Understanding customer
support and customer service

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We are in an age where competition is immense, and differentiating your brand solely on the basis of your product and service offerings is becoming more and more challenging. In a scenario like this, customers tend to flock to brands that they perceive will offer better value in comparison to their competitors.

Delivering superior customer experiences is a great way to create this value and gain a competitive advantage against other players in the market. And great customer support and customer service are the cornerstones of a memorable customer experience.

What is customer support?

1. The definition of customer support

Simply put, customer support is a dedicated function that offers tech support to customers who use a company's products and services. The term is commonly associated with technology and SaaS companies that provide complex IT solutions and whose customers require ongoing technical assistance.

A good customer support agent has a thorough understanding and technical know-how of the company's product and service portfolio. The agent also possesses excellent listening and communication skills since support interactions with customers involve high levels of patience, coherence, and concision.

2. The history of customer support

Customer support is not a new concept. In its traditional sense, it dates back to the time humans started trading. Meeting customers’ requirements and serving them better than the competitors to encourage good word-of-mouth and loyalty was, and remains, the core of customer support. Of course, over time, the method and mechanics of delivering customer support have evolved, as have customers’ expectations of what constitutes great support.

Until the 1870s, customer support was mainly confined to physical interactions between the buyer and the seller. With the invention of the telephone in 1876, that changed, and from there, support constantly evolved, with the origin of call centres in the 1960s, email and live chat in the 1990s, CRMs and social media in the 2000s, to the dynamic tech-driven customer service helpdesk solutions of today.

Today, support is highly customer-centric. With the help of the latest developments in technology, brands are doing everything in their power to constantly delight customers – ensuring they meet customers wherever they want (email, chat, social, phone). Gone are the days where merely meeting customers’ expectations was enough. This is the era of proactive customer support.

The past and present state of customer support

Source: Kommunicate Whitepaper: Customer Support in 2020

3. Common customer support responsibilities

a. Onboarding assistance

Onboarding refers to the entire process of helping new customers understand how to use your products and services. Customer onboarding is crucial because it sets the foundation for their long-term association with your brand.

Customer support agents can offer onboarding assistance in the form of welcome emails, video tutorials, sign-up process/first login, data import, etc.

b. Troubleshooting

When a customer reports a technical issue, the customer support team has a two-fold responsibility. Firstly, they must effectively communicate with the customer and note all the essential details pertaining to the problem. Secondly, they must be able to help them fix the issue in the most seamless and timely manner.

According to the book Technical Support Essentials, troubleshooting is a multidimensional skill that requires a combination of confidence, analytical reasoning, and experience.

c. Maintenance and upgrading

Another crucial aspect of customer support includes helping customers with timely maintenance and upgradation of systems. Doing this keeps customers up-to-date with the latest versions of the company’s services and ensures high performance and security levels.

d. Sharing customer feedback with other departments

After every customer interaction, support agents must ask for feedback and share it with the relevant departments. Customer feedback, whether positive or negative, helps brands grow at various levels. It fosters product innovation and development, improves marketing performance, and enhances the overall customer experience.

Some standard feedback collection outlets include surveys, emails, social media, and the brand’s official website.

4. Types of customer support

Brands can extend customer support in different ways and through different channels, depending on individual customers and their unique support needs. It's a combination of the following types of support that makes up a world-class customer support strategy.

a. Self-support

Most customers try to find solutions to their queries using a brand's internal knowledge and resource base. Self-support is one of the most essential and cost-effective forms of support that brands must focus on building and updating consistently. According to a study, 92% of people prefer using a knowledge base for self-service support if available, and 77% of people view organizations more positively if they offer self-service options for customer support.

Common forms of self-support include FAQs, white papers, user guides, and case studies.

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b. Anticipatory support

Anticipatory support is support offered to customers proactively, foreseeing their needs at various points during their lifecycle. A customer support strategy that aims to improve loyalty, places a lot of importance on anticipatory support as it demonstrates a brand's commitment towards serving its customers well.

Customer support teams must maintain a database of common customer support inquiries so they can anticipate issues frequently faced by customers, and address them even before they arise. In this way, anticipatory support can lower the number of support requests received. Since customers are already equipped with the required tools and guides to better understand and use your product or service, it reduces your customer support team’s burden.

An example of anticipatory support includes sending automated emails with explainer videos and FAQ links while onboarding new customers.

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c. Responsive support

Responsive or reactive support is support offered when a customer reaches out with a query or complaint. Unlike anticipatory or proactive support, responsive support cannot prevent issues before they crop up.

Although responsive support is important since not all issues and concerns faced by customers can be foreseen, customer support teams must aim at offering more proactive support as it improves customer experience.

An example of responsive support includes help offered to a customer experiencing an issue with a particular feature or tool after they reach out to your support team via email or call.

What are the differences between self, anticipatory and responsive customer support?

Key Differentiators Self-Support Anticipatory Support Responsive Support
Approach Proactive Proactive Reactive
Key focus To provide customers with adequate data to resolve their own issues. To help customers prevent issues from arising by preemptively offering them support. To resolve customers’ issues as and when they arise.
Objective To reduce the number of customer calls and emails and thus, improve the efficiency of customer support teams. To enhance customer experience and loyalty. To solve customers’ issues swiftly and satisfactorily, ie. lower turnaround time, prevent escalation, etc.
Common channels Knowledge base and FAQs. Explainer videos, walkthroughs. Email, phone, social and chat.

5. The future of customer support

The field of customer support is in a constant state of evolution. The latest innovations in technology have helped companies deliver customer support experiences that are highly tailored and intuitive. Here are three of the most significant future trends in customer service:

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a. Digital transformation to improve customer experience

Today, digital is at the centre of customer experiences across all geographies and industries. Digital transformation is about going beyond merely digitizing and automating existing customer support processes. It is about creating platforms that allow customers to communicate, exchange data, and switch between different legacy systems seamlessly, thereby enhancing their experience.

b. Greater focus on data speed and security

One of the most important customer support trends for the future is the efficient collection, analysis, and application of customer data.

More and more brands are looking at ways to accelerate their speed of data collection and analysis so they can make effective data-driven decisions, quicker. Real-time customer data and analytical insights, when used in conjunction with technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and customer journey analytics, can revolutionize support interactions.

c. Enhanced human experiences

Brands today have access to multiple cutting-edge technologies and solutions that allow customer support personalization at scale. Edge computing can improve real-time data analysis, CRM creates a single record of all customer information, and automation tools make the implementation of decisions and actions faster. However, none of these technologies can help your brand establish a personal connection with customers. To do that, you need the human touch.

In today’s era of hyper-digitalization, customers want support interactions that are high on empathy and less automated.

What is customer service?

1. The definition of customer service

Customer service is the more human aspect of customer experience. It mostly pertains to non-technical customer interactions. Even when there may be an instance of inferior experience on the customer support side, high-quality customer service can compensate for it. In the absence of great customer service, it can get difficult for brands to build a long-term relationship of trust and satisfaction with customers.

Customer service is more proactive than customer support — it offers customers ideas, solutions, and recommendations for dealing with potential concerns so that they can prevent issues even before they crop up.

A good customer service agent must possess incredible soft skills, in addition to in-depth knowledge around the relevant product or service. They must be great communicators and listeners with excellent persuasion skills, high levels of emotional intelligence, and stellar problem-solving abilities.

Customer service trends 2020 infographic

Source: Netomi

2. Common customer service responsibilities

a. Understanding and anticipating customer needs

Perhaps the most important element of exceptional customer service is being able to anticipate customers’ needs. When customer service agents approach clients, they must do so with a view to solving their problems — especially the ones customers aren’t yet aware of.

An Inc. Magazine article suggests the following 7 keys to anticipating customers’ needs:

  • a) Industry research and trend reports
  • b) Influencer reviews on social media
  • c) Tools and analytics to decode industry trends
  • d) Hiring smart people
  • e) Building a team of effective mentors
  • f) Asking customers for inputs and ideas
  • g) Accepting and adapting to change

b. Customer engagement

Engaging with customers via unique experiences and interactions can help brands create a deep emotional connection with them. According to a research by global analytics firm Gallup, customers who are fully engaged with a brand contribute 23% more in terms of profitability and revenue as compared to the average customer.

Some effective customer engagement strategies include offering customers personalized experiences, building a strong brand personality, and sharing unique and compelling content on social media to connect with customers.

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c. Maintaining customer records

Maintaining a record of customers’ details is key to offering them tailored and personalized customer service. According to Segment’s The 2017 State of Personalization Report, 71% of customers find lack of personalization frustrating while 44% of customers say that they will become repeat buyers of brands that offer them a personalized buying experience.

And for personalization, you need data. Customer service agents must maintain a record of important customer data, collating information via order forms, feedback forms, email inquiries, complaints, etc.

d. Building a knowledge base

Creating a comprehensive self-service knowledge base helps customers find quick solutions to their own problems and goes a long way in improving customer experience. Building a knowledge base is a time-intensive process, but it comes with several benefits. In the long run, it can help reduce customer service costs and customer service agents’ workload.

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3. The importance of good customer service

Customer experience survey statistics

Source: Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report

Brands spend considerable amounts of time and resources in building great products and marketing them. However, despite their best efforts, not many are able to survive tough competition. On top of that, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the situation, forcing many promising small businesses and startups to shut shop.

According to a report by Failory, 90% of startups fail, of which 20% fail by the end of the first year and 50%, by the end of the fifth year. Market intelligence company CB Insights reports that 23% of companies fail because of the wrong team and 14% fail because they ignore their customers. These stats are a testament to the fact that to survive cut-throat competition, brands need to invest in a team of talented people who understand and embody great customer support and service.

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Following are some of the key reasons why good customer service is critical for a company’s growth and success:

a. Enhances your brand value

Companies whose customer service representatives go that extra mile in assisting and surprising their customers with top-notch experiences are the ones that stand out. Such companies are perceived to be superior than their competitors in the industry, even if their products and services are similar in terms of quality and features.

Great customer service, and therefore a great customer experience, can justify a company's higher price tag in comparison to its competitors. According to the third edition of Salesforce's 'State of the Connected Customer' report, "66% of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience."

b. Increases customer retention and thus, customer lifetime value (CLV)

Businesses emphasize retaining their current customers because as per research, customer acquisition is anywhere between 5-25 times more expensive than customer retention.

The happier your customers, the more likely they are to maintain a long-term association with your brand. This, in turn, increases customer lifetime value (CLV), i.e. the amount of money a single client spends on your business during their association with you and lowers your operating costs to serve them.

c. Increases customer endorsements and improves brand image

Brands that ‘wow’ their customers with stellar customer service are bound to earn their respect and admiration by way of testimonials and referrals.

Word-of-mouth marketing can prove to be a lot more useful than traditional marketing. According to a report by the marketing agency IMPACT, 75% of people don't believe advertisements, but 92% believe brand recommendations from friends and family.

When used strategically, customer testimonials are an excellent means to establish and demonstrate credibility in your brand, thereby enhancing your company's image.

d. Fosters a customer-focused culture

Excellent customer support and service are at the heart of great customer experiences. Companies that invest time and effort in enhancing their customer service are better positioned to foster a customer-focused culture across the organization.

Customer service teams that proactively reach out to their customers for feedback and concerns, and later report them back to the other departments in the company can help improve performance across marketing, sales, and product development functions. They can help the company fine-tune its strategy to customers’ needs, ensuring it's a win-win for both parties.

What is customer success?

1. The definition of customer success

Customer success is a business function aimed at helping customers achieve their goals sustainably. This function ensures that all of the interactions customers have with your brand holistically contribute to their organization’s overall growth and success.

Customer success is very much relationship-focused -- with every customer success manager responsible for a specific number of clients, ensuring they derive maximum value from the product or service.

The term customer success first originated in the '90s but has gained greater traction over the past decade, especially in the world of SaaS.

2. Common customer success responsibilities

a. Enhancing the brand’s perceived value

One of the key responsibilities of customer success includes demonstrating a brand’s products and services in a way that customers see value in it. This, in turn, lays the foundation for building strong customer relationships and improving retention rates.

b. Turning free trials into paying customers

SaaS businesses often offer customers free trials with the hope that they can convert those trial users into long-term paying customers.

Customer success managers who are proactive in assisting customers and keeping them in the loop about the product and its functionalities are more likely to convert free users into paying customers. Often, it’s the lack of initiative and support from brands during the trial phase that makes customers leave.

At the same time, customer success managers must also focus on constantly delighting their paying customers with unique experiences.

c. Turning customers into loyal brand ambassadors

Great customer success managers continuously work towards helping customers achieve their business goals. Consequently, they help build a community of committed and loyal brand ambassadors who in the long run are huge drivers of business growth - through positive word-of-mouth.

d. Increasing expansion revenue and reducing customer churn

Expansion revenue refers to expanding revenue from the brand’s current customer base through up-selling and cross-selling. Customer churn, on the other hand, is the rate at which customers stop using the brand’s product(s). The aim of customer success is to increase expansion revenue - by proactively identifying opportunities for revenue growth - and minimize customer churn.

According to a report by Profitwell, companies with a dedicated customer success team see about a 27% decrease in gross churn and up to 125% increase in expansion revenue.

3. The differences between customer support, customer service, and customer success

The terms customer support and customer service are interconnected and, in common parlance, are often used interchangeably. Another important aspect of customer experience that businesses have started concentrating on is customer success. Understanding the differences between them can help you contextualize your customers' needs better and devise a strategy to build a meaningful relationship with them.

Key Differentiators Customer Support Customer Service Customer Success
Approach Reactive Proactive Proactive
Support provided Technical Non-technical Tailored to customers’ needs and goals
Interaction Type Transactional Personal Transformational: focused on turning every customer interaction into a long-term association
Key focus areas Problem resolution and maintenance Customer satisfaction Customer loyalty and commitment
Objective Lowering customer attrition Earning customers’ trust Turning every customer into a long-term revenue stream

What are the prerequisites for building a successful customer service team?

1. Customer service best practices

Over the past couple of decades, customers’ expectations have grown remarkably, and to live up to them, companies have radically changed how they approach customer service. Today, it’s very easy for customers to switch to another business, so even a single instance of poor customer service can result in churn. This makes it all the more necessary for customer service teams to look beyond merely satisfying customers and focus on constantly delighting them. Following are 5 customer service best practices that can help them do so:

a. Make customer centricity a part of your culture

Focussing on making customers happy is not the job of your customer service team alone, but your entire organization’s. Ensure that everyone in your company, every goal you set, and every decision you make, places the customer in the centre. Approaching your business from a perspective of customer-centricity helps you build products customers need, anticipate and meet their future wants, and constantly deliver stellar customer service that turns them into lifelong fans.

b. Allow your customer service team to take initiative

Once you’ve hired a great customer service team and set up all the processes, allow the team to take charge and use their strengths and creativity to serve customers. Doing this will empower them, get them out of the rut and stay driven. Remember, happy and motivated employees = happy customers.

c. Be transparent with customers

Oftentimes, in the hope of winning new customers, companies tend to make big promises that they can’t follow through. The result? Unhappy customers that are likely to churn and share negative reviews about the company. While customer delight is important, you must know your limitations, and ensure your customers know them too. Be honest with your customers – tell them exactly what to expect, but always try and surpass those expectations. When you meet their expectations, they’ll be satisfied. When you go out of your way to exceed them, they’ll become loyal to your company.

d. Tailor your interactions

We are in the era of personalization. Today, customers don’t want to be treated like a ticket number. They expect their customer service interactions to be tailored and personalized. With the help of a robust helpdesk, you can set up a system that will help you personalize customer interactions without hampering efficiency. Additionally, your helpdesk platform can equip your customer service team to reach customers on their preferred channels – email, chat, social, or phone.

e. Collect and utilize customer data

Without understanding customers’ experiences and expectations, you won’t know how to serve them. Therefore, regularly collecting customer data via surveys, social media, and customer reviews is imperative in helping you improve, not just your customer service performance, but the performance across various functions within your company.

Once you’ve collected customer feedback, it’s ineffective unless you act on it. Implementing customer feedback, in addition to benefiting your business, will also give customers the assurance that you value their word.

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2. Important customer service skills

Knowing about the best customer service practices isn’t going to deliver any results unless your team has the skills needed to implement them. Following are important customer service skills your team must possess/inculcate:

a. Empathy

Empathy is one of the most essential qualities of successful customer service teams. It refers to the ability to develop an emotional bond with customers by understanding their needs, issues, and expectations, and delivering solutions that are in their best interests.

According to a research article published in Cogent Business & Management journal, employee empathy displayed during customer service interactions has a considerable impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty.

b. Patience

A customer service role is rife with several challenges, and to be able to deal with each one of them well requires a great degree of patience. It’s a quality that can help your customer service team remain calm and stoic during tough situations, and deliver delightful customer experiences, consistently.

c. Troubleshooting

Great troubleshooting is about collecting important information pertaining to customers’ problems, evaluating all possible solutions to those problems, and implementing the most ideal fixes to the issues in a time-efficient manner.

An important aspect of good troubleshooting is being able to effectively communicate with customers to get all the details about the issues they are facing.

d. Great communication

Effective communication (including effective listening), as mentioned earlier, is crucial in helping your customer service team solve customers’ issues to their satisfaction. Communicating with clarity, concision, and confidence is one of the key ways you can instill trust and loyalty in your customers.

e. Attentiveness

Most memorable customer service moments are made up of customized and tailored interactions. Your customer service team must pay attention to the smallest of details from all customer conversations and constantly surprise them by making the interactions personalized and special.

f. Knowledge

Without thorough knowledge about your product(s) and company, your customer service team won’t be able to respond to customer queries with clarity. The team must know the purchase process, product features, updates and specifications, company policies, etc.

g. Effective multitasking

For most customer service teams, work is highly time-bound, and efficient multitasking is often the only way they can close tasks quickly. Having said that, multitasking can also result in errors and inconsistencies, and therefore, your customer service team must know how to multitask effectively without hampering service quality.

h. Collaboration

The success of your company’s customer service function lies not just in how quickly the team can resolve customer queries but also in how effectively they can collaborate and deliver exceptional customer experiences consistently. Customer service teams often also have to collaborate with other functions including engineering, sales, and marketing.

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3. Tips to create an effective customer support and service strategy

Customer support and service are highly nuanced functions that require thorough planning and consistent improvements along the way. A well thought-out and effective customer service strategy gives an organization better judgment and clarity needed to serve customers. It is also extremely essential in providing customers with a consistent and reliable support experience.

Following are some tips to keep in mind while devising a customer service strategy:

a. Set actionable customer service goals

Setting SMART goals should be the first step in developing a customer service strategy. SMART is a mnemonic acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Goal setting can help establish expectations and act as a great standard to measure your service team's performance against. It is also important to ensure that the goals you set for your customer service team are aligned with the larger goals of the company.

b. Build a well-trained and customer-centric service team

For companies aiming for customer success, hiring employees that already possess the personality traits and skill-set to align with an overall customer-centric strategy is imperative. For example, great interpersonal skills, the ability to handle a crisis, and high emotional intelligence are some of the many qualities that customer service agents must possess.

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The next important thing is to invest in periodic training programs for both new as well as existing employees. These programs can empower your customer service team with the knowledge of new techniques, tools, and skills to better serve customers and enhance their experience. Gamifying customer service training is a great way to ensure the team grasps essential concepts and skills faster.

c. Invest in the right customer support tools

Your customer support tools must meet the requirements of your support team as well as your customers. When starting out, companies usually have a single point of contact to manage customer support. As companies grow, their need for a more sophisticated support helpdesk grows as well.

For example, in companies with limited clients and low volumes of support requests, a group email can often suffice. However, with an increase in their quantity of support emails, doing everything from a single inbox becomes cumbersome. It can lead to multiple issues internally, such as unanswered support queries, duplicate emails, poor accountability, and much more! This can cause a huge blow to the brand's reputation.

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Hiver, a Gmail-based helpdesk solution, allows customer support teams to handle huge volumes of support queries in an efficient, transparent and human way.

d. Personalize your customer service

Personalization is a great way to make your customers feel important. However, as businesses scale, communication with customers tends to become impersonal.

A smart way to personalize email communication is using placeholder variables, i.e, information unique to different customers, such as name, email address, etc. while creating email templates. This way, you can enjoy the convenience that comes with email-automation as well as offer a customized service experience to each one of your customers.

e. Monitor customer service performance indicators

Monitoring your customer service performance is highly crucial in helping you understand whether your customer service strategy is working or failing and adopting corrective measures if need be.

Amidst the daily grind of managing a business, it can become difficult to keep a tab on the performance of your customer service agents and the quality of service provided by them. Customer service performance indicators such as Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), First Response Time (FRT), and Net Promoter Score (NPS) can give you a clear and unbiased picture of your team's performance and help them strive for continuous improvement.

f. Solicit and implement customer feedback

Customer support agents must solicit feedback from customers at every stage of interaction with them. According to Microsoft's 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report, 77% of people view brands more favorably if they reach out to them for feedback and implement it.

Customer feedback is crucial as it not only improves customer experience but can also play a huge role in enhancing your product and overall business strategy. It helps improve outcomes across marketing, sales, and product development functions.

Your customer support team must pay close attention to what your customers have to say — both the praise and the criticisms. Often, your most demanding customers will give you the most important feedback.

What are the most common customer support issues?

1. The toughest customer support challenges and how to overcome them

Customer support can be a tough job, but when done right, it can also be one of the key factors responsible for building customer loyalty and retention. Gone are the days when customer support and service were considered inconsequential to a brand’s sustenance and growth. Today, a single unhappy customer can cost your business a lot of money and bring down its reputation.

According to Hiver’s Customer Support Through The Eyes of Consumers in 2020 survey, 70% of customers will advise their friends and colleagues against buying a brand’s product/service after a negative customer service experience.

While your customer support team may strive hard to deliver timely, constructive, and personalized customer service, they are bound to face the following challenges at various stages of interacting with customers.

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a. Being unable to respond to customers in a timely manner

As organizations grow, so does the pressure on support teams to respond to customer queries and complaints swiftly and satisfactorily. While most organizations promise a 24-48 hour window to respond to customers, customers today expect and value faster turnaround time.

According to a recent research by SuperOffice, 88% of customers expect a response from your business within 60 minutes, and 30% expect a response within 15 minutes or less. That's the kind of time efficiency customers expect today!

Poor turnaround time can hugely tarnish a brand's reputation and credibility. Some simple tips for dealing with a barrage of queries and complaints from customers and reducing response time include:

b. Being unable to resolve customers' issues satisfactorily

Time and again, your customer support team will encounter issues that are complex in nature and those they may not have ideal solutions for. They may respond to such queries and problems by redirecting customers to other departments. This can be an extremely disappointing experience for customers.

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Instead of asking your customers to get in touch with other teams, do that work for them instead. Acknowledge that you don't have a solution to their problem currently, but you will work towards finding one within a stipulated time frame. Customers notice and appreciate it when you go out of your way to serve them. Good service recovery can help you turn customers’ bad experiences into memorable ones.

c. Dealing with difficult customers

The true test of your customer support team’s competence is in how they deal with difficult customers. Customers may lose their cool because of a product or service issue that they might be facing or because they might be dissatisfied with your support quality. Whatever be the reason for their grievance, customer support agents must maintain their composure, and avoid getting defensive, as doing so will only exacerbate the situation.

A highly popular technique of dealing with customer conflict is Disney's 5-step H.E.A.R.D framework:

  • a) Hear - Listen to the customer with an open mind and without interrupting them
  • b) Empathise - Tell them that you understand their frustration
  • c) Apologize - Make sure to apologize to the customer
  • d) Resolve - Work towards resolving their issue as quickly and satisfactorily as possible. Ask the customer what you can do to make the situation right
  • e) Diagnose - Review the situation with your entire team and try to get to the root of the problem so that a similar issue can be prevented in the future

d. Lack of personalization

In the age of automation, technology has remarkably transformed how we work and operate. Customer support teams are making use of technology to improve the quality and efficiency of their operations — be it in terms of process automation or data management and analytics.

That being said, nothing can replace the good-old personal touch when it comes to customer interactions. Offering personalized and customized support can make your customers feel valued and set you apart from your competitors.

As per a report by PwC, 82% of U.S. and 74% of non-U.S. consumers want human interaction in their customer service interactions.

Some effective ways to offer personalized customer support include:

  • a) Addressing customers by their first name
  • b) Knowing your customers well and surprising them — for example, offering them an exclusive discount on their birthday or on the anniversary of their first year of business with you
  • c) Being receptive to customer feedback and implementing it
  • d) Offering a tailored service experience depending on their search history, past issues, and past purchases

e. Having to transfer customers’ calls repeatedly

According to a research report by Hiver, more than 50% respondents think there's nothing more frustrating for a customer than having to explain their issue over and over again to different customer support representatives. Not only does it waste the customer's time, but it also ruins their experience.

To avoid such a situation from arising, the support staff must be trained to assist customers with the most common support issues. At times when an agent needs to transfer a customer's call, they must not 'blind transfer', ie. transfer the call without verifying whether or not a designated agent is available to assist the customer.

f. Managing a crisis or an outage

When your business experiences a crisis or an outage, your customer support teams end up being put under a lot of pressure. It's these teams that have to bear the brunt of customer frustration and anger in such difficult times.

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A prudent way to handle a scenario like this is to anticipate and prepare for it in advance. When you have a plan of action to handle a crisis, you will be better equipped to deal with the bombardment of customer calls and emails, and respond to them in a reassuring and effective manner.

Following are the most important things customer support agents must remember to do in times of a crisis or an outage:

  • a) Inform customers about the situation at hand and apologize for the inconvenience caused to them
  • b) Update them regularly about the progress happening behind-the-scenes
  • c) Reassure them that the services will be back up soon

2. Tips to proactively identity and address customers’ issues

A crucial aspect of great customer service is being able to proactively address customers’ issues. Following are some tips to help you identity and avert possible customer problems even before they arise

a) Send out customer surveys

Customer surveys are the most simple yet often the most effective way of understanding and what customers like and what they don’t. If you haven’t implemented customer surveys, a good way to start is by sending out a basic CSAT survey at the end of every interaction customers have with your brand. Over time, you can start sending across questionnaires that offer room for more open ended responses. Chances are, you’ll begin to notice similar trends in some of the customer responses, and that should help you identify the specific aspects of your business and processes that need improvements and changes.

b) Keep a record of support issues

Each time a customer gets in touch with your support team for an issue or a query, you should make it a practice to document the details of that interaction and the issue reported, if you don’t already. Doing this will help you identify if multiple customers are experiencing similar issues and address its root cause so that other customers don’t experience the same problem in the future

c) Map customers’ journey

Customer journey maps go a long way in helping you pinpoint the specific aspects of your product and support strategy that are sure to delight your customers, and those that may possibly disappoint them.

Identifying different touchpoints in your customers’ journey can help you plan opportunities for proactive customer service. For example, if a majority of customer interactions occur at the time of onboarding, try to identify ways to make the onboarding process as smooth as possible. Identify possible weak spots that may result in issues and correct them before they escalate.

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What are the most popular customer support channels?

1. Common customer support channels

When customers reach out to your support team, more often than not, it’s because of an issue they’re facing. Customer support teams have an excellent opportunity here to turn your customers’ experience around through speedy and high-quality support.

Preferred customer support channels by age

According to a survey conducted by Hiver, 48% of Gen Z and 35% of Millennials prefer email as a channel, making it the most-used channel for support communications. This trend is followed by phone - 30% of Gen Z and 31% of millennials prefer using the phone after email as their preferred medium of communication.

This goes to show that businesses need to stay abreast of varied communication channels that their customers prefer.

The following are popular customer support channels that your brand can use individually or in combination with each other, depending on the type of your business and the scale at which you operate.

a. Email

Email is one of the easiest, low cost, and effective tools that brands can use for managing support queries. Queries received across other channels can further be routed back to your email to minimize confusion.

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When managing a huge volume of emails, as in the case of support, shared inboxes can help streamline processes since there is little chance of inbox clutter, duplication, confusion, and therefore, inefficiency.

b. Knowledge base and FAQs

An essential yet often under-used customer support tool is the company's self-service knowledge and resource base. More often than not, customers will try to find a solution to their queries and issues with the help of the information available on the company's website

For small businesses with limited manpower, building an exhaustive knowledge and resource base including FAQs, user guides, video tutorials, etc. not only saves time but also money.

c. Chat

Live chat has become a very popular customer support channel because it offers speed of phone support, sans the possible awkwardness for those who are more comfortable dealing with customer support agents online.

It gives customers the ability to instantly clarify their doubts and concerns regarding your products and services, making their purchase decisions easier and quicker.

According to a report published on Statista, the global customer satisfaction rate with live chat stood at 83.04% in 2019.

d. Social media

A lot of businesses, particularly small businesses, can benefit from developing a personal rapport with their present and prospective customers through social media channels.

Depending on the business you are in and your target market (74% of millennials report that their perception of a brand improves when the company responds to customers' social media inquiries: Microsoft), you can use social media to your brand's advantage.

e. Phone

The humble telephone is one of the oldest, and often the most trusted forms of support. Despite the remarkable advancements made across customer support tools, the reason why many still prefer phone support is because of the human element. It gives customers a chance to explain their grievances with more clarity, and customer support agents to solve them, with more empathy and patience.

That being said, phone support is not free of setbacks. Some of the biggest frustrations customers experience with phone support are long waiting times, too many call transfers, and talking to under-prepared agents.

2. The importance of omnichannel customer support

Back in the day, in order to have their issues resolved, customers had to reach out to a single point of support contact that brands provided. Today, however, customers can choose to contact brands via their preferred channels, be it email, phone or social. Omnichannel support helps streamline and simplify this process for both, customers and brands.

Omnichannel support is about offering customers an integrated and seamless customer experience. It ensures that no customer issue gets missed, and all customers enjoy a consistent support experience.

Following are the key reasons why you should look at adopting omnichannel customer support:

a. It helps resolve customer issues faster

With an omnichannel support strategy in place, support teams can resolve more number of customer requests faster. Streamlined workflow ensures that incoming queries/issues don’t pile up. This helps enhance customer satisfaction and lowers your support team’s average resolution time.

b. Convenience and consistency help improve customer experience

Some customers prefer email support, while some prefer finding solutions to their issues themselves. Meeting customers wherever they want, and providing them consistent support across all channels can dramatically improve their experience. Omnichannel support is all about lowering the effort it takes for customers to have their problems resolved.

c. It increases customer retention

Omnichannel support also helps improve customer loyalty considerably. Research suggests that businesses that have omni-channel strategies in place report 91% greater year-over-year customer retention. That’s not a figure you can ignore!

d. Streamlined insights help you deliver tailored customer experiences

Since omnichannel support streamlines and centralizes customer interactions that take place across different channels, it can help you easily provide tailored support experiences based on customers’ conversation history.

How to evaluate the success of your customer service strategy?

1. Important customer service metrics or KPIs

It's no secret that giving your customers a great experience goes a long way in determining your company’s success, especially given the competitive nature of markets today.

Customer surveys can offer very valuable and actionable insights into customer experience as well as the quality of your customer support and service.

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Following are some useful metrics that can help you track your customer service team's performance over a given period:

a. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

Customer Satisfaction Score or CSAT, as the name suggests, is a key performance indicator used to measure how satisfied your customers are with your products and services. The higher the CSAT score, the better your customer satisfaction.

A Harvard Business Review study found that customers who had the best support experiences spent 140% more than customers who rated their past experiences poorly.

b. Customer Effort Score (CES)

Customer Effort Score is a metric used to measure the effort put in by a customer to use your product or service. It also takes into account the effort required for a customer to resolve a product or service related issue. A lower CES score corresponds to higher customer satisfaction, and subsequently, better customer loyalty.

c. First Response Time (FRT)

First Response Time measures the average time taken by an agent to respond to an initial customer request, complaint, or query. More often than not, customers value a quick first response to their queries more than a deliberate but delayed response.

d. First Contact Resolution (FCR)

Customers dislike having to repeatedly contact customer support for a single query, and have their issue getting transferred from one agent to another.

First Contact Resolution is the percentage of support requests that are resolved in a single interaction with a customer.

A study by Ascent Group found that 60% of companies that measured FCR for a year or longer reported improvements of up to 30% in their performance.

e. Overall Resolution Rate

Being unable to solve customers' issues promptly can be reason enough for them to switch to your competitors.

Overall Resolution Rate — the average rate at which customer requests and issues are resolved by your support team. This is a great measure of your support team’s overall efficiency. It can also give you cues into how satisfied your customers are.

f. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Net Promoter Score is one of the most important metrics that indicate customer loyalty and satisfaction. It measures the willingness of your customers to recommend your products and services to others. A high NPS score suggests that your brand's relationship with its customers is healthy.

2. Mediums that offer cues into customer behavior, needs and expectations

While customer service KPIs are great indicators of the success (or failure) of your customer service strategy, below are a few others methods to help you get more qualitative and nuanced insights into what your customers like and dislike:

a. Web analytics

Data-driven analytics are an indirect but pivotal source of information that can help you fine-tune your customer service strategy. Web analytics can offer you invaluable insights into customer behaviour and intent. For example, you can find answers to questions like how visitors landed on your website, what they were looking for, at which point did they bounce (or convert), and much more. With this information, you can then implement corrective strategies to improve customers’ support experience by introducing live chat, improving your knowledge base, etc.

b. Customer reviews on product review sites

Customer reviews on third-party product review websites can provide you in-depth insights into how customers perceive your product as well as your support quality. It also helps you gauge how you feature in comparison to your competitors.

Be aware that most customers will write product reviews only if they are very delighted or very disappointed with your brand. Therefore, this information can be extremely vital in helping you correct what you’re doing wrong and reinforce what you’re doing well.

c. Social listening

As customers become increasingly vocal about their experiences with brands, support teams can’t ignore the importance of social listening. Social listening refers to the process of identifying and engaging in conversations (both positive and negative) that customers have started about your brand on social platforms. This can be achieved by tracking your brand mentions across different social channels, and looking out for specific keywords, phrases and comments.

Like customer reviews, social listening can help you understand what your customer expectations are, and where you’re falling short in meeting them.

d. Surveys

Apart from the indirect methods mentioned above, a more straightforward approach to gauging customer preferences and expectations is surveys. You can send out customer surveys at various touchpoints during a customers’ journey, including after onboarding, after every support interaction, after a purchase, etc.

Conclusion

Companies must remember that great customer support and service, and eventually, customer success is a constant work-in-progress. They are not features that can be introduced and left on auto-pilot. They require consistent learning and improvement. They require a team that is driven, motivated, and rewarded for their efforts. Most importantly, they require time — the rewards will come slowly but surely.

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