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What does Gold Standard Customer Support Look Like?

author
Morgan Aozasa
7 min read
What does Gold Standard Customer Support Look Like?

Customer service is often called the most important facet of a company, with some describing it as “a company’s only differentiator,” and statistics backing it up:

  • Customers will spend upwards of 17% more to do business with companies that deliver excellent customer service.
  • Increasing customer retention by only 5% typically raises profits by between 25% and 95%.
  • Bad customer support costs U.S. companies more than $62 billion every year.
  • Going forward, the value of customer support is expected to increase, with millennials prioritizing customer support more than any other age bracket.

What are the qualities of gold-standard customer support?

Since customer support is so important, where should a company begin? Gold-standard
customer support requires three elements: accuracy, speed, and empathy.

Accuracy

Fundamentally, customers contact support to solve their problems, so gold-standard support should provide customers with accurate, comprehensive solutions.

Speed

Second to the basic question of whether a solution is provided, speed is the single most important quality of support. Customers are quick to become fed up with waiting on hold, with many even saying that “no wait time is acceptable.” Since speed is of the essence, on-demand responses are the gold-standard.

Empathy

Customers contacting customer support are often already frustrated and expecting an unbearable support process, so empathy and emotional intelligence are key traits for customer support agents.

How do you build these key customer support elements into a company?

1. Focus on best practices and workflows

A customer support team is only as strong as its structure. To build a strong structure, start by asking simple, numerical questions about your company such as: “How big is your team?” and “What’s your ticketing/call volume?” These will help you make the choice between building a ticketing/live-chat oriented support infrastructure and a call center-oriented infrastructure. Ticketing/live-chat typically allows for faster, higher-quality customer support, while a call-center is typically less expensive and lower quality.

Next, take a look at your support escalation workflows. Start by segmenting 80% of the easy questions into a simple self-service solution like a website FAQ. Self-service solutions are often both cost-effective and efficient at solving customers needs.

There are some questions, however, that an FAQ can’t solve. They’ll need to be escalated up the ladder. At each escalation step, aim to solve a minimum of 80% of customer questions, only escalating the 20% most difficult questions.

2. Focus on efficiency and improving team performance

Now that you’ve built a support team, how can you ensure it runs smoothly? smoothly?

Metrics and KPIs are invaluable tools in ensuring agent alignment. The most important metrics for customer support agents and teams are response and resolution time, resolution rate, and (most importantly!) customer satisfaction,

Make sure you think through the metrics you choose,because creating the wrong metrics can be worse than none at all. If you only measure customer satisfaction at your touchpoints, for instance, you’re likely to assume customers are more satisfied than they are, because the most dissatisfied customers will be lost between steps.

All-in-all, an empowered support team working toward effectively designed metrics, with accountability to their peers is the most likely to be engaged and helpful, ultimately leading to more satisfied customers. Once you’ve set these systems in place, you can use them to hold your team to a high standard by reviewing customer feedback and checking agent performance against your metrics/KPIs.

3. Use high caliber customer support tools

When it comes to customer support, the most effective tools are a combination of a knowledge base (that provides self-serve support), ticketing, live chat, co-browse, and a call center out-of-a-box. While these can be expensive, they’re typically worth every penny.

Now that we’ve established what gold-standard support looks like, let’s examine a few examples:

Whizz Education’s gold-standard consumer customer support

Whizz Education provides individualized math learning to customers in five languages across eight countries. Let’s see how they use customer support to ensure their tutoring runs smoothly:

How does Whizz Education structure their customer support organization?

Whizz Education operates a five-person support team, with one manager and two support personnel in San Francisco, as well as two additional support personnel in London. This spread allows them to provide real-time support for 17 hours every day, covering the school day for a majority of their customers.

What customer support tools does Whizz Education use?

While researching their options, the Whizz Education team had trouble finding a tool focused specifically on support. They discovered that most chat tools are focused on lead generation or sales support, but that wasn’t what they needed. Instead, they were seeking a tool that would help their existing customers through instant screen-sharing, chat, and the ability to create inbound calls. As Sara Smith, Whizz Education’s head of Global Customer Success describes, “Acquire ticked off all our must-haves and was priced appropriately.” They now use Acquire, integrated with Salesforce.

What’s the workflow of Whizz Education’s customer support agents?

Due to the student-focused nature of their business, it was important to Whizz that customers be able to reach out directly from their online product immediately when they reach a sticking point. Most of their customer support agents’ work involves accepting inbound calls and sharing the customer’s screen in real time.

How does Whizz Education solve 80% of their customer support inquiries?

As Whizz Education’s software isn’t highly technical for their users, most of their simple inquiries are relatively straightforward. Their most common user questions are about subscriptions, purchases, product usage, and how the product ties into educational goals. Therefore, the company employs a single-tiered team of customer support agents and hasn’t needed to grow more levels.

How does Whizz Education handle more complicated customer support
questions?

When they receive more complex questions (like if a user finds a bug), Whizz Education’s customer support team loops in their internal quality assurance (QA) team. The support agent will refer a question to QA, receive an answer, and pass that answer back to the customer.

How does Whizz Education handle customer support escalations?

Due to the nature of their product and the size of their company, Whizz Education doesn’t require many support escalations. There are, however, still cases that must be run up the ladder. In these situations, a customer support agent notes the information and submits a ticket to the developer team to solve the problem.

How does Whizz Education measure and incentivize their customer support
team’s performance?

Whizz Education prides itself on its analytics-based approach to performance. Their team tracks the total number of calls received and the percent of customers that leave feedback, as well as the distribution of calls amongst their agents. When it comes to feedback, the team aims for 90% customer satisfaction from their support channel and reviews any negative feedback immediately.

Then, the Whizz Education team combines these metrics with a team meeting every other week where they review statistics, both for individual agents and the group as a whole.

To what does Whizz Education credit their gold-standard customer
support?

Whizz Education believes high-quality customer support requires the right people, tools, and atmosphere.

Support calls can lead to tense situations, especially when a caller is having a bad day, so first and foremost, Whizz Education hires agents who have a “helper mentality.” As Ms. Smith puts it, “you can teach people technical things, but you can’t teach them a positive tone.”

Then, Whizz Education empowers these top-notch agents with the necessary tools and a positive, supportive atmosphere. Customer support is a job that can wear down its agents, so their team makes sure to celebrate every success, even small successes like a positive comment from a customer.  

Gold-standard enterprise customer support

In addition to Whizz Education’s strong example of consumer-facing customer support, we spoke with a Fortune 400 SaaS company, Endaco, to understand how they provide gold-standard customer support in the enterprise sphere. In general, their perspective revolves around a fundamental strategy: since many SaaS options solve similar problems, quality of service has a huge impact.

How does Endaco structure their support organization?

Endaco offers a self-service customer support website followed by a tiered phone support system. They view their website as their first line of support, but if a customer can’t find a solution there, they can easily call to receive expert human assistance, constantly escalating until their problem is solved.

What customer support tools does Endaco use?

As a large conglomerate, Endaco is a “house of brands”—having acquired a handful of companies, Endaco’s support organization has the difficult task of ingesting all these processes into a single system.

For Endaco, the key to successful support is their Content Management System (CMS): while their different branches operate a total of 12 different CMSs, 70% of their products use Salesforce, so they use that as the hub for their customer support agents.

What’s the workflow of Endaco’s customer support agents?

Endaco’s team is broken up into three levels:

  • L1 agents provide troubleshooting, basic customer support, and escalation to L2.
  • L2 agents are responsible for accepting L1’s escalations, fleshing out their validity, and resolving them if possible.
  • L3 agents are the membrane between customer support and corporate. These agents only escalating the most difficult situations (like bugs), which they pass directly to the engineering team.

At each level along the way, the customer support agent’s job is to double check the problem, suggest workarounds, and escalate (if needed) before losing customer confidence.

How does Endaco solve 80% of their customer support inquiries?

Most of Endaco’s simple inquiries follow a common flow:

The customer reaches a phone-based decision tree and is routed to the appropriate agent.

  1. A user has a problem, so they search Endaco’s support site. If they can’t find the answer, they call Endaco’s customer support.
  2. The customer reaches a phone-based decision tree and is routed to the appropriate agent.
  3. After identifying the caller, the agent probes with questions to understand the issue and devise next steps.   

Through this simple system, Endaco solves over 80% of customer support issues on (or even before) a single phone call.

How does Endaco handle more complicated customer support questions?

For a company as large as Endaco, “complex” can encapsulate a wide range. While a large percentage of their customers will experience their typical three-tiered approach, Endaco also provides their large customers with dedicated support personnel, tasked with solving these more knowledge-intensive problems.

How does Endaco handle customer escalations?

In addition to their simple L1→L2→L3 escalation process, Endaco divides their support organization into two parts.

Their agents deal with typical calls, while supervisors specialize in more difficult issues like disgruntled customers, billing issues, refunds, and special approvals.

How does Endaco measure and incentivize their customer support team’s
performance?

Since different teams optimizing for their individual KPIs can harm the customer experience, Endaco focuses its metrics on the end-to-end experience.

For example, Endaco’s support team users customer emails as the key method of locating customers in their system. Capturing an email over the phone can be tiresome, however, so their L1 team would prefer the email already be captured before a call starts. Since many customers become annoyed when required to submit their email before making a call, a typical metric structure would incentivize the website team against requesting the email. This leads to a difficult situation: If each team was optimizing for their own metrics, the business goal—capturing the email would never be achieved at all!

Removing this sort of siloing is an important step in avoiding situations where each team achieves their goals… but harms the customer experience and the business in the process.

To what does Endaco credit their gold-standard customer support?

First and foremost, Endaco prioritizes their L1 staff. Their L1s are given the power and tools to solve customer problems and improve their lives. As one of their customer support representatives puts it, “you can’t have a 5-star hotel with 1-star staff.”

In Closing

From a five-person support team to an international conglomerate, customer support is often the difference between a disgruntled customer seeking satisfaction elsewhere and a satisfied user singing the praises of your product. A properly structured team and the right tools can make all the difference.

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