Effective customer support requires a blend of both technical and soft skills. Does your team have the right blend to ensure success?
In the vast majority of Service operations, the support case life cycle includes collection, analysis, and resolution. Management of the life cycle has a significant impact on ensuring an effective customer support operation and its bottom line, costs.
Service Strategies research determined that on average more than 50 percent of all support cases are not closed at first customer contact. With each case that is not closed at first contact the cost to the support organization grows considerably in terms of resources expended and customer dissatisfaction.
How do you ensure that you have an effective customer support operation and that your team is doing all it can to manage the case life cycle? The typical focus is on technical skills. It stands to reason that highly honed technical skills increase the support professional’s ability to collect information accurately, analyze the situation and determine a resolution quickly. However, technical skills alone will not decrease the life cycle nor result in customer satisfaction.
Customer research concludes that 96% of respondents in a recent survey judged communication skills and interpersonal skills as the most important contributor to success in customer support, not technical skills. Every technical support interaction requires soft skills to gather information, analyze the situation and deliver the solution effectively. Providing quality technical support requires solid technical skills delivered through effective soft skills.
Providing the support team with soft skills training as well as technical training can increase efficient life cycle management. Training should provide essential soft skills in managing each of the four stages of life cycle management.
Diagnosis requires communication skills in managing perceptions and building rapport with the customer. It may also require anger management skills for situations in which the customer comes into the encounter frustrated or angry. When a customer interaction begins, the customer’s perception of the support professional and company is formed within the first seven to twelve seconds. It is critical to ensure a positive perception in order to gain the cooperation and continued communication of the customer. In the case of a frustrated or angry customer, the support professional must be skilled in dealing with the emotions before collection of information. Ignoring the customer’s emotions will seriously delay the resolution process and will result in customer dissatisfaction regardless of whether the technical problem is resolved.
Issue determination, the second stage of the life cycle, is affected by the customer’s business need as well as technical need. The support professional must be skilled in active listening in order to determine the impact of the issue and the priority. It is not enough to follow a black and white policy that breaks priority and severity into technical categories. The support professional must be skilled in asking questions that include the customer’s business impact and working with the customer to determine the real issue. Skills are also required to avoid making assumptions about information the customer provides, based on the support professional’s technical experience. Making assumptions can lead to extensive delays in issue determination.
Once the issue is determined the next stage is to develop the resolution. While technical skills are clearly needed to accomplish this, soft skills are as important. At this stage it is critical to set expectations and get customer buy-in and cooperation. It may be necessary to obtain data from the customer to help in the troubleshooting phase. Skills in helping the customer understand the need and commit to being a partner in the resolution will speed the process.
Resolution delivery can be challenging, especially if the resolution is a work-around or a partial solution. This stage must be handled carefully with the customer. If the first three stages were handled well from the standpoint of customer perceptions, needs, and expectations, this stage will be smoother. But it often requires negotiation, a skill few support professionals are trained in. It is at this stage that escalation may result because the customer does not accept the resolution, extending the life cycle and increasing costs.
Reducing the support case life cycle can offer significant cost savings while positively impacting customer satisfaction, thereby leading to more effective customer support. To ensure the most efficient support transaction life cycle, all four stages of the support transaction must be managed with exceptional customer service skills as well as technical skills.
Learn more about soft skills courses for technical support professionals, or Contact Service Strategies for more information.