By Ben Stephens, Service Strategies
With cost pressures throughout the service industry, customers of support centers providing direct phone support are experiencing longer hold times before connecting to a qualified support engineer. In response to this mounting pressure on service levels, it is tempting to introduce call diversion methods to reduce hold times. These include routing customers to voicemail, routing customer to engineers with secondary skills in their problem area or routing customers to administrative staff to log the case for call back. While each of these techniques and other more creative do at least temporarily to reduce hold times, what is best for the customer?
First, the customer is contacting the support center because they are experiencing some issue with the product and they expect to speak a qualified engineer. The best time to resolve a customer’s issue is as close as possible to when they experience it. At this time, they have a clear understanding of how the issue occurred, are motivated to resolving it and have asked for help. Typically, customers are always willing to hold longer if they can speak to a qualified engineer and therefore have the greatest chance to resolve their issue. Diverting them to voicemail or secondary skilled engineers results in lower first contact closure rates, higher case backlogs, more inbound calls and the inefficiencies associated with callbacks. So what is the answer…?
Everyone’s first thought is to request more support staff. Well, that solution is usually not an option. So what can be done?
- Don’t respond too quickly to spikes in case volume let the wait time stretch out so the customer connects to the right technical engineer. History shows that case closure capacities of a technical support center vary widely throughout the year. Case closure rates per engineer can fluctuate as much as thirty to fifty percent during peak volume periods.
- Provide a robust integrated electronic support environment within your product and support website to facilitate finding solutions and submitting a more focused support request.
- Route calls for existing open cases to the assigned engineer rather than the front line product queue. This can be accomplished manually or through the phone switch. Routing status update calls to front line staff dedicated to new cases is a poor use of those resources and will impact service levels.
- If you have staff with secondary skills, first assign them to work open backlog cases that they can resolve quickly, reducing backlog for the more qualified staff and reducing customer status calls on open cases. This will also provide practical experience to the engineer and increase their confidence levels and closure rate.
- If peak call volumes are overwhelming, say greater than 50% and are defect or product quality related, solicit help from other groups, such as QA, services, training or wherever, recent support members have migrated. During the defect discovery phase of a new release, respond fast with qualified staff to find and the fix critical and frequent defects.
- Finally, if you’ve exhausted these and other effective methods and continue to set new case closures rates per engineer and record backlogs, it’s time to revisit staffing.
Note that providing quality technical support is much more that just responding to customer cases. Support engineers need time for personal development, maintaining knowledge assets, working with QA and Engineering, testing new releases and providing proactive support to customers. Time must be allotted for each of these areas to ensure customers succeed in obtaining the value they expect from their investment in your product and services.