For a growing number of today’s customers, self-support is no longer just an option they appreciate — it’s a benefit they demand. Research by Zendesk [.PDF] found that 50 percent of customers think it’s important to solve product or service issues on their own. And the Aspect Consumer Experience Index found that 65 percent of customers feel positive about a company when they can get an answer via self-support.
In fact, the shift towards self-support is growing so fast that Gartner [.PDF] predicts that by the year 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of the pre and post-sales relationship without interacting directly with a company!
Support Agents Still Matter – Perhaps More than Ever
Yet despite this trend, it’s critical for companies to keep in mind that customers don’t want – and frankly, won’t tolerate – self-support being their only method of answering questions or solving problems. Regardless of how often they use self-support or how much they like it, they still want the ability to pick up the phone or launch a live chat and connect with a warm, friendly, empathetic, and above all informed support agent. As highlighted by LiveAdmins’ Operations Manager Brian Smith in his article “Things that Customers Hate About Customer Service”:
Having to explain the same issue over and over again to multiple agents is a major and very frustrating aspect of customer service. As they expect that the first agent they speak to will resolve their issue. Things get worse when customers will have to repeat the same issue after already explaining it to a previous agent… in the very first go, customers want solution to their queries and it puts them off, if they have to call again, because you could not provide them viable solution in the first contact.
Indeed, Smith’s observations are supported by a UK study that found two of the biggest causes of customer frustration are being passed around from agent to agent, and dealing with agents who don’t have enough knowledge.
The Need for Speed
As noted above, customers want more and better self-support methods. But they also want smarter and more prepared support agents. On the surface, these demands may seem as though they’re on separate layers. However, they’re both expressions of the same fundamental concept: the need for speed.
That is, customers want support as fast as possible — and they’re as eager to reward companies that meet this requirement, as they’re willing to punish companies that fail to deliver it. For example, 71 percent of consumers surveyed by Forrester and Salesforce.com said that “valuing their time” was the most important thing a company could do to provide them with good customer service.
Technology to the Rescue
Companies – including those that are already doing a great job with customer service delivery – need to shift their support agents into a higher gear; because customer demands and expectations are growing, not waning. And while recruiting, training and other talent management aspects are big pieces of the puzzle, they aren’t enough. Companies must also leverage technology in 5 key ways so that their support agents can turn into customer service superheroes who reduce time-to-resolution (TTR), increase first call resolution (FCR), and drive satisfaction rates through the roof.
- Use Intelligent Content Suggestions
Customers don’t merely dislike being put on hold – they hate it! A survey by live chat software vendor Velaro found that 60 percent of customers won’t stay on hold for longer than a minute, and 32 percent won’t wait on hold at all.Companies can reduce or, better yet, eliminate hold times with intelligent content suggestions that recommend product content based on an individual customer’s case information, account details, and contact history. Support agents can also filter suggested content to see what information colleagues have used to solve similar cases, and create personalized collections of frequently used content for even quicker responses.
- Automatically Update Sales Agents
A major source of frustration for support agents (not to mention customers!) is that they don’t always have access to the latest information. Companies can avoid this major service gap by making it part of the product documentation workflow to transfer content seamlessly to support agents. Not only does this help support agents stay up-to-date, but it ends the need for separate knowledge base articles
- Instantly Share Content with Customers & Employees
Companies should also empower support agents to instantly share answers that are targeted to specific configurations and case issues. For example, in real-time support agents can answer customer inquiries by sending them an email link, text message, or watermarked PDF. They can also share relevant and topical information with colleagues by publishing content or notes to portals, Wikis, and other internal platforms.
- Optimize Content with Feedback & Input
Support agents are on the frontlines when it comes to engaging customers, and as such have a valuable and unique understanding of how customers are appreciating – or in some cases, criticizing – content and product documentation. Companies should capture this input by having support agents rate the usefulness of product topics, and send feedback to the documentation team.
What’s more, support agents can also create content with web editors and templates, and submit them into a workflow for editing and approval as structured XML-based content.
- Use Analytics to Determine the Support Value of Product Content
And last but certainly not least: companies shouldn’t rely on anecdotal evidence to “guestimate” whether content is firing on all cylinders. Just as they analyze content in sales and marketing campaigns, companies should also track content usage (e.g. number of shares by support agents, frequency of customer clicks, etc.), in order to understand how effective or ineffective content is for closing support cases.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, customers want a positive customer support experience — which means they want accurate answers and useful advice quickly and conveniently. Companies need to respond to this growing demand by training their people and leveraging technology to close the gap with customers, and put their support agents in a position to succeed with every call, chat, email and text.
When this happens, support agents turn into customer service superheroes, and everyone reaps the rewards: customers and companies alike!