TL;DR: As support teams grow, internal processes get more complex and more customer queries flood in. Despite these growing pains, it’s still possible to thrive and grow. Here are examples of strategies that support teams can adopt so that they deliver the best customer support experience and create outstanding communication systems.
When support teams are just starting out, things are simple. You don’t have to use four or five different tools to track customer data and communications; resolving customer issues takes just minutes, and customer questions come from just a handful of channels.
But as your product and your customer base grow, so does your support team. You will have to find new ways to meet your customers’ needs and their expectations for excellent service, but you’re in good company. There are lots of successful support teams out there that have made it through their growing pains. They’ve adjusted their processes and toolkits to make sure customers consistently get the experience they expect.
In our research on the most successful support teams, we found three strategies that they used to improve service and be more efficient. These tactics focus on improving how new hires are onboarded, developing subject matter experts, and improving inter-team communication.
Keep reading to find out how you can incorporate these tactics into your team so they are able to work effectively and boost your company’s reputation with customers.
1. Balance teaching people with helping them learn
Hiring people with the right mix of experience and attitude is the cornerstone of building a strong support team. Team members with these qualities offer top-quality support so bad customer experiences are avoided or even transformed into good ones. This is a significant factor, considering that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for a product if customer support is good.
However, the most successful teams take good hires and go one step further. It’s one thing to hire the best people you can find, and another to get them up to speed quickly and operate as a productive part of the team. Some of the best, well-known support teams make it easy for their new team members to feel like experts on company products and services.
This is exactly what Intercom, a customer messaging app, does. Their philosophy is that “the less energy new hires spend trying to find answers to problems that have already been solved, the more time they can spend fixing problems you didn’t even know existed.”
Intercom’s use of bite-sized tutorials during onboarding is one reason new hires learn quickly and locate exactly the information they need. Instead of overwhelming new hires with lots of information at once, Intercom breaks down the information and shares it gradually over a matter of days. Training starts with basic information to create a strong base understanding of the product and its features, and then more layers of information are introduced each day. Intercom explains that this approach makes it “easy for new hires to make connections between the parts.”
Here’s how support team onboarding works at Intercom:
- On day one, the central priority for new hires is setup. For your team, this might involve getting them familiar with accessing systems or accounts and showing new hires how to navigate through them.
- The second day focuses on introducing new hires to the concept of jobs to be completed. This takes each job or task customers want to complete — like uploading data to their profiles while in an app — and breaks it down into steps. This process gives teams a customer journey map that helps them understand how customers use the product so that they can understand customers’ needs and learn how to exceed expectations.
- On day three, new hires are introduced to the platform and its features. This helps familiarize the team with the product, so they’re prepared to answer customer questions and solve their problems quickly.
- Day four focuses on the support product. For you, this might mean walking new hires through the product you use to receive, assign, and track tickets. For example, if you use Teamwork Desk, you can talk about the process when tickets are received and highlight some of the most important features.
- On the last day, new hires are ready to get started and put what they’ve learned into practice as they interact with customers.
This gradual approach to training works for Intercom because each day, new hires learn something that builds on learnings from the previous day’s training. New hires understand processes better and have a solid background on how the company and product work. By the end of onboarding, the system feels almost intuitive, and they have enough background to learn about the support product and how it ties into all of the other tools and processes.
Identify exactly what new hires need to know, distil that into smaller units, and then create an onboarding program that gradually shares this information. If there are 20 things new hires need to learn, group together similar items and set a timeline. Make sure to give them enough time to focus on one topic category per day so that by the end, new hires have the most important information.
Assign each group of topics to a certain day of the week, and leave a day open for new hires to test out what they’ve learned or to ask more in-depth follow-up questions.
2. Develop subject matter experts
Regardless of the size of your support team, all of its members have different backgrounds and experiences. As a result, each person brings a new perspective and a little extra creativity to solving problems.
Use this to your advantage and make a conscious effort to prepare your team for new opportunities that allow them to specialize in topics they choose. In other words, give your team a chance to become experts in areas that resonate with them. Doing this allows you to develop subject matter experts (SMEs) who help guide the rest of the team on a day-to-day basis. SMEs “have their finger on the pulse of the industry, know the space inside out, and have an innate understanding of your customers.”Let’s look at an example. If there’s an agent on your social media support team with extensive experience in that area and has expressed an interest in learning more about support and social media, pay for them to attend webinars and conferences or let them expense books and online courses. You can even let them run social media experiments to learn more in real time.
This way, this agent learns as much as possible about the platforms and can help other members of the social media support team answer challenging customer questions, solve issues, or think of new ways to use social media to improve customer experience. For example, instead of just responding to a question, a SME might suggest that agents include helpful links in their responses because they ran an experiment that showed retention improves when customers have lots of information to refer to.
By developing go-to people on each of your support teams, you make it easier for teams to be successful because they get the information they need quickly. At the same time, support teams add value to their service because customers begin to see the team, as a whole, as trusted advisers and not just faceless people on the other side of their computer screens.
Get your SMEs and team leads to work together. SMEs will come up with new and inventive solutions while team leads can ensure these ideas keep your support team on track for success. This coordination will help prevent the team from wasting time chasing solutions that won’t help in the long run.
You can hire SMEs for your support teams or you can develop them from within. Whichever approach you choose, make sure there’s a process in place to manage the knowledge bases they’re building. SMEs will share lots of insightful ideas, but make sure there’s buy-in from the team so that suggestions are implemented instead of being discarded.
3. Promote inter-team communication
Even companies with the best products have to hear from unhappy customers. Although responding to customer issues and concerns is reactive, it doesn’t have to be — especially as the team grows.
Of course, if a button’s broken in an app or uploads stop working on a website, you won’t always know about it until you hear from customers. It’s a much better experience if customers hear from you before encountering an issue themselves. It shows them that you care about their experience and want to make sure that it meets their expectations.
This approach requires your team to be proactive, which means they have to work closely with other teams — sales, marketing, product, and others. For example, if the sales team picks up on a customer trend or the product team finds out a new feature is buggy, your support team needs to be one of the first to know about it.When inter-team communication is encouraged, there’s a free flow of information that makes it easier for support to do their job. They’re prepared in advance so customers don’t have to explain an issue to them; the support team already understands and has a solution ready. For example, when you have well-coordinated teams, when developers find a bug they immediately inform the rest of the company. Customer support representatives can then post a tweet and/or a notice on the website that lets customers know what’s happening so they feel like they’re getting immediate answers while the problem is happening.
Set up an internal process that makes it easy for other teams to share information with yours. This can be in the form of internal “tickets” that trigger an email to the support team or a channel dedicated to product updates in Teamwork Chat where teams can share updates that affect customers.
The more your team knows about potential issues and customer concerns, the better prepared they are to address them and ensure customers have a positive experience.
Encourage open discussion in public channels using your communication tools. Instead of private chats where one team member sends an update to another because they work closely with each other, get everyone in the habit of sharing openly, team to team. This ensures that no information is lost and creates a culture where information sharing is the norm.
Your support success is right around the corner
Any support team depends on good communication, but knowing how to build those skills within your team — and throughout your company — will make the difference between average and great results.
Lead by example by teaching them the information they need to convey to customers in a way that’s easily absorbed and retained. Next, help them become experts in the ever-changing menu of questions that your customers need answered. Finally, develop clear lines of communication among all of your teams so that expertise you’re building can be shared quickly whenever it’s needed. Give your teams the tools to expand their knowledge base and pass it along to others, and you’ll be among the top-performing teams in your speciality.