Voice of the customer – the treasure hidden in customer support tickets
There is a stage in the life-cycle of any successful business when the contribution to growth is shifting gradually from marketing and sales functions towards customer service and customer success. With customers being more informed and having more options than ever, keeping a customer from churning to competitors becomes increasingly important. In these companies, customer success is emerging as the third engine of growth that ensures customers are happy and successfully getting the value of your products or services.
At this stage the customer base is growing and so is the demand for support: more customers, more problems to solve. Your offering becomes more complex, whether you are an eCommerce store or a SaaS house. The support activity is ramping up, the team is getting bigger. The number of contacts from customers is outgrowing the support@ Inbox while collaboration between team members becomes increasingly important in having quick problem resolution. Now it is time to invest in a modern help desk solution if you haven’t done it already. Emails turn into tickets or cases, same for chat, phone calls and social conversations.
With the number of tickets growing exponentially, it becomes increasingly important for support leaders to look back at their teams work and understand where the time was spent. You get to a point where you need to know what’s driving the support activity, what is the ticket about in each case and what are the trends each week.
Having this information helps a support manager make informed decisions in the following areas:
Weekly and monthly reporting to be discussed with other senior stakeholders: decide on priorities in terms of bug fixing, new features, process issues etc.
Develop the support knowledge base with articles and FAQs that cover the most frequent questions from customers
Allocate the right resources for training or coaching: know the areas where your staff is lacking expertise
Manage and customize the support workflow: automatically send tickets on certain subjects to specific teams or people (i.e. “billing” queries go to the “billing team”)
The support tickets become an important source of customer feedback that is often overlooked by product teams. As a customer service leader, you become an advocate of the voice of the customer. Sharing feedback reports regularly within the company can get the product and engineering teams to be more empathetic towards customers and hopefully more proactive. Do you want to convince the product team that feature X is a problem? Tell them that 40% of customer complaints are in relation to feature X. The support team gets a seat at the product table. This is how a customer-centric culture is being developed.
Knowing the case reasons will also help you take proactive steps in supporting your customers and start developing a self-service strategy. First, you find out which customer questions are most frequent and which of these are good candidates for knowledge base articles. After writing and publishing the articles, you can track if the number of tickets related to the subjects just covered are being reduced. If the same questions keep coming perhaps it is time to review the articles again. In addition to the regular performance and productivity metrics most growing companies would have introduced customer experience metrics in the support workflow, such as Customer Satisfaction for example. It allows them to measure and track the experience of their customers after an interaction with the customer service team. These metrics help managers understand where and how to improve the support activity to quicker and better solve clients’ problems. Customer Satisfaction can then be mapped to products or features, contact reasons, and/or team members, enabling you to quickly spot gaps in customer experience. It can be a product feature causing the most dissatisfaction among customers or a staff member lacking expertise in certain areas (as uncovered by the contact reasons). In the latter case, targeted training or coaching can be quickly allocated to up-skill the agent.
So where do you start about understanding what is determining customers to contact you? How do you know what are the tickets about? To achieve this, most teams are adopting a ticket categorization strategy such as requiring support staff to manually fill in categories as custom fields and/or tags for each new ticket. Tags and custom fields are available in all modern help-desk software. Alternative naming includes case reasons, reasons to call, wrap-up codes. Tickets can be organized by issue type, product or feature, department, customer segments and more.
It is recommended to start with a small number of categories and then increase gradually. If the number of options to choose from is too large the team will have difficulty finding and selecting the right ones when a new ticket comes. The name of the tags should be self-explanatory and unambiguous, without overlap between their meanings. Also, aim to cover most of the major product features or service areas that are part of the company’s offering. Make sure to spend enough time defining the taxonomy of issues that can be reasons to contact or reasons to call. As you coach the team to get up to speed and fill these in for each ticket, once it becomes a habit (hopefully) it will be much harder to change later. Using the wrong categorization will have negative consequences on your customer service workflow, from inaccurate reporting to inappropriate routing of tickets.
Despite the obvious advantages, there are few drawbacks in requiring staff to manually assign tags or fill in custom fields to tickets. If the process of tagging is left uncontrolled, with each agent filling his own tags, the number of tags becomes very large, making impossible to do any analysis and reporting. To avoid tag bloating, managers need to review the process regularly, prune some tags, consolidate others, and keep coaching the team on using them correctly. This takes time.
Having a tagging strategy in place helps if you know what you are looking for. Often there are questions that you haven’t thought of when doing the taxonomy and are not captured by the current list of tags. The only solution here is manually going through the tickets, reading them one by one and come up with additional tags. Especially in a dynamic product building environment, maintaining and updating a predefined list of contact reasons becomes a cumbersome task. Each new software release is introducing new problems and topics that were not captured by the already obsolete set of tags. Changing it requires communication and coaching of the support team members, adding overhead to an already extremely busy organization.
Fortunately, there is a new approach emerging as an alternative to manual tags. Using Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing, customer service leaders can discover topics in support tickets, uncovering customer issues and contact reasons many times better than using manual tagging. In many modern help desk solutions, it is possible to tag tickets programmatically, through API calls. Therefore, after using Text Analytics to uncover themes and trends in the content of the tickets, these themes can be fed back into the help desk automatically as tags and/or custom fields. This enables more complex support workflows based on triggers or automation.
The new approach of topic detection and auto-tagging is more accurate and more consistent than manually selecting values for custom fields. It is also fully flexible, can be changed and updated in line with business changes, including retrospectively. Finally, it frees up time for the support team allowing them to focus on solving the customer issues.
Here at Cx MOMENTS, we think about it all the time, so if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to let us know.