Episode 212 – Creating Customer Success in the Age of Embedded Finance with Ashley Isenberg, VP Revenue & Strategic Partnerships at Finix

Yvette Bohanan

July 19, 2023

POF Podcast

While payment facilitation has opened up a new segment of service providers within the payments industry, embedded finance is opening up the world of payments to every company.

The allure of embedded finance is rooted in the deepening of the customer relationship through offering meaningful financial products. This deeper relationship comes in the form of increased customer loyalty – or “stickiness” – and new revenue streams accretive to the company’s core business.

This is all well and good, but payments and financial products are regulated, complex, and often require support at the critical moment of the transaction or afterward. How is customer support evolving to meet the needs of companies and customers in the world of embedded finance? How should providers be thinking about customer support? 

In this episode, Yvette Bohanan sits down with Ashley Isenberg, VP of Revenue and Strategic Partnerships at Finix, and Glenbrook’s Drew Edmond to explore the ongoing evolution of customer support in the payments industry.

Yvette Bohanan:

Welcome to Payments on Fire, a podcast from Glenbrook Partners about the payments industry, how it works, and trends, and its evolution.

Hello, I’m Yvette Bohanan, a partner at Glenbrook and your host for Payments on Fire. In the old days, 15 years ago or so, tech stacks and APIs were novel. Payment facilitation was prohibited in the network’s operating rules and embedded finance was a glimmer in the eyes of just a few people. If you fast forward to 2023, we have dev libraries and sandboxes for full stack solutions. APIs are de rigueur. Payment facilitation is creating a significant specialty field in the industry and embedded finance is in full swing. A core value prop of embedded finance is to create stickiness.

The theory is that a company can increase customer loyalty, drive incremental revenue, and delight customers by adding some financial services to their core business. These services come in several forms, payment processing, companion debit cards and loans are just a few examples, and this all sounds terrific when everything is working well. But what happens when something goes wrong? The company embedding these new capabilities doesn’t specialize in payments or banking. How do they help their customer?

In this episode, we’re asking what does it mean to create a delightful customer support experience in the age of embedded finance? And let’s take that one step further. Can customer support be a product differentiator for an embedded finance provider? Joining me for this conversation is Drew Edmond, an associate partner at Glenbrook. Drew, welcome back to Payments on Fire.

Drew Edmond:

Thank you, Yvette. It’s great to be back on the show.

Yvette Bohanan:

It is always wonderful to have you here. I love our conversations and I’m not going to postpone this one second further. We have a guest here, Ashley Isenberg, VP of Revenue and Strategic Partnerships at Finix. Ashley, welcome to Payments on Fire.

Ashley Isenberg:

Thank you, Yvette. I’m so excited to be here.

Yvette Bohanan:

I’m excited that you are both here because the reason that we are sitting here in this podcast episode is a result of a conversation that the two of you had at the spring 2023 MRC Conference. You ended up talking about customer support at MRC. How did that happen?

Ashley Isenberg:

I think we had an opportunity to talk about some of the differentiators in the providers in the market, and as Drew and I started talking, we talked a lot about this intersection between product and people and partnerships. I think we went back to, call it 15 years ago, when paybacks were prohibited and many of us were selling through ISOs and talked about how kind of delays in customer experience were expected, not being happy with your payment provider may have been expected and those things were very normalized.

And we talked a lot about how we really cracked this surface with platform payments and starting to opening up more advanced product, more data, more real-time solutions, but also that you can’t get rid of the people in that as much as we automate and modernize these solutions. There is a whole new sea of people joining the payments industry that weren’t here before. And as they learn, they need the product and the partnership and the people to help them in doing that.

Yvette Bohanan:

That’s very, very true. And Drew, part of your career was in customer support, customer service a decade or so ago?

Drew Edmond:

Yeah, that’s right. So, when I was at Square in the earlier days, about 12 years ago, I was managing the customer support organization over there and it’s easy for me to launch into a long diatribe or a rant into the state of customer support in the world of payment processing because I have strong opinions strongly held in the area. I think that there are high expectations a lot of times, especially when you’re working with enterprise platforms, enterprise merchants on what they expect from their payment service providers.

And I think it’s extremely common at Glenbrook when we walk into a business to help them start thinking about their payment strategy to learn that they are experiencing less than stellar support from their payment providers. So, it makes you start to think what makes it so challenging, and I think we’ll get into a lot of those topics today. But I think it is challenging to consistently at scale provide really great support across different customer segments.

Yvette Bohanan:

Yeah. So, let’s back up the bus here. Let’s go back 15 plus years ago. The customer support experience was fairly straightforward for decades, right? If you were a small merchant, you had an ISO, an independent sales organization provider helping you and you’d call them or you’d call a phone number that they gave you and someone would answer the phone and try to help you, and it usually involved pulling the plug out of the terminal, plug it back in. And then, if you were a really large merchant, you had a dedicated account rep at the acquirer typically who would visit periodically or who you could call and try to get some help. And they usually ended up calling three or four people on your behalf to pull in the right person to do this. But you had sort of a direct relationship. It was a merchant to somebody relationship in the industry, right?

I mean, pretty straightforward, enter payment facilitation, and the ping pong game starts. The buyer is often told to contact the payment platform provider because the merchant can’t help them. We saw that models start to spring up with things like PayPal back in the day. And what people realized over time was that if your customer is having a problem with paying you, it’s sort of the moment of truth. And a ping pong game is not a fun game to be in a moment of truth. But to your point, Drew, people started to expect that. There just wasn’t another way of doing it. And so, people were getting redirected and bounced around.

Ashley Isenberg:

I think we could even go through back to the history of it. I owned and operated an ISO myself for many years. When we built out our support team, we built around the expected delays. And so, the merchant had a direct relationship with the ISO. We knew that we weren’t going to get real time data. So, for example, something as simple as webhooks really didn’t exist then. So, if there was a notification or a delay on an account, you had to log into the system manually review and find that notification, or you were onboarding customers with a paper application. And in order to edit that, you would literally would White-Out-

Yvette Bohanan:

White-Out.

Ashley Isenberg:

… sending it back and forth. We got really, really advanced with DocuSign at some point, but again, that was our big evolution. I think probably around 2013, 2012. And so, at that point you had ISOs out there that were developing a support system that worked around those nuances and the lack of automation that they have on the platform.

Yvette Bohanan:

Some might say constraints, right?

Ashley Isenberg:

Great word for it. Great word. Yeah. And so, we built around it and then there was the next wave of evolutions. Right as PayFac started to come out, you started to do strategic partnerships with vertical SaaS companies and that’s where that ping pong effect really kicked in. It started to get confusing. Customer might call their POS provider just to find out they actually need to call the ISO who holds the relationship or the contract with the merchant agreement. And I think PayFac has actually helped to take some of that ping pong out because you’re now shifting point of entry or the customer support to that payment facilitator.

And so, the merchant’s calling to say, “Hey, I need support on my inventory. Oh, also, I’m not sure how this report reconciles for my payments.” And they’re getting much more value out of one provider.

But what that didn’t take away is the need for that provider to be able to support each one of the merchants. And that’s something here at Finix we take very personally. Everything that we build, we have to think about how does that move down and how do we build for the back office within that payment facilitator so that they can do things like offer real time onboarding, build in webhook notifications, accurately reconcile a transaction in real time down to the interchange or even the partial refund.

Those things may seem simple or they should just be there, but historically, they haven’t and there’s not many providers that were purpose-built for platforms and really building for that back office and extracting that experience that the traditional ISO used to have.

Drew Edmond:

Yeah. And I think it’s such a critical component as we’ve seen just the explosion of platforms coming into the ecosystem over the past several years now. The reason that many of these platforms and vertical software companies get into this world of embedding payments into their products is because they want to own more of the customer experience and they want to have a really streamlined customer experience for their underlying customers. And so, if you have any disjointed elements to that customer experience as a result of embedding payments, that’s a poor solution.

So, we want to build towards this world where they can’t tell the difference. They don’t know that there’s somebody else in the background that’s helping enable this product for them. And so, I think it is really critical to find those ways of, whether that’s portals or education, whatever it might be, to make sure that the platform that’s using your solution has a really easy way to resolve issues that are inevitably going to come up in a way that is not visible to the customer at all.

Yvette Bohanan:

Well, let’s walk through this a little bit for a second here. Because you jumped into something that’s, there’s an important nuance to this, right? You’re going from the direct relationship with the ISO or the acquirer as the merchant to being a sub merchant or a merchant to your payment facilitation sort of model. And then, you have this embedded finance model and we’re sort of going to a level of abstraction. Because for example, in the case of Finix, your customer isn’t the merchant or sub merchant. Your customer is someone who’s providing services to those people. So, your customer’s the PayFac and there’s this, how do you think about a customer service model if you pull it apart?

You have tier one customers, service levels, tier two, you’re looking at automation. We all know what the bot experience is right now, right? That’s awful when you’re the end customer. We’re looking at the world of AI and ChatGPT coming and everyone thinks it’s just going to get automated further, and there is a level of automation to this. But how should people be thinking about if they’re sitting down and they’re trying to map out the customer journey, when the customer needs help? How should they think about this new value chain?

Ashley Isenberg:

I think it’s interesting, but it’s like yes, we do support large complex payment facilitators, but we also support mid-market opportunities or early adopters. And in some cases, really large-scale enterprise opportunities that don’t want to take that step and taking on that next level of risk. And so, I think the important thing that we offer to them is a single provider through kind of all phases of their growth. So, they can come to us and start off as a direct merchant, start to get familiar with the product and the software, test it on themselves, then they can start to board their platform. So, that’s really them as a consumer just using us as their payment provider.

Then they can start to onboard platforms, offer that really embedded experience without becoming a payment facilitator. And as they start to use our fraud in our underwriting tools, they start to build that team out and scale it. Then they can start to think about what does it look like to maybe register as a payment facilitator if that’s in line with our larger company strategy. And so, I think the biggest thing to look for is, one, can that provider support you across all phases of your growth? And then, you have to start to look at the product. The people are great to make sure the product works first because if you’re just dependent on people, that’s never positive, obviously a good experience.

And so, our customers come to us and the first thing we get asked about most times is our APIs. That’s because the long-term growth strategy is that we are completely embedded into their experience and they own all of that customer experience. They own that look and feel in the UI/UA. But what we found out is that a lot of our customers maybe weren’t ready to build those things yet and they had near term revenue opportunities and they wanted to move faster. So, we’ve also built dashboards and the goal of those dashboards is to continue to get more and more self-service that doesn’t require developer resources. So, you shouldn’t have to build for something when a new product or feature gets released. You should be able to use it as it comes out and have that at your fingertips.

And so, our customers come to us, write that API first experience, that’s great, fully embedded. They can extract the Finix experience, but they also want really robust dashboards to serve their back offices. Or in some cases, serve their merchants so that some of those feature functionalities can be self-service without additional work and development, that flexibility. I talked to some companies that just have a dashboard. I talked to some companies that just have APIs and I think there needs to be the diversity of supporting you across all phases of growth and obviously all phases of your product growth.

Then, the second piece is understanding your support team. Who is going to support you and what is their experience and what areas are they going to support you? When we sell to a customer, we’re not just talking to the CFO, we’re not just talking to the CPO and the CTO. There is a COO role in that or a back-office role where you really have to sit down with customer support, with payment operations, and understand what their day-to-day is and make sure that they have training and tools available to them.

So, one thing that we offer is we have some things that are, you could read our documentation, we can send you trainings. But for most of our customers during the implementation, we also do a training for those different audiences. So, the support team is getting those trainings in real time, and I don’t think you can take that people component out of it during the implementation phase especially.

Yvette Bohanan:

Yeah, that’s really interesting because we often say when we’re working with clients after they have those moments that Drew was alluding to where they’re venting about their current providers and support levels and things like that. But when we’re trying to figure out how to best advice and guide them, we’re often going to the customer support team, sometimes first, because that’s the group that actually knows the customer and the product, whatever the product is that has these embedded payment functions or finance functions in it.

It’s interesting because the automation should be helping that team do their job. And yet, a lot of the places we go into, these teams don’t have data. They don’t know where to get the data, they don’t know that they could get the data. They’re operating off of spreadsheets. They’re making their own tools, kind of ad hoc, “Oh, Sue over there knows some Python or whatever.” She’s cobbled together this tool for us that we use day in and day out to do whatever we need to do, research things or whatnot. That world is not going to work anymore in a few years. Maybe it’s kind of broke right now, I’d go into that.

I’m sort of stepping into this gently because I don’t want to say everyone’s customer service operations group is broken. But we see so much of this, we really do, and it doesn’t scale. So, there’s a mismatch between the promise of this technology and actually getting it to work in the back office to keep it together, if you will. You’re describing what you’re doing with your product, but how should people be thinking about building a scalable support organization? What are the pro tips there?

Ashley Isenberg:

Yeah. I mean, I’d love to hear from Drew also given his time sitting in the role, but I think one of the things that you just said there that scares me is payments is still a compliance industry. Embedded finance is amazing, and I’m so excited for a merchant to be able to go to their provider and get multiple services like capital or a spend card in addition to their payment processing. But that also leads to a lot more complexity in the funds flow and how the payments move around, where accounts are underwritten, how they’re supported. And so, all of that manual work for me sounds frightening if I am on the compliance team or leading operations within the organization.

And I think the first thing that we’re starting with personally is data, right? We’ve spent a lot of time interviewing our customers. We have a phenomenal product design team that spends time interviewing our customers and learning where their pain points are, but also suggesting some areas that they should be continuing to think about, right? We’re using the product every day ourselves, so it gives us an opportunity to take our learnings every single day supporting our customers and push those down out to our customers and educate them. But going back to that, the biggest thing we’re doing is data.

I talked to a customer the other day that’s in the nonprofit space. And when they moved over to Finix, it opened up the ability to do split funding and transactional level data in addition to the ability to track refunds back to the original transaction, so doing a true settlement file and the way that we supported them, their customers are starting saving about 70% of their time doing their bookkeeping at the end of the month now. That’s a real tangible number that a customer can say, “You know what? I’m never leaving this provider because if I leave this provider, the nonprofit, our customer, I am now going to have to go back and do these things again. And that 70% of time that I’m saving here is valuable enough to me to stay with this customer.”

Payments is actually secondary for that at that point. Financial service is actually secondary. We’re continuing to offer data and self-service functionality that that back-office member can now use on a day-to-day basis and then can push down to the merchant’s back office also. And so, I think it starts first with data and then it starts second with usability in the product. And so, I would urge anybody to jump into the sandbox, use the dashboards, take advantage of all the sandbox that are available to you. I know for Finix, ours is available for you on our website. You could sign up for one today. But go in there and have your back office team spend some time.

Yvette Bohanan:

And I think that’s the world that is starting to emerge, but this isn’t a one size fits all when you’re talking about scale. I don’t know, Drew, how do you think about that? It’s great to say we have dashboards, we have … You need all of that. We talk with so many people on our podcast about no-code, low-code solutions, sandbox environments, try before you buy. Those are all really positive outcomes of what the technology is affording us today as an industry. Getting the data straight is a whole topic in and of itself and it keeps coming up. So, we’re going to have to dive into data more and more on a future podcast. I have a few people that I could tap for that one. But Drew, what do you think about it?

Drew Edmond:

Yeah, scale. Well, yeah, I mean I think Ashley touched on a lot of the points that make sense for this, right? You want your product itself to not cause additional challenges. If you want your value proposition to be something around or one of your value propositions to be around workforce efficiency, you want to come in and provide them with a solution that the finance team or the payment operations team is going to work with and say, “This is actually saving me time, not causing me to spend more time or wasting my time because the data isn’t in the format or in the level of detail that I need to be able to close my books.”

Or if the developers are saying, “Well, the API documentation isn’t clear enough for this particular edge case, so I don’t know how to resolve this particular issue on my own.” You want the product itself and you want to treat your APIs like a product. You want to treat your technical documentation like a product. You want to treat your data like a product and make sure that the folks that are using it are finding it easy to use in some way for their day-to-day operations. I think that there are other little things that can be big things in terms of just contextual information within the product itself too.

If you’re working within some sort of portal, is there information in there, even if it’s just little bubbles that you click on to help explain a particular thing. That’s really important stuff that instead of them having to write an email or go read an FAQ or whatever it might be, that contextual information is really helpful. And then, you do want robust FAQs and things like that. You want the amount of information that they can go and self-serve as much as possible because that all relates to scale. You want to reduce the number of inbound communications that you’re getting due to your product.

If you’re getting inbound communications because something’s not understandable enough or something’s broken, right? What do we have control over as a service provider to limit those number of contacts going forward? So, I think that’s a big piece of it. And then, it gets to the actual in-person support itself. The individuals that are supporting from an account management side, technical account management, how strong are they? How much time do we spend on training and education for those individual roles so that when somebody comes in, they understand payments, they understand our own organization, they understand how to navigate our organization to help quickly resolve issues?

If they need to go beyond their own area of expertise, how much do they know about the customers that they’re supporting? Do they understand the nuances of their business and their infrastructure and what are the products and services that they may not currently be taking advantage of that they should be that would make their lives easier as well? What do they know about the industry that the merchant is in or the platform is in? What are the unique characteristics of that industry that’s going to affect how they’re thinking about their business and how it might affect how they use our service?

So, I think because it ends up being such an individual experience, if you’re looking at the aggregate level at a provider, it’s going to look very different than if you dive in and look at a particular customer and say, “What experience are you having?” Because they’re interacting with different individuals, different humans that are supporting them, and they may have someone that’s not as experienced or someone that’s super experienced and have a great time.

So, it can be very personalized in terms of the experience that folks have with account management. And that’s why I said at the beginning, it’s hard to do it consistently, to be able to bring folks in and get them up to speed and how many customers are they managing and making sure that they’re able to provide the level of support, the amount of time they need to spend with each customer. It’s just challenging I think to keep that going at a really high level. It can be done, but I think you just have to have a lot of focus on maintaining that. I think you have to build a culture of continual self-learning and continual communication within the payment service provider to make sure that it stays at a standard that they’re happy with.

Ashley Isenberg:

On this data. Drew, I think what we’ve seen and I’ve also explained how we’ve been very intentional on basic, some of the very simple changes that we’ve made that continue to, I think, help in this area. Our average customer NPS score is around 70. And what you typically see in this industry is single digits, our average response time –

Yvette Bohanan:

Wait a second, Ashley, I got to say I’ve seen negative.

Ashley Isenberg:

I very much see negative.

Yvette Bohanan:

I didn’t know it was possible to have negative NPS.

Ashley Isenberg:

It is very possible. That is very possible.

Yvette Bohanan:

And they are out there.

Ashley Isenberg:

They are.

Yvette Bohanan:

And I think that it’s a standing that single digits or negative is something that’s prevalent in this industry with providers, but it tells you a lot. So anyway, that’s why we’re here talking. So, go ahead.

Ashley Isenberg:

Exactly right. And I think that was something that even sparked the conversation with Drew and I. When we got our NPS scores back, I said, “Wait a minute.” I know we were intentional, but what are we doing that differently that we’re seeing these types of responses? And what we saw is that our average response time on a ticket was 20 minutes. But the really cool part is, and I’ll go back to us using our product and pushing that experience down, we have not grown our support team. So, we are seeing our volume go up and exceed and grow every month and sometimes exceeding our expectations on the growth side, we are not continuing to grow the number of folks in that support team.

Now, we’re hiring because on our technical support, some of those people go into a front end or a backend position. But I think some of the really technical or really easy changes that we made were if you’re going to be in customer success or customer experience, you have to spend time in customer support first. I don’t care how experienced you are, you could be coming in at the leadership position. If you are going to look at that team, you should do a stint in customer support and actually use that product. Another thing that we’ve done is verticalization within our sales organizations and sales organizations are AEs are tied directly to a customer success manager. So, they start to get that verticalized experience.

So, when you push out a new product to someone in a non-for-profit, you know I’m going to call all my other customers in non-for-profit and see if this would solve for them. While our product is very horizontal, there are very vertical specific experiences that all of our customers need. It even goes down to the way that you accept a transaction and our customer success and implementation managers have to know that. If you’re in the restaurant space, you need to do a auth and capture. If you’re card present, most of the time you need to do auth and capture.

But in a standard e-comm, a sale transaction where you often capture at the same time may be totally fine, but that draws back to a much larger part of the customer experience, just that subtle change on implementation. And so, they have to be true subject matter experts and they really had to have spent some time doing the support, talking to the customers, and trying to unblock and find the source of some of their pain points.

Yvette Bohanan:

This is a really important point you’re bringing up. Because there’s an intersection here between what the product’s capable of doing, how people are supporting it, and how customer experience is changing with embedded commerce and embedded payments. And the trend here is always you want to make payments disappear. Now, we’re starting to see this notion of we want incrementality and we want to bring the customer back. Drew, you’ve been on, I don’t know how many engagements in the last year where we’re talking about subscription payments and grace periods and catching the customer and pulling them back in, and re-establishing the relationship the right moment in time. And there’s a million ways you do that.

So, Ashley, you’re talking about, there’s verticals, there’s sub verticals. We’ve always said there’s sub, sub-verticals. And then, within those, there’s these subcomponents of this very fine relationship you have with each customer and customer and how you attract, retain, re-establish, re-engage. And if you don’t understand it all the way through, you’re not going to be able to support people in what they’re trying to do anymore. So, it’s like we want it to make payments disappear for people. Nobody wants to think about paying when they’re buying something and the merchant trying to do that, or what we call a sub merchant, whoever, trying to establish that is having to know more and more about payments in order to make that magic happen.

And it all plays together here and this foundation of customer support and what you’re talking about when you get to that level of refinement and experience, being able to grow your support organization to help people with that to scale without adding more people all the time is the separation you need that your CFO is saying you need in order to make all of this work. So, how do you convince your product and engineering teams that this stuff’s important? You said you put focus on this with the product in your design. How did you build that in? We’re in the world of the minimally viable product, right?

So, you have to justify everything that goes into that MVP, every release, every sprint. How do you build a culture that cares about this stuff? I think that’s really hard. What’s your pro tip there for doing that to get to that positive double-digit NPS?

Ashley Isenberg:

You know what’s funny? I think you actually brought up something, it’s kind of stuck out to me, is I think at some point we mixed up oversimplification in simplifying and extracting payments into lack of transparency. I mean, listen, the card holder wants an easy experience, that doesn’t go away. We all know that the card holder wants an easy experience. Trust me, if my card number isn’t saved when I go to a Google checkout, you’re done, cart’s abandoned, I’m onto something else. I’m busy, I am not going back, right? So, we all know that the card holder wants over simplification and I think we all share in that.

But when we talk about being customer first, it’s who is the customer? And we talk about the card holder often as the customer. They are absolutely a user of the product. But I think where we did a good job is we focused energy on the other users. And so, we talk about building for the back office, it’s part of one of our core product values. It’s built for the back office. There is a whole team there that needs to use it. So, we’re very intentional about that and building for the merchant. Those experiences can be simple to use, but robust in data. And I don’t think simplification always has to tie back to less data, less functionality, less visibility.

And I think in the early days of platform payments, we may have overcorrected in that direction, thinking that people didn’t want, but knowledge is power. New business is fun, but keeping customers and growing them is really exciting and that’s what we’re all in this for. And so, I think simple to use products with lots of data. And for us, our pro tip was really just changing our core value. We got away for building for your customer, just being customer first and building for the back office and really talking about each one of our user experiences. And then, most importantly, bringing in a world-class product design team who got to spend time and interview our customers and we took their feedback into play.

Yvette Bohanan:

Are your design teams actually, so you have the core value, but do they actually have objectives and KPIs that they need to meet in their overall performance? How far did you take that core value concept?

Ashley Isenberg:

I know that they have KPIs and I know that they are related to numbers of customer interviews and number of new products and obviously some of the NPS score, but I don’t sit on that team, so I won’t pretend to speak to them perfectly.

Yvette Bohanan:

Okay. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, but I know that a lot of times, teams aren’t necessarily goaled to that. So, it seems like if your core value is there, the goal would kind of attach up to that core value for the corporation.

Ashley Isenberg:

Our customer success teams, our support eng teams, our technical support and our support teams are absolutely tied to NPS scores and they’re also tied to customer growth. So, our customers meeting those milestones. Part of our implementation process, part of our sales process is understanding your launch plan. There’s no way that you can sign a customer into platform payments without understanding what milestones do they need to hit in their growth to be successful, to hit their revenue numbers. We all have a board, we all have an internal executive team we’re reporting these things to. And there’s milestones that need to be hit so that revenue is generated as forecasted.

And so, they are tied to customers hitting those goals and also increased NPS scores. But our product design team, I don’t know. But I do know that they love to spend time with customers and they ask to interview more than our customers would probably actually like to talk to them sometimes. But if they could, they’d sit on the phone with customers all day long and interview them.

Drew Edmond:

Well, Yvette, I think you’re bringing up a really important point around aligning incentives. And I think that sometimes, I don’t know how every payment service provider incents their account managers and customer success teams and things like that. But sometimes, it feels as though they’re incented for, if they can upsell a new product, that’s the only time they’re contacting their customer. And so, that’s where you see merchants saying, a platform saying, “I haven’t talked to them in three months. But now that they have this new product that they can sell me, they’ll come knocking.”

Yvette Bohanan:

And such an awkward conversation, right?

Drew Edmond:

Right.

Yvette Bohanan:

Because you’re going to sell somebody something and you don’t even know if they’re happy with what they’ve got or maybe they’re not. And they’re telling you, “Don’t come and try to sell me anything until you make me happy over here.”

Drew Edmond:

Exactly.

Yvette Bohanan:

Fix what I’ve been asking for.

Drew Edmond:

Yep.

Ashley Isenberg:

I’m leaving right after this conversation to fly out for a customer on site and it’s exactly what we’re doing. There’s nothing new to sell them. They’ve decided to pick an annual business review. We have some customers who are at a quarterly cadence, but we do an annual business review. We sit down and we go through their product roadmap, we show them what’s on our product roadmap, talk about the pain points that we have, the customer success. The payment operations team will join them.

The people using the product every single day will come in and we’ll talk about things that maybe are pain points or areas that we can solve for. And it’s really just that opportunity. It’s to sit down and make sure, “Hey, we’re building the things that you need and you understand what’s forthcoming for us.” But nothing new to sell, just a great opportunity to be with our customers.

Yvette Bohanan:

Yeah, I think people don’t give that enough airtime and it’s really important. And I think that what you’re bringing up of sharing the roadmaps in both directions is super useful. And going back 15, 20 years, it wasn’t always like that. We would ask for the roadmap of what features are coming out and the answer would often be, “We don’t know. We can’t tell you,” or something kind of like that, right?

Ashley Isenberg:

Or worst case, it would be, “It’s coming tomorrow.” And it’s really not coming for a year and a half.

Yvette Bohanan:

Well, that was the norm back then too. So, hopefully, things are improving on that front, but that’s true. And the other thing that has evolved in this whole sort of realm going beyond the QBR or the annual review or whatever cadence you set with a customer is terms within contracts around support and around not just SLAs or an uptime and availability, but a heads-up around if I need to change something in order to support the next version you are creating, I have a certain amount of time to do that. You can’t just spring it on me kind of thing.

So, there’s a lot of, when you get this embedded and you have so many players in this value chain now that coordination aspect becomes really important. So, that’s a very interesting aspect of this new dance that people are going through. So, these QBRs are becoming more and more critical.

Ashley Isenberg:

Yeah, they’re super critical. I mean, they’re one of the parts of the job I enjoy the most. Obviously, it’s great talking to new customers every day and learning about new ways people are using payments or thinking about payments, but hearing how a customer is using your product is always just so enlightening. There’s an experience there that you’re not going to get doing it on your own or even supporting them on a day-to-day basis. But I think you bring up an interesting point with the SLAs and there’s something to standardize SLAs. I think I often hear a lot of pushback on customized build for us, and that’s where things start to break also.

There is this intersection of people, product, and this ability to talk to your customers and know their business that is scalable. But where I start to see this fall apart is when you take it almost too far and every customer has terms that are unique to them around SLAs or something specific to them, and that is found to fail. There’s no good way to track that, especially in a moment of crisis. Outages happen, things happen, stability goes down. It will happen for everybody at some point, and you need to be able to approach all of those customers at the same time in a quick fashion.

And it’s always interesting to me that oftentimes where we get, well, if you can’t customize for us, you don’t really want our business. And the answer is always no, I want your business. That’s why I am not customizing for you because you also need scalable support. So, we spent a lot of time talking about people today and I think it’s really important, but making sure that you’re really intentional about scalability and standardizing that process is also extremely important.

Yvette Bohanan:

Yeah. This sort of everybody is their own snowflake is not going to work here, not with the code and not with the models. So, building the scale, but hitting all the right notes for what you know need and what your customer needs. Super important. So, Drew, any pro tips on what to ask about customer support if you’re out there and you’re looking at platforms and products to help you with embedded payment solutions, embedded finance solutions?

Drew Edmond:

Yeah, absolutely. There’s a bunch of good questions I think to ask as you’re going through that evaluation process. And I think maybe sometimes during the evaluation process, maybe relationship management gets obfuscated a little bit by the technology and the product side of things. But as we’ve talked about today, it’s really critical to get this right and to make sure that you find a provider that has intentionality around how they want to support you and have the right processes and people in place to do so. So, you’re definitely going to want to ask about whether or not you have a dedicated account manager. You’re going to want to know if that person is in your time zone or not.

Yvette Bohanan:

That sounds so simple, but everyone is…

Drew Edmond:

We’ve got global companies these days. And if they’re on the other side of the world and I’ve got to be on a call at 11:00 P.M., at night just to talk to my account manager, I’m not going to be super pleased about it, most likely. You want to know how you’re going to be able to contact them. Is it the kind of relationship where you can pick up the phone and call their cell phone at every hour or is there more structure around the working hours that they have? And if outside of working hours, do you have other folks that you can contact? Is there a 24/7 line or a 24/7 help desk?

We’ve seen an increase in the usage of Slack as a channel for support. So, asking about different channels like that where, and it doesn’t mean that you necessarily are going to get your answer immediately after you type it into the Slack channel, but it just gives a nice way to keep track of asynchronous communication that’s going on that multiple people can get visibility into in terms of what’s going on with that particular issue, seeing some growth there. And then, as we were just talking about, what is the SLA around response times across these different channels, across chat, email, phone, whatever it might be,

You just want to have an understanding of what your expectations should be. If you know that they have this window of time to respond, you’re not going to continually ask for an update, ask for an update if they’re still within their window of response time. So, I think clarity on that structure and that framework is good for both sides so that everyone knows where they’re at.

Yvette Bohanan:

Yeah, eliminate some of that churn.

Ashley Isenberg:

I will share one of our learnings. So, Drew, Slack is great through the implementation phase. And then, after that, it’s almost like who is working in Slack and expectations around it have to shift because if customers aren’t using standard support channels, they’re not getting access to the entire team or to emergency services or after hour support, right? Yesterday, for example, was a holiday for Finix. And so, if their support manager, account manager wasn’t on that Slack channel, not seeing that, and so we did the same thing.

We love Slack, we thought we were giving this very customer first experience and we’ll do a custom Slack channel for you. And we found that after the implementation phase, it actually caused a decrease in response times and lessened the customer experience. And so, what we’ve started to do is after implementation, take those away.

Drew Edmond:

It makes sense. Yeah.

Yvette Bohanan:

That makes a lot of sense.

Ashley Isenberg:

Interesting.

Yvette Bohanan:

Yeah. It is interesting and that certain tools are right for certain jobs and then you have to kind of evolve things and that’s a great point, how to use the tool.

Drew Edmond:

Maybe if there’s a future project where you needed to reimagine the same, well, we’re working on this new implementation, let’s start a new channel just for this and then deprecate it afterwards maybe.

Ashley Isenberg:

Yeah. Exactly. I’m going to use that. Thank you, Drew.

Yvette Bohanan:

So, Ashley, Drew, it is that special time and we have to wrap things up here. Thanks so much for spending time on this episode.

Drew Edmond:

Yeah, thanks for having us.

Ashley Isenberg:

Thank you for having us. Appreciate it.

Yvette Bohanan:

And it’s a rare opportunity, unfortunately, in this industry to be able to talk to someone who’s working on increasing a net promoter score from 70 to whatever. This is very cool. And I’m sure our listeners out there are finding some very useful nuggets and tips here in this conversation. I hope so very much. Thank you for joining us, everyone who’s listening, and until next time, keep up the good work. Bye for now.

If you enjoy Payments on Fire, someone else might too. So, please feel free to share this podcast on your favorite social media outlet. Payments on Fire is a production of Glenbrook Partners. Glenbrook is a leading global consulting and education firm to the payments industry. Learn more and connect with us by visiting our website at www.glenbrook.com. All opinions expressed on our podcast are those of our hosts and guests. While companies featured or mentioned on our show may be clients of Glenbrook, Glenbrook receives no compensation for podcasts. No mention of any company or specific offering should be construed as an endorsement of that company’s products or services.

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