Results: What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

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At Zoho, we get to talk to several startup founders and small business owners regularly. A good number of times, the topic of hiring and retention comes up in our conversations. We thought it might be a good idea to ask the community at large and understand the broad opinion.

We had asked a question on customer support hiring, via our poll last week. From our own experience, we’ve seen startups with very good process clarity as well as mid-sized businesses that prefer not to have strict processes. So, we were naturally excited to see what results would emerge from that question.

What's your approach to customer support hiring?

About 40% of all respondents said they preferred to hire experienced professionals and empower them suitably.

From a traditional standpoint, this feels like the optimal approach for any company that wants a ‘safe bet’. If you hire experienced customer support professionals, you can trust them to behave reasonably in most of the situations. In a sense, when you hire experienced professionals, you can expect them to hit the ground running. A lot of companies prefer to have that ‘celerity’ as a competitive edge. However, there’s also the downside that experienced professionals are ‘conditioned’ and don’t necessarily come with a completely fresh outlook. For some businesses, that can actually be a significant drawback.

About 60% of respondents said they preferred to hire fresh talent and train them internally.

This is definitely not an approach that leads to a safe bet. Over the last few years, if there has been one broad trend in customer service, it’s that companies are looking to create a customer service ‘culture’ that’s unique to themselves. Companies like Amazon have taken that trend to a whole new level. It’s pretty difficult to create a culture like that by hiring just experienced folks. So, companies prefer to set a culture in place and hire fresh talent. It’s far easier to align fresh talent to your company’s culture than to align experienced professionals.

It’s also fairly common for companies to maintain a good mix of both fresh and experienced talent. However, the ‘right mix’ is very tricky to attain. In a way, that’s one reason why it might be better to set a customer service culture for your company and hire accordingly.

That’s it for this week. We’ll get right back to you with another interesting question next week! Until then, have a great weekend!

Poll: What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

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Beyond the processes you put in place and the helpdesk software that your company uses, the customer service experience is ultimately influenced by the people you hire. People in customer-facing roles form the face of your company in the market. When they fit their roles, all’s well. Otherwise, well, not so well.

The Zoho Support Poll

The question we’re asking this week is about customer support hiring. What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

Hire experienced people and empower them.

Experienced customer support professionals bring a certain competitive edge to your company. They already know how to handle varying ticket loads. They know what to do when a ticket gets escalated. They know what not to say to that short-tempered customer. They’ve been there and done that.

Experienced professionals are suitable for small companies that don’t have much process intelligence yet. They’re also suitable for companies that prefer to put hires in their roles almost instantly.

Having said that, professionals who meet your specific requirements are not very easy to find.

Hire fresh candidates and train internally.

Fresh hires come with an open mind. They haven’t been conditioned to think in any particular pattern. They can be trained to fit your company’s exact culture and philosophies.

Hiring fresh is suitable for companies that have process intelligence. Also, if you’re hiring at scale, its easier to hire fresh when compared to hiring experienced professionals.

Having said that, the cost of training a fresh hire is far higher and even more substantial at scale. So, it’s a trade-off between deployment flexibility and training cost.

What do you do at your business? Tell us in the comments section below.

We’re looking forward to listen to your opinions on this topic.

Results: What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

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Last week, we had asked Zoho Support users what kind of interactions they preferred in support tickets.

Short interactions are crisp but several such interactions in a single support ticket could still reduce customer happiness significantly. Long interactions need more patience but might get the job done in just a few interactions itself.

We asked the question to customer support managers as well as agents. We were really curious to see how different their opinions were in regard to this particular topic. What surprised us was the resounding uniformity in their opinions!

Customer Support Poll - What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

Managers prefer shorter interactions.

When asked the question, about 68% of support managers said that they prefer short-but-several interactions. While managing a team of support agents, the bigger picture takes center stage. When agents have shorter interactions in a ticket, they’re able to handle more tickets in a given period of time. Multiply that by the scale of the team and you’ll understand how useful that is, in the big picture.

Agents agree.

Amongst support agents, about 60% opined that they preferred shorter-but-several interactions in support tickets. A quick internal discussion with our own support agents revealed that they prefer shorter interactions themselves. One reason is that most of the issues that customers tend to have are common issues. It’s very rare that an issue that has never been documented before pops up. In the case of common issues, it’s pretty simple for a support agent to isolate the issue and help the customer. So, by and large, shorter interactions would serve the purpose splendidly.

On the other hand, there are situations in which long-but-fewer interactions fit the bill better. We don’t rule those out. But for the vast majority of situations, shorter-but-several interactions seem to be much more convenient.

We’ll come back with a new topic next week. Until then, have a great weekend!

Poll: What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

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What happens after a customer raises a support ticket asking for some help?

You wade through the ticket to find out what information is available. Once you ingest that, you try to find the simplest possible solution for the customer. But, a little later, you realize there’s not enough information for you to suggest anything yet.

The Zoho Support Poll

So, you write back to the customer asking for some information. This is often a cycle and it happens once or twice again before you find a solution. Sometimes, it takes longer because the most common solutions don’t work. Sometimes it’s over in the first couple of interactions and everyone’s happy.

But, then, how many interactions is the most optimal number? When does it start becoming uncomfortable for the customer? How much information can the customer absorb from a single interaction? These questions only become more relevant as you scale up your business.

The question on our poll, this week, is about interactions with customers while handling a ticket. What you’ll read below is a brief look at the various ways of looking at this seemingly paradoxical situation.

Giving vs Asking

You have a few common solutions in your mind for the customer. You can put them all in a single interaction. One of them will work and job is done. You’ll save the day faster than your peers. But, what’s the use in giving so much information if the customer can’t ingest as much?

So, what CAN you do? You can always write to the customer asking for more information. That’ll help you narrow down your suggestions. If you ask too much information, one at a time, it will lead to dissatisfaction.

Resolution Time vs Response Time

Customers come to you asking for your help. You owe that to them as well. By getting as much information as possible, you can suggest the best possible solution every time. You’ll resolve every issue that’s within your control. What can be more important than that, right? Ummm… there’s something called Resolution Time. If you have many interactions in a ticket, your resolution time soars. But, it’s not supposed to. And, that’s the tricky part.

There’s also something called Response Time. When you try to squeeze in a few common solutions into a single interaction, you think that one of them will work. Surprise! Surprise! None of them work, because you didn’t receive one little detail. That’s unfortunate, because your response time just shot up.

Manager vs Agent

This is essentially a matter of the big picture versus the small picture. At the level of an agent, each ticket is an experience. It’s a chance to create customer happiness. It’s a path to win the customer’s respect. Naturally, an agent is likely to spend time non-uniformly across interactions in a ticket.

A manager looks at the big picture. Most of the information ingested at the managerial level is aggregate. So, in a sense, even the extra time spent by an agent on a few tickets looks more prominent to the manager.

A manager and an agent are two people who see the same customer support operation in different ways. That’s exactly why we’re asking this week’s question to both managers and agents.

We’re really curious to see what you think about this topic. Tell us in the comments section below.

Happy Polling and have a great week ahead!

Results: Insights about customer support channels

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About a fortnight ago, on our poll, we asked you all a question on support channels used by your customers. Before we get to the results, let’s also see a few myths.

Myth 1: Email is so passe. It’s a thing of the 90s. Customers don’t use it much.
Reality: About 88% of respondents in our poll said that email was a channel that their customers used to reach them.

Myth 2: Social Media is the place for customer support. It has become mainstream channel.
Reality: Although social media is very very important, it’s not the mainstream channel for customer support yet.

Myth 3: The fewer channels, the more efficiently the helpdesk performance.
Reality: By automating a few tasks and setting up some notifications, you can have as many channels as you want and still operate very efficiently.

There are two key insights from the poll results. The first one is about number of channels.

number of customer support channels served

About 73% of respondents said customers use more than one channel to reach them. Around 46% of respondents said customers use three or more channels to reach them. This goes on to show how helpdesk software can make it really easy to handle so many channels efficiently. If they had to handle each of these channels using different software, it would’ve taken a miracle to make things happen so well everyday! So, if you’re a business handling just one or two channels, this would be a good time to try Zoho Support! ;-)

The second key insight from this poll is about which channels enjoy widespread adoption.

customer support channels by adoption

Contrary to popular perception, email is still the most widely used customer support channel. And, it’s definitely here to stay. About 88% of respondents chose email as one channel, in their response. ‘Phone’ came second, with about 70% of respondents to its support.

Web forms and customer self-service portal come (a really close!) third and fourth respectively. Over 35% of respondents chose web forms while about 34% of respondents chose self-service portal. Most businesses use these two channels quite interchangeably.

Live chat was chosen by over 24% of respondents, while social media was chosen as a channel by about 20% of respondents.

If you’re thinking about taking up some new support channels, you might want to check out this post from our blog.

We’ll return next week with another interesting question. Have a great weekend!

Announcing Zoho LiveDesk: Start delivering instant happiness to your customers

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I can still remember the happiness of hearing a buddy pop up online and knowing I was only one-click away from an awesome conversation. It was 1999, and to me AOL Instant Messenger was pure magic.

While things have changed drastically in the last 14 years, there is one constant, chat remains an integral part of my daily life—even if it is no longer AIM. In fact, chat is something many of you have been asking about for a while, wondering when we would add live chat to our customer support software solutions. Well, cue up the ol’ AIM chime (do-duh-dum)—because I have an exciting message for you.

Meet your newest buddy, Zoho LiveDesk—the small business live chat solution for customer support.  Simply put, LiveDesk is the easiest way to add live chat to your websites and wow your customers with instantaneous support.

Zoho LiveDesk improves customer support for everyone involved—customers and companies.  Your customers are empowered by instant access to personalized answers from real, live people. And your team will love the power to resolve customer issues before they ever become a request in their inbox, slashing your response times and their workload.

Live support chat through LiveDesk is the quickest way to connect and delight your customers.

Both customers and agents love quick-and-easy live support chat.

LiveDesk also teams up with Zoho Support to add fully integrated live chat functionality into your existing help desk dashboard. Beginning today all Enterprise plan customers in Zoho Support can offer their customers a new channel to connect—chat powered by LiveDesk. Easily embed live chat into your existing customer portal and watch your agents close more requests in less time by interacting live with customers.

Easily create, configure and customize your LiveDesk within minutes, and with one copy-and-paste of code, you have added live chat to your website. Embed customizable click-to-chat widgets into any-and-all parts of your web presence and meet customers on their terms.

Give your customers easy access to live support chat

With three fully-customizable options to embed live chat into your pages, it is easy to give your customers access to live support chat throughout your web presence.

Once a customer initiates a chat, you can engage directly from LiveDesk’s powerful dashboard or from wherever—live chat on your terms. With complete support for the Jabber/XMPP protocol, you have the freedom to chat with customers from anywhere via clients on your mobile devices, or even from desktop chat clients.

LiveDesk was built to transform your small businesses into lean, mean customer supporting machines. It comes chocked full of features your growing team will love: 

  • Save more valuable time: Program and deploy canned messages to rapidly address recurring questions.
  • Customer Support’s Crystal Ball: Read your customer’s mind, and speed up your response times. You see what your customer types as they type it, so before they submit their question you already have the answer they need.
  • Transfer Chats: Move ongoing chats to better-equipped agents.
  • Advanced Organization: Structure your LiveDesk to fit your needs. Create departments, associate agents to those departments, even route chats to defined departments.
  • Monitoring: Supervisors can monitor on-going chats to ensure consistent results, with the ability to step-in and help when needed.
  • Collaborate: Integrated inter-agent chat and a portal-wide message board give your agents the ability to collaborate, communicate and thrive.
  • Reporting and Daily Statistics: Learn more about your customers, your agents and your business with advanced pre-built reports.
LiveDesk's powerful dashboard helps you connect and support more customers in less time.

LiveDesk has the powerful tools you need to deliver happiness to more customers in less time.

I encourage you to take LiveDesk for a test drive today and start connecting with your customers in real time.  Within seconds you can be on your way to unleashing your on-demand customer supporting potential. And because you want it, there is a risk-free, no credit card required 30-day-free trial of our most powerful plan waiting with your name on it.

Start chatting, my friends.

Poll: What channels do your customers use to reach you?

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While talking to prospects who’re evaluating Zoho Support, I try to squeeze in a particular question during the first few minutes of the conversation. It’s a very simple question, but it defines how the company will use the software. It’s also our poll question this week!

The Zoho Support Poll

Deciding which channels to handle, for customer support, is important, yet tricky. It’s a trade-off of trade-offs.

Conversation versus Transaction

A channel like email, or even a customer self-service portal, is essentially ‘transactional’ in nature. Customers ask for some specific help. Agents extend help. Customers can ask for help with another related aspect. Agents extend help again. This is suitable for situations where grievance redressal takes time (example: changing a part in your mobile phone).

But, in situations where customer grievances can be addressed immediately (like canceling an order in e-commerce), conversational channels like social media will create better experiences.

Personal versus Impersonal

This is largely a debate involving channels like email, web forms, chat and phone. Customers using email or web forms to reach your business don’t really know whom they are talking to. They can’t put a face in the equation. They’re really impersonal channels. Comparatively, channels like chat and phone are personal. Your support agents become the faces of your company. Customers know they’re talking to a human and feel more comfortable. This is really important when customers have to give some sensitive information to your support agents.

Convenience versus Chaos

Is it convenient enough for my customers to reach me? Although channels like social media are far more convenient for customers, one must also note that they can’t be ‘organized’ in the same sense as email. So, they can become chaotic when handled inappropriately.

These are just some of the most common trade-offs. Depending on the complexity of your business, there could be several others.

Do tell us about how you handled these (and other such) trade-offs to choose your channel mix.