How to Create an Agile Customer Service Team

Agility means a lot of things to different organizations. In the end, it’s the ability to pivot quickly to better serve the customer. If businesses learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that they are not nearly as agile as they hoped. As companies prepare for 2022, improving operational agility is one of the top priorities for scaling businesses. In this session of CX Power Hour, we discuss exactly what it means for customer support teams to be agile and the key areas they must focus on to make their team adaptable and future-proof. 

CX Power Hour is presented by Forethought.ai and ArenaCX, pioneers in revolutionizing the future of customer service delivery and resource management. Join us as we hear from leading Customer Success experts and discover key strategies for making your CX efforts a success. Discover the critical technologies and approaches needed to make better, more informed business decisions, improve operational efficiency, improve customer engagement and retention and drive your organization’s operational success.

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If we learned anything in business from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that support organizations and the businesses they belong to were not as agile as they believed themselves to be. 

Support teams saw all kinds of changes within their organizations such as from influxes in demand and increases in agent attrition – things they were not prepared to handle as well as they’d hoped. 

As a result, support team leaders have been seeking information on how they can become more  agile and be able to pivot with the changes that come with working in the support industry. This comes with its challenges. 

In an effort to get to the bottom of this and determine where to place efforts when building agile teams, Forethought’s CEO Deon Nicholas, ArenaCXs’ President Alan Pendleton, and Zendesk’s VP of Customer Care John Kearney came together to discuss how to go about creating agile teams that can pivot when presented with new challenges. 

In this webinar, Forethought’s Head of Content Chett Coombs moderates this discussion and takes us into the mindset that will help create better teams who can work with agility. 

What is Agility? 

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a few variations on the definition of “agility.” Many people tend to think of it in the sense of the “agile method” in software engineering and agile development. 

In short terms, agility is “The ability of an organization to renew itself, to adapt and change quickly and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, and turbulent environment.” 

It’s just how quickly a company can adjust to ever-changing business conditions. We often think of agility within product management; in the supply chain world it’s how quickly a company can adjust manufacturing capacity based on demand signals. 

In the world of customer support, Alan says you need to “think of a demand unit within customer support as a ticket, chat, or call interaction. The demand unit is the work output that needs to be performed.”

When you think of it that way, now you can start asking yourself how quickly can my company adjust my customer support capacity and output potential in response to ticket demand, or interaction demand signals coming in, in the support network.

You must take support demand into consideration when discerning how to be more agile within your org in order to figure out how to pivot and strategize with the influx in demand. According to John, being agile isn’t about how many people you have but how many people you can support. 

That’s a solid lesson and approach to figuring out how much you’re able to accomplish within your teams. That still leaves the question of what an agile organization even looks like which our panelists were able to talk about. 

Characteristics of An Agile Organization 

Many of us have had the chance to work within agile organizations, the teams where we had to maneuver quickly and come up with ideas that would have impact as they were needed.

Many others have not been exposed to such a team and instead are familiar with the rigidity of traditional teams where you move through a silo and have to approve ideas with people on a ladder. 

So how do we remain agile within customer support? What characteristics do agile customer support teams have? 

Deon says, “In order to stay agile, you need to ask, ‘Where do the demands come from?’ Is it coming from some centralized source, or is it distributed down to the people actually doing the work.” Basically, are the people who are doing the work the ones who are creating the demand from within your teams? 

When you’re in a support team that is responding to questions, actually updating knowledge bases and articles, and giving feedback to leaders, you have an agile team. You have a team of people all invested in a problem looking for a solution

John Kearney says agile teams create a competitive advantage where they can quickly adjust to market changes and what customers are moving toward when they can figure out how their company can address those needs. Agile teams stay on top of data and pivot as needed. Agility means being proactive vs reactive, supplying information and strategizing ways to meet customer demands rather than one-off solutions. 

A big topic of discussion when talking about the characteristics of an agile team was on the difference between being rigid and being agile. It’s the ability to move quickly to change what’s going on from a customer standpoint. 

If you’re not agile and willing to move fast, it will impede your progress. In a rigid environment you’re taking a siloed approach to finding solutions, whereas in an agile one you’re taking a more collaborative approach.

Agility for Varying Company Sizes 

The ability to be agile changes when your organization grows. It probably doesn’t have to be said that the ability to pivot as needed is easier done when on a smaller team. 

Our panelists were in agreement and Alan shed some light on why this might be the case: “In a smaller company everyone’s wearing multiple hats, they’re naturally collaborative because they have no other choice. The planning cycles of early stage companies may be in weeks instead of months, and quarters, and years.

The bigger the company is, the longer the planning cycle, the more hierarchy, the more approval levels, communication protocols, and rigidity is going to just naturally set in as an organization becomes more complex.” 

So how do you remain agile while scaling from that small team that could seemingly change strategy at a moment’s notice to a larger org that might find itself creating rigid processes? 

Remaining Agile While Scaling 

When building teams that can scale, our panelists talked about how it depends on the environment you’re in and the stage of company growth you’re at. 

Deon said, “If you’re in a hyper-growth environment things are constantly changing and you want to be slightly understaffed at all times, but growing as you go, you’ll never have a shortage of work. In a larger company customer quality may be the most important thing and you’re focused on hitting SLAs and gaining resources. And so, it’s okay to be slightly higher on the supply side than on the demand side to give that quality customer experience.” 

As you grow, your goals and desires will change and most support teams will need to really make an effort to remain as agile as possible. 

3 Pillars of an Agile Team

Building an agile team is reliant on three things: your people, tools, and processes. 
You need to have the right people in place and be able to train them using the best tools available while also enabling them to change the way you process customer support needs.

Advice for Growing With Agility 

As we concluded our discussion, we asked each of our panelists to offer a piece of advice to companies at different stages on how to remain agile. Here’s what they had to say.

John Kearney says to small businesses, “Start small.” He says to focus on the key strategies in terms of where you’re heading, and then look at how you’re staffing to meet the complexity of the product and growth moving forward.

Alan Pendleton offered up the following to medium sized businesses, “Start with planning. As you’re scaling and growing..think about your knowledge base.” Capture tribal knowledge and democratize the feedback loop to have more active agents building on articles and serving customers. Being able to bring in the right tools, such as AI, is all about your information architecture. 

Deon Nicholas on larger companies says that when you hit a certain threshold of team size or support demand, it’s time to think about your technology. “You’re going to stop knowing what you don’t know. And so you’re going to want to start implementing and instrumenting your systems, so that you can continue that scale or that upward trajectory.” 

There’s a lot to take into consideration when scaling support organizations, but when looking to stay agile you must be willing to keep agility top of mind and advance your people, tech, and processes. 

To find out more on building an agile customer support team, watch the webinar above. 

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