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How Shopify Support Drives Merchant Growth with Deep Customer Understanding


David Kohl, Director of Support at Shopify


From highly technical customers at Hewlett Packard to small business merchants at Shopify, David Kohl, Director of Support at Shopify, has seen it all.

In his 25+ years working in customer support (with a brief foray into sales), David has supported many different types of customers, in several different industries. And in that time, he’s learned a thing or two about how to deeply understand customers and adapt support operations to fit their specific needs (at scale).

Top four takeaways:

1. Deeply understanding your customers is not rocket science. Here’s David’s three-step approach:

- Talk to customers yourself, on a regular basis. When David started at Wolters Kluwer, he took an escalated call from a 75-year-old client who did tax prep in his retirement. David learned this was the profile of many of his customers: older, financially minded, less tech savvy, not as likely to use self-service, and more likely to require longer handle times.

- Listen to your team. Your agents know your customers better than anyone. Make sure you check in regularly with them, particularly about KPIs and measuring success.

- Do the job alongside your agents. You can’t always be in the trenches on calls, but don’t be afraid to solve email or chat tickets every now and then. David says this helps him better understand what customers are experiencing with his team’s service.

2. Understand your different types of customers. Then adjust your KPIs (and support ops) to accommodate them. There are certain norms in support about how to measure teams, including average handle time, interaction or call volume, CSAT, etc. But what if those goals conflict with the needs of the customers?

For example, at Shopify, instead of helping customers buy more of his company’s product, David’s goal is to help customers sell more of their own products and grow their businesses. Such service typically requires longer handle times and more nuanced help.

“If I go back to my enterprise model from HP and try to apply that here, it just wouldn't work. We would have good KPIs from a support definition, but we wouldn't be meeting the needs of our merchants. We wouldn't be meeting the objectives of the business,” David says.

3. Allow your team to get invested in customers. People get into customer support because they want to help others. So you have to give your agents a chance to get invested in customers.

“If you've got measures and processes that are robbing your team of that chance to solve things for customers and make customers happy, you're robbing them of the intrinsic motivation that draws us all to support,” David says.

4. Make the time to be proactive, even when you’re busy. While support is largely a reactive job, there will be slower times. Think, now, about what projects and initiatives you’d want to accomplish in that down time. Maybe it’s reviewing customer feedback, checking in with certain customers, shadowing a teammate in a different department, or reviewing KPIs. Plan ahead, and be deliberate about how you use that down time.

Watch or listen to David’s full episode above to learn more!