How To Build An Agile Customer Support 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 the future, improving operational agility is one of the top priorities for scaling businesses.

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What is Agile Customer Support?

Moving with agility in customer support means being able to pivot quickly and meet customer needs as they fluctuate. The most agile customer support teams are able to function as such because they have the following: 

Customer-First Mentality

Customer support teams know and understand their customers. They put their customers first and are always working to improve things for the customer. It’s all about boosting the customer experience and ensuring the best is being offered.

Empowered and Experienced Agents

A successful customer service team is filled with empowered and experienced agents. Teams should have the skills to solve most requests. They should be able to handle smooth handoffs and transfers or have the tools in place to assist them. Agents should have the authority to act without too much red tape and should be held accountable for the customer outcomes they deliver.

Desire to Improve

Agile customer support teams and agents work on continuously improving their skills and problem solving skills. Agile teams should have processes in place to help teams build necessary skills and improve the ones they have. 

How Can Agile Help Solve Customer Problems?

Agile customer support teams and agents are better equipped to handle changing customer expectations and needs. As a team continues to build their skillset and works on being able to pivot to influxes in demand, agility becomes one of the most important factors to successful support teams. 

Webinar Seminary

In this webinar, 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.

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.

During the pandemic, support teams saw all kinds of changes within their organizations, such as 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.

7 Ways to Provide Agile Customer Support

Your customer support team and contact center are the lifeblood of your business. Contact centers are often seen as cost-sucking business sectors. But when built correctly and put together in a way that can help businesses scale, customer support teams can truly change the way business is done with your customers. 

Growth is essential for any business—and chances are, if you’re not growing then your competitor definitely is. Growth in any area of your business is key to your long-term survival and success.

And when you have customers you need to serve day in and day out, growth within your customer support team is vital. 

It can be daunting to know how best to grow your teams and what you should be doing in order to not only serve your employees now but ensure their ability to be empowered in the future as well.

One thing we find most customer support teams could benefit most from is building an agile team that can pivot strategically when the time is right. If you’re interested in growing an agile CS team for your business, check out some of our tips below. 

1.  Define What “Agile” Means For Your Team 

Agile means “able to move quickly and easily.” But things can also get confusing when we think of the “agile method” for businesses where development is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work with frequent reassessment. If you’re not familiar with the agile method, that’s fine! At the end of the day, how you define agility will be up to you and how you want your teams to work. 

Defining “agile” will allow you to prioritize what you want to see in your teams. If you’re looking to simply be able to move quickly and easily no matter what is thrown at you and your support agents, then that’s where you start. If you’re looking into implementing an agile methodology, you’ll want to do some research into implementing agile into your organization. 

Once you’ve decided where to go, you can begin building your team with new values in mind. 

 2. Align Cross-Departmental Goals

One of the biggest areas of struggle we see across support teams is a lack of cross-departmental alignment. In order to build a team that can provide agile customer support, you need to align your customer support teams’ goals and mission with the rest of your business.

When you think about your customer’s journey with your business, they interact with every department along the way. It would make sense to ensure that the goals customer support has are aligned with marketing, sales, and customer success. This way you can implement tools and strategies that will not only benefit your teams and your own separate goals but will also support the rest of your business. In the end your goal should be to delight your customers and create loyalty to your business. 

3. Develop a “Customer-First” Culture

The customer is king. They’re the lifeblood of any business and you want to enable everyone to provide them with the best experience possible at every step of their journey and at every touchpoint they have with your teams. 

These days, what matters most to your customers is your ability to meet their expectations and serve their needs. This is tied into their desire for a high quality customer experience that quickly and accurately gets them what they need. 

If you are able to develop a mindset of putting your customers first then your teams will be dedicated to keeping the customer top of mind. With a culture and mindset for putting customers at the center of everything, you’ll be able to focus on their needs and change strategy as those need change or develop. 

4. Enable Self-Serve and Digital-First Solutions

Did know that 42% of customers prefer to be able to find solutions to their queries or issues on their own? Nothing irks customers more than being unable to solve their problems or meet their needs on their own the first time they go looking for solutions. 

Self-service solutions would allow you to provide online support to your customers without requiring any interaction from a human at the point of contact. In order to provide self-service solutions to your customers and increase customer satisfaction you need to ensure that you have the most up-to-date and robust knowledge base and FAQs along with automatic responses for common emails that can get customers what they need. 

When you’re able to meet your customers’ needs through self-serve and digital-first solutions that don’t require interaction with a human, you save time and money while providing agile support.

5. Get Customer Feedback

The best way to know if you’re serving customers as best you can and meeting their needs and expectations is by monitoring customer feedback. 

Feedback will tell you how your customers are feeling about the service they’re receiving and can help fill in any gaps for where you need to improve. Customer feedback includes insights, opinions, reactions, preferences, and complaints about a company’s products or services which gives you information on the sentiment behind your customers. 

When you’re actively asking for feedback you understand your customers a lot better and can move with agility to find solutions for places you can improve. 

6. Adapt Omnichannel Support

Omnichannel support lets consumers interact with your support agents on the communication channel they prefer and, in many cases, without having to speak to an agent or have to be switched from one person to another in order to get their needs met. 

Omnichannel is all about integrating and unifying communication, making it so conversations stay consistent and information is not missed. So if someone engages with your chatbot but needs to talk with a live agent, the conversation should pick up where they left off with the bot. Or if someone speaks to one rep but needs to be passed to another department’s rep then the new agent should have the information from the previous rep. 

By adapting omnichannel support that carries customers through smooth processes, you can ensure easy transitions whenever new data is presented that makes it so you have to reevaluate goals. 

7. Provide Teams the Right Tools

The most important thing you can do to create and build an agile customer support team is to provide your team with the tools they need to succeed and feel empowered in their roles. 

An agent’s job isn’t easy — they handle customer inquiries day in and day out, often have to label incoming tickets manually causing them to do one task over and over, and when they have issues that create bottlenecks for them they don’t have a solution for. 

The best tools for customer support teams looking to become more agile in their ability to serve customers are powered by artificial intelligence. 

AI for customer support can help agents deliver faster answers with the most accurate information possible. Customer support AI can improve the way your agents handle incoming queries by deflecting commonly asked questions with automatic responses, assist agents in pulling up relevant information and help them autocomplete resolutions. 

By providing your teams with the right tools you’ll ensure better processes and higher customer satisfaction. Plus, with the help of customer support AI you can work with agility to meet new customer needs and expectations as they arise or change.

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