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Fast Concierge is here! (With a catch)

David BarrettDavid Barrett Expensify Team Posts: 21 Expensify Team

As the second month of this indefinite quarantine draws to a close, it’s easy to feel like time has stopped.  It seems so quaint that we once complained about our commutes, like all our priorities have been reset. But some priorities don’t change, and other than diverting all the funds from Expensify.org to help feed families on the SNAP program (help us help them by enabling Corporate Karma, using your Expensify Card, or visiting Expensify.org/donate), we’ve been laser focused on the one thing we know every customer wants: faster customer support via Concierge.

I won’t beat around the bush -- Concierge has been our top customer complaint, for years.  There are reasons, of course, the biggest being that most questions to Concierge aren’t even about Expensify.  This means our team is trained not just on every detail of Expensify, but also on the nuanced best practices of using a dozen accounting packages across a hundred global jurisdictions.  But it being hard for us to scale doesn’t change the fact that it’s been unacceptably slow for years to get a response from Concierge. To help visualize that, here’s how many support requests we get per week to Concierge (the blue bars), and here’s how long it has taken us to respond to each (the red line, in hours):

As you can see, even though we’re often “decent”, there are way too many weeks where the average response took tens of hours, or even days.  And even if most of the time it doesn’t take nearly that long, once you wait multiple days for a response in frustrated silence, you never forget.  Thankfully, at long last, I’m very happy to report that for the first time ever, we’ve crossed a key threshold: response times are down to a half-hour on average (and much faster for most).  If we zoom in on just 2020, it looks like this:

The past few weeks have shown a massive, sustained reduction in response times despite consistent volumes -- somewhere near 30x faster, and trending toward 100x.  This isn’t due to a reduction of volume (as the charts show), it’s entirely due to very expensive hiring, process, and technology changes we’ve invested in over the past three years to create these results.  And we’re not even close to done: going forward, response times will be measured in minutes, and we’re well on track to get that to be single-digit minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So that’s the good news.  The bad news is all this happened right as the worst pandemic in a century struck.  And given that our primary customer is the business traveler, when business travel drops by 95% -- that takes a toll on us.  To put that into perspective, here’s how our SmartScan volume (ie, the number of receipts scanned per week) has trended -- down over 60% from the start of COVID-19, and continuing to worsen:

In fact, when you combine a few different leading indicators together, we’re staring down the barrel of a 50-70% reduction in revenue, without any certainty of when or if it will ever come back.  Even more alarming, we are anticipating a crippling reduction in revenue even though our support costs are higher than ever.  Basically, not many travelers are travelling, but all their policy admins are still asking for help just as much as ever (and in many cases, more).

This is a pickle, to say the least, with three possible solutions:

  1. Do nothing, and quietly go out of business.
  2. Dial back all the work we did to get response times down to minutes and return to multi-day support times.
  3. Increase revenue per customer to keep funding high-speed customer support, at the scale that customers need it.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that this problem wasn’t created by COVID.  We’ve always known that increasing support speed was going to be difficult at our cut-rate price (the same since 2009!), and had to do something.  Our preferred “something” was to convert users over to our new Expensify Card -- which is absolutely free for you to use. No setup costs, no fees.

There are of course many reasons for that, the most important being that it truly is the best way to use the product.  If you aren’t using the Expensify Card, you’re just living in the past. It’s a completely different experience, like the first time you scanned a receipt with your phone.  You just can’t go back.

A second reason was to fund our Expensify.org/hunger campaign via the Expensify Card’s built in Karma Points program, which has already reimbursed thousands of families (and more every day) for groceries to help get through this crisis.

But I won’t lie -- a third reason was simply to earn interchange off of each card purchase, primarily to subsidize our increased support costs without needing to raise prices on anyone.  We like our low price and want to keep it for the most people possible -- especially in these difficult times where tight expense management is more important than ever. And things were trending great!  Until… they weren’t:

The long and short of it is, we can’t offer super fast support and maintain our super low prices.  We tried to accomplish this with the card, but then the global pandemic hit, and the world as we knew it changed almost literally overnight.  As one of the increasingly rare profitable tech companies, we have taken great pride in our ability to service almost 100,000 small business customers while maintaining our market bottom prices, and still being able to pay our bills.  We had previously believed our profit margins were thick enough to keep us “recession proof”, but it now seems we aren’t “pandemic proof”.

So the brass tacks are as follows.  Starting on your June 1st bill:

  • Anyone who uses the Expensify service as intended (which is “bundled” with the Expensify Card) will continue enjoying the current rock-bottom pricing (so long as the card is used for at least 50% of approved spend).  At this point, using Expensify without the Expensify Card is as crazy as using it without the Expensify app. You can do it, but it’s just not ideal for anyone.  (Note: We are working hard to bring the Expensify Card to the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.)
  • If you can’t or won’t adopt the card, we need to add an “unbundling fee” to replace the interchange revenue we would otherwise use to subsidize the increased cost to support you at our new speeds going forward.

To put those options in context, here’s a breakdown of what a typical company spends on financial technology services:

So whether or not you choose to use the Expensify Card, Expensify is still one of the cheapest parts of your back office stack.  And if you use the Expensify Card as we recommend, it is the cheapest part of your stack, by a huge margin.

Regardless, I know it’s tough to hear about any price change in the midst of a crisis.  But it’s better than hearing about us compromising on the quality of the service (or shutting down), which are our only realistic alternatives.  The full 100% unbundling fee has already gone into effect for all new customers, but to minimize the near-term effects on existing customers and to give you time to adopt the Expensify Card internally:

  • Annually subscribed seats won’t see this unbundling fee until their subscription renews.
  • We’re going to phase in the unbundling fee slowly over the course of 12 months for existing customers.
  • Existing customers on “pay-per-use” pricing (or overage pricing for annual subscriptions) will experience this fee as it gradually increases.

Taken together, this should hopefully give you plenty of time to either adopt the Expensify Card or absorb this new cost: even though it’s such a small amount of total back office spend, we know every dollar matters.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of helping the maximum number of people possible during this difficult time (which is as much an economic crisis as a health crisis), we are also increasing the free SmartScan limit by 5x from 5 SmartScans/mo to 25/mo for our Track and Submit plans (both of which are targeted to individuals).  This is generally more than enough scans to capture your monthly purchases for fine-grained personal cash flow management, which all of us are forced to do in these uncertain times.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for choosing to use Expensify for your expense management needs.  We are working truly around the clock to earn your business every day, and I appreciate you taking the time to understand the full situation and trade-offs we have to make when it comes to providing the best service possible at the lowest possible cost.

-david

Founder and CEO of Expensify

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