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How to transform customer support for business excellence

Customer Support often has a bad name. And that’s strange. Because everyone who works in customer service also knows exactly what it’s like to be a customer. They also know what it’s like to experience both excellent and lousy customer service. So how come so many CS operations have traditionally been closer to lousy than excellent?

Well, management teams have in the past done an almost perfect job of creating an environment in which customer support fails to deliver:

Support function in a different location to the rest of the business.
Support disengaged from what success looks like’ in the rest of the business. Customer complaints and queries never feed back into product roadmap.
Hard metrics: number of calls/emails/chats taken, rate at which they are cleared down.
Quality of service, ability to deliver resolution and customer satisfaction go unassessed and undervalued.
Team seen as a commodity: disposable / replaceable.
Team behaves as disposable / replaceable they have no buy-in to the business and don’t see support as a long-term career.

Most customer service operations have traditionally made one or all of these mistakes. And take note: these are structural problems, weaknesses which have been designed in before a single CSA has been hired.

Luckily, the world is changing. In many sectors, consumers have choice and service is becoming a differentiating factor in those choices. Customers also tell their friends (and the world on social media) when they experience bad service – in fact, angry customers will tell 16 of their friends.

Many online services also make their money in annual recurring revenues (ARR), which means that second-rate support will result in a loss-making business as customers go somewhere else.

Plus, broad demand from consumers for fast, efficient, omnichannel support means that the bar has been raised for everyone.

However, in the omnichannel world, keeping up with that demand is challenging; even if you’re lucky enough to be building a support operation from scratch. Therefore, businesses must use service design and technology to find both efficiencies and improved customer satisfaction.

It helps to look at these changes on a scale, from the plans you should implement by design (at the outset or through a transformation programme) through to the more flexible changes you can make to the way you handle every call.

Phase 1 – By design

Stop incentivising agents for throughput. Instead, measure customer satisfaction, whether this is through surveys (easy for email or chat interfaces) or more broadly (e.g. through Net Promoter Scores).

Deliver self-serve solutions where you can. Self-service is a win-win for any business when it’s done properly. Customers like to self-serve (it means they can solve a problem when it suits them, even if it’s 3am), and it reduces the load on support desks. Online, that means everything from FAQs which give users the information they need to solve a problem, or interfaces to resolve specific issues (password resets, changing plans/packages etc.)

Assess the value of technology to build a suite that’s right for you. Technology should be valued in two ways: improved operational efficiency and improved customer satisfaction. Neither is necessarily directly related to the cost of deployment, and most  technologies will not deliver both to the same degree. For example, Unbabel’s ability to translate emails and chats will usually become more operationally valuable as you roll out to more territories.

In customer satisfaction terms, depending on the context, it may go completely unnoticed or deliver the joy that comes when a business unexpectedly goes the extra mile. From CRM to call handling to email distribution, it all depends on what’s right for your business.

Phase 2 — Continuous Improvement

Embed technology and transparency together. Bots will broaden the number of issues which can be resolved without human intervention by making customer interactions with automated tools feel more human. But that doesn’t mean customers should think that they are talking to a human when they’re not.

It’s essential to be transparent with the customer about the nature of each channel and what it can and cannot achieve; also to make clear that escalation to other channels is always possible. That transparency will set the customer’s expectations fairly and ensure they don’t feel let down. It will also encourage them to try new channels with which they might not previously have been familiar.

Understand your customers. Our CRM systems tend to know plenty about a customer’s purchase preferences – but nothing about their support preferences. Yet with some basic demographics, you will be better prepared to look after customers, plus plan your support resource requirement for efficiency. For example, older people are more likely to want to speak to a person (whether on the phone or through a chat interface). Younger customers are more likely to look for faster and more automated channels.

Wherever this information is gleaned (either through selecting preferences or as a by-product of dealing with a CSA), keep this knowledge in a dedicated CRM field for future use. Similarly, make judgements from customer activity: you can learn plenty from the way a customer writes on email or chat and the channels they use by default. It all adds to your understanding of – and ability to please – the customer.

Feed complaints back to the rest of the business. If an issue keeps appearing, it is clearly costing the company not to resolve it. It is also disheartening for a CSA to have to apologise to a customer, knowing full well that the same apology will be required many more times.

Phase 3 — On Every Call

Give enough time for the human touch. It’s no good being a great doctor if you haven’t got a ‘bedside manner’. It’s the same for CSAs. When they’re given enough time to think from a customer’s point of view and the freedom to seek resolutions which make a customer happy, the results far outweigh the costs. Stop acting like a robot. Remove time constraints. Remove irritating scripts which actually prevent CSAs from thinking about the problem (even by email, customers are getting really good at spotting copy-and-paste responses). Instead, rotate CSAs so that they tackle a variety of problems.

Personalise your approach and communications to the customer – even if it takes a little longer. We’re all emotional beings and would prefer to be dealt with in an empathic, rather than cookie-cutter, manner.

You may not have the opportunity to go the extra mile; you may not even be able to resolve the problem, but a customer is still far more likely to consider their experience to have been a positive one if their experience was friendly and humane.

Triage and escalate intelligently. The right route for a support call depends as much on the issue as the customer. Can it be solved instantly or will it take time? Can it be solved with existing systems, or does it require intervention, time and/or escalation? With careful triaging, you can manage the customer’s expectations and maintain their belief in your brand.

Bad customer service is never exclusively a result of the people who deliver it. Sure, there are some weak CSAs; but everyone will perform better in an environment in which the support function has been built front-and-centre as part of the sales and customer life-cycle, rather than a bolt-on.

As teams evolve and transform to achieve this, we have an opportunity to reinvent the support function, with a culture of continuous improvement and connecting the team to the rest of the business .

To find out more about how Unbabel delivers seamless, scalable and trustworthy translations of customer support content for companies like Pinterest, Skyscanner, and Under Armour, check out our integrations with Salesforce, Zendesk and Freshdesk

Or request a demo today. 

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