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The Future of Customer Support is Conversational


Presented By: Intercom

By: Bobby Stapleton, Director of Customer Support at Intercom

Today, customer support is undergoing a massive, irreversible change. Support teams are struggling to manage increasing conversation volumes. Simultaneously, a survey we ran found 73% of support leaders say customer expectations are rising, but only 42% are sure they’re meeting those expectations.

Until recently, most support teams have faced an impossible choice—stay personal with customers or get efficient. Staying personal meant offering expensive, unscalable services like 1:1 phone calls or 24/7 real-time chat. Efficiency meant deflecting customer issues through impersonal forms and “do not reply” emails.

This type of “good enough” support is now longer good enough. A new customer experience movement is emerging with massive implications for customer support—and it’s called getting conversational.

How to design a support experience that’s conversational

The next-generation way to bridge the gap between what customers want and what support teams can realistically deliver is through conversational, messenger-based experiences. They provide customers with the fast, personal support they need and help support teams get ahead of known problems, automatically answer repetitive questions and quickly resolve complex issues.

Unlike messaging support tools of the past, conversational support is so much more than live chat – leveraging the power of bots and automation, it provides a support experience that helps businesses enhance their customer relationships, streamline processes and maintain high CSAT (customer satisfaction) scores.

To design a support experience that’s conversational, you should follow a clear framework with three different layers of support. This ensures that you’re not just opening the floodgates to an overwhelming volume of customer inquiries, but instead equipping your support team with the resources they need to deliver fast, personal support without increasing headcount, budget or hours logged.

Layer 1: Proactive support, your first line of defense.

Proactive support helps you prevent issues from occurring in the first place and get ahead of known problems before they reach your support team. With proactive support tools like outbound messages or banners, you can alert customers to issues like delivery delays, bugs in your product or website downtime. You can also onboard and educate new customers through tools like product tours, so they’re set up for success from day one and can overcome common hurdles like configuring your app or installing it on mobile. Proactive support can drastically reduce the number of conversations that reach your team, all while increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

Layer 2: Self-serve support that empowers your customers.

“How do I update my password?” “What’s your cancellation policy?” Answering simple, repetitive questions like these can feel like Groundhog Day for your team. It’s time-consuming and a heavy drain on resources and morale. Self-serve support satisfies customers’ need for speed and control, while scaling your support. Consider leveraging FAQ knowledge bases and chatbots to instantly answer customers’ simple, repetitive questions. This allows you to provide customers with the fast, immediate answers they need, without upping your headcount or overstretching your support team.

Layer 3: Human support for complex conversations.

There are many customer questions that can only be answered by a human or require an empathetic response. Not every answer can or should be automated, because not even the best chatbot can calm an angry customer, investigate a thorny issue, or build a rapport with high-value customers. Human support is an essential part of any successful support strategy, but the reality is it doesn’t scale and it’s expensive to operate. Instead, free up your team’s workload so they can focus on high-value, complex queries that make use of their product knowledge, technical expertise and empathy skills, such as issues from VIP customers, emotionally-charged complaints and complex troubleshooting issues. This helps your team provide the right customers with the world-class, fast, personal support they deserve.

Turn your support team into revenue drivers

Equipped with the above framework, your support team no longer gets stuck in the day-to-day work of establishing a healthy baseline for customer experience and efficiency. Instead, they serve a greater objective—to become a positive force on revenue. They can now focus on stopping customer churn, helping VIP customers achieve success and solving deep technical issues. Over time, this lets them focus on proactively growing the business’ bottom line and improving customer loyalty.

With customer support rooted in conversational experiences, the customer support role changes dramatically. Instead of being a cost center focused primarily on answering repetitive questions and delivering reactive support, with siloed work and lack of career growth opportunities, customer support agents can now be value drivers who focus on resolving VIP and complex queries, with an opportunity to expand to proactive support, learn new skills and partner with other teams, and most importantly, grow their careers through specialization.

The bottom line is conversational customer experiences benefit both your customers and support teams. Customers receive fast and personal support, while support teams can dig themselves out of reactive support and have more time and resources to become strategic, revenue-generating business partners. It’s really a win-win situation for everyone.