25 Ways to Save On Customer Support Costs
By Gary Engel
Vice President of Business Development
I’ve managed customer support operations for more than 25 years on behalf of companies worldwide. In that time, I’ve tried, failed, succeeded and mastered ways to put a lid on support costs. This article, with ways to master your support costs comes straight from my experiences. It’s by no means a complete list, but I think you’ll find it useful.
Broadly speaking, there are roughly six general categories of ways to control costs:
- Efficiency — streamline your team, max out your contacts per agent
- Use inexpensive channels — chat, email, SMS and social support are the least expensive
- Reduce support contacts — KB’s and FAQ’s can proactively address questions
- Lower your labor costs — leverage global partners to reduce costs
- Decide what to offer — look across service levels, hours and channels
- Leverage maximum support value —support as a profit center
Get the right number of people working at the right times. Eliminate unnecessary work. Arm your employees with tools to get more production. Measure deficiencies and find improvements.
1. Track Efficiency & Performance Metrics
Step one to cut costs: measure efficiency to see where to improve. Core metrics include: team attendance and availability during the workday, first contact resolution and handle time. Learn more in The Ultimate Guide to Customer Support Metrics.
2. Increase Availability
Customers can contact you across different times and channels —sometimes 1,000/hour, other times 100/hour. Use workforce management software to avoid having agents sit idle at low-volume times — you’ll be way ahead of most companies.
3. Skill-Up Your Team
The better your people, the more efficient they become and the more contacts each person can handle. Make the investment in a robust training program. Agents must remove barriers to customer success, parse cultural intricacies and work efficiently.
4. Improve Efficiency with Staff Rotation
Don’t put new agents on all types of contacts. Let them master one then rotate, so they efficiently learn each type, one at a time.
5. Segment Contact for Faster Resolution
Resolve contacts faster by routing them to proper departments. This is best for bigger teams who can gain efficiencies with greater agent specialization. Phone and online menus, distinct department emails and CRM tools using filters help facilitate this.
6. Automate Incoming Contacts
Funnel incoming contacts with chat bots, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), email auto-responders and software and CRM tools to provide things like billing and account information or FAQs.
7. Extend Your Knowledge Base with Chat Bots
Use chat bots to direct visitors to your knowledge base, serve up answers to FAQs and direct chats for faster resolution — you’ll still need a human to pick up where chat bots leave off, but this can reduce contacts and funnel conversations to proper staff.
8. Pre-Defined Responses
Create pre-written responses for chats and email tickets that your agents can send for specific types of tickets, such as password resets. Through thousands of contacts per year, these responses can save days of work — and costs.
9. Integrate Every Tool You Use
Integrate your chat and support tools, such as ZenDesk, with your CRM, so agents have all pertinent information at their fingertips to quickly resolve customer challenges. If you can’t find the right tool integrations, try a tool like Zapier that create them for you.
10. Get Everyone On the Same Page
Use collaboration tools to give all cross-departmental teams access to key information. At just the right moment, when teams need it, they’ll have the resources at their fingertips to resolve customer issues faster or fix upstream issues.
11. Build the Right Team
Building a great team means hiring. Sometimes, it’s easiest to use an experienced, specialized partner that’s built many great teams. If you do outsource any of your support, select a support partner that provides value-added processes and can adapt to your tools.
Focus On Inexpensive Channels
Phone support is expensive, often requiring U.S.-based support and allowing only one contact to be handled at a time. Email tickets can lead to multiple support contacts for individual issues, costing you money. Direct users to channels that allow instant resolution and let your agents handle multiple contacts at a time.
12. Direct Customers to Live Chat Using Design
Live chat offers instant resolution and is preferred by many customers. You may be able to shift some phone contacts to live chat, allowing agents to help multiple customers at once. Monitor this, as too many chats at once reduces savings. In our experience, 4 simultaneous chats is the upper limit for most firms. Pro tip: design your specifically site so chat icons are more prominent than your phone number.
13. Social Support
Add social support. It’s often faster and less expensive than calls, and it can cover you in key situations. You can also reach many customers before they ask questions. Set up specific handles for your support — i.e. instead of @CompanyName, your handle would be @CompanyNameSupport.
Fewer support contacts means lower support costs, plain and simple. These methods will help you resolve support contacts before they ever arise.
14. Create a Robust Website Knowledge Base
In today’s world, it almost goes without saying, but we’ll say it. Add and continuously improve FAQs, tutorials and articles on your digital properties. Track common customer questions and answer them right on your site. And funnel visitors to your knowledge base with your website design.
15. Root Cause Analysis
Are you getting the same questions again and again? Set up closed-loop processes to convey the reasons behind customer contacts to the right people. And then eliminate those root causes. Make this a continuous improvement process.
16. Match Your Support and Order Fulfillment
Team your support center up with your fulfillment center in a shared communications system so support is totally up to date on orders (if this applies to your company). The investment will pay for itself in both faster support resolutions and reduced contacts.
17. Proactively Inform Customers of Key Changes
Send out newsletters and email updates to customers when there’s a big change to your platform or product. Proactively get ahead of possible customer questions. If customers know what to expect, they’ll be less likely to ask you about it.
18. Build a User Support Community
For many businesses today, particularly SaaS firms, user communities play an important role in support and limit contacts. After all, who better to help solve problems than the people who use your product every day? Create forums, encourage customer interaction and play the part of a helpful moderator.
Direct Labor Costs
The biggest — but far from the only — support cost is typically labor. Reducing contacts and improving staff efficiency are ways to reduce the need to hire labor. But there’s a clear way to reduce your actual hourly support labor rates: work with a great partner.
19. Take Some Support Offshore
The cost of customer support in India is about 1/3 the cost of U.S.-based support. You’ll see similar savings in the Philippines, Eastern Europe and other areas. But can an outsourced team deliver? If you’re like most companies, yes, especially for social, chat, SMS and email support — if you select the right partner.
Decide What to Offer
In many cases, there’s a direct and measurable trade-off between great customer support and your budget. While we caution, many businesses have seen a real cost of not delivering great customer support (i.e. lost customers). The key is finding balance: what level of support will make your customers happy without breaking the bank?
20. Match Service to Expectations
Are you at the right service level for your customers, or are you following an unnecessarily high, expensive standard? Carefully track the acceptable standard for your customers (CSAT, NPS, CES or other measures work) and deliver to, not beyond, it.
21. How Many Supervisors Do You Really Need?
Review your supervisor-to-agent ratio. Are you overstaffed or understaffed with supervisors? If your team is well trained and properly armed with the tools and authority to resolve customer challenges, you may not need many supervisors.
22. Strategic Hours
Limit your hours. But be careful and intentional about this to avoid getting extra volume during peak hours, which may actually require more staff and lose you money. As we mentioned earlier, workforce management software can help with this.
23. Strategic Channels
Many companies today have decided to fully abandon phone support and offer only digital support across an array of live chat, email, SMS social support channels. Your customers may be perfectly happy without phone support too.
Leverage Maximum Support Value
At its core, support is about removing barriers to customer success and providing solutions that make customers happy, and by extension, loyal. Step beyond conventional, passive support and get ahead of the curve by leveraging every single support contact or potential contact to actually drive new business and loyalty.
24. Proactive Support
Start live chats with people on FAQ pages and knowledge base articles. You can remove barriers, resolve issues and head off costly calls before they happen. You can also direct site visitors to premium products and services — while they’re on your site.
25. Cross-Selling and Upselling
Every product or service you offer is a solution to a customer problem. Use support inquires to drive cross-sell, upsell and lead-generation opportunities — after you resolve their problems. You may be able to turn a profit on support and see 177 percent ROI.