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How to ‘surge-proof’ your customer service

Surge periods are normal part of any business activity, especially as customer demand peaks around a range of common annual events such as Easter, which is just around the corner. Over the past few years businesses have seen about 50-60% increase in support volume over the holiday period, but despite being aware that businesses are under pressure at these times, customers maintain their high expectations for instant service, and are often even more demanding and dependant on customer support.

Customers won’t settle for average anymore, if a business lacks the support they need, they will just go elsewhere. To ensure customer service excellence, and in turn retention, small businesses must consider the following tips in order to surge-proof their business ahead of time:

Integrate online self-service

Many queries can be answered without the need for a service agent. Reduce the number of service tickets created during surges by providing clear and accurate responses to simple questions through an easily searchable online help portal.

A well-stocked help center with solution articles for frequently encountered scenarios won’t just guarantee instant answers but will also help in reducing your support load. Even if customers were to write in, with online FAQs your service representatives can just quickly slip in a link to the solution article and save a load of time. In fact, three out of four Millennials actually prefer to solve customer service issues on their own.

To make your online help portal comprehensive, you can use Google Analytics to find out what your customers are searching for. Businesses should also mine holiday season enquiry history to see what patterns emerge and what kind of creative solutions (videos, screencasts, screenshots etc.) can be implemented to help create an extraordinary experience for customers.

It is important to design self-service initiatives with the 80/20 rule in mind — ensure the most frequently asked service requests are accessed easily.

Improve your mobile experience

Surge periods are when customers are busiest too, meaning they’re often on the go and mobile is the most accessible port of call. Create the best experience for your customers by ensuring your website design is intuitive and responsive to mobile devices.

But it’s not just about making your website look good on a mobile, a smooth and positive user experience is crucial for conversions and sales, especially on mobile.

Small businesses should also consider adding self-service and live chat options within their mobile apps where appropriate. Integrations such as this may sound daunting, but they’re extremely simple for businesses to take advantage of, with the emergence of products such as Hotline doing most of the legwork.

Take advantage of social media

Increasingly,  we’re seeing new offerings from social media platforms emerge to support day-to-day business. But with social media presence comes the expectation from customers that businesses will respond in real time —the same way a friend may do. When expectations aren’t clearly set, customers tend to assume and set their own expectations.

Businesses must therefore set expectations on timing for support via social media. Twitter has taken note of this need, and recently launched a support feature which allows companies to specify the average time it takes for them to respond to an inquiry.

On average, 60% of consumers expect brands to respond to their customer service requests within an hour. So if you don’t tell your customers where and when they can expect answers, you could be setting yourself up for failure. A simple inclusion of support hours on your Twitter bio can be extremely helpful in preventing support loads at the wrong times.

Round-the-clock service with bots

Artificial intelligence has developed over the last few years, and it’s time for businesses to take advantage. Bots are allowing businesses to provide round-the-clock customer service, without the need for customer support executives working crazy hours.

When it comes to surge periods, bots can be a helping hand for customer service executives who are inundated with requests for support, as they can be integrated into live chat platforms. Answering the easy questions customers pose in real time, bots are soon to be the future of customer support.

A strategy worth trying is getting employees from across the company to pitch in during the busy times – developers, marketers, anyone who can help out, and it’s a good alternative as opposed to hiring temp staff. Not only will they be able to get more insight into the customer’s state of mind but you won’t have to train them extensively as well.

Peak to peak survival isn’t a strong strategy for growth. As your business evolves, you need to look to the past to plan for the future. Looking back at the requests for support during surge periods will help businesses pinpoint key areas for improvement ahead of time, and ultimately encourage the return of existing customers seeking extraordinary experiences.

About the author

Sreelesh Pillai is the General Manager of Freshdesk Australia, the global leader in cloud-based customer support software.

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Sreelesh Pillai

Sreelesh Pillai

Sreelesh Pillai is the General Manager of Freshworks Australia, a global leader in customer engagement software, and the company’s seventh overall employee.

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