A host of factors are placing unprecedented pressure on enterprise customer-support operations today. As products and services become more complex — think unified communications and IoT devices — the modern enterprise’s habits, service requirements, and expectations have radically changed.
Faced with these challenges, many leading companies are looking to understand the complexity of today’s environment and then conceptualize, architect, implement, and deliver outstanding technical customer support. Given the nature of today’s global business, this requires a cloud-based customer support model built around people, process, and technology.
Within this framework, here are three keys to success for building cloud-based customer support, that consistently delivers a positive and differentiated customer experience as measured by high CSAT scores, improved resolution rates, and reduced cost per case.
1. Recruit, train, and retain a team with the right blend of technical and people skills
While your technical-support team should live and breathe complex technical issues, they also need to be great with people. They may know the technical nuances of networking, operating systems, storage, and security, but do they understand the enterprise environment? The elaborate partner ecosystem? customer frustration? Do they have patience, empathy, and an ability to listen?
People skills are also important for teamwork. Since highly technical issues sometimes take troubleshooting and brainstorming, teams need to foster a mindset where members are open to learn, collaborate, and share knowledge with others.
With the right team in place, you need to make sure your metrics are promoting the behaviors that result in the best customer outcomes. While traditional customer-service metrics have focused more on speed than quality, Forrester recommends that to build a customer experience-focused IT service desk, companies should look at the overall customer experience. How effective, easy, and enjoyable are customers’ interactions with the service desk?
It helps to create a scorecard that aligns business goals with customer-experience goals. Assign points to agents based on product knowledge, probing skills, empathy, and other attributes to identify the behaviors that should be coached and encouraged.
Citing one technology leader known for delivering “fanatical support,” a Forrester analyst explains how the company relies on “agent adaptability,” as opposed to rigid processes operated by “chat bots.” The agent’s ability to adapt and personalize the conversation to fit the customer’s technical level and communication style is key to achieving a smoother call transaction. The agent must be able to explain what the customer needs to know in a way that the customer can understand. This requires active listening to determine how well the customer grasps the information and instructions.
Coaching for adaptability includes teaching agents how to pick out details in the customer’s description of the problem to understand the appropriate communication style and level of technical knowledge so they can guide the call to a smooth flow.
To retain the treasure of knowledge and skill that agents collect over time, support leaders need to build a robust career path, providing ongoing opportunities for learning and growth. Team members may come first for a job, but they’ll stay for a career when they see that most promotions are filled from within.
2. Design optimized technical-support workflows that remove silos and enable first call resolution (FCR)
Creating successful workflows first requires effective stakeholder outreach, involving collaboration between IT and customer-service leaders across the business. As Gartner points out, customer service is a “team sport,” and “must be framed as an enterprise objective, not just the responsibility of one department.” Here, leadership from a CEO who drives a holistic view of the customer and the customer-service experience is invaluable in bridging the silos that create common barriers to improving technical support.
Gartner advises companies to identify who needs to be involved in supporting the customer across all brands, departments and engagement channels. Together, they need to ensure the service organization can meet the promises and expectations set by those in Sales, Marketing, or Operations.
Guided by stakeholder collaboration and customer-journey mapping, many support leaders employ best practices to improve business processes, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. These help shape the structure that enables support staff to handle complex customer issues promptly and effectively. These practices also encourage knowledge transfer between team members, help drive creation of self-service technology models, facilitate data collection, and support effective problem management.
Effective service-management process includes an incident management process and formal ticketing system with prioritization, categorization, and service level agreement (SLA) requirements. The formal structures take time to develop, but result in better outcomes for customers, the support team, and the business. A ticket system helps agents effectively manage their cue through prioritization, while also enabling data collection that guides better problem management and business decisions.
Incident management requires several key pieces:
- An SLA between the provider and business client that defines incident priorities, escalation paths, and response/resolution time frames
- Incident models, or templates, that allow incidents to be resolved efficiently, streamline the process, and reduce risk
- Categorization of incident types for better data gathering and problem management
- Agreement on incident statuses, categories, and prioritization, so that high value, urgent support tickets are triaged to the top of the cue
- Establishment of a major incident-response process
- Agreement on incident management-role assignment
Incidents should go through a structured workflow that encourages efficiency and best results for both providers and customers. The incident management process could follow these steps:
- Incident identification
- Incident logging
- Incident categorization
- Incident prioritization
- Incident response (Initial diagnosis, Incident escalation, Investigation and diagnosis, Resolution and recovery, Incident closure)
Beyond the nuts-and-bolts structure, support leaders make sure the workflow is designed to actually solve the problem with a one-touch experience whenever possible. This means establishing processes that enable FCR by analyzing the work of transferred calls, and then giving the agents the opportunity to solve the customer’s problem.
As support calls become increasingly complex, leaders also empower their teams to research, troubleshoot, and collaborate on highly technical issues. It is important that a technology platform is available to allow this collaboration!
3. Empower world-class support with a cloud-based customer service–delivery platform
Designed to enable greater efficiency and flexibility across applications and geographically dispersed teams, a robust cloud-based customer-service platform breaks down the walls of the traditional call center. According to IDC’s Maturity Model for Delivering Proactive Customer Service, today’s support technology must provide a contextualized customer experience that delivers consistency across channels, proactive service, access to a customer’s service history, rapid assessment, and response.
A support provider’s customer-service technology solution should enable an architected process flow that makes the interaction from the customer’s side as easy and positive as possible — through any customer journey. The right technology platform delivers optimized end-to-end customer-service experiences, strengthening customer relationships and retention, while providing effective analytics that drive continuous improvement.
Leading technology and communication companies are aggressively pursuing customer insights through analytics to make better decisions about technical-support process improvements that achieve customer loyalty and greater lifetime value. Effective analytics help measure, predict, and shed light on trends in customer experiences that directly impact overall effectiveness, profitability, and satisfaction.
To achieve these outcomes, insights must be culled from actively listening to the voice of the customer to identify patterns from call and transaction data that reveal customer needs and opportunities. By putting this data to work, companies on their own or through a partner, are achieving technical-support performance levels that become a competitive advantage and market differentiator.
These companies understand that personalizing the customer experience is one of the last remaining opportunities to create true differentiation. It’s not easy, but the stakes — and rewards — of building world-class technical support have never been so clear. Backed by leadership commitment and stakeholder involvement, companies are combining the right mix of people, process, and technology not only to meet today’s support challenges, but to prepare for the road ahead.