Here’s the deal:

Whether you use Zendesk, Freshdesk, Salesforce or other excellent CxM solutions, your customer support agents will categorise customer interactions by applying a tag or custom field to each ticket.

For example:

an agent working on a new customer issue would set a custom field to “payment problem” in the ticket. Sounds simple enough, right?

Many Customer Support Managers certainly hope so.

They want to use these tags to run reports on their support tickets. They want to understand what customer issues or queries drive their support activity, and how these trend in time. Then they intend to share these insights with other teams and Exec Management to show what needs to be fixed in the company. Sounds great, doesn’t it…?

But unfortunately, life is not so great… Because these agent tags are not as reliable as we would like. Far from it.

Agent tagging has inherent limitations that skew and even make it impossible to trend customer issues from reports on support tickets. These limitations are simple to explain but impossible to fix: in short, you either have too many tags for agents to apply, or you have too few of them. Worse, these tags can be unclear or ambiguous, and it takes too long for agents to figure out which one to apply.

What’s the bottom line?

Too many choices will deter agents from selecting the most accurate tag. Busy agents will not spend 10 minutes after each call to figure out which tag, field or reason code to apply. They will use “top of the list” codes more frequently than they should. As a result, most of your tickets will be wrongly categorised. You will find that roughly 10-15 tags are used instead of the 75-100 you created for your agents. And in fairness, if you are an experienced Customer Service Manager like Eliel Benarroch from FOTO .com you probably don’t want your agents to spend that much time tagging tickets. As Eliel says, his biggest challenge is that “support agents don’t tag their support tickets correctly. And this is perfectly normal, as I actually need them to focus on solving our customers’ problems, not tagging tickets”.

Not enough choices will make customer issues “fall between stools”, and the tag applied by the agent will not reflect accurately the reason to call. And again, Support Managers will be left in the dark as to what reasons and issues drive their customer support activity. As Hilary Catton, the innovative Support Director of BiggerPockets says: “The biggest issue our support team had was really understanding the exact reasons our members were reaching out to us”

Tags that are unclear or overlap create even more difficulties. For example, if a customer says “I did not pay the bill because there was an unexpected overcharge”, should the agent tag this as “Billing query” or “Payment issue”? And what about tags or fields like “Payment problem” and “credit card issues”? It can be impossible for an agent to make the right decision. Really you just can’t avoid having these unclear and overlapping tags.

What’s the solution?

Customers sometimes do not specify exactly their payment method, whether it is bank payment, sending a cheque, or credit cards. So an informal business rule will guide agents to tag these tickets as “Payment issue” and others as “Credit card”. And you can bet 50% of agents will get this wrong, leaving very few reliable tags. As John Daigle, Technical Support Director of Rediker Software says:” Due to the usual issues with agent tagging in a support team, we only had five reliable tags to categorize customer calls.”

As a Support Manager, you cannot win this battle for the perfect tagging system. You will always have too many tags or not enough, you will always have tags that are too specific or too vague. You will always have agents who do not tag the same calls the same way. And you will struggle to run this Monday report, the one that shows in bright and shiny colours which customer issues and queries trend the most, and what needs to be fixed.

If you don’t do anything about it, you will still be this great team leader who is the best at managing support agents on a day-to-day basis. But you will not be the real Manager, the influencer you want to be, managing the business and influencing the strategy.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If this is the Manager you want to be, then give us a call. We help people like Hilary, Eliel, John and you rapidly discover and share insights in their Support activities, to eventually get a seat at the decision-making table.

And by rapidly we mean days. Not months. So have a look at what we do.