internally, they do some research and they realize that their data indicates that a lot of dogs just don’t like their food and they won’t eat it. And that they’re receiving information from their customers that says customer support response times are high, and that they have price increases that they’re not happy about. So those are all contributing to the high churn rate of their customers. So if we think about this from our different departmental examples here is how each team might try to contribute to that outcome.

So marketing, for example, might say we’re really going to try to increase price transparency. So we’re gonna make this clear whenever you sign up and you see your subscription information that you know once your trial ends, what your pricing will be. And we think this will help to contribute to keeping customers around because the price is clear.

Whereas the product team might look at this goal and they might think, well we’re going to try to increase the number of dogs who like our food. So maybe they change the formulation or they come out with flavors that they think dogs will like better. And that’s how they’re going to approach that problem.

And then the support team might have a goal of decreasing average response times. So maybe they’re taking a look at things like how can we get information from clients more quickly? So we’re not on the phone as long or how can we prevent clients from logging support requests in the first place?

So what’s genius about this method is we’re giving each of the teams agency to figure out how they can contribute to the business outcome using their own capabilities within their departments. So what’s great about this method is that we’re all working towards that overall same business outcome but we alone are responsible for our results. So we can’t blame another department if we don’t meet our objectives within our own department.

So finally, let’s talk about impacts then, we measure success in impact. So this is the effect that we’re having on our customers and helping them to be more successful. So it’s helpful often to think about impact from different levels and different perspectives. So leaders tend to think of more business impact or higher level type impacts or outcomes. So they might be more concerned with ARR at a company or as a support manager, I might be concerned with overall time to resolution for my support tickets, but as an individual contributor or a doer (or an executer they’re sometimes called), I might be concerned more with individual outputs related to my role, like how many support cases I’m closing per day as an agent, something that’s good to keep in mind is everyone has a different point of view that they’re bringing to the table.

So as you are discussing these outcomes and what you’re trying to achieve it’s helpful to have this variety of views. So you can really look at the problem or opportunities from different perspectives. So we’ve gone over the outputs, the outcomes, the impacts and you might be thinking, Leslie, this is really hard. And I know this can be a little bit overwhelming changing behavior inside an organization is hard. And a lot of companies aren’t very successful at doing this. So the great news is that we can start small in the same way that my product team iterates on features we can across our organizations iterate on outcomes in impacts for our businesses.

So today I want to share with you something that you can take and try within your organization to get started right away. So how would I suggest getting started? Often we are already aware of a business outcome that we’re trying to work towards. So we might have a set number of ARR or a set number of increased retention outcomes that we’re trying to meet. And if you’re not sure you can ask your leadership team or if you don’t have goals or outcomes that are set you can chat with your other departmental managers within your organization. And I would suggest picking one goal to focus on cross-functionally if you’re starting out.

So remember, these business outcomes might be financial or strategic in nature. They might be related to revenue or profit or perhaps margin or loyalty type outcomes. So if we think back to the dog food subscription company theirs was to increase their customer retention. And remember, these might take time to measure because the business outcomes are typically more along the lines of impacts. So once we’ve decided on that business outcome as departments, we are each going to set our own outcomes. Even if it’s one thing that we’re focusing on we’re going to pick something and measure our results against that outcome over time. And then we’re then going to see does our departmental outcome that we’re measuring have the intended impact on the business outcome. So we want to set our outcome to meet the business outcome. And then the third item is you want to set a specific time that you’re going to use to focus on this outcome. And since most companies do their planning like quarterly for example, this might be a good timeframe, but you can pick whatever works best for your organization. So when you first go about, thinking about the business impact that you need to achieve. I love this quote from Albert Einstein, he said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.” So we want to think about that business outcome and then our departmental outcome that we want to set and achieve. And it might take us a little bit of time to figure out what can we really do to affect that outcome.

So if we’re thinking about the dog food example we might think what our customer behaviors that are going to drive our business results. So, as we’re thinking about our support team where they’re trying to decrease the amount of phone time they spend with customers we might have a few hunches that we think might be the issue, but we’re not totally sure maybe we could offer more self service articles to customers. So they wouldn’t call us on the phone. Or perhaps if we had a video on our website on how to change our subscriptions, they wouldn’t call, but we really need to spend some time digging in and ideating on that opportunity that we’re trying to solve. Teresa in her book on “Continuous Discovery” talks about, sometimes it’s helpful as teams to start with an initial learning goal to give yourself time to dig in and discover more about your outcome. And then later after you’re more familiar to set an actual performance goal.

So we might say, as a team we’re really going to take some time to discover: why are agents spending a long time on the phone with customers? Why are customers calling in the first place? And then once we find out more information we’re ready to set a performance goal. Like we want to decrease the amount of time by one minute for this quarter, or whatever it would be so that we have a more accurate reflection of what we’re trying to do.

One method that I want to mention that I love for this type of activity is called the Lightning Decision Jam. This is actually invented, I think by a company it’s a workshop by AJ&Smart but it’s a great way if you have a group of people to quickly get a group together and pick some problems and opportunities and challenges that you want to think about how to solve for, and be able to, really ideate and create some things to focus on and move forward on quickly. This follows a lot of the best practices, as far as getting individual information and then contributing as a team and voting quickly to make a decision on what to move forward with. And I highly recommend it. I think you could easily use this process, I mean you can do it remotely as well with a system like a Miro board or something like that or Trello or whatever you have available. So I can’t go into depth about this today but I recommend checking it out for sure.

So once we’ve decided on our outcomes that we’re trying to achieve and the behaviors that we want to get people to do more of, whether that’s customers or employees for example, then we need to think about how we will actually measure if we are successful in our efforts according to the hypothesis that we’ve made. So sometimes there’s a correlation between what users do and the business result, but sometimes there’s not. So one of the questions that you can ask yourself that Joshua recommends in his book is: how do we know that we’re right? So remember the user behaviors are things that you can measure. So let’s take the support team.

Perhaps they are launching a new customer help center. They might be thinking of the outcome as successfully launch new customer help center but the behaviors or leading indicators or things that they can actually measure and measure quickly. So this might be the number of support registrations in the first week or the number of cases logged. So you really want to stay focused on driving towards your outcome. And remember, you can start small. You don’t have to be perfect right away. Just think about things that you can do to measure that impact. So now that you’ve honed in on those outcomes and the departmental outcomes you’re trying to achieve you’re going to know how to measure those behaviors to know if you’re successful or not? You’re ready to start your experimentation. So what you’re going to do is over the timeframe that you’ve set you’re going to try these small experiments I can’t talk, measure your results and then see what worked and what didn’t. And you’re going to keep working towards that same outcome over a set period of time. So you wanna continue to experiment to measure your results and then go to the next iteration and try to continue improving on that business outcome and keep asking yourself, how do we know if we’re right? How do we know when we’re actually finished? Are there other ways that we could deliver value sooner?

I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can move the needle towards your outcomes in a set period of time with the right focus. So, in summary, I know that you guys can do this. So I’m here to cheer you on. I know that you can focus on your business outcomes and align those outcomes at your department level, to the business level to really make those impacts that you want to see and remember to measure the impacts themselves as well. There are so many different obstacles in changing the way we work and changing our behavior. But if we can start small and measure our results I know that we can get there over time. So thank you so much for joining me today. If you want to talk about this further I love to geek out about this type of thing. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn or you can send me an email directly to I’d be happy to chat with you further and I hope you all have a great day. Thank you so much for your time.

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