Delivering top-notch customer support is an essential part of running a business.
Whether your team serves five, five hundred, or five thousand customers, it’s your job to ensure they always get what they need to reach their intended goals. Make it easy for them, and they’ll have every reason to keep giving you their business.
Unfortunately, what works for serving a handful of customers just isn’t going to be effective when serving five hundred, or even fifty, additional clients. Moreover, your audience’s service and support expectations will continue to change as your company grows, as well.
It’s essential, then, to scale your customer support efforts accordingly as your audience and business grows. In this article, we’ll look at the key ways to do just that.
Scaling Customer Support in Quantity and Quality
“Scaling customer support” can mean different things in different situations.
In some cases, it may be a simple matter of increasing the number of hands you have on deck. For example, when expanding to a new geographic location, you’d look to replicate your current, proven approach to customer support in the new area by bringing additional employees onboard.
Other times, you may need to make qualitative changes to your customer support initiatives.
Qualitative improvements are necessary when your current customer support efforts are lacking in the first place — or if your current approach clearly won’t be sustainable as your company scales in terms of audiences served, platforms used, and products/services offered.
(For example, providing a fully 1:1 onboarding experience might be possible when serving ten new, local customers each month. Add more incoming customers from more geographic locations to the mix, and such hands-on guidance will be near impossible.)
The point here is that “scaling customer support” doesn’t simply mean “doing more of what you’re doing”. While this may be the case in some instances, scaling customer support often means doing things differently in order to continue providing the level of support your audience has come to expect as your organization grows.
The Importance of Scaling Customer Support Comprehensively
With the above being said, the truth is scaling your customer support efforts in any manner will involve making both quantitative and qualitative changes to your approach.
That said, a comprehensive approach to scaling customer support is vital — for two key reasons.
Make Customer-Facing Improvements
The definition of “top-notch customer support” essentially boils down to “doing whatever enables your customers to reach their goals”.
Taking a more comprehensive approach to scaling your customer support efforts forces you to answer the question of whether or not you’re truly enabling your audience as best as possible.
You’ll then need to answer some follow-up questions, such as:
- What specific aspects of your customer support initiatives does your audience value?
- In which of these important areas are you succeeding — and where are you falling short?
- Are there other ways you could deliver the same or higher level of support where it matters most?
Understanding the answers to these questions will help ensure you only make changes that will have a positive impact on your customers’ support-related experiences with your brand. Similarly, it will ensure your efforts to scale stay in line with your company’s overall approach to serving your customers.
Make Cost-Efficient Improvements
A comprehensive approach to scaling customer support will almost always lead to more cost-efficient spending.
Here, you’ll be considering questions such as:
- Where should we invest more money into customer support?
- Where can we dial spending back — and where can we relocate it?
- Are there less costly ways to deliver the same (or better) level of support?
Again, scaling customer support doesn’t necessarily mean doing more than what you’re currently doing.
And it definitely doesn’t mean increasing your spending on support in direct proportion to your overall expenses. If anything, a strategic approach to scaling customer support will allow you to deliver increasingly more value to your customers at an increasingly lower cost.
How to Scale Customer Support as Your Business Grows
To be sure, there’s no “one way” to go about scaling your customer support efforts.
Broadly speaking, though, your potential solutions come down to the following:
- Bringing additional talent onboard
- Empowering your customer support staff
- Empowering your customers
- Investing in automation and other tools
Here, we’ll take a look at what each of these paths entail — and discuss how to implement each option when scaling your customer support initiatives.
Bring Additional Talent Onboard
As we said earlier, there will certainly be times when hiring more customer support employees is the obvious course of action.
That said, it’s crucial that you make these additions to your staff well in advance of scaling your business. That way, you’ll have ample time to prepare both your new and existing team members for the influx of support tickets and other responsibilities that’s about to come their way.
Sourcing and Hiring New Employees
There are a number of situations in which you’ll need to add new members to your support team.
- Your current staff is already operating at or near capacity
- Your current staff doesn’t have the capabilities needed to serve your growing audience
- You’re making fundamental changes to your approach to customer support
Maybe it’s as simple as adding more numbers to your team. When recruiting and hiring new support staff members in general, look to your current top-performing employees for guidance. Analyzing their performance metrics, along with any feedback and suggestions you can elicit from them, will help you identify high-quality candidates to consider bringing aboard.
You might also need to add new roles to your support team, as well.
Here, you’ll be considering your team’s ability to serve your customer base both now and as you continue to scale. As a simple example, when taking your business internationally, you’ll need to hire employees that can speak the local language and that understand the local culture.
Again, hiring additional staff members is essential at some points — but it’s not a silver bullet to successfully scaling customer support.
(In many cases, superfluous hiring may even derail your efforts to scale, altogether.)
Keep this in mind, as we’ll discuss the importance of training your current employees a bit later on.
Outsourcing Options: BPO and KPO
Outsourcing your customer support processes is another option for teams that are nearing capacity or are otherwise in need of assistance.
There are two types of outsourcing services you might consider working with:
Each type can provide assistance as your customer support team looks to scale.
A BPO customer support team will take over your support team’s basic operations, such as queue management, customer intake, and call direction. With these simpler tasks taken care of, your in-house staff will have more time and other resources on hand to focus on more substantial support efforts.
(BPO providers can also fill niche roles within your support staff, such as providing multilingual support to your expanding audience.)
Knowledge process outsourcing involves contracting out the more foundational parts of your customer support initiatives. In some cases, you might even hire a KPO provider to take over your customer support operations, overall.
KPO is perhaps the best option for support teams that are falling well short of their customers’ expectations and need clear guidance on how to improve moving forward.
Once more, outsourcing your customer support operations (in any capacity) may be your best option in certain cases. But it’s also not a silver bullet for scaling in all situations — and should not be used in lieu of making internal improvements that could be more beneficial in the long run.
Empower Your Current Customer Support Staff
Speaking of making internal improvements…
Scaling your customer support efforts usually requires empowering your current employees in a number of ways.
Provide Open Access to Essential Information
Providing top-notch customer support often comes down to having access to the right information at all times.
- Customer data — from persona profile to engagement and purchase histories
- Product specs, how-to guides, and troubleshooting documentation
- Internal documentation (such as standard operating procedures for certain engagements)
A comprehensive knowledge management system will ensure your customer support staff always has the information they need to help your customers overcome their immediate challenges — and continue making progress along their journey to success.
Invest in Employee Training and Professional Development
For your customer support staff to continuously exceed your customers’ needs and expectations, comprehensive employee training and development is a must.
Practically speaking, proper training is crucial when introducing:
- New processes
- New tools and software
- New team roles or external partnerships
When putting together these training sessions, prioritize areas that your customers care most about first — then determine in which of these areas your team is most in need of improvement. Basically, you want to avoid wasting time and energy scaling your customer support efforts in a way that doesn’t actually enhance your customer experience.
(For example, there’s no sense in decreasing your average First Response Time if the quality of these responses remains subpar.)
Change management and other more broad professional development initiatives may also be necessary to get buy-in from your support staff as you begin scaling. More than just removing resistance to change, the goal is to get your support team excited for the next stage of growth on an individual and company-wide level.
It’s also important to bake the notion of ongoing development into your employee onboarding processes. In preparing your customer support team for continuous growth from their initial experiences with the company, they’ll be that much more prepared to scale when the time comes to do so.
Reposition Your Best Talent
Another way to scale your customer support efforts is to revisit the actual makeup of your team.
In some cases, this will mean moving individual staff members into different roles within your support team. Again, you might make these moves to better allocate manpower or to place specific employees into better-fitting roles.
(As discussed earlier, your employee assessments should drive your decisions, here.)
Or, you may need to make more sweeping changes to your support team’s overall structure. For example, if you choose to outsource your basic customer support processes, you’d then be able to place your internal staff members into more intensive customer-facing positions.
(In such cases, employee training will be vital to ensure your team can handle their changing roles and responsibilities.)
Even with all of the above in place, you still need to give your support team the autonomy needed to actually help your customers.
Yes, standard operating procedures and formulaic workflows are important for the purpose of efficiency. But your employees should also feel comfortable going “off-script” during customer engagements whenever the need arises.
(Conversely, they should never feel like they have to “stick to the script” — especially when it’s clear “the script” isn’t helping the customer, or when there’s an opportunity to further empower them.)
Similarly, the members of your customer support team should always be looking for ways to lend a hand to other team members. This, in itself, will allow individual team members to scale their efforts in a more organic and continuous manner as time goes on.
Empower Your Customers
Customer support isn’t just about providing guidance and assistance when your customers ask for it.
In fact, being more proactive in this regard is another key part of scaling your overall customer support efforts.
Ramp Up Customer Onboarding
An informative and helpful customer onboarding experience goes hand-in-hand with scaling customer support.
Obviously, the onboarding experience is a type of customer support in itself. In a direct, literal sense, making improvements to your user onboarding processes will serve to better support your customers during the initial stages of their journey.
Improving your customer onboarding experience will also better prepare your new customers for the challenges and potential pitfalls they’ll face in the future. For your staff, this will almost certainly lead to a drop in support instances. In turn, you’ll have more resources and manpower on hand to scale your support efforts in more impactful ways.
Provide Self-Service Options
Enabling your customers to help themselves is table stakes by today’s standards.
Like proper onboarding, providing self-service options to your customers allows them to take control of their journey — and to overcome the obstacles they’ll encounter without hands-on assistance from your team. This, again, enables your team to focus more on scaling than they would be when facing a constant deluge of service tickets.
Enhancing your self-service experiences is another way to scale your customer support efforts, too.
A few examples of how you might do so:
- Upgrading from a basic wiki to a full-fledged customer knowledge base
- Adding search and other navigational capabilities to your self-service portal
- Updating your knowledge content based on customer engagement and performance data
(We’ll come back to this last point when we dig more into customer support technology.)
Build a Learning Community
In addition to allowing your customers to help themselves, you also want to allow them to help others throughout your brand’s community.
More than just “allowing” it, you want to actively facilitate such supportive engagements on your website, social media channels, and other digital platforms. Atlassian, for example, offers a digital forum where their users can connect with each other, ask and answer questions, and provide assistance to anyone in need.
Once again, this will free your support staff to focus on more “big picture” ways to improve their efforts. Moreover, the insights gleaned from the discussions on these forums will inform your team’s efforts moving forward — all but ensuring you continue scaling in the right direction.
Invest in Automation and Other Helpful Tools
The final piece of the puzzle when looking to scale customer support:
With the right software and other tools in hand, your customer support staff will be able to supercharge their efforts across the board.
Some key examples:
- Knowledge base software can be used to answer common questions as well as provide customers with in-depth tutorials and video walkthroughs
- Chatbots can point customers toward more in-depth resources and self-service options
- Helpdesk tools can deliver auto-response messages to customers, acknowledging receipt of their inquiries and updating them on ticket status
- Email automation can be used to deliver important information and guidance at crucial points in the user’s journey
Of course, this allows your team to cater to exponentially more customers in much shorter periods of time. What’s more, these tools help you learn more about your customers’ needs, which can again be used to further enhance your customer support initiatives.
Automating Backend Processes
The tools we mentioned above — among many others — can also help iron out your support staff’s backend processes, too.
- Chatbots act as frontline support staff, and can automatically escalate issues as they grow too complex
- Helpdesk tools automatically collect important information from users, and can prioritize and direct incoming service requests accordingly
- Email automation tools typically collect engagement data, allowing support staff and other teams to fine-tune their rules for targeting and delivery with ease
Integrating these and other tools into your tech stack can further supercharge your customer support efforts. For example, connecting your helpdesk software with your CRM will give your support staff a more comprehensive view of their customers — and will automatically document each customer engagement as it occurs.
Tools for Communication and Alignment
We mentioned earlier the importance of providing collaborative customer support, in which all members of your team are empowered to lend a hand whenever it’s needed.
For this to occur, your support staff and other team members need to stay in constant contact with one another.
Once more, technology comes to the rescue. Whether by enabling real-time collaboration or asynchronous communication, the right tools will keep your team members on the same page at all times as they support your customers along their journeys.
And, in again integrating these tools with the rest of your tech stack, you can be sure that all important messages are received as intended — and that all efforts to scale customer support stay moving in the same direction.