Scaling Customer Support — Without Breaking The Bank
By Gary Engel
Vice President of Business Development
Let’s blow the lid off of this right up front.
When you scale your support, you can’t just spend your way out of every problem by hiring more and more agents — the goal is to support more customers, not necessarily to build a massive team.
The key: get more efficient as you grow.
As a general rule, the more customers and products you add, the more support contacts you’ll get, requiring some additional support staff. But as you expand, from say 1,000 customers to 10,000 customers, you should be able to find some economies of scale and improve efficiencies, so you can add customers without a straight-line increase in support costs.
In the example shown in the graph below, the operation that doesn’t improve efficiency needs 10 new reps for every 1000 customers it acquires, and that never changes. But the efficient operation needs incrementally fewer reps for every 1000 new customers, adding up to long-term savings. This type of gain should be your goal as you scale:
So how do you do it? As you add customers, invest in ways to:
- Reduce your contacts/customer number (limit growth of new contacts and staff) by:
- Solving bugs upstream before they cause support contacts
- Creating an exceptional knowledge base
- Make your team more efficient so each agent can resolve chats, tickets or contacts faster
Start by making scaling up a strategic, proactive process instead of a reactive one. In this article, we’ll walk you through the big aspects of scaling strategically:
- When to scale
- What to scale
- Where to scale
And we’ll show you how to handle each efficiently, so you can limit your growth in support reps and save money.
When to Scale
If you already see any of the issues listed below, it’s time to grow your support team, now:
- Lost customers due to poor support
- High volumes of bad reviews and complaints
- Increasingly long wait and handle times
But if you don’t see these issues yet, don’t wait until you do. Scale proactively to prevent the bad reviews and lost customers, while also capturing savings. Here’s a game plan:
- Identify past drivers of new customers and support contacts (product launches and improvements, marketing campaigns)
- Track when your company plans these initiatives and how much customer growth is expected
- Using your historical contacts/customer numbers for each channel, and considering upcoming initiatives, model the expected growth in support contacts
- Calculate how many support staff you’ll need to serve these customers
- Workforce management software can help – this list covers some great solutions)
- Keep in mind how many staff you need to meet your customer satisfaction metrics — e.g. CSAT, NPS, FCR. For more on this, see The Ultimate Guide to Customer Support Metrics
- Identify the key “trigger points” you will use to determine when to start scaling your operation
- Determine how long it will take you to expand appropriately on a per-channel basis as you hit these trigger points, so you can scale proactively
Once you’ve modeled out how many people you’d need, take a step back.
Before you throw money at hiring more agents, try to solve more customer issues before they arise (reduce your contacts/customer) and do more with what you have (handle more contacts/agent).
Once you know how much customer growth to expect and have an idea of when to expect it, strategically plan major investments in efficiency and contact reduction.
For example, you can plan an investment in a major website or mobile app version update that addresses known causes of support contacts. Some other ways to reduce contacts/customer include:
- Closed-loop systems to track and eliminate root causes of contacts
- Self-service — creating a robust FAQ section and knowledge base
- Chatbots and IVR systems
- Strategically using proactive chat on key pages
- Basic automation, such as pre-written responses to specific inquiries
The more you grow, the more you save by proactively investing in solutions that reduce contacts. By modeling when to scale, you can strategically time contact-reducing investments so they pay for themselves.