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Customer Support Ops Handbook explains service automation

Customer support teams are often the unsung heroes of their organizations. They both solve problems that customers have and help customers take advantage of opportunities they might not have known about. Here’s how Customer Support Ops can empower support teams and become a key part of an organization’s revenue goals

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Customer Support Ops Handbook
In this Handbook:

Customer support teams are often the unsung heroes of their organizations. They both solve problems that customers have and help customers take advantage of opportunities they might not have known about. They’re front-line teams who are crucial to ensuring that business continues and that customers stay plugged in—and even invest further in the organization.


Even more unsung? The people who concern themselves with the tools that enable customer support teams to function effectively: Customer Support Ops teams.

What is Customer Support Ops?

You can think of Customer Support Ops as the support team for the support team. Customer Support Ops professionals rarely interact directly with customers; rather, they interface with other people inside their organization. In particular, they work directly with their own customer support people, making sure they have the tools and technologies they need and that the necessary policies, procedures, and internal support systems are in place.


One way of understanding these differences: Customer support personnel are focused on handling customer tickets; Customer Support Ops is focused on the ticketing system itself.


Customer Support Ops is a key component of an organization’s larger customer success and support system. Too often, organizations view the whole system as a necessary but burdensome and expensive side effect of doing business. Increasingly, though, organizations are coming to understand that it’s not a money pit. Instead, it’s a revenue generator and a cost saver—which relies, in large part, on its operations.


Here’s how Customer Support Ops can empower support teams and become a key part of an organization’s revenue goals:

1. Identify and fill communication gaps between teams

Typically, customer support teams already have a tight grasp on their own internal communication. A well-oiled support machine will have well-defined and well-executed processes. It’s endemic to how support teams must operate—their natural internal impetus is towards order and standardization. But communication between customer support and other groups within an organization, like sales, devs, QA, product, and so on, is where Customer Support Ops can make an impact.

  • What does “good” look like? Processes for information flow between teams; key data (such as customer intelligence) accessible by 100% of support team members; 100% of stakeholders can access the tools they need when they need them
  • What do you need to achieve that? Access to the tools each team uses; all critical information (bug fixes, product features, customer intelligence, revenue goals, etc.) documented; data made available within the tools teams use


Dive deeper: Efficient communication between the support team and other groups inside an organization is important, but it’s a vector for introducing inefficiencies, so Customer Support Ops professionals need to be careful here. Because the support team is moving fast all the time and almost certainly already has their internal processes locked down, keeping other teams in the loop may have the side effect of slowing down the support team.


But the support team needs strong communication from some of those other teams, too. For example, when the product changes—via bug fixes, new features, or even pricing updates—the support team has to know all about it, or else they won’t be able to do their jobs effectively.


They also need to glean business intelligence from the sales team’s interactions with new and potential customers, for example, as well as the company’s broader revenue-based and strategic goals.


Teams tend to rely on their own tools, so it’s not a given that the data they enter into those tools, like the CRM used by the sales team, will be available to anyone outside of their own teams. Customer Support Ops can step in and break down those barriers so all of that data is available to the support team.

2. Utilize metrics to identify opportunities for improvement

It’s likely that by the time an organization decides to implement Customer Support Ops, the support team will already have in place processes, tools, and automation to help them do their jobs. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plentiful opportunities to improve existing processes and bring in new technology. When Customer Support Ops pros enter the scene, they should plan to first take a step back to gather data on what’s working well already, what needs improvement, and where agents need support or training.

  • What does “good” look like? Weekly or monthly reports, available to 100% of stakeholders; monthly or quarterly check-ins with each agent
  • What do you need to achieve that? Defined set of metrics and KPIs; processes for stakeholders to flag issues that will affect downstream KPIs; processes for identifying areas where automation or process standardization could help


Dive deeper: The point is not to focus too narrowly on agent performance; it’s a more holistic approach that considers the support team a revenue generator, not a cost center.

 

Therefore, although you’re still going to track metrics like Net Promoter Scores (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores, Customer Effort Score (CES), Time to Resolution (TTR), and Mean Time to Repair (MTR), and use those to drill down on how to optimize existing processes, workflows, and agent performance, that’s not the end of it.

You also want to look at how all of the above impact broader, more downstream metrics like customer retention and acquisition, churn rates, and even Net Revenue Retention (NRR). Greater support outcomes will lead to higher customer retention, which significantly reduces the costs associated with customer churn.

The more nuanced task for Customer Support Ops, then, is to look for signals in the noise to understand how the narrower, support-focused metrics affect larger KPIs for the organization.

The actions to take might be adding new tools or technologies, cleaning up some existing processes and workflows, giving support agents more training, or increasing headcount.

3. Plan for scale

Though it may feel presumptuous to think about how quickly your amazing team will grow, planning for scale is one of the most important parts of any successful team, group, or organization. Within Customer Support Ops, planning for scale encompasses onboarding, provisioning, outfitting, ongoing training, and training for new hires. Support teams grow rapidly as needs arise. But before you hire more people, you should look to maximize efficiency with the people and processes you already have.

  • What does “good” look like? Automated processes for execution of success- and support-tasks where helpful and appropriate; customer success journey map; support team performance data; codified training and onboarding processes; forecasting metrics
  • What do you need to achieve that? Means of identifying inefficiencies that can be ameliorated via automation or self-service tools; system for establishing a customer success journey map to make evaluation of each step easier; means of collecting performance data related to support efforts, such as NPS and CSAT scores, submit weekly reports, and assist support agents where they need help improving; use of metrics like customer acquisition and churn to help guide additional hiring


Dive deeper: There’s a commonsense element to planning for scale. Savvy Customer Support Ops pros just need to pay attention to people’s workloads; if your team is running out of bandwidth to handle all the tasks they have, and you’ve winnowed down everything possible to be more efficient and automated, you need more staff.


Similarly, although you can make the support team more efficient in part by adding technology and automation, at some point there’s no more proverbial juice to squeeze from the fruit. Sometimes, the only reasonable solution is to hire more staff. Know the balance between helping support professionals become more efficient and getting them more headcount.


You should also remain attuned to feedback from customers about how they feel about the way they’re getting support. It is true that there are great ways to automate some support processes and also provide self-service resources (like knowledge bases and forms) that can relieve the support burden.


But some customers desire one-on-one, human interaction. At best, some of those people may not have positive feedback about the support experience; at worst, they’ll become frustrated and could even move on to a different vendor. This insight will affect your organization’s support headcount decisions, because if most of your customers desire one-on-one support, it may be the best decision to hire more people, even if on paper you could be more efficient with other means that require fewer agents.

4. Close efficiency gaps with process automation

Much of the above can be achieved with this.

Process automation is the linchpin to making all of Customer Support Ops’ other efforts work. There’s the obvious vector: put all of the various metrics, KPIs, reports, customer data, etc. in one place where it’s organized, continuously updated, and easily accessible by all stakeholders. But Customer Support Ops pros should also look at the connection points between the support team and other organizations, and where those interactions can be improved. For example, your support team may have an MTR rate that’s several times faster when the whole process is internal compared to when an outside organization is involved.


Thinking both internally and externally will lead Customer Support Ops to greater insight and impact, and process automation makes it much easier to close the loop both with internal processes and those involving external organizations.

  • What does “good” look like? Process orchestration platform with all metrics, KPIs, reports, customer data, and communication processes in place
  • What do you need to achieve that? Implementing a process orchestration platform; means of comparing internal and external rates for the same metrics; automating cumbersome and messy communications and details via the platform


Dive deeper: When you think about how to improve processes involving external organizations, you’ll inevitably circle back to the ways in which customers interact with your support team. You need to meet them where they want you to, in whatever way makes the most sense for them. That might be phone calls, emails, Slack, social media, your website’s knowledge base, or automated tools like chatbots.


A process orchestration platform like Tonkean makes it easy for you to accommodate any and all of those types of communications–as well as track metrics pertaining to them all, available alongside all of your other metrics.


One significant use case is escalation handling and management. When something gets flagged in a support ticket for escalation, it typically gets routed to a senior, experienced individual or team. That team’s time and expertise is expensive, so efficiency is critical. But often, the escalation process itself, checking in with multiple parts of an organization to investigate the curious or intractable problem the customer needs them to solve, and the overhead involving chasing down people for updates or actions and pulling data from different systems into a customer-deliverable format simply are not.


Process orchestration can automate a great deal of the time-consuming tasks and actions, freeing those senior support professionals to do more of the high-level work they’re best at and significantly reducing the costs associated with escalations.

Glossary of terms

  • Customer support – The team dedicated to resolving customers’ issues and problems with the organization’s product or service
  • Automation – the creation and application of technologies that minimize manual human labor or intervention
  • CRM – Customer relationship management
  • KPI – Key performance indicators
  • CRM – Customer relationship management
  • NRR – Net revenue retention
  • NPS – Net Promoter Score
  • CSAT – Customer Satisfaction score
  • CES – Customer Effort Score
  • TTR – Time to Resolution
  • MTR – Mean Time to Repair

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