the Startups

The support (eco)system

We’ve spent several years setting up, developing and mentoring customer support teams. During this time we knew both joy and frustration and we’ve learned the importance of having the right people in the right place, just like we’ve learned the impact of having the wrong people in the wrong place.

Only two things hit the spotlight when it comes to customer support: the ones who need it and the ones who provide it. But few people are aware of what the support system is actually about.

If you run, lead or work in a customer support division, or even if you just work in an organization that also provides support, here are some things you should know on this topic.

Your customers

The evolution of humankind, along with the bursting technologies and the feeling that time runs too fast, have befriended humanity with one special element from Pandora’s box: expectations.

When it comes to e-Commerce, people expect to have a flawless experience when surfing a website or ordering stuff online. If they happen to need any help, however, then they expect to have a flawless experience with the team they’ve reached out to for support.

Customers usually ask for help when they need technical assistance, additional information on your products or services or to make a complaint. Customers are reasonable people most of the time, but, as smoothly as you’d wish things would go, sometimes you need to be prepared to encounter an altered state of mind if something went wrong. So, once an angry customer comes in touch with a customer care representative, that interaction can easily turn into heaven or hell, and it all depends on how well-prepared your team members are.

Your team

You may see the Customer Support team as yet another component of your business, but here’s the thing: they are the little fighters in your company. They’re not just the ones who take calls, they are the ones who take one for the team. They come in contact with your customer’s freshest emotions, which can happen to be an innocent cry for help but might as well be hell unleashed.

This is why the #1 quality your support members must possess is excellent communication skills. We said before that experience should not be a decisive factor in the recruitment process because it’s the person’s aptitudes that matter more. And this one is not negotiable. Your support members must be able to receive and send the right message from or to any kind of person, in any situation, at any given moment.

Here’s what other qualities you should look for in your Customer Support members:

Fast learning skills. Your CS members need to know your products and services in their sleep. During their training process, the support agents must not only be taught how to handle customers but also how to do their research, what are the ups and downs of everything you sell or offer and who to turn to when things go beyond their power.

Good attention & focus. People who get easily distracted are not suitable for this role. When the phone rings, your agents’ entire Universe must come down to that customer and the reason why they called. We’re no adepts of military-mode management, so if one of your agents fails don’t blame it on them for overusing their Facebook or Tinder accounts. Blame it on yourself, for not having noticed from the start that that particular person has no divided attention and focus skills.

Empathy. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes is an ability everyone should possess, professionally or otherwise. Although none of these is a mandatory requirement, empathy is one of the special qualities that make the difference between an average support service and an excellent one. A good listener not only has the potential to defuse a tense situation, but they also find the motivation to do a better job at solving problems.

Proactivity & determination. CS members need to move fast. And this can only be done by people who take initiative and deal with stuff their own way, without constantly needing help from others. Apart from that, here’s a piece of personal advice: only rest when you’ve found that person who’s crazy enough to fight with the whole company only to fix something that doesn’t work properly. That, my friends, is a keeper.

Spontaneity. Sometimes things can go weird as f*ck and all the procedures, templates and experience you might have gathered along the time can become dust in the wind in less than a second. This is why your support division needs members who can turn a bad situation upside down, while still wearing a large smile on their faces.

This long introduction was meant to show that, in part, the process of building your support system involves understanding your customer’s needs as well as your own. But what else is out there?

The internal setup

Communication channels. Once you’re out there, be present and active. The bigger your brand gets, the more quick-acting and engaged you need to be with your audience. Set up as many communication channels for them to get in touch with you easily. Phone, email, web form, web chat, social media posts and messenger services, get them all and make sure you have enough qualified people to assist your customers.

The tone of voice. This is organizational culture really, but we’ll say it anyway. The way you communicate with your audience is one of the elements that build your brand identity and contribute to the increase in your awareness. That’s why the support team must use the same tone of voice you picked for your brand, on all channels.

Systems. Your support service has one pressure point: time. Your support team needs to have quick access to all the systems that are directly linked to your customers (e.g. customer database, order status and history, financial records, ERP, order tracking system and so on). You know we’re integration-junkies, so we’ll obviously recommend that you get all the integrations you need in order to perform and deliver properly.

Tools. Kids born in the 2000s will never understand this:

Telephone operators from the 1960s, Pinterest

As a famous cartoon character would say: “it’s cute, but it’s wrong”.

Although most of the systems are now wireless, the complexity of this job is still as great. The difference between then and now, however, is that today’s technology is way more advanced (and, of course, women dress sexier).

As far as the tools are concerned, a ticketing system can spare you the struggle on your left. Turn to an integrated ticketing solution, which allows you to manage all internal and external communication, from all existing channels, all with one single tool.

Among the many advantages that come with a ticketing system we would mention fast resolution time (as your agents will no longer have to access multiple systems to get the information they need), improved traceability (because the system saves all communication history and makes everything easy to find) and an excellent reporting solution (because some of the ticketing systems out there allow you to split inquiries by categories and put different tags on them, thus helping you spot all potential problems and act on time).

Procedures. In a healthy business, all workflows are documented and backed up with detailed procedures. Delegate at least one team leader in your support team (or several, depending on the size of your team and your company’s schedule) who makes sure that procedures are developed and followed accordingly. Now, we’re not saying that customer service is as tricky and sensitive as heart surgery, but given that people’s patience and your brand’s name are at stake, it’s a good idea to have guidelines that can cover 95% of situations.

So what makes a good support system?

The whole company does. We call it “the unseen side of the business”.

The Buying department needs to provide good sourcing and make sure that the required supplements are also included in your offer. They ensure the diversity, quantity and quality of the products you sell.

Content operators are in charge of every word, image or video on your website. They are responsible for the completeness and clarity of all the written, spoken and visual information your customers have access to.

The Marketing team is your company’s eyes, looks, feel and voice. They are the ones to build your image, send the right message out there and invite the right audience in.

The Technical division decides your website’s design and performance. They stand behind your user’s every click and ensure the safe and smooth completion of every purchase.

E-Fulfillment (warehousing & logistics) is the “end point” in your business. They are in charge of the inventory, storage and handling of your merchandise, and they make sure that your customers’ orders are shipped in good condition, as ordered and on time.

Here’s what the support system looks like in one image:

Customer Support Funnel – How to e-Commerce workshop, theStartups.eu

Customers contact you through your communication channels. Their inquiries go through several filters (systems and tools) until they reach a CS representative. If needed, the CS agent then turns to other departments that can assist them in solving the case. Then the agent does their research and applies all necessary procedures until the request reaches its final form, then the resolution is presented to the customer. In some situations, this process might be repeated several times before the case is closed.

And on top of that, remember that time is a crucial piece of this puzzle, like an invisible enemy breathing in the back of your neck.

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The truth is, it does take a village. Now that things are clearer, go back and reanalyze your current support system and decide if it’s the recipe for success or disaster. Use our previous article to see what the customers really need and you will surely figure out better, more efficient ways to become a reliable partner for your customers. Good luck! 😊

Authors: Vlad Diaconu, Andreea Mares

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