Many of us have experience interacting with customer support agents in various contexts, from streaming service subscriptions and car rental bookings, to online clothing purchases.
For businesses worldwide, offering timely support across multiple channels and touchpoints is critical in today’s highly competitive and digital-first world.
A strong customer experience strategy is a defining feature that sets companies apart – yet what do customer service and customer support truly mean? Why is delivering quality customer support so essential, and how can companies begin doing so? How can businesses keep customers happy? Here, we break down the meanings behind the terms, and several key best practices to consider weaving into your customer support strategy.
We’ll answer the following questions, so jump directly to a specific section or scroll to read the post in its entirety:
- What is customer support?
- How does customer support differ from customer service?
- What are the most important qualities of customer support?
- Why is customer support essential for any business?
- What are some strategies for boosting customer support?
- What does the future look like for customer support agents?
Customer support is the range of services provided to assist customers in making cost-effective and correct use of a product. It includes assistance in planning, installation, training, troubleshooting, maintenance, upgrading, and even the disposal of the product.
The main difference between customer service and customer support is the ultimate goal each strives to solve. Customer service focuses on building relationships, whereas customer support focuses on fixing technical issues.
Although the two are often used interchangeably, customer support is not synonymous with customer service. Customer service is an umbrella term for all interactions that encompass the overall customer experience and help shape a person’s relationship with the company.
Customer service typically refers to all types of customer-facing activities, those that often are non-technical in nature. An essential part of this is the sales process for many products. Conversely, customer support involves technical problem solving and uses business-related metrics like customer effort score and churn.
Customer service is directly related to the customer experience and is comprised of roles such as a sales associate at a department store, or a barista at a cafe. Customer service is all about adding value by helping customers to make the most of a business’s products or services. Customer support is just one subset of this.
Because of widespread ambiguity between the two terms, it’s not uncommon to find an overlap in responsibilities as definitions will vary from company to company. With that said, we created a chart that helps define the differences between customer service and customer support.
|Tends to measure transactional metrics like CSAT, average handle time, and first contact resolution.||Measures business-related metrics like net promoter score, customer effort score, and churn.|
|Builds relationships.||Fixes technical issues.|
|Agents employ mostly soft skills.||Agents employ both hard skills (tech skills) and soft skills.|
|Connects customers to existing answers and solutions.||Involves technical problem solving, troubleshooting, and finding new solutions and answers.|
|Positions are available in almost every business vertical.||Positions are mostly available in SaaS, tech, and e-commerce companies.|
Good customer support is more than just installation and troubleshooting – it is also making the customer feel heard, collecting data and using that to better the customer experience. It is about investing in personal conversations, demonstrating sound product knowledge and empathy, and devising creative and customized solutions to customer issues. Good customer support involves meeting, as well as exceeding customer expectations – what do customers themselves want? What types of experiences do they expect, and what will keep them coming back for more?
A survey from Zendesk discovered that the key customer service principles revolve around empathy, convenience and speed. Customers favor, above all, speedy resolutions to their problems, 24/7 access to support, and interacting with friendly agents. When it comes to customer support, the same key values remain intact.
For customers today, a seamless omnichannel experience is also critical – allowing them to switch devices and fluidly maneuver between multiple channels, carrying forward context with each interaction. For instance, if one day an individual received support via telephone, they want to log into their web browsers to continue the conversation on a separate occasion. Consistency is key – 71% of consumers desire a consistent experience across all channels, yet only 29% say they actually receive this. Investing in omnichannel experiences plays a big part in customer loyalty, as businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies enjoy 91% higher customer retention rates year-over-year, compared to businesses that don’t.
Amid a shifting global landscape (new and emerging technologies, new ways of working), consumer expectations are shifting along with it. In Netomi’s State of Customer Service in 2022 Report, more than 65% of those surveyed say they have higher expectations for their customer service experience today than they did 3 to 5 years ago. What’s more, the report found these higher expectations are not being sufficiently met, with 51% believing that customer service has not improved over the past 12 months.
Put simply, support, delivered in a timely manner, drives customer satisfaction, and conclusively impacts customer retention, customer lifetime value (CLV), and brand reputation. Our report also revealed that 77% of U.S. consumers believe that good customer service is crucial to earning loyalty as well as business. Such findings emphasize that there is a tremendous opportunity for companies to put such strategies into place, in order to elevate the overall customer experience. Good customer support is expected – it is sought-after and highly regarded.
1. Support your support team with AI-powered chatbots
In the demanding and always-on economy of today, many call center agents are feeling the pressure – with 74% of them at risk for burnout. Moreover, turnover rates hover between 30 and 45%, among the highest of any industry. Companies using AI chatbots for customer service can create a more cost-effective and streamlined approach. This will drastically improve the experience of agents themselves, helping to make them feel more fulfilled and engaged in their roles.
A February 2022 survey from Salesforce found that 71% of service agents had considered leaving their job in the previous six months, while 69% are considering leaving customer service roles entirely. Working with outdated technology systems and a lack of access to career development opportunities are among the challenges faced by agents. According to the survey, 81% of service agents say they do not have new and advanced technology/tools at their current jobs.
AI-powered chatbots have come to the forefront as a means to meet consumer preferences for 24/7, instant support in real-time. Interest and usage of these tools is burgeoning, and not just among SaaS (Software as a Service) companies. Insider Intelligence predicts that, by 2024, consumer retail spending via chatbots worldwide will reach $142 billion – a jump from just $2.8 billion in 2019.
By providing immediate resolutions to the most common and repeatable of queries, chatbots help to drastically cut down on customer service tickets. They can also assist customers with no human intervention (How do I pause my gym membership? How can I select my seat?). Customer service representatives, as a result, can dedicate their time and energy to more complex, high-touch and creative tasks. Advanced technologies such as chatbots serve as the all-important key to supporting overworked employees, helping them to complete their jobs more efficiently.
2. Be proactive
Today, 27% percent of customers expect customer service to be proactive – for companies to anticipate their needs and wants. How can you preemptively intervene, before an issue exacerbates, or even turns into an issue? Informing customers that a software update is available, or that they will soon be eligible for a cell phone upgrade takes your customer service strategy one notch higher. This also signifies to customers that you are looking out for them. A chatbot also reduces customer response time to near-zero, improving cash flows across an entire website.
3. Personalize communication
How can we harness customer data that is at our disposal to better tailor and curate the experience? This can be as simple as greeting customers by name or asking for feedback in Customer Satisfaction Surveys. A customer, for instance, may have previously ordered several pairs of jeans from an online retailer.
After being sold out for some time, these best-selling jeans are now back in stock – and are also now available in several colors. Might the customer want to purchase another pair or two?
According to research from Accenture, 83% of consumers are inclined to share their data with companies, to enable a more personalized experience for them. That is, so long as businesses are transparent about how they plan to use that data and that customers have control over it. Moreover, almost 70% of consumers want companies to personalize their communications, and 65% of customers report that personalization influences their brand loyalty.
4. Meet your customers where they are
Allowing for multi-channel customer service, chatbots enable businesses to deploy their customer support strategy across social messaging, email, chat, voice, and phone – scaling support across every channel of their – and their customer’s – choosing.
Live chat platforms are the preferred customer service channel for consumers between the ages of 18 and 49. In fact, nearly 70% of consumers expect brands to offer live chat support. Some matters may be better suited to one channel over others, depending on the situation and degree of urgency. Customers typically do not have one single channel that they choose to use 100% of the time.
5. Make it easy for customers to assist themselves
In line with the ‘DIY’ culture of today, customer preference for self-service is growing. A 2022 report from Gartner points to several categorical shifts in customer service.
The report found that 59% of customers prefer to resolve their issues without reaching out to a customer service rep, yet only 13% of customers feel that they are successfully contained within self-service. Meanwhile, Zendesk’s CX Trends 2022 report found that 70% of customers say that they expect a company to have a self-service portal or content available to them.
How can we reimagine the customer journey, guiding customers to the best fit path? The key then is to coordinate the self-service journey all the way from search through to resolution. This means directing customers to relevant self-service options on a company’s website or routing them to a human agent, if and when needed.
Customer services strategy additions like leveraging curated FAQ pages and robust online knowledge bases (or Help Centers) can help users easily find answers, and enhance the customer self-service experience. Yet the ultimate combo? Knowledge bases, used in parallel with AI-powered chatbot software, can offer content that is most relevant to each individual customer, and deliver it at the exact moment of need. To determine the appropriate next steps, chatbots should first diagnose and triage the customer issue.
Can the customer find the necessary information within an article in the company’s knowledge base, or does the situation warrant an interaction with an agent? When AI chatbot platforms sit at the center and human agents step in only when needed, pressure on agents is reduced by significantly reducing their workloads.
6. Track KPIs, and determine where they can evolve
It is important to employ metrics and KPIs in order to gauge performance of customer support efforts. These allow for businesses to track the performance of their support agents and identify areas for improvement. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), volume by channel and total tickets are among the KPIs that can be measured. How does ticket volume fluctuate based on the time of day? On which channels are customers reaching out for support?
A company should regularly review1 KPIs to determine where they can evolve, as the relevance and efficacy of KPIs that were initially selected will change over time, as a business grows and customer expectations and preferences shift.
Customer support, when done right, can add tremendous value to a business’ product or service, increase customer retention, and build trust and loyalty. It can offer an experience that is in line with today’s digitally-savvy customers, and keep them coming back for more.
Get in touch with us at Netomi to chat about leveraging conversational AI to supercharge your customer support strategy, and boost overall customer experience.
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