Trends in customer support

Here are several customer support trends worthy of noting. These trends have already and are likely to continue to impact both internal and external support capabilities, which in turn impact a company’s ability to achieve long-term differentiation for their products and services.

  • Unrelenting Customer Demand : As customers personally experience more support options, they are becoming less tolerant of long calls, long waiting times, inaccurate answers to questions, poorly trained support agents, and the inability to access their own information and resolve their own issues. Unless addressed with urgency, this is likely to lead to frustration and customers taking their business elsewhere. In fact, Gartner predicts that 75% of companies will continue to fail to fully meet customer expectations for customer support excellence through 2007, and the result will be average turnover of 100% of the customer base every five years.
  • New Revenue Opportunities : While unrelenting customer demand may negatively impact a company’s customer base and resulting revenues, if properly addressed, unrelenting customer demand also provides a tremendous opportunity to generate new revenues. The percentage of support centers whose agents actively cross and up-sell is less than 5% today. Gartner predicts that by 2007, 40% of all support centers will have a significant impact on an enterprise’s revenue stream. This large potential implies many new support needs including specialized training, holistic customer profiles, available cross and up-sell information, etc.
  • Cost Reduction Pressures : It currently costs a support center $12 for a non-technical call, and $12-$18 for a technical call. Compare these costs to Giga’s finding that unassisted services such as email, auto-response, and Web self-service average $.50 per transaction, and one quickly understands why there are cost reductions pressures within support centers. Moreover, an inefficient support center can lead to expensive and even unnecessary IT developments, high system maintenance charges, high training costs, high telecommunications charges, etc.
  • Much More Self-Service : Demand for self-service has and will continue to grow exponentially for many reasons. Chief among them is the www generation that prefers to take charge and resolve their own needs online. Take note: the www generation isn’t going away. Whereas 3% of the American workforce currently works in support centers, the forecast by 2010 calls for 5% of the American workforce working in support centers despite high support center attrition rates that currently run between 15-30 percent annually.

A second important reason is the cost reduction pressures described above. Organizations are desirous and are even encouraging customers to perform their own self-service to receive answers to repetitive-type questions, thereby leaving support centers to concentrate on exceptions and more relevant customer experience issues as well as maximize support center efficiencies.

Both of these reasons imply the need for increasingly sophisticated e-support tools to provide customer advice and problem resolution (e.g., integrated phone/email/Web tools, knowledge management systems, remote support capabilities that resolve issues over a LAN or WAN or via phone lines or a modem). In fact Gartner predicts that by 2007, 70% of all support centers will have implemented Web-based support applications.

Perhaps more importantly, these two reasons imply the need for well thought-out, proactive programs that encourage and facilitate internal and external customers to increasingly perform self-service.

Demand For Real-Time Customer Service : Thanks to the Web, customers now expect real-time information and even real-time support. Some customers have even begun to demand it! Yet few organizations today are cost-effectively using customer support capabilities, and even fewer are offering such capabilities in real time. This implies a potential need to create real-time enterprises that offer an integrated customer support framework that provides real-time and complete views of the customer support issues across all customer-facing channels.

Growth In Integrated CRM Applications : All of the above point to a final important trend, namely the need for tighter integration across sales, marketing and customer support applications. This results from cross and up-selling becoming increasingly a part of a company’s support capabilities, on-line marketing and sales becoming increasingly intertwined, and sales and customer support needing to work together in real-time.

Building Support Capabilities: A recent study sponsored by staffing firm Kelly Services and Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality concluded:

  • 92 percent of U.S. consumers form their image of a company based on their experience using a support center.
  • 63 percent of consumers will stop using a company’s products or services based on a negative support center experience.
  • Among those calling to express dissatisfaction with a product or service, 86% were more likely to stop using the company if their experience with the customer support agent was negative. Simply stated, support capabilities aimed at addressing the needs of internal and external customers have become an increasingly important component in ensuring higher levels of quality service, building and sustaining optimal customer relationships, and creating long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.