Customer support agents are the warriors of every organization. They tackle the toughest questions and tend to take the most abuse from customers. Plus, they’re highly accountable to both the company and the customers they serve. It’s their job to represent the interests of both—make customers happy and uphold company policy—which is a hard role, to say the least. And despite the critical work they do, they’re often strapped for resources. Because companies typically view support as a cost center, not a revenue-driver like marketing or sales, their budgets are limited, giving them little room to grow.
But no company will see success without a frontline team that keeps its customers on track. So how do you empower your customer support team? Well, you start by recognizing their challenges and giving them a louder voice. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few challenges modern support teams face, then discuss ways to maximize support’s potential and give them a seat at the table.
The Challenges of Modern Customer Support
New technology and rising customer expectations have changed the way support teams operate. Today, support has broader responsibilities and more information to work with, but they lack the resources they need to fuel real growth.
#1: Self-service is on the rise, which is good and bad.
We typically think of support as a reactive function. They answer questions, troubleshoot problems, and communicate customer needs to the company. But nowadays, customers prefer finding solutions themselves over talking to an agent. They might search the knowledge base or read the manual before they pick up the phone. In theory, the self-service shift should make support’s job easier. When customers self-serve, they’re less reliant on live agents. But as always, it’s not that simple.
First, maintaining self-service support resources usually falls on support. Who else is going to do it? Second, even with awesome resources, customers will always have questions that require human help, and when a customer puts in effort and doesn’t find the answer they need, they’ll be a bit more frustrated by the time they reach an agent. It’s a double-edged sword.
#2: Support has access to more customer data, but it lives in different places.
Customers share far more information with companies these days than they used to, and practically every company uses some sort of CRM software to house and manage that customer data. As customers, we expect companies to use that information to give us better experiences. But in reality, the amount of customer data companies collect often does little more than overwhelm their teams. Plus, it might be stored in multiple places, which makes it incredibly difficult to piece together a cohesive view of a customer.
To put it more simply, let’s consider a common scenario: a customer calls support to check on an issue they recently reported. Depending on how the company logs its customer communications, the support agent might have to check more than one system to catch up on the issue. If the customer spoke to someone outside support, like a sales rep or a customer success manager, the records might not even be accessible to the support agent. As you can imagine, this can get complicated quickly.
#3: Customers seek support over multiple channels.
In 2007, you’d call or email a company if you had a question. In 2017, you can tweet at a company, post in their online forum, visit their knowledge base, text a number, talk to a live chat agent, or even video chat with support. It makes for an incredibly convenient, modern support experience. Wherever you are and whichever device you happen to be using, you can usually find a route that works for you. Handy as that is, it can get messy if the solution requires more than one interaction.
Most support teams are fairly comfortable offering multi-channel support, but few have mastered the seamless transition from channel to channel. Without flawless internal processes, some information is always likely to get lost in translation. A new agent might pick up an email case and overlook the fact that the customer just spoke to someone on live chat. It happens all the time, and it frustrates customers to no end. No one likes re-explaining their issue and starting from scratch.
3 Ways to Empower Your Customer Support Team
Unless you’re running a perfect operation, your support team probably faces at least one of these challenges. Here are a few ways you can empower your support team and set them up for success.
#1: Ask them for feedback on a regular basis—and really listen.
Support agents not only interact with customers daily, but they’re constantly brainstorming ways to overcome the top issues impacting your customer base. The easier customers’ lives are, the easier support’s job is. No one is as motivated or equipped to solve customers’ problems. It seems obvious, but companies often leave their support team out of major decisions that impact their customers. When it comes time to plan the product roadmap, roll out new services, or make changes to pricing, support is often the last to know.
Instead of treating customer support like a low-level function, you can harness their knowledge and empower them by involving them in those decisions. It can be as simple as holding monthly, cross-departmental brainstorming sessions and asking support to represent the voice of the customer. Just the act of getting multiple teams in one room to discuss the issues impacting customers is a great start. And of course, it’s important to give team members a channel to voice their opinions without judgment. Internal surveys are an easy way to ask for employee feedback without putting people in the hotseat.
#2: Centralize your customer data and integrate all the things.
Different teams use different tools. It’s just how it goes. But when it comes to customer data, it’s extremely important to decide early on how you’ll store and leverage the data you collect. If your support team has to open 7 browser tabs to find the answer to a question, that’s a problem. Not only is it frustrating for the agent and the customer, but it leaves too much room for error and lost information.
Practically every business tool out there integrates with major CRMs. You can prevent the needless loss of data and boost efficiency by integrating tools early on and cutting down manual entry as much as possible. Of course, it’s not always possible to create one “source of truth” for your customer data, but by prioritizing it each time you roll out a new program, you’ll avoid a lot of future headaches.
#3: Name top-performing support agents “customer advocates.”
Customer support is a stressful, often thankless job, so employee turnover is particularly high. Many companies also struggle to create real career paths for their support team, so agents have little to look forward to or work towards beyond middle management roles. It’s unfortunate, since experienced support agents cultivate a wealth of organizational knowledge that can make a real difference.
One simple way to recognize your all-star agents and give them goals to work toward: create a specialized support role. It’s more and more common to see titles like Customer Advocate and Customer Experience Specialist. While still customer-facing support roles, these titles acknowledge the essential role support plays in the customer experience. Naming a support agent a Customer Advocate shows your entire organization that you value the people that care about customer needs.
These recommendations aren’t just about building up your support team. By giving support a clear voice in the company, you’ll foster a culture that respects customer needs and prioritizes customer satisfaction. That can impact your product roadmap for the better, steer your sales conversations, and just inspire more thoughtful decisions that lead to happier customers.
As the frontline, support is a direct channel into customers’ needs and opinions. When you empower them to speak their minds and share their experiences, you also empower your customers. Support may not be the most glamorous role, but it’s an incredibly respectable one. Long story short? No one deserves support like support.