How is customer support different from customer service?
There is a fine line between customer support service and the customer service itself, which allows companies to set the standard in providing the best customer experience with the company. While both deal with helping customers, the former is a specific type of customer service which involves other skills such as documentation, product/service knowledge, technical skills for problem-solving, complaints and dispute management etc.
Present state of Customer Support Services in Organizations:
As every business practice has evolved in the past, Customer support also have evolved from the days where there is no internet – people do shopping and if there is issue with the product or service, the customer must go to the shop again where you will be identified with your bills and there is a queue system to address your issue. This involves a lot of cost and time for both customers and the company, but since 2000 the scenario has changed, thanks to the advent of customer care software applications. Social media also plays a vital role for companies to become smarter with customer support services, where customers can voice their opinions and concerns.
On that note, Customer support can be termed as, any activity that supports a customer to have a better customer experience with the company which can be offered via phone, chat, web and email. Customer support is no longer viewed as a cost center, rather it is an opportunity for companies to provide better customer engagement and service, that will eventually have a positive impact on the bottom line. This is because, on an average, a loyal customer is worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase (Source: white house office of consumer affairs).
Types of Customer Support Services:
On a broad scale, Customer Support Services can be classified into Inbound and Outbound Support, also based on the tools used to provide customer support, it can be further classified into Phone support, Chat support, Web and email support and all these tools can be used for both inbound and outbound support services.
- Inbound Customer Support: In this form of support, companies have a customer service team either in-house or outsource to service providers which consist of agents or representatives who will answer inbound queries via phone, chat, email etc. Queries depend upon the type of product, service and industry; hence it can be technical or documentation support, billing-enquires, product/service-related information, complaints, dispute management etc. This type of service needs a dedicated team to provide continuous support, mostly 24/7 support.
- Outbound Customer Support: This is very similar to inbound customer support except for one difference where the agents or customer service representatives make outbound calls, chats, email etc. to reach customers to provide the necessary support needed. Usually, this type of support is provided when a new product or service is delivered to a customer. Example: When we order a refrigerator from Amazon, the customer support team calls us to check if it has been delivered properly, whether the installation is done without any chaos and requests for feedback to provide better customer support in the future.
- Phone Support: Few companies allow direct inbound calls, so whenever a customer calls to a customer support number, an agent straight away picks the call and since their phone numbers are integrated with the company’s database, all the information about the customer is already available with the agent, hence better engagement. Depending upon the query, the agent answers the call and provides the necessary information be it technical support, billing queries, product/service knowledge etc.
Few other companies have Interactive Voice Response (IVR) as the first step, so in this case, when a customer calls, a voice prompts which asks the customer with a certain type of questions or provide choices to choose in their phone’s keypad. For Example: When we call to a bank, the voice prompt might say, please press 1 for account related queries and when number 1 is pressed in the keypad, it provides account related information and if further information is required, the IVR navigates to a customer service agent, who would provide better assistance.
- Chat Support: With the introduction of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), chat support has become a sensation in the recent past, thanks to AI Chatbots. Chat support also falls under both inbound and outbound category, before going into AI Chatbots, Chat options are used by companies which want to go for a lower cost involved customer support. In the case of phone support, the agent can interact with only one customer at a time, whereas with chat support, the agent can chat with multiple customers simultaneously depending upon the expertise of that agent.
This became a challenge for big companies where they need to provide customer support to a large group of customers on a 24-hour basis. Hence, companies came up with AI-powered chatbots which are fed with information via machine learning techniques. Some of the AI chatbots such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant can provide advanced customer support solutions answering complex questions such as technical, billing related, product specification etc.
- Web and Email support: This is an age-old way of addressing customer related queries, but still effective in most companies. Generally, companies have a common email id, for example, firstname.lastname@example.org where customers can send their queries which would be responded within a time limit, the faster the response, better is the customer experience. Also, companies send out mailers about their new product or service launch to keep the customers informed about their new ventures. The best example of the web or email-based support can be, ticketing sites – when customers book air, train or bus tickets, the tickets are delivered to their email id with the customer support email link, and if customers face any issues with their bookings, they can email to get it resolved.
Customer Support Services is pain or gain for companies:
It is time to look at customer support services with a different perspective, gone are those days where a customer support service team is considered as a cost center, an optimized support solution can offer various benefits to the company. These are three major benefits:
- Increased revenue: When an effective customer support service team is engaged in a company, it directly has a positive impact on the bottom line of the business. When customers receive a positive customer experience, they become more loyal and do repeated business which in turn helps to increase the profit margin. There are customers who choose a product or service simply based on the after sales support which the company provide. For example: DTH, Telephone and Internet connections.
- Customer retention and word of mouth: When a company’s customer support can provide an outstanding customer experience, it allows companies to have better customer retention rate and a positive brand image is spread through word of mouth. The cost involved to get a new customer is more when compared to retain an existing one, also when it can double the opportunity through word of mouth, then it becomes an obvious reason for companies to go for Customer support services.
- Confidence booster: Employees are considered as the internal customers for the company when employees believe that they are providing better customer service through feedback from customers, it becomes a morale boost for them as it increases the brand image and stability of the company. When an employee is happy with the company they work for, they involve better which in turn increases productivity.
Five best ways for companies to choose their customer support solution:
- Enhance an already available tool: To perform an audit or a due diligence report on their existing tool capabilities by receiving feedback from their employees, users, customers, etc. and engage a technology expert company to develop their tool. If the company owns a tech team to enhance the existing tool, it can be the priority, else they can outsource to other tech companies to do the job.
- Outsource customer support services: Customers these days expect 24/7 customer support and it can be difficult for few companies to build a dedicated team to handle customer service, since their expertise is in another line of businesses. Considering the feasibility options such as cost, maintenance, expertise etc., companies can outsource their customer support service to companies which offer optimized solutions.
- CRM suite vendors: There are few Customer relationship management (CRM) vendors which offer software-as-as-service (SaaS) solutions, these suites are highly customizable depending upon the customer size, industry, product or service offered etc. This again is popular for companies to reduce their overhead costs and still have their own customer support services team.
- Integrating with experts: This is another possible solution where companies can join hands with customer support vendors to bridge the gap with their existing capabilities such as the communication channels, technology, knowledge etc. Over a period, the company can either permanently hire the vendor company’s employees or the employees can be provided with the necessary training, these generally work on a contract basis, both short and long term.
- Building your own tool: This option is utilized by companies which can afford to invest a lot of time and money, if a company possess a very strong technical team, it can do the research and development for the new product/tool and start building it from the scratch or it can also hire a technology vendor, who can help companies in building the tool. Though a lot of time and money is involved, the biggest advantage of this is that it allows companies to build the most robust and personalized tool which meets the company’s requirements.