Hiring is Not the Only Way to Scale Your Customer Service Team

Sometimes it’s not about what you do. It’s about what you don’t do and we don’t do a lot so we can do what we do really well. – Jacob Jaber, Philz Coffee

Here’s the thing. It’s fairly easy to be customer-focused when you are a small company.

You will be able to give more attention to each and everybody contacting your support. Your product team would be eager to get customer feedback. Every new customer is a milestone.

But as the number of customers increases, the team’s workload also increases. And of course, the first ones to feel it would be the customer service teams.

As you grow, you can forget about working alongside the rest of the company with the singular focus of making customers happy. In fact, the customer service representatives will be so buried in their own support queues that they’d forget the rest of the company.

Here are more growth problems you’d see in customer service teams:

  1. Support reps rarely get to work on the big ideas anymore because they are constantly interrupted by high priority issues.

  2. They stop solving problems as a team. Each person is so loaded with work that they are forced to work as silos.

  3. Customers start to complain that the support team is not very responsive.

This is when any customer service manager would decide to scale their team. But the first thing they think of when they think about scaling is hiring more people.

It makes sense because more work can be handled by more people. But hiring mistakes are expensive and cumbersome. More people will lead to more processes which might make it even harder to be customer focused. So you have to extra careful when you think about expanding your team.

So what else can you do to scale?

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Before hiring: Try scaling with self-service

Online self-service is a method of helping customers find solutions to their problems themselves.

Building a good self-service experience is an ideal way to scale your team if most customers contact your support with issues that go “How do I do X?”

Self-service is more than having just an FAQ section. It is understanding and anticipating the problems your customers have and giving them solutions in an easily consumable and understandable format.

Now, you cannot set up online self-service overnight. You may worry about spending so much time and effort setting it up when you are not even sure if it will work.

But luckily, with self-service, you can run a trial:

  • Collect the top 10 how-to questions that customers frequently ask.
  • Write detailed answers to these questions (with plenty of screenshots or visual elements).
  • Publish them on your website or on your customer portal, if you are using a help desk support software. Just make sure you can track the number of visits to the articles.
  • Now, this is the most important part, make these answers easily findable. In fact, finding them should be easier than finding your support email address or phone number.
  • Encourage agents to send article links to customers who contact you without going through your knowledge base. You can make it clear to customers that this is something you are experimenting with to see if it helps serve them better.

After a couple of weeks, you should see a drop in the number of tickets related to the 10 how-to questions. You can make sure that this drop is related to the knowledge base by checking the number of visits they got.

You can also tell your agents to talk to the customers who chose to contact support about these issues in spite of the articles. Did they not see the article or did they not find it useful?

Based on all these data points, you can figure out if self-service is the best way to scale for you.

Once you have decided to go this route, you need to get someone on your team to own this. They need to make sure that the articles stay relevant and up-to-date. They should also get the rest of the team to write more articles that cover the next 10 how-to’s and the next 10 and so on.

They should also focus on smoothening the customer’s self-service experience. They should make sure that:

  • the knowledge base tool’s or your website’s search is top notch.
  • the visitors are able to provide feedback for the article they just read.
  • customers are easily navigating through the knowledge base.
  • finding an alternate method of contacting your support is simple.

Another great advantage of having a self-service option is that it makes a repository of information about the product or service available to the customer service representatives too. Even if customers don’t get into the habit of using self-service regularly, support reps can reuse the content from the articles and save time.

Is scaling by hiring right for you?

Sometimes, your company can become too big for customers to rely entirely on self-service. The issues customers face might be too complex for them to troubleshoot by themselves. In these cases, hiring more people is a good option. But make sure that you ask yourself these questions before you hire:

1. Is your team’s workload constantly on a rise or does it go up only during certain days?

Hire full-time employees only when the rise in the number of issues is constant. If the workload peaks only on certain days, you are better off hiring part-time employees.

2. Does your team have a set of culture code or mission that drives them?

The biggest problem with hiring is maintaining your culture. Your customers will be used to a certain kind of treatment from your company. In a small team, making sure every agent is customer-focused is easy. But with more new employees who have different experiences and background, the culture of the team will change.

And this can be upsetting for the customers. So before you hire, as a team, introspect and find out what you stand for. You may be living the culture without even putting them down on paper for so long. But with more people coming in, it’s important to codify your culture. Over-communicating your values before the new reps get set in their ways.

3. Do you have a proper process in place for training the new employees and integrating them into the team?

More than other functions, training is very important for customer service teams because it’s their job to know things. A customer is not going to think that being new is a valid excuse for not solving a simple problem. So as soon as the new employees come in, they need to be trained on the product or service they are supporting.

After the training period, they can probably shadow someone on the job for a while or you can even assign them a mentor. This way, apart from just hearsay, they can get coached in your way of doing things.

4. Are you confident in your hiring process?

The people you hire need to be able to make decisions on the fly, do what is right for the customer and the company. They need to be able to learn quickly and have the drive to make customers happy. Are you confident that your hiring process will filter out the right people from the job from all the applicants?

If not, the hiring process needs to be fixed before you can hire.

You can work with the hiring team to mold the process for your requirement. Write down the quality of candidates you are looking for, expand the hiring committee to include more people from your team and suggest them the right places to look for these candidates. You can even sit with them and figure out the right interview questions and exercises.

If you don’t have a hiring team, get help from your team members. Make sure they are aware of the opening and give them a chance to refer people they know.

When you max out hiring: Scale by optimizing

After you hire a certain number of people you might feel like you have hit the ceiling on hiring (ie) the addition of more people to the team will have no effect on the workload. This is because hiring (without fixing underlying growth problems) follows the law of diminishing returns.

This is when you need to start looking internally. Identify and reduce unnecessary processes. Cut down meetings that are useless and time-consuming.

Optimize the environment so the team can give the best possible output. Here are some steps you can take to scale by optimizing:

Use technology

No matter what problem the team is facing, there’s probably a tool out there solving it.

Is your team missing out on responding to important issues? Use a ticketing tool.

Is your team caught up doing mundane repetitive tasks? Use productivity and automation tools.

It will give your team a chance to think beyond the repetitive tasks and look for challenging problems they can solve.

Set up an operations team

As you expand, you’ll need to establish an operations team responsible for the infrastructure that keeps the support team running – the ticketing, reporting, training, documentation systems and more. This way, your customer service team is less focused on maintaining and troubleshooting tools and more focused on helping customers.

Cull unmanageable channels

It feels nice to be able to provide support in every way customers want. But that’s not something every company can afford to do.

It just doesn’t make sense to reduce the quality of support for 100% of the customers because 5% of them are only comfortable with a certain channel.

It’s not easy to remove a channel that a small percentage of your customers rely on. You will face backlash initially, but make sure that they easily find an alternative way to reach you.

More training

Training is not exclusive to new employees. Sometimes, existing employees need to go through a boot camp and refresh their skills too.

When support reps are solving one problem after another, they rarely get a chance to take a breather and improve their skills. This will become apparent when the number of escalations increases. Training gives them an opportunity to catch up on the recent developments in their subject matter.

It will also be reassuring for them to know that their managers care about their personal growth.

Influence the company

Set up a process that your customer service team can use to communicate customer feedback with the rest of the company. Whether it is the product team or the engineering team, work with them to figure out how to make the product or service work for the customer.

This will not only make the whole organization customer-centric, but it will also reduce the number of issues raised by the customers.

People say that growth problems are good problems to have. There’s no doubt they are. But solving these problems creatively at the right time is very important for them to be remembered as good problems.

What are some creative ways in which you scale your customer service team? Let me know in the comments section.