The customer journey: An unbroken circle
Acquiring new customers is expensive. The exact cost depends on how much you spend on marketing and sales, but since customers are the company’s lifeblood, virtually everyone agrees that these acquisition expenses are necessary. With this said, it’s important to consider customer acquisition costs in the context of the entire customer journey, which doesn’t end when the sales team closes a deal.
The customer journey encompasses the full lifecycle of the relationship. Rather than a straight line from point A to point B, the customer journey isbetter described as a circle. A journey like this has important implications for how operating units within a company work together to ensure a positive, productive path for customers throughout the relationship.
Leads are generated and closed, with customer support handling the relationship after the dotted line has been signed. But, for too many companies, support is the weakest link in the customer relationship management strategy. This leads to costly churn and is a reason why it’s critical to view customer acquisition as an entire cycle.
If all goes well, the longest part of the customer journey lies after the sale. Any problems that crop up after onboarding are usually resolved early in the relationship, and this is when companies and customers forge strong ties. For these reasons, it makes sense to focus on ensuring that the support team has the strategy, technology, and knowledge to make the relationship work. So, how can the company prepare support agents to succeed?
Focus on the whole customer, not the tickets
Let’s walk through the “standard” support process. A customer contacts the support team, the issue is reported as a ticket, and the agent resolves that ticket and moves on to the next one. This support configuration produces tunnel vision, which makes it impossible for the support team to see the context around an individual issue. For companies that serve other businesses, losing sight of the whole customer is especially risky.
Think of a scenario in which five employees from the same company contact the support team for the same issue, reaching five different agents. If you’re looking at just single tickets, these are five separate issues with your product. However, if your support team can access an overview of the company, agents can reference the original resolution, quickly solving the problem and preventing additional issues. Working in this manner is much faster and creates a better culture than having each agent dig for their own answer because they aren’t looking at the big picture.
Use a cloud-based customer support system
Even if customer support agents are housed under the same roof, it can be difficult to coordinate responses and access updated information across multiple technology systems. The challenges are multiplied if support agents are in different offices and time zones.
A unified, cloud-based system is the best way to make sure every support agent can access the latest information so they are able to resolve tickets quickly while focusing on the whole customer. This is important whether the customer support operation takes place in a single location or agents are in multiple offices around the world. With a well-designed, unified, cloud-based system, data is captured and stored automatically, and all agents will have the information they need at their fingertips.
It’s also a good idea to find a cloud-based customer support system with robust reporting features. Users should have access to stock reports and be able to build custom reports to monitor data, keep track of trends, and create charts and dashboards. Well-designed reporting tools can deliver valuable insights to the support team, marketing and sales, product development, and other business units.
Take a collaborative approach to support
Customers who contact your support team have one goal in mind: resolving their issue as quickly as possible. Using a tiered support approach, where customers with complex issues are escalated to specialized agents, just prolongs customer frustration. That’s not only a source of friction with customers, it’s an impediment to support team unity and employee satisfaction.
Some companies, especially in the tech sector, have tried to resolvedilemmas like this by hiring a customer experience manager. That’s the wrong approach. Adding another layer to the support team actually has the opposite of the intended effect; what’s needed instead is a strategy that breaks down silos and facilitates teamwork among the people who are actively engaged in resolving customer problems.
Overall, a collaborative approach works best. If you’ve implemented a unified, cloud-based support system and focus on the whole customer rather than individual tickets, cooperation across the support team can flow naturally — without a customer support manager. Support agents can work with colleagues to get answers for customers, and product development, marketing, and sales professionals are also kept “in the know” so they can address needs and be easily looped into upselling conversations. The collective wisdom of the group enables resolution in one response.
Create a virtuous circle that eliminates pain points and drives new business
One of the advantages of using a unified, cloud-based support system is it can produce data to help your company head off customer issues before they happen. With a system in place that is capable of tracking issues by product, user, or company, you can identify trends impacting all areas of a business. In this way, pain points are addressed before they materialize.
Also keep in mind that excellent customer support is a key selling point, directly and indirectly. Salespeople who represent organizations with high customer happiness quotients can cite satisfaction rates to set their company apart in a crowded field. Current customers who are satisfied generate referrals from peers. With the right software, support agents can upsell customers where appropriate and work directly and seamlessly with the sales team.
Rather than a linear progression, think of the customer journey as a circle. In a linear view, marketing creates prospects, sales closes deals, and the support team manages the relationship on an ongoing basis. But in real life, roles are more flexible in this circle, and the support strategy and tools should reflect that. With a holistic view of the customer and a collaborative approach to support — centered around a unified, cloud-based system with robust reporting capabilities — companies can achieve a state of continuous improvement. And that virtuous circle increases customer satisfaction, sales, and revenue.
Robert C. Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of TeamSupport.com, a cloud-based, B2B software application built to help customer-facing support teams serve clients better through stronger collaboration, superior teamwork, and faster issue resolution. A seasoned executive and entrepreneur who has founded and invested in numerous software and high-...