How Customer Support Strategy Differs By Industry
Support, despite being uniformly similar in principle, is incredibly different across individual industries. Yes, people still need help with a product or application, and the customer support team is expected to provide it in a timely and efficient manner. But, across different industries, there are different language patterns that people follow, different types of support that people prefer over others, and even different SLAs that people need to justify spending money on receiving support. This article will focus on specific customer support benchmarks across different industries, and on the strategies that companies use to hit them.
It is fascinating how, even in the same region, customer support by industry is such a vastly differentiated thing, but according to the Customer Happiness Benchmark Report there are always a few specific metrics that everybody cares about.
One-touch resolution (also known as first contact resolution or FCR) is one of the most important metrics across industries and for good reason! This metric is the one that shows that your customers are getting their questions answered on the first try and that they haven’t had to email in again for more clarification. Beyond that, though, it also helps your management team get a deeper understanding of how complex the issues that you’re dealing with are. So, for example, if you have a pretty low one-touch resolution rate, the issues your support team is handling may be a bit more complex.
Across industries, 71% of tickets were resolved on the first contact. Hospitals and healthcare had the highest resolution on the first contact at 83% whereas banks and others in the financial industry had the lowest percentage at 55%. Most interesting out of all of the metrics is that SMBs and Enterprise support teams do not differ much across one-touch resolution percentage—they oscillate between 71% and 73%, respectively.
First Response Time
Customers love quick responses, and while using the time to first response as a quality measure certainly has its ups and downs, the fact that customers care so much about it does not change. While, depending on volume, it might not always have a huge impact on support to carry it out, it can have a gigantic impact on how positively your customers rate your interaction, or how favorably they come into the conversation.
According to our Customer Happiness Benchmark Report, the average first response time was 7 hours across all industries. Holy moly. Even the most minimal of first response times are at 4 hours, which are in holding companies and manufacturing for computer hardware. UserVoice has noted that of all of the positive ratings that they received over the course of the study, 25% came from people who received responses in under 15 minutes1. We’ve got a lot of work to do across all customer support industries here.
Almost every company should have a service level agreement (SLA) with their customers where they set the expectation of how long someone can wait before a response. This is particularly important during outages and for enterprise-level customers. The length of time that each company sets is specific to the company and is neither region nor industry specific. It’s also even possible that the SLA is not explicitly set, but instead implied, or mentioned in your auto response to your customers (for example ‘We’ll try to get back to you within 24 hours.’).
No matter what your SLA is we found that across industry and region, 86% of all tickets were handled within SLA. And in the enterprise-sized industrial manufacturing & services industry issues were resolved within SLA 91% of the time—well above the average (what superheroes!).
Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is one of the most important metrics that you have to measure your customer support on. Basically, it measures the satisfaction that your customer has with the support interaction and services that you are providing. If the score increases, it shows that you are doing a good job and satisfying the needs of your customers; if the score decreases, it may mean that something has shifted in your support strategy that you need to fix. To be clear: CSAT and NPS are two different numbers. CSAT is surveyed for after a customer interaction and asks questions specific to the interaction. NPS is more marketing and brand related and measures the entire experience customers have with the company (including service).
Across all industries, the customer support benchmark for CSAT is 78%.
Why Benchmark Yourself?
Great, so now you understand the most common metrics, how you can use them, and benchmark yourself against other industries. But why are these metrics and knowing how you stack up so important? There are two big advantages to benchmarking your support against others in your industry: hiring proactively and setting better support strategies for your customers.
Having a good handle on what your support team is doing is extremely important when it comes to knowing when to hire staff. If you do not know what is happening in the inbox, you may be blindsided when a huge influx of tickets comes in, whereas your support team who are in the trenches every day could likely have told you from the get-go. Knowing your industry and what the ticket volume looks like over the course of the year is incredibly important.
For example, as a retailer, Amazon knows that it will have a busy season during certain holidays such as Black Friday and Christmas. So, they always start to hire more people in the third quarter so that it has enough trained support people to handle the extremely high ticket volumes at the end of the year and maintain excellent metrics. You can do this either by hiring full-time, or temporary agents. Freshdesk offers Day Passes that allows you to buy temporary seats for seasonal agents without blowing a hole in your budget.
Building Support Strategy
When you have knowledge of which metrics are important for your industry, you can start to tailor your support strategy to fit the kind of support your customers value. For example, if you are a telecom company, 76% of your customers are looking for digital-only support2, usually via social media or chat. But for companies like ones in the medical industry, customers value high-touch, hyper-personalized support, usually in the form of a phone call, or direct contact. Provide your customers with what they crave and find value in, and you will create customers for life.
Develop more knowledge so that you can create strategies that serve your customers best, not your company.
Benchmarking Volume Across Industries
Volume, rather than the number of customers, is the metric that has the highest impact on how your support needs to scale. You can have high volume, for instance, with a minimal amount of customers—this usually happens when you have a particularly complex, niche or technical product. Similarly, you can have low volume and a high number of customers if you’ve got a fairly straightforward product, or have spent a lot of effort on your self-service offerings.
All that being said, here are the industries with the highest volume across the board. You’ll notice that most of them are industries that most, if not everyone, uses:
The transportation industry has an average of 675 tickets per agent per month, which is the highest across all industries and is a steep slope over the 475 ticket/agent average. The main reason behind this is likely the high amount of logistics that go into transportation and shipping, and the capacity crunch that the industry is currently experiencing. Meaning: there are more things that need to be shipped than the transportation industry has the capacity to manage. All of that planning leads to many more conversations with customers, and thus many more tickets for each agent to handle.
The computer software industry has an average of 545 tickets monthly per agent which, though slightly lower than that of transportation, is still higher than the average across all industries. Because computer software is such a broad swath, this number is likely an average itself and may differ across technical or non-technical computer software. For example, a to-do list app may get fewer tickets per agent than a biometrical analysis software. That being said, as the rise of chatbots and automation continues3, we may start to see a dip in this number.
In the telecom industry, every month agents handle 450 tickets, which is lower than the 475 average but still puts telecommunication in the top five industries for volume in customer support. Telecom includes anything from cellular phone providers to cable and internet and, given that annual revenue for the industry is forecasted at 887.4 billion dollars this year, it’s no surprise that they get a large number of tickets. Considering the number of people that are using these services though, ticket rates are actually fairly low.
Retail customers provide around 441 tickets every month to each agent—not surprising given the nuances and logistics of purchasing an item, whether virtually or in the store. Specifically, the expectations for retail, whether as an SMB or an enterprise are super high. The in-store (or virtual environment) are always changing to match shifting standards, such as the fashion of the times, newly available products, recalls, and price shifts. This means that retail can be one of the most difficult industries in which to provide support and manage expectations, especially given the volume of tickets.
The insurance industry has the lowest of the five highest monthly ticket amounts per agent at 438, which is surprising given the number of issues that an insurance agent must handle on the daily basis. Think about it: claims, inquiries about pricing, the multiple touch points needed for every single inquiry—that’s so much to handle. However, insurance agents seem to have some of the best practices, especially when it comes to high-touch support, down pat4. Pretty impressive for having one of the highest ticket volumes across industries.
Higher Productivity = Lower CSAT?
In most industries, the higher the number of tickets an agent has to handle, the lower the CSAT will be for that agent and the company as a whole. In fact, chasing speed alone can make your support team look inaccurate and incompetent, thus leaving the customer with a sour experience. So, unsurprisingly, several of the industries above have an average CSAT of around 45%—yikes! But, two of them are doing something differently: insurance and the computer software industries both have average CSATs of 80% or above—that’s even higher than the industry average. So, what are these industries doing that the others might not be?
Shifting Strategy for Higher Volume Industries
You couldn’t, even if you wanted to, make your customers go away. So, rather than wishing and hoping that someday the tickets will dwindle, start to shift strategy to maximize the time that your agents are able to spend providing quality answers, rather than just trying to speed through the queue. When you free up some of their resources to think more impactfully on how best to provide support, you’ll find that your CSAT raises even while your ticket count grows in tandem.
Self-service is one of the lowest hanging fruit on the tree when it comes to figuring out better ways to support customers without directly emailing them. Similarly, 72% of customers prefer using a self-service tool over assisted service. That’s bonkers! Task your agents with documenting anything that comes through the inbox with frequency, and you’ll find yourself starting to deflect some of the simplest (and hence most accident-prone) types of tickets that you get.
Omni-channel support is multichannel support’s more sophisticated, easier-to-use older sibling. Multichannel effectively means that your company offers a variety of ways for the customer to get in touch with you. Omni-channel means that you offer all of those ways, but that you do the work for the customer, so they don’t have to worry about who is handling their ticket and where.
Not only that, but omni-channel also includes things like interactive media or video tutorials, which can be particularly useful when introduced at the right time. We noticed that not all industries have fully optimized their support for omni-channel. However, the ones that have adapted to this trend have seen significant improvement in their customer satisfaction score. Pharma and biotech, for example, open the list with 176% increase in customer satisfaction.
Another hot ticket item that everyone is talking about: proactive support is the act of providing support to your customers before they run into an issue, rather than reacting to an incoming ticket. That can look like an email campaign built around common issues people have with your product or application, or it could be something like user onboarding within your app. The main point, though, is that it addresses a need proactively that normally customers would feel pain about and need to receive reactive support for.
This is good for a few reasons: first, it deflects tickets out of your inbox, so your agents have more time to focus on the tickets that they are continuing to get. Second, it gives your customers a better experience—no one wants to wait for a response to an email, chat, or phone call. If you anticipate their issues before they even have them, they don’t get the deflated feeling of not understanding your product and there’s never that inevitable dip in their enthusiasm or satisfaction.
AI is still emerging as a trend in the support industry, and so it remains to be seen how fully it will be able to resolve the issues it’s supposed to. That being said, if you use AI as it is meant to be used5 rather than trying to use it to replace a human, it can be a useful way to deflect some tickets, lower volume, and help your agents regain some of their bandwidth. A robot will never be able to replace human interaction, but it can help direct people to the right human and replace some of the lower hanging fruit aspects of support so your team members can get up to what they were hired for.
Some Final Thoughts
Support, as similar as it is at its barest of bones, is different across all regions and industries. Some industries revel in the chaos of high ticket load and are still able to maintain high CSAT, while others drown in the tide. No matter where your company fits in, focus on maintaining your quality metrics while enhancing ticket deflection, and your CSAT will continue to remain steady.
With all of this knowledge in your tool belt, you can’t go wrong!
1 — http://community.uservoice.com/blog/science-customer-service-data-proves-faster-responses-mean-happier-customer/
2 — https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/how-telecom-companies-can-win-in-the-digital-revolution
3 — https://medium.com/@epfannmoeller/customer-service-3-conditions-for-successful-chatbot-implementations-8e0fd5dca335
4 — https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2017/06/02/what-the-insurance-industry-can-teach-you-about-customer-service-and-client-focus/#3316bfcf5f08
5 — http://www.parlo.io/blog/the-3-essentials-to-building-ai-bots-for-enterprise-it-help-desk