The basic customer expectations from support are the feeling of being heard, appreciated, and valued. Now with access to technology, customer support expectations are also evolving. Customers don’t just want a phone line or email address they can contact you when things go wrong.
You need to:
Be available on multiple channels
Offer 24/7 access to instant help
Personalize the support
Let customers find answers independently
Help them connect with other customers
To meet these expectations, you have to focus more on customer support than ever before. But it also presents an opportunity.
Great support differentiates your brand from the competition. As you continually meet customer expectations, you build a loyal band of customers that spend more, recommend your service, and power your growth.
That question is, how can you ensure that the support you offer matches customer expectations in the present world?
That’s what this article will discuss.
What is customer support?
Customer support is all the ways you help customers overcome challenges while using your product.
It often involves technical issues: for example, troubleshooting problems when something goes wrong. But it also includes any way of supporting them on their journey with your brand.
Great customer support can occur in many forms, including:
You don’t need to be available on all these channels. But you should create a presence in all the places your customers look to when they need an issue fixed.
Businesses of all sizes from various industries immensely benefit from top-notch customer support — right from software companies to e-commerce stores and professional services. Think about the owner of a small e-commerce store. They use many tools to keep their business running. This could include:
Help desk software
As products and services become increasingly dependent on technologies, customers often run into trouble whenever there is an issue with even one component of the workflow. This can seriously affect the ability of the business to operate.
Therefore, customers must have access to support to get them up and running again as soon as possible. If they can’t access this help, their experience as a customer will severely diminish.
Customer support vs. customer service vs. customer success
Support is a crucial part of your customer interactions apart from customer success. To understand modern customer support, you need to know how it fits in with these subtly different disciplines.
Customer support happens when customers come to you with an issue.
This could be:
A technical problem
A billing issue
A feature they want to use but don’t understand
Imagine your business is a website builder. Customers will contact support when they want to add a feature to their website but can’t work out how to do so, or if part of their website suddenly stops working and they can’t fix it.
Customer success focuses on showing customers how to get the most out of your product. It’s about taking proactive steps to highlight the value of your tool. The idea is that by helping customers meet their goals while using your product, you’ll make your tool an essential part of their business.
Let’s go back to the idea of the website builder. The success team can quickly establish the value of the tool by showing customers how to use the product to increase sales.
Onboarding is a crucial part of success—it helps new customers get up to speed fast. But success should continue throughout the customer lifecycle.
Customer service is a catch-all term that includes all your customer-facing activities. Both success and support come under the umbrella term of customer service.
DefinitionExampleCustomer SupportHelping customers solve product issues and learn more about your product.Fixing a technical issue with your product.Customer SuccessHelping customers use your product to achieve their business goals.Highlight new ways to use your product to meet their goals.Customer ServiceA catch-all term encompassing all customer-facing activities.All interactions between your business and your team that help customers.
While different, each of the above disciplines has much in common. They all involve customer interactions, all use multiple channels, and each can significantly impact your customer experience.
These similarities mean that while some businesses keep them separate, others group success and support agents in a single customer service team.
How is modern customer support evolving?
We mentioned above that the demands on customer support teams are changing every year.
So we spoke to people leading top customer support teams to see what they have changed in 2021 and what they plan to do in the future.
The answers from experts highlighted several themes, showing that high-performing teams are focusing on making support:
Trend 1: Accessible
Modern customer support is accessible. Companies are ensuring their customers have access to help whenever they need it. This could be through real-time contact with the team or access to powerful self-service resources.
Chris Jewitt, Klaus’ Customer Success Manager, spoke about how his team’s focus last year was increasing the accessibility of its support.
In 2021, we have been focusing on how to make it as quick and easy as possible for our customers to get support whilst our user base grows and our product becomes more complex. For 2022, we are looking forward to seeing how we can improve our tooling and innovate in terms of how we offer customer support.
Trend 2: Omnichannel
The best help is the one that is available on the channel the customer wants to use. This means modern customer service teams are taking steps to offer support wherever their customers are.
Geoff Roberts, Co-founder of Outseta, said they’re focusing on enhancing various channels they offer for customer support.
At Outseta we offer a large, platform-based software product that’s particularly feature-rich. Much of our focus in general in 2021 was on customer support—helping new customers familiarize themselves with the platform and adopt our various features was our top priority. We really view the time that we invest in customer support as an investment in growth—once users are comfortable with our product, their entire business relies on it so they rarely leave. For us, providing customer support directly increases customer lifetime value so that was much of our focus in 2021.
As we head into 2022, we’re taking what we learned by providing customer support throughout 2021 to enhance our own customer support tools. We offer support tickets, chat, and knowledge base tools specifically for early-stage SaaS start-ups so we’re enhancing our own product to better serve these users.
For example, as a small team, one of the challenges we faced in 2021 was not always having a team member available to provide chat-based support. Sometimes we need to do deep work, so we released an update to our chat feature that allows you to take chat off-line with a single click, instead of prompting users to submit a support ticket. This feature was a solution to our own problem but is super useful to other early-stage founders and small teams.
Alexandria Shrader, Senior Support Manager at Slite, said that their focus next year will be on managing support channels.
2021 was all about scaling the all-hands support processes to accommodate our growing team. 2022 is all about streamlining our support channels and resources to serve our rapidly growing userbase.
Trend 3: Personal
Customers expect their interaction with your business to be tailored to their needs. They want you to know about their specific problem and situation because they know this information is essential to them getting a fast resolution to their problem.
Bobby Stapleton, the Director of Customer Support at Intercom, said their focus in 2021 was delivering fast and personal customer support, and that this will continue in 2022.
For us, customer support in 2021 was all about delivering fast and personal support. We used our Conversational Support Funnel framework to provide three types of support—proactive, self-serve and human—through messenger-based experiences. This resulted in better support for our customers while maintaining our team’s efficiency and happiness—something that was especially important for us and our customers after a wild 2020.
Next year we’re going to make our support experience even more personal with multi-language capabilities, evolve our support offering for enterprise customers and collaborate across departments to share and tackle customer priorities. We’re also focusing on enabling and seamlessly navigating other support channels, so we can match and adjust to customers’ needs.
The critical nature of customer support
Customer support is essential because it is all about making the customer experience as trouble-free as possible. It turns problems that could have blocked users from achieving their goals into minor bumps on the road to success.
This inevitably equals happier customers. And with happier customers you get:
Satisfied customers are less likely to churn than unhappy ones. 93% of people say they are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer great support. At the same time, 50% will switch brands after a bad experience.
Retention is vital for SaaS tools. Customers have more options to switch providers than ever before. And the monthly pricing model means customers have little to stop them from moving.
All this means that the quality of your support will impact your customer retention rate. If you resolve customer problems quickly, there’s no reason for users to switch.
The quality of customer interactions with your business plays an influential role in their likeness to recommend your product. According to the XM Institute, customers who rate a company’s service as “Good” are 38% more likely to recommend a product.
Higher levels of engagement
Customers who feel connected to your business are more likely to engage with your company outside your product.
This could come in many forms.
It could be:
Taking an active part in a customer community
Providing feedback or beta testing
Attending events or webinars
Interacting on social media
Whichever form it takes, engaged customers spend more and are more profitable than non-engaged ones.
Essential customer support channels
To provide a modern customer support experience, you must be available on all the communication channels that customers want to interact with you on.
You can break this down into four types: phone, messaging, self-service, and community.
Phone support is a long-standing type of customer support. It may seem old-fashioned, but customers view it as an essential channel. According to a recent survey, it’s still the most used form of support across all age groups (yes, even Gen Z and Millennials).
And this is for a good reason—quality phone support provides customers with expert help as soon as they pick up the line.
It’s the type of support that people look to in an emergency. And knowing your team is just a phone call away is critical if your tool is essential to the operation of your customer’s business.
There is a big downside to phone support: it’s expensive to operate. You’ll need agents online who can answer calls throughout the day. And as your customer base grows, you’ll need to hire agents at a rate that keeps up with users. If you’re growing rapidly, this can be tough to do.
As such, you should be investing in other cheaper, easier-to-scale forms of customer support to help deflect as many tickets as possible.
Chat support is online support where customers receive help via messaging software, email, or even social media.
Chat support is often real-time, allowing customers to access help the moment they need it. But it can also be asynchronous, with agents replying to messages when they reach them in the queue.
Chat and email have many of the benefits of phone communication. Customers get to speak to a real agent, which is essential for complex questions that customers can’t solve with self-service support. And it’s a golden opportunity for your business to build customer relationships.
But chat isn’t simply an alternative to calls—it has its own benefits. People use it for non-urgent issues when they want help from an agent but don’t necessarily want to spend time on a phone call.
Self-service support has come a long way since the cumbersome instruction manuals that came with a software package. Modern tools provide intuitive ways for customers to find answers to their questions independently.
There are many types of self-service support you can choose from. These include:
Knowledge base: A searchable resource of solutions to common customer issues. Customers use them to find answers to the challenge they are struggling with.
Chatbots: Conversational support automation. These can show answers to common questions and intelligently hand-off to your support team when an answer can’t be found.
IVR: Not all self-service happens online. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems can help customers solve issues independently over the phone.
FAQ pages: This is a basic form of self-service but one that can be useful while you are setting up more advanced options.
Self-service benefits you and your customers. It’s an easy way to offer round-the-clock support—your customers can use self-service resources anytime, even when your support team is offline. This is essential if you have customers globally.
Helping customers help themselves also helps your bottom line. It’s much cheaper to solve customer issues with self-service as once the channel goes live, you can help unlimited customers at very little extra cost.
Gartner calculated the cost-saving of self-service support and found that while support tickets handled by agents cost $8.01, those handled by an app or website only cost $0.10!
This latter point also makes self-service an easy way to scale your support if you have a rapidly growing customer base.
A customer support community is a hybrid method of customer support that mixes help from the support team and self-service support. It also enables customers to help each other by enabling them to answer the questions asked by peers
Community members can get support from your customer support team members that are part of the group. And customers can help each other by asking and answering questions.
And every problem that gets solved is saved in the community. You end up with a searchable library of questions that members can use to find solutions to their problems without interacting with your support team.
7 tips to provide quality customer support
This information is a lot to take in, so how can you go about and implement these ideas into your customer support?
Here are seven essential tips you can use to improve your support.
Use a mixture of live support and self-service
Customers expect to be able to access both live support and self-service. So don’t limit yourself to a single type. Offering both ensures that customers get help in the form they need.
You’ll get the benefits of live support: such as building relationships and ensuring customers can access expert help when they need it.
And you’ll also get the benefits of self-service: such as assisting a far larger customer base at low cost and offering help round the clock.
Improve product knowledge
Customer support can be technical. This means agents must be able to use your product fluently. Train them in all aspects of your product so they can help customers no matter the issue.
Where possible, give customers access to your product. And create training plans for new agents that provide a crash course in all they need to know.
Once you have a team of knowledgeable agents, empower them to solve problems independently. Make it clear that they don’t have to request permission from a higher-up every time they see an unusual request that they can solve.
Documenting how to solve common support challenges is a good way to empower agents. It helps with problem-solving as they can simply search through your existing documentation to find answers to customer questions.
You don’t have to keep these documents internal. Instead of making agents write out an explanation for the customer’s problem for every ticket, encourage them to share links to the documents.
This will not only save time but it means customers can access detailed help documents that explain their issue in further detail.
And don’t stop at documenting solutions to problems. You should also write workflows for internal issues.
Things such as:
How and when to escalate support tickets
How to deal with sensitive customer data
How to communicate with other team members
Conversational cues to use when speaking to customers
What to do if customers become confrontational or angry
Having clear instructions about what to do in these situations will help your support team operate smoothly.
Make support visible
If you’re offering excellent support, make sure customers can access it easily. Think about all the places where customers might look for help and add links to relevant contact details or resources in these places.
Here are some examples:
Add links to contact pages
Embed support links in your app or product
Add chat widgets to your website
Add links to the footer of your website
Remember that people will use the resources you make the most visible. If you want to deflect support tickets away from your team, be sure to highlight your knowledge base and community in the places where customers look for support.
You can also ask customers to search through these resources before they use your live support channels. This may be all the encouragement customers need to explore your self-service channels and find help without contacting your team.
And consider that people often turn to Google when looking for problems. Indexing support articles, community posts, and your knowledge base ensure that when customers ask the search engine how to solve a challenge with your software, they’ll find your resources.
Provide the right customer support tools
Customer support software can help you meet the needs of your user base. There are many different types of software; each one helps customer service agents in different ways.
Some of the different types of tools to consider include:
Helpdesk software organizes all your support tickets in one place, simplifying responding.
Community software lets you create support communities that enable customers to help each other.
Chat software lets you create bots and widgets that you can place on your website or app. They also enable live chat support.
Knowledge base software helps you create powerful searchable resources.
Cloud call center software lets you offer phone support without needing to operate a dedicated contact software.
These tools help you provide the support customers want without having to develop your own solutions. Just choose the ones that are most relevant to your challenges and customers.
Encourage everyone to be involved
If you plan to put support central to your business, you need to prioritize hiring for support positions.
This means attracting people with the specialized skills required to fulfill the roles. This could be those with advanced technical skills, people who can manage communities, or customer support representatives to help with general queries.
But, don’t limit support to just the people in your technical support team, especially if your company is new and you need staff to take on multiple roles.
Encourage employees to offer tech support whenever they see a chance to. You’ll often find opportunities to help on social media sites or by being active members in a customer community.
Track relevant metrics
Customer support metrics tell how your support is performing. The key is to choose the right metrics to track, which will ultimately influence the type of support you provide.
Say you decide to track Average Handle Time (AHT). This is standard practice, as a shorter AHT means you can handle more tickets with the same resources. Shorter handle times benefit customers too, who get faster answers to their questions.
But you must be aware that if customer support agents feel under pressure to deal with issues quickly, they may rush through support interactions. This could negatively affect support quality.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track AHT if it’s right for you. Just be sure to also keep an eye on metrics like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score to check your speedy support isn’t harming the experience.
And while you’re at it, be sure to track how people interact with your self-service resources.
Including a poll at the end of a knowledge base article that asks if the article answered their question is an easy way to get customer feedback.
Customer support completes your product experience
We all remember the best customer support we’ve experienced. It likely made us feel good about the product we were using. And bad support is just as impactful.
That’s ultimately why the increasing expectations around support is a great opportunity. Putting in place a great team and supporting them with quality software will provide better customer experiences and keep your users around for the long term.
Support and success
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