How to Deliver Support When Call Centers are Shutting Down

Posted by Mel Attia on Mar 30, 2020 9:30:00 AM

6 minute read

How to Deliver Support When Call-Center are Shutting Down

We are living in unprecedented times, with one third of the world population on lock down because of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The Financial Post talks about India’s outsourcing industry buckling, with call centers scrambling to set up employees to work from home. And even as I write this, the effects are also being felt in North America, with over half of the US states in complete lockdown, as well as several Canadian provinces.

The support call center is under fire.

It was once seen as efficient to have floors full of cheek by jowl employees answering the phones for support. This effectively is no longer possible with mandatory physical distancing rules. In addition, several governmental bodies are forcing the full shut down of offices, requesting they either close their shop or offer work from home options. 

How can your business prepare for having less than ideal wait times for customers trying to reach your support lines? The good news is that you can preempt people even joining a queue, with 91% of support queries starting as a search question. 

How can you successfully focus your more difficult support questions to your live agents, and avoid calls that can be solved simply (also known as call avoidance)? The answer is an online customer service portal. You probably already have most, if not all of the elements necessary to create this type of solution; you just need to assemble them. This means that you need to put them all into an easy to use, centralized hub, somewhere that's visible and accessible on your website. 

Make sure your self-serve help center is able to accommodate the majority of your support requests. While this may not be possible for some of the larger or more complex issues that your customers face, as long as you are able to direct these people to those that can help them, you can navigate the storm.

Key Elements of a Customer Self-Service Portal

A great centralized digital support center usually includes a number of self-service options. Let's take a closer look at some of the best options to include, and the strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the table. 

Online Community Forums

An online community forum is an online space created by an organization or a brand, where members, customers and fans alike can congregate, ask questions, receive peer-to-peer support, discuss interests surrounding the brand and make social connections. Online community forums are a great space to provide customers with peer-to-peer support, especially for more long-tail, complicated customer issues. Online communities often serve as the centerpiece for an organization's self-service support portal, since peer sourced support is an effective, yet lean, solution to delivering excellent customer support. 

Strengths

  • Real time curated content by actual users in their own words.

  • If publicly available and crawled by search engines, guides directly to the right answer, using the same or similar verbiage.

  • If there’s an unaccounted use case or issue, the community will quickly surface it.

  • Offers a direct connection with highly engaged customers (useful for product management and marketing.

  • Searchable, with SEO benefits (if open to the public).

  • Collects stats on common searches and customer issues.

Weaknesses

  • Some support issues will require escalation (we recommend ticketing).

  • If left unmoderated and unmanaged, can become unwieldy.

  • Out of date content can surface.

  • Harder to build a community, as users will come and go after they solve problems. You’ll need to provide useful reasons for people to stick around.

Knowledge Base

A knowledge base refers to a centralized location for the storage of information about your products and services, for what is usually the purpose of customer self-service support. A customer facing knowledge base is a common tool found in an organization’s customer self-service portal. Knowledge bases are a great tool since they also include guides, support articles and how-to manuals. 

Strengths

  • Offers a controlled experience for customers to find answers to their questions.

  • Collects stats on common searches and customer issues.

  • Searchable, with SEO benefits.

  • If you’re able to curate and escalate community created content to your knowledge base effortlessly, you will have an always up to date collection of articles.

Weaknesses

  • How the customer asks a question might be different than the title of the help document, which affects searchability. This is not an issue when community content is curated into the knowledge base. 

  • Needs to be frequently updated.

  • May miss unconsidered use cases.

Ticketing Service

Ticketing services are extremely common methods for organizations to manage and queue customer support requests. Ticketing service software provides customers requesting support with a "ticket," that explains their issue to the service rep and usually categorizes the request. These tickets can be analyzed at a later date to identify common issues and customer support requests. 

Strengths

  • Offers a direct, trackable way to escalate and follow issues to completion.

Weaknesses

  • No SEO benefit, not searchable.

  • Repetitive questions harder to avoid.

  • Relies 100% on your company to provide support.

Online Chat

Online chat provides customers with a real-time conversation with support agents, but through chat, usually on the organization's website. This support method is, generally speaking, similar to call center support, but online. The same support is given, except customers can browse their devices while waiting for an available agent. This may be easier to manage with a remote workforce. 

Strengths

  • Technically immediate response when someone is on chat.

  • Pushes chats directly to the CRM/Ticketing system.

Weaknesses

  • Not scalable.

  • No SEO benefit, not searchable.

  • Relies 100% on staff and their ability to provide great customer support.

Concluding Thought

With call centers unable to operate normally across the globe, organizations are forced to quickly adapt to new ways of delivering customer support, or risk leaving their customers in the dark. 67% of customers are what Forbes describes as "serial switchers," and we should expect this number to only increase given that the support that many organizations offer is now severely limited at best. Those who currently have a customer service portal might consider their support efforts to be facing a brief bump in the road, while others who relied on more traditional methods are suffering. 

Adopting a customer self service portal, even if it's just for the purpose of business continuity during this period of social distancing, will help these types of organizations get back on their feet. Better yet, they might even find that this type of solution outperforms their traditional methods, and choose to do-away with traditional call centers altogether. 

ebook - how to build an online community forum

 

Topics: Community, Support

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