How to Manage Customer Support in an Era of Self-Help

Giorgina Gottlieb | September 27, 2019

Last month, Squelch was honored to sponsor a webinar titled The Evolution of Support: How to Manage Customer Support in an Era of Self-Help.

The webinar was presented by Kristina Evey, a customer experience (CX) strategist who loves to help leadership teams demystify the process of shifting operational and business priorities to the customer perspective, resulting in revenue increases.

For those who missed this insightful presentation, here are the top takeaways:

Self-Help Is on the Rise

If you follow blogs, podcasts, or social media accounts that cover customer support, you’ve no doubt heard a lot lately about self-help. But you might be wondering: is it much ado about nothing?

Evey answered this question with a resounding no, and she brought the stats to back it up. In particular, she shared that as many as 76 percent of customers prefer “self-service” options.

Cases Are Becoming More Complex

With this increase in self-help, you might assume that work is getting easier for support agents. After all, if customers are solving their own problems, then that must reduce the workload for agents. Right?

Evey explained that the answer is yes and no. When customers take advantage of self-help resources to resolve issues, there is typically a reduction in overall support cases.

But, the cases that are deflected are typically the easiest, most straight-forward tickets. What that means is that agents wind up spending a larger percentage of their time on more challenging cases. So while the volume of tickets might go down, the complexity of each is likely to rise, which means customer support is still a mighty tough job.

The Struggle Is Real

As the complexity of a case increases, so too does the level of confusion, frustration, and other emotions among the customer who’s experiencing the issue. This means that, by the time support agents get involved, they will likely be dealing with customers who are not their “best selves.”

The impact of all this on agents is a heightened risk of burnout. As Evey shared, the average annual turnover rate in 2016 for a customer service representative (CSR) was 29 percent. She further explained that the “average lifespan” of a U.S. call center worker is just 3.3 years.

Treat Agents Like Royalty

In order to combat this burnout, Evey said companies should treat support professionals like royalty. In particular, she encouraged managers and executives to offer more than enough support to agents by providing training on what we call the five Ws*:

  • WHO: go-to people within the organization for various products, types of issues, etc.
  • WHAT: products and services offered by the company
  • WHEN: proactive strategies for predicting and preventing issues whenever possible
  • WHERE: physical or digital location of customer data and support resources, including all self-help portals
  • HOW: tips for how to handle upset customers

*OK, so it’s technically four Ws and one H. But hopefully you’ll give us a pass!

Offer Mini Boot Camps

In addition to the more substantial trainings described above, Evey recommended that companies offer their support teams mini boot camps on a regular basis to keep their skills sharp and knowledge current.

These 15-minute sessions once or twice a week should focus on just one product or service. While in-person attendance is ideal, Evey suggested that companies record the boot camps so anyone who’s absent (along with new hires who join later) can still benefit from the sessions.

Focus on the Human Element

Just as agents should treat customers with kindness and empathy, companies should treat support professionals as human beings — not nameless, faceless workers.

To do so, Evey advised companies to practice the Voice of the Customer approach internally with their CSRs. She also recommended that leaders collaborate with agents to identify the most appropriate performance metrics, placing the emphasis not on call time or number of closed tickets but on truly serving customers’ needs in the best way possible.

When agents do succeed, managers should be sure to recognize and celebrate their success as individuals and as a team. But it’s equally important not to “skip the struggle,” said Evey. Customer support inevitably comes with challenges and even some failures, and managers need to create an environment that allows agents to learn from — rather than being punished for — their mistakes.

Learn More

Visit the Customer Experience Update (CEU) website to view Evey’s slides and the full recording of The Evolution of Support: How to Manage Customer Support in an Era of Self-Help, available on demand.

You can learn more about Evey by visiting her website or following her on Twitter and LinkedIn. You should also be sure to check out her podcast titled The Customer Experience Podcast for Business Leaders.

Featured image credit: Customer Experience Update