This post was published earlier, but I trhought it is worth re-visiting some of these tips again.
One of the clients of my company for whom we provide software development solutions, last month asked us if we could help them bring outside perspective to their growing business challenge - over the last 4 quarters or so company was witnessing a steady uptick in number of support calls and time per support call. This was putting burden on their smaller support staff and also creating some not-so-positive noise among customer base. Question was what's causing uptick and how to reduce that number while enhancing customer satisfaction.
Many small and midsized software companies are dealing with this issue. With the challenging economic and business conditions, its not only the service / product provider companies, but often their end clients are also going through organization changes which sometimes affects the provider companies. Here are some factors that our team came up with, although only few of these were actually applicable to the client company.
- Loss of key knowledge resource: Losing an experienced resource within the company often creates bottle neck for the rest of the supp rt staff. If that resource is still within the company but only reassigned to another team then making that resource available on-demand, as need basis can be very helpful. Knowledge transfer and training could also be arranged through lunch-n-learn sessions. If such resource has left the company then problem could be more painful. Best way to tackle such problem is to identify knowledge leadership within current support team or company to address immediate problems and then work on creating long term solutions. In some cases, contracting with an ex-employee(s) might also be a good option.
- Lack of adequate QA / Testing: If your support team is getting higher than usual calls from your customer base, particularly immediately after your new release or a code change on which your developers work hard for months, then chances are proper testing was not done prior to the roll out.
- Unit testing performed by developers is not really a release quality testing.
- Ideally you should have sanity test and build verification test done on entire product (even to those areas which were not changed).
- Well defined test cases, test scenarios, test plans can also be very useful to ensure release quality. Mantra Technologies has well defined quality assurance guide lines for the product release which we highly recommend to all out customers.
- Software testing is an entire different subject and needs its own space, but this is one of the key reasons or lack thereof why you may see a spike in support calls and dip in customer satisfaction. Some of the testing approaches you should consider are:
- Lack of knowledge base: This is a common knowledge that your support staff (your customer facing staff) should be well equipped with all the tools and ammo they need to be more efficient and effective. Still, I find it surprising that many small and mid size companies fail to make use of commonly available tools.
- You can make Wiki forums available within the company where all employees can learn from and contribute to.
- FAQs on your website - this is a wonderful, first line of defense against some common problems or questions.
- You can leverage your company blog and HowTo sections with useful information.
- You can also make small, quick video (typically less than 5 minutes in length) and publish those on secure customer section on your website.
- If you have SalesForce or any other CRM tool in use, with few clicks, you can allow your customers to open a ticket and have it routed to appropriate support person (with some business rules.) If you don't want to invest in such tool, you can look at some low cost or free solutions such as zoho.
- Change in Management, change in priorities: Many times a change in the management or change in priorities (as a reaction to outside events) may prompt changes in support structure. Even if all the changes start with a good intention, buy-in from the support staff is equally crucial to guarantee the enhanced customer support.
- Years old, un-documented code base: How old is your code base? Are there any areas in your code that no one knows about but everyone is afraid to analyze? Many customers find documentation solutions from Mantra Technologies effective strategy to make the best of the old code. This well documented code and help files which are then made available to support staff further helps them to provide best customer service.
- Lack of support and escalation process: How well your support staff, particularly newer members of your support staff, understands the gravity or seriousness of the customer issue. This is truer if your support operations are outsourced and even more so if to another country.
- Do you have predefined consistent escalation processes?
- Do you have proper training and measurement of support staff readiness?
- how customer focused, friendly are your first line of support staff?
- Does your support staff feel need to drag your developers into support issues more frequently?
- Do you have right measures of your support staff and more importantly are they aligned to your business goals? For example, if your business goal is to increase customer satisfaction then you cannot only measure the number of support calls handled / hour.
6. Failure to understand changed customer expectations / users: Just like your company, there is a good possibility that your client's team has gone through some changes, too. May be they have lost a key resource who had a great knowledge of your application. And, now all of a sudden you are getting all the questions which that resource used to answer internally.
- How do you and how early do you identify a support issue from training issue.
- How do you approach your customer and tell him to invest in re-training a new resource or do you avoid that to maintain a client relationship and instead burden your support staff?
For any software company, large or small, application support team is the ultimate brand and product ambassador. They are also your sales people because best service often results in to increased sales and vice-versa.