The three types of customer support
When most people think of customer support, they imagine the help desk scenario in its most reactive sense-customer service people answering tickets from a queue. Support operations is broader than that, though. When you approach your help desk with the bigger picture in mind, you’ll be able to serve far more customers with your existing team and with minimal extra effort. Although self-service FAQs, are a significant contributor to improved customer satisfaction, I’m not just talking about that. Customers are also asking questions of each other in places you may not even know about. A truly customer-centric business thinks about all the ways customers go about getting questions answered and meets them with those answers in the place they’re at.
Support done three ways
Commonly described as being reactive, this is the type of support that first comes to mind. It’s one user with a question, one responder with an answer, and one record (hopefully) capturing that interaction. Responsive support implies thoughtful action with the customer’s context in mind, and with the consideration of both long and short term outcomes. It’s a net positive engagement, even if it began with a negative experience. In contrast, reactive support implies immediate action driven by urgency, with outcomes to be dealt with later.
There’s a place in support for reaction where the customer has NOT initiated the engagement, such as what happens with major incidents and when teams react to monitoring alerts. Responsive support provides an answer to the customer when they have a question or problem. That interaction may happen as an email exchange, phone call, via the help desk platform, over social media, or in a web chat via your company website.
Proactive support is about meeting the customer at the right time, in the right place, with the right answer. When you can access the data from your responsive support engagements, i.e. tracking how often each question is asked and answered or similar problems are solved, you can reuse those high value answers. What makes an answer high value? Any commonly sought after and often reused answers should be elevated to self-service or addressed within the product via an improvement to the product or the on-boarding experience. Proactive support can be offered in a self-service knowledge base, via contextually-relevant in-app messaging, and in status pages in the event of a service issue. The ultimate in proactive support to detect and resolve issues before a customer even feels it.
Sometimes the best person to answer a question is another customer. This is particularly relevant with software products that are highly configurable and where users represent a variety of use cases. Applying community management practices to this support environment can deliver a rewarding experience, where customers are encouraged to help each other with shared issues in a common vertical or feature; and where customers and product managers can interact to improve friction points and flaws. When those conversations are allowed to persist in a forum environment rather than in a chat app, where topics are searchable, other users can find already-answered questions when they have them. The Xero customer community is a great example of this. Support communities don’t suit every organisation, but they will be relevant to many SaaS providers.
Customer support as value creator not cost centre
Both proactive and interactive types of support reach more than one customer at a time. Instead of the one answer to one customer to one responder, like the responsive type, proactive and interactive support can provide one answer to many customers, making your support function a long-term value creator rather than a simple cost of operation. When you establish your responsive support process with the proactive and interactive channels in mind, you won’t have to change what you’re doing, because your foundations will already be in the right place.