What is Customer Support?
First, let us ask ourselves: what is support? Support for a product can encompass troubleshooting, setup, or transition between products.
The customer support definition is as follows: the team of people who provide help when customers have trouble with a company’s products or services. But customer support is much more than a troubleshooting service. If used effectively, it can become synonymous with quality customer service, higher customer retention rates, and a better relationship between customer and company.
Customer support is a type of customer service that aims to support rather than sell more products. It is a conversation between support provider and customer. Here, customer satisfaction and specific company-wide goals achieve a higher priority than turnover speed and amount sold. Customer support also works closely with upper-level management teams to perform user experience studies, define overarching problems, and improve their products and resources.
What is meant by customer support? Customer support teams are composed of highly-skilled, passionate workers who are empowered to solve problems creatively, proactively engage customers, and follow up later if necessary. By providing more comprehensive support, they aim to improve customer satisfaction and retention, ultimately increasing company earnings.
Since customer support workers engage directly with the company’s upper levels, they are more skilled and have more advancement opportunities. This atmosphere helps to create a team of highly motivated, adept support agents at the face of your company.
What is the role of Customer Support?
Customer support agents work by assisting customers with installation, training, maintenance, troubleshooting, and upgrading service or ending service of their products. They make the customer feel heard, and they proactively follow up with the customer later if necessary.
Customer support agents are the most keenly aware of common problems, both with the products themselves and product documentation. As such, they should also be highly involved in the product’s continued improvements. They can collect data on user experience and identify critical bugs for engineering teams. They can also identify key areas for better onboarding education for sales reps and find critical aspects of documentation that should be highlighted or rewritten.
Most importantly, customer support should work to achieve company-wide goals. Old customer service methods prioritized moving through customers as quickly as possible to save money. In effect, while company goals might have been to improve user satisfaction, the people at the company’s face were being told to act in a way that produced the exact opposite effect.
Customer support is more nuanced than that. Companies with excellent customer support teams recognize that investing in personal conversations and taking the time to understand a problem fully pays off in the long term. Customers will stay with the company and maybe recommend it to some of their friends too.
Why Customer Support is key to growth?
Support agents are vital for helping resolve customer issues quickly and effectively while driving customer satisfaction. Customers generally respond best when they do not have to wait in long queues for support. They also respond best when the support agent makes them feel like a human instead of a number. When customer support agents are efficient, knowledgeable, and passionate about the product and the service they offer, customer satisfaction shoots up.
Ultimately, better customer assistance impacts customer retention, customer lifetime value, and brand reputation. Studies show that around 86% of customers will pay 25% more for quality customer service. It is expensive to hire knowledgeable staff in quantities that produce shorter wait times, but this investment will pay off when customers start choosing the business for its incredible customer support.
What is the difference between Customer Service and Customer Support?
The difference between customer service and customer support is that support teams support a product, while service teams provide service to a customer. Customer service is an umbrella term that encompasses the teenage grocery clerk and the clothing store sales rep. In contrast, customer support is more common in tech companies.
Customer support reps generally have a more profound knowledge of the product and often interact with customers who have already purchased or decided to purchase it. Their goal is not to convince customers to buy more but to improve their experience with products they already have. Inadvertently, this support means that customers are more likely to purchase more products from the company later.
Customer support also differs from customer service because of its interaction with other facets of the company. While customer service support is generally an entry-level job, customer support agents are often more experienced in the field. They work to improve the product from the back end while simultaneously acting as the face of the company. This increased interaction also creates further opportunities for job advancement within the company than might be available to service reps, who generally can only advance to a managerial position.
Customer support reps also have more agency to design and implement creative solutions to user problems. Customer service reps might be given a list of specific appropriate responses to scenarios and require managerial approval for anything outside the norm. In contrast, customer support reps have the skills and permission to solve novel problems independently.
What does good Customer Support look like?
Support agents are strategic partners
Customer service representatives are the face of a company. They are often the people who are ultimately responsible for its sales success. Why, then, are they paid minimum wage, given almost no opportunities for advancement, and given minimal freedom to solve problems without managerial approval? An effective customer support agent has a say in how they deliver support and has the incentive to provide it effectively.
For a modern support organization, taking the time to set customers up for success is a necessary follow-through, especially when the product is complex. The number of future troubleshooting calls will decrease when knowledgeable support agents fully explain the product to customers. A company can only achieve this proactive support when support staff understand the company’s KPIs, feel empowered to address concerns, and are passionate about improving both the product and its support.
There will generally be a standard answer for a technical support question, but the type of help offered, when, how, and to whom, is what sets the support team apart. A company should treat its support teams as strategic partners instead of a cost grab because of their ability to provide this extra service. Minimum wage employees with minimal skills will reflect that your company does not value customer experience. Motivated, skilled strategic partners will provide high-level customer support and communicate to customers that their success is the company’s number one priority.
Soft skills are just as important as the technical ones
Human touch is still necessary to solve problems and retain customers. This trait is arguably even more critical when support happens over the internet because agents must get creative to show that they care on a human level. Customers will always be grateful when their problem is solved efficiently. Still, support agents need this extra aspect to provide a genuinely successful customer support experience.
Support leaders should be open-minded to hiring for soft skills beyond technical skills because this will help them demonstrate empathy for the customer’s needs. Ultimately, it is a lot easier to train a new hire to solve a product’s technical problems than impart compassion, grit, friendliness, and enthusiasm. As such, these should be the first qualities you look for in a potential customer support agent.
Empathy should be part of every customer interaction
Customer support agents are also strategic partners. Empathy in a support organization helps agents read between the lines and provide more “customized” solutions for their customers. Especially in the online and telephone world, it is easy for a customer to feel like a number in a queue – because that is precisely what they are. If you call the customer by their name, watch for subtle personality cues, and react empathetically to their problems, you will improve their experience. You will likely solve their problem more efficiently, too.
Empathy can help a support agent get to the bottom of some problems. Often, the real issue becomes apparent when you step back and look holistically at the product and its user. Furthermore, customers will be more forthcoming with information when they feel that you care about solving the problem. For these reasons, empathy can also help you become more effective and efficient at troubleshooting while simultaneously improving customer satisfaction.
Empathy is critical in customer service interactions because customers may be most likely to end their account, switch companies, or decide not to purchase a new product when having problems with their current product. Customer support agents often come onto the scene at a crucial decision-making point in the customer’s experience with the company. At this moment, an empathetic touch can make all the difference between retaining or losing a customer.
Customer support outcomes and KPIs evolve
As an integral facet of the company, customer support agents should work directly to achieve the company’s KPIs. It helps to review outcomes and KPIs regularly from a customer support perspective because as the company grows, KPIs should evolve, and customer support outcomes should evolve with them.
For instance, a KPI for your company might be a decrease in product bugs and troubleshooting issues. Customer support outcomes should match this KPI by tracking troubleshooting call frequency and educating each customer so that they are empowered to solve more problems independently. In this way, customer support agents are directly involved in implementing the KPI and tracking its progress.
As your organization grows, more functions will become integrated with other business channels and business processes, so tracking their success will be helpful. Expansion is a crucial area where customer support teams can help. Since they are most frequently in contact with product users, they can judge the success of changes to both your business model and the product itself on user satisfaction.
The business supports its team
The nature of technical support demands a level of specialization which can lead to often repetitive work. For example, a support rep specializing in your company’s software’s user interface might receive question after question about the user interface. This repetition can lead to boredom on behalf of the support agent, and it can negatively impact their customer support interactions. People generally perform better when they are engaged and passionate about their work.
Keep your support agents engaged by assigning new and different projects across the team. Remember that a person does not have to spend their entire career answering user interface questions. You can train them to support other aspects of your product, and they likely have inadvertently trained themselves to support these aspects throughout their time with the company. Also, remember that support staff with general knowledge about all facets of the product will be better equipped and more motivated to answer a broader range of support questions.
Customer support can become dull even with a rotating list of questions due to its digital interface nature – people crave a human connection. Empower agents to take ownership of specific tasks like training others. Let them share “wins” or things they learned with each other at the end of every week. These activities motivate agents to learn and teach each other, and it provides a much-needed social reprieve. When agents feel free to talk to each other, the company culture can emphasize collaboration and informal teaching. This culture will carry forward with more educated, happier, and more connected customer support agents.
Key Features for your Customer Support Strategy
It is essential to decide early on what style of support your company will provide and whether that style will differ depending on channel or support type. For example, some companies might decide to attain a formal tone over email and a more casual tone through social media channels. Another company might emphasize fun, human interaction and choose to employ emojis and gifs across all platforms.
Research has suggested that customers respond well to emotion-conveying features such as this because it adds a human element to the otherwise sterile online interaction. However, depending on your company culture and the type of product you offer, this interaction method might not be appropriate.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to decide on a style early on and stick with it. Your early customer support hires will play a significant role in creating this style organically, so choosing effective early employees is essential. However, you can always manually change your company’s customer support style through employee manuals, training, and leading by example.
You should always work to ensure that your customer support style evolves with the times. As generation Z joins the market, you must develop your style to match their expectations when receiving support. These expectations may differ widely from the expectations of older generations. As the company’s face, support agents will be a crucial resource to determine which style features are working and which style elements the company should update as both society and the company evolve.
Voice and tone
Voice and tone are important factors to address when outlining support agent responses to different scenarios. For example, your tone should differ when responding to an overcharging complaint than when responding to a customer request to upgrade their service package. Again, these tones will vary depending on the product offered and the type of customer. For this reason, your company must outline specific practices and continuously work with support agents to update these practices to reflect customers’ reactions.
Equally as important as developing robust best practices is to ensure that your support agents do not sound like robots reading a script. Standard responses can be a big time-saver, especially when the support request is common. However, these responses can backfire if customers feel that the support staff are not treating them as individuals.
Different approaches will work better for individual companies, but personal touches should punctuate standard responses. A personal introduction is a must. It will also be necessary to develop personalized answers as the conversation progresses away from the initial problem statement.
By their very nature, customer support teams can deliver quality service. Still, there are many small steps your company can take to ensure that service is as high quality as possible. You must provide your team with the systems and strategies to deliver quality service by creating a ‘roadmap’ of processes. This ‘roadmap’ does not equate with crafting standardized responses to each question. It does mean that support agents know what to do in specific situations. When a support agent knows how best to respond and can tailor their responses to suit them and their customer support style, they will have efficient and effective support interactions.
Ultimately, it is up to the company to choose its support features. Recommended length of time on interactions, the proportion of standardizes versus free responses, suggested tone of voice, and bank of emojis, gifs, and videos, will all drastically change the customer support experience. Many combinations can be effective depending on your product and target consumers. Service agents must take stock of what elements seem to work and which do not. With this information, they can inform higher quality support processes in the future.
Response time and problem-solving time are significant factors companies consider when creating customer support teams. Companies know that customers will become displeased if made to wait for hours and displeased if the service is clipped and short. Support speed becomes a balancing act; the question is, how critical is speed versus service quality to your customers?
Again, the answer will differ widely depending on customer demographic and product type. It will also primarily be customer support staff’s responsibility to determine the ‘sweet spot’ between moving quickly through customers to decrease wait time versus increasing wait time to deliver quality support.
When creating or updating your customer support guidelines, ask yourself what kind of things your customers generally need support with and how quickly they will need help. For example, if your product is heating and air conditioning, you might need to respond promptly to specific customer emergencies. If your product is software, it might be more important to develop a relationship with users and explain different software aspects to them during your call.
Another essential thing to research is the speed at which your competitors are getting back to customers. When you make a customer wait in a long queue or wait days for an email response, nothing stops them from starting an account with a competitor instead. This reality is especially true if that competitor responds right away. Try to develop a support service that responds more quickly and effectively than that of your closest competitors. It might mean an investment in more support staff, but this investment will more than repay itself in customer retention and longevity.
Another crucial factor to consider when designing your support style is coverage type. When will your support agents be available? 9-5? 24/7? If you are working 9-5, does that apply across time zones, or are you only working 9-5 in your home time zone? Which holidays will you be online? Will you offer support exclusively in English or expand your languages to support a global population?
Offering around-the-clock support is a significant investment in support staff, especially if you are paying overtime. But these days, very few products are only used during working hours. People might need support for your product at all hours of the day, or they might be satisfied with waiting until tomorrow’s working hours.
Furthermore, in a globalized society, how do you define working hours? Are the people who use your product generally restricted to a few time zones? Could they be broken into a few coverage ‘groups’ based on time zones? Or are they truly all over the world?
With globalization also comes the holiday factor. Customers might observe different statutory and religious holidays than you observe in your home country. Furthermore, customers who celebrate the same holidays might still need support for your product during the holiday.
Coverage is one of the most culturally nuanced and complex factors to consider when choosing your customer support features. While this feature may seem simple for a small company, it can quickly spiral out of control if you do not monitor the impacts of globalization and company expansion.
When scaling your company, it will be essential that support staff monitor the types of people calling, where they are calling from, and whether they are satisfied with the hours you offer. Investing in around-the-clock coverage is no small feat, which is why you must spend time researching this aspect and its impacts on sales and customer satisfaction.
If you have global customers, you will need to think about supporting them in their native language. Will you hire support staff in multiple languages? How do you decide in which languages you should offer support? Should you hire support staff to speak every language that you use to promote your product?
Coverage and language are factors that the company must research and measure against potential investment to decide optimal support coverage. Early on, coverage might be an easy decision. As your company expands, you must consider different groups from all angles, not just marketing and sales. Effective support coverage will be equally crucial to maintain your hold on your initial target market and expanding consumers.
While giving agency to customer support teams can be an effective way to develop genuine relationships with customers, it is also vital to create a robust set of processes to maintain your brand as your company scales. Customers should feel that they are treated the same by each support agent. It is equally as crucial that support agents know what to do in specific circumstances.
Think of your processes as a skeleton template. People should know what to expect from specific interactions and feel the agency to develop relationships within that framework. Be prepared to change your processes framework as your company changes and scales, but at least prepare to have processes concerning the following topics:
What is an emergency?
Who gets notified?
When do they get notified?
How do they get notified?
When do you need to pull someone from another team?
Ex, if there is a product bug, when does an engineer take over?
How do members of the customer support team receive information?
What platform do teams use to communicate?
Under what circumstance do you issue them?
Who processes them?
If someone wants to reset their password, how do you verify their identity?
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about customer support teams and what makes them work. While investing in highly skilled professionals to support your product can seem daunting, the results will pay off in improved customer satisfaction. People will pay more for excellent customer service. Therefore, investing in this facet of your company will equip you to create high-quality products with high-quality support services.