Poll: What’s the ratio of support reps to sales reps in your business?

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Businesses come in various shapes and sizes. Some can generate a lot of new business with a small sales team, but will need a much bigger customer happiness team to support customers. Other businesses might need a large sales to scale new business quickly and can do with a small team for customer support.

The Zoho Support Poll

Either way, an interesting metric to look at is the ratio of support reps to sales reps in any business. It allows a bird’s eye look at whether a business is sales-intensive or service-intensive. So, that’s the question we’re asking on our poll this week: What’s the ratio of support reps to sales reps in your business?

One support rep for many sales reps

Typically, this is for businesses where sales is driven by a lot of human interactions and post-sales support is only for a small set of issues. For example, businesses that sell simple-but-indispensable products can thrive on this model. The larger sales team enables them to reach more customers and sell more volume. The small-yet-efficient support team can handle the finite bunch of possible issues and resolve tickets quickly.

One sales rep for many support reps

Companies that operate in the B2B space can function on this model. Selling to other businesses means deal sizes are substantial and sales can be handled by a relatively smaller team. On the other hand, they’ll need a fairly sizable customer support team to handle the support load. For products that offer extensive customization, the effort required in post-sales support could be far higher than what’s required of the sales team itself.

It’s also possible that there’s a third case where the ratio is at 1:1. But that’s not as common as the other two. Most businesses are likely to have (at least!) a slight skew in the ratio.

We’re curious to see how the ratios are distributed across all of your businesses. If you have a specific rationale for the ratio in your business, do tell us about it in the comments section below.

Results: Facebook is the most used platform for community

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In a bid to understand how businesses build communities, we had asked a question last week on our poll. We were eager to see what platforms were preferred by businesses to build a community. At the same time, we also wanted to see how much the idea of a building a community had permeated.

poll-results-building-community

As it turns out, Facebook was voted as the most popular platform for building a community. About 23% of all respondents had chosen Facebook as their preference (or one of their preferences). This is fairly straightforward. Facebook has a really large user base and has a simple user experience. It takes very little time to start a community and grow it via Facebook.

LinkedIn comes a close second, with about 20% of respondents choosing the professional networking platform. As a more serious alternative, LinkedIn has several business communities that attract significant participation from members. Businesses, initially, preferred LinkedIn to Facebook when it came to building a professional community, because of its more serious outlook towards networking.

Twitter comes third with about 16% of all respondents in its favor. Although, Twitter isn’t suitable for a community in the traditional sense, it allows businesses to have ‘conversations’ with their customers/prospects. Businesses can address customer support issues via Twitter. It’s also a great distribution platform for content marketing.

Just over 16% of all respondents said they use their own blog and forum to build their communities. This is most likely because a blog and a forum are one level separated from a social network. So, it takes more effort to build a community using these. Building a community away from social networks means that your customers need not necessarily have an account on any of them. In that sense, it has no prerequisites.

Above all this, around 24% of respondents opined that they haven’t yet started building a community. Building a community involves a lot of sustained effort for mostly-long-term benefits. Businesses in their early days might not prefer to build a community, simply because they’re busy finding customers via other means. Also, in the case of businesses where a community simply serves the purpose of customer support, email or phone support might be a better idea for sometime. Nevertheless, this component of the respondents will most likely start building a community sometime in the future.

If you’re looking to build a community, you might want to consider the pros and cons of each platform in detail, before deciding on anything.

That’s it for this week. We’ll come right back next week with another topic. Until the, have a great weekend!

Poll: What do you use to build a community around your business?

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Building a community around your business is, perhaps, the most important outreach activity you can ever pursue. It deserves such prominence especially because it’s a long-term activity. It’s an ongoing activity, like invoicing customers or addressing support queries.

The Zoho Support Poll

A community has far-flung benefits across various aspects of your business. It helps you keep your existing customers happy. It helps you win new customers. It helps you reduce the load on your customer service team. And, it helps builds your brand.

Every community starts off as an idea on someone’s mind. But, it eventually has to move to a more ‘conducive’ space. That space is different for each one. For some, it’s a simple forum. For some, it’s an interesting blog. For a few others, it can be a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn. Quora is a popular place too. It’s also possible for communities to ‘exist’ in a combination of these. Let’s take a look at each of these ‘places’ and attempt to profile them.

Facebook:

Most businesses generally use a Facebook Page to build a community. Non-profits and independent communities use Facebook Groups instead. Broadly, Facebook is a place where people let their hair down. They look for interesting pieces of content that are also fun. So, if you’ve got a really serious topic on the influence of cascading government debt on the global economy, you better steer clear of Facebook! ;)

Twitter:

Twitter is really for the ‘keep it short and sweet’ types. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for a conversation! Twitter is, in fact, a great tool to build a following for your business. You get to have crisp, yet interesting, conversations with your customers and prospects. It’s also a great place for content propagation. What you say or share can ‘virally spread’ to a large section of people.

LinkedIn:

Being a networking platform for professionals, LinkedIn is a lot more serious when compared to Facebook and Twitter. It’s mostly the platform for ‘serious’ conversations at a ‘personal’ level. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn allows companies to have a more ‘serious’ identity. Some businesses use LinkedIn for recruiting employees. Some others build technical/professional communities. Independent forums and communities also thrive on LinkedIn.

Quora:

Quora’s the new kid on the block. Only, he’s not a kid anymore! What started as a simple social network for ‘Q&A’ has now become a marketplace of sorts for knowledge. It’s more loosely organized when compared to Facebook or LinkedIn. Prospects are very likely to ask questions and find answers on Quora before making a purchase decision. Also, what happens in Quora doesn’t just stay there. It gets shared on other social networks as well. So, it’s worth every bit of your time to engage people on Quora.

Your own forum & blog:

At the end of the day, it pays for you to have your own ‘outreach infrastructure’. In a sense, building a community exclusively on any social network means you might have to sway the way the it does. When you build your community on your own forum & blog, you reduce any such risk. You can always use social networks to reach more people for your community, while hosting the community on your own infrastructure. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

Most businesses can’t really handle a community that spreads across all these options. So, we thought we’d ask you and find out what you do w.r.t your community. We can’t wait to see the results!

Results: What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

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At Zoho, we get to talk to several startup founders and small business owners regularly. A good number of times, the topic of hiring and retention comes up in our conversations. We thought it might be a good idea to ask the community at large and understand the broad opinion.

We had asked a question on customer support hiring, via our poll last week. From our own experience, we’ve seen startups with very good process clarity as well as mid-sized businesses that prefer not to have strict processes. So, we were naturally excited to see what results would emerge from that question.

What's your approach to customer support hiring?

About 40% of all respondents said they preferred to hire experienced professionals and empower them suitably.

From a traditional standpoint, this feels like the optimal approach for any company that wants a ‘safe bet’. If you hire experienced customer support professionals, you can trust them to behave reasonably in most of the situations. In a sense, when you hire experienced professionals, you can expect them to hit the ground running. A lot of companies prefer to have that ‘celerity’ as a competitive edge. However, there’s also the downside that experienced professionals are ‘conditioned’ and don’t necessarily come with a completely fresh outlook. For some businesses, that can actually be a significant drawback.

About 60% of respondents said they preferred to hire fresh talent and train them internally.

This is definitely not an approach that leads to a safe bet. Over the last few years, if there has been one broad trend in customer service, it’s that companies are looking to create a customer service ‘culture’ that’s unique to themselves. Companies like Amazon have taken that trend to a whole new level. It’s pretty difficult to create a culture like that by hiring just experienced folks. So, companies prefer to set a culture in place and hire fresh talent. It’s far easier to align fresh talent to your company’s culture than to align experienced professionals.

It’s also fairly common for companies to maintain a good mix of both fresh and experienced talent. However, the ‘right mix’ is very tricky to attain. In a way, that’s one reason why it might be better to set a customer service culture for your company and hire accordingly.

That’s it for this week. We’ll get right back to you with another interesting question next week! Until then, have a great weekend!

Poll: What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

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Beyond the processes you put in place and the helpdesk software that your company uses, the customer service experience is ultimately influenced by the people you hire. People in customer-facing roles form the face of your company in the market. When they fit their roles, all’s well. Otherwise, well, not so well.

The Zoho Support Poll

The question we’re asking this week is about customer support hiring. What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

Hire experienced people and empower them.

Experienced customer support professionals bring a certain competitive edge to your company. They already know how to handle varying ticket loads. They know what to do when a ticket gets escalated. They know what not to say to that short-tempered customer. They’ve been there and done that.

Experienced professionals are suitable for small companies that don’t have much process intelligence yet. They’re also suitable for companies that prefer to put hires in their roles almost instantly.

Having said that, professionals who meet your specific requirements are not very easy to find.

Hire fresh candidates and train internally.

Fresh hires come with an open mind. They haven’t been conditioned to think in any particular pattern. They can be trained to fit your company’s exact culture and philosophies.

Hiring fresh is suitable for companies that have process intelligence. Also, if you’re hiring at scale, its easier to hire fresh when compared to hiring experienced professionals.

Having said that, the cost of training a fresh hire is far higher and even more substantial at scale. So, it’s a trade-off between deployment flexibility and training cost.

What do you do at your business? Tell us in the comments section below.

We’re looking forward to listen to your opinions on this topic.

Results: What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

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Last week, we had asked Zoho Support users what kind of interactions they preferred in support tickets.

Short interactions are crisp but several such interactions in a single support ticket could still reduce customer happiness significantly. Long interactions need more patience but might get the job done in just a few interactions itself.

We asked the question to customer support managers as well as agents. We were really curious to see how different their opinions were in regard to this particular topic. What surprised us was the resounding uniformity in their opinions!

Customer Support Poll - What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

Managers prefer shorter interactions.

When asked the question, about 68% of support managers said that they prefer short-but-several interactions. While managing a team of support agents, the bigger picture takes center stage. When agents have shorter interactions in a ticket, they’re able to handle more tickets in a given period of time. Multiply that by the scale of the team and you’ll understand how useful that is, in the big picture.

Agents agree.

Amongst support agents, about 60% opined that they preferred shorter-but-several interactions in support tickets. A quick internal discussion with our own support agents revealed that they prefer shorter interactions themselves. One reason is that most of the issues that customers tend to have are common issues. It’s very rare that an issue that has never been documented before pops up. In the case of common issues, it’s pretty simple for a support agent to isolate the issue and help the customer. So, by and large, shorter interactions would serve the purpose splendidly.

On the other hand, there are situations in which long-but-fewer interactions fit the bill better. We don’t rule those out. But for the vast majority of situations, shorter-but-several interactions seem to be much more convenient.

We’ll come back with a new topic next week. Until then, have a great weekend!

Poll: What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

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What happens after a customer raises a support ticket asking for some help?

You wade through the ticket to find out what information is available. Once you ingest that, you try to find the simplest possible solution for the customer. But, a little later, you realize there’s not enough information for you to suggest anything yet.

The Zoho Support Poll

So, you write back to the customer asking for some information. This is often a cycle and it happens once or twice again before you find a solution. Sometimes, it takes longer because the most common solutions don’t work. Sometimes it’s over in the first couple of interactions and everyone’s happy.

But, then, how many interactions is the most optimal number? When does it start becoming uncomfortable for the customer? How much information can the customer absorb from a single interaction? These questions only become more relevant as you scale up your business.

The question on our poll, this week, is about interactions with customers while handling a ticket. What you’ll read below is a brief look at the various ways of looking at this seemingly paradoxical situation.

Giving vs Asking

You have a few common solutions in your mind for the customer. You can put them all in a single interaction. One of them will work and job is done. You’ll save the day faster than your peers. But, what’s the use in giving so much information if the customer can’t ingest as much?

So, what CAN you do? You can always write to the customer asking for more information. That’ll help you narrow down your suggestions. If you ask too much information, one at a time, it will lead to dissatisfaction.

Resolution Time vs Response Time

Customers come to you asking for your help. You owe that to them as well. By getting as much information as possible, you can suggest the best possible solution every time. You’ll resolve every issue that’s within your control. What can be more important than that, right? Ummm… there’s something called Resolution Time. If you have many interactions in a ticket, your resolution time soars. But, it’s not supposed to. And, that’s the tricky part.

There’s also something called Response Time. When you try to squeeze in a few common solutions into a single interaction, you think that one of them will work. Surprise! Surprise! None of them work, because you didn’t receive one little detail. That’s unfortunate, because your response time just shot up.

Manager vs Agent

This is essentially a matter of the big picture versus the small picture. At the level of an agent, each ticket is an experience. It’s a chance to create customer happiness. It’s a path to win the customer’s respect. Naturally, an agent is likely to spend time non-uniformly across interactions in a ticket.

A manager looks at the big picture. Most of the information ingested at the managerial level is aggregate. So, in a sense, even the extra time spent by an agent on a few tickets looks more prominent to the manager.

A manager and an agent are two people who see the same customer support operation in different ways. That’s exactly why we’re asking this week’s question to both managers and agents.

We’re really curious to see what you think about this topic. Tell us in the comments section below.

Happy Polling and have a great week ahead!