The last few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of market turmoil. Uncertainty is the defining factor of the current business landscape, which makes flexibility and efficiency more critical than ever. How can you position yourself to capitalize when the market snaps back, as some expect it will, while maintaining a defensive position in case that moment takes longer than expected or the cut is deeper than forecast? We don’t believe in hysteria, nor unbounded optimism – nothing is ever quite as good or as bad as it appears and this too shall pass.
In the meantime, we are working every day to help our partners grapple with the current state of affairs and prepare for the various possible outcomes in the weeks and months ahead. As we do so, there are a few recurring questions we see with regards to customer and product support:
We will dive into each of these topics in-depth in future posts. For now, we will provide some initial thoughts, including our internal staffing model in case it can help your organization maximize output with the team you have today.
For the vast majority of companies in the market, an initial response to the uncertainty will be instituting a hiring freeze. All those great annual forecasts with commiserate hiring needs? Out the window. The same conversation is playing out in board rooms across America: What is your plan for this situation? How much cash do you have on hand? How can you make it last as long as possible? We are as disappointed as anyone at this development, but any good business quickly moves from understanding constraints to charting a course of action within those constraints.
If you’re on a hiring freeze, you need to get more out of the team you have. One of the ways Boomtown and our partners do this is by leveraging AI to improve the number of tickets an agent can handle in a day. We firmly believe AI works best as a better compliment to human users, not as a replacement. What does this look like in practice?
AI integrated into your existing workflows can suggest next steps, solutions, and knowledge base articles to agents, so they don’t have to spend time searching for answers. We have seen this capability reduce handle times by up to 30%, significantly increasing the capacity of your team. If you previously handled 1,200 tickets per day, you now have the capacity for >1,500 with the same team.
A secondary effect of this model is fewer Tier 2 escalations as tribal knowledge gets handed directly to your front-line team. This frees up your managers to think more strategically about the business and proactively solve issues before they become critical.
Customer self-service has been a hot topic for years, but the concept has not lived up to its promise and few companies realize the benefits they expect. Why? Because the most common implementation of customer self-service is basic chat FAQs and a knowledge base where every inquiry gets directed. The chat workflow often isn’t integrated in a natural way that makes it seamless to customers and almost never leverages information about the customer to provide personalized responses.
In order to make customer self-service work, the implementation has to be integrated directly into the workflow where the customer is experiencing an issue. If they have to leave the screen and go somewhere else to find an answer, they may as well call you, which is exactly why so much of your agents’ time is spent just reading FAQs to the customer.
In order to provide real benefits in this time of cost management, customer self-service needs to rise to the occasion. The solution must be built into the customer’s natural workflow, answers should be contextually relevant to the customer and the task at hand, and NLP (natural language processing) needs to help guide the conversation when the existing context isn’t enough. A great self-service implementation can reduce call volume by up to 20% and automate 10-15% of questions. That’s time and money you can spend in other areas of your business.
Staffing correctly to your support volume could go under the banner of doing more with what you have, but it’s critical enough to deserve its own section given that most teams don’t do a great job of matching supply and demand. The impact of improper staffing is that you either have underutilized staff (i.e. more costs than you need) or a bad customer experience (i.e. long hold times, high abandon rate), which will eventually lead to churn.
We’ve decided to share the staffing model we use with partners in case it can help you get the most productivity out of the team you have today. Our model can be found here and a slide deck describing how we approach the topic can be found here. Please have a look at each, make a copy, or download an excel version and let us know what you think. We’re happy to walk through it with anyone who’s interested or has questions. Just drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a world of uncertainty, knowing that you’ve appropriately mapped your resources against the challenge is critically important. From a support perspective, you are able to minimize waste and maximize customer satisfaction, which has never been more critical.
Combining the correct staffing levels with AI assistance and appropriately implemented customer self-service gives you the best chance of weathering the storm.
If all of this is simply overwhelming or non-core to your business, it may be appropriate to evaluate outsourcing support. We have over 100 partners who have made the decision to focus on their core business, whether that’s selling 3rd party solutions or banking/payments or developing software, and outsource support to an organization with specific expertise in staffing and managing a support operations center (SOC). Other partners have limited in-house support to weekday business hours and use a partner to cover nights and weekends. This model gives organizations the flexibility to use their team for peak support volumes while providing their customers’ adequate resources whenever they need them. It can also be highly cost effective and allows smaller teams to prevent burnout from being “always on.”
Outsourced support operators have the benefit of staffing across multiple peaks (see our staffing model) with customer groups that span many time zones. This means they have less slack or underutilization of staff, which allows them to price more in line with full utilization. For example, you may need to have 14 support agents to handle peak volume, which only happens for 1 hour per day before dropping back down to a volume that can be handled by 12 or fewer agents. On the other hand, an outsourced firm may have 3 or more consecutive peak hours with a slower ramp and decline given overlapping customer contact models. The result is often a much more cost-effective model for support.
If you’re looking to reduce operating expenses, increase flexibility, or focus more on your core business, please shoot us a note (email@example.com) and we can share how we support similar partners.
Please let us know if you want to have a conversation about any of the ideas above or if we can help your team navigate these uncharted waters. We’re all in this together.