Resolving tickets

What purpose does resolving tickets serve? To what purpose would you apply that performance indicator as a metric? There is no purpose, and as a manager, you should not gauge performance based on that number.

Instead, encourage your teams to only resolve tickets when the customer indicates they’re satisfied and have no further questions. Ultimately, customer service exists to serve customers, not to resolve tickets. What is most important is that those customers  being served have all of their questions answered and problems corrected. If the tickets remain open, and the conversations continue as your customers ask more questions, all the better for them – and your business.

SAAS support

In general, customer support in a Software-as-a-Service environment is differentiated from traditional software support by the depth of problem impact. Most SAAS products are offered to customers as a hosted platform, rather than separate physical installs. This dramatically increases the number of customers affected by any single problem.

For example, consider ‘Online CRM’, an imaginary CRM platform that users log in to. A customer has noticed a bug in the CRM account record screen that switches the name of a company ‘SpiffCo’ with the name of the main contact ‘James Spiff’.

  • With traditional software, you may have 100 customers
  • 10% of them are patched to version 3.0, the latest version of your software
  • 80% are using version 2.0
  • 10% are using version 1.0
  • This issue is just with version 3.0 of your software; only 10% of your customers are impacted

However, with SAAS, every customer is effectively using “version 3.0” – the very latest build – since the very latest build is the platform itself. This means that up to 100% of your customers are experiencing this bug, whether they know it yet, or not.

Therefore, with potentially 100% of your customers experiencing any given bug, it is vital that your support team provide responsive, 24/7 support; that escalation processes are in place for critical issues to be addressed during off hours; that systems are in place to limit the impact of issues across SAAS platforms. Speed of response and escalation must be the primary values a SAAS support team is built around.

The click test

If you are not sure whether a potential change to your software is worth informing your customers about, apply the click test.

Does this software-change require a behavior-change from your customers? Do they need to ‘click’ or ‘not click’ something that they didn’t previously?

If yes, inform them of the change ahead of time.

Benchmark, cont.

Traditional benchmarking is the process of comparing your performance metrics against your competitor or industry, to gauge whether you underperform or outperform against industry standards.

This is problematic in customer service because customers care about how you perform against their expectations, not your competitor’s.

Guy Letts, writing for customersure.com, offers an interesting solution:

  1. Don’t benchmark customer service against your competitors
  2. The only important service benchmark is the reasonable expectations of a customer
  3. Innovate – benchmark against something impressive instead
  4. Become the remarkable benchmark
  5. [Focus on] your goal

While we are not associated with this company in any way or form, the ideas in this article are insightful and worth the time to read.

Public communication

There is no privacy in customer communications. Pretend everything you say, write, or share, will be shared with many other people that you did not intend to share with. Therefore, when sending any communication, perform the following the exercises:

1. Pretend you are reading the communication aloud in front of an executive. Are you embarrassed?

2. Progressively scan for trigger words. Avoid any term in your communications that could negatively escalate a situation. Emotion carries over in writing.

3. When you give a command, prepend a “please”; append a “thank you”.

4. Enable “check spelling before sending a message” in Outlook to help catch typos and serve as a last minute sanity-check for outgoing communications.

Granting exceptions

The problem with granting exceptions to customers (eg resolving an issue after a support contract has expired) is that they can quickly become the rule. When boundaries have been set – contractual or otherwise – consistently enforce them.

Understanding customer expectations

The very best possible customer service occurs when a customer’s expectations for quality, price, and delivery or fulfillment, are met and exceeded. Therefore, it is critical that a customer service manager understand what expectations are being set during the selling process. Dedicate 4-5 hours a week to listening to sales calls, so you understand what the customers are learning to expect of your product. Even within a “self-service” retailer such as Amazon, there exist numerous points where human beings become part of the “sales process”, such as order fulfillment teams, billing teams/systems, and more. As a customer service manager, make an hour of listening to interactions at these contact points part of your daily responsibilities.

Serving the installed base

However, a customer service team does not just support net new customers; it also supports existing customers: the installed base. Therefore, before you cost and invest for your next year, be certain you are supporting your existing customers to the highest level possible.

Maintenance rate of team investment

It is critical that a customer service group be invested in yearly, to maintain support levels as sales projections grow. To understand this quantitatively, try to find the average percent of net new sales that convert into new casework (case conversion rate). Then find the percentage of how much additional capacity you have with existing resources (existing capacity rate). Take the average of these two percentages, and increase your customer service team’s budget by that percentage of forecast sales. That amount is ‘maintaining’ the existing SLA in respect to the added case volume, and can be called the ‘maintenance rate’ of customer service investment.

A simple illustration: you expect net new sales to grow next year by $1m (25% year over year). After some spreadsheeting, you find that on average, 50% of new customers last year converted to support cases. You also know that you have capacity for only 25% more cases with existing resources. Therefore, the maintenance investment rate for your next year is 37.50%, or the average of your conversion rate and your existing capacity rate. And you now know that customer service will require an investment of ~$375,000 to maintain existing quality of service for the influx of new customers. You  can test this formulaically: (Net new * case conversion %)-(Net new * existing capacity %).

In the real world, however, cost modelling is rarely this simple. What this formula assumes is that the rate of capacity is static (eg, no improved systems or training improvements) and that the rate of customer conversion is static with no trending (eg, 50% of new customers each year create new cases; that the rate hasn’t fluctuated). This formula also assumes that Sales will hit their net new target.

Therefore, a wise customer service manager models a budget as best she can, then proceeds to undercut that budget by a margin of error. This margin of error can be based on several things: the average percent of difference between forecasted and realized sales, forecasted and realized service case volume, or forecasted and realized capacity expectations.

And why under-, and not over-, invest for the coming year? Because it is less expensive, more agile, better for team morale, and your mental health, to employ more customer service agents or purchase additional resources due to shortage, then to have to dismiss redundant personnel or systems because you are over capacity.

Net Promoter Score

There is no other known survey that can so well gauge a customer’s experience as the Net Promoter Score. It has particular benefits to software and SaaS sectors, where partner and vendor relationships are key, and where quantifiable customer service scores can be used to prioritize product improvements. However, it is quite long.

Therefore, a wise CS manager deploys a Net Promoter survey to key personnel within customer and partner organizations on a regular quarterly basis, alongside much shorter, more frequent surveys on a case-closed basis.