When David Apple joined Typeform in 2014, a no-code online form building tool, it was a small start-up with 14 employees but full of potential. Within a few years, Typeform blew up to a valuation of $70 million and was ‘almost profitable’. In three short years, Typeform was blazing the trail with the kind of explosive growth all startups dream of: viral. Deep engagement, high-value creation, and a strong K-factor meant that generating the top of the funnel was the last of David’s concerns. Managing the factors driving Typeform’s incendiary growth motion, however, became important. Something that’s fundamentally difficult.
“Many companies deeply understand the things they do that don’t work,” remarks David “but ironically few spend as much time trying to understand the things that do work. At Typeform we did our best to understand and double-down on the things that were working.”
Applying the kind of mindfulness that runs like a throughline across all aspects of Typeform, David took to excavating the tipping points in the company’s growth graph. He was studying these tipping points for common factors and events that, when they hit critical mass, drive conversion and push business upwards. In effect, he was looking for choices and decisions that tip the scale in favor of the company, moving users to spend more time, money, and attention on the platform.
In analyzing the leading indicators to conversions from free to paid customers, customer service emerged as a driving factor. David noticed that customer service was frequently used by both paying and non-paying customers of Typeform and for a wide variety of reasons. Common topics for support tickets included billing questions, feature requests, and help with advanced features like analytics and integrations. 2 out of 3 such inquiries were submitted by non-paying customers – 95% of Typeform’s total customer base back then. And successful support interactions were almost always followed by periods of high conversion, suggesting that customer service might indeed be a key driver of Typerform’s new business.
“We knew there is a correlation there but we don’t know if it was causation,” says David. “To attempt to quantify customer service’s contribution to growth,” David continues “we dug deeper into the numbers.”
Measuring customer service for growth
Universally, while most businesses agree that customer service is capable of preventing poor outcomes, few are comfortable saying that good customer service actually drives business growth.
This is also true because while contact centers work with a glut of metrics, they are designed to measure the team’s or individual’s productivity or performance, not their wider impact on the business.
For example, first-call resolution rates illustrate how many customer queries were resolved in the first go. It doesn’t offer any hints around what that customer proceeds to do after receiving said resolution. Abandon rate measures how many customers hang up while on hold. Again, it’s difficult to tie this metric to any kind of commercial, rather than performance, objectives.
“Not all things that we can measure matter, and not all things that matter can be measured,” says David, “it’s hard to measure all of the benefits of offering great support to our users, but that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter… and we should do our best to quantify it.”
In the case of Typeform, the customer service team offered extremely high-quality support to all Typeform users, including free users. Nearly two-thirds of the cost of the support team was invested in answering support tickets from free users. In effect, by resolving “how to…” queries and delivering ad hoc product training, customer service was enabling greater product utilization and driving customer engagement. “By helping our customers get more value out of our product, the customer support team affects all of the KPIs we care about, including activation, conversion, and retention”.
Recognizing patterns in service is key to quantifying its impact on growth
Interestingly, when Typeform pegged its average conversion rate against conversion rate for users who interacted with the support team at some point, they noticed that users reaching out to support were about 5x more likely to convert. “In theory, out of 100 users who would sign up for Typeform, 5 would convert anyway, but nearly 15 would convert after interacting with customer service. Roughly 8% of our total new business upgraded after a positive interaction with our support team,” shares David.
The underlying message was clear: As long as customer service prompts change, in productivity, usage, or upgrades, it drives growth.
In Typeform’s case, customer service was clearly a key conversion event. And establishing customer service’s direct role in driving it successfully helped predict its contribution to new business MRR – an irrefutable metric in all regards.
This is interesting, particularly in light of the fact that customer service is typically considered as a cost center; it’s hardly the choice of engine for propelling any kind of growth. But when the value of new business generated from customer service exceeds the cost to deliver service, the case for customer service as a reliable growth engine holds.
In Typeform’s case, the ROI of supporting free users was sizable. Nearly two times as much LTV could be generated by offering customer service to free users of the platform when compared to the cost of supporting all free users.
“When we were able to demonstrate that positive support interactions with free users led to a higher conversion rate, and an ROI of over 2x, we knew that we should continue to invest in offering excellent support to our free users” recounts David
All said, the rationale of this math is rooted in logic: satisfied customers are and should be more valuable.
Over and above increased LTV, there are also many intangible benefits of customer service. David recounts how users who received support were ‘louder’ advocates of the brand and how highly likely they were to spread positive word-of-mouth. “This is valuable despite not being quantifiable,” he says.
Preparing for growth
Outside of core product experience, meaningfully driving user engagement in a way that moves the business forward is difficult. Driving engagement that translates into new paying customers is even harder.
Companies that succeed to funnel user activity into positive business outcomes get one thing right: they know their growth levers. They also take time to spot patterns and identify high-impact user behaviors and usage patterns to which these levers can be applied.
“We could have missed out on 6% of new business MRR if customer service did not support free users,” says David. “But we could have easily taken the decision to stop supporting free users to save cost. The decision to support our free users pays for itself through increased conversion rates, and also helps other intangible aspects of our business like brand and positive word-of-mouth”
Drawing on this experience, David, now with Zingtree, is championing for support as an extension of Zingtree’s brand. “Every interaction with our brand is an opportunity to create a positive experience for our customers,” he remarks, “by offering exceptional customer support, we create a better experience for our customers, which affects our KPIs and the perception of our brand”.
David Apple is the CRO of Zingtree, a US-headquartered no-code, easy-to-use decision tree maker with use cases such as agent scripting and customer self-help. Prior to Zingtree, David built and scaled the Sales & Success teams at Notion and Typeform.