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Delivering the same customer service standards becomes increasingly difficult as your company grows. More customers means more chats, tickets and calls.
You need a plan for scaling your customer service department.
If you don’t improve your support capabilities, your agents will have to take on more hours and handle too many cases, which will negatively affect the quality of your customer service.
See how (mt) Media Temple, a Los Angeles-based premium web hosting and cloud services company, manages a large customer service department and scales it: How they get new agents, what tools they use and what kind of stats they measure.
Growing your customer service department
One way to answer the increasing number of customer cases is getting some extra help. There are two ways you can approach recruitment: hire and train an agent, or outsource your support.
Hiring an in-house agent for your customer service department requires you to find a suiting candidate, who will then need to be trained. Having the agent on location at all times gives you a chance to share your company’s culture and its core values. This will have a huge impact on the quality of work provided by the new agent.
Choosing the outsourcing path gives you access to a pool of agents who are already trained in customer service but don't share the same level of familiarity with your company.
(mt) Media Temple strongly believes in hiring in-house agents. According to Eric Shure, Customer Service Manager at Media Temple, outsourcing has never been and will never been an option for them:
"We are 100% U.S.-based, and we will not trust a third party to support our customers the Media Temple way. Outsourcing is a practice that does not align itself with our values; Media Temple CS prides itself on treating every customer, internal and external, with honesty, integrity, and respect. Outsourcing would not allow us to ensure those values are being lived."
Media Temple's customer service department consists of professionals, each of whom undergoes a three-week classroom customer service training. After the training, agents are monitored by mentors for one to two weeks.
Selecting support channels
Scaling your customer service department is not only about investing in new agents but also about optimizing the way you handle support. Channels like email, help desk or chat are more efficient than handling support via phone. By selecting the more efficient channels and closely monitoring their status, you will be able to handle more support cases in a shorter amount of time.
To see which channels need attention, Media Temple uses a combination of monitoring tools built into LiveChat as well as a custom-built workforce management system. According to Shure, it makes it possible to quickly attend to the support needs of their clients:
"What this does for us is it allows us to be agile and respond to the support channel that needs the most attention, at any given time, which for us is usually chat."
Chat is one of the most effective support channels. One agent can successfully handle several chats at a time, while still being able to attend to other duties like replying to emails and tickets. Chat has accounted for 50% of the total support load of Media Temple's customer service department in 2014.
To keep their agents' approach to support fresh, Media Temple avoids assigning them to one channel only:
"Media Temple does not dedicate our agents to one support channel or another. We like to change it up every so often, so that employees are not getting burned out on one channel."
To keep an eye on their support's effectiveness, Media Temple tracks several statistics related to the quality and speed of work of their customer service department:
Customer satisfaction score, or CSAT, is the most important statistic tracked by Media Temple. It is a direct reflection of the quality of their service. Shure noted that the company’s agents take pride in pleasing every customer and consistently keep an eye on the CSAT score.
Average handling time (AHT) metric shows how long it takes to resolve an average case. According to Shure, it is worth checking this metric often as a speedy resolution is good for everyone. However, he also added that they don’t want agents rushing through conversations just to reach a particular AHT.
Response time is another metric related to the speed of response. It shows how long it took for an agent to issue a reply to a customer question.
Occupancy is a statistic that shows how long an agent has been available for contact. According to Shure, occupancy and attendance are used in tandem with response times and AHT to solidify Media Temple’s ability to get to every customer in a timely manner.
All of the statistics are gathered into "The Game", which is Media Temple's reward program. Agents receive rewards according to their performance. What's worth noting, the rewards are team-based. According to Shure, they prefer to reward a team versus the individual because support is but a team sport.
Setting the bar in your customer service department
Setting certain performance goals, which are usually based around the average statistics from previous months, is a popular practice. Shure stated that they have these kinds of targets set, but also noted that they are not the most important things to look after:
"We do set targets for our agents. But they are just that, targets. There is no line drawn in the sand that must be attained on a daily basis. That is primarily because we understand that there will be good days and bad. Understanding this makes us look at the targets on a larger scale. As a result, rather than looking at every day, we look at things more on the monthly level."
The targets are affected by the skill level of a particular agent. The bar is set lower for new agents, while grizzled customer service veterans are expected to do more. Additionally, the targets also make sure that each agent is pulling their respective weight.
Things to remember
Media Temple's approach to growing their customer service department is something every company might look up to. Their methods ensure that clients receive the best quality answers in the shortest possible time. Here's what you should remember and try to implement in your own customer service:
1. Hiring will pay off in the long run.
Although outsourcing support will produce results faster, those results will never be perfect. Only dedicated and well-trained agents who know your company inside out will contribute to the quality of your customer service department.
2. Provide training for new agents.
New additions to your customer service department need a chance to learn about good customer service and your company. Don't expect them to know everything on day 1. Offer help and guidance when needed.
3. Pick scalable channels first.
You don't have to service all customer service channels immediately. What you can do is to pick those that will be the easiest to scale and optimize to larger amount of contacts. Chat, email and help desk are a good place to start.
4. Don't assign agents to one channel only.
Agents will quickly burn out if they are assigned only to chat or only to email. Keep things interesting by giving your agents the opportunity to shine on different customer service fields.
5. Measure your effectiveness.
Make sure to keep an eye on metrics related to the quality of your support. Response time, average handling time and, above else, customer satisfaction levels will tell you which parts of your customer service department need tweaking.
6. Set soft targets.
Setting targets for your agents to reach, like a certain number of chats or a particular response time, is a good idea. However, you shouldn't try to meet them at all costs. Some conversations can't be rushed through and will take longer to finish. Look at those stats on a monthly basis for a clearer picture.
7. Assign tasks according to skill.
Remember that new agents won't be able to perform on the same level as veterans with a few years of experience.
8. Reward teams instead of individuals.
When it comes to rewarding the effort of your customer service department, don't try to single out several aces. Customer service is a team effort so the awards should be given to teams, not individuals.