Youth is a painful time. You’re losing and regrowing teeth. Falling off your bike. Starting school. Getting swirlies. Braces. Your first heartbreak.
You endure growing pains.
The early days of business are very similar. Nothing is harder than your first customer. As your company gets its legs underneath it, you treat these early customers as VIPs.
But later, sustaining the culture that helped you grow is hard. You feel the pains of growing the business without sacrificing customer experience. You’ve learned to walk, but can you run?
Scaling the customer support department seems like eating your vegetables, the unpleasant part. But as healthy adult businesses know, this is foundational to solid, predictable growth.
Look at this man. People know him. You know him.
Ron Burgundy learned how not to treat people – the hard way.
Many companies start to grow and simultaneously start to fail at customer support. Doing the minimum in customer support doesn't help them grow and scale. Customer retention must be balanced by customer acquisition.
The difficulty in scaling your customer support is that as your business grows, so do your customer support needs...and hiring your way out of this situation clearly isn’t cost-effective.
What is clear is that delivering top-notch support is a tug of war between ticket volume, customer satisfaction, and available resources.
To give quality support to the expanding ticket volume, your team obviously needs help and resources. If you spend wisely, you know you’ll earn the money back.
Because customer retention predicts revenues. Research by Bain & Company also found that a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company's profitability by 75%.
Customer support is an easy way to differentiate your company from the competition. It also drives customer loyalty, repeat purchases, and referrals.
Awesome! Customer support is great for the bottom line. But here’s the cautionary statistic: 68% of customers leave because they perceive that you are indifferent to them.
So, as you grow ...
How can you scale customer service without sacrificing customer experience?
To find the right answers, we’ve reached out to 19 leading customer support professionals.
Before we dive into the responses, here are five key things the experts recommend companies do to balance growth with customer satisfaction and retention.
“You don’t always need extra hands to scale a support center. What type of support are you doing today that can be automated? Bots are real and they’re getting smarter.
Things that historically required a live agent might be something you can shift-left toward self-service. This is the first and best way to scale before you take on the significant cost of additional agents.
– Nate Brown, Founder of Customer Centric Support
Automating repeatable tasks streamlines the support process for agents and customers alike. If your department is wasting time on repetitive tasks, automating those tasks frees up that time to help customers.
At scale, saving agents hours of time per day translates into huge productivity boosts. For example, single-click replies for common questions can expedite conversations to improve both customer satisfaction and ticket times.
“Some clients want human contact, whereas others are fine with searching for the answer themselves. To accommodate the latter:
Make sure you have a complete knowledge base available
Add a user community where clients can answer each other's questions
Create an FAQ section to deal with the most frequent queries
Send new clients introduction documentation to guide them through how system works”
– Rutger Jongepier, Head of Customer Support at Bynder
70% of surveyed consumers expect a company’s website to include self-service. Instead of hiring additional staff, minimize customer effort with a searchable knowledge base on your web portal.
As your business expands, so will the number of support emails you receive. Help customers help themselves by providing an FAQ page or community forum. This drives down contact volume and keeps service scalable without attaching new costs.
“Make sure you have the system in place that outlines exactly what to do, and when and how to do it. This way you eliminate a lot of internal questions and ensure all your customers get a satisfying answer.
Even better, you save a ton of time when you onboard new employee and your colleagues can easily do your tasks when you’re away.”
– Kristian Jonsson, Sleeknote
As you grow, customers demands compound and internal efficiency diminishes. At scale, SOPs save your agents confusion around questions like:
Is it acceptable to put a customer on hold?
Is it okay to transfer a phone call?
How should they display empathy?
As call and email volume multiply, established SOPs both reduces contact time but then increases agent efficiency.
Internal processes don't need to make your team sound robotic, just ready to act with "automatic confidence". This guarantees a consistent customer experience while ensuring new users don’t get flustered.
“Use a software that everyone can see. It’s impossible to keep track of things and get fast responses when items are assigned to one user.
In order to speed things up, tickets should be available to everyone on the team to answer that when one shift leaves the next can answer more quickly. It also allows for agents to learn from each other.”
– Dave Nevogt, Co-Founder of Hubstaff
With more hands on deck, ensuring seamless support is a priority. Three things happen when you move your team to a shared inbox support system:
New employee onboarding becomes more efficient because email history is searchable
Ticket times decrease and productivity increases
Ticket confusion vanishes, which reduces contact time and boosts customer experience
A transparent help desk solution gives support agents easy access to email history by keyword search and category tags.
Assign agents by category type to improve contact time, but also vary their workload to increase morale. Investing in agent workflow translates into a company more effective from the inside out.
“Give power to your team. This is what I consider to be the most powerful support tactic to scale!
If our support staff have the freedom to make their own decisions, give away freebies and basically do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, that means less worry for them and increased productivity for the entire business.
Nothing ever needs to get escalated.”
– Sam Hurley, Optim-Eyez
What’s most important factor to consumers when interacting with companies? “Better human service,” said 9,000 people recently surveyed by Genesys. One-to-one human contact is still the core of customer support.
Free to provide exceptional customer support, support teams can differentiate your business and boost customer loyalty. Savvy companies empower their teams with a help desk offering a robust suite of features.
As workload and customer load multiplies, agents require help themselves. Keeping pace without the proper capabilities leaves your support staff feeling like they’re boxing an octopus.
To delight every customer, effective support teams are enabled by the right toolbox.
As we think about scaling customer support at Branch, we think about technology, people, and process. In this vein, three lessons we’ve learned (and continue to learn) in support are:
1. Make sure you have great help desk software that fits your business model
2. Match the skills and expertise of your team to the needs of your business and customers. Expect these to change over time.
3. Increase automation to accomplish specific goals. For us it was reducing cognitive load and increasing agent productivity
When I arrived at Branch, our engineering team answered support questions via a Google Group. I immediately moved the team to a help desk platform to organize all customer questions and responses in one place.
It sounds silly if you’ve crossed this bridge already, but I’d encourage companies of any size to get set up with help desk software as soon as they have customer support. We’ve since integrated our project management software and CRM to ensure our systems talk to one another and all teams have visibility into the work as it relates to our partners.
The engineers we hired to support our partners initially are a bit different than those we hire today. In our first year as a business, we were growing and moving quickly. A jack-of-all-trades engineer was in a strong position to interact with our partners and internal team members to push solutions forward.
As we’ve scaled, we’ve hired more specialized engineers to close gaps we identified as we sought to support our product across multiple platforms. In other words, we started supporting breadth and have been moving towards depth. The people we’ve brought in have directly contributed to our ability to scale in this manner.
Reducing the cognitive load for our support engineers allows them to focus on solving technical solutions. We were late to the game in auto round-robining our tickets. We initially wanted to make sure that tickets were assigned to subject matter experts. This system involved agents proactively grabbing tickets that fit their skills.
However, this left myriad orphaned tickets and siloed knowledge. We’ve since started auto-assigning tickets and maintaining single owners on tickets through resolution. While we’ve seen small increases in average first response times, overall response times have decreased.
Additionally, the team reports back that they’re learning more about our technology and that they’re in a better position to focus on execution and getting their work done, a win for everyone involved.
There is a number of ways you can help scale your business as it grows. The most common ways are to use technology to stream line processes and introduce self-service. Keep in mind that being able to report on these activities will be important to understand if the actions you are taking are moving you in the right direction or not.
Tip 1. How do your customers like to be served?
Talk to a marketing professional in your company and try and get an understanding of the persona you are trying to deliver support to. There should be concrete data to be researched or already completed to understand which ways your customers like to be served. This will help you understand if you need to focus your actions on items like phone support, chat support, email/ticket support or self-service.
The idea, like in marketing, is to be there and provide the customer with the type of support they want when they want.
Tip 2. Tool evaluation
Customer Communication – JitBit is an option that can provide your customers real time chat, phone and email/ticket support. Inside JitBit there is triggers and automations that you can create that will help with streamlining the customer experience and reduce any backlog of issues.
For example, you can set it to reach out to a customer after X number of days to inquire for feedback. If you still haven’t heard back after X number of days you can set it to email the customer to let them know you are closing out this incident and email the customer an NPS survey.
JitBit also has a knowledge base system that allows you to introduce self-service to your customers through enabling predictive search text before allowing a customer to submit an inquiry or chat.
Video Self-service – Another portion of your customers may prefer to be shown how to on-board, add a user, do complex task via screen cast or videos.
Live Self-service – If you want to have your customers actual complete a task on your website with no human interaction but guided all along the way there is two great tools I would suggest.
These are great tools for customers to onboard themselves on your platform and be live on your platform without any human interaction. Your customer can also have the option to pull up additional tutorials you create like on how to add a user and so forth.
This can be most useful for the first time a user logs into your website or product and isn’t sure of the first steps to take and it might be more cost effective not to use your own dev cycles to do so.
Tip 3. Analytics
A lot of the tools mentioned come with their own analytics. If you need to see the full story that all your data tells you, there is a number of data analytic tools that can help you.
Tableau is what I would recommend to import your data from multiple sources and bring it together to tell one story. This will allow you to see and correlate if the actions you are taking in one area have an impact on another.
Technology isn’t always the answer. Good old fashioned workflow analysis and process design will help figure out where you are and what tweaks you can make to improve the customer journey.
After those steps are complete, technology can help you scale the customer experience as your business takes off into the STRATOSPHERE!
Tip 1: Use a software / system that is transparent and everyone can see - it's impossible to keep track of things and get fast responses to clients when items are assigned to one user. In order to speed things up tickets should be available to everyone on the team to answer so that when one shift leaves the next can answer more quickly. It also allows for agents to learn from each other.
Tip 2: Find people to help with support on the other side of the world. -This allows you to continue providing good support while your home office is sleeping or off work. Response times will drastically change as you add people in different parts of the world.
Tip 3: Document the processes in a Google doc or similar. - Test each new agent to make sure that they are answering the questions up to the standard that your company requires, and then allow them to answer questions once you are fully confident that they can answer as other trained agents would do so.
As a support leader, the thought of scaling my customer service operation to keep up with the increasing volume of calls, emails, chats, and messages on social media is what keeps me up at night. While there’s certainly added stress with scaling, if you do these three things, you’ll handle it like a pro:
Establish a balanced set of KPIs and monitor them maniacally - You need a couple quality metrics, preferably blended between an internal quality process and an external metric like Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score, or some combination of the three.
Blend this with a productivity metric so that as you grow, you can work to constantly improve efficiency while also keeping your finger on the pulse of quality. Be careful not to get bogged down with too many other metrics so that you can maintain focus on continuously improving the most important ones.
Create a sustainable team structure and manage your managers - It’s not all on you to singlehandedly manage your customer service operation. You’ll want to establish ratios that make sense for your team so that each supervisor is responsible for X number of agents, giving them the proper coaching, training, and management to be successful.
As the team grows, it will be easy to add additional supervisors and managers to help them succeed and keep them engaged.
Go all in on self-help - Self-help is a support channel and more times than not, your customers are trying to solve their own issues before contacting support. You’re doing yourself and your customers a disservice by not having a self-help system that’s intuitive and up to date -- and nowadays uses some sort of artificial intelligence to really understand what customers are asking.
By making sure that your customer support is scalable, you can continue to provide a great level of service as your company grows.
Bynder is growing at an incredible pace, and our support department has to scale with it.
Here are 3 tips that have helped our customer support team scale:
1. Work with standard answers.
If you are frequently being asked similar types of questions, an easy shortcut is to standardise your answers. But bare in mind the message must still have a personal touch, as otherwise customers may feel undervalued. So write your answers in a natural way or even better use the standard text as template and modify it per case to give it a personal touch.
If you are always being asked the same questions, it might also be worth making changes to your product or adding the answer to an FAQ’s section.
2. Streamline your processes with the help of AI tools and bots.
Increasing the efficiency of your support processes means that the customer will get an answer faster and the workload of your support team will be reduced.
In terms of how to make these efficiencies, there are numerous options open to you. For example you could: set chatbots to work on answering clients’ questions.
Automatically group similar support requests so that the agent can immediately see how the issue was resolved in the past, and answer the question accordingly.
Automation doesn’t necessarily make your support robotic. If you don’t want the client to communicate with bots, bots and automation can still assist in the background, helping the support agent to be as efficient as possible.
3. Extend self service
Some clients want human contact, whereas others are fine with searching for the answer themselves.
To accommodate the latter:
An effective client self service system can drastically reduce customer support workload. But it takes time and effort to get right. A knowledge base needs to be created and filled with relevant information, and then frequently updated. And a user community requires seed questions and answers to get it going, and then needs to be continuously moderated (without effective moderation your user community may even become a complaint board).
Whatever you do to make your customer support department scalable, the trick is to increase efficiency while keeping the experience as human as possible.
Create SOPs! Make sure you have the systems in place that outline exactly what to do, and when and how to do it.
This way you eliminate a lot of internal questions and ensure all your customers get a satisfying answer. Even better, you save a ton of time when you onboard new employees, and your colleagues can easily do your tasks when you’re away.
Choose your support system wisely before you scale your customer support department. We’ve switched system a few times and it took a lot of resources each time. If we were to scale our customer support again, we’d spend way more time on testing systems before scaling.
If the majority of your customers have the same question, make sure you add it to your F.A.Q.
However, it’s important that you don’t move all your customer support to the F.A.Q, because if many customers look in the F.A.Q for the same question and you don’t know it, you might overlook some pain points that has to be optimized by other parts of your business than the support department.
Here are some techniques to combine with powerful support software and automation:
#1: Give Power To Your Team
This is what I consider to be the most powerful support tactic to scale!
If your support staff have the freedom to make their own decisions, give away freebies and basically do whatever it takes to make customers happy; that means less worry for them and increased productivity for the entire business.
Nothing ever needs to 'get escalated'.
#2: Recruit Ambassadors
Members of the public (who love your brand) can be entry-level trained, then get involved and assist with relevant customer support queries on Social Media, for example.
These people can be rewarded not only with money, but also cool gifts such as swag and priceless mentions that make them feel special!
#3: Create A Public FAQ Hub
I'm not just referring to a simple FAQ page — I'm talking a large, searchable, user-friendly collection of pretty much every practical support question your business has ever been asked, along with specific answers.
If it makes sense to include, do it! The chances are, a large portion of questions will be asked more than once over the years. Some many...
1. Hire proactively.
Do not wait until your team is totally overwhelmed with support tickets. Finding a new hire is hard and, more importantly, teaching and onboarding a new customer support employee takes a lot of time. It greatly depends on your product of course, but it will take you at least two months until a new hire can function on their own. Don't wait until it is too late.
2. Build your Knowledge Base.
Help your customers help themselves. There is a widespread belief that people do not read manuals, FAQs and that kind of stuff. This is wrong. Sure, there are people who will write to you with any questions they have even if you put the answer in front of their face. But a ton of people prefers to try and figure things out themselves. A good KB is very beneficial for your team too. There is nothing better than sending a link to a KB article in response to a ticket instead of typing it out each time.
3. Get a good help desk.
Some modern helpdesks come with plenty of productivity features. Some things like canned responses, suggesting relevant knowledge base articles, automation rules, etc. really do save you a lot of resources. A great helpdesk software becomes more and more valuable in the long run too -- you KB will get bigger and you will have ticket history that you can search through. The longer you use it the easier it gets to respond to tickets.
One of the most effective ways to scale customer support in a growing business is to build in a strong feedback loop between customer support and the other departments. If customer problems are never solved, the volume of problems will simply grow with the size of the company.
If, however, you have a strong process for communicating customer feedback into all areas of your company, you can be constantly optimizing and baking product/sales/marketing improvements into the DNA of your company, resulting in a more customer driven brand and an always improving customer experience.
Three helpful ways to do this are:
A growing business always brings a series of challenges and scaling customer support is one of the biggest. Small businesses typically provide a personalized service and great customer service, which is why customers love you.
As you grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain this same level of tailored service and as it depletes, you start to lose a your advantage over your competitors. It becomes increasingly important to maintain a level of customer support whilst your business transforms.
To help you through this transition:
Managing a growing business sometimes feel like constantly fighting an uphill battle.
Short on resources. Short on working hands. Short on time. @ONDiGO, this continuous mindset of keeping it lean and being mindful of the company's available resources resulted in some very original solutions. Some even translated into actual features on our own product, demonstrating positive ROI. We worked super hard on implementing our company values into our support process.
Below are 2 examples:
1. Be respectful of people's time (including your own):
Scheduling support sessions with prospects and customers is a time-consuming tedious task. Your prospects tend to be busy with their own day-to-day challenges, so that support session they scheduled with you last week will probably be the first thing they cancel last minute or not show up to at all when their schedule gets hectic.
When we analyzed our internal support sessions metrics @ONDiGO we noticed that last minute cancellations and no-shows accounted for approx. 30% of our total support sessions. This was not good. We came up with a solution in the form of a simple confirmation email that is automatically sent to prospects our reps had scheduled sessions with, 3 hours before the session.
See example below:
Implementing this simple automation into our work process delivered amazing results: not only did cancellations and no-shows dropped by 70%(!!), but we also noticed that prospects reacted very positively to these emails with replies ranging from: "..Sure, I'll definitely be there. Looking forward to our session.." to "Thanks for the heads-up.
Unfortunately, I have a crazy day and will not be able to make it. Can we reschedule?..". For us - both responses were a win.
2. Keeping it personal:
When looking into our product metrics we noticed a strong drop of users right after signing up and actually "meeting" the product for the first time. Bounced users were not responsive when we tried to reach out and understand what lead to their drop.
We finally managed to score a few interviews with dropped users who shared that right after "investing" time into signing up to our product, they entered the platform but felt somewhat abandoned. They didn't understand what to do and what was expected from them at that point, so they left.
We then tried implementing a walk-through tutorial to take them through the different functionalities but that tutorial ended up being long and tedious and actually delivered negative results that deepened the problem. So we decided to try something new: we created a single message made up of a few of GIF files, explaining the value users can expect to get from the product.
We decided to utilize our existing embedded Intercom chat functionality and triggered a message to appear a few seconds after a new user enters the product (where we noticed the biggest drop). See screenshot below:
Results: drop-rate decreased by 35%, and we also found that users started engaging with our reps via the chat window, asking questions and helping us craft better messaging moving forward.
New user interviews showed an increase in satisfaction and higher retention due to what users described as: "Feeling understood" and "feeling as if a real person was taking them by the hand throughout the onboarding process".
Being able to scale customer support while keeping our startup lean has been a major challenge for us. Here are 3 ways we have been able to reduce friction while providing great customer support:
1. Build an extensive knowledge base. We have invested a lot of time and effort to creating very detailed step by step instructions (FAQ, tutorials, how to videos & articles) that provide our users with a clear and easy way to reduce anxiety and the need for live support.
2. Boost live chat with outsourced agents and bots. From the moment we switched over to tawk.to we understood our live chat support was upgraded 10X than any other solution. While chat bots are becoming hotter and more common, we believe that there still is no true replacement for human interactions. We were fortunate to be one of the first clients to join tawk.to's beta enabling us to hire their staff to answer questions on our behalf. Doing so enabled us to respond to more users in real time, answer questions and convert more users into active trials and customers.
3. Build a community (Facebook group). It's no surprise that people LOVE sharing information with one another. When facilitated in a VIP client group, we've seen a community being built around our product that enabled power users to help and guide newcomers. Activating the Facebook group enabled our users to interact with one another, ask questions, get credit and recognition for helping each other and generally speaking creates good karma around your product / service!
Customer support starts day one in your business, with the very first customer you sign onboard.
It’s crucial, particularly during the early days of a new business, to survey customers about their experience or more importantly, get on the phone with each customer.
As owners or employees in a business, there are constant blind spots that we can’t see, as we’re too close to the product or service.
When you step back and ask the customer about his or her experience, that’s when you’ll really be able to get feedback that will improve all future customers journey with your business.
Ask open-ended questions, so you get as much feedback as possible, like:
“During the signup process, how could your experience be improved?”
Take that feedback and when applicable, implement it in your future onboarding with new customers and again survey them on their experience. You might never reach 100% satisfaction, but each improvement will not only strengthen your relationship with the customers providing feedback, but all future customers onboarding experiences.
Lastly, when applicable, create video’s and text documents for all frequently asked questions, and let customers know this is available. Train your team to listen for questions asked repeatedly and either look at how to improve the process behind the question to reduce or eliminate it or create documents to assist that current and future customer.
I just finished hiring about 50-60 people over the past 2 months due to massive growth so the way we staffed for this growth was clearly top of mind for me! Here are my 3 tips that deal with staffing for growth:
1. Have a good referral process/bonus in place
When you’re growing quickly you need to find good talent that you can rely on, and fast! Finding amazing people like the ones you already have is simple when they refer their friends and family. This can be as simple or complex as you want to make it but at a minimum make sure the team knows you’re hiring and ask them for their referrals. I would suggest (almost) always interviewing a candidate that was an existing employees referral.
Also, if you can swing it create some sort of referral bonus for the team. Rather than paying a high priced recruitment firm you could simply pay your colleagues to recruit for you – they are probably cheaper and will know the candidates they are passing on a lot better. Pay out for: 1) Any referral, 2) A referral who is hired, and 3) A nice big bonus for a referral who is hired on and hits a milestone of tenure (e.g. 6-12 months).
2. Create strong relationships with local staffing agencies and develop a strong ‘Contract to hire’ model
I know, I just got done telling you to pay your employees to help recruit rather than a “high priced recruitment firm”. With that said, employee referrals may not be enough to fill your open positions. I have some amazing relationships with amazing staffing/recruiting agencies and know I can trust them to find me great candidates.
I’m working with a couple partners right now to find bilingual agents who speak Hmong and Somali – that could be tough without their help. Make sure you have an understanding of how these relationships work and if/when you can convert someone to a regular full time employee. You will pay an hourly rate to the agency on top of what the contractor is making and they may have to hit a certain number of hours worked before being converted (without penalty).
3. Leverage an outsource partner (and make sure you set the relationship up right)
This one can be a bit taboo and tricky. But, it is possible to outsource some or all of your growth without hurting the customer experience. Put some thought into how this relationship would be setup and what type of work they would do for you. Are there simpler contacts that create high volume for you? Processes that rarely change? Contacts that don’t take a lot of additional research and follow-up? These could be great opportunities to outsource to a partner you trust.
Establish a Service Vision - You’re about to make some big changes. As people, process and technologies are blown up and rebuilt, you need a calibration point to help you make the hard decisions. A good service vision can help to navigate muddy waters. Jeff Toister shows you have to create one here.
As an example, our service vision is “supporting our customers and each other in a manner that is effortless accurate, and friendly.” We place a large premium on developing positive relationships across the department, as well as focusing on an effortless experience for our customers. It’s easy to lose your identity when scaling a team, but we can hold on to this truth no matter what.
Become The Grand Poobah of Onboarding - Before you can scale well, you’ve got to have your processes locked in. However, none of them are as critical as your onboarding program.
When a new hire hits their desk, the technology should be ready to go, a self-driven training plan mapped out, and peers surrounding them with actual bandwidth to assist. When leadership does a poor job with onboarding guess who pays the price? Your vetern agents do. They find themselves having to juggle all of their own increasing responsiblities, while somehow creating time every half hour to walk the new guy through basic things. This causes your top performers to burn out and potentially leave, putting you in a very bad place.
Before you begin your scaling process, develop engaging training plans and identify experienced coaches who are awarded time to aid new team members.
Scale Like A Robot – You don’t always need extra heads to scale a support center. What type of support are you doing today that can be automated? Bots are real and they’re getting smarter. Things that historically required a live agent might be something you can shift-left toward self-service. This is the first and best way to scale before you take on the signficant cost of additional agents.
For those things that can’t be automated, you can still find ways to reduce both customer and agent effort to streamline resolutions. Last year we did a “year of knowledge” focused on increaseing both the quality and accessiblity of our product knowledge. Things like this are a win-win for both agents consuming the information, and customers utlizing self-service.
When it comes to scaling your customer support operation in a growing business, the first thing you think about is the resources you don't have, so it's super important that while you want to remain scrappy, you put your best foot forward to stamp your quality seal on your service to effectively support your product.
My top 3 recommendations are:
Use your supporters and evangelists to help with your one-to-many approach
Did you know that your best customer support "agents" are your loyal customers? Leverage your community to help answer questions from customers who are just getting started. Most situational analysis point towards your customers requiring the most support within their first 30 days of onboarding.
Point them to the community that have become experts on your product and let the collaboration help you. You'll find super-users among fans and fans among customers. You can deflect a lot of common questions by fostering a strong and robust community of supporters.
Document, document, document
Any operation, no matter what size should be documented. If you begin a customer support organization with a handful of agents but know the potential to grow into hundreds or even thousands when you reach critical mass, you don't have time to teach everyone everything.
Always document your process, audit it regularly and test it with your new hires. It helps streamline and can ensure consistency in your operation when growth expands globally.
Be in your customers' playground and play with them when they want to play
Gone are the days of traditional customer support channels. While they may never go away, new ones will emerge. Customers won't just send you an email, go to your site to chat or call your toll free number anymore. When something breaks, they're going to hit their social platforms to complain. They'll rally to get others to jump on the bandwagon to complain along with them. 20 likes and 7 minutes later, you'll have risked your brand and your reputation.
Be proactive with customer education, enhance your social presence and partner with your Marketing team to get a great strategy together for your social support operation. If you have your finger to the pulse of your customer voice, you can turn your reactive operation into proactive social customer support and education.
You'll always have challenges. Those that come with growing pains are good problems to have. Always be a customer of your own product. You'll recognize what you need to do to add value in the journey.
First, I think it’s critical to take stock of customer choke points at various stages of the customer life cycle. Issues that cause people to churn during their onboarding cycle may be very different than those that cause them to churn at the three month or one year mark. Understanding those choke points can be as simple as doing some account review for inbound support issues then scoring them accordingly, however we think it’s best to supplement that with regular surveying to get at issues that people aren’t reporting are being underreported (our rule of thumb is that for every person who reports an issue, ten have encountered it but not reported it).
Next, we like to put together content that very clearly addresses information for all of our product choke points. If you take a look at our BuzzStream University page, you can see that we have broken this out into videos that also feature text walk throughs with accompanying images. We’ve got some videos in our “Getting Started” section that cover basic BuzzStream features people need to be familiar with during onboarding, then the rest of the videos are broken out into our customer use cases so people can easily find what they’re looking for.
The last thing is identifying the best delivery mechanisms for your supporting information. In our case, many inbound customer issues can be closed on the first response with one of our university videos. This greatly decreases the resolution time overall, in turn reducing time to first response for our other customers. The next step, and one we’re working on currently, is delivering that help content proactively.
For us, that will ultimately result in in-app walkthroughs for potentially confusing workflows as well as messages triggered by customer struggles we’ve identified through behavioral analysis.
1. Empowering each support agent
When it comes to customer support, there are a lot of situations in the grey area where decisions need to be made. These could be refunds, validation for cheaper pricing, free membership, or exceptional support efforts. Since our team covers 24 hours a day, if these situations piled up for the team lead to approve, things would get delayed for the users.
So at Piktochart, each team member is empowered to make decisions on their own. Team leads will be notified of significant incidents separately and the actions taken would be reviewed constantly. If any action or decision needs to be improved, team members will be informed immediately and mistakes will not be repeated in the future. They will know what to do next time and be assured about making decisions by themselves.
As a result, the response time is quicker and problems are resolved faster as it saves the effort of the team lead approving everything. Also, it empowers team members and makes them proud about their achievements.
2. Self service knowledge base
As the business grows, the number of users will also rise and naturally we’ll receive more tickets! So it's really essential to apply the self service concept to let the users find answers themselves, instead of hiring more people to help users with simple questions. Users can search for answers immediately using a simple search bar and the information provided in the knowledge base is detailed. Screenshots are included to offer a deeper, more visual understanding of the solutions provided.
3. Crisis management plan
As the team grows, conveying information verbally will become that much more difficult. When a difficult situation arises, such as when our server or website is down or when a feature isn’t working, it's essential to write the action plans down on paper, so everyone knows what to do in a specific scenario and can refer to a specific document in the future.
Empower Your Support Team
If there is one top customer support tip that I would suggest to anyone, it is this. No other thing can the sense of ownership in your support team than this. They feel like they have all the possible ways to make a user happy or saving her from churning. They don’t need to wait for any approval and think twice to offer something out of the way to keep users happy.
At SERPed (our other SaaS offering); we give this super power to our support team to extend an exclusive plan to users if they feel a user is unhappy with the service. And, the decision of whom to offer it, we absolutely leave it to our team members.
Don’t limit agents to one channel
It was one of the mistakes that we did at our previous startup. It led to the burnout and affected the performance of our support team members.
If you have multiple support channels - like chat, email, and phone call, use the round robin or any other method. Give them an opportunity to try their hands in multiple channels and learn. It keeps them motivated.
Collaboration is the key
When you have a small (1-2 members) support team, almost everyone in the team knows the status of an open ticket and can jump-in to help the customer with the issue. But, as the team size increases, it is tough to expect each support team member to have an update on each ticket. Because of it, if one of your support members is not available to attend, it becomes tough for others to take over and help the users.
It is where the collaboration helps. It saves time and boosts productivity. A right set of communication and help desk tools can help you achieve this.
All my tips can be summed up in one word: invest. Similar to insurance, customer service is an investment that no one ever really wants to eat the costs of, yet its vital to the customer experience and satisfaction and therefore your product. In other words, you cannot afford *not* to invest in your service staff.
1) Understand that customer support is an investment. You want your support people to be knowledgeable about the company, its culture and products as well as satisfied with working for you - it's only then that they become the unsung evangelists, ninja sales, fanfare, and gracious host(esses) of your business. This means find the right people to hire. Not everyone will do. Never settle for the lowest price point for hire - it's never worth it. Never.
2) Invest in great onboarding that helps users through the most intense phase of their journey - from introduction to a comfortable landing past your product's 'activation point'. Develop a piece of well-written content AND video for each question that a user asks. Harvest the questions that people ask your customer service personnel every day and create a robust and helpful onboarding stream that direct new users through that stream as a first solution.
3) Finally, double down on your analysis of the metrics that your customer service personnel create and access. Invest time in getting your business advisors' and professional networks' analyses of what your reports are actually telling you. Every metric has the potential to inform the road map as to what your next steps should be in regard to scaling up while staying as lean as feasible (note I didn't say as lean as *possible* as the goal is to create the best customer service team for your product, not the cheapest.)
If you're worried about customer service personnel churn (foreseeing a 'brain-drain' and investment dollars that walk out the door), understand that this is a course of decision-making based on fear. Combat it building clearly articulated internal channels that redirect your people toward professional development opportunities within your company. No welching.
1. If you can, make sure that your company's customer support is 24/7. Here at JotForm, an online form building tool, we offer around the clock customer service because our product is customer facing and everything needs to be perfect. If a user is experiencing any issues, they simply cannot wait until the next day to get help. We also have an international user base, and having customer support available across time zones is very convenient for users and sets us apart from our competitors.
2. Customer support professionals must know the product inside and out. They should use the product in many different ways, and experience how a user experiences it firsthand. When customer support staff is added, there is a ramp-up on boarding process where they will get to know the basics and the most popular use cases, then go on to learn more advanced use cases. As features and integrations grow and expand, support documentation increases and there's more to know.
1) Macro's - We've created a number of canned responses to popular questions and inquiries from our user. The Macro's are a template for an answer, which can be tailored for each user by tweaking the text - making it look personal and not automated.
2) Email triggered by events - We've created a series of Emails which are triggered and sent to the users by a specific event they triggered while using our platform. This way we insure not to spam our users, but instead sending them relevant information and tips that can help them in using the platform.
3) Hire excellent rep's - We've hired & trained quality support rep's Via Upwork. We've created an on-boarding guidance procedure that helps our new employees to obtain the required knowledge on our platform. We use test and quality one-on-one guidance and training to get our rep's up to speed with our platform. We communicate with all of our rep's on a daily basis maintaining the high level of support they have achieved.
As support teams scale, there's inherent complexity that develops, usually in ever facet. The product gets more complex and so it requires more knowledge to support it. Business processes get more complex while trying to adjust for team size, compliance of many kinds, and more. And it's key as this begins to take place to keep the focus on the customer experience.
The customer wants a quick answer and resolution to their inquiry. As the team scales, it's the duty of the support team to make sure as much of the complexity required in a large organization is as much unseen by the customer as possible.
A great example is phone menus... I'm sure most of us would simply wish to dial a customer support number and someone pick up the phone on the other end who can help answer. But as companies scale, a phone menu is a typical casualty of burdening the customer with much additional complexity.
As customer support teams scale, a great customer experience never gets stale.
There you have it – the five ways customer support pros recommended maintaining great customer support while scaling your business.
What other ways have you tried scaling that preserve customer experience?