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!

Results: Insights about customer support channels

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About a fortnight ago, on our poll, we asked you all a question on support channels used by your customers. Before we get to the results, let’s also see a few myths.

Myth 1: Email is so passe. It’s a thing of the 90s. Customers don’t use it much.
Reality: About 88% of respondents in our poll said that email was a channel that their customers used to reach them.

Myth 2: Social Media is the place for customer support. It has become mainstream channel.
Reality: Although social media is very very important, it’s not the mainstream channel for customer support yet.

Myth 3: The fewer channels, the more efficiently the helpdesk performance.
Reality: By automating a few tasks and setting up some notifications, you can have as many channels as you want and still operate very efficiently.

There are two key insights from the poll results. The first one is about number of channels.

number of customer support channels served

About 73% of respondents said customers use more than one channel to reach them. Around 46% of respondents said customers use three or more channels to reach them. This goes on to show how helpdesk software can make it really easy to handle so many channels efficiently. If they had to handle each of these channels using different software, it would’ve taken a miracle to make things happen so well everyday! So, if you’re a business handling just one or two channels, this would be a good time to try Zoho Support! 😉

The second key insight from this poll is about which channels enjoy widespread adoption.

customer support channels by adoption

Contrary to popular perception, email is still the most widely used customer support channel. And, it’s definitely here to stay. About 88% of respondents chose email as one channel, in their response. ‘Phone’ came second, with about 70% of respondents to its support.

Web forms and customer self-service portal come (a really close!) third and fourth respectively. Over 35% of respondents chose web forms while about 34% of respondents chose self-service portal. Most businesses use these two channels quite interchangeably.

Live chat was chosen by over 24% of respondents, while social media was chosen as a channel by about 20% of respondents.

If you’re thinking about taking up some new support channels, you might want to check out this post from our blog.

We’ll return next week with another interesting question. Have a great weekend!

Poll: What channels do your customers use to reach you?

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While talking to prospects who’re evaluating Zoho Support, I try to squeeze in a particular question during the first few minutes of the conversation. It’s a very simple question, but it defines how the company will use the software. It’s also our poll question this week!

The Zoho Support Poll

Deciding which channels to handle, for customer support, is important, yet tricky. It’s a trade-off of trade-offs.

Conversation versus Transaction

A channel like email, or even a customer self-service portal, is essentially ‘transactional’ in nature. Customers ask for some specific help. Agents extend help. Customers can ask for help with another related aspect. Agents extend help again. This is suitable for situations where grievance redressal takes time (example: changing a part in your mobile phone).

But, in situations where customer grievances can be addressed immediately (like canceling an order in e-commerce), conversational channels like social media will create better experiences.

Personal versus Impersonal

This is largely a debate involving channels like email, web forms, chat and phone. Customers using email or web forms to reach your business don’t really know whom they are talking to. They can’t put a face in the equation. They’re really impersonal channels. Comparatively, channels like chat and phone are personal. Your support agents become the faces of your company. Customers know they’re talking to a human and feel more comfortable. This is really important when customers have to give some sensitive information to your support agents.

Convenience versus Chaos

Is it convenient enough for my customers to reach me? Although channels like social media are far more convenient for customers, one must also note that they can’t be ‘organized’ in the same sense as email. So, they can become chaotic when handled inappropriately.

These are just some of the most common trade-offs. Depending on the complexity of your business, there could be several others.

Do tell us about how you handled these (and other such) trade-offs to choose your channel mix.

Results: We organize our support team by…

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Whenever I speak to customers, I realize how each of them is different from any other. Each of them has a different way of defining quality and a different philosophy that leads to quality. Their businesses are influenced to a great deal by their beliefs and philosophies.

The most fundamental aspect of a business’ customer service philosophy is how to organize its helpdesk team. It influences hiring and staffing decisions. It even influences the profit margin! And, that’s exactly why we asked this question on our poll last week.

We had chosen to ask the question to just managers and administrators. The results have come in and their opinions are very clear!

Results: We organize our support team by...

By product

About 34% of respondents said their support team was organized by product. If the support team is small enough, it’s very useful to assign a DRI within the team to each product. Managers can kick chaos out and get a clear picture even in intra-day operations.

By channel

While 17% of respondents said their support team was organized by channel. Highly active channels like Live Chat, Phone and Social Media require an agile-yet-well-thought-out response, whereas a passive channel like email doesn’t require as much agility. If you staff each channel by a person who’s apt for its requirements, delivering happiness to customers everyday becomes a habit!

By time zone

Only 8% of respondents said their support team was organized by time zone. Organizing by time zone is efficient only for companies with a few simple products and just one or two channels. Even in that case, unless customers are distributed across various time zones, this approach doesn’t prove to be convenient enough.

A hybrid approach

Finally, the big fish. About 41% of respondents said they used a mix of these approaches to organize their support team. This is, by far, the most practical approach. It’s dynamic and, if applied well, can solve almost any problem of efficiency. We use a hybrid approach even at Zoho. Some of our support agents focus on just one channel or two, some just focus on a few products. And, we even have different people for different time zones.

If you’ve seen something that defies the pattern of these results, feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

We’ll be back next week with another interesting question! Until then, have a great weekend!

Poll: How do you organize your support team?

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Whether customer support is a right or a privilege for your customers, it’s a tricky commitment to uphold. More often than not, running a team involves finding order within chaos. It’s all the more applicable while running a customer support team.

The Zoho Support Poll

One of the easiest ways to seek out ‘order’ is to organise or group a bunch of your support reps using some condition.

By Channel

If you have multiple ways by which customers can reach you, a thoughtful way to organise your support team would be by channel. Each channel can have one or more support agents dedicated to it. That way, each channel gets the optimal treatment. Channels like live chat, phone and social media are far more interactive when compared to email and web forms. By staffing appropriately, you can win across all your channels.

By Time Zone

For companies that offer products or services to customers across the world, dealing with various time zones is of utmost importance. Some time zones may contribute to most of your support load while other time zones might not contribute much. Organising your support team by time zone is a smart way to handle this.

By Product

Handling customer support for a portfolio of products is just as tricky as anything else we’ve discussed here so far. Organising your support team by product is a good way to eliminate chaos and establish leadership within your team. There’s a clear point of contact for each product, it’s very straightforward.

A Hybrid Approach

Depending on how complex your business is, you might also gain by using a combination of these methods. Though this looks complicated, it can work out really well if you can establish clear processes and make sure everyone knows about it.

The question on our poll is this: How do your organise your support team?

If you follow your own tailor-made approach, do tell us about it in the comments section.