Did you know: The average benchmark for a good time-to-response is around 60 minutes, and it should take less than 24 hours to handle a customer request from start to finish.
How do your own numbers compare?
Are your support team swamped?
If you’ve been scaling up on staff but still find your queues fully loaded, maybe there’s a leak in the bucket that you shouldn’t patch up by adding more reps.
Investing in reducing the number of tickets frees your support team up to improve their internal processes and do more rewarding work. It also saves you from hiring more reps than necessary just to handle avoidable issues.
In 2017, businesses reported a 56% increase in tickets versus the previous year. Products are getting more complex, but the techniques used to assist users (and allow them to assist themselves) don’t evolve as rapidly.
Let’s look at some of the factors to blame for a high support load, and how you can fix it.
Your help documentation isn't getting used
Research shows that 91% of customers would use self-service support if it was available and tailored to their needs, but 40% reach out to a rep if they don't find answers on the knowledge base.
Obviously there's a direct relationship between how good your knowledge base is, and how many support tickets will come in -- self-service is preferred by the majority of customers. Reps are usually a last resort; 59% are frustrated when they have to reach out to your support team.
One-to-one support is always a necessary channel to offer, but the majority of users would rather help themselves. This is because it's often faster to scan through articles and figure it out than it is to find a support contact and formulate your exact issue.
So, how can you make your knowledge base easier to use, and deflect more support tickets?
One way is to include links to knowledge base content contextually inside your product, to help users discover the exact documents they need.
Take a look at this tooltip example from Slack:
Notifications are one of the features Slack gives you a lot of granular control over. With that control comes complexity. While Slack's in-app copy usually speaks for itself, here is one of the rare places it links to help documentation, to help users discover a comprehensive reference if necessary.
Another way to educate users without making them read an article or do passive work is to build bite-sized help into your product.
To train users to be successful on their own and reduce support demand; analyze your current support ticket themes and look for common stumbling blocks.
Your product analytics will also provide insights on where users most often bounce, or which patterns indicate a user is stuck.
By learning from your analytics, support tickets and user interviews, you can strategically add helpful tips that will answer questions the user's don't have to send to support.
For inspiration, take a look at this example from MailChimp, which makes a core feature clear to new users:
Imagine how many less people messaged support asking how to use the drag-and-drop editor thanks to that tooltip!
Your support team’s internal processes are broken
Building the processes you need to run a support team is hard work. It takes trial and error, dedication to policy, and continuous improvement.
Over time, you can gain the knowledge you need to optimize support -- for example, by mining your rep’s sent tickets for common answers that can be saved as canned responses. Or, by producing better training processes that help reps thoroughly understand the product and the best way to support its users.
One reason support queues can get backlogged is a broken process causes each ticket takes longer to assign and close than it should.
Specifically, this could be:
- Lack of effective canned responses
- Poor escalation hand-off process
- Bad/no employee onboarding process for new reps
The majority of tickets should be able to be formulated out of canned responses -- it saves reps from wasting time repeating themselves, and helps to improve your support team's consistency.
A robust customer support software platform like LiveAgent makes it easy to create and send canned responses for a number of different categories.
For example, you can establish categories such as "Technical Issue" concerned with product functionality, "Sales Question" for customers interested in upgrading their subscription or looking for clarification around pricing, "Billing Issue" for customers experiencing difficulty with their payments, and "Feature Request" for when a customer enquires about your product roadmap.
Addressing the issue of a poor hand-off process when a support ticket needs to be escalated comes down to, you guessed it, communication. While this is often easier said than done, all it takes is a simple collaboration tool (ideally within your support software) that allows you to easily tag and provide colleagues with all of the information they need to address the issue effectively.
Arguably the most critical internal process that, if broken, will consistently result in late response times and poor support, is employee onboarding for new reps. Of course, we all want to make our employees feel motivated to deliver the best service possible. This comes down to the human connection you are able to foster between the individual, other employees and the product they are helping customers use.
While building motivation is essential, it needs to be paired with comprehensive product training. That's the dynamic duo of quality customer support. If all of your reps have a solid understanding of how the product works and what value it provides customers, they will feel much more confident and are therefore more likely to respond faster.
We all know what it feels like to bury our head in the sand when we feel unprepared or unable to address certain situations. A thorough onboarding will minimize the risk of this happening to your reps. Seeing that 89% of businesses compete through the level of customer experience they're able to deliver, investing the time and effort to properly train your reps is well worth it.
You’re attracting the wrong kinds of customers
The fact of the matter is, some customers are worth more than others -- particularly in the world of SaaS.
Beyond the well-known Pareto principle that states 80% of a company’s revenue comes from 20% of its customers, Harvard Business School Professor Sunil Gupta has provided further evidence to show the importance of retaining customers that provide high levels of profitability.
The research done to suggest that such high-value customers should be identified and focused on is compelling. The conclusion?
Acquiring a customer is far more costly than keeping a customer.
- Sunil Gupta
Since acquiring is costly, it’s important to make sure you are spending valuable resources on the correct customer segment. This works to prevent your support team from getting overwhelmed, and avoid wasting time on customers that actually offer little profit potential.
Freemium products are especially prone to attracting tire kickers who are more likely to bother support than convert. This will create problems for your reps which could compound to waste hours each week:
Imagine a situation where a number of new customers begin working with the freemium version of your product. You’re a relatively small company with 5 support reps. Over the next few weeks, more and more people sign up for the freemium product and your support team gradually reaches the point where they are continuously responding to customers that have no profitability associated with them whatsoever.
While this may not necessarily mean you are attracting the wrong kinds of customers, it means that your support team are focusing on the wrong customers. This can become a serious issue as you scale because it becomes easier to lose track of which customer segments should be focused on from a support perspective, potentially causing high-value customers to churn.
One of the most obvious and effective ways to address the problem of attracting the wrong kinds of customers is to revisit your pricing plan and put some thought into how it can seamlessly encourage customers to upgrade their tier, thereby increasing their profit potential.
By doing so, your support team will be able to allocate their time and effort more effectively and avoid getting bogged down with support requests from customers that never took your product seriously in the first place.
A few other ways to address this issue include:
- Niche down your market and marketing strategy
- Re-think the level of support offered to certain tiers of customers
- Re-evaluate your sales qualification process
The first point is difficult to effectively act upon when you are a young organization that has a small customer base. You can do all of the market research you want, but it's really only with growth that you begin to nail down what kind of persona(s) you should be targeting in marketing campaigns.
Once you feel like you have a solid understanding of your ideal customer profile, tailor your messaging to attract them and reduce the likelihood of onboarding customers that are going to suck up your support team's resources and provide little in return. Of course, this is inevitable to a certain extent, but having a targeted marketing strategy will set the foundation for a loyal customer base.
The second point is a more short-term solution that could have an immediate impact on the workload of your support team. Analyze how much time is being spent providing support to the various customer tiers. There may be a huge imbalance that can be resolved by enforcing different levels of support based on profitability and product engagement.
Are your customers destined to churn from the get-go?
Re-evaluate your sales qualification process to assess how the sales team qualify leads and define prospects as a good fit.
What this really comes down to is ensuring sales reps are asking the right set of qualifying questions and that they have been trained properly to understand what type of buyer would draw the most value from your product or service offering.
A saturated, hectic support queue is a symptom of a deeper issue. Above, we looked at some of the most likely causes to help you bring your support processes back under control. Now it’s over to you.