The Huge Productivity Mistake That Too Many Customer Service Agents Make
This habit could be crushing your productivity. Here’s how to stop it now.
Remember Space Invaders?
The old video game where the goal was to shoot down all of the alien ships before they descended on—and overwhelmed—you?
(If you’re feeling curious, nostalgic or just have some free time on your hands, you can still play the game online here.)
Sometimes, managing a customer support inbox can feel like playing Space Invaders.
You’re struggling just to keep up; going through ticket after ticket, trying to respond and resolve as quickly as possible before.
You barely have time to finish each ticket before a new one appears.
It’s a stressful game that, on particularly bad days, can wear down even the most patient among us.
And yet, things could be so much easier.
All it takes is a change in perspective…
Most Customer Service Tickets Are Not Unique
Think about what your typical day’s worth of customer service tickets looks like.
Very few customer issues are unique. More often than not, your customer is coming to you with a problem that you’ve seen before, and will likely see again.
- The same bug that 100 other customers have dealt with
- A clarification on something that was confusing to them, and many others
- A basic question about shipping or invoicing
There are literally thousands of examples of these, but basically the idea is: 95% of the questions and issues that most support agents respond to are not unique.
That means that you’re doing a lot of repetitive tasks.
Typing the same responses, linking to the same articles, reporting the same bugs, deploying the same fixes…
The biggest productivity mistake that most customer service agents make is continuing to do repetitive tasks over and over again, without bothering to simplify or eliminate them.
Let’s say that your customer service agents spend four hours per week on repetitive tasks (based on the companies I’ve seen and worked with, these numbers are very conservative).
What if, by spending a few hours eliminating those tasks, you could save each agent more than 200 hours each year?
For a small team of three support agents, that’s more than 600 hours a year of extra productivity.
This seems pretty obvious, so why don’t we all do it?
One of the biggest reasons is that we’re wired to choose the easiest possible option.
In almost all cases the obvious easiest possible option is to do the repetitive task that we’ve done a thousand times before, and move on.
But in reality, the easiest possible option in the long term would be to spend a few extra minutes automating or otherwise simplifying that particular task for the future, savings thousands and thousands of hours over the coming years.
What if instead of always taking the easiest possible option right now, when we’re faced with a task that we’ve had to do multiple times before, we started asking ourselves: “how can I make this task much, much easier for the next 100/1,000/10,000 times I’m certainly going to have to do it?”
And that is how we arrive at customer service automation.
Automations That Will Help You Win at Customer Support
Here are five automations that can cut hundreds of hours from your support workflow, and make your day a whole lot easier:
1) Knowledge Base Articles
When you need to walk a customer through a process, you could write out a thorough guide in an email.
But not only is a long email hard to follow, adding images makes it even more clunky, and forget about video.
That’s when a knowledge base can be useful.
Note, however, that a knowledge base is not a replacement for personal support. Don’t let a knowledge base be a wall between you and your customers.
Instead, think of it as a tool to help your customers understand your product better in concert with your support.
When used properly, a knowledge base can add a layer of richness to your support that makes life easier for you and your customers without sacrificing the human element of your customer relationships.
2) Common Replies
Sometimes, you don’t need an entire knowledge base article to answer a common customer question. And sometimes, a knowledge base article isn’t appropriate (for example, if the question deals with sensitive account data or billing information.
That’s when saved common replies come in handy.
Rather than wasting time typing the same reply over and over again (probably the single most time-sucking repetitive task that support professionals have to do), common (sometimes called “canned”) replies let you insert frequently used messages with a click.
If you’re not using a help desk that offers common replies, you can still take advantage of this time-saving tactic. I’m a huge fan of aText for Mac (for PC’s, try PhraseExpress), which lets you create keyboard shortcuts. You could create something as simple as a shortcut to save you a few keystrokes typing your email address, or something as powerful as a shortcut for an entire paragraph-long email.
Sorting through incoming support emails is another ridiculously time-consuming task, but it needs to be done in order to:
- Route emails to the right agent or team
- Spot any urgent or higher-priority requests so that you can tackle them right away
- Label each email properly for organization and tracking
Rules help you automate this process.
For example, sometimes all emails containing certain keywords (e.g., billing, credit card) are handled by a certain department. You could spend time reading and manually forwarding them each time, or you could set up a rule or filter to never have to do that task again.
Most help desks have some way to set rules, and if you’re a Gmail user, then filters do much of the same thing.
4) Product Integrations
If you’re using separate tools for customer support, billing, eCommerce, CRM and other business needs, then you’re probably spending a lot of time switching back and forth between them.
Many of these tools offer integrations with the most popular help desks, so that you can get, for example, a customer’s usage history right next to their ticket.
These integrations can save a lot of time. With this blog, one of my favorite integrations is Groove’s plugin to Campaign Monitor, our mailing list software.
If a customer emails me asking to be subscribed to or unsubscribed from our mailing list, I can do it right from Groove, rather than having to open a new tab, log in to Campaign Monitor and go through the process there.
If integrations for your favorite tools don’t exist, check out Zapier, a platform that lets you connect over 350 apps (including many help desks) with other software you might use, like Gmail, Evernote, Salesforce and more. Anyone can use it to build integrations without knowing how to code.
5) Zapier to Connect Anything to Anything
One of my absolute favorite automation tools is Zapier. It lets you connect hundreds of apps together, basically allowing you to build integrations, even if you don’t know how to code.
A few of my favorite "Zaps" for customer support are:
- Create Trello cards, JIRA/Github issues or Pivotal Tracker stories from help desk tickets
- Create new help desk tickets from Wufoo or Google Forms submissions
- Automatically creating Trello cards or Google Calendar reminders for your customer service maintenance checklist items
You can connect just about everything you use to your help desk, including your to-do list, calendar, bug tracking tools, email inbox and more.
That means a lot less switching between apps and browser tabs, and that means a lot of time saved.
Changing the Way You Look at Support
Look, there are going to be tougher days on the front lines.
There will be days when the ticket volume seems stressful and overwhelming.
That’s the nature of the job.
But with a few small, simple changes, you can reduce the number of those days by 50, 80 or even 90%.
All it takes is some long-term thinking.