6 ways to deliver better service and reduce support costs

Imagine if there was a way to improve customer service and reduce support costs at the same time.

Well, there is.

When Sprint went from being the worst rated telco for customer satisfaction to the best, it reduced its customer care costs by about a third ($2bn a year).

Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

My vision is to stop the Service Desk being the brunt of so many “helpless desk” jokes. I’m going to make ‘The IT Crowd’ unfunny. But one hurdle comes from inside IT. I often talk to CIOs who express their concern that improving service is at odds with their objective to keep IT operating costs down. They see good service and a lean budget as polar opposites. They’re not. Delivering a good customer experience costs less than a bad one.

Here are six ways that you can have your cake and eat it too:

1. Develop soft skills of support staff

As your mum probably told you when you were growing up, “Good manners cost nothing”. Being friendly and polite, active listening and being empathetic are aspects of the support experience that customers highly value.

Jay Baer (customer service expert and author of ‘Hug your Haters’) puts it quite nicely: “Maya Angelou once said that people may not remember what you wrote, and they may not remember what you said. But they will remember how you made them feel. Customer experience is how you make customers feel.”

The importance of these soft factors is borne out by research from McKinsey who found that 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.

2. Better communicate ticket statuses

A constant source of frustration for customers is not knowing when their issue will be resolved or when the next action will occur. “My ticket seems to have gone into a black hole”, is a common complaint. And if they want to find out where things are at, what do they do? They call the Service Desk.

Ensuring customers always know when the next step is going to happen prevents the need for inbound status enquiries, reducing call volumes.

For example, a Service Delivery Manager I spoke to said his organisation was able to reduce inbound calls by 20% just by improving communication on call statuses.

First Contact Resolution rates have been shown to be a key driver of customer satisfaction (and a way to reduce service costs) and focusing on increasing FCR is all about resolving a customer’s issue without them needing to call back. More on that later.

3. Reduce recurring incidents (problem management)

Identifying and addressing the root causes of recurring incidents is part of what ITIL calls Problem Management.

Increased service reliability, less tickets to manage, less resources needed to address the incidents. What’s not to like?!

In one organisation I used to work for, a series of acquisitions kept growing the number of internal customers we had to support. By embracing Problem Management, our application support teams were able to support 30% more customers per analyst, resulting in the team size remaining static while the company grew.

4. Increase self service (automation and knowledge management)

Study after study shows that customers want to help themselves. To pick just one, according to a study by Forrester, 72% of customers prefer to use self-service support rather than phone or email.

Customers want to help themselves and when they help themselves it reduces our support costs.

Harvard Business Review shares an example where an industrial equipment supplier found that if just one-in-12 customers self-served, the organisation would save US$10 million in 18 months. A client of ours, an Australian University, found that almost 50% of requests to the Service Desk could be eliminated by introducing a self-service password reset option.

5. Increase First Level Resolution (knowledge management)

Another proven way to improve customer service AND reduce support costs is to increase the percentage of tickets that are resolved by the Service Desk (First Level Resolution) on the first interaction with the customer (First Contact Resolution).

By doing this, calls are resolved quicker, by less specialist (expensive) staff, involve less handovers, require less customer effort and less communication overhead (e.g. keeping the customers appraised of their call status, or fielding multiple call status enquiries per ticket).

A study conducted by Customer Relationship Metrics found that CSAT ratings are 35%-45% lower when a second call is made for the same issue. And in terms of the costs to be saved by increasing FLR, according to the HDI, the average cost per ticket in North America is $22 for the Service Desk, $62 for level 2 and $85 for level 3.

Better knowledge management is key to achieving both FLR and FCR. Having the right knowledge at their fingertips  enables front-line support staff to resolve more without needing to escalate. Knowledge Centred Support (KCS) is one way to achieve this, with organisations using KCS found to have FCR and FLR rates up to 15% higher than those who don’t use it.

6. Reduce complaints

When you provide better customer service, customers complain less and have less reason to escalate. Experience also tells us that happier customers are more forgiving when things go wrong.

So it follows that providing better service reduces the management overhead needed to deal with escalations and complaints.

Happier customers also lead to more engaged support staff (it’s pretty difficult to stay engaged when customers are upset, angry and complaining to you all day). More engaged staff are absent less, retained for longer and provide better customer service. And more engaged staff lead to happier customers. How’s that for a virtuous circle!

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