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Customer support is the act of providing answers, help, and guidance to your customers while they are using your service or product. It helps prioritize customer queries and manage customer interactions across channels such as email, phone, chat, in-person, via documentation and self-service guides, and much more.
The first time customer support was offered, in the modern sense, was with the establishment of the call center in the 1960s. With the evolution of business and the advancements in technology, companies transitioned from face-to-face conversation to phone support in order to engage with their customers.
Phone support remained the best option for providing support until the 1990s. As soon as the internet came into being, George Bush hosted the first-ever “Customer Service Week” during the first week of October in 1994. Email and live chat took over from phone support as being one of the most efficient and cheapest communication channels.
At the dawn of the 21st century, companies started inventing their own support software for enhanced technical support. And the technology wasn't just limited to a helpdesk or ticketing software. The rise of social media platforms and next-gen capabilities such as artificial intelligence, cloud-based software, intelligent automation, and remote desktop support allowed customer support teams to expand their customer engagement strategy beyond simple support operations.
Now, customers are firmly in the driver’s seat of their experience. They have a ton of power through social media and it’s easier than ever to research and switch to your competitor. The gold standard in customer support has been set - customers want convenience over everything else. And the top brands are already consistently providing it.
In order to compete in the future, customer support teams will need to provide an omnichannel, proactive experience. Customers won’t accept anything less than a well-designed, well-executed customer support strategy.
There are a few different types of customer support that most companies offer to their customers, though they may not use the same titles for them. They are reactive support, proactive support, and self-support.
This is what people typically think of when someone says “customer support”. If a customer sends an email, shares a problem over chat with your tech support, tags your company to tweet their concern, or calls into your hotline and you have a customer support representative to address their issues, it is termed as reactive support. It means that your team is reacting to a customer issue, rather than proactively trying to solve it. This is not a negative thing, but moving more towards proactive support rather than reactive support will provide a better experience for your customer.
For example, if a customer is looking for assistance in account management, they could use a proactive tool or knowledge base and get their answer instantly, or they could wait and receive a reactive response from your support team telling them the steps to take.
Proactive support addresses common customer support inquiries before the customer even realizes that they need support for the same. Service agents can leverage automation to attend to the critical needs of customers at the earliest. This can be achieved by using automated emails that trigger at different points in the customer lifecycle, suggested resource pages within your website, a user onboarding manual, or a how-to guide with the services offered or product details when your customer first signs up or purchases.
Note: Proactive support lowers the number of inquiries that the customer support team receives and reduces the resolution time for customer queries.
Pay attention to the trends of people reaching out to you in your inbox: What do they reach out about? What are they having trouble with? Once you get insights into the problems that you need to address, you can start to figure out ways to reach out to customers before they reach out to you. For example, if there is an FAQ that people have about your product, and it generally occurs around the three-month-usage mark, you may want to trigger an automated email, notification, or in-app message right before that mark and get them the answer before the question arises.
Self-support is popularly termed “self-service”. It refers to any scenario where a customer is able to find information or solve issues on their own, without reaching out to your support team.
For example, if you have documentation for your product or service, you can host webinars, write books, or have resource libraries available online which can be availed directly by the customers, without the involvement of the customer service team.
Both a proactive customer support strategy and a successful self-service portal depend on one thing - knowing your customer. By paying attention to customer behavior, you can identify those events that often trigger service requests, and therefore might require a proactive reachout, even before a customer has raised a ticket. The bottom line of this approach is to promote great customer service, resulting in customer retention.
While customer service and support may sound like the same thing, there are some noteworthy differences.
Customer support offers a resolution to the query raised by the customer. The responsibilities of a customer support agent include understanding and troubleshooting problems, providing an effective solution within the SLA, closing the request loop with any supporting comments, or following up to ensure the customer’s needs were catered to.
A customer service representative is responsible for serving the customers at every point of the customer lifecycle. A customer service rep interacts proactively with the customer to help them get more value out of the products or services and ensure customer satisfaction. They make use of their interpersonal skill sets and technical expertise, to address customer concerns, improve their overall experience of the product or service and maintain customer loyalty.
Customer support is an integral part of customer service. While customer support may be extended to a customer to address their concern over a stipulated time period, customer service walks every step of the way with the customer, to assist and to serve the customer.
It is important to quantify the success behind customer interactions so that the business strategy can be reworked as and when new processes are introduced. Here are a few performance metrics that can help you realize the true potential of your customer support team:
First Contact Resolution (FCR): FCR refers to when a customer support agent is able to resolve your customer’s inquiry within their first response. It’s valuable because it means that the support rep has answered every question that the customer had in the email, and also any possible follow-up questions that they could have after.
First Response Time (FRT): FRT is the time that it takes a customer support agent to respond to a customer reach out. This is valuable because it is important to the customer, but also because it shows if a customer support agent might be inundated with tickets. If a support rep’s FRT has spiked lately, they might have too much to deal with.
Number of responses to resolution: It is critical to measure the number of responses that it takes for a ticket to be resolved by your customer support team. While it is understandable that some customer issues are more complicated than others, an average rise in this metric can indicate that agents are unable to quickly find answers, or technical issues may be impacting team productivity.
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): CSAT is a customer feedback metric that measures the numerical indicator of your customer’s satisfaction with your product, service, and brand. It’s important because it indicates whether customers are satisfied, happy, and loyal, or if they feel untrusting or dissatisfied with your service or product.
Service Level Agreement (SLA): SLA is the amount of time that your company has promised your users that it will take for your customer support agents to reply to and resolve their tickets. This is valuable because it sets the expectation for your customers regarding how long they should expect to wait, and gives your support team a timeframe for prioritization.
We’ve talked about the past and history of customer support, but what about the future? There are so many new and exciting things on the rise, it’s inspiring to see how far the industry has come. Here are a few of the more exciting things on the horizon for customer support:
Data analytics and companies that specialize in it specifically are on the rise in support. For customer support agents and managers, data analytics would come in handy during proactive onboarding, live chat support, and product customization to enhance customer experience. Proactive support is going to change forever.
Self-service is only going to grow from here. We foresee a rise in customer support tools like FAQs for self-service and public forums or engaging communities for crowd-sourced support.
When people hear “AI” they usually think of chatbots, but AI comes in various shapes and sizes. For example, social signals help customer support agents and marketing folks to recognize which social media messages to prioritize over others. Tools like this will continue to grow and advance the industry.
Automating repetitive tasks is integral for customer support, but what if there was a way for customer support agents to learn about things that needed to be automated before they came to the forefront? Machine learning (ML) is entering the mainstream and is going to be incredibly impactful for automation to build better chatbots.
No matter which communication channel your customers choose to share their feedback through, they should be able to move from one platform to another and still be part of the same conversation without any technical glitches, new tickets, or extended complications. Customer experience should be seamless as much as it needs to be personalized. Soon, this will be the norm for customer support teams at companies that put their customers at the center of their strategy.
Customers prefer to be able to message instantaneously and receive a response as soon as the message gets delivered. Thanks to high-speed internet, future support will be offered more frequently across social media apps like Facebook and Twitter more than conventional communication channels. Your solutions would be just a profile tag away. The social shift is already underway from traditional chat and email models of support.
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