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6 productivity tips for customer support agents

By Joe Martin, VP of Marketing at CloudApp

Published January 31, 2020
Last modified January 31, 2020

Reducing the time it takes to resolve a customer issue makes everyone happier. Getting there, especially if you’re aiming to shave minutes off your average service time, requires a smart and laser-like focus in helping customer support reps to be more productive.

Most organizations can see results when they do a 360-degree review of their service practices from both the customer and rep perspectives. That’s worth the time and effort: Excellent customer service is linked to increased sales, repeat business, and higher average order values. Think on your own best service experience in the past month. You want to empower your team to embody that wonderful experience while also teaching them how to avoid the problems of every painful call you’ve made this month.

Read on for six tips to increase your customer support team’s productivity while protecting them and growing their capabilities.

1. Teach etiquette

There are many fantastic guides to customer service etiquette available from business coaches, leaders, and software providers. Find someone whose style you would like as a customer and take their detailed tips and tricks, especially if they provide scripts for transitioning away from problem areas.

We want to look at some of the significant elements to make sure you cover, focusing on how etiquette can improve your rep’s ability to understand client needs, solve issues, and move support along more quickly.


 

  • Humanize the situation with a greeting and understanding of how a problem impacts the person at the other end, not just a company or service.
  • Recognize and reassure customers when they start to lose patience. One of the biggest tips here is to teach product knowledge. This avoids the common frustration of a customer not being able to get the specific help they need.
  • Set experience expectations at the beginning. Customers need to know what will be done to help them and if that’ll occur during the first, second, or third touchpoints. Teach your reps what they can do or what needs to be sent up to techs, and then they need to share that with customers when it is relevant.
  • Take ownership of problems so that the customer feels you’re on their side for solving them.

Train teams on how to ask questions relevant to your product so that they and the customer can better understand what’s happening.
Etiquette is a lot more than being helpful to someone on the phone — definitely do that! Thinking about it holistically can help you create a better customer experience.

2. Automate where you can

A critical element to quality service is delivering help quickly. If you want to target efficiency for your reps, at least part of the equation is speed.

Automation can help you target these concerns in a variety of ways. Chatbots and AI on your website can answer FAQs or give simple information — think size charts, hours of operations, return policies, or password resets — which lifts a significant burden off the shoulders of your customer support reps.


 

Other platforms can analyze your reps’ capabilities around different problems and complexities. These tools learn your people’s strengths and then send the right inquiries and support requests to those best suited to provide answers. Routing tools can also ensure you’re pushing requests to people who have the time to answer — and not interrupting breaks, lunch, or even meetings.

Companies of all sizes can also start to adopt the automation available in contact center software. Some of the improvements that reps appreciate most involve a system that automatically pulls up customer details. This removes some initial steps for both client and rep and gets everyone moving to the resolution much faster.

Many of these tools may shave only a few seconds off any given interaction. But those seconds add up significantly over time and can mean you’re answering more calls each hour and solving customer complaints that much faster. Plus, such time savings can reduce wait times for people on the phone, which is one of the greatest aggravations a customer faces.

It’s why automation has become one of the most common ways for companies to improve workplace productivity significantly for any client-facing role—and many internal ones too.

3. Make the knowledge base useful

Your knowledge base is content, and the audience is your reps and customers.So build your knowledge base like content instead of, say, a long laundry list or workflow that requires a click after every sentence. Anchor your knowledge base in tutorials that are designed for fast and easy use. Visuals are simple to add thanks to modern tools, and things like video and photos showing the UI of products, as well as the rep’s systems, can help you close tickets up to three times faster.

If you’re working within chat- or email-based ticket systems, then you can use this same content for your customers. Create a quick video to show everyday tasks for your reps, and then publish it online. When a customer emails to ask how to do one of these things, have the rep reach out with both an explanation and a link to the video.

 

Give customers what they want: long-term solutions and the ability to get a reminder without submitting another ticket. Clarity through visuals and better communication also reduces the likelihood that someone is going to reach out again. Follow-up questions get quashed because you’ve fully answered the customer and even shown them how to do what’s next. “[With visualization], we eliminated the need for the rep to type down mile-long responses, and the personalization is what sets us apart.' Steve Davis, head of customer support at Gainsight.

This can go a little further if you choose the right technology stack. Common tasks make perfect GIFs, videos, and photos. However, some customers are going to need an extra hand. That’s when you should look for tools that allow you to annotate right on this media.

Annotation lets you show customers what you’re discussing directly. It can remove the complexity from a UI, whether that system is yours or just a place where you collaborate. Many supply chain and inventory solutions integrate with Excel, for example, but require specific formatting for things to work right. When Microsoft changes the location of a formatting option on the Excel ribbon, these inventory customers will need to learn the new change.

Imagine how great of a partner you could be if you were to proactively reach out to customers with an updated, annotated video that showed the new location as soon as it went live. This content is still an element of your knowledge base, but now it turns your customer service efforts into a better experience for the customer even before they reach out to your reps.

Also, remember that buying a piece of software can get you 50% of the way there for improving productivity. The other 50% is teaching everyone how to use it correctly. If your managers can’t use a platform (or choose not to), then you can’t expect reps to use it either, and that means no gains and a big, unnecessary sunk cost.

4. Create behind-the-scenes collaboration

How much do you like being on hold?

If you’re like the majority of people in the world, you hate it, and you’ll hang up after two minutes. So when a problem is complex and a rep needs to ask for help, putting you on hold (after already waiting in the first place) can quickly become infuriating.

To combat this and help your team deliver help faster, give them collaboration options that don’t put the customer on hold. Separate tools or customer service solutions with built-in team chat can help your reps ask for assistance as soon as they know they need it.


 

There’s no longer a wait for a customer to finish talking and then asking them to stay on hold. Real-time collaboration with product engineers can also help your reps find solutions within a knowledge base when they’re unsure what the customer means or what an element of your product is.

Managers and team leaders should also get tools to listen in on calls or chats, and be able to coach reps in a way that the customer doesn’t see or hear. They’ll be able to share solutions or best practices to move a service request along without big delays.
Productivity instantly goes up when you eliminate any time a customer has to provide the same information twice. Whether that’s saying the problem, keying in an ID, or typing something in a chat box and then an email. Simplify your customers’ lives and you simplify your reps’ lives too — and they’ll both thank you for it.

5. Meet customers where they prefer

One fascinating aspect of customer service is that it’s taking place in new channels every day. We even see it happen in stories on TikTok.

Now, that’s a rare breed of company with a specific, younger customer base who can operate there. Even so, you should think of it as a call to become more flexible with your service. Can you add customers to a Slack channel? Are there Trello boards or Google Docs that you can invite people to use? Can you integrate with the tools that you both use already?


 

At the same time, you’ve got established channels that need to be supported. Yes, phone and email still dominate high-level and complex questions. However, onsite chatbots are now a common way to answer small questions. Live humans to chat with if the problems are beyond a bot are easy to incorporate too.

Many of your customers also text, and you’ll see a variety of simple requests on this channel.

There’s plenty of research about industries and customer profiles to discover the channels that customers prefer. You might find some surprising ways to deliver service—or even capture new customers. Many companies that help ecommerce businesses sell products on Amazon have become go-to resources not only on Amazon’s own seller resources but also on related pages on Reddit and GitHub, or in specific Telegram groups.

Find where your customers are asking questions about your product — sometimes that’s to you, and other times that is to each other — and give your reps the ability to meet these customers there. Customer service platforms are a big help here too, because they can use your CRM to track customers across all these different channels and let your reps do their outreach from a single solution in many cases, minimizing time lost as they switch channels or hunt for logins to each different solution.

6. Keep scalability in mind

The last element we want to look at is how to keep productivity gains going. You can take many steps to enhance and improve the capabilities of any individual support rep, but what happens when you need a solution that works for 20 or 100?

When you implement a customer support solution or change, take active steps to build the infrastructure it needs to continue. This can be physical or technological infrastructure, from desks and phones to Internet connections and software licenses. It can also be workforce infrastructure, such as training your team.

Scalability requires a big-picture approach. So, if we look at training, this means a couple of things. First, you’ll want to train every person right away on what’s new and set up new information for your onboarding. Second, reps will need ongoing support and training to keep them following the new processes and workflows. Finally, your leadership will need training on new requirements as well as change management.

If you as a leader are bringing that holistic mindset to productivity improvements, you’re in a smart place to find what works for your team and understand everything required to make it happen. Be accountable and available, creating the right atmosphere for everyone to succeed.