Six Steps to Painlessly Scale Your Customer Support
As your business grows, how can you ensure that your customer service keeps up?
When I was in college, a coffee shop opened up near my apartment.
Since double espresso was just about the only thing that could get me through my 8AM statistics class, I quickly became a regular customer.
The owner of the shop was fantastic; he truly appreciated every single customer that walked through his door.
He asked everyone how their day was going.
He learned our names.
He wished us good luck when he knew we had an exam that day, and he meant it.
I wasn’t the only one that became a fan, and the place was usually packed.
In fact, it was so popular, that the following year, the owner opened a second location across campus. The new one was closer to where I lived that year, and I stopped in a few times.
But it wasn’t the same.
The owner wasn’t there, and the people he hired never felt like they cared as much as he did.
Sure, we got our coffee, but the experience we loved wasn’t there.
I say “we” because I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Many people that I talked to agreed. And by my senior year, the shop was back to its single, original location.
Now, I don’t know all of the reasons that the second shop had to close its doors, but I share this story to illustrate an important lesson: scaling a business is hard. The challenges of growing a business change dramatically when you double or triple in size.
One of those challenges that many businesses struggle with is ensuring that your customer service remains as good as it was in the early days.
Today, I’m sharing six ways to scale your support team without damaging your customer experience.
1) Empower Your Growing Team
Zappos has more than 600 employees on their Customer Loyalty Team.
Every single one, from executives to the front line, is empowered to do whatever it takes to make their customers happy, whether it’s free overnight shipping, an instant refund or sending surprise flowers or cookies to a customer’s house.
Part of the reason both of these companies have such loyal customers is that front-line employees are empowered to make big decisions to keep customers happy.
Now, you don’t have to give your employees a $2,000-per-customer budget (and you probably shouldn’t, unless your business, like the Ritz, has an average loyal customer lifetime value of more than $200,000).
But you should recognize that the bigger your team grows, the more valuable empowering your support team can be. Not only will it help your support agents do their jobs more effectively, but it will avoid the massive compounding inefficiencies that come from a manager having to approve every request for a refund or credit.
2) Document Your Most Critical Processes
When you have a small handful of team members, sometimes you can get away with everyone just “knowing” the company’s processes.
But as your team grows in size, so will the necessity to put processes down in writing.
One important example is your business’ crisis communication plan.
When something bad happens – let’s say a server goes down and your customers can’t access your product – would you rather spend your time teaching your team what to do, or have them ready to get to work right away?
If your entire team has access to the most important processes in your business, you can save time, avoid a bottleneck of questions from your team and help everyone focus on what matters most: helping your customers.
3) Automate Repeating Tasks
A company of any size can see benefits from automating tedious customer support tasks.
But as your company grows, those benefits go from big to huge.
If your three-person support team each spends four hours per week on repetitive tasks, then automating those tasks can save you 200 hours per year, per agent; that’s 600 extra hours per year of productivity for your company.
But as your team grows to, say, ten support agents, that number jumps to 2,000 hours saved every year.
This can translate to many thousands of dollars of savings; dollars that you can apply to the not-so-cheap effort of scaling your business.
Some of the easiest wins in customer service automation can be found in your help desk software.
Features like Common Replies let your team insert commonly used phrases into messages with a single click, helping them avoid typing the same thing over and over again.
And Rules help you automate the process of routing customer emails to the right employees:
4) Make Your Support Emails Searchable
If your team has been using their individual email inboxes to send support emails, it’s time to upgrade to a shared support inbox.
Onboarding new employees becomes a whole lot easier if your company’s support email history is searchable.
This way, if they come up against a question they’ve never seen before and need some guidance, they can look up old tickets to see what they should do, instead of interrupting a co-worker every single time.
5) Self-Service Support
As your business grows, so too will the number of support emails that you get.
You can – and should – hire more customer service agents to help, but you can also cut down on the number of incoming requests with a self-serve Knowledge Base that contains answers to frequently asked customer questions.
6) Don’t Lose the Personal Touch That Your Customers Love You For
When you were a small company, your customers loved you.
They loved the experience of doing business with you; they way you treated them like your most important customer in every interaction. Because when you only have a few customers, they’re all your most important customers.
Sadly, it’s so easy to lose that hands-on, personal approach as your business scales.
Doing the things above will help you keep your customer-centered culture intact.
But there are also things not to do. Dangerous habits of fast-growing companies that can end up crushing your relationship with your customers. Here are the big three scaling mistakes to avoid:
3 Mistakes That Support Teams Make as They Scale (But That You Won’t)
Tracking the wrong metrics
Metrics help you evaluate the performance of your team, which is especially important when the team gets big enough that you can’t work closely with everyone.
But don’t be tempted by focusing on dangerous customer service metrics like Resolution Time. Yes, it can be a helpful number to look at to spot trends, but when used to evaluate employees, it creates the wrong incentive, sending a signal that your team should prioritize ending each interaction as quickly as possible rather than focusing on the customer’s experience.
Instead, track and focus on the single most important support metrics there is: customer satisfaction. (More on how to measure satisfaction here.)
The benefits of automation are clear, but there’s a fine balance between automation that saves your team time and helps them deliver better support, and automation that creates a wall between you and your customers.
Examples of the latter might include forcing your customers to navigate a Knowledge Base before they can email you, or using unpersonalized Common Replies that feel canned.
It’s hard to draw a distinct line here, which is why tracking customer satisfaction is so crucial as you grow.
Forgetting that every interaction counts
When companies are young and looking to make a name for themselves, many of them focus on personal touches; sending handwritten notes and gifts to customers, and delivering surprise and delight whenever they can.
But as they grow, many companies lose this personal touch.
Part of the reason for this is that the people doing customer service when you’re scaling aren’t the same people that were doing support in the early days; that is, founders and ground-floor employees who deeply understood that every interaction was absolutely critical to any chance your company has of succeeding.
To ensure that this focus on making every interaction extraordinary remains as your company grows, train every new employee on the art of the personal touch.
Scaling Hurts, but It Doesn’t Have to Hurt Your Customers
Any business lucky enough to reach a point where it’s expanding rapidly is going to have some growing pains. You’ll encounter challenges you’ve never faced before, and you’ll struggle with some of them.
That’s just a part of the game.
But your customers don’t have to struggle, too.
By putting the right tools and processes in place, you can make scaling your customer service team a painless process that lets you deliver awesome, personal support at any stage.