Growth stages and your CX: How to scale e-commerce customer support

Scaling up e-commerce customer support quickly has risks. Discover tips on how to scale your CX program as you grow, based on your growth stage.

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Scaling customer support is critical

Your hard work is finally paying off, and your business is in a growth spurt. It’s exhilarating and scary. How long will it last? What if it fizzles out? How can you plan for all possibilities?

A key focus in these transitional days must be customer experience (CX). During this time, one of the biggest mistakes a business can make is neglecting the customers who got them where they are.

But it can be tough to get this right. As you bring more people on board to handle the extra volume of customer questions, you still want to show customers that you care just as much as you did in the days when founders personally answered calls. Let’s look at some key considerations to guide you.

    20%—Source: McKinsey; 67%—Source: McKinsey61%—Source: Zendesk.com.

      Your e-commerce growth stage dictates your CX strategies

      Most e-commerce businesses should take a stepwise approach to scaling CX. You might have started out without a dedicated team at all, which does offer certain advantages. Everyone can take a turn at handling inquiries, and that keeps the whole team in the loop. Now you need to transition to a more sustainable departmentalized strategy.

        Advice for early growth stages: Don’t get ahead of yourself

        You want to serve your new customers well without overspending and overpromising.

          Initially, limit your channels. If you can’t afford round-the-clock staffing, don’t try to offer too many support channels. You might want to stick with email only if you have a 9-to-5 team so your staff has time to handle issues correctly within a reasonable response time, and customers aren’t frustrated when their live chat or phone calls go unanswered.

          Help customers help themselves. If you’re getting repetitive questions—and you probably are—you could create a FAQs section on your website. If your product is particularly complex, a more robust knowledge base may be in order.

          Think about a bot. Investigate whether it’s cost effective to begin using a chatbot for basic questions, although take this step carefully. Sometimes chatbots leave customers frustrated. They may engage with the bot as if it were a live chat experience and get angry if it can’t solve a complicated problem.

          Advice for post-startup growth: Expand your toolset and your team

          As your business continues to grow, it’s time to add more people, more tools, and more channels.

            Upgrade your technology. If you haven’t already, it’s probably time to abandon makeshift tools and invest in–or deepen your investment in–customer relationship management (CRM) software. Your support team members need to have the right insights handy for the customers who are calling. Without a robust CRM, you severely limit the effectiveness of customer support experience and your marketing initiatives.

            Add support channels. As you add members to your team, you may be ready to increase your support channels and hours of support. This could be particularly important if you’re growing geographically and need to cover multiple time zones. You may be able to do this even with a small team by asking for volunteers to take evening and weekend shifts.

            Let metrics be your guide. By this stage, you’ll want to be more formally tracking metrics like first response time, customer satisfaction score, customer effort score, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and average handling time. Don’t get too hung up on average handling time though. You don’t want to pressure your agents to get customers off the phone quickly without truly solving their problem.

            Advice for mature growth stages: Increase staffing and technology

            The larger your customer base, the more complicated your CX will become.

              Add people. As you grow ever larger, your customer support teams will need to as well. Careful hiring and high-quality training are critical. Your teams will need to deal quickly, confidently, and empathetically with a potentially wide range of issues. You also may need to scale up and down quickly in response to demand or seasonality.

              Add tech. Tools such as interactive voice response (IVR) will be essential to send callers to the right agent. Artificial intelligence (AI) technology that helps coach agents through calls may be warranted at this stage. This new CX technology will need to be integrated with your CRM technology to reap the most benefits from analytics that collect and parse every customer interaction.

              Continue to add support channels. Customers expect finding answers to be nearly effortless. Make sure you’re ready to respond on the important social media channels your customer use.

              How outsourcers become strategic consultants

              At some point along the company’s growth stages, it may make sense to partner with a business process outsourcing (BPO) firm that offers comprehensive customer support services.

              A BPO company will have deep experience in training CX agents and can offer multilingual teams located in many time zones. They will provide flexibility for you to staff up during busy times—and down during low demand—without needing to hire and manage more employees.

              Using this approach to scaling customer service also lets you avoid the need to purchase CX technology, such as IVR and AI, and keep it up to date. Especially given the rapid developments in AI, it may be worth outsourcing those investments to an expert.

              A BPO partner equipped with a wide array of support services, coordinated teams, and QA analysts can also serve as a consultant, offering market insights and innovation strategies.

              For instance, Ubiquity worked with a finserv brand that had ambitious goals for delivering flawless omnichannel customer service as it grew. Ubiquity provided adaptable service level agreements to respond to the company’s evolving initiatives and supplied an all-inclusive CX program and technology platform. We devised plans in concert with the finserv brand to improve responsiveness across the board and reduce complaints dramatically by following up with all customer requests and reviewing IVR transcripts thoroughly.

              The results: The company saw a 75% reduction in email response times, a 56% reduction in complaints year over year, and a TrustPilot score of 4.5, which far outstrips the industry average.

                Factors to consider with BPOs regardless of growth stage

                How do you know you’re ready for the next stage of your business growth? If you decide to engage an outside partner to handle customer support, prepare with these steps:

                  Define your needs. Lay out exactly what you’re looking for in an outsourcing partner. This includes understanding the volume of queries, the types of queries, and the required response time.

                  Plan for onboarding. Even the best outsourcing partner will require guidance. Invest time in training the team about your products, services, brand voice, and most common customer issues.

                  Talk about technology integration. Make sure their technology can integrate seamlessly with yours.

                  Ensure data security and regulatory compliance. Your partner should be able to comply with all data security, privacy and other regulatory standards for your industry and the states and countries you do business in.

                  Set reporting requirements. Insist that the CX partner provide regular reporting of key agreed-upon metrics as well as feedback that can help improve products and processes.

                  Never grow too large for the human touch

                  As your company grows, there will be a few inevitable hiccups, but with a sound strategy, your business can continue to thrive.

                  You’ll find that digital touchpoints and underlying technologies are great at providing speed, simplifying choice, and giving customers ways to connect with your brand without much effort.

                  Still, customers sometimes have more complicated problems or questions that require an empathetic, knowledgeable human. Make sure they can still reach one, no matter how big you get.

                  Learn more about our services for retail and e-commerce and how we can help enable smooth scaling.

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