How to Build a Multi-Million Customer Support Department — Our Success Story
These achievements were possible due in no small part to our high-end, dedicated, and professional customer support department. Today we’d like to give a proper share of credit to them and tell you the story of the department’s creation. You’ll also find tips for those planning to establish their own customer service and are not sure where to start.
The long road travelled
Our customer center started with 2 agents and an email-only service. We were a small startup company back then, and only had to deal with a mere 60–70 requests per day. But half a year passed really quickly, and before we knew it the number of requests rocketed to 200–400 per day. By this time we launched Facebook and Twitter accounts, so along with emails and store comments, the amount of contact channels has grown to 4.
At this point, we realized the need for the centralization of work processes and statistics collection, which resulted in the implementation of Zendesk service. This allowed us to merge all communications with clients within a single workplace, as well as to start gathering user feedback in an organized way. Another benefit was the ability to define our rush hours thanks to clear statistics and concentrate more support agents at these shifts.
Like with any job, working at a customer support has its downsides — routine tasks and occasional stress loads are among them. This, along with agents’ desire to move to other departments after reaching certain professional level, can result in a high personnel turnover. To counter this, we have incorporated a number of motivational efforts.
For one, we have borrowed an idea of employee rating from the IT area with its Junior, Middle, and Senior levels. This allows our workers to have a clear understanding of their career prospects and what kind of skills and knowledge they need to be up for a promotion. We have also assigned more stressful and demanding jobs like live chat to a higher level agents to make sure they are up to the challenge.
“Customer support is a company’s frontman, both for current and potential clients.” — says our current Sales Manager and ex-Customer Support Lead
We have also developed a strict employee recruitment and training system. First, candidates undergo an hour-long interview where we check their language, technical, and communication skills. After that, they are trained and taught for 2–3 weeks, and only then can get to actual work themselves.
To date, our customer service has grown sky-high in comparison to where we started. Our team consists of professionals who are always ready to help our 7 million audience. We have added live chat and calls (at first — only for sales questions and only in callback mode) to our contact channels. We work 24/7 and handle approximately 500 requests per day, with the average first reply time of 30–40 minutes.
Obstacles and problems
Obviously, the development of such an important and high-profile department can never go completely flawless. We, too, have faced numerous issues along the way, and are ready to share our experience with you.
- Cross-department interaction. Sometimes, a night shift agent faces a technical question that only IT specialists can answer, and they are obviously not around at 4 AM. Or a client reports a potentially important issue, but both the support and IT departments are currently too busy with their daily tasks to discuss the problem together. Whatever the reason, lack of interaction with other departments is always a problem and has to be solved ASAP.
Solution: Since this problem can manifest in various ways, it requires a complex approach. First of all, you need to establish cross-departmental communication (for example, using Slack) and arrange recurrent meetings to discuss the present situation. Make sure you encourage other departments to reach you with questions about customers’ needs and requests.
Now, to the other part of this problem — certain specialists being unavailable when a technical question arises. To fix this, we have assigned a special technical support agent to our team. It is a deeply versed specialist who can solve user’s technical problems directly or consult other agents. If this is not possible, internal training of agents can also do the trick.
2. Personnel turnover. We have mentioned this topic earlier and that one way to solve it is employee motivation. However, we would like to make one thing perfectly clear. If anything, it is not a bad thing for a company as a whole when a support agent grows professionally and moves to other departments. But, it does put upon the support department the need to constantly be in search of new workers.
Solution: First, establish a proper motivation system. Second, make sure you always hire in advance, instead of trying to catch up and patch the holes. This also includes situations when you know that the increase of client requests is at hand, like during new product’s launch.
3. Employee engagement and knowledge. Because of the mundane nature of support agents’ work, it is easy for them to lose track of the current state of affairs and to start feeling like they’re left face to face with clients. This negatively affects both the agent’s dedication and the quality of service. Additionally, since we are an IT company, we set quite high tech knowledge requirements in addition to those that are common for any support agents.
Solution: To increase worker engagement, it is important to set up a monitoring system and after-action reviews. These measures help agents understand the direction a company is moving, what is required of them, and why. Also, after-shift reports are a good way to check an agent’s daily effectiveness and collect statistical data regarding the most common users’ problems. As of tech knowledge, the best solution that we have found is combining internal training with external educational sources like Coursera.
Tips with the wisdom of hindsight
Now, allow us to give you a few hints on building your own customer support, be it a startup, a local company or a transnational corporation.
- Never underestimate the importance of support department. Only they face clients directly, they know what customers want, and it is up to them to make people chose your product among its counterparts. That’s why cross-department cooperation with them is a cheap and handy way to look at problems with a fresh eye.
“The time of first reply is vital. After all, it doesn’t matter how correct your answer is if you reply 3 days after the client had the problem.” — says our Chief Customer Officer
- To minimize the time of first reply, you have to ascertain that your customer support schedule fits your clients’ needs. Ideally — go 24/7 as soon as possible. And, naturally, hire enough agents to cover the daily traffic.
- Spend sufficient time on worker education. Most clients would prefer to call your contact center with questions rather than delving through your FAQ section. So, obviously, it is critical that the information they get from a support agent is precise and up-to-date. Also, make sure that every worker is taught individually — it takes more time, but allows to verify the quality of education.
- Spend sufficient time on worker training. Sometimes, it’s outright impossible to fix a client’s problem. For example, if your company is carrying out a scheduled server maintenance and a client urgently needs your app working. Does this mean that you are doomed to lose this client? Not at all! If served properly, customer will stay loyal to your brand even if his problem was not solved — which is, ultimately, the main goal of your customer support.
- Don’t just blindly copy others practices, even ours! Always analyze why a given approach worked before utilizing it. Perhaps, your company structure would encourage a completely different type of motivation. Or your product line requires other communication channels. Or a different skill set is needed from employees.
- Prepare an information database for your agents. It should be well-organized and include all sorts of information about the company and its products, along with question answer scripts. Such a database will improve the quality of service your employees provide and reduce the client interaction time.
How to serve a multi-million audience
Of course, working with 7 million of users has its specifics and impacts on how you organize the work of your customer support. You can’t keep interaction with users as personalized due to large numbers and the need for fast response. The time of first reply must be as short as possible and it is essential to establish a full-time support. The overall quality of your service is also crucial.
We hope this article illustrated you why customer support is such an important department. It is a must-have for any client-oriented company, or even just a product or a service one. And if some of your question are still unanswered, or if you have an experience that’s contradictory to ours — leave a comment below. We’d be happy to further discuss this topic with you!