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How to Scale Customer Support without Damaging the Company’s Reputation

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[Updated 04/16/2021]

Your company is growing… How do you scale customer support? To scale, you have to increase volume while managing the impact on your customer experience and keeping up your customer support operations quality.

But before we move on: Congratulations! You have an enviable problem. Your business is a success and your customer base is increasing daily we hope.

Growth affects all parts of your business in different ways, which we will explore, and the word “scale” comes up more and more in meetings as your business leaders grapple with how to take the next step.

Remember, your quality support team got you this far

A significant factor in your growth was likely due to customer service, don’t forget that. As you continue to serve more and more people you still need to try your best to treat every single one like they were your first customer. 

The trick is to grow seamlessly so that return customers do not see a dip in service and new “NOW Customers” have an experience that matches the hype (and the standards set by other world-class brands).

A reminder of why the customer experience is critical (even as you grow)

People expect a lot more from customer service than they used to. The on-demand digital economy and the high standard set by businesses like Amazon have created a new kind of consumer – a NOW customer who is always on (and always online) and expects rapid resolutions and engaged interactions from their brands at all times and across every touchpoint and customer service channel.

A study by Oracle claims that 89% of people stopped doing business with a company after a poor customer experience, and 86% of the customers are willing to pay more for better customer service.

How scaling CS affects HOW your support team provides it

Scaling this is not a simple case of adding on things to meet demand. When you started out, you probably only had a handful of support cases to deal with each week (and a tiny support team). They probably came into your email or your phone number. Your support team simply dealt with them as they occurred and made sure each one was closed in a timely manner.

Growth isn’t linear. You may have noticed it’s not just a simple increase in the volume of support requests you now receive, but a proliferation in the channels they are coming in from and a drastic increase in the subjects they cover. So you can’t just scale up. You need to scale out!

These are your customer service options

You now have a number of choices for where next to take your customer service. 

a) Scale up and hang on!

This is a really simple option. Got more tickets? Just increase your support team headcount to match! Simple, right? But this where economies of scale work in reverse. By adding more people, you add more cost. You add more complexity as teams grow and communication becomes harder. Your new hires might not be of the same caliber as your original crew.

Can you maintain your brand as you ramp up? Who is training all these new people? How is this affecting your culture? And is it actually getting the job done?

b) Do nothing

Seriously, this actually is an option. You’ve got new customers coming in the door, your product is still as good as it’s ever been. Why do you need to focus on customer service? Just ignore the growth in tickets and handle what you can with your existing team and processes. Sure, it’ll work in the short term, but word will soon get out. Horrible customer reviews will start to appear. Your loyal customers will run, and new customers will be left with no reason to return. The later you adapt, the bigger the damage will be to your reputation. 

The Oracle study mentioned above also tells us that 79% of customers will share complaints about poor customer experience online if their complaints were ignored. 

c) Find intelligent solutions 

Your first two choices have serious issues. Luckily there is a third option. Scale smart. This includes using real-time automation with bots, strategies to drive customer self-service, and customer prioritization, alongside sensible hiring and training, mentoring and utilization of your support staff. This approach to scaling customer support, however, is tough to get right as it requires an excellent set of tools, intelligent experimentation and a fair amount of cross-functional partnership. That’s why we’re here to help. 

Proven strategies to scale your support

So here we go! These are the most popular and successful business models to address the issues of growth and scale when it comes to customer support and meeting today’s customer realities.

1. Automation to free up your team’s time

The foundation for modern, scalable customer support is automation. Customer service chatbots automate responses to common questions and route customers to the right team for support. While it might seem like the use of bots is a less personal experience, in reality chatbots can powerfully augment a great customer support team and allow your team to focus on moments where a personal human touch really matters. However, keep in mind that chatbots are NOT ideal for pre-sale support, where a human touch is critical. Don’t try to save money on this step.

Chatbots to answer questions

Chatbots are great at answering frequently asked questions from your customers. Instead of the customer calling in and waiting for a customer success rep to become available, the chatbot can provide a friendly and *useful* list of topics for your customer to select from. Once made, the selection prompts the caller to ask a question that the bot can then answer. 90% of companies get this wrong, so tread lightly here. But we wanted to mention it as it’s key for enterprise.

With input from your support team and time spent resolving real customer questions, the chatbot can successfully reduce the repetitive questions your support agents were answering, freeing them to take on more technical support issues. Over time, significant improvements in how the chatbot recognizes similar questions from past conversations will be seen.  

And of course, the chatbot is not limited to voice calls. Similar technology can be used on your website by utilizing a simple chat bot window or in the customers preferred channel, SMS messaging, where it can provide real answers in the form of a text conversation. There’s many different chatbot software and AI providers, we’d stick to one that’s proven in your industry.

Chatbots to efficiently route customers

Chatbots are also excellent at finding the right human agent to handle the query. Again, using a simple question tree, the chatbot can find out the exact subject of the call and then route the customer to the appropriate resource.

More often than not, this might be a specific page on your company website. Other popular destinations include FAQ’s, videos, and tutorials. 

Of course, a human agent is probably the most valuable response, and the chatbot is designed to include humans into the conversation whenever you feel is appropriate. 

Simplr has found some interesting real-world implementations that support the use of a chat bot and a human. In a recent survey we conducted during Black Friday 2020, we found that human interaction is key to exceptional pre-sale live chat experiences:

  • 65% of chats with human intervention were rated as “exceptional” or “very good.” 
  • 91% of chats without human intervention were rated  “poor” or “very poor”

As long as you focus automation strategies on solving the right problems, you can scale your support in a flexible way that doesn’t put the customer experience or your CSAT scores at risk. 

In fact, they can even improve it!

2. Empower customers to find answers quickly with convenient self-service

Even with the best customer service agents in the world, sometimes your customers don’t want to make phone calls and don’t want to talk to you. Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s them. Remember, a NOW customer is always on and always online and expects rapid resolutions and from their brands at all times and across every touchpoint and customer service channel. This does not always mean they want to talk to a person.

So it’s important to provide additional support channels such as an FAQ page or help center so they can find answers to their questions independently. And once collated and organized, these answers and resources can be suggested to customers who reach out for assistance. As I mentioned before, a chat bot can recommend articles on a call and text links to the customer on their phone. This encourages customers to find answers while they wait on a support team reply. This approach saves the support team and customers an enormous amount of time.

Modern support solutions should also easily integrate your help center resources with your support team’s call center screens. This gives an agent instant access to the knowledge they need for their conversations with customers. They no longer have to open a separate window or tab just to search your knowledge base.

3. Eliminate backlogs to speed up response times (and sales)

Let’s face it, backlogs create the slow response times that drag down customer satisfaction scores. And the situation only worse when a company grows.

When customers need information, they don’t just want it fast, they want it NOW. That’s why they will come knocking on each and every door to get your attention: chat, online request submission, email, phone or Twitter. You will end up with a backlog of tickets and a bunch of annoyed customers.

An intelligent customer support solution will help you solve these problems in a number of ways:

  • Automatically escalate tickets to another line of support or alert the CS team manager if they remain unanswered for a set amount of time
  • Templates to handle frequent requests grouped by topics 
  • Automation of replies to frequent requests, moving requests to other departments or assigning requests to your colleagues. 
  • Live chat to solve a problem in real time, offer links to additional resources, like FAQs, videos, price lists or documents, and establish an immediate relationship with the customer
  • Batch management to merge similar requests into one or send the same answer or an FAQ to all selected customers

4. Empower your growing team

Remember, it was customer service and the amazing members of your customer success team that got you the sales success you’re now enjoying. Now is not the time to forget this. You have to retain your team as it scales and maintain the high levels of support that has earned you your reputation. 

You should recognize that the bigger your team grows, the more valuable empowering your support team can be. This entails allowing them to make crucial customer support decisions without having to ask for permission each time (this might include giving them a generous allowance for refunds, returns, and customer incentives). Not only will it help your support agents do their jobs more effectively, but it will avoid the massive compounding inefficiencies that come from a manager having to approve every request for a refund or credit.

5. Study what you’re doing well

Marketing and business 101: Learning what your key strengths are and capitalizing on them. Replicating great service relies on recognizing great service. As your team grows, you will need to know what you’ve been doing right all along. This is where some basic analytics takes a major role (you can also do advanced multifactoral analysis and other things that CRMs provide). Some of the things to pay close attention to are:

  • Types of tickets: What questions are customers asking most often?
  • Source of tickets: How customers are approaching you to ask for help?
  • Types of customers: What types of customers are asking for help more often than others?
  • Speed of response: What is our average response time and are we getting better at it?
  • Resources: What type of resources are more efficient in solving CS problems: FAQs, videos, How-to videos, templates, etc.?

Do not lose sight of your first response time as you scale customer support

Your team’s first response rate is the average time it takes for a support agent to respond to a customer. Simple, right?

The lower your first response rate, the more satisfied your customers will be. They’ll be happy with both your customer service team and with your company as a whole. Boosting customer satisfaction is an extremely important goal. Beyond the benefits excellent service brings your customers, it can also have a serious payoff for your business.

First response time is also a simple metric that allows you to quickly measure your customer support team’s performance as you scale. A significant drop off (actually a steep climb) in your times will indicate trouble in your expanding customer facing team.

Expansion in your customer support department may have meant bringing on team members who have not been trained in your unique approach to service. New members of the team may not know how to use all the tools to track customers through all your support channels. Support interactions may be taking too long because they don’t have full access to your knowledge base. They may need more training to get them familiar with your customer support software. 

As you scale your customer support, keep a close eye on your customer success team, your support operations, and how these affect your first response time and ultimately your customer happiness.

Customers expect your first response time to remain consistent even as your business grows and you scale customer support.

Scaling customer support is not easy

Growing pains are real. As you scale customer support your company will encounter many issues. Some you may have anticipated, others will seemingly come out of nowhere. But as long as you do it intelligently, you can successfully scale your customer support operation.

  • Automate to free up your customer support agents
  • Empower customers to find answers quickly with convenient self-service
  • Eliminate backlogs to speed up response times
  • Empower your growing team
  • Study what you’re doing well
  • And last, but no means least, do not lose sight of your first response time