Around the middle of 2017, I realized that my team was busier than we should have been.
Every month, I look at Nutshell’s contact rate—the percentage of our customers that are reaching out to us with support requests—and it had crept up to 61%, from an average of 50% earlier in the year. That’s way too high, considering that the middle of the year is a fairly slow time for new business.
When I looked closer at the rate and kinds of interactions that the Support team was having on a daily basis, the root of the problem became clear to me right away: We had too many people asking us questions, when the answers were readily available in our knowledge base.
My team puts a lot of time and effort into writing easy-to-follow guides that educate users on everything they need to know about Nutshell. We needed to figure out how to make it more obvious that those answers could be quickly found without assistance, and that you don’t have to wait hours (or until the next day) to learn something simple.
For some reason, people weren’t finding the information they needed on their own. Instead, they were chatting with us to ask questions like, “Hey, how do I connect my Gmail?,” and we would write back to the effect of, “Here’s an article with the information you need. Have a great day!”
The thing is, that’s not an interaction that needs to happen. Either we can spend a chunk of every day re-answering the same questions over and over again, or we can answer all of those questions with a single article.
The best support is no support
It’s hard to pick one customer-facing metric that I consider to be the “most important,” but time to resolution is a big one because it’s so closely tied to customer satisfaction. When I first began re-examining my team’s process, here’s what we were up against…
Median chat response time: two hours
Median email response time: 17 hours
If you’re trying to reduce the time required for a customer to get a problem solved, the most efficient way is to leave out the Customer Support team entirely. We have a saying about this in the CS world: “The best support is no support.”
Ideally, every possible question would be answered by having a product that is insanely easy to figure out and use. Of course, no product will solve every problem that a customer will run into, but having a well-stocked knowledge base that provides answers to as many common questions as possible minimizes the need for those non-essential interactions. It means that our customers can figure out what they need to know within a couple minutes of realizing they even have a question, as opposed to chatting, emailing, or calling our team.
Whether our customers are contacting us by phone or in writing, they have to think about what they’re going to say, or how they’re going to phrase their problem. Then, they have to wait for a response from our team. When you’re learning a new software, you’re already investing time and energy. Time is money in sales, so why not spend 15 minutes reading a quick article and viewing a tutorial video rather than waiting for a response?
Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love talking to our customers, but more often than not, direct communication is harder and more time-consuming than using the resources already available to you.
In search of the silver bullet
The first thing I knew we needed was a more robust platform for our helpdesk and help center.
We needed an accessible support homepage where customers could get an overview of Nutshell help topics at a glance. All our articles, videos, and other resources needed to be discoverable by browsing the categories or searching for specific questions or keywords. We also needed to unify our communication channels in a single reporting tool to get a full picture of what we talk to our customers about, and to understand how good of a service we’re actually providing.
While evaluating different platforms, we took a few in-between steps to raise awareness about our support articles, such as embedding links to the help center in our email signatures and promoting it in our phone recordings. So, when a customer called our number, they would hear a message like “Check out support.nutshell.com to get immediate answers to your questions,” before they even connected to a member of our team. We did everything we could to get the message out there.
Ultimately, we decided to make the switch from Intercom—our former knowledge base and chat provider—to Zendesk, and went to work migrating all of our support content. From conceptualization to completion, the switchover to Zendesk took about five months. If the project had been my only focus during that time, it would have probably taken only two months, but I didn’t want it to become a major distraction from the other work that was in front of us: Most importantly, continuing to provide our customers with amazing support.
Less (availability) is more
To make this change in process successful, my team needed more time to work on support content. The easiest way to do that was to pull back on our availability, while making sure that customers still had a great experience. So, we decided to reduce our availability on live chat from seven hours every day to five hours.
In the past, we had experimented with not even offering chat support at all, because it’s very hard to manage effectively. To do chat the right way, you need to fully commit to chatting during the time that you’re available, so we decided to segment our time and give chat our full attention during those five hours—and only those five hours.
By pulling back on chat support and ramping up our email support, we were usually able to solve our customers’ questions or issues with one email, versus a 20-minute chat.
As it turned out, we really didn’t receive any negative feedback from our reduction in chat availability. In fact, the amount of negative feedback that we received related to the process of getting support actually went down, because Zendesk’s interface was less confusing to our customers than our prior provider.
When we’re available to live chat, it looks like a chat window, and when we’re not, it looks like a contact form. Our former communication tool looked like a chat bubble within our product and lacked customizable messaging back to the customer. The assumption that you make when you see that type of interface is, “Oh, somebody’s right there waiting to talk to me,” but that wasn’t always the reality.
So, it would take a couple of hours for us to get back to people who thought that they were going to hear from someone immediately, based on what they were seeing in front of them. We just weren’t capable of that—we were talking to too many people, and we were too small of a team. Plus, people would spend all that time waiting to hear back when most of them could have received an answer right away if they found our help center.
As soon as we cut back on our live chat availability, the number of incoming chats decreased sharply. We went from getting a couple hundred chats a day to 60, then 50, and now we’re averaging around 30. In other words, reducing our chat availability by less than 30% resulted in an 85% reduction in chat volume.
Support requests by phone and email increased as a result, although not as much as I expected. At first I was concerned that since we were fielding a lot fewer chats, perhaps some of our customers simply didn’t know how to reach us. But the views on our help center began increasing as soon as we put these changes in place—from an average of 1,409 views/week in September, to 1,865 views/week at the time of this writing(a 32% increase)—and our data shows that more of our customers are in fact searching our help center first. Plus, customers can still chat with us in the same physical location that they always have, and when we’re not available, they can submit a ticket through our product.
The end results speak for themselves. After five months, we had decreased our chat response time from two hours to two minutes, and decreased our median email response time from 17 hours to 1 hour. By December, our contact rate had dropped from 61% to a far more manageable 32%.
The unintended side effect of reducing chat time was that my team had bandwidth to respond more quickly to emails, and have more meaningful conversations with customers rather than repeating well-documented information.
Now that our customers are getting help faster regardless of their preferred communication method, and our team members are less overwhelmed with a mounting workload, the next step is to encourage our customers to educate each other.
One big reason why Zendesk stood out while we were evaluating support platforms was that they have an amazing community forum tool that you can use to foster collaboration and discussion among your own users. My goal for this year is to get as many of our customers using it as possible, and make sure that we’re very intentional about managing it so that it remains a useful source of knowledge.
The more information that’s endorsed by Nutshell and available to customers, the more we can encourage people to solve their own problems and find the information they need without ever having to wait for us.
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