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The impact of empowered support teams on small-business CX

Learn how to set support agents up for success, giving them the tools to drive your business forward.

By Kathy Dalpes, VP of Customer Advocacy

Published April 5, 2013
Last updated October 12, 2020

A good customer service interaction can lift your entire day. It’s no surprise that an excellent front-line team has the power to elevate your entire customer experience operation—especially when that operation is on the small side.

Newly released data outlined in a report, CX Champions: How CX Leaders Who Raise Their Game Are Driving Business Success, shows that companies that invested in their customer service and support agents also led the pack on business outcomes with their stellar CX. What’s more—investing in customer service and support had positive ripple effects beyond those teams. The data shows correlations with broader business successes, such as customer satisfaction, growth and increased spend within the existing customer base, and an overall confidence in the organization’s ability to retain customers.

“The implication is clear: by optimizing their service and support function, organizations are better positioned to delight their customers, which promotes the overall health of the business.”
2020 CX Champions report, ESG Research

The report, which is based on data from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), identifies how companies of different CX maturity levels operate their businesses and helps business leaders understand patterns in the outcomes.

After surveying more than 500 CX leaders at small businesses all over the world—those with fewer than 100 employees—ESG identified three levels of maturity: leaders, those in the middle, and those at risk of falling behind. In the CX Champions report, they’re called Champions, Risers, and Starters.

Note that not all Champions are global enterprises with decades or centuries of history, and not all Risers and Starters are scrappy startups with shoestring budgets. The findings in the small business report demonstrate that small companies have the capacity, at scale, to build a mature, elevated customer experience—and the data suggests that it’s imperative for them to do so. 

Among the many findings was the essential role of an empowered support team in achieving a Champion-level customer experience. Let’s examine how CX maturity goes hand-in-hand with an empowered support team, and chart a path for growing businesses building their operations for maximum impact.

The customer service “cost center” stigma

Improving customer satisfaction can help an organization build loyalty, engagement, and foster customer retention. But before customer service and support teams can move beyond the “cost center” stigma, company leaders have to view the entire operation as a competitive differentiator that is worth the investment. By and large, leaders at Champion-level small businesses agree that it is.

Business leaders at SMB Champion companies are 3.3x more likely than Starters to view customer service as a differentiator—69% of Champions agreed that it was.

By contrast, 39% of SMB Starters agreed that “customer service is viewed as a drag on the business.”

The report suggests a correlation between these views and business outcomes.

  • Champions are 2.5x more likely than Starters to be top performers in terms of agent efficiency.
  • Agents at SMB Champion companies solve 50% more tickets per agent than Starters.

3 ways to set support agents up for success

Based on the practices of Champions, there are three things businesses can do right now to set support agents up for success:

  • Provide more education and training
  • Invest in technology that allows agents to meet customers where they are
  • Regularly dig into data and act on what it’s saying

The result is an efficient customer support team of trusted collaborators that meets KPIs and serves as a strategic partner in the business.

1. Provide more education and training

Champions take the time to train their service and customer support function. For smaller organizations, taking time away from customer-facing work to train a workforce can be challenging, but the data indicates downstream business value that’s hard to ignore.   

On average, SMB Champions provide their teams about one-half day more of training than SMB Starters: 3.7 days vs. 3.3 days.

Training is a long game whose benefits show up over time—sometimes when you least expect it but need it the most. ESG culled the data in 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, making “performance under pressure” an added dimension of the data. Almost half of the small business Champions said that pivoting to support remote agents was going “very smoothly,” whereas 43% of small business Starters said the transition could be better or has been rough.

Whether it was due to teams being more capable because of training because the technology solutions were more flexible, or because leaders used data to drive decision-making, Champions were in the best stead to weather the Covid-19 storm “without dramatically harming their ability to support customers.”

There won’t always be a global pandemic to contend with. But a trained, nimble customer service operation can give smaller businesses the necessary runway to survive whatever comes next.  

2. Give agents the tools to do well

Investing in technology can also be a challenge, especially for companies with smaller budgets and smaller support teams.

When respondents in the ESG survey were asked to rate the satisfaction of the customer service and support staff with the technology and tools they used to do their jobs, it was clear that small business Champions were investing in technology that supported agents well and cultivated a positive agent experience. Where some 91% of Champions rated their teams’ satisfaction with their work tools as a 9 or a 10, only 5% of small business Starters were as complimentary about the tools they relied on for work.

Agent efficiency remains a key factor in the success of individual agents and the support team overall. Though likely due to a combination of training, technology, and data analysis—which we will address next—Champions shine when it comes to efficiency. SMB Champions are 2.5x more likely than Starters to be top performers in terms of agent efficiency. Furthermore, agents at Champion-level companies are able to handle nearly 50% more requests per month relative to Starters.

The implication is that by giving staff the tools they need to perform their jobs, in addition to appropriately training and staffing the team, Champions also struggle less with retention. 

3. Make the time to dig into data

Data-centric support is the best kind. You don’t know what you don’t know—and you certainly can’t improve if you’re falling short—without spending time with support metrics.

“Champions use their data: 91% describe the comprehensiveness of their support metrics and KPIs as market leading or strong. Moreover, their data is current, with 63% stating their support metrics and KPIs can be reported on in real-time. While service and support are predominantly provided by humans today, these areas must be guided by data.”

Support is an essential link in the feedback loop

When asked to rate how quickly their organization can turn customer feedback into a change in its products, services, and/or business processes, Champions said they were “fairly quick to act on feedback.” This suggests a regular flow of information between the front lines (customer service and support staff) and the decision-makers (product managers, leaders of business units, and more).

A regular flow of information between customer service and support staff and decision-makers leads to a better business. Maintaining this essential link in the feedback loop helps ensure the customer support teammates will remain trusted collaborators as the company matures and scales up.