Support organizations have always been under constant pressure to deliver better service at a lower cost. This is especially true now, as the industry-wide trend of flat or declining product sales is prompting executives to call upon their support organizations to drive even more high-profit revenue. However, before this level of cost-effective improvement can be achieved, support service organizations must focus on transformation in four key areas. To begin this process, it's recommended to start by building or refining strategies in these four areas: customer experience, customer engagement, support modernization, and technology adoption.
#1: Customer Experience – CSAT isn't Everything
In TSIA's recent Support Services benchmark, we surveyed 164 of our members and found that 83% of them felt that customer satisfaction (CSAT) was their most important objective. While this is great to hear, customer satisfaction makes up only part of the overall customer experience. Across the industry, the average customer satisfaction rating on a 5-point scale is only 3.9, which says that while CSAT is clearly important, most support organizations are still struggling to deliver the ideal customer experience. (Tweet this!)
One contributing factor is that policies and procedures are very often created from an inside-out perspective, and are based on assumptions of what will work rather than directly asking customers how their experience could be improved. While this clearly needs to be addressed, it's imperative that when creating a customer experience strategy, there must be clear communication between other parts of your organization (sales, marketing, etc.) so that all customer touch-points are in alignment with one another.
Speaking of alignment, it's also important to make sure that your customer expectations match the experience they actually have with your organization. (Tweet this!) One way to do that is to measure customer effort. How difficult is it for your customer to achieve their desired result through the support methods you provide? We recommend to our members that you use begin measuring "customer effort" to identify and correct the major friction points in their support processes.
A Side Note About Customer Expectations and Proactive Support
Customers today expect personalized, proactive support. No matter the engagement method, they want to only be presented with information based on what they own. After all, information overload is everywhere, so why would a customer want updates for products they aren't using? They also feel that if they are spending money on your product or service, they should be addressed by name in all correspondence. Lastly, today's customers want to be provided with information for issues they may encounter in the near future, not just for what is currently relevant. In the world of support services, we've been talking about proactive support for years. Now is the time to raise the level of interaction and make it happen.
#2: Customer Engagement – Are You Out of Touch?
Once you’ve defined the experience that you want your customers to have, it’s then time to look at engagement, or the different ways your customers wish to interact with you. To better understand the difference between experience and engagement, it helps to think about it this way: the experience is what the customers do with your support, and the engagement is how they do it. (Tweet this!)
Based on our recent State of Social Support report, it's evident that self-service has become the most preferred support channel, especially when compared to traditional methods, such as phone or email.
There are also other support channels your organization should consider, such as mobile, video, chat, and social, just to name a few. While some companies may still feel that these methods are optional, they are rapidly becoming mandatory as both consumers and businesses begin regularly using them for their support needs.
It's easy to think that merely providing a web portal is enough to give your customers the level of self-service help they need. You will still need to monitor the type of experience that they're having and make sure it aligns with how your customers really want to engage with your company. While self-service is one of the more preferred channels, a staggering 67% of the companies we surveyed are not currently asking their customers about their self-service experience. Furthermore, when we found out the customer satisfaction rating in self-service, it turned out to be even lower than the industry average of 3.9. It's clear that there's a conflict happening, where the most preferred channel is the least surveyed for customer satisfaction and, sadly, is the least satisfying for customers.
#3: Support Modernization – Your Employees Aren't Happy
In my research to help make the case for modernization, I've observed a startlingly high attrition rate for support organizations. When asked about their reasons for leaving, many employees have said that they feel they're working "too hard." By saying this, they aren’t implying that they mind hard work, but rather the fact that they are doing many manual tasks that can otherwise be automated. (Tweet this!) They are using their cycles on repeat and mundane work, and worse, work that doesn’t truly help the customers. Isn't the desire to truly help customers an attitude that should be encouraged in support personnel?
Across the industry, support agents are not happy with what they can do for their customers, they don't feel empowered, and they don't feel that they've been provided with the means to update their skills to provide the level of support that's expected of them. As a result, they're moving to organizations who have improved their backend and have the right tools and automation in place that help make the job of a support representative easier.
Another issue I've discovered is that while more support organizations have modernized and moved to collaboration and swarming models, many remain in the traditional escalation models (tier 1, tier 2, and so on). When cases move out of hand, they're escalated to different levels, rather than being solved by a team. So, in order to keep your support workforce happy and productive, it's up to leaders to regroup and modernize what's going on behind the wall through skills, tools, and processes improvements.
#4: Technology Adoption – A Caution Against Legacy Tools
At TSIA, this is a subject that is very near and dear to our hearts, if there's any indication to be made based on the many blogs, presentations, and webinars, we've done on the topic of adoption. Last year we said that the only way support was going to be able to achieve cost-effective improvement was through extreme automation. During my recent webinar discussing this topic, 86 of the 96 respondents said they do not believe their support organization has the level of automation required for them to adequately perform. That means 90% of support leaders recognize this as an issue within their company, but are still struggling to adopt the right technology they need to achieve automation.
A large number of support organizations are still using legacy tools, many of which are made by companies that are no longer in existence. (Tweet this!) Furthermore, there have been a lot of mergers in acquisitions in vendor space, with many of these support tools being critical to operations, it has left many support organizations in a very precarious situation. After all, if any of these tools break, who will be around to fix them?
To go along with the previous point of modernization, there are fortunately a lot of brand new tools out there that have great integration with other tools, and are available at a significantly lower price point than you'd expect. It's time to bring your support organization into the new era and start adopting new technology and prevent any of these looming disastrous outages from happening due your software no longer being supported.
How Can Your Support Organization Transform?
In my "State of Support Services 2016" TSIA Pulse webinar, I covered these concepts in more detail, as well as discussed what's trending for support services in 2016, and what support organizations are changing to meet heightened customer expectations. Would you say your organization has addressed these key areas? Do you believe your organization needs to transform, or even have other ideas of what is required for support transformation? Please let me know in the comments!
About the Author
Judith Platz is vice president of research, Support Services, for TSIA. During her over 25 years of customer support experience, she has been responsible for supervising and coordinating multiple functional, strategic, organizational development and technical work streams, including technical support, account management, business consulting, implementation management, and training. Judith can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.