Small companies got faster at solving customer issues last year—here’s how
Hint: small workflow improvements have helped SMBs punch above their weight.
Published September 13, 2021
Last updated October 15, 2021
When a customer has an issue, all they want to do is solve it—quickly. In fact, 73 percent of customers say that speedy resolutions sit at the very top of their priority list. This should have companies paying attention. Why? Good support experiences have become critical drivers of customer loyalty and spend.
Getting faster answers for customers often means scaling resources. But for smaller companies, adding new agents or technologies can be a tall order. Throw in the effects of the pandemic and it suddenly becomes a much harder task.
Smaller support teams fielded an average of 17 percent more customer requests globally last year: no small feat. And for industries that saw the greatest impacts from the global shutdowns (think food and grocery delivery, e-commerce, or video conferencing platforms), these rates were even higher. At the same time, roughly a quarter of managers at small businesses (SMBs) reported pandemic-related cuts to their support teams.
Smaller support teams fielded an average of 17 percent more customer requests globally last year: no small feat.
Even so, a third of small companies using Zendesk actually got faster at solving customer issues last year. That’s right—despite a 61 percent spike in customer engagement across 2020, this group dropped resolution times by 51 percent.
That’s a cumulative 177,765 minutes saved, on average, or 239 minutes per ticket. And what’s more, they saw a similar drop in response times, as well.
How did they do it? We looked deeper into the Zendesk Benchmark, which tracks key indicators from thousands of companies that power their support operations using Zendesk, to learn more.
Here’s what we found:
- SMBs that dropped resolution times did so across all channels
- Small efficiency gains are making a big difference
- Small teams are leaning on their help centers
- Greater data visibility is helping small teams exceed their goals
SMBs that dropped resolution times did so across all channels
As it turns out, no one channel helped small businesses get faster answers for customers. SMBs across the board are using a wide range of channels like social messaging or chat—whether they dropped resolution times or not. But for companies that did, the time needed to resolve customer issues fell across the board, at times considerably.
For customers calling in over the phone, resolution times fell 86 percent. And over social messaging apps, customers spent 54 percent less time waiting for an answer, even though support teams were managing a 120 percent increase in volume over those channels.
A few notable exceptions:
- More reliant on email/webform:
Nearly all small businesses that got faster this past year had email or webform in their channel mix. Though tickets jumped more than 54 percent, resolution times fell by a similar margin. To compare, other small companies had customers waiting 32 percent longer for an answer, despite only having a slight (5 percent) increase in tickets.
- Less likely to be using phone support:
Small businesses that got faster were also less reliant on phone support. And it makes sense. When agents talk to customers over the phone, they can only handle one customer issue at a time. There’s no moving between chat windows or texting with multiple customers at the same time. And on the customer end, time spent on hold or getting to the right person or department can really start to add up.
Small efficiency gains are making a big difference
Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. When it comes to speedier resolutions, small efficiency gains from using tools like macros, triggers, and automations can really add up. Compared to other small companies, SMBs that had quicker responses for customers (despite having more tickets coming in!) were:
- adding triggers at a 42 percent faster rate;
- adding automations at a 13 percent faster rate; and
- adding macros at a 4 percent faster rate.
What are macros, triggers, and automations?
A macro is a prepared response or action that can be applied by an agent when they are creating or updating tickets, including updating ticket fields, changing the ticket assignee, adding comments, or adding attachments. Macros can save agents the time and effort of manually responding to multiple customers with the same issue.
Triggers are business rules that you define that run automatically when a ticket is created or updated, and if certain conditions are met. This can include notifying customers when you’re out of office or sending customers satisfaction score follow-ups. They can also help get tickets to the right people, escalate certain issues, or route priority customers to a specialized support team.
Automations are similar to triggers, but are set to run based on specific time-events rather than only when tickets are created or updated. These are helpful tools for keeping track of unresolved or unassigned tickets, and making sure that nothing falls through the cracks. For instance, agents with unresolved tickets could get a reminder every hour, or managers could get a similar notification for new tickets that remain unassigned after a reasonable amount of time.
In 2020, patient platform Luna Health revamped its support infrastructure to better serve the needs of its growing business. “The most important thing the customer needs is to feel assisted very quickly,” says Leo Magalhaes, lead technical support engineer at Luma Health.
To improve resolution times, the company updated workflows, added more automation, and launched a community forum. “For instance, we automated escalations through Slack, which helps us resolve tickets faster,” says Magalhaes. “It keeps them from getting reassigned a bunch of times as we’re collaborating.”
78 percent of SMBs that dropped resolution times had agents processing more tickets than the previous year—more than double the rate of other small teams.
Eliminating manual, repetitive tasks from an agent’s workflow can have a big productivity payoff. Sure enough, 78 percent of small companies that dropped their resolution times had agents processing more tickets than the previous year—more than double the rate of other small teams.
Boosting efficiency with a more agile team
Efficiency isn’t just limited to the gains from AI and automation.
Small companies that reduced their resolution times last year have also been increasing their use of so-called blended agents—agents that work across multiple channels in a given day. In fact, the average number of blended agents on these teams is rising 58 percent faster than at other small companies.
Why does this matter? The more channel options a customer has, the more important it has to have agents that can move between channels to respond to changes in customer demand.
Small teams are leaning on their help centers
When it comes to getting faster answers for customers, self-service has an important role to play. For one, it helps support teams answer questions before they become tickets. And with fewer tickets in the queue, agents can get to other customers more quickly and focus on larger, more complex issues.
Smaller teams that reduced wait times this past year were not only quick to add new content to their help centers, but they also connected customers to relevant articles at a quicker rate. In their conversations with customers, these companies increased their use of help center links by 21 percent last year—75 percent faster than other companies of the same size.
Greater data visibility is helping teams exceed their goals
In the push to get more efficient, the ability to track important metrics such as ticket volumes, backlogs, and agent efficiency gives teams the opportunity to set and meet goals. Small support teams that got faster this past year were 11 percent more likely to use additional dashboards to track their performance.
What’s more, they’re also sharing these dashboards more widely among their teams. Dashboard shares increased at a 12 percent faster rate in 2020 compared to other small companies.
“Being able to kind of take a bird’s-eye view of all the different potential tickets coming in has been super helpful because that then drives our overall operations team to kind of figure out what they need to focus on next.”
Zack Feinberg, CEO and CRO of In Good Taste
It’s a strategy that has worked for In Good Taste, a wholesale wine retailer that made an abrupt switch to direct-to-consumer online retail in the pandemic’s early days. “Initially, in 2020, we thought ecommerce would just help us stay alive,” says Zach Feinberg, the company’s co-founder and CRO. Within a month, the team went from zero to 3,000 tickets in their backlog.
“Being able to kind of take a bird’s-eye view of all the different potential tickets coming in has been super helpful,” says Feinberg, “because that then drives our overall operations team to kind of figure out what they need to focus on next.”
Help your support team work smarter
When it comes to getting faster answers for customers, the way you work might be the only thing standing in your way. Where should companies start if they’re looking to find and eliminate bottlenecks that are slowing down their support teams?
- Dive deeper into your one-touch tickets
If your team solves a high percentage of tickets with just a single touch, you might be missing opportunities to take advantage of time-saving automations or help center content that can reduce the burden on your agents. Start by taking stock of the kinds of questions or issues that only require a single agent response and whether these tickets can be addressed with a macro or trigger, or even additional help center content.
- Consider adding help center articles for common questions
Much like cleaning out a closet, your help center needs to be re-evaluated from time to time. Some articles are evergreen, others not so much. One helpful exercise is to look at questions that your agents are getting over and over. Can they be easily solved with a well-placed help center article? If so, you might be able to save agents and customers valuable time.
- Talk to agents
No one understands the ins and outs of your work streams better than your agents. Talk to those front line agents to get a better sense of what would make their lives easier. Where can the team be more efficient? How can they better deflect tickets with help center content?
Getting faster at responding to customers doesn’t have to mean a complete overhaul of how you work. In fact, the smallest changes to how you triage and process tickets may end up having the biggest impact.