Leena Thampan on Customer Service as Marketing

This is the part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Leena Thampan from Wagepoint on why customer service should live in the marketing team.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Leena, and I head up both marketing and customer service at Wagepoint.

How did you get into marketing?
There was a really cute guy in the marketing department. [Laughs] 

Jokes aside, I started my career in Dubai working at a publishing house as an Editorial Assistant for a fashion magazine. It was my first exposure to the world of content marketing. The experience of telling a story using words, shaping the narrative for a client, and engaging readers with this form of owned media had me hooked. 

Leena Thampan is the CMO at Wagepoint

Leena Thampan is the CMO at Wagepoint

Once I got some background in writing, I decided to get some experience in the world of media - planning and buying both traditional and digital media. However, the digital landscape in Dubai was not as advanced as it was in North America at the time. 

That media experience led me to Toronto where I worked as a planner for a global media agency, but that love story ended when I finally realized how little control I had over the results of my efforts.  Being the control freak that I am, it was at this moment I decided to work as a marketer at a startup. I knew I could put my background in content marketing, media planning and buying to good use, and the best part - I’d have front seat access to all the metrics. 

[Laughs] That’s similar to my story! I worked agency side first, and wanted more control so I moved in house.
That’s the thing! After corporate work I landed at Wagepoint – and this is my first attempt at startup marketing.  And I can’t tell you how different it is, it’s so exhilarating. There are so many different things you can do. You have so much more control over the story, how people see your brand – you can actually make decisions, like the decision to integrate customer success and marketing. These are things you can’t do anywhere else.

Give us the 30-second pitch on Wagepoint.
Wagepoint is a payroll solution that is designed for small businesses and startups. The company was founded in 2012, and we’re proud to say we now have over a thousand customers across all of North America.

We love Wagepoint. It  makes my life easy.

You mentioned you put customer success inside your marketing team, why did you structure your team that way?
When I first started with marketing, there were a lot of things from a marketing standpoint I had to learn, there’s inbound, outbound, and you’re just going through a path. You’re getting the word out.

We always tell people we want to be the friendliest payroll company in the world. We want to hang our hat on it. I realized quickly by me saying that, putting it in the tonality of our copy and our blog posts, it would only go half the way. 

To own that experience for our customer, combining the marketing and customer success teams made the most sense.  With those two departments working together, you have the ability to shape the entire customer experience, right from the moment they land on your homepage to when your team is responding to a support ticket. You know how your messaging should sound, and you have the whole history of the customer at your fingertips.

This decision to bring marketing and customer success together is to have the direct connection to the customer as an entire team. I gave the example of copy, so I can take what our customers are actually saying about us and turn it into marketing copy people can relate to.

On the flipside, if our success team says “Customers are always asking us about direct deposit” or “How do I enter banking information?” that tells me that we need to write this article out for our knowledge base. Stuff like that gives you more exposure into every aspect of the customer relationship. You only get that when you combine the two functions.

How has it been working for you so far?
It’s been amazing. I have no plans of changing it. Payroll is obviously complicated, and we don’t want it to be. So if I want to deliver on that, I need to make sure we are putting out content that our customers can actually read, find helpful, and guide them into getting their payroll processes the right way.

When you collaborate with the customer success team, you get access to subject matter experts. I have a built-in content-resource team because of these guys. I wouldn’t change it.

"Hiring the right talent is one of the challenges I’m always aware of. This is what keeps me up at night."

What have been the biggest challenges to build this out?
In the beginning, it was a bit of a management challenge. If you find the right people in the customer success role, it should be pretty seamless because they can understand why you’re doing this. But to find the right people, you have to interview a fair amount before you can get to that place. 

Hiring the right talent is one of the challenges I’m always aware of. This is what keeps me up at night.

To deliver a consistently amazing experience, your foundation has to be strong and I’m really happy with our CS team because they really care about our customer experience. As we grow, we are focusing on maintaining this strong foundation. 

How often do you make your team available? Do you set SLAs or internal goals?
We use Groove to handle our support ticketing. Customers can reach us by phone, email, as well as the support system. We typically keep everything in the support ticketing realm. It gives us a view into what’s happening, any possible breakdowns, and keep everybody accountable.

One thing we measure all the time is our average response time. 70% of our tickets are responded and resolved within the first hour. That’s really good for a payroll company. The remaining tickets are resolved within 6 hours. Keeping the average response time high is our goal. We want to make sure our customers are getting fast responses. Even if the first response doesn’t resolve it immediately, we let our customers know at least the team is working on it, and you’ll hear back from us soon.

"Your CS team is basically the only team that’s talking to your customer on an ongoing basis."

Those are great numbers. You mentioned a bit about this, but how has running customer success informed your product marketing?
I was at Product Hunt Toronto’s 1st year anniversary event in August, and I had the pleasure of hearing Simon Vallee present the fundamentals of building beautiful and highly usable products, and it’s the usable part I want to focus on. 

Your CS team is basically the only team that’s talking to your customer on an ongoing basis. If you aren’t tapping into your CS team to drive your product roadmap, that’s a huge mistake. They can tell you what customers are asking for consistently, or identify the issues customers are having in a certain aspect of the product. In order to build out a really good product you have to listen to your customers.

Simon said something brilliant, “Ask them what they would hate doing in your product and build the opposite.” Hate is such a strong sentiment, but if you can take that, and flip it into something positive - you’ll have created something that makes your customers happy.

Social media is a big place for both marketing and support – how does it fit in? Does marketing manage it, customer success, or both?
Social media falls within both.  If your customers have a negative experience, you can be guaranteed to see a tweet or two about it. But if your marketing team isn’t in sync with your customer success team, the marketing team isn’t going to be able to provide the best response. 

In fact, having your CS team be able to respond to complaints directly is a big thing. Having a dedicated support channel is something we don’t have, but it’s something I’d love to build out - like a Twitter support channel, and have it be managed both by our marketing and CS teams. Even your CS team can stay in the loop and have an educated conversation with your customer. Syncing them up is a big plus.

So you’re sort of hitting people at different parts of your buyer’s journey. You’re getting people from awareness through support as a customer. How do you model this? 

Honestly, this goes back to the concept of using content to educate your customers. Today, when someone is looking for you online you want to make sure you give them enough information to make a decision. It’s unlikely they’re going to make a decision on the spot.  An example I’ve seen recently is this company called Talkable, and they have a spectacular execution of what to do when somebody lands on your website and they’re not ready to purchase. 

You take that moment to say I’ve created this beautiful piece of content that helps you understand how to proceed. It helps you have a conversation with the customer without forcing them to proceed towards a commitment. Then there’s reviews: making sure people can find information about what other people think about your company. 

The different steps in the funnel will always exist, and as a marketer, you need to account for content throughout that funnel. Wherever your customer is on that journey they need to find relevant pieces of content to help guide them through. A big part of making all of that successful is relying on your subject matter experts.  You need people with the technical expertise to create the kind of content that is truly helpful. 

"On social you’re getting people from awareness through customer support."

Where do you see integrated customer success and marketing going in the next few years?
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see this conversation has been going on since 2011 or 2012. I think more and more companies are going to fuse the two. It makes sense. It would be a huge mistake if you didn’t Bringing the two departments together will allow your CS team to create an experience that goes beyond just the product. 

An instance of this is a marketing initiative we are running currently - the small business experts series. Technically there is no need for us to engage with our customers, give them access to our network, or give them more exposure. But we believe if we help our customers get more customers, we will create a win-win situation for both. 

If our marketing team was doing this by themselves, and our CS team didn’t have input, how would we know who we have these amazing relationships with that we can tap into? Our CS team often tells us “This client is doing this work, and I think they’d be a good fit for the blog.” It keeps me in the loop of what I need to do to make sure our customers are happy.

So if a team is trying to get started with this – where do they go to learn more? Books you’ve read, talks, people to follow on Twitter?
I always say to start with Groove. They build customer support software, so you can learn a lot about customer service from them. One of the things I admire about them is how they’re able to seamlessly incorporate customer success into the story of their marketing. It’s unique to them because they are in the business of customer support, so it’s definitely easier to use in their brand story. 

You can learn so much from them on how to treat your customers, build relationships, what to do when they’re unhappy, etc.Groove is a must read blog, and I’d also recommend following them on Twitter.

Another article I read recently was a post in Inc. by Jay Baer where he talks about the convergence of customer service and marketing. And I’d also recommend checking out this cool infographic from Salesforce: Customer Service - The Forgotten Marketing Channel.

I love your thinking on this. One last question, what’s your favourite ‘90s dance song?
I actually just got this song stuck in my head. M.C. Hammer, U Can’t Touch This. I can’t stop thinking of it – it gets in your head and I’m like “STOP! STOP! STOP!”