CX Insights

The Power Of An Educated Customer Support Center

11 min read

This is a guest post by Jeffrey van den Dungen Bille.

When you read the Usabilla blog, there is no need in saying that UX is all about touch points. Neither do I need to tell you that your support center is a very important point of contact for your customers. Too bad that support centers are often overlooked, leaving aside the potential they bear for improving the user experience.

In the following, I will help you to understand the importance of an educated support center. We will look at how customer support can improve the user experience of your site, and also how social media can help you with it.

Why is customer support important?

Customer support is something that has been around for ages. Think about it. What do you do when you have a question about a product which you have bought recently? I bet that most of you will do one of the following: search the Internet for information, ask a friend, or call the support center. All three approaches are different, but they are all some kind of customer support.

A lot of times, the support center of a company is an external service provider, which has been hired to answer the telephone and take support enquiries. Back when the Internet did not exist yet, this was a good concept. But times have changed and chances are good that people have already searched the Internet, before they call the support center. This results in support questions that are not easy to answer, and most likely require specific knowledge about a process or product.

People easily get frustrated if a support center doesn’t offer them the support they need. (Image Source)

Now, if this knowledge is not available in the support center, it can cause serious problems. Here are two examples that illustrate what can happen.

1. Support for a new product

Imagine the following project. The requirements of a new product are thoroughly investigated and described. One key requirement should be that the product is as user friendly as possible. Obviously, this is important for the user, but at the same time also for the organization. Why for the organisation? Because an intuitive product results in less customer enquiries, keeping support costs to a minimum.

The project proceeds and the development starts. Once a first beta is live, a selected group of users are invited to participate in extensive tests. The feedback is collected, implemented if needed and after a long project, the product is launched.

Despite the user centered approach (maybe it was not extensive enough), users still run into problems after the product has been launched. So they decide to ask for support. What do you think happens if they can’t get answers to their questions? Right, they give up and leave. The result: Two years of development and a lot of money down the drain, because the users aren’t helped properly in the most important stage.

2. Support of a webshop

Now imagine that you’ve placed an order on a web shop a few weeks back. You ordered a present for a wedding anniversary and you need it in time. But as the day of the anniversary approaches, you are still waiting for the delivery. You decide to call the company support line and they apologize and assure you to sort things out and call you back. Can you see it coming already? They don’t call you back. So you call again and again and again. After a while, you get someone on the line, who tells you that they are a call center and can’t decide anything. They need to discuss everything with the actual company from who you are buying.

How does this make you feel? I can tell you that it made me feel very angry. Yes, the above is a true story. So what did I do out of frustration? I told everyone in my surrounding about this very negative experience. Maybe even worse: I tweeted about it! The result was not only that I’m not going to buy anything at that company anymore, but the people who are close to me aren’t going to buy there either.

Different types of support

I’m a quick visitor. If I miss information on a site, calling the support center seems like the most intuitive option to me. And I’m not the only one. Like I discussed in my previous post, there are several kinds of visitors on a website.

When you look at the time these visitors are willing to spend on finding the information they need, you can divide them in two categories. Quick and slow visitors. People who want to quickly find an answer to their questions are more likely to grab the phone and call your support center. Or they will talk to you through a live chat or with the virtual assistant. Those, who can be considered slow visitors don’t mind to look around on your site until they find the information they need. For example using the FAQ, forums or how-to articles on your website.

For example, older people are more likely to grab the phone. (Image Source)

For the slow visitor, many websites are already well prepared. Attractive designs with a good usability and comprehensive content have been the trend for a while. But the importance of a support center is often overlooked and therefore you overlook the quick visitor. Is this justly?

Quick visitors are important, too

The answer is ‘NO, it’s not justly’. A recent research from the University of Twente among Dutch companies shows that an average of 8% of the daily time at work is lost, due to not functioning information and communication technologies. On a yearly basis, this means a financial loss of 19 billion euro.

So what do the employees do to find help? The research shows that 49% of all Dutch employees grab the phone when encountering a problem. The main reasons for calling are hardware related (22%), a lack of dexterity (16%), or problems related to the network (15%), or the software (15%). This means that 68% of all questions need specific knowledge of the situation and/or the application to be solved.

However, when we call the customer support, a lot of times, we get an agent on the line, who does not even work for the company we seek support from? They have a standard checklist to guide them through possible customer inquiries. If you have a question that is not on the list, they cannot help you.

The educated support center

I’m convinced that an educated support center, which is part of the company, is the key to providing your customers the support they need, creating a positive customer experience. Let me explain how.

Improve the first time fixes

Educated support center agents can answer the majority of questions that need specific knowledge. So the majority of your customers are helped during their first call. This so called ‘first time fix’, is very important. Your customers have a problem and they want this problem solved as fast as possible. By solving more issues in the first call, the user experience – and the overall customer satisfaction – improve. Another advantage: by improving the first time fixes, the support center has more time to focus on more complex issues. This leads to a quicker answer for every type of question and – again – improves the satisfaction of the users.

Better insights for business improvements

The questions, that can’t be answered, can be discussed with the developers because they are part of the same company. The lines between the support center and the developers are short. Another advantage of being part of the same company is that the knowledge that is gained is kept inside your company. The support center is critical in delivering better insights for business improvements, because they communicate with customers who encounter problems.

By collecting and sharing these insights, the business can prioritize their improvements from a user perspective. As the product is improved to meet their expectations, the customers will benefit as the biggest issues are solved first. Again, this will improve the user satisfaction and therefore your company will benefit.

Educate the customers

Education is another main advantage, because the same research of the University of Twente showed that 60% of all loss of time during a working day is due to a lack of experience. Where a traditional support center only reports back to their customer that their problem is fixed, an educated support center has the knowledge to also tell the customer what is going wrong. The customers are being educated, which is a big advantage for two reasons. First, people are more likely to forgive you if they know why something went wrong. Second, the next time that the customer comes across the same (or a similar) issue, they can fix it themselves.

Help people to help people

Another advantage of an educated support center is that the gained knowledge can be spread through your company. As said, an educated support centers also educates their customers. Research shows that 17% of the people, who encounter a problem, first asks a colleague for help. So once a customer has been educated about a certain issue and how to solve it, they can help their colleagues, who might encounter the same problem. This way, the support center helps to create a self learning organisation.

The use of social media

I can hear you think “Who calls a company when there is social media?”. It’s true that more and more companies use social media to offer customer support. However, it’s also true that there are a lot of companies that have created profiles, but don’t respond to their clients. Maybe it’s because they have already claimed the profile, but are not yet ready to actually maintain it. Yet, they are visible to the public and people will start to ask questions and expect answers.

The Dutch provider Hi is an example of a company that uses social media the right way. (Image Source)

Not answering these questions has consequences. Let’s talk numbers. A study from 2010 on the Customer Experience in North America shows that 58% of the respondents expect an answer when they start a dialogue with a company on social media. 42% even expect an answer within one day(!). When this was the situation in 2010, we can assume it has changed since then and I don’t think it has gotten any easier for companies. Clients demand an answer within hours, not within a day.

Listen to your customers

I can not tell you enough: people expect you to be on social media. They will try to find you there and they will definitely talk about you, whether you are there or not. When you miss the conversation, the reputation you’ve carefully build up, could be destroyed without you knowing. If you at least ‘listen’ to what they are saying, you can join the conversation when necessary.

Less calls

When your company has already taken it a step further and you have joined the conversation, you have probably experienced the upside of social media. It is very likely that the amount of calls to your support center decreases once you engage on social networks. Not only you, also your customers can get involved and answer questions for each other.

This way, the educated support center can focus on more complex issues, which eventually allows you to offer quicker solutions for these complex issues. The result: More satisfied customers.

Turn a poor experience around

It is likely that you will not always live up to your customers’ high expectations. What happens if you don’t? The Customer Experience Impact Report of Oracle shows that more than a quarter (26%) of the clients that had a poor customer experience, shared this within their social media network.

As a company, you can do two things at this stage. 1) Ignore the complaints or 2) do something about it. The same report shows that only 21% of the people who file a complaint, get an answer. This is a real shame, because a complaint is not the end of the world. It is about how you as a company, try to fix it. 22% of the people who did get an answer shared their positive experience within their social network. A poor customer experience can easily be changed into a good one.

Which type of support center is right for you?

Your support center has a big impact on the customer experience. If people don’t get an answer to their questions, they get agitated, frustrated, and eventually you will lose their trust. They will spread the negative word, which again has a negative effect on your reputation, going far beyond one single discontent customer.

We talked about different ways how to optimize your customer support center. However, this does not mean that you have to do everything. It all depends on who your customers are and what they prefer. For example, a lot of young people are on social media. If this is your main target group, it is a good thing to be on social media as well. But if you sell services or products for the elderly, it might be better to focus on your call center.

Just take a few moments to think about how you can best reach out to your customers, make them feel valued, and answer their questions. Talk with your current support center, or ‘listen’ to what people already say on social media. Then decide on a strategy that best fits both your company and your customers.

Jeffrey vd Dungen Bille
Jeffrey is an enthusiastic guy, who is very interested in usability and user experience. He loves to share his insights through blog posts, his own blog and on Twitter.