Gone is the 8-5 business day with telephone and email support only. Today, 24/7 support, flexible support channels and rapid response are all expected to come standard. The world wants to place orders, watch TV and interact with friends at any time — and all at the same time. Your customers seeking support services demand the same level of choice, flexibility and availability from your support team. And that’s a good thing, an opportunity. Because the reality is many companies still lag. Any company that can meet these desired standards, while the competition lags, has a big leg-up. Yes, around-the-clock customer support can be expensive. And many companies that want to offer the best service run into strict budget realities. The key is to provide the best customer service in the most effective and efficient way.
So, how can you take advantage of this opportunity to exploit a potential market inefficiency, match your support offerings to your customers’ expectations and meet your budget? Start by regularly getting under the hood of your customer support operation and fine tune these six support components.
1. Meeting Customer Wants and Needs
The first step is to thoroughly understand your customer’s support needs. Really take the time to dig deep and analyze what type of support best fits their company. Some questions to ask are:
- Are they business customers? Figure out how they work. Are they at a desk, traveling, working from home, or constantly on the go?
- What actions does your customer take when they need support?
- Google to find an answer themselves
- Log into your forums or knowledgebase to find an answer themselves
- Live chat with support while they’re working on something else
- Pick up the telephone and call customer support
- Fill out an online form for support and wait for an email response
- Vent their frustration on Twitter or another social media outlet
- How sophisticated is your customer? Do they need hand-holding or do they want to skip to the technical solution?
- What is your customer’s time limit on waiting for support? Can they wait 10 minutes, an hour, a day? Knowing this is important because quicker response is often more expensive. But, making your customer wait any longer than they can tolerate will make for an unhappy customer that costs even more to appease.
2. Support Channels
Once you know and understand your customer’s needs, you can prioritize the support channels to provide. Take the time to explore each support channel and determine what your customers expect. Then work to determine what makes sense within the budget.
- Knowledgebase – Give your customers a knowledgebase for self service. The trick is to make it easy to find relevant articles and make sure the information is current. Don’t frustrate your customers when they search a topic and get 1,000 matches that aren’t relevant or current.
- Forums – Forums can be very useful for self service if you have a sophisticated user base. But, you will need to invest time adding solutions to the forum. This may mean having your best resources spend time answering customer concerns. A forum with lots of complaints and no good solutions will turn your customers away.
- Email – People still use email when their problem isn’t critical. Usually, this is a form on the support site that the customer fills out. It can be a very economical support channel, but it has to be done well to be effective.
- Obtain the correct information up front. Don’t ask too many questions, but make sure you get relevant information from your customer that allows support to resolve the problem on the first contact.
- Respond quickly. People won’t wait 48 hours for a response. You should respond to email requests within a few hours to avoid the customer becoming frustrated and turning to another (more expensive) channel for support.
- Telephone – Customers, more and more often now, see telephone support as a last resort. They anticipate frustrating interactive voice response (IVR) menus and long hold times. While it is the most expensive support channel, customers who need immediate resolution to their problem expect to be able to pick up the telephone and talk to someone who will resolve their problem.
- Chat – Chat experiences are best for non-critical issues that customers want resolved quickly. Chat can be an economical support channel, but don’t push support to have too many chat sessions that result in long wait times.
- Social Media – This is a difficult channel to successfully navigate because the environment is ever-changing. Customers are highly influenced by social media, so don’t ignore this channel. Instead, find a solution to monitor social media and a process to engage customers that addresses the following:
- Turning bad experiences into good ones
- Providing helpful information for others with the same frustration
- Announcements – Service providers should have a central location for reporting service interruptions. It may be a blog, Twitter feed, status page, or some other means, but give your customers information quickly during a service interruption. You’ll avoid more expensive support tickets and help manage your customer’s perception of you. They already know there’s a problem. Don’t make them guess what’s happening.
3. Mobile Support
It is vital that your support channels work well from a smart phone. The self-service and support applications must be optimized for mobile devices. Don’t assume that telephone support will work well from mobile devices. Be mindful that VoIP networks can impact IVR performance and the quality of on-hold music.
4. Support Integration
Once you decide how you are going to provide support, pay attention to how all that support will be integrated. Your customers are going to choose different modes of support, maybe escalating through several channels before their incident is resolved. The last thing your customer wants to do is give the same information over and over again. All of your customer support agents should have visibility into each interaction and you should be able to report on the complete incident as it moves from email, chat, telephone, or whatever channel is chosen.
5. Support Hours
Support hours are going to be different for every channel you provide. You may find your customers don’t need 24/7 telephone support, but 24/7 chat support may be expected. Customers may require a 30-minute email response during the day, but next morning response is okay after hours. Establish the expectations and stick to them.
Take a hard look at your outsourcing arrangements. There are several options for outsourcing:
- Outsource some or all of your support
- Insource some channels and outsource others
- Insource some hours of support and outsource others
Figure out the best fit for your customers and your business needs.
Through regular evaluations of customer support services, your business should successfully navigate the difficult world of providing excellent customer service. The Netstack Technologies team is ready to assist with any of your support needs.