The Top Changes Support Teams Need to Make in 2021

It's hard to speculate what 2021 will have in store for support teams after a year spent constantly adapting to the effects of COVID-19. How much longer will we be operating in a virtual environment? What will customers expect going forward based on the experiences they had with companies during the pandemic? Even amid all the uncertainty, there are a few key learnings from the past year that can help support teams lay out their stakes going forward.

Here are four best practices B2B support teams should adopt to be successful in the months ahead and beyond:

1) Lead customer interactions with empathy.

Everybody lost something this year. The pain points your customers had in the past might still be there, but problems now have different priorities. This is the time to open new conversations about their top pain points today. Are they struggling or thriving? How can you help their current situations? Delivering a good customer experience during challenging times means showing your customers that you care about what's going on with them in their individual contexts.

Everyone has a different base of knowledge and a different perspective. By opening new conversations about how their needs have changed, it creates a chance for a genuine dialogue that will benefit both of you. Rather than starting off conversations with the aim of upselling or cross-selling, lead with empathy and ask customers what your company can do to help them get through these difficult times. Steer the conversation toward how you can figure it all out together.

One Aircall customer, Alternative Airlines, finds issue resolution much more effective by phone than by email. It really allows us to explain the situation, and for the customer, hearing a voice just feels more genuine. Businesses can enable these types of productive, empathetic conversations by implementing solutions that focus on the problems that their customers might face.

2) Play the role of strategist and consultant.

Your customers might have already implemented temporary solutions. As a support professional, it's vital to understand how your customers have been forced to change their activities over the past year and to help allay their fears associated with making progress toward digital transformation faster than they had planned.

Determine how you can help customers adjust their mindsets and workflows so they can forecast strategies for the coming year. For example, using active listening and having a record of any and all customer interactions will better allow sales reps to help ease fears over changing processes abruptly and the potential for losing information in the transition. The role of the customer support rep is evolving to not only provide a service to customers, but to also be their trusted partners.

"In a world where everything is digital, we still believe that human contact plays an important role in what we do," says a representative from Aircall customer Jobandtalent. "Customers appreciate that we're just on the other end of the line if they have any needs, and for us, it's better to have a more personal platform to carry out the more sensitive conversations."

It's also important to educate customers about the value of automation and self-service-tools. Automation is a gift for solving tasks that are routine and simple in nature. Show your customers how they can use automation and self-service tools to serve their customers better. At the same time, tools like knowledge bases and automated bots enable their customers to get quick answers to their problems. By developing processes to enhance the customer experience, organizations can reduce customer stress and anxiety, as well as their own.

3) Use a distributed team model.

Flexible work environments rule the day, but there are often pain points that go hand in hand with shifting to a remote environment so suddenly. The right digital tools can help businesses adapt and get more comfortable with a remote-first culture. There are a lot of benefits of using distributed teams, which ease the stress of doing business in the current climate.

Support organizations can serve clients at any time of day or night in any time zone. While there might be some new costs, such as subscriptions and overhead associated with switching to a VoIP phone system, the savings on office leases, utilities, and office equipment typically offset investments in new technology.

While the distributed team model offers a host of benefits for support organizations, it also offers valuable benefits for support teams. Remote employees are often more productive when they're in control of their own workspaces.

4) Optimize remote teams.

It's not too early to ask how to reimagine your customer support call center in 2021, what businesses will learn from switching to remote workforces, whether businesses found the tools to help them build greater trust in their employees, and perhaps most important, whether the reasons to bring employees back into the office outweigh the benefits of having remote teams and distributed teams.

Those are the questions every business will have to answer for themselves at some point in 2021.

The pandemic continues to force companies to alter the activities with which they're comfortable. The lessons that companies have learned this year are vastly different than those they learned in previous years. Companies that were making good progress toward digital transformation faced less disruption this year and were more easily able to adjust and adapt to changing business needs. Overall, as difficult as the journey has been, support teams have learned to be resilient. With the right tools and support teams, the future of support is primed to be efficient and successful.

Olivier Pailhes is CEO and co-founder of Aircall.