In working with our Support Services members to help them achieve their business goals, we often see some common challenges arise among Support organizations. These challenges include financial pressure to reduce cost but deliver more, increased customer demand for “always on” support, and finding ways to lower customer effort, just to name a few.

To overcome these challenges, continue to move the innovation needle, and keep up with customer demands, TSIA has identified 9 areas Support organizations should focus on improving, which follows the T-R-A-N-S-F-O-R-M model below.

transform customer support organization  

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Ways to TRANSFORM your Support organization.

Tools and Automation

With the overwhelming influence digital transformation is having on the relationship between the customer and your Support team, you’ll want to make sure that your organization is using the most current technology. With the right tools, you’ll be able to streamline your operation and continue to add and drive value, both for you and for your customers. TSIA recommends that you have a well-documented technology adoption strategy in place, so that when you do adopt new tools, you can quickly implement them and think ahead with regards to how they’ll scale with your operation with minimal impact to the customer experience.

For many years, TSIA has published our technology stack papers, where we identify specific up-and-coming technologies that organizations should consider in order to get ahead. In the “TSIA 2018 Support Services Technology Stack,” we identified 24 separate application categories that we recommend for Support teams, including core infrastructure technology, productivity tools, and tools to understand and track customer behavior and sentiment. Be sure to check out this paper to see where your organization is in regard to technology adoption.

Real-Time Engagement That Delivers Value to the Customer

With the increasing prevalence of the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows more devices to interact with one another, Support teams are having new expectations placed upon them by customers demanding real-time interactions that are personalized to them. With a deeper understanding of how devices are being used by the customer and how they’re operating, not only can Support provide more customized solutions to problems as they arise, but identify faster paths to achieving specific customer outcomes.

In addition, technology solutions exist today to help Support organizations store customer information and keep track of customer engagement methods: Is your customer using your mobile app? Have they recently visited your self-service portal? Are they reviewing forum posts? How often are they doing all of this?

Capturing and referencing this information will become a differentiator to providing the low-effort experience that will allow you to continuously provide the personalized experience your customers desire. By consistently delivering this customized value and excellent experience to customers, Support organizations will be laying the groundwork for that customer to renew their relationship by way of contract renewal and future purchases.

Analytics

While having the right technology in place is crucial to today’s Support organizations, another important element to support automation is having the right people in place to access the data captured and effectively act on it. With that in mind, there may not be a more critical hire right now than data analysts and data scientists.

Today, our reliance on the insights we see from customer data is at an all-time high. These insights are what is going to allow organizations to transform into pacesetters in the marketplace and will be the reason companies change course, modify goals, and potentially modify their go-to-market strategies.

Next-Generation Self-Service

For years, TSIA research has pointed to the fact that customers overwhelmingly prefer self-service when seeking technical assistance. As an industry, however, we were not making the experience as satisfying or as effortless as possible for customers. Instead, we’ve historically been very focused on the ROI of self-service.

While that ROI is important, you’ll want to make sure you’re providing a self-service channel that is heavily adopted, constantly updated, and treated more like a live agent with continuous updates, enhancements, and monitoring, offering the best customer experience possible.

Even better, once a dynamic self-service site is created, elements of that site can be embedded into applications, bringing support directly into the workflow by allowing customers to search the knowledgebase or community, or interact with a chat bot, without leaving the application.

Shift the Support Culture

Rather than viewing Support as a cost center or break-even expense, it’s important to start thinking of Support as an organization that can drive renewals, reduce churn, and significantly impact cross-sell and upsell. As TSIA’s VP of Expand Selling research, Steve Frost, has said repeatedly, Services interacts with the customer 5-15x more than Sales, and this definitely includes Support! They’re on the front lines with the customer, listening to their pain points and being placed in a prescriptive, “trusted advisor” role to help them solve challenges and achieve their desired outcomes.

However, changing this internal culture and overall view of Support (and how Support views themselves) can be difficult. To help you get started in shifting the perception of your Support teams, here are some questions your organization can start considering:

  • How do employees view themselves in this organization?

  • Do Support personnel see themselves as critical to the overall customer experience?

  • Do Support personnel realize their role in customer retention?

  • Do Support managers and executives realize this and enforce this responsibility with employees?

As Support leaders look to drive transformation, TSIA also recommends that you implement a collaborative work structure. In collaboration models, one employee works directly with the customer, while the other is in the background searching for solutions in real time and offering those to either the customer-facing agent or to the customer directly.

In the chart below, you can see both Support attrition and Support employee satisfaction numbers are significantly better in organizations that have implemented collaborative support models. When multiple agents are working the same issue at the same time, this translates to lower resolution times.

single tier vs multi tier  

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Single tier vs. multi-tier support metrics.

Creating a culture of customer ownership and driving the notion that every employee is critical to owning the success of the customer is more important than ever. Support leadership needs to continue to find ways to incorporate support employees into the higher-level success of the company, but do so by creating a purposeful focus on customer success narratives as well as traditional metrics.

Focus on the Employee

When technology fails (it happens!), Support employees and the “personal” aspect of their relationships with customers will become even more important to business success. Therefore, it’s important to have a plan in place to motivate, retrain, and encourage employees to face any challenge they may come across.

CIO magazine and Harvard Business Review recently stated that “only 20 percent of today’s workforce have the skills they’ll need for 60 percent of the jobs that will exist in the next five to ten years.” Couple this finding with the current attrition and satisfaction numbers TSIA has uncovered based on our research, shown below:

employee attrition and satisfaction  

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Across the industry, employee attrition is going up while employee satisfaction is going down in Support organizations.

By making an effort to keep skilled Support employees engaged and motivated, their resulting emotional connection to the company and drive to be engaged with customers in a meaningful way will continue to benefit the whole organization.  

Omni-Channel, Including Social, Mobile, Video

The amount of customer-led contact via calls, emails, chats, and forums is at an all-time high, and the days of standing up channels and adding headcount to cover multiple channels are gone. Being able to move a customer from channel to channel (keeping in mind the customer’s preferred channel) will deliver the right experience. Bringing relevant customer information from channel to channel will only enhance the experience.

To facilitate this, having a single system that contains customer-specific information, such as owned products, explored purchases, customer engagement history and previous trouble tickets, self-service website visits, forum interactions, and social activity and engagement will become standard.

A trap that many Support organizations have repeatedly fallen into is purchasing one channel at a time with little to no integration with the other channels. For organizations that have not yet explored new technology, now is the time to look at vendors and their approach to the integration of multiple engagement channels. An example of this could be writing chat transcripts and full audit trails of remote-control sessions into case history in CRM automatically, as soon as the interactions ends.

The most important thing is to embrace the needs of customers who are engaged both in a social and digital manner, and continue to adopt newer channels. Avoiding of social channels altogether will be a mistake and could impact the customer experience in a profound way.

Reduce Customer Effort

As Thomas Lah writes in the “2018 Capabilities Heatmap”:

“Customer satisfaction does not equal customer experience...After years of chasing top box scores, technology companies are realizing that high customer satisfaction scores do not necessarily equate to contract renewals or account growth. Product and service capabilities must combine to help customers unlock business value. Technology providers must be much more adept at understanding where customers are struggling to leverage technology offers.”

Companies continue to try to stand up loyalty programs to boost customer retention and satisfaction. While these can be helpful, the real focus needs to be on improving the areas of poor customer experience and removing the roadblocks that cause high effort for customers.

While TSIA continues to see customer effort as a necessary measurement, adoption of asking effort questions remains flat, with only 28% of TSIA members using an effort question in their voice of the customer programs. It is time to regularly ask where the high level of effort is, and use this information so processes can be changed, employees can be re-trained, and technology can be modified to lower that effort.

Mature Knowledge Management Model

Knowledge management continues to be one of the top inquiries logged by TSIA members, and knowledge management technology has been on the list of technologies with the highest planned spending each year for the last decade. Today, understanding the importance of capturing, sharing, and maintaining content is reaching beyond support services, with enterprise-wide knowledge programs becoming more common.

That’s why we created the “TSIA Knowledge Management Maturity Model” (available to current TSIA members), which uses four phases of maturity across people, process, technology, and corporate culture to allow companies to self-assess where they are and identify next steps to further improve knowledge sharing. Support organizations can use this report to guide internal conversations about the strength of their current knowledge management programs to identify ways to take their KM to the next level.

Let TSIA Help You Transform Your Support Organization

You can read even more details about the concepts in this post in my paper, “TSIA State of Support Services: 2018”. If you’d like more customized approach to transforming your Support organization, contact TSIA today to get more information on how a membership in our Support Services can give you the direction you need to optimize your people, processes, and technology for the future. I look forward to hearing from you!

 
 
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Judi Platz

About Author Judith Platz

Judith Platz, is vice president of research, Support Services, for TSIA. During her over 25 years of customer support experience, she has been responsible for supervising and coordinating multiple functional, strategic, organizational development and technical work streams, including technical support, account management, business consulting, implementation management, and training.

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