The definitive guide to supporting customers from product to retention by Emil Hajric, CEO at Helpjuice.com.
It’s easy to see effects of bad customer service—one request slips through the cracks and you could be looking at a public battle on your social media accounts tomorrow.
Bad customer support is harder to spot, but it runs deeper than a quick social media fire that needs extinguishing. Its effects are seen when customers churn, case studies are scarce, and account managers and sales teams are having a hard time getting customers on board with new products and features. It’s a less visible fire, but it’s a slow burn that’s much harder to extinguish once it takes hold.
On the other hand, good customer support does the opposite—exponentially. When customer support is strong, product teams know exactly what customers need, new products and features fly off the shelves, and customers can’t wait to tell the world about the great experience they had with your brand. In fact, 52% of people around the globe believe that companies need to take action on feedback provided by their customers according to Microsoft. In addition, Bain reported that a customer experience promoter has a lifetime value to a company that’s 600 to 1,400% that of a detractor.
All of this is within your reach—all you’ll need is a grasp on customer support basics, the numbers that justify investing in it’s improvement, and the tools, channels, and metrics to keep you going.
What is Customer Support?
Customer support is the wide range of services and materials provided to resolve any customer issues quickly and to ensure customers get the most from your product through onboarding tools, troubleshooting, and feedback to your product team.
Customer support typically revolves around supporting the customer that’s using your product or service, whereas customer service provides further value for the customer day to day.. It includes things like:
- In some cases, answering customer questions on a variety of channels
- Onboarding new customers
- Product planning and installation
- Training sessions
- Upgrades and maintenance
- Phasing out old products or features
- Writing knowledge base documentation
- Providing product feedback
- Conducting usability studies
- And more…
Your customer support team should be fully integrated with your product team.. They should have input when it comes to exactly what features and products are developed, and how. They should handle customer experience from beginning to end. They want to improve the overall customer experience, from product creation to the upsell.
Lastly, but most importantly, they’re the main source of information for improving customer satisfaction and retention. The better the product, onboarding, training and customer experience, the happier the customer, and the more likely he or she will stay a customer.
A Brief History of Customer Support: Where Did it Come From?
The need for customer support pre-dates the internet. When we got the internet, the way that we communicate with companies got a whole lot more complicated.
The evolution happened like this:
- In the 60s, we got call centers.
- In the 80s, those call centers got expensive, so we automated them and moved them overseas.
- In the 90s, email and live chat were born.
- In the 2000, customer care software, social media, community forums and review sites hit the scene, creating the need for customer support.
Today, companies need to take all of these channels into consideration when communicating with customers and use the insights from these communications to influence their products for the better—aka, they need strong customer support.
Customer Service vs. Customer Support
Customer support professionals do need customer service skills, but only to cover a partial piece of what they do. Take two scenarios:
Scenario A: a customer walks into a bookstore to locate a novel she wants to read. Someone helps her locate it, rings it up, and recommends another novel she might like as well. The customer gets what she needs, but no information goes back to the bookstore.
Scenario B: a customer opens her e-reader only to find her book subscription service has been disabled. She emails the service and is connected with someone to walk her through the appropriate steps to update her credit card information, which is the reason for the issue. Afterwards, that person logs the information with the product, who plans a feature to alert customers when their cards expire in the future. She’s then emailed a satisfaction survey to provide feedback on her experience.
Scenario A is customer service, while scenario B is customer support. One is transactional and supports a customer’s immediate needs, while the other focuses on holistically improving the customer experience.
However, this is an overly-simplified explanation for what is in reality a complex relationship between the two functions. For example, take Scenario A. If the bookstore associate had been unhelpful, that customer might feel they had a poor experience, while on the other hand, getting a personalized book recommendation probably improves the customer’s experience. Both functions can impact customer experience, the difference is that customer service does so more transactionally, whereas customer support does so holistically.
They overlap, but customer support includes a whole lot more:
|Responsibilities||Customer Service||Customer Support|
|Answers customer questions and resolves issues||✓||✓|
|Responds to customer communications on all channels||✓||✓|
|Helps customers complete a purchase||✓|
|Upsells additional products and features||✓||✓|
|Onboarding and training new customers||✓|
|Helps customers when old products phase out||✓|
|Provides feedback to product teams||✓|
|Develops knowledge base documentation and self-service materials||✓|
|Conducts user surveys||✓|
|Build use cases||✓|
Customer support is more common with technical products (the name itself is a combo of tech support and customer service), whereas customer service is more common in traditional sales environments. That doesn’t mean they aren’t both needed and beneficial in companies of all types.
Benefits of Customer Support
Good customer support leads to a better bottom line—happy, engaged, and loyal customers that provide you with consistent feedback are invaluable.
Here’s just how invaluable:
- Even a small increase in positive customer experience generates an average revenue of $823 million+ over three years for a company with $1 billion annual revenue. (Temkin Group)
- Companies in the US lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service. (vonage.com)
- It’s anywhere from 5x to 25x more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. (Harvard Business Review)
Plus, there are many signals that indicate customers will flee if you don’t provide quality customer care:
- One-third of consumers say they would consider switching companies after just one instance of bad customer service. (American Express)
- After one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again. (vonage.com)
This type of revenue uplift and customer satisfaction can’t just come from an effort to make returns more quickly or provide better purchasing assistance—it’s got to come from a holistic view that includes everything from product to purchase and beyond.
Types of Customer Support: Strategies for Success
There are three main types of customer support—reactive, proactive and self-serve—and a good customer support strategy includes all three.
Reactive: when a customer reaches out to a company through any channel and a representative responds. Once a customer gets to you first, you’re reactively trying to solve the issue, not proactively looking for a solution. Reactive customer support is not bad, but it shouldn’t be your only strategy.
Proactive: when a company develops communications or solutions, without prompt from a customer, to anticipate future needs. This could be an email campaign or how-to-guide that comes from their account manager.
Self-serve: or “self-service” is anything that a customer can do to support themselves on their own, like read user documentation about your product or service, listen to a webinar, or visit a community forum where they can interact with other customers.
To get to a place where you can respond to customers, anticipate their needs, and host self-service materials all at once, you’ll need a strong foundation to stand on—a customer support strategy that includes your values, financial capabilities and team structure.
Questions to Answer When Building a Support Strategy
Every experience a customer has with your brand is a result of a decision you did or didn’t make. Thinking through multiple scenarios in which a customer might need your assistance and how you’ll manage those requests will benefit you in the end.
Take the time to answer some questions that will help you build a strategy that works for your brand:
- What’s your style? Are you conversational or formal? Should your team use an emoji in their replies to customers, or stick with proper grammar?
- How important is speed? Can you afford a staff that answers every tweet in 30 minutes? What promises can you deliver on for your customers?
- When can you be available? Will you have 24/7 office hours? What holidays will you observe?
- What languages will you support? Just one, or many?
- What’s an emergency? Who gets notified and how?
- How are issues escalated? When do you call your manager and when do you call your product team?
- How will you communicate to your team? Slack updates? Templates? Email?
- Do you give refunds, credits or other monetary concessions?
- How does social media fit in? Where’s the line between marketing and support?
How to Provide the Best Customer Support
The nitty gritty of how good customer support happens depends on two things: the channels through which you interact with your customers and the tools you’ve got to help you do so.
Customer support channels are the ways in which a customer can get in contact with your business. It’s common to have many, if not all of these channels available.
- Phone Support: create prompts or automated tracks that direct people to the best internal team to handle the task. For example, someone with a payment issue might get directed to billing. Or it might make more sense for you to segment tracks by product and direct each customer to the right product team. No matter the track logic, consider prompts that direct people to self-service options or provide them the option that you’ll call them back.The key here is to keep the experience as short as possible—people hate to be stuck in menu options on the phone for too long before speaking with a live person.
- Email Support: have customers contact you through a public email address or online form to ask questions or submit issues. Your helpdesk software turns these emails into tickets that may then be resolved by a member of your support staff
- Chat Support: a live chat with customer support representative for immediate access to help.
- Bots: similar to an automated phone track, you can have customers follow chat tracks with bots for information in response to commonly asked questions.
- Self-Service: work with your marketing team to develop webinars, e-books, how-to-guides, blog articles or a help center so customers can help themselves.
- Social Media: have your customer support team monitor social media channels for incoming requests and escalate issues as needed.
- Community: build a community forum where customers can help one another when issues arise, monitored by your support team.
- Omnichannel: give customers the ability to switch from a mobile device to a desktop device while they’re being helped.
Each one of these channels requires attention and care when it comes to strategy, activation and monitoring. The right tools and tech stack can be the difference between success and failure.
Tools to Make it Happen
After you’ve identified the channels that make the most sense for your product and team, you’ll need some tools to assist in activating your customer support chain.
These are some that are common:
- Answering Service: this is the tech behind automated phone tracks. Full-service answering services make use of call center software to not only direct customers in the right direction but to also get analytics that help with providing better customer support.
- Universal Inbox: a shared email address or account that your team uses to respond to incoming communications from customers.
- Help Desk: help desk software can help automate workflows, assign tickets to the right people, provide data analysis, tools for escalation and coworking features for better collaboration.
- Knowledge Base: this is any environment where you store information for customers to help themselves. This could be a help center, blog, or another type of educational tool. A knowledge base helps reduce the volume of repetitively asked questions by providing information upfront.
- Chatbots: uses AI to surface the information in your knowledge base to customers one-on-one.
- Social Media Software: platforms that allow multiple people to see, respond, flag and escalate incoming social media messaging.
- Sentiment Analysis Software: tools that allow you to know whether or not chatter on social media is positive, negative or neutral.
- Survey: allows your support team to collect feedback directly from customers.
These tools will allow you to set your strategy in motion. Know that they’re working by selecting the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for your team’s effectiveness.
Build a Successful Team: KPIs to Evaluate Support Representatives
Your customer support team is the lifeblood of your strategy, and hiring good people is key to make or break your customer support. Putting in place the right KPIs will ensure that your entire team is on the same page regarding what success means for them, as well as give you an accurate barometer to monitor your progress.
Here are some KPIs to keep in mind:
- First contact resolution (FCR): how often are customer queries resolved in one response? This is a good measure of response quality.
- First response time (FRT): how long does it take for someone to get a response once they’ve reached out? This is a good measure of workload and team bandwidth.
- Number of responses to resolution: on average, how many responses does it take to resolve an issue? This is a good indicator of response depth, as well as a good indicator where automation is needed.
- Customer satisfaction (CSAT): this is a numerical representation of how satisfied customers are with your product, service and brand, which can often be executed with a post response survey.
- Resolution service level agreement (SLA): this indicates how long a response will take to your customers. Measure whether or not you’re meeting it, and why.
If you’re missing the mark on any of these KPIs, it could be because your representatives need to brush up on their skills.
Skills Every Customer Support Representative Needs
Channels, tools, KPIs and strategy only go so far. To ensure the success of your customer support team, your representatives will need some very specific skills. When building and training your team, keep these things in mind:
- Smile, even if you’re not in person
- Mirror a customer’s language and tone both on the phone and in emails or chats
- Be considerate, and never get angry
- Listen to a customer’s problem, then validate it by ensuring them you understand
- Summarize their issue for them to make sure you understand their needs
- If you need to put them on hold, communicate the wait time
- Know how to make a template your own and personalize on the fly
- Prioritize queries by how long they’ve been sitting
- Multitask between chats
- Know when to respond to a social post, and when it’s bait for public altercation
Customer support is the future for successful companies of all shapes and sizes. Those who take into account not only the request of the customer currently in front of them, but the satisfaction of all customers from product to retention will not only survive, but thrive.