This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.
Thousands of customer support agents will go to work today and do the exact same thing they did yesterday: pick up the phone, answer a common question, hang up the phone, pick up the phone, answer the same question, and hang up the phone again. And tomorrow get up and do it all again. It's no wonder the average company loses 27% of its agents each year to attrition.
If you run a customer support center at your company, consider your ultimate goals: faster time-to-resolution, increased customer satisfaction, better employee retention, and higher rates of employee satisfaction and happiness. These are the Holy Grail of our industry--and while daunting, they are attainable. Here are five key steps to becoming a higher-performing support organization:
* Shift live agents from answering known questions to solving new issues.
Support staff who repeatedly provide answers to known questions may boost resolution rates, but technology solutions can handle the job more efficiently. Staff should instead work on new problems and, when they find solutions, submit them for internal review so they can be offered to customers quickly via a knowledge base.
To accomplish this, agents need to improve their writing skills, change how they ask customers questions, and diligently publish their answers. To facilitate this shift, support services leaders should consider new agent incentives, such as rewarding agents when customers are able to resolve their issues using the solutions published on the knowledge base.
* Deploy a comprehensive multimedia knowledge base, with a virtual attendant, to give users easy, intuitive access to known solutions.
The services industry has long assumed that teams of knowledgeable people need to dig through numerous solutions and uncover the few that warrant publishing. This approach is expensive, and publishing answers can take days or weeks. Thus, key answers go unnoticed, leaving agents to reinvent them repeatedly.
Several steps can be taken to avoid these problems. Knowledge capture systems can be structured to automatically prioritize articles, a virtual attendant can mimic a Tier 1 agent, fielding user questions and accessing articles in the system, and multimedia resources can demonstrate how to solve problems.
Agents can be trained and encouraged to search the knowledge base for possible answers, while the knowledge system captures customer questions coming through the support website. And these answers are helpful to customers, with 65% of clients finding answers unassisted.
* Reinvent the support website and drive customer adoption.
Many customers will solve problems themselves, provided they can quickly get to the information and resources they need. Others prefer interaction with support agents. Putting troubleshooting and solution management tools into customers' hands allows them to interact with the company in a way that best fits their needs. Clients can themselves monitor service quality, use built-in sniffers to uncover potential issues, and troubleshoot problems. Agent-based support options include web chat, talk and video, as well as fast, direct escalation.
* Make it fast and easy for customers with new issues to collaboratively access qualified live agents via the support website.
Customers across industries are using automated solutions to resolve issues. Sometimes, though, they need an agent -- immediately. The transformation from a phone-oriented support organization to a truly automated system includes making it simple for customers to reach a live agent when they need one and providing them easy access to published answers.
Though in its infancy today, live video support accessed through the website has the potential to dramatically alter the support dynamic. Video can foster rapport and understanding between customers and support personnel quickly and convincingly.
Customers want the ability to access support the way they want, whether it's via Web-based chat, voice or video. A support website should be easy to log into and provide a fast connection to the right live resources.
* Provide emergency escalation procedures and outage buttons on the website.
Establishing a system to automate escalations can accelerate problem resolution. Escalation schemes can be established for various issues, such as comments on agent performance or sales department queries regarding pricing and quotes.
For example, a "Total Service Outage" button can provide immediate restoration assistance. On-call emergency recovery teams tackle issues, with technical talent swarming problems if needed.
Transforming the escalation process also discourages customers from going around the system and contacting senior executives. Such circumvention can prolong issue resolution as the executive seeks the appropriate personnel to address the problem.
Sustaining the effort
Achieving the Holy Grail of increased margins, improved customer satisfaction and reduced agent attrition through support services transformation is a major undertaking, and keeping customers and employees engaged throughout the process is crucial.
While new technologies should be a core part of the transformation, keep the broader strategy in view. Understand the building blocks, including knowledge management, instant resolution publishing and rapid escalation processes, and maintain measurable objectives all along.
Finally, demonstrating the value of transformation in real-time can sustain the momentum for change and position the support organization to meet growing customer and employee needs.