Effectively Managing Distributed Support Teams

Effectively Managing Distributed Support Teams

Effectively Managing Distributed Support Teams

Geographically distributed teams are common for many industries and companies, but recent events have created the necessity for more individuals to work from home. For support and service operations that rely on centralized call centers the shift to a distributed workforce introduces new challenges – both technical and administrative. Here are some of the things to consider for effectively managing distributed support and success teams.

From Centralized to Distributed

The chatter of calls centers is distinctive, and the dynamics created by the personal proximity of dozens or even hundreds of service professionals is unique.  Centrally located support teams create opportunities to develop relationships, develop skills and collaborate.

As more companies find that they need to send their workforce home and out of centralized call centers it is important to assure that teams remain focused and effective.  For some, working remotely and being part of a distributed team is new.  Here are some of the things to consider for effectively managing distributed support teams.

Team Objectives

The service mission persists.  While some companies may see a decline in customer demand other sectors will find that they play a critical role in supporting vital operations in health care, logistics, communications, and other industries.   It is imperative that everyone on the team understand the goals and the ways that they will contribute to the attainment of team objectives.

  • Clearly define TEAM GOALS AND OBJECTIVES so that everyone understands the expected level of performance and desired outcomes. Share the big picture to the extent possible so that everyone understands the context for the team’s goals.
  • Set clear INDIVIDUAL EXPECTATIONS with team members so that they know what is expected of them personally.
  • Define the METRICS you will use to measure individual and team performance. Clearly describe to the team and individuals what the metrics are and how they will be used.
  • Expand PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT activities (check-ins, reviews, etc.) to help guide team members to meet their levels of performance. For individual that are new to working remotely there will be some challenges getting adjusted not to mention potential challenges due to infrastructure limitations.
  • Create opportunities to COACH AND MENTOR individuals to help develop skills while working remotely.

Team Dynamics

Members of the team may be separated, but the team persists.  Make certain that you maintain a team dynamic so that all members can work towards common goals. Consider the following:

  • DEFINE THE TEAM by introducing everyone. Although remote, relationships, collaboration and mutual support can persist.  Update team photos in the company directory and if you don’t have one, consider making one.
  • ENGAGE as a team and don’t allow team members to become “out-of-sight-out-of-mind.” Consider a more frequent cadence of team meetings through live meetings – encourage everyone to turn on their video.
  • BUILD TRUST among team members that everyone will do their job and help achieve common objectives. Make certain that each team member knows their role and responsibilities.
  • SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER as the shift from a centralized work environment to a remote location can be challenging for some.

Enablement

The ability for team members to conduct work remotely is important.  Remote teams need access to core systems and tools to communicate and collaborate. Under some circumstances not all team members will be able to perform the same functions they could from within the company’s security infrastructure.  Consider the following:

  • Provide the necessary INFRASTRUCTURE for team members to access key systems.
  • Assure that everyone on the team has the means to COLLABORATE AND COMMUNICATE This may require acquisition of video conferencing technologies and expanded licenses or enabling collaboration features within existing systems.
  • Maintain SECURITY AND CONFIDENTIALITY for regulated industries. The security and confidentiality of data shared during a service interaction is essential. Assure that team members understand this and assure that remote infrastructure can meet required security and confidentiality protocols.
  • Have a PLAN B. If team members cannot gain access to the necessary infrastructure to perform functions previous done within the company infrastructure, consider alternatives. Identify tasks that remote team members can perform with the tools and resources they have (develop new skills, write knowledge base articles, post to social platforms, etc.). 
  • Do what you can to KEEP THE TEAM WORKING.

Customer Expectations

Changes to the way your team works may have implications for customers.  Set realistic expectations with customers if service availability or service levels will be affected.  Consider the following:

  • Let customers know if there will be any changes to SERVICE LEVELS AND AVAILABILITY.
  • Communicate any changes to SERVICES DELIVERY including postponement of onsite engagements, or a request to change from submitting cases by phone to using electronic channels.
  • KEEP CUSTOMERS UP TO DATE and they will be more willing and able to work with you.

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Top Customer Support Trends

Top Customer Support Trends

Top Customer Support Trends

Core support practices will persist but Support as we know it will evolve.

Now that it is 2021, be sure to check out our latest 2021 research

 

The Evolution of Customer Support

Support has been the foundation of post-sales customer engagement for decades. New licensing models and recognition that customer retention is essential has led to enhanced approaches to engage and retain customers. Support must find ways to contribute to the execution of CX and CS strategies and practices. Throughout 2020 we expect to see several key customer support trends play out.

Here are five observations and predictions about the factors that will drive the transformation of support.

Customer Support Trend #1: Support will be asked to take on new customer engagement activities or will relinquish activities to adjacent Customer Success groups.

Support organizations are at a crossroad.  They will either need to fully embrace customer engagement activities such as adoption, success planning, account management, customer retention and expansion or consider divesting from these activities and allow success organizations to take over.

When this occurs, Support can focus the entirety of its efforts on enhancing product usability and quality as an interface to product groups though case management and escalation.

Will your future Support organization align closer to Customer Success, or Product Management?

Customer Support Trend #2: Support will be held to account for the delivery and contribution to CX strategic outcomes.

One way or another Support will be held accountable to help drive the attainment of CX strategic outcomes.  Transactional metrics will continue, but more emphasis on the impact Support activities have on customers relationships will be essential.

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5 PRINCIPLES FOR SERVICE SUCCESS IN 2020 AND BEYOND

Customer Support Trend #3: Measures of support success will shift from transactional efficiency to retention and growth of account relationships.

First Contact Closure, Time to Resolution, and other transactional metrics will inform about how to increase the efficiency of Support, yet primary Support metrics will increasingly focus on the impact support interactions have on sustaining and expanding customer relationships.

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FIRST CONTACT RESOLUTION (FCR) BENCHMARKS

Customer Support Trend #4: The emphasis on NPS shifts to Net Recurring Revenue.

NPS has never been a good Support metric.  Yes, it is easy to implement and provides an indication about how a customer feels about a Support interaction, but it also misses so much.

The best way to measure the full impact of a Support interaction and the status of overall relationship is to measure the sustained value of the relationship – if a customer keeps paying you, or paying you more, then you must be doing something right.  If you lose a customer, then something is wrong. Chances are that if you lose a customer it is not because of a bad Support interaction.

Each interaction with a customer is an opportunity to reinforce and sustain the relationship. Continue to evaluate customer satisfaction with Support interactions, but do not rely on NPS to tell you that the relationship is okay.

Support must assess its role and be accountable for the impact it has (or can have) on sustaining the value of customer relationships.

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USING NET RECURRING REVENUE TO IDENTIFY CUSTOMER SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS

LESS NPS AND MORE HIGH-TOUCH UNDERSTANDING

 

Customer Support Trend #5: Deflection as a strategy is out, Prevention is paramount.

Support must switch its mindset to building and sustaining relationships and not try to deflect customers from accessing support.  If you want to lower Support demand then you are going to need to engage your product teams to find ways to prevent demand by making products more robust, reliable, and easier to use.

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HOW TO DEFINE AND MEASURE DEFLECTION

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Support Demand: Problem or Opportunity?

Support Demand: Problem or Opportunity?

Is it a good thing if customers need support or is this a problem? The need for support is inevitable and communicating with your customers is always a good thing. What distinguishes support as good or bad is based on how you respond and what you learn from each customer interaction.

Support Demand

Support demand is a function of three factors, the quality of the product; the knowledge and expertise of the user; and the availability of support.  Products that are released to the market with defects will result in higher instances of support for each unit sold.  Customers that do not have the proper skill set to use a product are more likely to need assistance.  These two factors alone, however, will not necessarily create support demand.  Support demand is intimately tied to support availability. 

How Support Supply Drives Demand

If customers can freely access support, with few if any accessibility issues, requests for support will be higher.  If support is fee based, or is difficult to access (long hold times, slow responsiveness, etc.) then requests for support will be lower. 

It is important to note that the demand for support and the request for support may not be synonymous.  There may be a significant demand for support created by one or more of the factors noted above yet support accessibility may limit the actual number of support requests.  The rate by which support demand translates into support requests will vary by the urgency of the customer’s need and the availability and accessibility of support assistance.

See the Article: The Demand for Your Support is Larger than you Expect

Support Demand: Problem or Opportunity?

Is it a good thing if customers need support or is this a problem?  The need for support is inevitable and communicating with your customers is always a good thing.  What distinguishes support as good or bad is based on how you respond and what you learn from each customer interaction.  If a customer needs help and you do not respond – this is bad.  If all your customers need help, this will drive up costs and erode margins – this is bad.  When a customer has a problem and you address their needs – this is good.  It gets even better if you can leverage a customer interaction to enhance your products and identify opportunities to strengthen the relationship with eh customer and find ways to expand the relationship.

Maximizing the Benefits of Support Delivery

Each support transaction has an associated cost and potential benefit.  Support must be able to maximize the benefit of each support interaction.  The net benefits from support delivery must be equal to or greater than the cost of providing this support.  The value of these benefits is often difficult to assign a set dollar value to and will probably not convince the CFO to increase support funding. Nevertheless it is important to assure that support strategies are designed to maximize and measure the benefits of support delivery.

Recommendations

  • Build awareness across the company that each support interaction is an opportunity to strengthen a relationship with a customer and provides a “touch-point” to help sustain existing customer relationships.
  • View support transactions as a chance to build or reinforce your reputation for backing your products with accessible and effective services.
  • Use customer interactions as a means to monitoring customers’ level of product use and adoption.
  • Leverage each support interaction to enhance the product by fixing defects, enhancing usability, increasing performance or adding new capabilities.
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Top 10 Practices to Achieve Support Excellence

Top 10 Practices to Achieve Support Excellence

Technical Support Excellence is the achievement of the maximum positive impact on profitability and reputation of the company, product or brand being supported through the efficient and effective delivery of support.

Top 10 Support Excellence Practices

Consider the following 10 practices in your pursuit of technical support excellence.

1

Define the strategic role of Technical Support by defining measurable goals and objectives.

2

Establish the quantifiable connection between strategic support goals and the benefits from achieving them.

3

Align strategic goals with tangible performance indicators and measurable business outcomes.

4

Align management, team, and individual goals with strategic support goals.

5

Define the target performance levels for each key performance indicator.

6

Define current performance levels for each key performance indicator.

7

Identify inhibitors to the attainment of target goals and objectives for key performance indicators.

8

Develop a plan for mitigating inhibitors to optimal support performance.

9

Provide continuous reports on Support’s performance to key stakeholders.

10

Connect support performance levels to the attainment of business outcomes.

Featured: Technical Support Excellence

Technical Support Excellence is the achievement of the maximum positive impact on profitability and reputation of the company, product or brand being supported through the efficient and effective delivery of support. Technical Support Excellence does not require that every customer is delighted with every service transaction or that Support achieves a perfect Net Promoter or Customer Satisfaction score. This Perspective introduces the definition of Technical Support Excellence and outlines the steps to attain it.

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Creating Positive Customer Experiences

Creating Positive Customer Experiences

The way we interact with customers directly affects the way they perceive us. When we are responsive, attentive, willing, and able to provide the information or assistance they need, we increase the likelihood of providing a positive experience. When we are difficult to do business with, unable or unwilling to satisfy customers’ needs, indifferent, inept, or rude, chances are the customer will have a bad experience.

Customer Experiences

A satisfying customer experience is critical if we want to positively influence the way customers behave. Anything less — even if it’s just a neutral experience — is not sufficient to compel the behaviors we want. Customers that have a positive experience are three times more likely than customers with a neutral or negative experience to buy a product from the company that delivered the experience; four times more likely to recommend a company or renew an existing relationship (e.g., a service contract); and five times more likely to state that they are satisfied with the outcome of the interaction.

While companies generally agree that a good experience is something to strive for and a bad experience is something to avoid, they find it’s not always easy to provide the experience customers need or expect. The first step to creating a positive customer experience is to understand the critical elements that shape the experience. It is also imperative to recognize the phenomenal impact the web has on shaping customer experiences and the new challenges introduced as we move more customer interactions on-line.

Elements of a Successful Experience

Whether it’s delivered on-line, by phone or in person, the same basic principle should govern the customer experience: Customers have an objective in mind and want to achieve it quickly and efficiently. Their goal may be to purchase a new product or get help with something they already own. Regardless of the objective, there are four basic elements that define the experience customers have in driving towards their desired outcome. These elements are: Exploration, Formulation, Validation, and Action.

Exploration

Exploration is the first step in the customer experience. At this stage, the customer is looking for the tools, resources and information that will help them chart a course to their final objective. In many cases, the customer does not know what the result will be and have only a general idea where to start their journey.

For example, when a customer is researching a product to purchase they may know that they want a wearable health device, but may not know which type, make or model is right for them. They may not know the price range of such products or where to buy one. Their experience begins by exploring the possible options, including available products, features, price, etc.

This exploration phase also applies to services. Customers may know that they have a problem but may have no idea what the underlying cause is or how to get it resolved. They begin their experience by searching for information to help them isolate and resolve the issue.

Formulation

Initial discovery of possible options can often complicate a service or shopping experience. A process that began with a simple objective — to purchase wearable health device — has blossomed into a world of possible choices: customers find they can choose from dozens of manufacturers, all with models offering different features and price points. As the customer experience continues, the effort focuses on the formulation of a desired outcome. In product research and e-commerce scenarios, the customer begins to make decisions about what product features and price are of most interest.

Validation

The quality of a customer experience depends on more than whether the customer chose the right product to buy or figured out which solution would solve a problem. A complete customer experience requires that the course of action selected by the customer – deciding to buy a specific make and model of a wearable health device – is validated by objective evidence. Validation may come in the form of professional reviews, magazine articles, comments from peers, and other trusted sources.

Action

The final stage of the customer experience is the action a customer takes to achieve their desired outcome. This action may take the form of a product purchase or the satisfactory resolution of a service issue.

The Journey vs. Outcome

The four elements described above define the stages of the journey towards a desired outcome. To be successful, a customer experience must have a satisfactory outcome. Moreover, the path to this outcome must be perceived to be productive, efficient, and even enjoyable.

Many factors affect the journey to a positive customer experience. While no two customers are alike, every customer experience shares basic characteristics that help to assure that the flow of the experience is positive, and the elements of the experience are fulfilled.  Basic stages of the experience include:

  • A Starting Point – Customers need to know how to begin their journey. Where should they start, what should they do first, and what information do they need to proceed.
  • A Road Map – As customers navigate their way from exploration to action they need to know how to take each subsequent step in the process. Instructions, guides, and live assistance can all be used to keep the customer on the track to their desired outcome.
  • A Destination – Every experience has a desired outcome. At the beginning of the journey the customer may be unsure of the outcome, but they at least have a direction in which to head. As the journey towards the destination progresses, a positive experience will help to refine the characteristics of the final goal (e.g., select a product to buy or receive an answer to a service issue).

 

The goal is to create a situation where customers feel that the journey to their desired outcome is easy and relevant to their needs. If a company can’t meet customers’ needs and provide a reasonably acceptable experience, then they will likely choose an alternative path to their destination.

Conclusion

Positive customer experiences do not happen by chance, they are created.  Provide customers with the guidance they need to achieve the outcomes they want.  This may include intuitive web sites that help guide customers to the information and resource they need; offer clear policies to describe the levels of service they can expect; and provide seamless access to live assistance to help customers when they are unclear of their next step achieve their desired outcomes.

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Improve Customer Experiences by Understanding What Users Want and Need

Improve Customer Experiences by Understanding What Users Want and Need

The ability for a service organization to maintain an acceptable level of customer satisfaction and deliver a reasonable customer experience begins with a company’s understanding of what its customers need, want, and expect. When customer expectations are not well known or more importantly not managed – the instances of dissatisfaction will rise.

Availability of Service

Customers’ expect support to be available when they need it. This means that regardless of when the customer needs help they should be able to get it.  This includes both service hours as well as the policies and programs that define entitlement to services.

Satisfiers

  • Robust self-help resources.
  • Free (or included) assisted support.
  • Generous warranty and support policies.
  • 7 x 24 x 365 coverage.

 

Dissatisfiers

  • Restrictive support policies.
  • Limited service hours.
  • Costly service fees.
  • Poor self-help resources.

Knowledge of Service Representative

Customers expect that when they contact you for support the person that provides assistance is knowledgeable and capable of resolving the issue in a timely manner.

There is nothing worse than a situation where the customer feels that they know more than the “expert” providing assistance.

Satisfiers

  • Skilled support reps.
  • Empathetic.
  • Empowered.

Dissatisfiers

  • Unfamiliar with the product.
  • Needs to escalate to someone else.
  • Unable to comprehend problem.

Rapid Response

We live in a world where we expect instant gratification.  Customers expect their problem to be acknowledged quickly and that a response will be provided in a reasonable time.

Satisfiers

  • Immediate acknowledgement of problem submission.
  • Expectations set for the time it will take to get help.
  • Response and follow-up within timeframe established.

 

Dissatisfiers

  • No acknowledgement (e.g. e-mail or web-based cases).
  • Excessive amount of time to receive a response.
  • Failure to set or meet expectations.

Professionalism

Customers want to be treated respectfully.  Most service organizations place a significant emphasis on soft skills, but all it takes is for a customer to feel like they have been slighted for the entire service experience to go downhill.

Satisfiers

  • Acknowledgement that there is an issue.
  • Understanding about the current relationship (e.g. the customer is important).
  • Please, thank you, and apologies when appropriate.

Dissatisfiers

  • Condescending tone.
  • Inability to defuse an escalating situation.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • Not hearing the words “sorry.”

Rapid Resolution

Customers want the fastest resolution they can get and are looking for the commitment and effort to quickly work to resolve their issue.

Satisfiers

  • Expectations for the time to resolve.
  • Meeting or exceeding expectations.
  • A shared sense of urgency.

Dissatisfiers

  • No firm commitment to resolution.
  • Failure to meet expectations.
  • Lack of urgency.

Quality of Product

While not a characteristic of service excellence it is frequently cited as a characteristic of the service experience.  Customers don’t want to have to rely on Support for product quality issues, but are often appreciative of help using the product more effectively.

Satisfiers

  • Little or no need for help with errors and bugs.
  • Help using the product more effectively (how-to / application of product).
  • Proactive notification of issues.

Dissatisfiers

  • Excessive issues with product quality and performance.
  • Little to no resolution through fixes and updates.
  • Too many updates.

Complete Resolution

Customers’ expect that the solution offered is complete and effective.  Customers are seldom happy when told to try something and call back if it does not work.

Satisfiers

  • A solution that works the first time.
  • Commitment to see the issue through to resolution.
  • Ability to by-pass the normal queues to reconnect on an open issue.

Dissatisfiers

  • A sense that the rep has brushed off the issue with a suggestion.
  • Solutions that do not work.
  • The need to contact support repeatedly for the same issue.

Self-Help Resources

Customers want to help themselves on their terms and often do not want to rely on service.

Satisfiers

  • Depth and breadth of self-help resources.
  • Answers to their specific problem.
  • Easy to use (search, navigate, etc.).

Dissatisfiers

  • Limited self-help resources.
  • Difficult to use and navigate.
  • Knowledge articles that are difficult to understand.
  • Outdated resources.

Proactive Updates

Customers want to be made aware of updates with an option for their technology to be proactively updated (don’t force the update).

Satisfiers

  • The ability for products to update themselves (don’t force the update).
  • Flexibility to configure how and when products will update.

Dissatisfiers

  • Inability to configure how and when updates occur.
  • A call to support acknowledging that they know about an issue (but made no effort to communicate it proactively).
  • Updates that cause more problems than they fix.

 

 

Support Metrics, Benchmarks and Reporting

Support performance measurement is challenging. Contact me to learn how ServiceXRG can help you gain better insights into Support performance through the use of enhanced metrics, benchmarking and better support performance reporting.

  • Are you measuring the right support metrics?
  • Do you have access to necessary inputs and insights?
  • How well is your Support organization performing?
  • Can you generate the reports you need?

Contact us now to learn how we can help you gain greater insights and optimize Support performance.

Chat with us (see link on right side of screen), send an e-mail to tsweeny@servicexrg.com, or use our contact form.

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