You need help setting up an account in your new software, learning how to use your new product's latest updates and features, or changing your subscription plan. How do you get the answers you need?
Whether you choose to make phone call, access live chat, hop on Twitter, or send an email, you're almost always going to be chatting with members of the given company's customer support team.
These are the people who work to help you solve your problems and challenges so you can make the most of their products or services.
The process of customer support involves customer support representatives (CSRs) consistently putting the customer's needs first and resolving their pain points, regardless of the time or effort it takes.
The results of these customer support interactions play a huge role in how those customers feel about your business and brand as a whole. This is why customer support has the potential to greatly impact major factors like your business's reputation, customer retention, bottom line, and more.
In this guide, we'll review the day-to-day work your customer support team will be doing, why it's so important, what makes support unique from other customer-facing roles within your company, and how to improve your support strategy.
What is customer support?
Customer support is the process of solving any customer challenges and pain points immediately and effectively via phone, email, live chat, tickets, and social media.
Every interaction support reps have with customers should be initiated and ended by the customers. A major reason to invest in your customer support team is to delight those customers.
This is critical to your business's long term success — when you delight your customers, they'll be more likely to remain long-term customers who are loyal to your business and advocate for you among their professional and personal networks.
And today, keeping your customers around for the long run is important due to how expensive it has become to acquire new customers. In fact, it's exponentially more costly to obtain new customers rather than retain existing customers.
When you increase customer retention by just 5%, you have the potential to increase revenue by as much as 95%.
Additionally, companies today that are increasing their revenue are the ones that are investing in their customer-facing teams (including support).
How Customer Support Interacts With Customer Service and Customer Success
Customer support, service, and success are all customer-facing teams critical to your business's prosperity and growth — but these teams are often confused and referred to interchangeably.
Here’s a quick breakdown of their definitions and differences as described by HubSpot Service Hub General Manager Michael Redbord.
Customer Service vs. Customer Support
Customer service is more proactive than customer support. It's about saying to a customer, "I have something for you" instead of a customer saying, "I need something from you".
Service guides the customer before they know they need to be guided whereas customer support is about reacting to a customer's problem. When you provide both proactive and reactive service and support for your customers, you're acting as advocates for their growth.
Customer Success vs. Customer Support
In order for customer success to exist, your customer service and support teams must already be functioning, well-oiled machines. Businesses only earn the opportunity to provide customer success once they've proven they can reactively support and proactively guide their customers.
Customer success is the process of doing something for customers that they might not have known they wanted or needed. It provides value for both your customers and business simultaneously. Success reps offer education and assistance to customers when they don't realize they need it.
For example, reps might upsell or cross-sell by suggesting other products or services for customers that complement whatever it is they already purchased or better align with their business needs and goals.
To better understand the specific difference between support and success, check out this chart.
Customer Support Team Structure
Whether you're looking for ways to improve your customer support team or building your team from scratch, it's important to recognize your team's structure.
Your customer support team structure will dictate 1) how agile and informed your support team is, 2) how well they can support and delight customers, and 3) how comfortably your team can scale as your company grows.
For these reasons, it's important to start with (or reevaluate) your team foundation. Identify your company circumstances and customer needs. What do most of your customers request help with? Technical issues? Onboarding? Refunds and returns? These will vary based on what industry you're in and what products you're selling.
The answers to these questions will inform how to specialize the smaller teams you create within your broader customer support organization.
For example, your customer support team structure will probably look like this:
But what varies between companies is what those smaller, individual teams specialize in and manage for your customers.
Perhaps each team owns a part of the on-boarding process, such as billing, demos, technical issues, and training. You could also assign different levels of support complexity to each team — one could manage general questions, one could answer technical questions, and one could own the most advanced issues.
How you create and assign these teams is up to you, what your customers need, and what responsibilities you're assigning your CSRs.
Customer Support Responsibilities
Below is a list of the most common activities customer support representatives do in their day-to-day. These help your CSRs provide the level of support and assistance your customers are seeking.
Regardless of your industry or business type, these responsibilities are considered to be fairly universal — however, depending on your company and customers, your support team's responsibilities may look slightly different.
Answer customer phone calls
Reply to email requests and questions
Operate live chat on your website for customer requests
Manage, triage, assign, and work on tickets in the customer support queue
Respond to social media comments, direct messages, and requests
Write, publish, and share instructional, FAQ, blog, and knowledge base content for customers who want access to your self-help support materials
Assist in on-boarding and training for customers about how to use your products or services when they reach out
Manage all types of customer complaints, feedback, and praise (and escalate them if and when necessary)
Advise customers on company, product, or service information as needed
Understand the product or service inside and out to provide ample support
Upgrade, change, or cancel accounts and subscriptions
Suggest solutions for customers based on their specific needs and goals when working to resolve their challenges
Work with customers until they feel their pain points have been resolved
Provide solutions to challenges that will work long term (whenever possible)
Act as on-brand, positive representatives of your company at all times
As you can see, your customer support staff works on many different tasks every day. These responsibilities and tasks span across multiple channels, too.
Customer Support Channels
The following list contains some of today's most common customer support channels. Your business may implement all of these channels or add and remove others to meet the needs of your specific industry, business, and customer base.
Phone: Every customer support team should be able to provide customers with the help they need via a phone support line managed by your CSRs.
Email: Ensure your customer support team has a universal email inbox where inquiries and questions can be sent in by customers who are looking for thoughtful, written responses in return.
Live Chat: Live chat will help your CSRs manage discussions they have with customers via instant message on your website pages.
Social Media: Whether you have a Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (or any other social platform), ensure CSRs are checking direct messages, comments, and notifications for any inquires that need responses. This can be simplified with the help of a social media software.
Knowledge Base and FAQ: If your business has a knowledge base with an FAQ, ensure your CSRs are updating this support channel frequently. You want this information to be as accurate and specific as possible to make it helpful for your customers and ensure they have the answers they need to resolve their challenges on their own (which, in turn, will save your team time).
Community: Your business may have a customer-led community through which customers can share knowledge and experiences as well as learn from each other. Have your support reps review the content shared in the community now and then to ensure there aren't any opportunities for them to provide support. For example, if dozens of customers are chatting about the same problem, one of your CSRs might share specific instructions on how to resolve it or provide information about how they can reach out for further assistance.
Tickets: Your customers may choose to submit a ticket via your website (and your ticketing software) to automatically be placed "in line" and receive the support they need from reps when their turn comes.
Note: HubSpot has a help & Support page that includes information for customers about all of these channels for support (and more). Whether customers choose to search the HubSpot Knowledge Base or reach out to a rep via phone, Twitter, or ticket, the webpage contains instructions on how to do so.
This keeps the process of obtaining and providing support as simple as possible for customers and reps.
At this point, you understand the importance of your customer support team, the range of responsibilities your CRSs have, and the variety of channels through which they work with customers. But what about their skills? What should you look for in a great CSR and which types of skills should you ensure they have? Let's look at that next.
Customer Support Skills
Not just anyone can be a successful CSR. In addition to carrying out the responsibilities we reviewed above, CSRs also need exceptional people skills and intrinsic motivation to thrive in this customer-facing role.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the customer support skills your CSRs need.
Arguably the most important skill your CSRs must have is great communication. Support reps should be clear and effective communicators throughout any interaction. Whether it's chatting with a customer via any support channel, escalating an issue to a manager, relaying information to higher-ups, or sharing experiences with other CSRs, strong communication skills are key.
CSRs need to know how to answer any questions about your product or service customers may have. To do this, they need to know your product or service inside and out including its features and capabilities (along with details about any updates made to it over time).
CSRs need to be empathetic — part of their role requires them to listen to stories about their customers' challenges and pain points as well as general feedback. There are bound to be times when customers won’t be polite, yet your reps still need to show empathy and try to understand where each customer is coming from. This way, CSRs assist customers in a way that effectively meets their needs and makes them feel supported.
Mental Toughness and Patience
Speaking of customers who aren't always patient or kind, your reps need to be mentally tough and patient with customers. They might receive feedback from customers that's negative about your business and brand or even rude to them on a more personal level. CSRs need to be able to take this information in stride, as well as remain patient, calm, and positive, to get their job done.
CSRs should be enthusiastic employees at your company. No customer wants help from someone who sounds negative or unhappy. Reps act as educators and coaches for your brand — for this reason, they need to be positive representatives of your brand who are ready and willing to help customers grow better with your products or services.
Not only are support reps expected to resolve the challenges of your customers thoroughly, but they also need to do so in a timely manner. These days, due to the multiple channels through which customers can reach support reps almost instantly, they're expected to begin working on a fix to the problem at hand immediately and reach a final solution as efficiently as possible.
CSRs need to be problem solvers. They're bound to have an array of issues brought to their attention by reps that they're expected to solve. Whether it's a new solution to an old or recurring problem they've encountered before or a solution to a challenge they've never had to solve for before, reps must be able to look at any issue and find a way to fix it for the customer at hand.
Your business is bound to grow, evolve, and change. That includes information about your products or services (including features and capabilities) as well as your buyer personas and base of customers. Your CSRs need to be ready to adapt to those changes and willing to learn whatever it is they need to know to remain effective in their role.
Now, let's talk about improving your customer support strategy to ensure great results among your reps and customers.
How to Improve Your Customer Support Strategy
Although customer-facing work can be highly rewarding, it also has the potential to become complicated and mentally taxing for CSRs. For this reason, it's important to consistently improve upon your customer support strategy.
Here are some ways to help keep your CSRs excited to come to work and build a successful team over time. Remember, with happy customer support reps, you'll be able to better serve and delight your customers.
1. Determine how you'll staff and train your customer support reps.
To meet the needs of your customers, CSRs must be staffed and trained appropriately. Your business must know how and when to grow your customer support department as well as think about the best ways to train reps — this will allow you to ensure seamless and consistent processes for assisting any customers. Any CSR should be able to provide the same level of on-brand support in a way that satisfies the needs of the customer as well as the expectations of your business.
Additionally, it's important to remember that the way you go about staffing and training reps might look different than the processes other companies use to do so. Every business is different and so are its customers.
For example, a software company may need more support employees than a clothing brand due to the level of attention needed — and the amount of time it takes — to walk a customer through a solution to one of their problems.
Additionally, a software company's support team would likely need longer and deeper-level training on the product than a clothing company's support team would due to the complexity of software.
2. Decide which skills are most important for your reps to focus on developing.
As mentioned above, there are a number of skills that CSRs may possess. It's your job to determine which are the most important to you and your business. This means you need to decide the skills you'll require your reps to have when they start at your company versus which skills you might have them develop over time.
3. Seat your customer support team physically close to your product team.
In your office, seat customer support close to your product team. Physical proximity means both teams will learn more about the other’s day-to-day experiences which will contribute to a shared understanding of how they can collaborate to better serve customers (and each other).
This cross-team communication will help you build personal relationships and trust among the two groups and, in turn, conduct more effective discussions with customers.
4. Provide tools and solutions for your support reps to better help customers.
Ensure your CSRs have all of the tools and solutions they need to best help your customers. Whether it's software, training on your product's latest updates or newest features, or feedback on how to improve, help set your reps up for success so they can contribute to the success of your customers.
Note: You might obtain this feedback about your prior success in providing your reps with these resources, or details about what they're still missing, through employee satisfaction surveys or other employee satisfaction and engagement tools.
5. Empower your customer support reps.
In addition to providing tools and solutions for your CSRs to better help customers, empower and motivate them by showing them how much you value their work and commitment. This will help you improve their happiness, loyalty, and desire to provide the best support they possibly can for customers.
Ask for their feedback and recommendations and include them in decision-making processes when it comes to enhancing your products and customer support processes. Bring CSRs to higher-level leadership meetings, or cross-functional meetings with the product and sales teams, to get their feedback on what is and isn't working for customers as well.
6. Consistently measure your customer support team's results.
You should constantly be measuring your customer support team's results to improve your strategy. This includes the results of your rep-to-customer interactions as well as the results of your rep satisfaction and happiness efforts in the workplace.
To ensure your CSRs are meeting the needs of your customers, deploy customer feedback surveys, ask for feedback after they work with a rep, and use Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) to determine how likely customers are to refer you.
7. Promote self-care among reps.
Preventing burnout, unhappiness, and exhaustion — which are all common results of working in customer-facing roles — is critical to your support team's success. This will allow you to retain your employees for longer periods of time (meaning you won't have to spend the majority of your time hiring and training new CSRs).
Here are a few ways to help promote self-care among CSRs and ensure they are happy and productive members of the team.
Promote a healthy lifestyle: CSRs (along with all employees at your company, for that matter) will be more productive if they maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and maintain a reasonable work-life balance.
Prioritize extracurricular passions and necessary downtime: CSRs should ensure they’re creating or setting aside time during the workday for side projects, skill-building, and professional development activities. Working as a customer support rep is often, but not always, a starting point in one's career or their time at a given company.
Whether or not a rep's intention is to work in support long term, it's important they have time to put down the phone and explore other passions and interests. This includes simple things like providing time for your reps to leave the office for lunch, coffee, internal networking, or team bonding activities.
Invest in rep education: Whether a CSR needs help improving some of their responsibilities or if they're interested in the work of an employee in another department at your company, provide them with the education and tools they need to obtain the information they're searching for.
Now, let's review some ways you can make your support team as efficient as possible with the help of support software.
Customer Support Software
Customer support software helps your entire support team build and automate processes, manage and share information about different customers, obtain customer feedback, manage team-wide processes, and efficiently meet the needs of your customers — all from a central location.
The most straightforward and streamlined way to manage your CSRs, their activities, customer interactions, and more, is through a customer support software such as the HubSpot Service Hub. All of these processes (in addition to those of your service and success managers) can be managed through this type of customer-centric software.
Here are some important customer support tools (which come with software like HubSpot's Service Hub) that you'll want to consider for your team, regardless of whether you invest in an all-encompassing service system.
Help desk and ticketing software helps CSRs track and organize incoming customer requests. This helps them stay organized and build processes around the order in which customers receive help as well as which issues should be prioritized.
Surveys are critical to measuring your business's internal and external successes. Whether it's obtaining customer feedback prior to or after working with a rep or asking your CSRs about their satisfaction and happiness working for your company, Survey and customer feedback software has the power to tell you important of information about the people who matter most to your success and growth.
Managing a knowledge base for your customers is an important part of empowering them. Knowledge base software will help you create this hub of educational support materials so customers can try to help themselves and solve challenges on their own. Your knowledge base may include FAQ and other instructional information. This type of support is not only empowering to your customers but it saves your CSRs time, too.
HubSpot, Zendesk , and Freshdesk offer universal and collaborative inboxes to help CSRs organize all of your business's support channels in a way that ensures no customer request goes unnoticed. A universal inbox also keeps track of each customer’s interaction history so reps have the context they need to best assist them and manage their specific situation appropriately.
Live Chat Software
In today's world of customer support, customers often expect an option to receive immediate support via live chat software. This provides your customers with another option for support to choose from that they can access via your website. Live chat is also great for efficiency because your CSRs can assist multiple people at once.
Social Media Software
Your CSRs are bound to receive feedback, inquires, and more via social media. Social media software helps you manage all contact through your various platforms from a central location. Your reps can easily view your pages and profiles and respond to requests, questions, and more through the software in a timely and organized fashion.
Delight Your Customers With Great Customer Support
The impact your customer support team has on your business is tremendous — by helping delight customers, customer support reps have a direct influence on retainment, revenue, and overall growth. When you invest in your customer support team, you’ll reap the benefits of these returns. So, think about your support strategy and implement the necessary tools and systems that allow your CSRs to serve your customers to the best of their ability.
Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 29, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated April 29 2021