As a fast-growth company there aren’t enough hours in the day. Things like product-market fit, cash flow, order fulfillment, and payroll can take priority over scaling customer service. Your small team is connecting with customers often for feedback. Issues are shared in regular meetings, decisions are easy to communicate, and everyone is on the same page. Right?
Yes, until you start to scale and grow. You’re not just scaling customer service – you are scaling your whole company. Hyper-growth founders can struggle to make the transition from entrepreneur to CEO, finds a review of CEOs from the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list. Your job is to help each area of the company scale, including your customer service operation.
The best performing companies give personalized service – the key is to learn how to do it at scale. Here are areas to review as you grow.
People – Hiring, Training, and Leading at Scale
Is your startup customer service team working nights and weekends simply to keep up? That is one sign that you need to look at the size of your team. You may simply need more hands on deck.
Before you post a single help-wanted ad, figure out the kind of people you want to join your team. At SaviLinx, our company culture is extremely important, so we work hard to find team members who are passionate about customer service, and who embrace our Guiding Principles.
We can train people how to deliver excellent service, but we can’t train for attitude. Decide what is important to you and it will make the hiring process much easier.
More team members means more leaders – calculate the optimal ratio for your company of team members to managers. Our managers have daily check-ins with each customer service agent. That means that our ratio of manager-to-agent is on the high end, but we have found that this investment pays off in better operations, more focused teams, and happier customers.
At some point, you will need someone on the executive team who is responsible for customer service. Growth guru Verne Harnish, developer of the Rockefeller Habits and author of “Scaling Up”, recommends that fast-growing companies pace their senior team hires to one a year or less to gauge the impact of each addition. If you’re not ready to add to your team just yet, consider partnering with an outsourced contact center to get a head start on scaling customer service.
Even if you hire the most passionate people and have a stellar management team, training is a crucial success factor for scaling customer service. Training is a combination of art and science. The right training programs can get your agents started faster, help them be more productive, and ensure that your entire operation is consistent and focused on your company goals. Even if you plan to keep service entirely in house, think about hiring an external training provider for scaling customer service more effectively to make sure you get this crucial aspect right.
Process – Help Everyone on the Team Move in the Right Direction.
When you’re a small startup, you can offer a unique response to each customer interaction. But when you’re growing fast, that approach can lead to inconsistent and sloppy service. How can you create processes that don’t crush your personal approach?
First, recognize that a big part of customer service is setting expectations, and that means developing processes to help your agents be consistent. When you are growing fast you will find that you have sets of repeatable issues. Categorize them and develop processes to handle them: create a system for communicating product problems to the development team, build a set of tools to help agents walk customers through challenging usability issues, and provide guidelines for helping unhappy customers. And let agents know when it’s ok to break the rules.
Process models may sound restrictive to your formerly free-wheeling team, but remember – you own the process; it doesn’t own you. Work with agents to understand what customers truly want. Soon they’ll find that the ability to help many customers efficiently and effectively offers them the room to deliver truly personalized service when needed.
If your agents say a process isn’t working, listen and keep changing them until they do.
Metrics – The Answers Are Within Your Data – You Just Need to Know How to Find Them.
One of the most exciting areas in customer service is analytics. Customer service centers have a lot of data – we measure traditional data points such as call length, time to resolution, and customer satisfaction scores and have developed an analytics platform where we can model them using additional dimensions such as agent tenure and training time. This is helping us to dig in to understand how we can move customer service in the right direction.
Fast-growing companies need to start early in monitoring their analytics – the data will provide keys on how to keep customers happy, how many agents you need on your team for scaling customer service, and – crucially – how to accurately budget for service.
We use the data to understand product issues, uncover service process problems, and to build staffing and training models. We can tweak individual elements to see the impact, and plan accordingly. And we can use the data to help our agents deliver on customer goals. We design pay-for-performance programs where our agents can earn extra money for meeting certain criteria. These vary depending on client needs and can be as simple as improving first call resolution to gathering certain data from callers.
Your analytics can help you truly measure your performance and implement meaningful benchmarks and goals. These are crucial for fast-growing companies, where even a small shift in the wrong direction can get you off on a very bad track.
Scaling Customer Service with a Partner
As your company grows, you may find that you have the people, processes, and insightful analytics you need to support your customer service team. But if one or more area is not in your wheelhouse, don’t hesitate to find help.
Customer service outsourcing partners can help you build your team and processes and get the insights you need from your data. They can help you for short-term periods of high growth, for seasonal help, or as a more permanent partner for your internal team. Or you can partner with a contact center for all of your customer service.
An outsourcing partner may be the right choice for scaling customer service at your company. Do you have questions on how it could work? I’d love to answer them. Just reach out – I would love to help your fast-growing company!
by Heather D. Blease, SaviLinx Founder and CEO