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If you wish to win, first do what everyone else is already doing. Then move to something that many can’t do. Then work on something that would give you an edge over the others. To succeed as a company doing business online, you need an effective e-commerce service strategy to guide your engagement with customers throughout their many interactions with you.
We developed this step-by-step guide as a starting point to help you understand the basics of what other companies are doing so you can identify the table-stakes for doing business and identify where your strategic opportunities are for competitive advantage.
Understand the Scope of Customer Interactions
Engaging in electronic commerce is a lot different from traditional brick-and-mortar retail and services delivered in-person. There is no such thing as “business hours” when you are doing business online. Your business is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and your customers expect you to interact with them whatever time is convenient for them. Digital businesses are also global businesses that often cross political, cultural and language boundaries. Your customers expect you to understand and be sensitive to their unique needs in the way you interact with them.
Modern e-commerce is a lot more than sales and taking orders on a website—it is the holistic set of interactions you have with your customers. The best way to figure out the scope of your customer interactions is by asking a set of questions about the various times that a customer might need to engage with you.
How do your customers learn about your company and your products and services?
How do they engage with you to ask questions and then to place an order?
What happens after the order is placed (how do they receive products and services)?
How do they interact with you if they have a problem or question after the sale?
What is their billing experience?
These are all the types of interactions that your e-commerce service strategy needs to support. You may enable these interactions through self-help capabilities and automation or you may use technology to enable customers to interact with your employees. Those are decisions that should be based on your unique company culture and business strategy as you seek to both meet customer needs and gain the edge over your competitors.
Develop a Multi-channel Engagement Strategy
E-Commerce doesn’t just mean having customers to do things on a website—it means using technology to help you interact and engage with them in a variety of different ways. Technology may take many forms including: websites, email, phone, chat, mobile apps, online marketplaces and social media. Each of these enables you to interact with customers in a different way and it is important to choose the right tools and techniques to match your communication needs
One-way vs. 2-way interaction—Are you trying to share information with customers? Do they need to communicate with you? The nature of the interaction is important to determine whether you need a capability for sending/receiving information or whether you need a capability to carry on a conversation with the customer.
Real-time or delayedresponses—When your customer asks you a question, do they need a response right now or can they wait to get an answer? Increasingly, customers are seeking real-time interactions with companies they do business with, meaning you will need both technical capabilities and staffing to engage with them effectively.
Voice, text or picture-based communication—how do your customers want to interact with you? Do the questions involve a set of complex steps or a lot of details that is best accomplished in writing? Do you need to express empathy for customer frustrations that are best done with words? Do you need to show the customer how to do something where pictures and video are appropriate? Using the right communication tools for communication not only helps you engage effectively, it can improve customer perceptions of the ease of doing business with you.
One-to-one vs. interacting with a group—Do you need to communicate with a single customer, or are you trying to communicate with a group? Group communication may include things like email marketing, announcing new offering, answering common questions and engaging in discussions on social media. Group communication is often less personal and more suited for one-way communication or common topics that others might be interested in.
There are a lot of different options that you could choose from to support these communication approaches and the choices might seem overwhelming both in time and cost. As your company matures, you might consider some targeted and specific approaches, but here are five e-commerce service capabilities that every online company should offer:
FAQs and self-help—Most customers don’t want to talk to a person. They see human interaction as slow and frustrating. They would much rather solve problems on their own. Frequently asked questions (FAQs) and self-help capabilities for common tasks like getting a price quote, placing orders, checking status, providing feedback and requesting return/warrantee service are all things that customers expect to do via self-service tools. Providing self-service capabilities may require some up-front investment but will generate benefits both in customer satisfaction and lower customer service staffing costs.
Mobile interactions—Over the past few years, customer preference for digital interaction has shifted from desktop (and laptop) computers to mobile devices like tablets and smart phones. It is imperative that your company’s e-commerce capabilities work well on these smaller format devices. Responsive technologies (web pages that change format based on screen size) are no longer a “nice to have”, they are an expectation by modern customers.
Live chat—If customers can’t get the answers they need on their own, they expect the ability to engage with one of your staff… right now. They don’t want to submit a web-form or send an email and wait for a response tomorrow. Providing live chat functions can have a big impact on customer satisfaction and may mean the difference between winning the customer’s business or losing it to a competitor. You got their attention and their engagement on your website, don’t let them walk away because they can’t get the engagement they expect. Providing live chat functions requires planning staffing and ensuring that your employees respond to the new engagement request (just like answering the phone).
Proactive customer service – Don’t wait for customers to ask for help to engage with them. Has your customer been browsing product pages for a few minutes but not yet added an item to their shopping cart? Have they been searching your FAQs and support documentation looking for answers? Do they have a shopping cart they have filled up but not ordered? These are all indicators that your customers need help. Your e-commerce systems should monitor for these and other common situations and proactively offering the customer the chance to engage with you via chat or receive a telephone call.
24 hour/day phone support—One of the big benefits for customers doing business with online companies is that they can interact at times of the day that fit their busy schedules. Increasingly, that means engaging with you outside of “normal business hours”. Doing business online also means that your customers may be outside your local area—potentially on the other side of the earth and many time-zones removed from your staff. Customers expect that you will have phone-based support 24 hrs/day if you are doing business online. Staffing for phone-based support is like staffing for your live chat functions with one big exception. Chat support staff can manage multiple conversations at one time. Phone support staff can only engage with one customer at a time and must provide undivided attention. Planning your phone support staffing requires monitoring call volumes and trends to ensure that you can answer the phone without leaving customers on hold for long periods.
Interactions After the Sale is Made
Your company’s online interactions with customers shouldn’t end when an order is placed, and the sale is made. Customers expect their e-commerce service experience to be consistent throughout all the interactions they have with your company, not just pre-sales. Focusing on post-sales customer service makes sense for your company too. After all, you are seeking to establish and nurture a relationship with the customer, not just win a one-time sale. The experience they have interacting with you after the sale is made will play a big role in determining whether they give your company their future business. From an e-commerce service strategy perspective, this means ensuring you get a few key interactions right:
Optimize and automate order fulfillment—When customers order things online, they expect them to be delivered quickly. If the product or service is delivered electronically, they expect to access/download it immediately after submitting payment. If they are purchasing a physical product, they expect the order to be processed and the product to ship within a couple of days. Providing this level of service requires you to automate and optimize your order fulfillment processes—removing as many manual activities as possible. As transactions progress through the fulfillment process, customers expect updates on when their order will ship, when they can expect to receive it and tracking information to know where it is at along the way.
Give customers access to order and billing history—You may have sent your customer an invoice or sales receipt via email when they placed an order, but they will probably have misplaced it by the time they need the information. Order and billing history are some of the most common sets of data that customers look for with e-commerce businesses. Almost every company provides it and the few that don’t are likely to attract (negative) attention. Providing this information in a self-service format not only avoids unhappy customers, it also helps your company reduce administrative (overhead) costs. Having a staff member re-send an invoice doesn’t lead to more sales, and it doesn’t help deliver your products and services more efficiently.
Make warrantee service and returns easy—No company will have happy customers all the time. Products may have defects or they may not meet the customer’s needs for whatever reason. When this happens, customers want to know you will address their needs and concerns without a lot of hassle. This starts with writing an easy to understand and easy to execute returns policy. Customers should know what to expect with a returns experience before they place an order. Honor your warrantees—if you said “we will guarantee this item for a year”, you need to be prepared to support that product for a year. If you offered a “30 day, no questions asked” return policy, you need to provide customers with an easy, no hassle, a means of returning the product. Treating the warrantee and/or return transaction like a sale, making sure that customers receive accurate status communications and timely action from your staff will help customers feel like they are being treated in a fair way and make them more likely to give you more business in the future.
Resource Planning for Digital Businesses
Operating an online or digital business may seem like an easy way to expand your market footprint to reach more customers without the costs of physical expansion (opening new offices or new retail outlets). While that is true, digital businesses have their own resourcing needs and resource planning challenges that need to be carefully managed including providing 24×7 customer support and planning your resources for seasonal demand.
24×7 customer support
Customers expect that online businesses are backed by real-people who are available to answer their questions and help address issues and needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They don’t care about what time-zone or country you are in. From their perspective, because your products and services are available in their local region, your staff should be available to engage in their local time-zone. Meeting this expectation can be very difficult for many online businesses—particularly those that are new or lack the size/scale to support a round-the-clock customer service function. Fortunately, there are many outsourced options that can enable digital businesses to gain access to customer service call-center staff that can help support their customer needs. Modern customer service software and helpdesk systems enable outsourced teams to work as a virtual-extension of your company to provide the front-line of customer interaction with seamless mechanisms for engaging subject matter experts if needed.
Managing seasonal demand
Seasonality is an issue for online businesses both in fulfilling orders and in providing customer service. Most industries have peak periods and they have slow periods in their normal business cycles. For example: companies that sell products to consumers are often busiest in the 6 weeks before the Christmas holiday while many home services companies see peak business in warm-weather seasons. Whatever the cycles are for your business, you will need to plan your resources to scale up for peak demand and scale back resources for slow periods. Your e-commerce service strategy can help you do this by identifying automation investments to support resource intensive activities. It can also help you schedule activities such as follow-up service calls and marketing campaigns to increase resource utilization during slow periods
Put Your Customer Data to Use
Running an online business means using technology to not only facilitate customer interactions but also to help you operate more effectively and make better business decisions. Your e-commerce service strategy should include tools and capabilities to support internal operations and decision making. Your customer service and sales staff can be more effective in managing customer interactions if they have accurate and complete information available to guide them.
Use helpdesk tools or other customer service software to capture all customer interaction data. With each interaction you have with customers, you learn valuable information about who they are, what their challenges and needs are, how they feel about your company (and your competitors), and what the potential sales opportunities are. Customer service software (sometimes called helpdesk software or CRM software) is a powerful tool to help your company manage all the customer-related data you collect—whether it’s a sales call, search history on your website, chat transcripts, or a warrantee request. By putting all your customer interaction data in one consistent place, you can make it accessible to all your employees, enabling them to be better informed advisors to your customers.
Develop a knowledge base to drive efficiency. It is very expensive to solve every problem from scratch each time your staff encounters it. Customer questions, product features and defects, and operational processes are encountered multiple times. By implementing a knowledge base solution, recurring questions and common information can be captured and made available across your team. Often customer responses can be re-used to ensure situations are addressed consistently, regardless of which of your staff members is interacting with the customer. Knowledge base data is also helpful to management teams seeking to understand opportunities for making products better and improve the efficiencies of operations.
Measure customer satisfaction to look for trends and take action. Customer satisfaction surveys that capture data about both specific interactions and general sentiment about your company and products are essential tools for any company doing business online. Technology enabled interactions and self-service capabilities can often obscure visibility to how your customers are feeling and mask opportunities for improvement. Conducting regular satisfaction surveys to ask customers how they feel is important to letting them know you care about them and value their opinions. Once you’ve collected customer satisfaction data, it is important to measure how well your company is doing, look for trends and underlying issues and use this information for decision making that leads to action. Customers appreciate seeing their feedback resulting in meaningful changes to your offerings and their experiences doing business with you. If you aren’t measuring customer satisfaction today, you are missing out on valuable business insights.
Putting Your E-commerce Service Strategy Together
The key to success in operating a digital business is to have an e-commerce service strategy that covers the full-breadth of interactions, throughout the customer life cycle. This includes self-service and other solutions for facilitating customer interaction and the internal systems you use to manage customer data, plan resources and make business decisions. There are countless options for how your company can implement these digital capabilities, but if you want to be competitive, you first need to ensure that you offer the basic capabilities that customers can get from your competitors. Then you need to find and implement those capabilities you can excel at and those that will give you a competitive edge.
Support is no longer a role where you’re just expected to answer the questions of customers. Support has grown to be a role which influences the decisions of every other department, and Product. If done right, you can use customer support feedback to hack growth for your business.
Product Managers can take advantage of a lot of help and guidance from Support for deciding features to be implemented or the prioritization of bug fixes. If both product and support work in consensus, it’s a win-win situation for both. Product managers can be confident knowing users are getting what they want and the support team can be satisfied knowing they advocated for the customer.
In this blog post, we will discuss the reasons why it’s important to give customer support a seat at the product table.
Support Knows What’s on the Roadmap (and What’s Not)
Imagine the quality of service your support reps can deliver if they can say what can be part of the product and what should not, along with a justification for it. For example, say a customer writes in to request the ability to edit a restricted code-block. An agent who’s involved in product meetings would understand that the code is not editable to make sure that nothing breaks when pushing new updates to all the customers, and can explain this to the customer.
This reasoning becomes clear to them when they attend the product meetings. It’s not just about what’s on the roadmap, it’s also about keeping them updated on the latest status of each item on the roadmap. We all know ETA’s depend on various factors but if the support team is aware of the upcoming changes in the product, they can set realistic expectations for the customers. Customer support is is always a collaborative effort between support and product. Don’t forget the upselling opportunities of Support conversations if agents know what’s coming up!
They’re the Ones Who Deal with Actual Use Cases from Customers
You might design your product based on a certain market or set of customer personas, but the real use cases often come from the Support team who deals with customers and see how they use it.
While it’s possible to use data analysis to see which aspects of your product are being used the most or the least, that information can’t give you the exact use case. This data can only be collected by having in-depth conversations like the support team does. Many Product Managers come from analytical backgrounds, so quantitative data is second nature to them. But anecdotal data from conversations is also important, because as Abby Griffin concluded1, just 10 customer interviews can reveal upto 80% of a customer’s unmet needs. Bringing support agents to the table and making them part of the discussion means you’re able to make use of the immense knowledge gathered by them.
Product Managers who do customer support themselves can begin to understand the use cases, but their time is limited. Imagine asking this information from people who do support every day and can share numerous use cases with you.
They Understand the Reasoning Behind Product Manager Decisions
Every product (and it’s roadmap) is designed with a long term vision in mind. Usually these decisions happen in isolation and the support team follows it as instructed. But making the support team part of these meetings means they can qualify the customers based on the future direction of the product. If support knows the vision, they can make better decisions about the workarounds they provide to customers. They can also gauge if their product is the right fit for customers in the long run – or if it’s best to let an ill-fitting customer churn.
It Gives the Support Team Confidence When Dealing with Customers
The simple psychological fact of being part of something and belonging to those decision making meetings can give them confidence2 in themselves and the product, and drive stronger engagement. As Joseph Folkman writes for Forbes, “Employees who felt a low level of empowerment were rated with engagement at the 24th percentile, whereas those with a high level of empowerment were at the 79th percentile.” This empowerment will reflect in their conversations. Instead of simply relaying what is passed on to them to the customer, they can also add an explanation. And being in control of things means they can actually enjoy these conversations with customers. In fact, it is not surprising that lack of engagement can often lead to burnout among employees.
How Support Can Earn Their Seat
Once Support is given a seat at the table, it’s a two way street where they will also be expected to live up to certain expectations. Some of the strategies which can help us, as support agents, deliver the best work are to:
As customer advocates, we tend to be driven by the idea of helping every customer in every possible way. As part of this drive, we advocate for every request that comes in, but in the real world not every request is possible. Adding every request to the backlog can stop your product from scaling. You’ll end up with a product like Homer Simpson’s car3 — it had everything anyone ever wanted, but was completely useless.
So, we have to showcase an analytical knack where we’re able to decide and prioritise the top things to fight for. The more we do this, the more we can contribute to the product meetings. We also need to make sure the requests we bring forward align with the product vision as a company.
Ask Why to Probe Deeper
We need to develop an understanding of the exact requirement the customer wants to achieve. Sometimes, it’s already possible to do what they want to accomplish in the product, but not in the way they expect. The customer can explain his/her pain point but we should not assume every pain point needs to be a feature request.
For example, if the customer mentions that they forget to assign the conversation to themselves after replying and wants to have an “Assign to Me” option when replying, it doesn’t mean you have to mark this as Feature Request.
The pain point here is forgetting to own the conversation. To which the solution could be an automation rule that already exists as an option.
It’s not just about Support or Product but it’s a general rule where you earn respect with the quality of your work. If we follow the above two rules we automatically add quality to our work as Support. This quality will go long way in making the Support team’s voice strong when product decisions are made. The more we understand how Product Managers think the better this collaboration can be.
Support can bring a lot to the Product Table, but its a two way street. It requires a streamlined communication process between the two departments and an understanding of each other’s ways of thinking and working. Fortunately, with being in Support we’re naturally skilled at understanding others and can easily earn our spot at the table by contributing with helpful insights!
Support, despite being uniformly similar in principle, is incredibly different across individual industries. Yes, people still need help with a product or application, and the customer support team is expected to provide it in a timely and efficient manner. But, across different industries, there are different language patterns that people follow, different types of support that people prefer over others, and even different SLAs that people need to justify spending money on receiving support. This article will focus on specific customer support benchmarks across different industries, and on the strategies that companies use to hit them.
It is fascinating how, even in the same region, customer support by industry is such a vastly differentiated thing, but according to the Customer Happiness Benchmark Report there are always a few specific metrics that everybody cares about.
One-touch resolution (also known as first contact resolution or FCR) is one of the most important metrics across industries and for good reason! This metric is the one that shows that your customers are getting their questions answered on the first try and that they haven’t had to email in again for more clarification. Beyond that, though, it also helps your management team get a deeper understanding of how complex the issues that you’re dealing with are. So, for example, if you have a pretty low one-touch resolution rate, the issues your support team is handling may be a bit more complex.
Across industries, 71% of tickets were resolved on the first contact. Hospitals and healthcare had the highest resolution on the first contact at 83% whereas banks and others in the financial industry had the lowest percentage at 55%. Most interesting out of all of the metrics is that SMBs and Enterprise support teams do not differ much across one-touch resolution percentage—they oscillate between 71% and 73%, respectively.
First Response Time
Customers love quick responses, and while using the time to first response as a quality measure certainly has its ups and downs, the fact that customers care so much about it does not change. While, depending on volume, it might not always have a huge impact on support to carry it out, it can have a gigantic impact on how positively your customers rate your interaction, or how favorably they come into the conversation.
According to our Customer Happiness Benchmark Report, the average first response time was 7 hours across all industries. Holy moly. Even the most minimal of first response times are at 4 hours, which are in holding companies and manufacturing for computer hardware. UserVoice has noted that of all of the positive ratings that they received over the course of the study, 25% came from people who received responses in under 15 minutes1. We’ve got a lot of work to do across all customer support industries here.
Almost every company should have a service level agreement (SLA) with their customers where they set the expectation of how long someone can wait before a response. This is particularly important during outages and for enterprise-level customers. The length of time that each company sets is specific to the company and is neither region nor industry specific. It’s also even possible that the SLA is not explicitly set, but instead implied, or mentioned in your auto response to your customers (for example ‘We’ll try to get back to you within 24 hours.’).
No matter what your SLA is we found that across industry and region, 86% of all tickets were handled within SLA. And in the enterprise-sized industrial manufacturing & services industry issues were resolved within SLA 91% of the time—well above the average (what superheroes!).
Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is one of the most important metrics that you have to measure your customer support on. Basically, it measures the satisfaction that your customer has with the support interaction and services that you are providing. If the score increases, it shows that you are doing a good job and satisfying the needs of your customers; if the score decreases, it may mean that something has shifted in your support strategy that you need to fix. To be clear: CSAT and NPS are two different numbers. CSAT is surveyed for after a customer interaction and asks questions specific to the interaction. NPS is more marketing and brand related and measures the entire experience customers have with the company (including service).
Across all industries, the customer support benchmark for CSAT is 78%.
Why Benchmark Yourself?
Great, so now you understand the most common metrics, how you can use them, and benchmark yourself against other industries. But why are these metrics and knowing how you stack up so important? There are two big advantages to benchmarking your support against others in your industry: hiring proactively and setting better support strategies for your customers.
Having a good handle on what your support team is doing is extremely important when it comes to knowing when to hire staff. If you do not know what is happening in the inbox, you may be blindsided when a huge influx of tickets comes in, whereas your support team who are in the trenches every day could likely have told you from the get-go. Knowing your industry and what the ticket volume looks like over the course of the year is incredibly important.
For example, as a retailer, Amazon knows that it will have a busy season during certain holidays such as Black Friday and Christmas. So, they always start to hire more people in the third quarter so that it has enough trained support people to handle the extremely high ticket volumes at the end of the year and maintain excellent metrics. You can do this either by hiring full-time, or temporary agents. Freshdesk offers Day Passes that allows you to buy temporary seats for seasonal agents without blowing a hole in your budget.
Building Support Strategy
When you have knowledge of which metrics are important for your industry, you can start to tailor your support strategy to fit the kind of support your customers value. For example, if you are a telecom company, 76% of your customers are looking for digital-only support2, usually via social media or chat. But for companies like ones in the medical industry, customers value high-touch, hyper-personalized support, usually in the form of a phone call, or direct contact. Provide your customers with what they crave and find value in, and you will create customers for life.
Develop more knowledge so that you can create strategies that serve your customers best, not your company.
Benchmarking Volume Across Industries
Volume, rather than the number of customers, is the metric that has the highest impact on how your support needs to scale. You can have high volume, for instance, with a minimal amount of customers—this usually happens when you have a particularly complex, niche or technical product. Similarly, you can have low volume and a high number of customers if you’ve got a fairly straightforward product, or have spent a lot of effort on your self-service offerings.
All that being said, here are the industries with the highest volume across the board. You’ll notice that most of them are industries that most, if not everyone, uses:
The transportation industry has an average of 675 tickets per agent per month, which is the highest across all industries and is a steep slope over the 475 ticket/agent average. The main reason behind this is likely the high amount of logistics that go into transportation and shipping, and the capacity crunch that the industry is currently experiencing. Meaning: there are more things that need to be shipped than the transportation industry has the capacity to manage. All of that planning leads to many more conversations with customers, and thus many more tickets for each agent to handle.
The computer software industry has an average of 545 tickets monthly per agent which, though slightly lower than that of transportation, is still higher than the average across all industries. Because computer software is such a broad swath, this number is likely an average itself and may differ across technical or non-technical computer software. For example, a to-do list app may get fewer tickets per agent than a biometrical analysis software. That being said, as the rise of chatbots and automation continues3, we may start to see a dip in this number.
In the telecom industry, every month agents handle 450 tickets, which is lower than the 475 average but still puts telecommunication in the top five industries for volume in customer support. Telecom includes anything from cellular phone providers to cable and internet and, given that annual revenue for the industry is forecasted at 887.4 billion dollars this year, it’s no surprise that they get a large number of tickets. Considering the number of people that are using these services though, ticket rates are actually fairly low.
Retail customers provide around 441 tickets every month to each agent—not surprising given the nuances and logistics of purchasing an item, whether virtually or in the store. Specifically, the expectations for retail, whether as an SMB or an enterprise are super high. The in-store (or virtual environment) are always changing to match shifting standards, such as the fashion of the times, newly available products, recalls, and price shifts. This means that retail can be one of the most difficult industries in which to provide support and manage expectations, especially given the volume of tickets.
The insurance industry has the lowest of the five highest monthly ticket amounts per agent at 438, which is surprising given the number of issues that an insurance agent must handle on the daily basis. Think about it: claims, inquiries about pricing, the multiple touch points needed for every single inquiry—that’s so much to handle. However, insurance agents seem to have some of the best practices, especially when it comes to high-touch support, down pat4. Pretty impressive for having one of the highest ticket volumes across industries.
Higher Productivity = Lower CSAT?
In most industries, the higher the number of tickets an agent has to handle, the lower the CSAT will be for that agent and the company as a whole. In fact, chasing speed alone can make your support team look inaccurate and incompetent, thus leaving the customer with a sour experience. So, unsurprisingly, several of the industries above have an average CSAT of around 45%—yikes! But, two of them are doing something differently: insurance and the computer software industries both have average CSATs of 80% or above—that’s even higher than the industry average. So, what are these industries doing that the others might not be?
Shifting Strategy for Higher Volume Industries
You couldn’t, even if you wanted to, make your customers go away. So, rather than wishing and hoping that someday the tickets will dwindle, start to shift strategy to maximize the time that your agents are able to spend providing quality answers, rather than just trying to speed through the queue. When you free up some of their resources to think more impactfully on how best to provide support, you’ll find that your CSAT raises even while your ticket count grows in tandem.
Self-service is one of the lowest hanging fruit on the tree when it comes to figuring out better ways to support customers without directly emailing them. Similarly, 72% of customers prefer using a self-service tool over assisted service. That’s bonkers! Task your agents with documenting anything that comes through the inbox with frequency, and you’ll find yourself starting to deflect some of the simplest (and hence most accident-prone) types of tickets that you get.
Omni-channel support is multichannel support’s more sophisticated, easier-to-use older sibling. Multichannel effectively means that your company offers a variety of ways for the customer to get in touch with you. Omni-channel means that you offer all of those ways, but that you do the work for the customer, so they don’t have to worry about who is handling their ticket and where.
Not only that, but omni-channel also includes things like interactive media or video tutorials, which can be particularly useful when introduced at the right time. We noticed that not all industries have fully optimized their support for omni-channel. However, the ones that have adapted to this trend have seen significant improvement in their customer satisfaction score. Pharma and biotech, for example, open the list with 176% increase in customer satisfaction.
Another hot ticket item that everyone is talking about: proactive support is the act of providing support to your customers before they run into an issue, rather than reacting to an incoming ticket. That can look like an email campaign built around common issues people have with your product or application, or it could be something like user onboarding within your app. The main point, though, is that it addresses a need proactively that normally customers would feel pain about and need to receive reactive support for.
This is good for a few reasons: first, it deflects tickets out of your inbox, so your agents have more time to focus on the tickets that they are continuing to get. Second, it gives your customers a better experience—no one wants to wait for a response to an email, chat, or phone call. If you anticipate their issues before they even have them, they don’t get the deflated feeling of not understanding your product and there’s never that inevitable dip in their enthusiasm or satisfaction.
AI is still emerging as a trend in the support industry, and so it remains to be seen how fully it will be able to resolve the issues it’s supposed to. That being said, if you use AI as it is meant to be used5 rather than trying to use it to replace a human, it can be a useful way to deflect some tickets, lower volume, and help your agents regain some of their bandwidth. A robot will never be able to replace human interaction, but it can help direct people to the right human and replace some of the lower hanging fruit aspects of support so your team members can get up to what they were hired for.
Some Final Thoughts
Support, as similar as it is at its barest of bones, is different across all regions and industries. Some industries revel in the chaos of high ticket load and are still able to maintain high CSAT, while others drown in the tide. No matter where your company fits in, focus on maintaining your quality metrics while enhancing ticket deflection, and your CSAT will continue to remain steady.
With all of this knowledge in your tool belt, you can’t go wrong!
Support, as an industry, is mostly based on soft-skills: the interpersonal skills required to be skilled at talking to, interacting with, and helping people. Soft skills are extremely hard to manage and, as such, managing customer service representatives is extremely difficult. But that’s not all there is to it: there are metrics to pay attention to, growth and paths of interest, and individual customer relationships.
There are so many small pieces that make up one individual’s customer support career development that it can be difficult to keep track of them all the time. Luckily, though, we are here to help—let’s first talk about some reasons, beyond the above, that it’s important to have performance management in support, and how to do it.
Increase Your Employee Retention
When you give your team opportunities for growth, you support them in their career path, and when you have regular customer support performance reviews, you keep them on your support team. What that means is that you would be able to keep better, more leveled-up, more committed employees on the support team (rather than them transitioning out to product, marketing, or engineering) for longer.
When you talk regularly about performance and coach your employees, they see that there is a real time investment in support and it makes them encouraged for their own career to be moving forward, rather than constantly looking for ways to jump ship. This levels up both your support team and also support as an industry—so do us all a favor!
Level-up Your Whole Team
Great teams are motivated by the personalities of the members within them, just as much as they are by the manager or skill-set of the team. According to HBR, everyone plays a “functional role, based on their formal position and technical skill, and a psychological role, based on the kind of person they are.”
Through managing the customer support agents on your team, you can help to move forward both on their functional roles, and their psychological ones, and subsequently level-up your team in two different ways. Keeping a balance between the two will give you the most highly functioning team possible.
Create Consistency and Quality
As you go through processes like your customer support performance review, you have the opportunity to ensure consistency and quality across your support responses and documentation. In your conversations with direct reports, ensure that you are talking about their ticket history and what they could shift or potentially do better moving forward.
Not only that, but as you go through the process more regularly, and talk with more of your employees, you will begin to get a sense of who is performing above par, and who could perform better. That means that, ideally, the more frequently and regularly you conduct customer support career development conversations, the more often the right person would be matched with the right job.
Set Clear Objectives for Success and Growth
Now that you know why you should manage performance, let’s talk about what performance management actually looks like for a customer support team.
An obvious benefit of managing customer support agents is being able to set the objectives clearly for their success and growth. As the team’s manager, it is entirely up to you to decide what is important and valuable, and how you plan on measuring it. That being said, no matter what options you choose or route you decide to take, regular customer support performance review is the best way to communicate your expectations and ideas to your employees. The two methods to do this are usually either through metrics or through suggested career paths for growth.
Using Metrics to Measure Your Agents
There are three different levels at which you can use metrics to measure your agents: ticket level, agent level, and team level. All of them are equally important and should be discussed in depth with each of your employees. Here are a few metrics for each segment, what they mean and how to measure them:
Happiness rating: the happiness rating on a ticket is how the customer rates the interaction. Instead of NPS, which relates to your brand and if the customer would recommend it, happiness rating refers specifically to the conversation that you just have within the ticket.
Number of responses: how many responses does a ticket have on it? If it seems like a fairly simple ticket, but there’s a thirty-email thread, there may be something awry with how the agent is handling tickets or even just this ticket specifically.
Average Resolution Time: Average resolution time is the total time taken to resolve a ticket, divided by the number of tickets resolved in the selected time period. This tells you how quickly an agent is resolving their issues in entirety.
Average Response Time: This is the total time taken to respond during the selected time period divided by the number of responses in the selected time period. This is important because it shows how long your agent, on average, is taking to respond to their customers.
First Contact Resolution: This metric is how frequently your agent is able to resolve their interaction in a single reply, thus offering the best experience for the customer.
Happiness (overall): Take a look at the happiness ratings for all of your tickets overall, and use it as a metric to grade your team’s effectiveness.
Customer effort score: Survey your customers on how much effort was needed to use your product or service. It’s a good variation on customer happiness, and also a good measure to use as a team-wide metric.
Contact Ratio: This is the number of tickets that you have received over a given period of time divided by the number of active users. This helps to show you a bit more about how often your customers have to email you and, hence, how complicated your product may be, or how much more work you need to do on your documents.
Build Career Paths and Plans
In support, there are three separate paths that you can go down for growth: technical leadership, people leadership, or operational leadership. All three of those are extremely important to develop within your team because, if you don’t, your team will probably quit.
Technical growth usually looks like moving from being a support specialist to being a support engineer, or taking on another technical role for the team such as building tools, managing macros, or something that requires a technical, hard skill. Most people think that hard skill development is the only way to get ahead in support.
There is so much organizational work that goes into a support team, it’s no surprise that this is an opportunity for one of your employees to potentially grow into. Someone working in operations on support could be managing all documentation, as well as being in charge of creating and enforcing new processes. This frees up the manager or team lead to do more people management, and the operationally-focussed member of the team to grow their role in a direction that excites them.
3. People Leadership
This is the other commonly thought about opportunity for growth within support, and while it is an opportunity, it’s usually fairly limited. There are only so many team leads and managers that a support organization can have, whereas there are myriad roles for technical advancement and operational leadership. While this is a path that should be made clear if you are making a chart for career growth within your organization, it should also be clarified that this is not a path with as many opportunities as the others.
Create Objectives Aligned with Company Goals
Performance Management in customer support should always focus on objectives that align with your company goals. Aligning employees with the company’s goals makes them feel like an integral part of the business, and like they have some kind of impact on what happens with the company. So, when thinking about making your support team’s goals, align them with the company’s overarching ones to create a deeper alignment and sense of purpose for your team.
Customer support is an industry that suffers the most from lack of alignment in terms of performance expectations and career growth. By aligning upwards, and setting your teams expectations properly for where they can plan themselves moving in the future, you set yourself up for long-term maintenance of a highly-functioning, awesome team. Use measurable, applicable standards that are put in place as a process, and you’ll have happy, growing team members in no time.
No two days are the same for Bharghavi KKA, Manager of Customer Support at Freshworks.
Each day brings in a new problem to find answers for. Her ‘not-so-mundane’ day starts at 9 AM and goes on till 7PM. Her first task is to check the customer support metrics like ticket assignment, ticket split between agents, missed calls of the previous day. It is of utmost importance to track these logs as it gives her a sense of how her team is doing the job. She then looks into ongoing escalations that need her immediate attention and jumps into the first of the many calls to go about solving issues.
This happens day in and day out, with a new challenge cropping up every day.
At the end of the week, she also does a weekly deep dive to gauge ticket assignment and also get a record of open tickets that need resolution.
Bharghavi and her team support Freshworks customers across the world.
To put it simply it is up to Bharghavi and her ilk to make sure that customers do not leave the company and switch to another product or to put it in ‘geeky’ language — she is responsible for keeping the ‘churn’ as low as possible in the company. And it isn’t an easy ask.
Why isn’t it easy, you may ask. But before we get to that, it is really important to shed some light on what exactly is customer service and how it could possibly reduce customer churn.
Customer service is any product related help provided by a company to its customers who have subscribed to its services. The idea is to ensure that a company retains hard earned customers acquired by spending significant moolah on advertising, than land another customer to replace the one it lost.
The truth is — it costs a lot less to retain a customer than onboarding a new one.
How Exactly Can a Customer Support Executive Reduce Churn?
While there really isn’t a set methodology to ensure churn reduction, there certainly are a few areas one can concentrate on and then tailor it according to specific use cases.
We keep responding to the customers, giving them trust that we won’t let them in the dark. We resolve cases. Keeping them heard and developing trust is important
Bharghavi KKA, Manager of Customer Support, Freshworks
This is why the role of someone like Bharghavi is of prime importance in any company. It is up to the service team to do their best in answering queries so that the customer is able to resolve problems smoothly and continues to use the software for days to come.
So what areas should you focus on?
Ensure a Great Start
As most solution clichés go the prudent thing to do is ensure top notch customer support from the word go. Though a cliché, in this case, it really is true.
The moment you onboard a customer, you must start working on laying the foundation for effectively ‘not losing the customer forever’. A smooth welcome ensures a mental tick mark from the customer and goes a long way in reducing churn.
The customer support executive needs to be proactive and be around with the customer during the initial few days to help them achieve success. This leaves a long term imprint saying that the company will always be around for any help that the customer might need and more importantly makes the customer feel that they have made the right choice in subscribing to your product.
360 Degree Approach to Support
The true value of support lies not just in answering calls and helping the customer, it is also important to build a network of resources centred around support.
Before that, it is important to really understand your customer and also the customer’s point of contact — Who is she/he? Technical or non-technical person? What approach of customer support do they prefer?
From a support point of view. It is imperative to know who the customer is. There could be a technical guy who is the point of contact from the company or a non-technical who is our point of contact. Depending on who it is you need to tune you content.
If it is important to know your customer well, it is imperative that you know your own firm well. Say there is a technical query, you need to instinctively know who is the right person to escalate your problem to. These little details are important in maintaining the hard earned trust of your customers.
The 360 degree approach involves mapping and understanding how to cater to the customer at every touch point.
Once you have a fair idea, you can then think of allocating specific resources from blogs to maybe even chatbots to help your customer. It really is a matter of ‘connecting the dots’ when it comes to executing great customer support.
Blogs can be an effective medium to put various content for the customer to find, analyze, and imbibe. But, for blogs to work, you need a strategy that encompasses the questions
– How to build a relevant technical and non-technical content repository for your client?
– How to ensure easy discovery of relevant content?
Similarly, you need to put plans in place for email, voice calls, social media and website. You need to be present everywhere to ensure seamless support.
If you have the technical prowess, it makes sense to even have AI bots which can act as the first point of contact. We recently launched our very own omnibot Freddy for the same. In an era where self service rules the roost, AI is a bet many are taking.
Expectation and Enhancement
While plugging churn is an important focus area for any company, you need to accept the fact that being churn free is a myth. As a customer support provider you can only do so much to solve a problem. A customer who is intent on leaving will leave anyway.
In a happy family you just need to make sure they are happy always. Whereas if things are not going well, the support agent’s role becomes important. You need to be updated and proactive.
If that is one end of the spectrum, there will also be customers who will give you suggestions to make your product better. It is your role to listen to them and understand how the idea can make your product better.
You need to proactively inform customers on down times and scheduled maintenance, also have a weekly or bi-weekly calls. Some customers churn silently, so these calls are important. You must also follow up on product updates. Small things like informing bug fixes after the customer reported them — small surprises make them happy. Customers are also happy if you introduce a feature they requested for.
Also, being a support agent, it is important to be a good judge of a conversation — Was the customer happy? Angry? Sad? These cues help you in taking the right conversation course. You need to tailor your content and maybe even your voice to suit the situation.
Furthermore, you need to really understand and accept the fact that you cannot build every feature a customer asks for, at least not immediately. It is therefore useful to know products and apps that a customer can use alongside yours for their specific needs so that overall, you can give a better customer experience.
It is important to identify the features they are looking for and look for alternative solutions. We can’t build everything.
Even in the worst case scenario of a customer dropping out, it is upto the customer support executive to use the input to achieve better product market fit. Based on your dropouts and the reasons attributed to it, you can figure out how better to position your product, what to add, delete or change.
All said and done, the truth is you need to resolve problems as quickly as possible. Even if you are present across all the support channels, but do not get back to the customer quickly, you can be almost certain of losing them.
While customer service is about doing small things right, the bigger picture always helps.
The wall behind Bharghavi KKA’s desk has eight clocks, each showing the time in different time zones. Other than the practical use of the clock telling the exact time, these are a constant reminder that the customer service team needs to be on the job mode 24X7.
It would be easy to think the benefits of AI are massively overhyped. Every day there’s another article extolling the future of robots answering customer questions and reducing the need for customer support representatives. But you could be forgiven for thinking this is all hype. So far, results have been less than impressive.
When Facebook tried to launch smart chatbots for Messenger in 2017, they recorded a 70% failure rate. Bots simply weren’t equipped to answer customer questions – meaning 7 out of 10 people that interacted with them were left wanting. However, things have changed drastically in less than a year.
A recent Forrester analysis identified customer support trends that show an increase in self-service portal usage to over 81% among responding American adults. In fact, by 2020 more than 80% of customer service will be conducted without engaging humans. Customers have begun to warm up to the idea of dealing with the bots. CX sensitive brands are also exploring options to incorporate any AI that interfaces directly with customers.
While AI is a long way away from replacing customer support entirely, it is still a useful tool for enhancing your support offerings. Ignoring the potential of AI in customer service might allow your competitors to surpass you. With that in mind, here are four reasons you should still be thinking about AI, even if you’re doubtful of the robot revolution.
#1 Agents Love the Advantages of AI
Managers are frequently concerned with the impact AI will have on their team. If you make customer support more efficient or outsource it to the robots, are you putting your current team out of a job?
But in reality, agents really like AI because it prevents them from doing robotic tasks that they were forced to do before. Charles Myers, VP Customer at Answer IQ explains that “agents can get burned out and demotivated answering the same repetitive questions.” AI is perfectly suited to repetitive, menial tasks like tagging tickets or surfacing documentation to customers for simple how-to questions.
Aspect’s 2017 survey on the agent perception of chatbots found that 79% of agents feel that handling more complex customer issues improves their skills and offers more opportunities for career growth. Charles says that “implementing automatic answers and routine task automation actually improves the agent experience by giving them more time to deliver amazing experiences at every interaction. This helps empower your team to do what they do best – be human.”
Instead of trying to replace agents with AI, use the machines to make the agent’s work more enjoyable. Sure, they could do all the work themselves, but why would they want to?
#2 AI has Better Data Crunching Power than Humans
Companies are collecting more data than ever on their customers. Product usage, surveys and customer conversations all contain a lot of insight about what our customers want, but it’s difficult for humans to accurately analyze this vast amount of unstructured data.
Getting customer support a seat at the product table requires quantitative data. AI and machine learning can derive quantitative data from the qualitative – much faster than humans can. AI can also find the patterns that your agents didn’t even think to look for. Because each agent is only seeing a small slice of the total number of customer conversations, it’s impossible for them to determine if the questions they are answering are one-offs or symptoms of a much bigger issue.
Tools like Idiomatic and Scope.AI work with customer support and product teams to analyze the voice of customer (VOC) data across multiple channels. “Manual reviews of VOC data yields anecdotal and inaccurate views of your customer experience, and they take a lot of time.” says Idiomatic co-founder Christopher Martinez. “You can only improve what you measure, and measuring enormous amounts of data is something best left to computers.” While robots are still pretty terrible at talking to customers, they excel when it comes to data.
#3 AI Boosts Efficiency Without Impacting Quality
Even if your brand is customer experience sensitive and firmly against the idea of AI talking directly to customers, AI can still lend a capable hand behind the scenes. Using natural language processing, AI can “read” a ticket and direct it to the right team much faster than a human triage system can.
For example, Uber built COTA (Customer Obsessed Ticket Assistant) to help route tickets better and suggest answers to customer support agents. They found that better ticket routing increased efficiency by 10%. Plus, measuring customer satisfaction through surveys, they found that CSAT stayed consistent or improved through the implementation: “By empowering customer support agents to deliver quicker and more accurate solutions, COTA’s powerful ML models make the Uber support experience more enjoyable.” By not allowing the AI to talk directly to customers, Uber gets all of the benefits of AI but reduces the risk of a terrible customer experience.
#4 Even Smaller Companies Can Benefit from AI
Much of the hype around AI has been driven by big companies like Chinese banks crunching millions of requests every day, or even Uber’s example above.
But the technology is becoming more accessible to every company, and smaller companies can see an advantage from AI too. If you’re a smaller company thinking about AI, look for something that’s very easy to set up (essentially plug and play) and integrate into your existing workflows.
For example, tools like Solvvy and MonkeyLearn don’t require the enormous amounts of data that some other platforms ask for (or come with the associated costs). But you’ll see an immediate benefit from automating some small part of your customer support workflow:
– Solvvy aids customers help themselves faster by surfacing the best knowledge base articles for their question. They estimate that their customers see an average self-service rate (the percentage of customers that are able to resolve their own questions) of 20%.
– MonkeyLearn automatically tags tickets or identifies customer sentiment for better prioritization – much like Uber’s in-house product. But the good news is that you only need between 50-100 historical tickets for each tag you want to analyze in order to get started. (That’s not a typo!). Tagging more tickets will improve the accuracy of the AI, but depending on the complexity or specificity of your customer conversations, that might be enough for your use case. MonkeyLearn can also analyze other text samples from across the internet (like social, product reviews or app reviews) to glean insights from what your customers are saying.
Ultimately, the companies that are able to implement AI earlier will have more breathing room to focus on providing amazing customer service, and more insights to focus on. In fact, even if you don’t believe the hype, you can’t afford to ignore it completely.
The last eighteen months or so has seen another shift take place in customer service with the increasing ubiquity of messaging. While social customer care was always able to deliver in terms of intimacy, it was never quite able to do this at scale. Messaging, on the other hand, may be that missing piece.
But to understand this notion of ‘scalable intimacy’ and the relationship between social customer care and messaging, we must go back in time.
The first reference I can find to scalable intimacy is in a blog Mike Troiano started in 2009. Mike Troiano defines scalable intimacy as:
More intimate relationships than are possible through traditional media, at sufficient scale to impact the enterprise.
He writes about users, who talk to and trust each other, being in control. These users want something authentic, and expect to be treated like people. The sentiments he writes about, can perhaps be traced back to the 95 theses contained in The Cluetrain Manifesto. For this, we need to go back a further ten years to 1999, when The Cluetrain Manifesto was written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.
The authors write about the impact the internet is having on traditional marketing, and how ‘global conversations’ have emerged. Customers have these conversations all the time, sharing information about companies and their products. These conversations, have in a sense, become a marketplace, where information, or the reciprocity of sharing information has, in a sense, become the de facto currency. These conversations are taking place quicker than companies are able to keep up, but companies do have the opportunity to join in; if they dare!
You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
And in a sense, that is what Frank Eliason did in April 2008, when using the Twitter handle @ComcastCares. He took his shoes off, got down from his camel, and he sent the first social customer care Tweet in response to a customer.
Until then companies had little incentive to make any kind of change to their delivery model or service mindset beyond ensuring they satiated the ever-rapacious appetite for cost savings and operational efficiencies. Companies held the winning hand, and knew it. Customers, with a shrug of the shoulders, knew it also and resigned themselves to wasted hours flip-flopping between IVR options and 72 hour response times.
But that one Tweet by Frank Eliason, and those individuals, companies and even #hashtags associated with the first wave of social customer care, such as Scott Monty, Best Buy’s #Twelpforce, KLM, Dell, BT, Carphone Warehouse, JetBlue, Zappos and giffgaff, signalled the start of a profound shift that customer service was to make over the next ten years. And in a strange twist of fate, it was these early corporate adopters, in essence, that began to destabilize the synchronous, centralized model of customer service where the three-minute single version of the truth was king.
Where these corporate poster children for social customer care (they’ve perhaps become cliches now!) disrupted from within, those like Dave Carroll and @HVSVN did so from the margins. They disrupted by doing the unexpected; an intrinsic part of social customer care. Just ask @Tesco about carrots!
Whilst many conversations are hesitant at the beginning, it is only over time as each side builds up trust and confidence in themselves, that conversations become easier, and courage finds a foothold.
Settling into an accurate definition of the self requires trying on a lot of inappropriate identities and making a lot of mistakes. Again and again, by stumbling and falling and getting up again, we refine ourselves into something that we eventually become content with.
For this, though, we need to be aware of all the possibilities so we can try them on to see if they fit, and we need to have the freedom to fail without devastating consequences. And this is where the web comes in.
Identity is context-dependent and subjective, allowing us to be inventive and creative in who we are and who we want to be.
Did Twitter, Facebook or YouTube set out to destabilize customer service? No. That destabilization was a by-product of the recognition by those concerned that there was a different way to communicate.
Social, the young upstart, was the catalyst needed to overhaul the facade of service promises that could not be delivered upon. Delight gave way to satisfaction, which would in turn be challenged by effort. Social was simply the mirror that reflected a service model that was outmoded, outdated and out of touch. The simple truth was that the service model needed to catch-up.
People communicated via smartphones. Instant gratification was becoming the norm. Transparency was the new currency. If this was the new reality, then why should customer service be exempt?
And so a type of customer service that was increasingly empathetic, intimate, and immediate emerged. Customers were not only genuinely delighted and surprised, they also publicly shared the fact through the use of a new online lexicon made up of #hashtags and emojis.
But the ability to scale still remained unanswered, albeit from a corporate point of view. And perhaps this is why social customer care, in some ways, in the pursuit of organizations to turn it into an email clone, could never quite convince the corporate doubters, cynics and naysayers.
From 2008 – 2010, those who in quiet moments reminisce about the halcyon days of social customer care, wax lyrical about the experimentation, unconferences, the ability to use the word meme correctly and general excitement that characterised that time.
Then there were the barren years until about 2016 as those involved in the space started to grow up a bit, and with some semblance of maturity comes responsibility and accountability. Little experimentation took place and everything seemed to slow down. The boredom was sporadically relieved by moments of experimentation when Natwest experimented with Vine videos, @O2 gave us #Tweetserve, Twitter launched Promoted Tweets leading to @British_Airways losing some luggage and a new word being invented – complaintvertising, and @O2 became everyone’s mate for about 48 hours of irreverent humanity!
And so to today, or at least the last eighteen months, when perhaps, messaging, even at this early stage in its development, may have saved social customer care and Twitter (we all want Twitter saved, right?!) from becoming a customer service curiosity, caught somewhere in no man’s land between a fad that’s outstayed its welcome and a wannabe trend that’s trying a little bit too hard.
And so, whilst there is no doubt that social technologies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube precipitated a shift in customer service, for me, the biggest change was one of perspective. Twitter reminded all of us, not that we needed reminding, that customer service was fundamentally still about people; it could be humane and intimate. And companies, despite their best efforts, could no longer ignore this simple truth.
And the more that companies like KLM and Dell embraced this sense of humanity, the more they pushed boundaries, the more they realised that actually social customer care was less about customer service, and more about mindset and ways of working.
It was about openness and transparency, authenticity and empathy. It celebrated collaboration and co-creation, above siloes and self-interest. It gave 21st century explorers, the credibility of 21st century literacies, allowing them, in the words of Howard Rheingold to ‘crap detect’! There were even micro courses in crap detection! And in a delicious twist of fate, social unwittingly set about dismantling traditional organisational hierarchies from within; the genie had been let out of the proverbial bottle!
And now with the emergence of messaging, the next part of social customer care’s journey has begun. Will we see a shift from empathy to effort? Not that they are mutually exclusive. And with the real possibility of scalable intimacy being delivered, will the future of social customer care be a little bit brighter?
I hope so.
Join me for a webinar on 23 October 2018 EST, where you will learn about some of the key events, players, and changes that have taken place since the first social customer care Tweet was sent by Frank Eliason, as @ComcastCares, in April 2008. You will also hear about the challenges social customer care is facing today, as well as consider what the future holds.
In the world of e-commerce customer support, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by tickets. And it can be a nightmare.
Too many tickets + not enough agents to answer them = complete support overload.
On average, internal support teams receive 492 tickets each month. That’s more than one hundred tickets each week, or ~16 tickets each day. And that’s just the average. Your brand might be receiving a much higher number. WordPress handles more than 2,000 tickets every single day. When your support team is small, you might not be equipped to handle a high volume of tickets. But the answer isn’t always hiring more agents. It might be something as simple as a self-service.
If you’re overwhelmed by tickets, no matter the total number you’re receiving, self-service can help. Here’s how self-service can reduce support tickets. Self-service is all about making support answers easily accessible to customers so that they can find what they need when they need it, all without having to wait for a representative to get to their ticket.
Evolution of Self-service
Self-service consists of any activity where customers do part of the “work” themselves instead of relying on an employee to help them. While self-service might seem like a modern concept, it has been in existence since at least 1917 when Clarence Saunders obtained patents for a self-serve grocery store named Piggly Wiggly.
For the first time in retail, customers could pick out their own goods from the shelf instead of waiting for store clerks to get items for them.
This cut costs tremendously for Saunders because he no longer had to pay for multiple store clerks to assist shoppers. This savings in costs helped him lower his prices, which in turn helped his shoppers save big bucks. Now, more than one hundred years later, supermarkets still follow this same self-service model to some extent.
Think about it: if you’re in the store and only need a few items, do you wait in a regular checkout line or use the self-checkout to get out of the store more quickly? Chances are, you’d probably prefer to use the self-checkout.
Self-service is the “self-checkout” of customer service. It has become huge in the world of customer service for businesses in all industries. Why? It allows for smaller teams to help large customer bases and cut down on the number of tickets. In fact, cost reduction and call deflection are the top reasons why businesses say they choose self-service channels.
Tools, like knowledge bases and self-service portals, allow your customers to take matters into their own hands and solve support issues on their own terms (and in their own time). And they prefer self-service tools in comparison to traditional support methods. Research shows that most people would rather find answers to their questions on their own instead of contacting support because they can find immediate solutions. If you aren’t offering self-service tools, you’re not keeping your customers happy. So what are the leading self-service channels?
Popular Self-service Channels
The top online self-service tools are:
– Frequently asked questions (FAQ) pages
– Searchable knowledge bases
– Interactive voice response systems (IVR)
– Discussion forums
While these channels are the most popular, some self-service channels are more effective than others in specific industries. For example, customers seeking software support are more likely to look online for answers on how to use a tool, while customers seeking assistance in the finance world are more likely to call for answers about their money.
Self-service is Faster
In today’s society, people want answers immediately. And thanks to technology, they don’t have to search through encyclopedias to find the information they need. All it takes is a quick Google search. So why shouldn’t customer support be just as easy? Customers think it should.
33% of consumers say that they would recommend a brand to others if that brand provided a quick customer service response, even if the response wasn’t effective. And customers are four times more likely to buy from competitors due to service-related problems over price or product issues. So if you’re not offering self-service support options even if you have great products and prices, you could still lose precious customers (and precious revenue).
Knowledge Bases Offer Permanent Help
When it comes to customer support tickets, your team is forced to answer each query one by one. But with self-service, solutions are always there, and more than one person can view them at a time. Knowledge bases are simple for both agents and customers to use and navigate. With Freshdesk, populating a knowledge base is easy. Your unfinished knowledge base articles can even be saved to review and upload later.
And there’s no need for a software specialist when you need to update or change information in your knowledge base. Just edit your existing content and move on.
Company processes and policies change all of the time, no matter the industry you’re in. A knowledge base allows you to quickly update existing documents for customers and agents to access as things change. As your company grows and evolves, your knowledge base can grow and evolve with it. And your knowledge base can even serve as a staff training tool for new agents since they can use it to learn about the ins and outs of your brand and its processes.
Self-service Portals Offer Transparency
You should also consider self-service portals where customers can view the status of their current tickets. Sometimes, the cause of high ticket volumes can be due to customers who have already submitted tickets being unsure about the status of their query. Set up a self-service portal that allows these customers to check up on the status of their tickets. That way, they’ll always have a definite answer about where their ticket stands (and they won’t need to contact anyone to get it). You can customize how this portal looks to best suit your needs. Add your logos or company colors to make your self-service portal look like a true extension of your website.
Chances are, you and your support team have gotten flooded with tickets at one time or another. You might even be overwhelmed with tons of tickets right now. But the answer isn’t always hiring more customer support representatives. Self-service tools can help you get your tickets under control instead. If you need to lower your ticket volume in a pinch, while also improving customer satisfaction, add some self-service support options to your website today.
Measuring the productivity of the customer support team in terms of the overall company profits might seem like mission impossible. But it isn’t. In the long run, your customer support team makes a huge impact on marketing your products. You cannot deny that customers return only to those brands or companies that solve their issues faster
Your company will generate money only if there are happy aka “efficiently supported” customers. #customerservice Click To Tweet
You may ask what is this fuss all about? After all, the customer support team is not selling anything. Well, it is a misplaced notion of how we perceive customer support. Even though your customer support agents are not officially a part of your sales department, their efficiency will surely contribute to hitting the huge sales targets you have set for the year. Therefore, optimizing the work of the support team will be a guarantee of increasing the number of customers.
The easiest way to solve the problem is not to create one in the first place. #problemsolving #customerservicetips Click To Tweet Eliminating the problem of low performance means identifying productivity killers and applying the best working tools to overcome them. Here’s what you and your team must know about the biggest “enemies” of productivity.
1. Believing that Productivity Has a Limit is a Wrong
“If perfection is unattainable, surely near perfection must be the next best thing”.
Paraphrasing these brilliant words in the context of customer support team performance, setting the minimal bar of expectations for your employees will certainly make your team less productive. Proper time management is the first and most important step in creating “sky-is-the-limit” mentality.
2. Decision Fatigue is Destructive
Our mind can effectively focus on one task at a time so it is highly recommended that customer support engineers are instructed about the expected time of response as well as the span of discovering the best solution for the problem the customer asks about.
In case your customer support team does not have the clearly outlined algorithm of addressing the problem, they might deal with it in a not so effective way. This might result in not losing the customer but also projecting a bad image of the company.
3. Micromanagement Creates Unnecessary Pressure
Implementing a direct demonstrative control is the least effective mechanism for managing people, and when there is one person trying to take charge of the whole team performance it is inevitable that productivity will be on halt.
Now that you know about the productivity killers, what are the best solutions to break the barriers of faulty mentality, slow decision-making and micromanagement routine nightmare? Here you will find top 15 tools to hack any of these productivity issues!
1. TMetric is a time tracking tool that enables precision and prevents micromanagement. It lets you be your own boss and has everything you need.
If you have a remotely working team of support engineers, this is a great tool to measure their productivity. It can be easily connected with support platform like Freshdesk to track time on a larger scale and makes micromanagement unnecessary. Sounds fantastic, right? Some of the things you can do by integrating TMetric with Freshdesk are:
– You can view the exact time your agents spend on resolving each ticket
– The billable function lets you pay your agents based on their resolution time. Reports help you analyze the productivity level of your agents and understand if your business generates profits
– TMetric is one of the most affordable time-tracking solutions you can find on the market
Conclusion: The app’s ongoing data analysis gives spotlight on your activity throughout the day/week/month/year and helps you score your team’s productivity at a glance.
2. Slack is similar to a Swiss army knife and can be used for effective communication within customer support teams. It can also be integrated with Freshdesk and provides:
– Lots of chat options that guarantee effortless and effective team management
– Free plan and additional price plans
– Both mobile and desktop versions
Conclusion: Highly recommended by lots of users as one of the best team communication management tools.
3. Asana is another communication platform but unlike Slack it focuses more on task management options. It is greatly appreciated by users because of task assignment and to-do list functions but has only standard and premium plans. Among the cons are overly simple UI and somewhat stiff structure of the system (basically, you have only the task manager).
Conclusion: Great option if you want a task-oriented communication platform for your team.
4. Teamviewer provides you with instant remote access to other devices. Being a powerful integration, its distinguished features won over many hearts.
– Easy to use
– Instant audio/ video connection
– Allows file transfer
– Can be integrated with Freshdesk
– Mobile and desktop versions
Conclusion: If you want to manage a big team remotely, don’t hesitate to get a commercial license as Teamviewer has a long-standing reputation for boosting productivity. All you need is a fast internet connection and your team is ready to go.
5. Rescue Time is a tool that time-tracks your team and boosts their productivity by collecting data from the sites they use and the queries they make.
– Gives a real picture of what the employees are dealing with throughout the day
– User-friendly interface
– Despite claimed to have a good ROI, many users point out that the tool is more into highlighting their habits rather than setting and achieving specific goals
– Lots of setting up required to labels activities the way the user requires
– Absence of project tracking by websites and keywords
Conclusion: It’s a noiseless data collector that deep dives into the difficulties faced by your support team.
6. Boomerang is a must-have tool for your customer support team as it facilitates the email sending options from somewhat tedious into a smooth-and-easy affair. After all, managing emails is traditionally one of the biggest distractions for every support team.
– Serves as a reminder tool.
– Schedules your email sending and retrieves your letters in the variety of ways.
– Reduces the emailing time.
Conclusion: The perfect email management tool not only for tech savvies but for regular users as well.
7. Feedier presents itself as the “next generation feedback platform”, and they are as good as their word. It is a great productivity tool that provides you with
– powerful analytic reports based on customer reviews (and they sure know how to make surveys attractive and worth investing your time)
– high customer engagement rate for getting the global satisfaction score that is instantly calculated
in-depth reports that are generated upon processing the customer reviews
Conclusion: Great tool to collect your customer reviews and see the bigger picture in terms of your service feedback.
8. Typinatorprompts the commonly used phrases, terms, and helps insert images faster. It helps you type less but it is an app for Mac users to enjoy. Some of the other advantages are:
– quick to set up
– compatible with various software
– works smoothly over the repeated texts
– stable and user-friendly
– frequent application updates
Conclusion: A great tool that boosts productivity by reducing time on typing and creating a good workflow.
9. Bitrix24CRM tool is one among the top recommendations for your customer support team as it has lots of useful features and meets the requirements of the users. Though it has no free trial, it is highly estimated by small business owners and has got great feedback. The features that are certainly beneficial are:
– processing the prospect contact information
– storing customer information
– arranging accounts, leads, and sales opportunities in one central location
– accessibility of information by participants in real time
Conclusion: An effective customer relationship management platform that speeds up your team performance.
10. Hubspot is the best CRM solution to increase your team productivity. When integrated with Freshdesk, it provides agents with access to Hubspot CRM contacts, companies and deals. It has other features that
– manage your leads and customers
– create a new deal from a ticket
– estimate opportunities associated with a contact
Conclusion: Despite being costly, it is reliable and named as one of the best integrated inbound marketing tools.
11. Dameware Remote is one of the best remote service offering administration software. It gives the perfect solution to troubleshoot the user problems and the best part is you can do it without leaving your desk. Further, this productivity tool
– provides multi-platform support
– has all the necessary features for remote sessions
– lets the distant troubleshooter use the software without locking-out the local user
Conclusion: Implementing this productivity control platform will save your time and, eventually, help you generate more money because being faster than your competitors is always rewarding.
12. VoiceXML This tool is the best replacement for IVR system as it deploys innovative voice apps and provides a customer-friendly service.
– Fully integrated with automatic speech recognition (ASR) as well as text-to-speech (TTS) software with access to advanced interactive services.
– Available for both common hardware and Cloud VM servers.
Conclusion: Interaction between a customer and a computer via phone with Voice XML is quick and void of any complications.
13.CallHippo is the virtual phone system for customer support teams at affordable prices. It is an intuitive IVR service that can be recommended to any team regardless of its size or location. Some of its advantages are:
– You can assign numbers to your team members in more than 50 countries.
– It facilitates the growth of your business globally due to Intelligent Call Distribution System.
– It is highly beneficial for businesses in case they need to tackle multiple calls at the same time.
– Freshdesk integration completely eliminates the complexity of setting up a support center.
Conclusion: The best budget virtual phone system for your customer support team.
14. Hemingway is another must-have tool for managing your customer support team. It is the desktop editor that has a variety of options.
– Checks the readability of any text you input.
– Suggests improvements to your grammar, spelling, and style.
– Instant formatting (for example, design your text as a quote).
Conclusion: The best editor tool that takes your team communication to a whole new level that can be surely labeled as impeccable.
15. NewBridge is a fascinating alternative for those who enjoyed Sqwiggle. This tool lets you take and send screenshots throughout the working sessions, thus, giving your team a great visual experience.
– free usage
– video and conference call options;
– create a new group or manage the membership of an existing group in one click.
Conclusion: With NewBridge, the distance between the team members will not feel like an obstacle.
Last but not the least
Time tracking is the best way to improve your team productivity. Using the time management tools will let your service agents have a clear view of their priorities, and in the long run, decrease ticket resolution time and resolve more problems.
These productivity apps offer a lot to your customer support team without taking up too much of your budget. Investing in these time tracking software help boost the overall team performance without consuming any time.
You can simplify the procedure of control by incorporating the time tracker into the daily working routine, and without a doubt, it will enhance transparency, clarity, and efficiency of your team performance.
Creating a great customer service experience for your audience is essential. But it’s arguably even more important for SaaS companies with tools that aren’t always the most self-explanatory or simple to use. If you’re in the world of SaaS, you probably get tons of support questions each day about how to use your features and navigate through your software. To lower your volume of support tickets and give customers a self-serve support alternative, you need to provide customers with a comprehensive, self-service knowledge base.
That way, they’ll be able to find the support answers they need on their own time. But a knowledge base can help you with so much more than just basic SaaS customer support. It can serve as a marketing aid (and so much more).
Customer Support Plus Marketing
Knowledge base articles can help demonstrate the quality of your product and set your company apart as an authority figure in your industry. How? They allow you to show off the features of your software to those who haven’t become paying customers just yet.
Knowledge bases allow you to store, share, and manage critical information about how to use your software. But they’re not just helpful for providing customer service. You can also use your knowledge base to market and display your software with images, gifs, and videos.
And you don’t have to limit your knowledge base articles to only cover user information or frequently asked questions. You can also write posts mentioning important information about your industry that explain trends in the market or predictions for future developments. Add in expert advice, tips, or suggestions while also showing off your products and explaining how to use them.
Here’s how Slack does it in their knowledge base posts:
The more versatile and built out that your knowledge base is, the more effective it will be as a marketing tool since it will appeal to a much wider audience.
Gain Valuable Insights
Creating a comprehensive knowledge base can be incredibly insightful for your team. If you can measure and view which kinds of articles are getting the most attention, you can increase your customer support success by creating more similar content. Or, you can improve what’s already there.
For example, one of your articles could be getting a ton of attention, but you still keep receiving a ton of questions about that topic. This insight might be a sign that you need to rewrite the article to make it more concise or add more visuals to explain each step. This way, you’ll understand exactly what your customers are struggling with, as well as the type of content they’re looking for. Freshdesk’s reporting and analytics features make it easy to view similar insights.
Boost your SEO
You probably already know that blog posts help boost your SEO. But did know that knowledge base posts can do the same thing? They have huge potential for helping you grow your audience organically, while also serving up the kind of content search engines love.
Knowledge-rich articles are full of fresh content that you can pack full of keywords and long-tail phrases. This can skyrocket your rankings. Articles, ebooks, and user guides naturally include tons of product-related keywords, which will probably cause your site to rank higher on search engines without a ton of work.
But with some more effort, you can optimize each post to its maximum potential. And you don’t even have to be an SEO expert to do it. Identify the keywords that best help you reach your SaaS goals for each piece by using SEMrush to find keyword suggestions.
Then, use them in your FAQs and articles for an added SEO boost. You can also try WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool to find related keywords that competitors are ranking for.
You should also include those keywords in your meta tags to make them even more easily discoverable by search engines. In Freshdesk, it’s simple to add meta tags and SEO elements to articles.
Improve Employee Productivity and Encourage Collaboration
Research shows that 20 percent of employees’ time is spent searching for information they need but can’t find. That means that employees spend one-fifth of their workday searching through cluttered inboxes. By giving agents a shared platform, you can help them centralize all of this knowledge instead (and make it searchable). That way, they aren’t stuck combing through inboxes and thousands of tickets to find the one piece of information they need.
Knowledge bases can also give your agents a platform to collaborate on issues, ask questions, tag one another, or leave comments, which can give productivity a huge boost. The collaboration features in Freshdesk make it possible for your employees to collaborate with one another whether they’re across the world or right next to each other.
When the number of incoming tickets surges, agents can even link similar issues together to make it easier to send status updates to one another.
Provide Consistent Support with a Self-service Option
One of the most significant benefits of having a knowledge base is that it’s available 24/7. Your customers don’t need to wait until business hours or until an agent is available to find the answers they need. This availability is especially helpful if a large portion of your customer base is international since they’re on a different time zone than your agents. The best part? They can access your knowledge base from any device, including mobile. And that’s huge.
According to SmartInsights’ 2018 Search Engine Statistics, over half of all global web traffic is mobile.
With so many people out there using smartphones to access the web, a mobile-friendly knowledge base can be just the solution you need to meet their expectations. They’ll appreciate that they can get quick answers when they need them and where they need them from the device that they use most often.
If you’re in the SaaS world, you know just how important great customer service truly is. And you probably get a ton of support tickets each day from customers. But did you know that a knowledge base can help you provide better support and lower your ticket volumes all while helping you with other efforts, like marketing?
A knowledge base software can take your SaaS customer support to the next level. Focus on building a comprehensive knowledge base that will continually satisfy your customers, all while providing tons of unexpected benefits like customer insights, improved SEO, and more.