9 strategies for scaling customer support teams successfully
One of the challenges of growing a business is ensuring your customer service stays consistent. Learn how to scale your customer support team without sacrificing quality.
Published July 14, 2020
Last updated January 7, 2022
Is your support team’s workload steadily increasing? Are tickets slipping through the cracks? Are your customers complaining about long wait times? If the answers are yes, then it’s time to scale your customer support team.
Scaling customer support is tricky. You have to get enough hands on deck without hiring the wrong people or breaking the bank. You also want to expand your team’s capacity without losing the personal touch your customers know and love about your brand.
Read on to see how you can improve support processes by empowering customers and agents alike with the right tools and resources.
What does it mean to scale customer support?
Generally speaking, scaling support means anticipating blocks for your customers and working to prevent them. Teams need to proactively set up or optimize processes to eliminate potential problems.
But scaling support can vary from business to business because it requires identifying unique gaps in your customer service and then making the necessary changes. Some companies may need to move from makeshift tools to customer relationship management software. Others might need to hire their first dedicated customer service agent or add new support channels.
You’ll need to evaluate your customer service and determine what it means to scale for success. Then, you must create a plan for implementing and measuring your approach.
What are the benefits of scaling customer support?
Consumers want fast resolutions, 24/7 customer service, and proactive support from brands—all of which are tough to provide as you acquire more buyers. But failing to meet these expectations can lead to lower customer retention and hinder your growth.
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, nearly 50 percent of customers would switch to a competitor after a negative experience. In the case of multiple poor experiences, that number jumps to 80 percent.
Scaling customer service helps you maintain exceptional support even when your customer base and ticket volume increase. Enhance your support capabilities by using better tools, refining processes, and training and mentoring agents. With these adjustments, your support team will have more customer visibility and much-needed resources at their fingertips—allowing them to deliver excellent service consistently.
How do you scale customer support?
How you achieve scalable customer service depends on your customers’ needs, your product or service, and your industry. For example, a software startup might need to hire more support reps, while a midsized ecommerce store may need a knowledge base to handle frequently asked questions. Here are some practical strategies you can follow to scale your customer support team based on your particular situation.
1. Automate tasks with the right customer service software
Choose customer service software that automates repetitive tasks like entering data, typing responses, and reporting bugs.
You don’t need to build out a large tech stack immediately. Start with basic tools that can address the challenges your customer support team faces. AI-powered chatbots can provide personalized support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A ticketing system can sort, prioritize, and track customer questions as they move through the queue. A customer relationship management (CRM) platform can gather important customer data and track interactions.
Look for customer service software that:
- Consolidates everything agents need in a single workspace
- Surfaces customer context that results in speedier resolutions and happier customers
- Facilitates easy collaboration among team members
- Captures data and insights that can guide your CX strategy
Ensure the software you pick can scale along with your business so you don’t need to switch solutions every few months. It should be flexible, serve more than one function, and integrate with other tools in your tech stack.
2. Build a knowledge base
Self-service resources like a knowledge base enable customers to find answers quickly and help agents resolve issues faster. Use knowledge base content to address common questions, educate consumers about your product, and show buyers how to complete complicated tasks.
Not all businesses need a knowledge base, though. If the same support requests keep coming in, an FAQ page on your website may be sufficient. But if you sell something complex, like photography equipment, a knowledge base can help you share information that covers the wide range of technical difficulties your customers face.
To create a knowledge base, begin by establishing a process for identifying issues that need documentation. Review support tickets using a tool that can spot and gather trends. Assign support agents and subject matter experts (like engineers and developers) to write content for your knowledge base; you could also hire technical writers. Create a style guide to ensure quality and consistency across knowledge base articles.
Once the knowledge base is built, both customers and agents can use it to easily get the information they need.
3. Hire more support staff
Expand your customer support team by hiring more agents to handle increased demand and keep up with incoming tickets.
The easiest way to know when you need to hire more agents? Determine whether you’re meeting your targets for certain help desk metrics—such as response time, handle time, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and customer satisfaction (CSAT) score. If your team isn’t achieving those goals due to the heavier workload, then you need more people on the job.
Before you start hiring, Bite Squad’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Kyle Hale suggests setting up a structured hiring process. “We think about where we’re posting our ads, how our job description sounds, what our interview guides look like,” says Hale.
Write a job description that outlines the responsibilities, experience level, and skills required for the role so you attract the right candidates. Encourage existing customer service team members to send in referrals—this will give you access to the talent in their network.
Finally, establish a process for training and mentoring new hires so they’re set up for success.
4. Outsource customer support
Along with hiring more agents, you might want to consider outsourcing some aspects of your support operations to a third-party vendor. Outsourcing has gained notoriety for cost-cutting without regard for quality, but this isn’t always the case. When done right, your team can benefit from outsourcing. Here’s why:
- It’s flexible. You can staff up for a busy period, provide localized support, or offer support after normal business hours.
- It eliminates the cost and time needed to train in-house staff, as you’ll often find a large pool of talented, experienced agents.
- It allows for agility. By outsourcing, you can quickly scale and stay focused on other areas of the business that need your attention.
Hannah Steiman, COO at Peak Support, suggests that companies “look for reputed customer service BPOs [Business Process Outsourcers] that have the expertise to recruit top talent, provide excellent training, and scale your team as your company grows.” Assign a specific internal team to set expectations for BPOs and manage the training, onboarding, and software and processes used.
Another tip for picking the right partner is to look into how the company treats its employees and ensure it aligns with your own internal practices.
Make sure that leadership and the internal team see the BPO as a partner, not as an appendage. One way to encourage collaboration is to use a customer support tool to keep external and internal team members connected.
5. Support your support team
Just because you hire great support agents, it doesn’t mean they can do it all on their own. You must empower your team to work efficiently and effectively by providing them with the proper tools, processes, and coaching.
Use robust training programs and workshops to teach agents the skills they need to succeed in their roles. Then, be sure to expand or refine those sessions based on agent feedback.
You can also use key customer service metrics to identify gaps and areas for improvement. Determine exactly where your agents are lagging. Are response times too long? Are time-to-resolution rates too lengthy? Regardless of the issue, it’s critical to find out what’s causing the problem and to resolve it with your team.
6. Add more support channels
Meet customers where they are by providing support via the channels they prefer, whether that’s live chat, email, or social messaging. More than 30 percent of respondents in our CX Trends Report said receiving support through their preferred channel is an important aspect of a good customer experience.
More than 30% of respondents in our CX Trends Report said receiving support through their preferred channel is an important aspect of a good customer experience.
Send surveys to ask your customers what channels they’d like to contact you on, and identify the channels the majority of them want to use. Look at industry trends to see what social media platforms your target audience is on, too. For example, if your customers are mostly millennials, you may want to offer support on Twitter or Instagram.
But before you add a new channel, consider whether you can properly staff it while maintaining the same quality of service and meeting customer expectations. For instance, email requests don’t warrant an immediate response, but live chat requires real-time conversations with buyers.
You can minimize work for agents by using an omnichannel customer service tool. Agents will be able to access all tickets and customer data across channels in one central dashboard, saving them from having to jump between applications.
7. Use ticket swarming for internal collaboration
Swarming is a collaboration-based support system that involves more than one team member working to resolve a ticket at the same time. According to Steve Young, global technical support manager at Nutanix, the goal of swarming is that, “The first person to work on a customer issue (case or incident) engages the best resources needed to solve the issue and manages it to resolution.”
Say a frontline staff member is handling a ticket, and they find out the issue is a product bug. They can ask for help from an engineer without escalating the ticket to the engineering team. Instead, the engineer can work directly with the agent to solve the problem.
The swarming methodology is great for scaling support teams because one agent oversees a ticket from start to finish instead of forcing it through a ticket escalation process. This allows them to ensure issues are fully resolved. Customers are less likely to return with the same problems, which means your agents can move on to other tickets.
Swarming also eliminates the need to transfer a customer repeatedly, so it has a positive impact on the customer support experience.
8. Appoint a customer service administrator
As your team continues to expand, consider hiring a full-time administrator to manage your day-to-day support operations, perform system maintenance, and flag possible issues. These administrators should have extra privileges to manage and customize your CRM.
According to Don Newton, a former associate services consultant at Zendesk, businesses should hire a full-time administrator if they:
- Have a team of 10 or more support agents
- Plan to build and test new workflows that require supervision and maintenance
When choosing a customer service administrator, look for candidates who have:
- Experience managing customer success tools
- The ability to break down complex concepts and information
- An interest in automation, data analysis, and process improvement
- Excellent collaboration skills
- Exceptional technical documentation skills
- Experience implementing and improving systems
- Great communication skills
Don’t forget: Administrative tasks, such as granting permissions and changing account settings, will likely fall to someone even before you create an official role. Keep this in mind as you allocate staffing and resources.
9. Create a community forum
Build an online community where customers can come to ask questions, share knowledge, and discuss topics of common interest. Community forums help take a load off your customer service team, as users can provide their own expertise and learn information from one another. That means fewer tickets coming into the queue.
Consumers seem to like forums, too. Eighty-eight percent of respondents in a Vanilla Forum study said community forums improved their customer experience.
88% of respondents in a Vanilla Forum study said community forums improved their customer experience.
Use community forum software to create communities for different regions, brands, or products. Keep forums safe by appointing trusted users as moderators. And if questions don’t get answered in the forum, you can escalate them to the appropriate support agent.
Be ready to embrace change
As your company grows, you’ll need to make changes in order to continue providing your customers with exceptional support. You and your agents may need to learn how to use customer service software, create a structured hiring process, or develop new collaboration styles—all while keeping quality high.
The only way to provide premium customer support is to remain flexible and open to new ways of doing things.
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