How to Prepare for Scaling Your Customer Support

If you’re doing right by your customers, it’s only a matter of time before your company eventually experiences a period of rapid growth. That’s a great thing, but it can create bottlenecks if you’re not well-prepared. A big boost in your business means you’ll be serving many more customers, which in turn, almost always translates into a higher volume of assistance requests coming through your customer support pipeline.

Scaling your customer support plan alongside the growth of your business is important in order to meet increasing demand and keep the rising tide of emails, support tickets, and customer inquiries from piling up and overwhelming your team.

While there are many customer service software solutions on the market, many companies, both big and small, use Zendesk as the foundation for their customer support platform. In 2014, Zendesk reached a major milestone, with over 40,000 companies using its software, providing service to more than 300 million people globally. That number has since grown to more than 60,000 companies.

One reason Zendesk is so popular among brands is due to its ability to scale with you as your business grows. Daily deal website Groupon started using Zendesk from its early days and now has customers in more than 40 countries and 150 agents handling 15,000 tickets a day.

Another reason many companies choose Zendesk is the way it centralizes the influx of support requests and lets teams collaborate and track data with ease. That’s doubly critical when you’re in the middle of scaling up your support, but you’ll also need proper planning and foresight to avoid the possible growing pains ahead.

That’s why it’s best to strategically lay a solid foundation to support future growth while easing into expansion at a smooth and steady pace.

Knowledge is power

Getting a bird’s-eye view of your support team’s workflow, incoming volume, and overall efficiency will prove invaluable in planning how to best juggle expansion and future changes in your business. Every bit of data you can glean from your operation early on can help you tailor your specific approach to scaling in powerful ways.

Zendesk’s built-in reporting and analytics tools automatically track a wide range of information about your customer satisfaction ratings, your support ticket volume, your tickets by channel, and much more. Additional plug-ins can be applied, too, like the time tracking app, which collects data on how long each agent spends on every ticket.

From there, the Insights tab also lets you create more specialized reports that give a deeper dive into the data so you can analyze and determine the “why” behind the numbers and trends in the information you’ve gathered.

Tracking and analyzing customer data will not only tell you critical things about your business that can be beneficial to better shaping your brand, it can also tell you a lot about the strengths and weaknesses in your customer support operation itself. Identifying and shoring up any weak areas is a key step to take while you’re in the early phases of scaling your support operation.

It’s better to start now and get organized than to wait until you’re in the middle of a rapid growth phase to try to get a handle on things.

Mastering the tools

Beyond the power of harnessing the data and analytics, understanding and mastering the platform tools before you need them in a pinch is equally valuable. As such, it’s worth taking time to audit the way you use Zendesk to get the most out of it for your team.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  1. Determine the core features your team uses the most and identify any other functions that you could be using more efficiently to enhance the effectiveness of your support operation.
  2. Take time to gain a master understanding of what these key elements do, how they’re used, and where they fit into your workflow.
  3. Ensure everyone on your team is up to speed on how to use all of the important functions effectively, and make sure everyone is aware of any helpful shortcuts you uncover that can boost their effectiveness.

Providing team-wide Zendesk training can be important, but if you’re at the stage where you’re ready to expand the size of your support operation, it might also make sense to hire a few new agents with specialized Zendesk expertise or contract a freelance Zendesk wizard to help ease the entire team into the upscaling process. There’s no shortage of top-rated freelance experts on Upwork who have ample Zendesk expertise to help you through rapid scaling.

To further aid in the auditing process, Zendesk customer success consultant Jordan Brower suggests creating a test ticket and closely following it throughout its lifecycle as it moves through your team. This will help you gain a better understanding of the workflow while also pinpointing any areas to target for improvement.

What you do with that data and the insights you’ve collected is another big piece of the puzzle to help you scale alongside business growth.

Building a knowledge base

One of the best strategies for easing some of the burden on your support team as you scale upwards is to empower customers to find their own solutions to recurring problems they might encounter. If you’ve been diligent in tracking your data and paying close attention to customer needs, it should be easy to compile answers to the most common questions and turn them into a knowledge base you can point customers to.

70 percent of customers expect a company’s website to offer a self-service option. Given the opportunity, 48 percent of customers choose self-service over direct contact via phone, email, and other commonly used support channels, which is why it’s an important option to make available.

The added benefit of building a knowledge base is that it can help cut down on support tickets for more simple and common complaints or questions that often pop up.

Zendesk Help Center lets you create an integrated self-service knowledge base and community portal for your company, and you can easily apply themes and unique layout designs to align its design with your brand.

Help Center enables customers to seek out answers on their own when they don’t want to reach out through another channel, and they can also interact with and learn from one another. The community element can give you added benefit, since seeing how customers interact with each other and joining in on the conversation when appropriate can help you build brand ambassadors and gain insights into ways to improve your service or products.

Triggers and macros: huge time savers

In a lot of cases, it’s best to lean toward personalizing your customer support interactions over complete automation, but there are clever ways to use automation with care that will save time and still get the desired effect.

In Zendesk, triggers are powerful behind-the-scenes tools that let you create rule sets for your support tickets that can automate some of the more tedious tasks in your workflow without making it feel automated to your customers.

With triggers, you can set predefined cause and effect scenarios for different situations. For example, when a ticket is updated, it can be programmed to notify the sender or a specific team member. Or you can create your own triggers and stack them in more complex configurations, like routing a specific type of ticket that comes in from a certain channel to the specific team member who’s best suited to handle that type of request.

This streamlines your workflow in a big way, cutting down on the number of steps and number of agents needed to tackle tasks, allowing you to scale your operation efficiently before it gets to the point where you have to think about adding more agents into the mix.

Macros operate in a different way, but they can also save you a lot of time and amplify your response speed. Macros let you create chunks of pre-set text for a wide range of scenarios, from common greetings and phrases to specific answers to frequently raised questions. Once you have your macros set in Zendesk, you can access them quickly via a search menu, then click to drop them into your email or live chat message. This enables you to build and easily personalize effective responses within the system without having to type them all out by hand every time.

Rafflecopter, which is a widget for running sweepstakes online, found macros to be a huge help when scaling their support efforts while juggling a rapidly growing business with a small support team. Between using macros and a self-service knowledge base—which the team dubs its two “secret weapons” for scaling beyond 100,000 users—Rafflecopter’s core support team of two is able to handle over a thousand emails a month while maintaining a one-hour average response time for close to half of the emails coming in and a 24-hour response time for almost 90 percent of emails.

Smart scaling through channel choice

When scaling your support channels, it’s important to double down on the core channels that your customers gravitate toward rather than trying to master every channel at once. The average cost per ticket is another factor to consider, too.

At Airbnb, customer service operations manager Jessica Semaan found that the average cost of phone support tickets, for example, was six times more expensive than live chat via the company’s website. This was largely due to the number of agents required to handle the volume of calls compared to a much smaller team needed to handle a similar volume via email or live chat online. As such, it made sense to focus on scaling in other channels first, then eventually partnering with call centers when everything grew to an appropriate size to make that shift.

In some ways, Zendesk simplifies the process by rolling all channels into one central place, where tickets come into the system and can be routed where they need to go. However, it’s still important to focus on mastering the most critical, cost-effective, and valuable channels—and then route customers in that direction—rather than trying to be everywhere and do everything all at once before your team can handle the capacity.

By taking the time to plan and prepare, gather and analyze data, master the tools, create self-service and automated options, and then focus your efforts on the most effective channels, you’ll be better equipped to minimize the challenges that come with scaling your company’s customer service in a fast-paced business world.

Originally published on Business2Community.

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