As a devotee to the concept and practice of customer support, there’s a quote I once read that has always stuck with me. Connie Elder, CEO of a skin care company called Peak 10 Skin said:
“Excellent customer service is the number one job in any company. It is the personality of the company and the reason customers come back. Without customers there is no company.”
Indeed, a key differentiator for a software company is how well they deliver customer support for their products. Some companies are outstanding, while others struggle. Everyone knows what bad support feels like when you receive it… You send an email or log a support ticket and you’re never sure if someone received your request. Or, because you have an urgent issue, you decide to call the company to get immediate assistance, but their phone rings and no one answers. Or maybe you navigate a lengthy phone tree only to get dropped into a general voicemail box that you’re not sure that anyone will ever listen to.
The opposite is true about outstanding customer support. You receive a professional, written response quickly that addresses you and your situation. Or, the phone conversations you have are all answered quickly, politely, and you have confidence that this support team will solve whatever issue you’re experiencing.
Building a world-class customer support team doesn’t happen without a solid strategy and a lot of hard work. There are four pillars that need to be in place.
Pillar #1: Hire the Right People
Hiring good people can be a difficult task in a tight job market. The skills required for a customer support team is a tricky combination of a broad range of technical expertise, a customer first mindset, and strong communication skills. By implementing an interview process that contains as many aspects of the following list, the team will be the most cohesive and successful:
- Initial phone interview/screening
- Personality and aptitude assessments
- Technical demonstration of skills most important for the role (Hint: Make it challenging, but allow the candidate some prep time)
- Face-to-face interview with the hiring manager and select peer team members
- Additional in-person interviews with management from other critical teams, like Professional Services, Customer Success or Sales, for example.
This is a large time commitment from the candidate and the company, but the outcome ensures that candidate is a good fit in the company culture, and that they have the skills to learn the job requirements. The expense and impact on the team after making a bad hire far outweigh the effort it takes to develop a thorough hiring process to make sure you hire the right people. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once quipped that bad hires had cost the company well over $100 million.
Pillar #2: Invest in Training
Companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee than companies without formalized training, according to the Association for Talent Development (ATD). That’s not all. These companies also enjoy a 24% higher profit margin than those who spend less on training. This is especially true in customer support roles. New hires and existing customer support team members need to stay current in order to provide world-class support. A customer support team needs many skills to be successful. Things like:
- New product training
- Process training
- Leadership training
- Soft-skills training
Consistent training programs prepare everyone to provide the best service. Additionally, training on new technology — like Azure or AWS cloud environments, for example — keeps the employee growing and helps with their overall job satisfaction. Make sure that the team budget always includes allocations for training.
Pillar #3: Develop Strong Leaders
As the team expands with your company, team leaders and managers need to help with the personnel growth. Yet, 77% of organizations report they’re currently experiencing a leadership gap. Nurturing new leadership from within the company family helps to maintain the culture that has been developed and provides team members with new skills and a career path to work towards. Hiring from outside can bring in missing skills, but there is a risk to the culture that has been established.
Natural leaders stand out on a team. They rise above the pack. One effective way to help develop their leadership skills is to assign them to lead a project or encourage them to get involved in company event planning which includes members from other teams. This will help them to get visibility within the company and build leadership skills.
For team members promoted to leadership positions, it is vital that they are given outside training to make sure that they understand effective coaching techniques and gain skills on how to handle situations that will arise in their new role.
Pillar #4: Set Clear Standards
Setting service levels, implementing sound financial management, tracking critical metrics and establishing employee programs are all benchmarks on the path to a world-class customer support organization. Working towards a support standard is a great way to establish all of these elements. It sets the stage for continual improvement year-over-year.
There are several good quality standards that have been published for customer support teams. Choosing a program that fits your needs and your budget is an important first assessment. The best programs outline necessary processes, plans and measurements. Ultimately, they provide best practices and examples to strive towards. This will also help you to continue to raise the bar each year.
Here at M-Files in 2019, our Customer Success team has implemented a project to work towards the Service Capability and Performance (SCP) certification. The support standard that Service Strategies offers will give us a framework that includes 110+ elements of our business to examine. We’re adding new practices and procedures, and refining others to enhance our service operations. By year’s end, we’ll have executed extensive external audits at all global support centers.
It will be a challenging and rewarding year ahead for us, but the results of implementing these four pillars will have lasting effects on our journey as a world-class customer support team.