If you’re a company with under 500 employees, it will cost, on average, $7,645 to hire a new employee, and about 52 days to find them. That’s not scalable for anyone, but it’s especially difficult in an industry that’s at the beck and call of seasonal hiring, spikes and product-related flex.
As the number of customers grows most companies assume that they just need to hire more people to staff the support team and manage the inflow of questions. What they actually need to do is improve efficiency to handle more customer contacts with fewer agents. If you’re a quickly growing company, it will rapidly become impossible to keep hiring at the rate you need to in order to keep up with your influx of tickets. Instead, you need to get smart with your tactics and shift away from reactive staffing tactics towards proactive support tactics. Here’s how:
Building a More Efficient Customer Service Strategy
Take time to get your processes right
If you try to automate a process that is broken, you’re just going to end up creating more work for yourself down the line. After all, if something doesn’t work exactly as it should and your team automates it, you engrain a broken, poor process into your customer experience.
Similarly, if people don’t have to interact with the process every day because it’s been taken over by machines, you lose out on the opportunity for fresh eyes and perspectives. While you may have made the process easier for your team internally, you’ll likely have less-satisfied customers and longer running conversations. That doesn’t sound scalable, does it?
Before you decide on what to try to automate, take full stock of each process that you already have in place and see where they can be improved. Here are a few starter processes that most companies already have thought about:
- How customers request and your team processes refunds.
- How customers cancel and how your team handles cancellation requests.
- Product upgrades or returns.
- Escalation of conversations between teams and team members.
- How tickets are handled or reassigned if someone is on vacation.
You can only automate what you already do well. So, make sure that you have a solid understanding of things like your refund policy, inventory management, and internal (or external) SLAs. Then, use the information to hammer out the processes that you currently have and need, before determining which ones fit best for automation.
Find the low-hanging fruit for automation
There are a few key indicators for processes that are ripe for automation:
- Are you using a saved reply to respond to a specific type of inquiry regularly?
- Is the process fairly predictable? Regardless of how complex the issue may seem, is the same process followed each time leading to a successful resolution?
- Does the issue occur frequently? Do you have multiple tickets in the inbox pertaining to this process or issue every week?
Anything that is high-frequency and low-touch is a great option to automate. But automation isn’t just for interactions, you can also use it to prep your support team prior to an inquiry.
According to Salesforce, 78% of millennials expect customer support agents to already know their contact and product information. Agent-assisted automation can connect your CRM, helpdesk, and backend of your product to help your agents respond quickly. Using Agent Assist means that agents spend significantly less time digging for context and can instead engage immediately with helping the customer.
Look for low-hanging fruit that won’t take a lot of effort to automate, but will make a large impact on both your team and your customers once they are. It might not seem like a big deal to take a single button-push off of the hands of one of your employees, but if every button push takes thirty seconds of time, and you have employees doing it 20 times a day, that’s 10 minutes a day that’s being wasted. Now imagine how much time that takes up as your company grows! Even the smallest things can have a massive impact on the number of people you need to staff your team.
Identify touchpoints that require human contact
Gartner predicts that 85% of customer service interactions will be powered by AI in the near future. As helpful as automation is, it still can’t be responsible for every customer service interaction—there are still 15% of interactions that are better handled by humans.
One of the things that have been most responsible for our evolution as a species is empathy. Patients of empathic doctors are healthier and more satisfied, empathetic couples are more satisfied in their marriages, children of empathic parents have a better understanding of their own emotions, and employees on empathetic teams take off less work for stress-related illnesses.
Unfortunately, robots and AI are not equipped with the things that they need to be empathetic. Keep agents involved in sticky situations where automated confidence is low or AI assistance might not be as empathetic as needed. Some good examples of this are:
- Sales conversations and understanding what product or plan works best for customers.
- Account management issues.
- Escalated tickets or more complex issues.
These situations can benefit from a little bit more human empathy than AI or bots can provide. While you can certainly automate aspects of this process (such as checking order status or inventory), you should still keep a healthy level of human interaction to ensure that your customers get everything taken care of as they expect to.
This might sound counterintuitive—if you always need agents to help with specific issues, how are you going to avoid team bloat? By automating low-hanging fruit to AI and bots and using your human agents for key interactions, you’re using everyone to do what they do best.
Build workflows and iterate
Remember what we said at the beginning of this post about how it’s important to keep fresh eyes on processes? Because you never want anything that directly involves your customers to grow stale—you should constantly be iterating. So, as you figure out where your biggest opportunities for automation are and start to build workflows around them, remember to review those workflows every few weeks to ensure that new policies and products are addressed and that you are continuing to provide the best customer experience possible.
Similarly, new technologies and offerings are being invented constantly. Keep your thumb on the pulse of new options coming out that might not have existed before—AI algorithms constantly get smarter, especially if you use them regularly. Evaluate how you’re using your processes and how effective they are regularly—there may be opportunities for automation that you aren’t yet using!
Find opportunities to reduce customer contact
As you implement automated processes, there may still be ways for you to reduce the number of tickets that you are getting from your customers. One of the first things to evaluate when reducing your customer contact ratio is: what questions are your customers asking most frequently?
Ticket deflection is a great way to both boost your customers’ satisfaction and decrease the number of tickets that you have coming through the inbox. More than 90% of consumers expect and prefer to use a self-service option when it’s available, so if you can find ways to serve them that don’t involve reaching out to your support team, it’s in both of your best interests.
Some great options for reducing customer contact outside of AI or bots are:
- Creating saved replies or documentation based on common inquiries
- Updating product descriptions within your application
- Improving your automated notifications for things like account changes, deliveries, order processing, and other common issues
It’s highly likely that your AI platform will have analytics in place to help your team identify these common questions. Use those insights to improve your self-service functionality, update your workflows that utilize AI and even better inform your customer support team as they help your customers.
As tempting as it can be, when it comes to automation and scaling don’t just let your AI handle it all. Use the insights that you glean from AI to create an ecosystem that uses AI, human interaction and self-service support equally. A balanced approach that doesn’t lean too heavily on one strategy or another will make for an easily-scaling team that feels human and helpful to your customers. Don’t let your strategies grow stale—do a review every once in a while to make sure that you’re still on top of common issues and aren’t letting your customers down.