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Our 2018 customer support strategy survey was sent to 475 industry leaders.
Some questions were straightforward. What is your annual budget? Do you employ remote agents? How large is your customer support team?
All surveys were anonymous, so we can be confident that these answers were honest.
Nowhere was this more apparent than the final question — an open response form.
Participants were asked to name the one change that would have the largest positive impact on their customer support strategy in 2018…
Survey Responses Reveal Trends to Improve Customer Support
Sifting through the responses, we saw a fair amount of optimism, a bit of frustration, and a few prominent patterns.
Aside from two or three responders who, above all else, lamented the current state of politics, most customer support leaders described similar ambitions regarding positive changes in 2018. Their answers described a few key areas of greatest impact.
Here’s our interpretation of the qualitative results. All quotes are real survey responses.
Hiring and Training: Better Screening, Continuous Onboarding
Thoughtful training leads to well-informed and productive customer support agents, but no amount of coaching can make up for understaffing or a possibly incorrect hire.
“Correctly staffing to decrease burn out”
Support agent attrition and low employee morale were repeatedly cited as motivators for change in 2018. Specifically, these responses indicated support teams were understaffed, and that candidates should be better screened for the social demands of support jobs.
And they have a point. Agent turnover is especially high in customer support positions, and managers can sometimes misjudge a candidate’s aptitude for the role.
“Teaching new employees the importance of empathy and active listening to a customer”
Unfortunately, some person-to-person skills cannot be taught.
To tell if a candidate is ready to take on a customer support or call center position, team leads and managers should thoroughly screen candidates. This means asking questions that elicit genuine interview responses and predict how an agent will perform after an eight-hour workday, not just during the one-hour interview.
There was also a wealth of ideas on how training could be improved. These three responses, however, hit on a few main points.
“One-on-one training for every employee”
New agents — as well as veterans — stand to benefit from individual attention. Whether this personal training comes from a director, manager, or a more experienced colleague, rookies will respond to training faster and have more opportunity to ask questions.
“Consistent training for all staff by the same provider”
But even in breakout sessions, agents should all receive the same information. A consistent onboarding and training process not only ensures everyone is providing the same quality of excellent customer support, it also serves to create a sense of culture within the company.
Companies experiencing rapid growth can often fall victim to an inconsistent employee experience — particularly when going from a very small team to a larger one. Careful planning about what your support team will look like 6 months or even two years from now will help you set a solid foundation for further growth.
“Ongoing refresher courses”
Lastly, training doesn’t end once all the onboarding tasks have been completed. In fact, customer support training never truly ends. The product will change and policies will be updated — veteran agents, as well as new hires, can always use an occasional refresher on company best practices.
Improved Communication: With Customers and Colleagues
In a sector based on conversations and resolutions, many survey responses indicated that more informed, clearer communications would improve support outcomes.
But surprisingly, a substantial number of ideas for change focused not on communications with clients but with colleagues and other departments within a company.
“Better collaboration among internal departments”
Support teams do not operate in a vacuum. There should be an open door policy between support, sales, product, and management. An important update in any one of those departments could have mission-critical effects for all others. Planning, outreach and syncing should be ongoing practices.
“Communication across channels”
Notes, updates, and other information need to be visible to all relevant parties. A common blocker to this goal, however, is that separate teams within an organization all use different tools for taking notes, communicating with customers, and talking amongst themselves.
“Better use of CRM”
If your company struggles to convey important points between teams, integrating your platforms is a large (possibly definitive) step in the right direction. A lot of email, phone, and social media platforms — Aircall included — are natively integrated with most popular CRMs and lead generation tools.
This means when you contact a prospect or customer, essential information about the conversation — such as time, duration, and agent-generated notes and tags — are automatically shared between platforms, auto-populating the correct fields.
In fact, integrated software plays a huge role in improving client-facing operations, too.
“Better understanding of customer needs and finding proactive solutions”
Sharing call recordings, email threads, agent notes, and up-to-date analytics between teams will help everyone in an organization get to know the customers better. Product engineers, designers, and sales teams can analyze this information to make adjustments. This way, future inquiries and concerns can be proactively addressed.
As it turns out, the same tools and processes that help teams communicate better amongst themselves can also foster clearer, more informed communications with the customers.
Structural Changes: When Small Adjustments Aren’t Enough
According to more than a few customer support leaders, progress will result from more systemic changes to the way their department is positioned and perceived within the company.
“More budget for long-term solutions”
As our survey’s other responses showed, budget continues to be top-of-mind for customer support teams. What precisely this influx of funding would mean is up to interpretation.
A larger budget would certainly allow teams to hire more agents, trimming queues and resolution times. It could also mean updated and powerful technological investments. Laptops for agents so they aren’t held captive by a desktop console, quality headsets that reduce noise interference, and CRM subscriptions could require substantial recalculations.
“Client education, so we can focus on actual support needs”
But more money isn’t the answer to everything. Many of those surveys predicted that support operations would be most positively impacted by “proactive” measures.
In a way, this suggestion makes customer support every department’s priority. For example, the product team could develop a tutorial system for the most recent app update, or a UX team could develop a more intuitive instructional manual (We’re looking at you, IKEA). Account executives can act as brand ambassadors as well as points-of-contact for newly acquired clients.
On that note, making customer support more impactful and efficient might be as simple as reorganizing your current staff in a way that makes more sense for your product.
“Scaling out our team by packages and levels of support.”
Many customer support leaders are thinking about how to structure their support teams. Improving routing and grouping agents according to skill set could have far-reaching effects on customer satisfaction. First touch resolutions and lower wait times are at stake — especially for teams with plans to scale.
Management/Leadership: Positive Change Starts at the Top
Budget increases, structural switches, and hiring decisions are ultimately dependent on an organization’s leadership. This requires team leads, managers, and directors who listen to their employees’ ideas and keep an eye on how it affects performance.
“Cut the head off the dragon”
Unfortunately, it seems some industry leaders don’t feel their bosses are doing this to the best of their ability. Supervisor engagement is necessary to build a motivated and productive team, but there’s a fine line between attentive and annoying.
Those in directing roles must monitor and promote team performance while also granting their employees space to work and develop their own processes. Agent dissatisfaction and turnover can often be traced to a lack of autonomy (and growing monotony) in the workplace.
The role of a support team leader — at any level of an organization — can require social tact, foresight, and a hustler mentality. Balancing employee morale with bottom lines isn’t an easy task. However, those who take the time to learn about industry challenges and how to overcome them are setting themselves up for success.