If you have an online store or you are thinking about opening one, you need to remember that the customer always plays the biggest role in the business. In this article we will focus on Customer Service, based on the example from Kinguin. Customer Service is important not only to traditional setups, but for API ecommerce as well. Our dedicated API team not only delivers ready-to-use product solutions, we also help with the integration and transitioning process. Our goal is always the end-customer’s satisfaction.
In this article, I will be explaining the key aspects of working directly with customers. As the Head of Customer Service Department at Kinguin, I have had the chance to test out numerous tactics developed throughout the years. These will help you with better understanding of the Customer Service area and hopefully improve it in your company.
Internal processes and external focuses
It is important to realize that the customers will voice their queries through different channels. The simplest setup is just a mailing (or ticketing) system: a customer writes a message, Support responds and so on until the matter is resolved. However, limiting your scope to this singular touchpoint will inevitably lead to unheard complaints.
We have to be aware of not only the internal processes involved, such as:
- monitoring delivery of services and/or products,
- answering tickets,
- reviewing surveys,
- resolving complaints.
- handling chats or calls,
but also those external signals, which mostly consist of community review:
- Facebook, Twitter, Reddit comments, shares, mentions whichever is applicable to a given platform,
- gathering feedback from opinion gathering websites such as Trustpilot,
- cooperating with PR unit to extract valuable input from public articles or share your own
- and other media the customers may use to share their input.
The crucial thing to understand is the importance of your Customer Service availability. That is: not only the hours during which customers may expect an agent to be online - which is strongly advisable to be 24/7 especially if you have global reach - but also the nature of the channel in use. A phone call or a chat is much more direct (and as such - more desirable) than an email or a ticket, in which a customer anticipates an answer later. First Contact Response (FCR) and Waiting Time are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that ought to be monitored closely in that regard. Remember - customers that will not be able to reach a chat answer will pile up in the tickets instead, so you will rarely gain anything in the long run by shying away from direct contact channels.
Support tiers' pyramid
Customer Service always encounters various levels of complexity among customer queries. Anyone in your company should be able to answer “can I pay with PayPal?” or “what is the shipping company you use?”, but eventually some might ask a more complicated question. It would be wasteful to use the same kind of resource for all of them. That is why it is useful to distribute your forces smartly, in order to maximize their effectiveness. A common and proven structure can be illustrated by the following pyramid:
Here are some examples:
- Tier 0 [self-help layer] - FAQ, chatbots, automated responses, user-enabled dashboard functionalities;
- Tier 1 [regular Support] - Customer Service Specialists with moderate experience, standard procedures, templates;
- Tier 2 [Advisors] - experienced staff well versed in the system and available lines of action, dedicated to helping Tier 1 and solving harder cases;
- Tier 3 [Leaders] - Team Leaders, Managers, unit Heads, responsible for strategizing and managing the department.
The visual size of a layer indicates how much direct traffic should be handled within that tier in order to maintain scalability. This shows how important it is to invest in self-help solutions, so that when the company grows, the strain on the recruitment is minimized.
Team empowerment & trust management
If you wish to keep an internal company unit healthy, the management of the department as well as other staff needs to feel empowered. A single director will never succeed without a trusted team. It is paramount that the members of the team, from the newly hired employees to the most key players - they all need to know (and feel!) that their actions have an impact on the success or failure of the entire Customer Service, and consequently the company. Whether it is making a single customer happy today, or solving a platform-wide issue affecting thousands of users - it all matters. It actually matters very much, and they need to know that any contribution is appreciated and actively compensated however possible.
There is of course, especially among the management, a concern for responsibility. As a person that builds a trusted team, one must resign from constantly being afraid that things that are delegated will not be handled exactly to the letter. In fact, there is a 100% chance that they will not be. Micromanagement is never the way to go in the long run. However, a good manager needs to let his trusted people fail to allow them to learn. And when they do fail, support them and emphasize the simple fact: if you do nothing, you contribute only to stagnancy, and that leads to slow death (of motivation, of trust and ultimately - success). Try and fail! Worst case scenario: you will know what not to do next time. Everyone in the team needs to realize that when one member succeeds - we all succeed; when he/she fails - we all learn.
One thing that skyrocketed my progress and allowed the Customer Service department at Kinguin to grow was introducing various, seemingly trivial automation constructs to gain quick wins. These can address tedious tasks for Tier 1 Support that they need to click through hundreds of times daily, or monitoring solutions that help spot unusual occurrences, or perhaps create new functionalities that strengthen the self-help layer. Automation is a key factor in strengthening the scalability of your operations, because it requires no additional resources when things get hectic.
But what exactly is automation for Customer Support? Some concrete examples include:
- form filling based on contextual information - e.g. putting in customer name, order number and status in the response for the Support agent when they select a suitable template,
- gathering all the information on payment, orders’ history, logins and other data crucial for verification in one place for the Fraud Prevention specialists when they manually review the transactions,
- mass message solutions for cases where you need to address a wide audience (Zendesk, Hubspot and other have this built-in, but you might want a custom-tailored solution for specific customer selection),
- context-specific instructions for Tier 1 Support, for instance “we do not refund purchases for products from this supplier” if the order being viewed by an agent matches certain criteria,
- reporting enhancement, such as via ZOHO and (facebook) Workplace webhooks or Google Sheets formulas and Google App Script (truly powerful!), so you can focus on explaining what the data means instead of wasting time on gathering and processing it,
- auto-tagging and data enrichment - so that all the workload is properly labelled; you can use simple rulesets or some more sophisticated approach like utilizing Machine Learning engines or other Artificial Neural Network compliant setups - the most pertinent for Customer Service would be NLP (Natural Language Processing).
Please note that automation involves some level of risk, not only in terms of generalization and accuracy, but also the security of your systems. Make sure you always review any new functionalities with people having expertise and experience in risk evaluation.
Data documentation and analysis
Something that causes multiple issues in high-intensity, dynamic environments is the lack of proper documentation. It is rarely understood that leaving traces of your actions and evaluation of events is the cornerstone of your progress. Fail to follow up, and you will be doomed to repeat your mistakes. This also has an impact on any staff rotation, new hirees training and general knowledge transfer capabilities of the whole unit.
In order to begin tracking your data, you need to have it structured in a reasonable way. That is a task for a Business Intelligence unit in the company, but many smaller businesses do not see a reason to have a dedicated department for that or simply cannot afford one. In these situations, Customer Service needs to do the analysis it needs on their own. Here is how you can begin:
- check what KPIs you wish to measure in the end that will drive your strategy,
- you can then find out what data points you need to calculate the KPIs you have chosen,
- always think ahead of time what the data will contribute to in terms of solutions, do not just gather it mindlessly.
Let’s quickly run through a specific example: we have mentioned that Waiting Time is one of important KPIs having a dominant impact on customer satisfaction. How to derive it? Well, you surely need to log exact dates of all the messages being sent through your ticketing system. Luckily, Magento, Zendesk and other platforms offer ready solutions for that. A quick fix would be extracting a CSV file with those dates, importing it to Google Sheets and preparing a formula that will go row by row and deduct those times. Regardless, once you have your Waiting Time, you can set up your SLA (Service Level Agreement) or target, derive a timeline for delivery of that goal and start introducing tactics to get there. For instance: you start with an average of 68 hours Waiting Time (which means that your customer Joe needs to wait almost 3 days for every answer), you want to get it to 24 hours. Your proposition is hiring more agents, and judging by HR’s estimations - they can get you 3 more people in a matter of 2 months. Also, you have a few automation solutions in mind, but IT will not be able to deliver sooner than 1 month from now. Thus you have a ready setup: Waiting Time going down from 68h to 24h (target) with a deadline of 3 months, expecting gradual improvements every month. Save that in writing, share it so you can re-evaluate later and compare progress.
Make sure your data is:
- traceable (so that anyone can follow the analysis on their own and check its validity),
- unambiguous (the data source needs to be clear, think time zone on datestamps or currency in price values in your database),
- useful in practical sense (i.e. connected in some way with a tactic or strategy).
Reiterative strategy evaluation process
If you wish to get better at project management, including Customer Service practices, you should definitely make it a habit of rechecking your progress periodically. In my experience, a meeting with the leaders should happen at least bi-weekly and simply contain a walkthrough on what to change (improve), how and when do we plan on releasing the changes and evaluate whether they brought the results you seek on the next meeting.
What works in my team is a setup from detail to the general: touchpoint → tactic → strategy → vision ~ ultimate goal. For example:
- [touchpoint] customers have trouble finding their order on the dashboard,
- [tactic] set the login screen default to the orders’ list,
- [strategy] reiterative weekly UX feedbacks’ analysis,
- [vision ~ ultimate goal] deliver the best customer experience.
For general strategy (excluding confidential subjects like HR administration) it is advisable to be transparent to the point where anyone in the company, regardless of their position, may attend any of these meetings.
Performance development management
Your team needs to know the vision for the Customer Service to follow. However, acknowledging the ultimate goal for the whole department is one thing, but having individual purpose and targets is also important. Make sure you have an evaluation system for tracking efficiency and quality, together with regular talks (monthly at least) between the leaders and their team members, so that everyone has a clear path for improvement. This will ensure the sense of direction and maintain motivation for everybody in the unit.
Voice of the Customer
A dedicated team or perhaps a shared field of ownership for everything that revolves around the perspective of the customer is a very useful tool. Exploring the numerous areas on this topic will allow you to gain a much broader view on Customer Service as a whole. The topics I strongly recommend looking into are:
- competition research,
- customer journey analysis,
- QFD (Quality Function Development) along with CTC (Critical-to-Customer) and CTQ (Critical-to-Quality),
- social media Customer Service,
- conducting surveys and measuring customer experience metrics,
- CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Rate), CES (Customer Effort Score), NPS (Net Promoter Score), customer churn, retention & acquisition,
- newsletter practices and metrics (Open Rate, Click-Through Rate).
As you can see Customer Service is a very broad subject to discuss. All the things listed above are just illustrating the key areas and solutions that can be used. Of course you need to take into consideration the scale of your business and available resources to apply those tactics. After all, Customer Service should always focus on providing the best customer experience possible, so the users feel happy, cared for and satisfied with how they were treated. Remember that Customer Service is the face of the company to a great extent.
Author: Michał Figas, Head of Customer Service Department at Kinguin