How to Become a Data-Driven Support Pro

Emily Triplett Lentz | November 10, 2016
Editor’s note: The following article is adapted from a chapter in our free guide to building a career in customer support.

If you’re not leveraging customer analytics in your support career, it’s time to start.

In addition to making your customers — and your company — more successful, customer data helps you quantify your contribution to the business.

Support teams need to leverage customer data to advocate for the resources they need, have a respected seat at the table, and contribute to the health of a business. If your customer support team is suffering from second-class citizen syndrome, it's time to leverage more data.

Why you need customer analytics in support

At a certain point in the growth of a business, like it or not, customer analytics becomes a job requirement. If there’s one argument for transitioning to more data-driven customer support, it’s this:

Data is harder to argue with and gets the attention of decision makers.

“In my last few years at Campaign Monitor I moved from being a non-data support person to justifying everything with customer data,” says Help Scout’s Mat Patterson. “It was a difficult transition, and I’ve spoken with a number of other support people in the same position. But companies get to a point in their growth where support teams get destroyed in budget meetings by teams who use data to make their points.”

Help Scout’s Mat Patterson talks about using data to build a convincing case and advocate for your support team. See the full interview in our free guide to building your career in support.

How to start using customer data

1. Get comfy with reporting

A great place to begin is with your help desk reporting features. Every help desk worth its salt offers customer analytics reporting, and most can help you answer more than the standard how-many-conversations-do-we-handle-in-a-day questions.

“Some things are easy to measure and some things are hard to measure,” Mat says, and “sometimes the most useful information is not easy to access.” Avoid the temptation to measure only the obvious, and get comfortable with the customer reporting features your help desk offers.

Questions your help desk’s reporting software can help you answer

It may not be immediately apparent which reports to set up so that you can successfully advocate for your team’s and your customers’ needs. If this is you — and we can hardly emphasize this advice strongly enough — start by contacting your help desk’s support team.

Tell them the customer analytics you want to report on, or if you’re not sure, ask which reports they suggest will help you make decisions or argue for the resources you need.

For example, the above Help Scout report showing a 58% drop in email conversations before and after Thanksgiving, can help you determine where you need coverage around the holidays. Maybe everyone on the support team only works a half day, or remote team members in countries outside the U.S. cover the Thanksgiving holiday in exchange for a day off some other time.

You already have a ton of customer data you don’t need to pay anything extra for, even if you’re not collecting or paying attention to it yet. Once you start using these tools that are already at your disposal, you’ll wish you’d started a long time ago.

2. Talk to your company’s data guru

If your company has a business analyst-type person, try bringing your problem statement to them, because those folks get their kicks solving puzzles.

Say, for example, your gut is telling you that you need to hire, because you’re getting the sense your support team is feeling stretched. Bring that story to your data person, and ask them to help you figure out how to test that hypothesis with customer data. Watch their eyes light up with glee.

If you can, sit with them as they try to figure it out. Keep talking; brainstorm together. You might discover you don’t need a new hire and that the solution lies elsewhere, or you might stumble upon some greater problem you can solve for right away.

3. Present compelling data

Stop speaking in terms of “lots of customers say they want this” or “we need a better internal tool because this one is driving our team bananas.” The hard truth is that appeals to ethos aren’t as compelling to people making budget and spending decisions.

Instead, harness the power of data so you can say things like:

“Twelve customers are churning every quarter because this feature is broken, which accounts for $4,130 in lost revenue per year.”
“Every person on our team would have an extra half-hour per week to contribute to knowledge base documentation if we invest in these three improvements to our internal billing tool.”

4. Deliver your message in the format your recipient prefers

As a support professional, you’re used to communicating in a way that gets your message across. But when communicating with other teams within your organization, you may need to change your approach to work with the people you’re trying to convince.

Mat recalls a tough email back-and-forth with a colleague who was just not hearing him out. Finally, he realized that by creating a PowerPoint using the same information, he had a better shot at making his point.

“It’s the same information but by breaking it into slides and putting a few bullet points on each one, it’s a presentation; it’s not an email.”

He didn’t have to make a presentation; he just organized the same thoughts in a slide deck, and lo and behold, suddenly everything he was saying made sense.

That doesn’t mean you have to create a slide deck for every ask. But it’s important to pay attention to how people react and adjust accordingly. That adjustment signals that you’re making an effort to help them understand what you’re saying.


Sales and customer success teams know all this, which is why their initiatives are so often greenlighted — their goals are closely tied to revenue, and they know how to illustrate those ties. It’s not that they’re the favorite, or because their needs outrank support’s needs, or even because they have better data. It’s because they know how to make a compelling case with the data they have.

And at least as of this writing, there’s still no law preventing support from using the same methods.


About the author: Emily Triplett Lentz is on the Growth team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk that helps you build a company your customers love with more human, more helpful customer support tools.