Growing Customers, Growing the Customer Experience Team
Since starting with Betterment four years ago, I’ve witnessed the company grow from 4,200 customers to more than 100,000. Here’s what’s changed—and what hasn’t.
Our customer experience team sits next to our product development team so that we can directly relay customer feedback.
Every employee at Betterment answers customer calls and emails during their “Customer Week” to ensure we all stay connected to our mission.
When I started with Betterment four years ago to build the company’s customer experience team, our whole office had just 10 employees. Now, we have more than 100.
There were 4,284 customers, $8 million in assets under management, three cordless phones, and one shared Gmail inbox. Today, we have more than 100,000 customers and $2.5 billion in assets under management.
While these numbers reflect our rapid growth, our mission has stayed the same, from customer No. 1 to customer No. 100,001.
What stood out to me during my first interview was meeting with a team more passionate and driven than I had ever seen. There was a mission of change and building Betterment was the vehicle. I instantly felt at home.
That hasn’t changed. We still have that same focused mission of helping people answer the question, “What should I do with my money?” now, just the same as it was on day one.
Customer Experience: The Early Days
I had arrived early my first day in 2011, also the day I answered my first customer support call. What struck me most were the questions from potential customers that were simply about who and what Betterment was. They were curious and hungry.
As I continue to do to this day, I drew from the many conversations I was already having with my own friends. This has always been my favorite aspect of the Betterment experience; speaking with our customers has continued to feel like talking with my friends because, at the end of the day, we all have the same mission: to find a better way to plan our financial futures and a smarter way to invest our money.
In 2012, when we had around 13,000 customers. I remember a prospective venture capital investor visiting our offices. When I told her I managed customer support, she said, “So, where’s your team?”
“You’re looking at it!” I replied. I’ll never forget the horror on her face.
“That’s impossible,” she said. “You should have a team of 15—at least.”
I took it in stride because, as with almost everything we did, this wasn’t the first time we had heard this. I knew what the industry said our customer-to-staff ratio should be, but it didn’t matter—we all got the job done. I also knew that if we continued to make the product intuitive and easy to use, it would reduce customer issues and contact rates. Continued iteration on our product offering and the resulting lower contact rates proved that.
So, how’d we do? Well, you could hear it daily from our customers and those interested in our service. Things were changing and they were excited to be a part of it. The founders were supporting the product and the people in control of our vision were always in direct contact with our customers. Our CEO, Jon Stein, and Chief Product Officer, Anthony Schrauth, were right there, side-by-side talking with customers, whenever I was busy helping another customer on a different line.
We worked this way for the next two years. Today, I continue to work closely with our product team daily to make sure they were always in touch with our user base. We have a particular velocity when it comes to innovating based on customer needs that others may find hard to match. It may sound crazy to say that in February 2013 we had just one dedicated person to work with more than 17,000 customers across various channels—but we did.
From day one, everyone on the Betterment team has answered phones and replied to emails. Today, we continue that effort with our “Customer Week” program, which allows everyone in the company, from a new engineering hire to our CEO, to take a week to focus on our customers. Everyone in the company speaks with our customers on the phone, answers emails, and communicates with them over live chat to help them with specific questions related to signup or using the website, for example. We never want to lose the focus of our customers so we strive to maintain a personal connection to them in everything we do.
Our Growing Community
These days, our customer experience team has grown to 11 people (come join us!), who work with more than 100,000 customers and Betterment helps them manage more than $2.5 billion. We have switched from using Gmail to field emails to using sophisticated customer service software. And yes, we finally switched away from our beloved household cordless phones to a dedicated VOIP system that fully integrates with our customer database.
Time after time, we often hear from people and they note the personal touch we provide, quick answers to emails, and friendly voices on the phone (no robots here) seven days a week. This isn’t an accident. We have always strived to build the product we would want to use, and that includes the service and experience you get from our team.
From Customers to the Product Team
We’re focused on hiring more team members to keep up with our rapid growth. We’re also working hard to continue to support our customers as well as our teammates as we continue to expand our services and product offerings.
Just like my first year at Betterment, every team member is charged with assisting our product managers, UI/UX designers, and helping the entire company recognize and account for the voice of our customers. We’re here for customers both externally and internally. That free flow of information from our customers to our development team is crucial in keeping things intuitive and delightful.
We’re also looking at new ways to add even more real-time support deeper into our apps, providing proactive help when the system intelligently sees that there may be an error, and ways to automatically deploy a fix for problems as they happen. Our strongest allies throughout our journey have always been educating our customers about investing, building a service with intuitive design, and automating better investment behavior for all. I’m excited for our team to continue to bring those values to you everyday as we seek to grow to a million customers and more in the coming years. Thank you for making our days better.
Smart Saver and Other Savings Products: Our Recommendations
We know from talking to Betterment customers that holding cash isn’t always intentional; it’s a choice by default—not knowing how, when, or why to put your money to work. We developed Smart Saver to help with that.
Betterment’s Model for Financial Advice: An Overview
Achieving your financial goals is only possible if you plan effectively. Saving enough, choosing the right accounts, deciding when you can buy a house or when to retire—all of these are essential decisions even before you build an optimal portfolio.
Jon Stein on “How I Built This:” Reflecting on Our Story
Jon Stein joins NPR’s Guy Raz for an episode of “How I Built This” to look back at how Betterment started, what mistakes were made, and how they turned into learnings for the robo-advisor we are today.
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