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When you need help assembling build-it-yourself furniture, canceling a software subscription, or making an online purchase, what’s the avenue you take to get the answer you need?

Whether you start live chatting on a company’s website, fire off a tweet, or pick up the phone to talk to a person, you’re engaging with various customer support channels.

Customer support is an evolving discipline that looks far different today than it did only 10 years ago. At its core, customer support is about helping solve customer problems, but it isn’t just made up of siloed employees in a call center anymore.

Today, customer support is one of the first points of contact with an organization visitors and customers have — and that first experience can play a huge role in how customers feel about that organization, and what they say about that organization.

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The definition of customer support varies from organization to organization, depending on their customer philosophy. Customer support responsibilities also vary depending on the size and scope of the team.

Customer Support Responsibilities

Below is a list of the activities a customer support representative (CSR) might do on a day to day basis.

  • Answer phone call requests for support
  • Reply to email requests for support
  • Operate live chat for web requests for support
  • Manage, triage, and assign tickets in a customer support queue
  • Respond to social media feedback and requests for support
  • Write instructional and FAQ content for knowledge base articles
  • Onboard and train new customers on how to use a product or service

How Customer Support Has Changed

Customer support, as a company function and career path, has evolved a lot — even over just the last several years.

Where previously customer support was considered a cost center designed to simply solve customer problems, made up of employees in a call center that were siloed from the rest of the company, today’s modern customer support organization is much different.

Today, customer support isn’t a cost center — it’s a company’s biggest opportunity to grow. Customer support isn’t just about listening to customers yell at you and providing them with discounts and resolutions anymore. Rather, it’s about consistently helping customers find value from products or service to make them satisfied, loyal customers for many more purchases to come. This process is called delighting your customers.

Delighted Customers Save You Money

Today, acquiring a new customer is exponentially more costly than retaining an existing, happy, and loyal customer — or a delighted customer.

In fact, an increase in customer retention by just 5% can increase revenue by as much as 95%. Businesses can move the needle for growth faster by investing in customers rather than trying to acquire new ones — and as it turns out, companies that are growing in revenue are more likely to invest in their customer teams than companies that are stagnating.

customer-support

Another way customer support has evolved over the years is the various customer support channels businesses are using to assist their customers. Not all of these channels have changed, but there are definitely some that have emerged more recently.

Customer Support Channels

Some of the most important and common customer support channels have been around for decades. These include phone support, email support, and on-site support. However, there are other channels that have become equally, if not more, important among businesses.

Live Chat Customer Support

If you visit a business's website today, you may notice a button that says "Live Chat" or "Help" — this trend is becoming more common as live chat customer support increases in popularity among customers.

Live chat customer support allows customers to instant message a member of a business's customer support team to get the assistance they need. Live chat software is a simple way to implement this type of support at your company, so you can immediately begin assisting customers in real-time without ever having to pick up a phone.

Remote Customer Support

Have you ever had a problem with your laptop that an IT expert, who was located in a completely different place, was able to fix for you via their laptop?

That's remote support. It's the ability to use today's technology to react to a customer's problem via a device or software from a remote location, never having to go on-site or work face-to-face (or even speak on the phone) with a customer.

Social Media Customer Support

If you have an issue with one of your products, have a question about a return, or simply want to provide feedback, you might reach out to customer support via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Social media customer support has become increasingly more important and relevant these days, considering there are over 3.48 billion social media users worldwide.

That's why ensuring your customer support team is checking your social media platform's direct messages, comments, and mentions regularly for any issues or situations they need to handle for customers is critical.

You can make this process easier for your support team by integrating a social media tool in your processes to assist in tracking those specific types of interactions, such as direct messages, comments, and mentions.

Now that we've defined customer support and reviewed the ways the industry has evolved over the years, let's answer an important question many ask when implementing a support team at their company: What is the difference between customer support, customer service, and customer success?

Customer Support, Customer Service, & Customer Success

They're all customer-facing teams critical to your business's success — but what makes them different? The three roles are different, but they live on the same spectrum.

Here’s a quick breakdown of their definitions and differences as described by HubSpot Service Hub General Manager Michael Redbord.

Customer Support

Customer support, as defined earlier, is about reacting to your customers' needs. It's about being there for customers, whenever they need it, whatever they need help with. At its core, customer support is transactional, and the interaction is begun and ended by the customer.

“Once you have a customer,” Redbord explains, “you’re in the business of customer support. They’re going to need help at some point, and the more you grow, the more the volume of that need.”

Customer Service

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 is about a business guiding the customer.

If businesses can provide both customer support and customer service by engaging reactively and guiding proactively, they're in great shape.

Customer Success

Customer success is initiated by a business — it's the process of doing something a customer might not have even known they wanted or needed. It requires anticipation.

Customer success expands value for both the customer and the business simultaneously. It might involve upselling or cross-selling by suggesting other products or services for customers that work with what they've already purchased.

But here's the key to executing customer success:

Businesses only earn the opportunity to do it once they've proved they can reactively support well and proactively guide well.

If you think about it, customer success is at the apex of the customer-facing pyramid, where it comes together with support and service. It's an additional layer on top of an already-cranking, successful customer support team, as visualized below.

customer-support-vs-customer-success

Now that we've reviewed what makes customer support unique, let's cover the skills your customer support employees will need to ensure they're prepared to handle the pain points, feedback, needs, and questions of your customers.

Customer Support Skills

It’s a special kind of person who can be successful working as a customer support representative. In addition to knowing the product or service inside and out, customer support reps also need exceptional people skills and intrinsic motivation to thrive working in a customer-facing, helping role.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the customer support skills reps need.

1. Product Expertise

It almost goes without saying that, in order to help customers with a product or service, a customer support rep needs to know how to answer their questions. Reps should know anything and everything about how to use the product or service, as well as how it can break, so they’re prepared to answer frantic customer questions.

2. Empathy

Customer support is all about helping people, so reps need to be empathetic to the stories and challenges behind customer requests. There are times when customer calls or emails won’t be polite, and reps need to be able to understand and empathize with where the customer is coming from to best help them.

3. Toughness

Reps need to be self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses in a customer support role, but they must constantly be working to build and improve mental and emotional toughness.

On the days working in support can feel like a grind of never-ending phone calls and emails, or in the face of customer churn or poor Net Promoter Score® (NPS) results, it’s important that reps don’t take bad outcomes personally, and that they can instead objectively evaluate what they can improve, within their team and with their own performance. This toughness will help them to be even-tempered in the face of angry or unreasonable customers, too.

4. Vision

Successful customer support professionals need to be enthusiastic and visionary, so they can share their enthusiasm with their customers and with their team. Reps need to be able to teach people, coach colleagues, and embrace the mission of helping customers see value, all while staying positive and productive.

5. Thoroughness

Customer support reps need to be excellent communicators — over the phone, over email, via live chat, and in written knowledge base articles. And in order to communicate well with customers, reps especially need to be thorough — drawing on their product expertise to explain in detail how to use products, answers to common questions, and fixes to typical roadblocks.

6. Empowerment

Above all, customer support reps need to be empowered.

Empowered to go the extra mile to help solve a problem for a customer. Empowered to be honest with their team when there’s something they don’t know and need help understanding. Empowered to ask their manager for help when they’re overwhelmed and burning out.

Without empowerment, customer support reps will work themselves into a state of burnout that won’t be productive for them or their team — which won’t help the business overall.

These are just a few of the skills needed to work in customer support — here’s a more comprehensive list of general customer service skills that also help support reps excel.

Now, on to improving your customer support strategy to ensure great results among your reps and customers.

How to Improve Your Customer Support Strategy

Customer work can be messy and mentally taxing — remember your customer support employees are working through these ups and downs with customers all day, every day.

“Mental health and self-care are huge trends in support roles at startups,” Redbord explains, “and there’s a reason for this. These jobs are incredibly taxing and can be relatively low-paying. Reps are always at the beck and call of your customers, and whenever something goes wrong, a company leader or executive is jumping on the team to fix it.”

Here are some ways to foster happy customer support reps to build a successful team over time. With happy customer support reps, you'll be able to continually delight your customers.

1. Staff and train the customer support team correctly.

To be successful in meeting customer needs, support must be staffed and trained appropriately. Your business must know how and when to grow your customer support department as well as discover the best ways to train customer support team members to ensure a seamless and consistent process for assisting all of your customers.

Remember, each business is different and so are its customers — therefore, there's no right or wrong when it comes to staffing and training.

For example, a software company may need more support employees than a clothing brand due to the level of attention needed — and 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 due to the complexity of software.

Just be sure your support team has processes in place for both of these things so you remain effective in meeting all customer needs as well as keeping your support team happy and productive.

2. Staff the customer support team with mentally tough people.

As mentioned, you'll need to staff your team with mentally tough customer support employees. Don’t hire people who are unprepared to deal with chaos, challenges, and pressure.

It's inevitable in customer support that reps are going to deal with unhappy customers from time-to-time. They need to be able to manage these complaints professionally, in an unemotional way (even if a customer is getting emotional) and rectify the issue at hand. They then need to be able to brush off this encounter — however pleasant or unpleasant it may have been — and move onto the next customer.

3. Seat your customer support team physically close to problem-solvers in product.

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 create a shared understanding of how they can collaborate to better serve customers and each other.

This proximity will also promote more open communication cross-team which will help build personal relationships and trust among the two groups — positive interactions internally will result in positive interactions externally among reps and customers.

4. Be prepared to create solutions for your customer support reps.

If your team is empathetic and hardworking, they may have a hard time asking for help. Although this says a lot about the character of the people who make up your team, that doesn't mean you should ignore their needs and feelings, even if they're not always vocalized or clearly stated.

Be there for your support team to prevent any burnouts and brainstorm solutions and workarounds for them. Ask for their feedback regularly through employee satisfaction surveys and employees feedback sessions. Employee satisfaction and engagement tools are also a great way to obtain this information so you can learn more about your support team's motivation, overall happiness, interest level, and how invested they are in your company, customers, and success.

5. Empower your customer support team through sponsorship and visibility.

In addition to creating solutions for your reps, you should also empower them to promote happiness, satisfaction, and loyalty among employees. Showing your reps how much you value them and the work they do every day will go a long way.

For example, ask for their recommendations and include them in the decision-making processes when it comes to enhancing your products and customer support processes. Bring in support reps to higher-level leadership meetings, or cross-functional meeting with the product and sales teams to get their feedback on what is and isn't working for customers.

6. Measure your customer support team results.

You should constantly be measuring your customer support team's results, both internally and externally, to improve your support strategy. This means you must measure the results of your rep-to-customer interactions as well as the results of your rep satisfaction and happiness efforts within your company.

To ensure your support reps are meeting the needs of your customers, deploy customer feedback surveys, ask for feedback after they work with a rep, and use NPS to determine how likely your customers are to recommend you to another person.

As mentioned earlier, you can use employee satisfaction surveys and feedback sessions to measure the results of your rep happiness and motivation efforts. This way you can get a better understanding of what you're currently doing well in terms of getting the rep satisfaction results you want, and what you need to change within the department to promote productivity, motivation, happiness, and any other factors that matter to you and your employees.

Track, manage, and improve all of your customer support results and interactions with the help of customer service software.

7. Promote customer support self-care.

Preventing rep burnout, unhappiness, and exhaustion is critical to your support team's success. This will allow you to retain your employee's for longer periods of time (meaning you won't have to spend the majority of your time hiring and training new reps).

There are a few things you can remind reps of, and help them with, to promote their self-care to ensure they're happy and positive members of the team.

  • Promote rep self-care: Reps will be more productive if they maintain a healthy diet, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and a reasonable work-life balance.
  • Prioritize rep passions and necessary downtime: Reps should ensure they’re creating or setting aside time during the workday for side projects and skill-building that they can do off the phones to invest in their professional development. They should also have the ability to take a walk outside during lunch to get some fresh air or grab coffee with their team members during breaks.
  • Invest in rep education: If reps are feeling burnt out or unsatisfied at work, you can offer them the opportunity to invest some of their time into learning and building new skills so they can work more efficiently and improve their work-life balance.
Now, let's review some ways you can make your support team as efficient as possible with the help of support software. Technology is one of the best resources leaders can provide their customer support team to do this.

Customer Support Software

Customer support software helps reps build and automate processes, manage and share information about different customers, obtain customer feedback, and meet the needs of customers efficiently.

Below are of the must-haves for your customer support team to ensure consistent and successful interactions between your customers and reps.

Tickets

Customer support teams need a way to track and organize incoming customer requests to stay organized and build processes. A great way to do this is with a ticketing software so support can stay on top of all communication with customers, prioritize specific work, and resolve issues thoroughly and efficiently.

Analyzing customer tickets will also help customer support teams figure out where they spend the most time and how they can optimize or better educate around those customer issues to save the rest of the team time and energy.

Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is an integral part of the success of all businesses. Teams need to ask for customer feedback to learn what they’re doing well, as well as what they need to improve.

From feedback on individual calls to product requests, all customer feedback should be reviewed. Customer feedback software can help send out surveys and analyze trends in customer sentiment over time. This software also allows you to better understand your customers and what you need to do to continue to delight them and make them happy so they stay with your business longer.

Knowledge Base

After a while, customer support reps will have a good sense of the questions and issues your customers are running into again and again. However, repeatedly walking customers through the same solutions isn’t a good use of employee time — nor is it the way customers want to get the help they need.

Instead of having to jump on a phone call or send an email to your support team and having to wait to hear back, customers today prefer the option to search for the information they need online to help themselves.

You can create a searchable knowledge base for your customers with FAQ, and instructions for everything your support team notices customers are consistently reaching out for assistance on. Whether it's setting up a new product or solving a common fix, a knowledge base will save reps time.

It'll allow them to better help your customers, free up their time and resources for working on other challenges that require one-on-one attention, and provide your customers with another immediate outlet for the information they want and need.

Universal Inbox

Today, customers aren’t just reaching out for help on the phone. Customers are connecting with companies via email, live chat, and social media, too.

A universal inbox for customer support, such as HubSpotZendesk , or Freshdesk, can help you organize all support channels so no customer request goes unnoticed. This type of software also helps you keep track of each customer’s history so your customer support reps have the context they need to best assist them and manage their specific situation appropriately.

Live Chat Software

As previously mentioned, live chat software has become an integral part to the success of many customer support teams across industries.

Integrating a live chat system on your website will allow you to better serve your customers by providing them with another option to choose from in terms of the way they interact with your support team. This also allows support to assist multiple people at once if needed.

Remember, the needs of every business, customer support team, and base of customers are different. You may need to experiment with various types of software and technology to determine what really works for the people who matter most to your business and success.

Delight Your Customers With Great Customer Support

Customer support is about more than just answering customer questions. Once a lead becomes a customer, the customer support team is the representative of a business in closest contact with the customer — further reinforcing their loyalty and satisfaction every time they solve the customer’s problem quickly and effectively.

The impact the customer support team has on the business is tremendous — by helping to retain customers, customer support reps have a direct influence on revenue growth. And when the customer support team makes customers happy, those customers go on to share word-of-mouth recommendations with their friends and colleagues — the most reliable form of “advertising” there is.

Customer support is the key to growing your business to build on the work your marketing and sales team are doing. If you invest in your customer teams, you’ll see big returns accordingly. Next, learn more about customer service and customer success.

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.
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Originally published May 29, 2019 2:40:00 PM, updated June 03 2019

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