SOS written in the sand
PHOTO: YANN GAR

What if you could reduce your support costs and drastically improve your overall customer experience at the same time? New customer support technology has made it simpler to automate and enhance your company’s support operations in a way that boosts internal efficiency while saving you money.

As a customer success professional with more than 20 years of experience helping companies to establish, lead and grow their customer experience and knowledge management efforts, I have seen organizations lose plenty of money because they had inefficient support programs. The customer experience is critical to the livelihood of your company and simply cannot be ignored. Consider this statistic: According to Help Scout, a maker of help desk software, 91 percent of customers who have a bad experience with a company will never do business with that company again.

In this article, I’ll go over the three main ways you can make your organization’s customer experience considerably better and reduce the cost of support operations.

First, we’ll look at how search powered with artificial intelligence (AI) can improve your agents’ response times and overall proficiency. Then we'll explore how knowledge-centered support (KCS) can help evolve your company’s collective knowledge to enable agent self-service and improve case resolution time. Finally, we'll touch on the dramatic impact customer self-service has on enhancing the customer experience and ultimately your organization’s bottom line.

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1. Use AI-Powered Search to Improve Agent Proficiency

Imagine this scenario: A frustrated customer calls in to your contact center after failing to find a answer on your website. A new agent picks up the phone but has trouble answering the client’s questions — primarily because he or she hasn’t had time to garner much institutional knowledge. The agent may turn to your company’s internal search tool but find that it fails to bring up results that are relevant to the customer’s problem.

Equipping your representatives with super-powered search and providing them with the most relevant knowledge is key to avoiding customer dissatisfaction. Good search makes sense in a search-first world. Thanks in part to Google, we have increasingly become accustomed to finding what we’re looking for the moment we need it.

Over the past few years, advances in machine learning have improved enterprise search, mainly by using behavioral information to return the results that are most relevant to specific users. By aggregating all of the contextual data that surrounds your agents’ searches — mainly by drawing on their behavior, identity and search histories — AI-powered search makes inferences about which results will most likely answer the original query.

In addition to speeding up the support process, the system becomes more efficient and more scalable over time as it learns and self-tunes with each support request. The more searches that your customer representatives make through such a system, the better it gets for each and every individual case.

Providing your agents with the most pertinent information is one of the best ways to reduce costs. By helping your team access all of the information that they need to close cases — information that is often stored across multiple repositories — you can enable your agents to close cases much faster, and thereby increase customer satisfaction. Using AI-powered search inside of your existing customer relationship management platform — whether it’s Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365 or something else — also reduces the work that your agents need to do before making a decision or troubleshooting a problem.

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2. Prioritize Knowledge Management Efforts to Improve Agent-Assisted Support

Knowledge management efforts can make or break the assisted-support and self-service experience. Efficient knowledge management practices make your company’s information more accessible and more useful to your employees. By following knowledge management methodologies and best practices, you can make remarkable improvements to your customer experience that yield measurable return on investment.

Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) is a knowledge management methodology that stresses the importance of knowledge sharing as the cornerstone of delivering great service and support. KCS helps your people, processes and technology work together to create a knowledge-sharing culture in the following ways:

  • KCS encourages employees to capture information and enhance the knowledge base in real time to maintain the context of the query and the customer’s own terms to better equip other agents and people in other departments when they have to answer similar customer questions. 
  • KCS encourages companies to monitor the use and effectiveness of their content, both for their teams and their customers
  • KCS promotes knowledge sharing across departments by delivering the most relevant information directly within the flow of work

KCS helps to build a strong relationship between your customer support, research and development, and product marketing teams, and it can eliminate internal company roadblocks. The support team gets a better understanding of technical problems, which helps them solve user problems with a higher degree of understanding and authority. At the same time, the development and product teams get feedback from customer support agents and have access to rich self-service metrics. That information helps them better understand the customer experience, and they can draw on that understanding to think of ways to enhance the customer experience every step of the way.

Adopting the KCS approach can also provide intangible benefits for members of your support team. Their problem-solving skills will improve, they may gain a renewed sense of fulfillment on the job because they are able to take on more interesting and more challenging case work, and they may experience a rise in their overall sense of accomplishment because they recognize that their contributions are having an impact on the organization’s overall success.

There are also more concrete ways to measure the effectiveness of KCS implementation. Among other things, you may see increases in your organization’s customer satisfaction ratings and Net Promoter Scores, an improvement in contract renewal rates, stronger engagement on your digital properties, upticks in cross-sells and upsells, and a greater rate of repeat business — all of which speak to the impact that your support operation has on your business.

The business benefits of KCS are clear. As agent productivity goes up, support costs go down, as does the cost of creating and maintaining content on the web. Your capacity for handling technical issues grows significantly, and the time it takes new team members to become technically proficient declines. In short, when relevant knowledge is easily accessible, your team, your customers and your bottom line will thank you.

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3. Enhance Your Customer Experience by Enabling Your Customers to Self-Serve

Customers prefer to self-serve, yet the majority of companies struggle to live up to expectations. Your customers are looking for an intuitive, personalized and autonomous experience, and if you’re not providing it, sooner or later they will go elsewhere.

Delivering the digital experience people expect of your organization is possible with a comprehensive set of tools, including an insight engine that unifies knowledge and interactions to deliver a contextual and truly exceptional customer experience. Unifying your knowledge allows your customers to find whatever they’re looking for, wherever it resides, the moment they need it — without having to contact customer support.

Machine learning systems can make the experience personal for every customer. These systems monitor the behavior of all customers, so when a customer has a query, they know what content has helped similar customers to successfully self-serve, and they can recommend that content first so the customer doesn’t have to sift through pages of irrelevant results. As your customers become accustomed to helping themselves, usage analytics will identify top-performing trends and behaviors, as well as content gaps in your knowledge base that lead customers to contact support via phone or email. With this information, your team can focus on creating the content that your customers need, thereby lowering the amount of calls to your contact center, increasing case deflection rates and, as a result, decreasing support costs as whole.

By investing AI-powered search to enhance your agent-assisted support, knowledge management and customer experience efforts, your company can experience significant savings on support operations costs. 

Do you have other ideas on how to reduce the cost of support operations? Share them in the comments below!