Small Business and Startups: For Great Service, Speed Counts

I have written several times about customer service and how important it is for small businesses and startups to deliver it effectively.  Great customer service is about several things: accuracy, honesty, fairness, efficiency, and – perhaps most important of all – speed of delivery. How many times have you sat on the phone listening to bad music and marketing messages while you wait for an agent to answer your question? How many times have you sent an email request and waited… and waited… and waited… sometimes for days just to get an answer to a simple query?

Two key indicators of customer service speed are what we refer to as “assign-time,” or the number of hours or minutes it takes for an agent to receive a request, and “solve-time,” which is the length of time it takes to resolve a support request. It took us several months in the beginning to figure it out, but at crowdSPRING we are proud of the fact that we have been able to successfully reduce the time it takes to respond to a request, and the time it takes us to both assign a support request and find a resolution for the customer. The chart at the left show how we have been able to reduce these key times, in the face of significant growth is user requests.

Your customer service structure should be built to deliver that speed and this means designing support systems with three things in mind: contact methods, support cycles, and capacity planning.

1. Contact methods
Contact methods should be designed so that your customers can contact you the way they want to. Email, phone, social media, and chat are the most common methods of contact; our surveys show that the vast majority of our users prefer to contact us by email, but many still like the phone and more and more contact us via TwitterFacebook, and Google+ to request help. Make the contact methods as easy to access as possible – every page on your site should have a ‘contact us’ link, your phone number should be as visible as possible and should clearly indicate what the phone support hours are, your social media accounts should also be displayed prominently so users can easily click through to Facebook or Twitter. Of critical importance is how you route these touchpoints; I recommend that you have a central repository for support contacts and many of the leading support and help desk software packages allow you to do this. Keep a log of calls, organize email or tickets by groups or agent, funnel your SM requests into your help software to create tickets there and forward miscellaneous email contacts into your help desk where you can track time and performance data.

2. Support cycles
Support cycles are simply the days of the week and the times of day that customers are likely to want help. Look closely at your own data to understand when customers want support. For instance if you find that 50% of all requests come into your customer service team between the hours of 10am and 3pm, then make sure you have enough agents working during those hours to handle the additional volume. The same goes for days of the week: if you know that Monday-Wednesday are your busiest days for support requests, then be sure that your agent’s schedules reflect the volume.

3. Capacity planning
Capacity management is crucial to providing high-quality and speedy support to your customers. Look closely at trends and plan for increases and growth. The time to hire and train a new customer service agent is not after you are swamped but rather when your data indicates that you will need the extra capacity in the future. For instance, if it will take you 3 months to fully train a new agent, means that you want to hire that person three months before the next crunch. The same goes for day-to-day planning – if your data tells you that weekends do not see the same volume of requests as on a weekday, plan for lighter coverage on those days. If on the other hand weekends are a busy time for you and your customers demand support on Saturday and Sunday, then the answer is simple – staff up!

Chart: crowdSPRING