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How to Achieve 98% Satisfaction While Supporting Thousands of Customers

Mike Mohammed

March 3, 2015

12 minute read

improve-support-teams

As with any business, BetterCloud’s success depends on getting and keeping customers. You might have the best development, marketing, and sales teams on the planet, but none of that will matter if you don’t lay the groundwork for a long-term relationship with your customers.

As of 2015, our support team is rocking a 98 percent satisfaction rate, up from 95 percent a year ago. Our average response time to an in-app chat support request is under 10 seconds.

And we support thousands of customers, representing a user base well into the millions.

Whether you’re a support manager helping external clients or an IT administrator managing users within your organization, these tips will ensure more of them select “Extremely Satisfied” on their ticket satisfaction surveys—and stay happier with you over time.

Read on and learn how to:

Find the right people.
Talk like a human.
Cultivate a user community.
Respond swiftly.
Provide an escalation path.
Organize your team.
Integrate with customer success.
Integrate your SaaS applications.
Build your own solutions.
Use feedback wisely.
Remember the customer.

Find the Right People

Good customer service starts with good customer service representatives, so it pays to choose the right people. For starters, all your reps should pass the “Sunday Test.”

“If you were in the office on Sunday with one other person, and that person was the person you were hiring, would you want to hang out with them, or would it be awkward?” says Mike Stone, our director of technical support.

Support representatives needs to be likable and cheerful, but they also need to be able to convey these characteristics in their written communication with customers. If you’ve ever written a thoughtful support ticket just to get a response in broken English, you know how jarring it can be.

“When I’m hiring support people, I like to test their writing skills by having them write responses to a few sample tickets,” Mike says.

According to Zooey Gonzales, one of our support reps, there are two things you need in the job above all else: patience and empathy.

“Patience is important because you need to be prepared for the long haul,” she says. “People are coming to you with problems that can range from an easy fix to something that might take a couple of days to solve. And empathy matters because our customers are IT professionals who rely on our tool to do their jobs, so getting their problem fixed is crucial.”

Your customers “have to know you’re there for them, and that you actually care,” Zooey says.

As with many positions, hiring customer service reps is both an art and a science. If you’re interested in a more comprehensive guide to the subject, Zendesk has an excellent one.

Talk Like a Human

Once you’ve hired great people, wall-egive them a chance to show it. No one likes a script-following drone. Keep boilerplate responses to a minimum.

“How often do people contact support and get a robo-message that says, ‘Hi, my name is X, I’m here to help you today?’” Zooey says. “I try to customize my greetings so they feel more natural and they’re tailored to the customer’s problems. I ask myself, ‘How am I going to convey my smiling face to someone who can’t see me?’”

Use the customer’s name whenever possible, and use whatever data you have available to personalize the message. For example, if you know the customer is an IT administrator in charge of 1,000 users, you might want to tell them about a batch-processing feature of your product that you know can make their lives easier.

And if it’s right for your customers and your company, don’t be afraid to add a little humor.

godzilla-email

Believe it or not, GIFs have the potential to boost customer satisfaction.

“A couple of months ago, Zendesk released an extension for people to insert animated GIFs into their tickets, and I just went for it,” Zooey says. “My favorites represent my interests, like one of the Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtles high-fiving each other, and I recently used a Godzilla GIF where he’s giving a thumbs-up while on water skis.”

Normally, about 26 percent of customers respond to the satisfaction survey they receive at the end of a ticket. On the tickets Zooey ended with a GIF, 60 percent responded. That’s right: Just by including a funny GIF at the end of a successful customer interaction, Zooey more than doubled her satisfaction survey response rate.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start throwing GIFs everywhere if you want to make your customers happier, especially if you work for a purveyor of funeral services or the DMV. It means that if they’re reminded your team is made up of real people, they’ll feel better about the interaction.

Cultivate a User Community

If you’ve got a significant user base and you haven’t created a support community, now’s the time to start one.

BetterCloud’s Google+ support community, for example, is more than 1,100 members strong. Now it averages about 15 posts a week from users seeking help. At first it served as another way for users to submit tech support requests, but in a few short months it had morphed into a collaborative environment where customers can answer each other’s questions and hear directly from our product owners.

A slice of the BetterCloud for Google Apps user community.

A slice of the BetterCloud for Google Apps user community.

 

“It can be a little tough at first because people are hesitant about speaking up in a community that doesn’t already have much activity,” says Dylan Press, the customer support rep who founded the community. “That’s why it’s super important to be really engaged in the community in the weeks after it starts. Though we always pay attention to make sure every question gets answered, after a while the community becomes nearly self-sufficient.”

Given the community’s benefits, it’s a modest investment: It enables users to help one another, ensures that answers from support reps and fellow users are persistent and searchable for all to see, and serves as a powerful example to customers of our attentiveness to their needs.

Interested in starting a user support community? We’ll be posting a guide here soon. In the meantime, Guy Kawasaki has some less specific, but still insightful, advice on the topic.

Respond Swiftly

pass-the-batonIt’s hard to have a high satisfaction score if you don’t have a very low response time—especially if your product is a mission-critical tool for your customers.

There are a few ways to get that response time down:

Stagger your hours to meet demand. BetterCloud has customers all over the globe, so providing support from 9 AM to 6 PM Eastern doesn’t cut it. Instead, look at the time zones your customers live in—or, better yet, at the times your web- or email-submitted tickets arrive—and staff your helpdesk accordingly.

With the team expansion we're planning, we'll be able to provide immediate responses to the vast majority of support requests.

With the team expansion we’re planning, we’ll be able to provide immediate responses to the vast majority of support requests.

“Find something that works for you,” Mike says. “We’re currently building out our team so that we can be sure we’re fully staffed during the peak hours in each of the time zones our customers are concentrated in, and that we have enough coverage to provide full support before and after.”

Use live chat. In many sectors, chat is already the most popular customer support vector. It lets you:

  • Provide immediate, context-sensitive help, depending on which of your web pages the customer initiates the chat from.
  • Achieve first-response times of less than a minute—according to Olark, the median initial response time is 29 seconds. This is especially quick when compared to phone support, which often requires users to navigate a minute or two of voice menus, then wait on hold before they get to a person.
  • Respond to more customers at once. If you suddenly receive a cluster of inquiries at the same time, one rep can handle more than one chat simultaneously.

Inspire friendly competition. “We’ve got a naturally competitive team,” says Mike, “so it can be productive to take advantage of that by incentivizing response time. We might set a period of two weeks or a month, and whoever has the lowest average response time at the end of that two weeks wins an Amazon gift card.”

“This works really well, because it shows the team what they’re capable of. Once they’ve hit a new benchmark for quality, they tend to stay there,” Mike says.

The effect a competition had on chat response times. The red arrow marks the start of the competition.

The effect a competition had on chat response times. The red arrow marks the start of the competition.

As with any workplace competition, make sure you keep it light by keeping the prize relatively modest and finding a fun way to reward the winner in addition to the gift card.

Set up notifications. There are plenty of ways to make sure your team doesn’t miss anything. Our chat solution, Olark, makes it easy to enable desktop notifications so you can’t miss a message. And if you use Zendesk for your support ticketing, you can set up an automated trigger that alerts a manager if a ticket has gone unanswered for a predefined amount of time.

React to tickets before they happen. It’s actually possible to have a negative response time on some requests—to reach out to customers having a problem before they contact you about it, and perhaps even before they know they’re having one.

For that, we use a tool called Splunk, which looks at our customer usage logs, and allows us to set up alerts that let us know if an issue has popped up, and gives us a list of the customers who have been affected.

“With that list, and knowledge of the error message they saw, you can reach out to the customer and help them troubleshoot it before they even file a ticket,” Mike says.

Provide an Escalation Path

“We rarely have angry customers,” Mike says. “But if it does get to the point where a customer is angry, it’s good for them to know there’s a next step.”

That means providing an escalation path. For security reasons, we compartmentalize access to the deepest level of user information to “Tier 2,” a subset of the team. This escalation can happen in two ways:

  • The “give and go.” A Tier 2 agent can be looped in long enough to carry out the necessary research and pass it back to the original agent.
  • The “handoff.” In cases where it would simply be best for the customer to hear from another person, the ticket is transferred to a Tier 2 agent and the original rep is released from it.
A typical handoff.

A typical handoff.

Another effective tactic, and one that works whether a customer is unhappy or is simply facing a more complex problem, is to escalate to video chat via Google Hangouts. This also enables screen-sharing, which can make problem solving much simpler.

“The video chats are definitely my favorite part of the job,” says Zooey. “I like to see the customer. If we’ve been working together on a problem for a while, it’s nice to put a face to the name.”

Another option is to provide a direct line of contact to someone at the top. We provide a way for our customers to email our CEO directly.

“I think they like knowing there’s someone at the top who’s listening,” Mike says.

Organize Your Team

assemble-team
Because our workflows are so efficient, we can support thousands of customers with a team of eight (although we’re currently growing). Here’s what they do:

Frontline tickets are answered by our support reps. Each has a separate responsibility, such as:

  • Maintaining the knowledge base,
  • Keeping an eye on our stats and makes sure we’re hitting our goals,
  • Communicating with our Spanish-speaking customers, and
  • Maintaining the user community.

They’re led by a support manager for our Google Apps product. He has access to the deeper data that’s sometimes needed to solve problems, and he’s the escalation point for more complex tickets. If we find bugs, he works with the developers to ensure they’re fixed.

And finally there’s Mike, our director of technical support and the head of the team. He hires support reps, comes up with procedures to maximize efficiency, and is currently building out a team to support the private beta for our new Office 365 product.

Integrate with Customer Success

Like most successful SaaS companies, our customer success team is a critical part of our business. While our technical support team responds when customers are having trouble, the success team ensures they’re happy with and getting maximum value out of our product.

“We needed a way to keep success and support teams in line, so we decided to keep success managers in the loop when the customers they work with open up tickets,” Mike says.

Using Apps Script and a SalesForce API, an email is automatically sent to the customer success manager as soon as their customer opens a ticket.

“Customers tend to be pretty impressed when they realize we learn about the issues they’ve been having while they happen,” says Tyler Stone, our director of customer success.

Integrate your SaaS applications

With so many moving parts, it’s crucial to establish workflows to integrate them into your team’s day-to-day work. We’ve mentioned lots of different tools so far in this post; here’s an explanation of how they fit together.

To expand, click the “Google Slides” logo in the lower-left corner.

Build Your Own Solution

Of course, sometimes you’ll see an opportunity to streamline something—but there’s no way to do it with your off-the-shelf tools. When that happens, it’s time to get creative.

“With all the APIs these SaaS companies are offering up, you can always make your dreams a reality by integrating your applications in some way,” Mike says.

For example, Mike and his team noticed a vexing bottleneck in their workflow: the process of assigning tickets in a round-robin fashion to distribute workload evenly across the team. This isn’t an uncommon challenge; as one of our reps reported, a company he once worked for had someone whose full-time job was assigning tickets.

“Using Google Apps Script, we built a Zendesk script to add round-robin functionality to the ticket assignment process,” Mike says. “It’s pretty flexible—we can make sure that tickets from our largest enterprise customers only go to the one or two people best equipped to handle them, or send tickets from Spanish-speaking customers to our Spanish-speaking reps.”

That script—which won a recent Zendesk community tips competition—is freely available for you to use. Here’s an explanation from Mike himself:

Use Feedback Wisely

It’s hard to know how well you’re doing unless you survey your customers, and you can get a surprising amount of information from the “Satisfied/Not Satisfied” end-of-ticket question—and from the comments many customers will add if you give them the opportunity.

“A support interaction is one of the only times when the customer is actively reaching out to you. So you want to squeeze the most you can out of what they’re telling you. Take the opportunity to make the customer feel at home, so they know they’ll get the same experience the next time they need help.”

“Start by figuring out how you’re doing right now. Take a look at your responses and comments going back a month, or—if you’re just starting to survey now—for the next few weeks.” That will give you a benchmark to start from, Mike says. “Once a month after that, take a look at the recent surveys, analyze the feedback, and adapt.”

Don’t forget that negative feedback can be even more valuable than positive feedback. If a customer says they’re dissatisfied and then takes the time to comment on why, make sure you follow up with them to find out more.

“Those conversations help you understand the experience from the customer’s perspective,” Mike says. “Without that, providing good service is virtually impossible.”

Remember the Customer

As you’ve probably seen, there are a lot of moving parts to our support system, and the amount we had to leave out could fill a whole other article. But amid all this complexity, don’t forget the whole reason you’re doing this.

“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes,” Mike says, “but the result is that the customer experience is pretty seamless.”

Choosing your support reps a bit more carefully means you don’t have to rely so much on stiff, obvious scripts. They’ll have the flexibility to adapt to unique situations, and your customers will notice.

With the right ticketing systems and communication procedures, your customers won’t have to give the same information more than once, no matter which of your agents they’re speaking to. We’ve all experienced those support calls where you have to give your address and account number over and over. There’s no longer a need for that kind of nonsense.

By providing chat as an option, you can help your customers avoid clunky voice menus, make it easier for them to share data, and get them talking to a human in the shortest possible time. Video conferencing does the human element even better than phone calls, and screen-sharing turns 5-minute explanations into 30-second demonstrations.

You get the idea. The ideas listed here are a tiny slice of the possibilities, once you start thinking in terms of making things easier for the customer.

Even if all this seems like a challenge, it’s worth it.

“We set out to create an amazing customer experience when we started the company, and it’s been exciting to see it come together over the last three years,” says David Politis, BetterCloud’s CEO. “It seems like a daunting task, and it does take time and organization-wide buy-in, but no matter how much you put into this effort, it will always pay you back several times over.”

If you have any advice of your own, please share it in the comments!

And just in case you wanted to see Zooey’s Godzilla GIF, here it is in all its splendor:

Oh, yeah. That's the stuff.

Oh, yeah. That’s the stuff.

Interested in joining our elite support team? Well, it just so happens we’re hiring.

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