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When your operation is in its infancy, it’s easy to dispense personal, dedicated, effective customer support. However, as your business grows (and if you offer excellent customer service, chances are, it will), so will your support team. You’ll have to scale customer support, and this is where things get complicated.
When your reach is limited, it’s easy to remember each and every client, to cultivate a personal relationship with them. You’re the mom-and-pop store where customers are greeted by name at checkout. But before you know it, your expansion has outstripped your preparedness, and you’ve got a robotic Walmart greeter posted at the entrance.
It is possible to scale customer support without growing pains, read on to find out.
Often, a business’ or department’s sudden growth will result in a dip in its efficiency the quality of its service. A small support team can’t function and can’t be managed the same was as a large one. Therefore to successfully scale customer support requires prep work.
Give your team a solid foundation
When your operation only counts a few people, it’s easy to get by with one-on-one training, then just considering that everyone is on the up and up. With a small team, it’s easier to be agile and adaptable when your product or strategy changes. Everyone just “knows what’s going on”.
However, as your team grows, it’ll be nigh-impossible to retain that kind of flexibility and alterability of purpose. Documenting your processes and collecting them into a knowledge base will do wonders for your team. Not only will the knowledge base help newcomers during their onboarding, but it can serve as a quick and complete reference point for long-standing employees struggling to adapt to change.
This not only saves time and effort for your team, but if everyone is informed and up-to-date, your customers will benefit as well. In a crisis, every member of your team, regardless of how long they’ve been part of your operation, will know how to proceed. Providing a timely answer to a crisis is crucial to customer service damage-control, as is presenting a unified front. Knowledge bases and documented processes can do just that.
Give your customers options
It stands to reason that if you’re looking to scale customer support, it’s because your business is facing an influx of customers. Your support agents aren’t the only people who need to prepare for the sudden growth of your operation; your customers could use to be eased in as well.
Looking to scale customer support takes time. Unfortunately, customers often balk at waiting for your business to catch up to their needs, and they run the risk of churning. Implementing customer self-service options could be the way to satisfy your customers and alleviate the service load while you scale customer support.
Much of customer support involves answering the same questions over and over again. Answering those recurring questions can be delegated to a self-service tools, such as a FAQ or even an Intelligent Assistant. Customer self-service tools can alleviate your agents’ workload while you work on scaling your support team.
Use the right tools
The tools your team uses daily to complete their tasks should scale alongside them. That’s easier said than done.
First, your tools should be flexible enough to accommodate your growing numbers of both customers and agents. A subscription model service comes in handy here, since it eliminates the need to worry about physical equipment and its shortage or surplus. You won’t pay for more than you use, and adding users is a snap.
Second, your tools should provide features which enable cooperation and help your team scale smoothly. Such features could include a shared task inbox (to let your support team have a bird’s eye view on everything that requires their attention and collaborate accordingly), and the ability to assign tasks (for better cooperation and accountability).
Use data to scale customer support
To scale customer support teams while avoiding snags, it’s important to base your expansion strategy on hard data.
Monitor your progress
So your standards don’t slip as you grow, you’ll need a solid monitoring strategy both for quality and for performance. It’s not feasible to measure every aspect of your support team’s performance; there are too many moving parts to be precise and effective. Therefore, you should pick a few key performance indicators, or KPIs, to monitor for each facet of your performance.
Tracking average wait time and missed calls could give you a sense of how desperately your support team needs reinforcements.
Net Promoter Score and other customer satisfaction metrics will warn you of a possible decline in the quality of your service.
Monitoring average call handling and after call work time will reflect your team’s performance during its expansion and highlight areas of success or friction.
Slowly adjust your workflow
A focused and precise monitoring strategy will help you keep sight of your support goals and standards during the scaling process. Measure performance over varying lengths of time, and for varying pool sizes. Set measurable goals, and display them for your team as incentive.
Consider your goals in terms of what you want to START, CONTINUE, or STOP doing. As the data you collect and analyse begins to provide insight, adjust your workflow accordingly. Then start from the top in a hopefully virtuous loop of continuous improvement. Refine your strategy and processes as you go, based on the results yielded by your monitoring efforts.
Automate repetitive tasks
Again, much of customer support involves recurring, mundane endeavors: changing a billing address, assigning a task, following up on a ticket, etc. Automating these repetitive charges can unburden support agents and simplify the scaling process.
Judicious use of customer support automation reduces friction for the customer, shortens wait times, and streamlines your agents’ workflow. Moreover, automation can allow businesses to hire fewer agents. This doesn’t mean that automation replaces human involvement, but rather complements it. The important thing is to foster consistently great service quality across the whole support team, both for human agents and automation efforts. If you’re in the throes of scaling customer support, leaning on intelligent assistants and automated processes can allow your businesses leeway to make more deliberate choices.
Don’t lose the personal touch
In the end, whether of not your scaling efforts are successful will depend on the efficiency and cooperation of your team. Without careful selection and purposive choices, you’ll scale customer support in a way which will hinder your team more than empower it. And if the personal facet of your customer support deteriorates, your customers will be the ones to suffer.
Hire the right people
It’s possible to find yourself in a situation where it’s crucial to quickly scale customer support. This kind of urgency isn’t conducive to making sound choices with staying-power. Hence the importance of proper planning detailed above.
Hiring new support agents is paramount to growing your operation and satisfying clients, but this hiring process can’t be hasty. New additions to your team must display certain skills required for all support agents: patience, adaptability, organization, etc. New agents can learn the specifics of your product or service, but that’s not necessarily the case for engagement and willingness to learn.
Aptitude and personality tests are a staple for support interviews, as is immersion in the rest of the team. Select people who will be a credit to your organization and a valuable addition to your team as it scales.
Give proper training
When you scale customer support, your team won’t be able to work in the same way. The larger the team, the harder it can be to communicate effectively and expeditiously. This is where training comes in. You’ve carefully selected the new members of your support team; the next step is to train them and give them the keys to succeed.
Dedicated and comprehensive support agent training is key to agents delivering great performance. As the team grows, you’ll have to normalize training methods. You’ll be onboarding a greater number of new hires than ever before. Support agent training methods need to be clear and actionable. Your monitoring strategy mentioned above will come in handy here. It should highlight the areas where agents are struggling and remedy them. Initial training is important, but so are regular booster shots, as your monitoring efforts help you refine your process.
Empower your team
Just as decisive as training, is empowering your agents. The larger the team, the most difficult and unwise it is to micro-manage agents. If an individual requires special attention or help, then they should be assisted. Otherwise, the mark of discerning hiring processes and successful training is that agents can then be trusted to act with a degree of autonomy in the interest of your business.
First, giving team members a measure of free agency will make them feel more at ease in their position. It’s a mark of respect on the part of management to empower trusted agents to exercise their best judgement. Second, that same empowerment provides much more personal service in the eyes of the customer. Customers can tell when an agent puts in special effort to build a human connection without corporate regulations fettering them. That’s a true mark of personal customer service, achievable even during the delicate challenge of scaling your support team.
For instance, take Ritz-Carlton’s famous $2,000 rule: every employee is allotted a two thousand dollar budget to use at their discretion in order to delight customers. This allows Ritz-Carlton employees to go the extra mile for customers, and to feel empowered while doing so.
Did you know that Aircall’s business phone software can help you scale customer support?