Customer service can make or break the growth of your company.
According to American Express, consumers are willing to spend 17% more on a company with outstanding customer service. Additionally, Accenture estimates that U.S. companies annually lose $1.6 trillion when poor customer service drives their customers to switch to a competitor.
Unfortunately, customer service is often one of the last things CEOs plan for when they’re thinking about growth. They don’t want to spend the money, or figure they’ll add more capacity when they need it.
But this can have disastrous results. If you fail to appropriately scale your customer support team, you risk alienating customers, damaging your brand, and ultimately killing growth altogether.
The bottom line: if you’re expecting to grow, you need to make a plan to scale your customer service team. This handy E-book will help you do just that.
After reading it, you should have a clear idea of how to develop staffing projections, create a scaling strategy, and reduce ticket volume with process improvements.
How many agents should you hire? Should you outsource or keep your team in-house? Should you build a remote team? What about international customer service agents? We’ll answer all of these questions and more. Read on!
Whenever you’re planning a big project, it’s helpful to start by asking one question: Why? In this case, why is it so important to develop a scaling strategy early on? If you need convincing, here are three compelling reasons:
It’s hard to build a plane while flying it
Tech and Software as a Service (SaaS) companies have convinced many people that an iterative approach to business is the best approach: ship your product, learn, tweak it, ship again… It’s a cycle that results in quick learning and avoids incorrect assumptions.
However, customer support is not an area where this approach tends to work. Scaling your customer service team takes time. In particular, you need to hire and train any new customer service agents you want to add to the team.
It’s unwise to put yourself in a position where your customer service team is falling behind on incoming support tickets. When you get 2, 3, 4 days behind on tickets, your entire operation can start to break down. And it’s very hard to develop a solid scaling strategy when your team is already overwhelmed. You might end up hiring sub-par agents or engaging an outsourcer who isn’t really a good fit for your team.
The risks of failure are too high
The good news: your marketing campaign worked better than expected. The bad news: you’re getting more customer service tickets than you expected, too. You’re now a week behind. It was bad enough when customers didn’t receive their orders - but now they aren’t receiving responses to their emails, either. In a best case scenario, you’ll alienate a few customers. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll do irreparable damage to your brand.
And if that wasn’t enough, PwC reports that 32% of consumers say that they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. Long story short, you simply can’t afford not to invest in customer service.
The most helpful tools often take the longest time to put in place
Later in this guide, we’ll discuss specific high-impact tools and strategies to help you deliver great customer support consistently. For now, let’s just note that many of these game-changing tactics — such as self-service options, improved FAQs, and outsourced support — typically require a significant investment of time, money, and/or forethought.
By now, you’re probably wondering what will happen if the growth you’ve been preparing for doesn’t materialize. After all, the last thing you want to do is to hire new agents now just to lay them off six months later.
Fortunately, hiring in-house isn’t your only option. The less risky alternative is to work with an outsourcing partner, who’ll assume responsibility of all new hires in your team. At Peak Support, for example, if one client scales back, we can typically re-staff the agents on another account.
Now that we’ve laid a foundation of why early planning for scaling your support matters, let’s switch gears and look into how you can accomplish this.
Before you can determine exactly what your customer service team should look like in the future, you’ll need to do some work to understand where your business is going. Below are four specific steps you can take to gain the necessary insight.
Before you can project your customer service ticket volume, you need projections for sales growth. Work with other teams like sales and marketing to understand the factors that will drive the overall growth of the business.
Ideally, you’ll get growth projections from your company’s leadership team or from the sales and marketing department. If you don’t, you may have to get the ball rolling by coming up with some estimates of your own as a starting place for discussion.
Factors to consider include:
Next, you have to translate sales projections into a projection for ticket volume. But if you’re expecting sales to double, that doesn’t necessarily mean ticket volume will double as well.
One useful strategy is to measure how customer service ticket volume rises and falls based on a variety of different sales metrics. For example, you could look at historical data for:
What you’re looking for is the different ways to connect sales volume and support. In a perfect world, you’d be able to calculate each of the metrics above and identify which one is the most consistent over time. This metric is then what you can use to forecast support volume.
Let’s consider an example:
This is a very straightforward example, but it gives you a good starting point. Based upon historical data, you know you’ll likely see an additional 1200 tickets per month. From there, you can begin to estimate how many agents you’ll need to handle those tickets.
Here is where it may get complicated, particularly if you offer phone or chat support.
Some companies may be able to accurately predict their staffing needs with a simple calculation: if each agent can process 600 tickets per month, you need to add two more agents to the team to handle the additional 1200 tickets you’ve projected.
This type of calculation may work if your ticket volume is fairly smooth over the course of the day, and/or if you only provide email support.
But if most of your tickets come by phone, and most of them come between 12 and 2, that won’t work. Even the best agents can’t be on four phone calls at once, so many of those calls are going to go unanswered.
You’ll need to have enough staff available to handle the peak number of phone calls (or at least a large percentage of them) that could come in at the same time. As a result, you’ll need to add more staff than you expect – even if many of those agents are idle the rest of the day.
This is where a queueing model comes in. If you’re not familiar with the term, a queuing model is a tool to help you understand when your tickets come in, and how many agents you need to hire as a result.
Queuing models can quickly grow complex, so we’ve put together a video where you can see exactly how a queuing model works. In a nutshell, a queuing model ingests four main data points:
These four data points are entered into a formula that outputs the expected number of agents you’ll need during each interval to achieve your goals and service levels. If you’d like to understand this in more detail, you can book a free consultation with Peak Support.
While the above three steps will build out the core of your staffing projection, there are a few other factors that could impact your staffing and need to be taken into account:
If you’ve taken the time to work through the items above, then hopefully you now have a general idea of how much additional support you’ll need in the future. That’s huge - and that means that now it’s decision time. There are three main decisions you’ll need to make when developing your scaling strategy: internal vs. outsourced, international vs. domestic, and remote vs. in-office.
The first major decision you need to make is whether you should hire internally or whether you should bring on a customer service outsourcing company.
This can be a complicated decision. While you’re the only one who can know for sure what the best approach is for your company, there are pros and cons to both.
There are a number of great reasons to consider hiring outsourced support for your organization:
Building an international customer service team — or one with both domestic and international components — is a good fit for many companies. Tapping the international talent market offers a number of benefits:
There are, however, some companies for which international outsourcing is not the best fit. In particular, you should think about your customer base. International outsourcing can be a controversial political issue, and some customers are particularly sensitive about it. If you think that might apply to your customer base, you’ll have to evaluate whether the benefits exceed the risks.
A blended team, with a mix of domestic and international agents, can be a great middle ground. For example, you can task your international agents with Tier 1 and Tier 2 email tickets and let your domestic staff manage complex tickets, live chats, and phone calls.
If you’re ignoring the remote workforce, you’re ignoring a huge potential talent pool. According to a report by Global Workplace Analytics, approximately 3.7 million Americans are currently working remotely, and that number is expected to grow. In fact, more and more companies are going remote-only, meaning that everyone, including the executive team, works from home or from a co-working space of their choice.
This saves money on office space and allows the company to find the best talent, wherever it might be. For customer support, a remote workforce also increases redundancy. If your customer service team is based in a call center in Florida, for example, a hurricane could knock out your team for days.
If the majority of your company works in an office, however, you’ll need to ensure your remote team is seamlessly integrated into your operation. At Peak Support, we use six strategies to ensure that everyone we work with, regardless of where they are in the world, is doing the right work, in the right ways, and at the right time.
One concern companies face — especially if they’re hiring remote workers, international agents, or outsourced representatives — is how these new team members can assimilate into the company’s culture. After all, how can someone working remotely be a part of the close-knit team culture your company has developed?
If you’re using an outsourcing partner, it’s important to screen for company culture before you sign on the dotted line. After all, it’s hard to build a consistent customer experience if your customer-facing support staff doesn’t share the core values with the rest of your team.
After you’ve made the decision to hire or outsource remotely, the key is to treat your customer service team members like all your other employees. No matter where your new team members sit, educate them on your company’s values, goals, and identity, starting on the first day of training.
Then include them in your internal meetings and updates so they can feel like they’re active participants in your company culture. The bottom line is this: the more communication the outsourced or remote team members can have with your internal team, the easier it’ll be to foster collaboration.
For example, we typically have weekly calls with our clients. When possible, we’ll include the entire outsourced team in the call. This helps our clients feel more connected to their team members, and helps our team members feel more connected to the client.
Intentionality is the key. If you make an active effort, you can foster a community of cooperation and communication that will improve the day-to-day experience of your entire team.
As mentioned above, growing your support team is only one way that you should be preparing for growth. Implementing process improvements is a great way to both reduce ticket volume and improve your customer experience in the long run.
There are a number of different ways you can achieve these two goals. We’ve highlighted two different categories and some specific examples below, but remember that you should use these to spark creative ideas based upon your knowledge of your unique business.
Spending some quality time reviewing your most common tickets can be a very eye-opening experience. You’ll walk away with plenty of ideas on how to eliminate the need for customers to contact your team.
Some examples include:
Once you understand your customers’ common inquiries, you can improve your self-help options.
If there is an unavoidable need for the customer to contact your support team, then you need to find ways for your team to assist them quickly and effectively. Several examples of how to achieve this include things like:
As you’re working through the options, remember that process improvements can require a fair amount of time and energy, particularly from your senior agents and leads. Make sure you’re building these realities into your timeline and staffing projections.
While we’ve done our best you set you up for success, the truth is that planning ahead requires making certain assumptions. Even when you’re using accurate data, volume and staffing projections are never guaranteed.
Because of this reality, you should constantly keep an eye on your staffing model to make sure you haven’t missed anything. If you see your ticket volume begin to veer away from your projection, it’s time to dive deep into your recent data to look for discrepancies.
Once you’ve found out what you’ve missed, you can make adjustments, and continue monitoring as you move forward.