Leadership Talk: The Modern State of Customer Support
- 19 Jul 2023
Leadership Talk: The Modern State of Customer Support
The customer service industry has undergone a revolution these last few years—teams have embraced remote and hybrid operations as standard, and sophisticated contact center technology has enabled businesses to push beyond the established limits of customer support.
We sat down with Renu Yadav, the head of customer support of the #1-rated cloud communications platform on the market, for a candid discussion about the modern state of customer support and the evolution of technology trends within the industry.
Contacto: How has the landscape of the Customer Support industry evolved in the past few years, and what key factors were most impactful?
Ten years ago, phone support was the only option because businesses just wanted to have people that customers can talk to. Now there are so many choices that if a business makes it hard to get help, customers will take their business elsewhere.
Support is not limited to just phone or email support. Customers are now using multiple channels to interact with businesses, including live chat, and social media. Social media is no longer just a marketing platform, it has become a major channel for customers to interact with businesses.
There is also a need to have a global approach to support, and they need to be able to provide support in multiple languages and time zones.
AI and automation are being used to automate tasks, such as answering FAQs and answering routine questions. This frees up support agents to focus on resolving more complex issues.
There is a shift from transactional, reactive support to proactive, personalized, and experience-driven support. It is no longer seen as a cost center, but rather as an opportunity to differentiate from competitors and build customer loyalty.
Support is moving to a strategic department, capable of driving improvements across the business.
What are the biggest challenges that Customer Support reps face today, and how can they be overcome?
Renu: The responsibilities of a support agent look very different compared to a few years ago. Support teams are not required to just follow processes and perform routine tasks. Those can be achieved via automation. They need to come up with customized and tailored solutions to resolve issues faster.
- Keeping up with product changes: Companies and products are rapidly innovating and updating their offerings. Support agents need to stay current with the latest product features and changes. Regular product training, refreshers, and product assessments can help support teams stay updated with product changes. At Plivo, we also review ticket trends to plan out refreshers on a biweekly basis.
- Meeting rising customer expectations: Today’s customers expect fast, personalized support. Customers value getting their issues resolved in their first interaction with the support team. However, this can be a challenge if the issue is complex or if the representative doesn’t have the right information or authority to resolve it. To address this, companies can empower their representatives with the right resources, enable them with decision-making tools, and streamline their escalation processes. Cultivating a customer-centric culture across the organization can help align all departments toward meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
- Working remotely: While remote work has impacted everyone, the impact is more on teams that need to work in groups. It was way easier to train, identify ticket trends, outages, coordinate with other stakeholders, manage escalations, and even get help on any issues in real-time. The shift to remote work has brought new challenges for customer support representatives, such as isolation, burnout, and communication difficulties. This can be mitigated by promoting a strong remote work culture, encouraging regular communication and team-building activities like off-work catchups so that the teams get to build a rapport and not all discussions are work-related.
Overcoming these challenges often requires a combined approach of people, process, and technology.
In your opinion, what are the most important qualities or skills that a customer support rep should possess to excel in their role?
Renu: That’s a great question, one that when I am interviewing candidates for my team I always like to ask. From my perspective, the most important skills vary by customer and situation:
- Resilience, empathy, and patience: Dealing with customer complaints and issues can be stressful, and not every interaction is positive. Resilience and the ability to handle stress are key to maintaining a positive attitude and a high level of service. So is the ability to understand and share the feelings of customers. Customers often reach out when they are frustrated or upset, and an empathetic response can help calm them down and assure them that their concerns are being taken seriously.
- Time management skills: Unlike other teams, Support work is not project/timeline based. It’s the number of calls/tickets they can handle in a day. This number is not stable and keeps changing on a day-to-day basis. They need to be able to prioritize and juggle multiple tasks at the same time. So time management is a crucial skill.
- Business communication: Representatives need the ability to explain complex solutions in simple terms, as well as deep attention to detail to ensure they don’t miss any critical points while debugging an issue.
- Teamwork: Support is often a team effort, and representatives need to work well with their colleagues to solve customer issues, share knowledge, and improve service processes.
- Problem-solving & decision-making skills: Support teams also need to be able to think critically and come up with effective solutions to customer problems. This is becoming more and more critical in today’s fast-paced world. Agents are expected to be quick on their feet and able to come up with innovative solutions.
With that said, how can the right tool elevate a customer support representative’s ability to properly address a customer’s needs?
Renu: Without the right tool, a support rep would have to do way more work than necessary. In the right hands, an effective tool can:
- Streamline routine tasks: Things such as ticket assignment to representatives, tracking the status of tickets, and adding options to have views on which tickets need to be prioritized. This frees up representatives’ time so that they can focus on resolving issues.
- Provide a comprehensive view of the customer: Tools that integrate with various channels and systems can provide a comprehensive view of the customer. This includes the customer’s history, preferences, and previous interactions. This information can help representatives provide personalized and informed support.
- Collect feedback from customers: Tools that allow customers to provide feedback can help organizations understand how their customers are experiencing their support. This feedback can be used to improve the support process and make it more customer-centric.
- Provide a knowledge base or FAQ section: An detailed knowledge base or FAQ section can help customers find answers to their questions without having to contact a support representative.
- Enable collaboration and escalation: Tools should also enable collaboration and escalation. This can help ensure that issues are escalated to the appropriate people when necessary.
- Offer in-depth reporting and analytics: A support tool should not only be able to generate basic reports but also have the ability to create custom reports that can help organizations analyze customer interactions and identify trends. This data can be used in so many powerful ways.
With the rise of self-service options and automation, how do you see the role of Customer Support representatives evolving in the near and distant future?
Renu: It will have both positive and negative impacts, right?
The size of the teams will become smaller and smaller. AI and automation will be expected to handle routing queries. So the agents will be required to work on complex problems that require a human touch.
At the same time, the work is becoming more challenging so the focus going forward will be on the quality of teams and not the size of the teams.
Support is evolving from transactional to consultative support, from handling simple issues to resolving complex problems, and from being order takers to being customer advocates. They are now expected to be product experts who can help customers solve problems and help differentiate between competition.
Representatives are now tasked with resolving more complex issues which require them to think critically and creatively to solve problems. The insights gained from support interactions with customers influence product development, marketing, and other areas of the business.
These changes will free representatives from routine tasks and enable them to focus on the complex, challenging aspects of customer support that require a human touch but this also means that support agents will need to be committed to continual learning and adaptation.
So the overall contributions of the support teams will become increasingly valuable.
How do you think the increasing importance of customer experience and satisfaction has shaped the Customer Support industry, and what steps should companies take to prioritize these areas?
Renu: From a business perspective, it is not just important to get a customer on contract, it is more critical to retain the customer. That is where customer experience and satisfaction play a huge role. Companies can use customer support to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, and foster customer loyalty, and positive word-of-mouth.
Any company looking to prioritize customer experience and satisfaction within their business should:
- Understand customer expectations: Regularly survey customers, monitor feedback, and stay abreast of market trends to understand what customers expect from their support experience.
- Implement the right technology: Leverage technology to automate routine tasks, provide omnichannel support, personalize customer interactions, and gain insights from customer data.
- Measure the right metrics: Look beyond traditional efficiency metrics (like average handle time) and measure metrics that reflect the quality of the customer experience, such as Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Customer Effort Score (CES).
- Foster a customer-centric culture: Make customer satisfaction a company-wide goal. All departments, not just customer support, should understand their role in contributing to the customer experience.
- Review and improve: Regularly review your customer support operations and use customer feedback and data to identify areas for improvement. This process of continuous improvement is crucial in maintaining a high-quality customer experience.
With more options available to customers than ever before, how have customer expectations changed over the past few years?
Renu: Customers today expect businesses to provide instant, 24/7, multi-channel support with self-service options and transparency.
- Customers expect more convenience: Customers today are accustomed to getting what they want when they want it, and how they want it. This means that businesses need to offer convenient customer support options, such as 24/7 support, live chat, and self-service options.
- Customers expect more personalization: Customers today expect a personalized experience, and this is no different in customer support. Businesses are using data and analytics to personalize their customer support interactions, tailoring them to the individual customer’s needs and preferences. This can help to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Customers expect more transparency: Customers today want to be kept informed about the status of their issue and what is being done to resolve it. Businesses need to be transparent with their customers and communicate with them throughout the customer support process.
- Customers expect more empathy: Customers today want to feel like they are being heard and understood. Businesses need to be empathetic to their customers and understand their frustration. This will help to build trust and rapport with customers.
- Customers expect more speed: Customers today expect their issues to be resolved quickly. Businesses need to be responsive and resolve customer issues as quickly as possible.
Can you share any insight on the use of data and analytics in customer support? How can data-driven approaches enhance the overall customer experience?
Renu: Data is huge right now. And I am not talking about customer data. I am talking about issue data and ticket data. If used the right way, there is so much key information to be pulled:
- What kind of issues do we receive on a daily, weekly, monthly basis?
- What product are we facing the most issues on?
- Are there any enhancements required in the product?
- Which support channel do customers find most convenient?
- To track escalations.
- To find which customers are raising the most queries.
- What are our response and resolution times?
- What training do we need to create for our teams?
- How satisfied are our customers?
By using data, support can move from a reactive function to a strategic one, capable of driving improvements across the business.
What channels do you personally find to be the most effective for resolving the support needs of your customers?
Renu: The effectiveness of different customer support channels depends on the nature of the customer’s issue and the customer’s preferences. Phone support is not a great tool for customers if they need to be put on hold for a long time. On the other hand, though, email support won’t necessarily be the best tool for customers who have an urgent issue that needs to be looked into immediately.
In my opinion, using a combination of tools can ensure that businesses are able to provide support that meets the needs of all of their customers.
Self-service options are a great way to reduce the number of queries coming to support agents and allow them to focus on more complex problems. I also think that it is important to build an extensive FAQ section so that customers can easily find answers to common questions.
I also think that chatbots and AI can be valuable tools for customer support. They can provide instant, 24/7 support for simple inquiries or issues, and they can also gather initial information before escalating more complex issues to human agents.
I have one final question for you before I let you go. If you had one feature on your customer support tool wishlist, what would that be and why?
Renu: It would be the ability to integrate with other tools and systems. This would allow customer support representatives to have a single view of the customer, which would make it easier to resolve issues and provide better support.
For example, if a customer has a problem with their order, the customer support representative could see the customer’s order history, shipping information, and payment information. This would allow the representative to quickly identify the issue and resolve it.
The ability to create custom reports is a close second. It is not enough to only work on issues and meet KPIs. It is also essential to find trends and patterns. This can help in so many ways, such as improving product offerings, streamlining processes, reducing response and resolution times, collaborating with internal teams, and so on.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us—it sounds like you and your team are doing some amazing things at Plivo with the tools available to you. I look forward to speaking with you again soon!
Renu: Of course, my pleasure!
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