Customer Support Still Has Value in a Self-Help World

Customer service is undergoing an evolution due to the rise of self-help. Research shows that up to 76 percent of customers prefer self-service options, which can range from interactive phone menus to online FAQs and bots, to handle a variety of simple needs.

Self-help can benefit support teams by reducing the overall volume of questions and issues for them to handle. However, the tickets that are deflected tend to be the easiest and most straightforward. This means that the cases agents are facing on a daily basis are now consistently more challenging and complex.

Moreover, most customers today attempt to resolve issues on their own before contacting customer service. So when customers do reach out to support, they have already invested time and energy trying to solve the problem to no avail. This means there is likely to be significant frustration expressed by nearly every customer who has to talk to an agent.

Given all of this, it's more important than ever for companies to prioritize their support teams. If agents see their departments as undesirable places to work, the quality of service they deliver will inevitably reflect that perspective.

In addition, support professionals who feel stuck in a rut—gaining no new skills—are prone to burnout. The higher the turnover rate, the more frequently new employees need to be hired, with all the associated onboarding costs.

In this new era of self-help, how can companies improve the experience of their support teams, and in turn improve the overall experience of their customers? Below are a few ideas:

Focus on the Human Element

It's easy to lose sight of the human aspect of customer service. While a given support ticket might be a series of boxes to check off to resolve an issue, the right agent can elevate a merely satisfactory experience to a truly exceptional one.

In the heat of the moment, when customers are at their most frustrated, support professionals are the ones who can transform woes to wows. The entire interaction can hinge on a single kind, empathetic statement. But agents can only do that when given the proper tools.

Share the Knowledge

The best intentions in the world won't do much good if agents don't have the necessary knowledge and skills to defuse tense situations and accurately resolve customers' issues.

It all starts with extensive training on the products and services the company offers. Nothing sets off customers quite like speaking to someone who seems to know even less about the product or service than they do.

Agents also need to understand the customer experience from beginning to end, which means personally going through each of the steps the customer has taken before contacting support, including every automated voice menu, FAQ page, and other self-service portal available.

In addition, managers must give their support teams resources for issues they can't handle on their own. Provide a list of experts within the company who have a deep understanding of particular customer segments, technologies, industries, etc., so agents know where to turn for especially tricky situations. The last thing a customer wants to hear is "I don't know, and I'm not sure who to ask."

At its core, customer support is all about communication, and companies can't expect agents to possess all of the skills they will need for success right out of the gate. Use scripting, role playing, shadowing, and other techniques to ensure agents are as prepared as possible.

Keep Up the Training

Once support professionals have completed their initial training, should managers turn them loose and never work with them again on skills development? Of course not!

Organizations are constantly evolving, releasing new features along with entirely new products and services. Agents will require training for these updates and can also benefit from an occasional refresher on the basics. Hold regular boot camps—short training sessions once or twice a week—that focus on a single skill or area of emphasis. It will help keep experienced employees at the top of their game and provide a valuable boost for more recent hires. Managers can even record the sessions and have them readily available for review on demand.

Set the Right Goals

Anyone with experience in support knows a key metric is call time. The shorter the calls, the more customers served and the more valuable the agent, right? Not necessarily. Spending more time with a customer might lead to developing a stronger long-term relationship, bringing increased revenue down the road.

That's why managers and executives should work with front-line agents to understand which metrics will truly result in a better customer experience. In addition to boosting the bottom line, it improves the engagement of employees when they feel like they are part of the process.

Make It Personal

Just as your support agents provide customers with a human touch, managers should take the time to make them feel valued as individuals. Remember that everyone works differently and allow agents to personalize their workspace to improve their comfort and productivity. Talk with them one-on-one to determine which incentives mean the most to them. And go out of your way to celebrate their successes, both professional and personal. Employees who feel a personal connection to the company will be even more committed to their work.

Embrace the Era of Self-Help

Companies that embrace new technologies, including advances in self-help options, will be in the best position to succeed in this new era. Just remember that customer support remains a vital part of the organization.

Go above and beyond for agents, just as you would for customers. When you focus on building a skilled team of support professionals who are engaged and happy, they will be better equipped to delight customers and deliver tangible results that benefit the business.

Jayaram Bhat is co-founder and CEO of Squelch, a provider of real-time customer experience optimization software for customer support and customer success teams.