The global pandemic has made our economic future uncertain, which has made many companies keep an even closer eye on their costs. When belts tighten, many companies try to look at where they can cut things and how much they can cut. Typically, customer-facing teams are the first to be hit. Even as recently as three years ago, support was referred to as a “necessary evil”—and there are many companies that still feel the same. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that it’s often the first to go.
However, things change. Now, 60% of consumers have higher customer service expectations than they did just one year ago. That means that the “necessary” thing that all companies “need” to have is an essential driver of customer loyalty and satisfaction.
If you want to maintain the level of service that your customers expect but still improve service efficiency to keep your costs low, you’ll need to pull some strings. Traditionally, companies hire additional people to provide the level of service customers need, or they just churn through team members, allowing them to burn out and leave. That doesn’t have to be you! Here are seven ways to balance service efficiency with customer experience.
Define what a “great experience” actually is
Great experiences will vary for different companies and the customers that they serve. Instead of following someone else’s guidelines, take the time to understand what that “great experience” looks like for your customers with your product. There are two different perspectives from which to tackle this problem.
First, understand your customer base: what are your customers’ questions, and how urgent are their inquiries? Second, what kind of experience do you want your customers to have? Couching your definition in both of these considerations will yield the best understanding of what you need to do.
Here are a few ways to aggregate the data you need to understand your current experience and how to make it better:
- Analyze what you’re currently doing to create a great experience.
- Understand customer feedback on where you are dropping the ball and where you exceed expectations.
- Glean data around what your customers want that you aren’t currently providing.
- Keep your service level the same, without any changes, for several periods so you can understand what your actual baseline is.
How can you balance efficiency with a great customer experience if you don’t even know what it looks like for your business or customers?
Differentiate service levels
One of the best ways to make your service more efficient is to identify your customers’ various segments and how you can differentiate service levels between them. For instance, maybe you offer phone support for enterprise customers, whereas others can only reach out via email.
Best Buy is an excellent example of differentiation working to maximize efficiency. They decided to shift their focus from in-store electronics retail to making customer service an essential aspect of their value proposition. As they did, they retrained their entire staff to be better at recognizing specific types of customers and addressing their average needs. For instance, understanding the different focuses between older, wealthier suburban customers and younger city-dwelling ones.
You can do this in a virtual setting using TextExpander snippets labeled explicitly with the segment’s name. For instance, you could have the structure of “[plan type] – [type of response].” This tagging structure would look like “starter – feedback request” or “enterprise – more information needed” in actual practice.
Each of these different snippets will use the tone, language, and suggestions catered to the type of customer you’re sending them to. If, for example, you only provide phone support for enterprise clients, your enterprise reply may include the option to book a call, whereas your starter plan one may not.
Offer proactive support
Proactive support is the leveled-up version of self-service support. It takes the information you already have written up in your documentation, or in your blog, and surfaces it to customers when and where they need it most. Instead of waiting for customers to have to find it for themselves, you provide it in context.
According to 73% of customers, the most important thing that a company can do to provide a good customer experience is honor their time. What better way to do that than take the hunt for documentation out from their day-to-day? You can offer proactive support through in-context documentation, chat windows on difficult pages, onboarding emails, in-app training, and any other way you can think of to put information directly in front of your customers.
Still not sure what type of information to provide? Pay attention to where your customers are running into trouble or where the bottlenecks are in your customer journey map, and focus on generating more information around those pieces.
If implemented efficiently, automation can immediately resolve up to 33% of customer issues. When considering what to automate and what to leave, try automating anything transactional and leave the rest. For instance, most feature requests can be automatically responded to if you use a personalized enough autoresponder.
Beyond that, you may consider automating chat, such as recurring questions or customers trying to find specific information on your site. Button-based chatbots are a great way to create a human feel to an otherwise entirely automated transaction.
You can also utilize automation to:
- Tag tickets for reporting.
- Respond to emails, chats, or social posts that have specific keywords.
- Escalate particular types of tickets.
- Forward emails to users or groups outside of your help desk.
- Categorize feature requests.
- Surface detailed, useful documentation based on the context of a customer’s inquiry.
Correlate your data
Take the time to compare the data coming in on your support metrics with data from the rest of the company. For instance, if you see a spike in support spending, perhaps due to staffing or tools usage, take the time to understand if it’s happening for other teams as well. You may find, for instance, that when you release a new product, your spending on support goes up as your team spends time getting caught up on the new features.
With correlated data, you can know what causes the peaks and valleys in support expenditure and predict it moving forward. Sometimes the spending isn’t necessarily about your team’s efficiency, but rather how other groups’ efficiency affects your spending. Know how those behaviors correlate so that you can preemptively work to resolve them moving forward. For instance, by improving your documentation practices and cross-functional communication leading up to a product launch to avoid support team slowness due to lack of knowledge on launch day.
Empower your team
Improving your team members’ experiences boosts their productivity by 19%. Encourage support reps to make decisions about the customer experience independently and empower them to work cross-functionally to get things accomplished.
Ensuring that you empower everyone with clean data can also help cross-functional teams create the best customer experience. For instance, if a customer reaches out to your company on social and gets an immediate response, do they mind if it was your support team or your marketing team answering? They don’t care who answers, just that they do get an answer.
Having multiple teams working to provide a great experience helps increase efficiency, especially if information about customer contacts is readily available for all groups. When individuals cannot see every interaction that a customer has had with their company, they will not deliver a quick and seamless experience—primarily if multiple teams handle different channels.
Invest in a CRM to help keep customer data organized and empower your team members to work with cross-functional teams to get all of your customer contact points covered.
Pay attention to what you incentivize
Are you incentivizing metrics that encourage customer-centric efforts or ones that are company-centric? Take, for example, the metric of email handle time. If you measure the amount of time it takes someone to handle an email, you’re just incentivizing your support team to respond as quickly as possible, whether they resolved the issue or not.
Take the time to determine metrics that maximize both efficiency and customer focus. If you need to include metrics such as email handle time, be sure to temper them with others like customer effort score or metrics that measure the quality of the experience you’re providing, too.
You don’t need to sacrifice
As much as it may seem that you can either have an outstanding customer experience or an efficient support team, you do not need to sacrifice one to have the other. Start by defining what a great experience looks like for your company and building around that. Learn what each of your customer segments needs for an excellent experience, and tailor tiered service levels to fit them. Offer proactive support that gives everyone the information they need without having to hunt for it, and utilize automation in the form of live chat or email support to take the burden off of the humans on the front line.
You can also use tooling to make your strategy more efficient: correlate your customer data across teams, and use it to empower everyone with more profound customer knowledge. The more someone knows about a person’s interactions with your company, across all groups, the better. Lastly, use this data to incentivize good behavior, rather than just efficient behavior. Use multiple metrics as needed to create context and ensure that what you’re setting goals for is still customer-focused. You can be efficient and excellent.