How a First-Principles Approach Helps Brex Resolve Customer Problems

With Lucas Parelius, Head of Customer Experience at Brex

Brex is a B2B financial services company whose goal is to be the financial operating system for growing businesses. Their flagship product was the first corporate credit card for Startups and they've since expanded their offerings to include a card for eCommerce and life sciences companies. They recently introduced a second product, Brex Cash.

Lucas Parelius is the head of customer experience (CX). The CX team responds whenever a customer emails or calls. Their mission is to identify customer pain points and resolve them.

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Lucas and discuss how Brex uses a first-principles approach to resolve customer problems.

Why did you join Brex?

The first time I heard about Brex was from Michael Tannenbaum our CFO. I worked with Michael at Sofi quite closely and consider him a good friend and mentor. As the saying goes, "you are the sum of the five people you surround yourself with." He's one of those five people I wanted to work with again. At Sofi, I used to be in the mortgage industry and that learning curve flattened. I really wanted to learn a new industry and payments was super interesting. And most importantly, I wanted to build again. I wanted to go to a small FinTech company where, you know, my back was against the wall with the team — that's where I thought I would do my best work and provide the most value — and that's definitely proven to be the case in the two years I've been at Brex.

What are the various touch points where your customers connect with Brex?

The three channels that customers can reach us are via phone, chat or email. We're open from five in the morning to midnight Pacific standard time. Chat is our biggest channel, followed by email, and phone.

When a customer interacts with us, we assign it a category at high level and then a sub-category, which is very specific. Now there are about 200 different subcategories. So we're able to pull reports: How often did a customer write in Q1 asking to do this? We can get information that X happened 400 times, and Y happened 350 times in Q4. We can combine this with our cost-per-conversation model, and we can model the cost of each problem.

How do you share learnings from your team with the rest of Brex?

It's a very painful problem. We've tried so many different things. Google forms. Reports in Salesforce. Slack channels, and there's never been a really good way that like is all encompassing and not too time intensive.

One thing we're working on, which I'm real excited about is, when a customer interacts with us, we assign it a category at high level and then a sub-category, which is very specific. Now there are about 200 different subcategories. So we're able to pull reports: How often did a customer write in Q1 asking to do this? We can get information that X happened 400 times, and Y happened 350 times in Q4. We can combine this with our cost-per-conversation model, and we can model the cost of each problem.

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What are the primary KPIs for Brex's CX team?

We really only have two KPIs: customer satisfaction (C-SAT) and response SLA. We don't care how long it takes to solve a customer's problem, but it is vitally important that we do — if we are not doing that, there is no point to our work. C-SAT is also something we can measure individually, and it drives a bit of competition internally. As a team, we also have internal goals for response SLAs for each of our support mediums: chat, email, phone. They are very aggressive. We like to hit them 95% of the time.

What tools do you use to hit your response SLAs?

We invested in a Workforce management (WFM) team early on. WFM allows us to get our staffing right, which lets us hit our goals for response SLAs. I was doing it personally since we were four people. Then we hired a director of workforce management to come and build our entire workforce management org. That's when we had 35 people. Even at our stage now (60 people), people in the industry are skeptical—no one's doing what we're doing this early.

How do you quantify customer satisfaction?

We've setup a system for measuring C-SAT—every time we close an email or chat or phone call we check if the customer has received a C-SAT survey in the past seven days. If they haven't, the system sends out an email survey and it has the associate's name, their picture, their hometown, and we ask the customer to rate the interaction on a five point scale. We measure five stars as 100%, four stars as 80%, etc. We can calculate the C-SAT across multiple conversations and our goal is to keep that above 95%, which we've done every quarter.

What does Brex's CX team do well?

We've always taken a first principles approach—What does the team need now? We've had blinders on and not looked at what everyone else is doing. When Brex first launched, we had no competitors. We didn't try to copy anyone and we figured out what to do for ourselves. And that was really important for us.

Secondly, we invested in being distributed early on. We opened up Vancouver in May of 2018 and we had like 20 people on the customer experience team. And distributed is hard. Like we had our director fly up there. We had to figure out what it took to work with a team in San Francisco and another team in Vancouver. There were growing pains. But now we have three offices and we wouldn't be where we are today if we hadn't been distributed.

Lastly, we've been disciplined with hiring. We've never compromised on hiring because we needed to hit goals even when we were slammed with volume and it was really tough to recruit. We always waited until we found the right people. As a result, we have a lot of high quality people now. The strength of the customer experience team allows us to best deal with any current shortcomings in our product.