NEWS: Global Mentoring Solutions is now part of the Sherweb family. Click here to read more about the acquisition.

As discussed in my previous post, One Metric Every MSP Must Closely Monitor, improving the success of the initial support contact can be crucial to your growth and customer-retention goals. Whether your business provides first-line support to your customers, or contracts with another organization to fill that role, building proper escalation procedures is a critical part of the process. Even if your team reaches a high resolution rate on initial support calls, are you giving them the tools to complete this task as quickly and efficiently as possible?

As noted in the prior post, Cornell University research showed up to 42 percent of customer problems require multiple contacts to resolve, leading to high operating costs for the support organization and low service grades. If you can provide remediation steps that your clients can perform themselves, or direct them to an online resource portal or instant message forum to solve common issues, it can reduce the demand for technician’s time. Considering the advances in communication methods, the term ‘call center’ is almost a misnomer. Many support firms service their customers through a variety of media, including:  voice, e-Mail, instant messages and video conferencing. By implementing new methods of communication and automating workflow (escalation) processes, you not only can reduce the cost of deliver support, but improve the customer service levels as well.

On any MSP Help Desk there are a number of ways to improve first call response resolution and customer satisfaction, and it’s no coincidence that they go hand-in-hand. Taking a ‘fastest call’ approach to diagnosing and remediating issues during the initial contact isn’t favorable to customer service. Marking ‘closed’ or ‘resolved’ after a first call, based on a limited understanding of the customer’s real issue promotes repeat occurrences, call backs, and unhappy clients. Careful diagnosis of the problem, including a thorough review of each of the customer’s concerns should be the ultimate goal of every support center.

As service organizations grow managing an escalating number of calls and types of issues becomes extremely challenging. Call backs are often ‘picked off the queue’ by technicians other than the original service agent and systems automatically create/open new tickets. It becomes exceedingly important for service organizations to monitor their key control metrics such as call and call back rates for each customer and by individual technician. Implementing systems and processes that allow technicians to review and access the customer’s call history, and accurately categorize ‘callbacks’ vs. ‘new tickets,’ are also critical to overall success.

What specific steps can you take to ensure your call center is cost-effective?

  • Provide each technician with instant access to comprehensive customer information: A computerized inventory and maps of your clients’ hardware, software, and other applications should be available ‘on-demand’ when a call comes in. A customer relationship management (CRM) system will provide fast access to this information and can reduce the time required to diagnose and resolve your customers’ issues, especially if integrated with other business improvement technologies.
  • Employ a proactive information system: While the CRM is a great first step, far greater call efficiencies can be created by automating certain processes and implementing intuitive applications. For example, intelligent call routing and queuing, interactive voice response (IVR) and custom messaging software allows the support business to sort and direct calls based on the specific problems of the caller. Before implementing these systems, it’s important to balance the automation level with your customers’ expectations. Review service level agreement (SLA) stipulations to ensure you’re meeting your commitments and make sure your clients are notified (and understand) any of these process changes you make.
  • Create clear lines of communication between your contractor and your technicians: When you outsource part or all of your support responsibilities to a third-party, it’s important to integrate the communications and automation processes. Sharing real-time CRM and support ticket information keeps problems from “slipping through the cracks” and ensures continuity resolution efforts when escalation occurs. For clients, the streamlined process appears seamless and can make your organization seem much larger than it really is.
  • Redesign work flow: Support organizations are most effective when they route customer issues to the ‘most appropriate’ individual. While that process sounds simple, the number of client service problems isn’t constant and each call is different. A number of factors lead to some calls taking longer than others, and it is difficult to predict staff shortages—leading to occasional skill understaffing and longer resolution times. With that in mind, it’s important to reassess your clients’ long-term support trends and tweak your work flow rules on a frequent basis. That allows you to maximize your bench utilization and identify areas you need to enhance; either with an outsourced support facility or with new hires.
  • Automate workflows: After optimizing the processes for support calls, implementing an automated service ticket system is a logical step for most organizations. Using codes or key words (such as the customer name), these solutions prioritize and alert the proper technician when one of their accounts has a problem or their skill is required. Professional Services Automation (PSA) platforms and similar tools generally provide a fast return on investment and integrate with other technologies utilized in IT services businesses.
  • Provide proactive guidance: If your company receives a number of common and low-effort support calls, creating an online community or self-help Website for your clients can be a low cost and effective option. With automated instructions and support documentation available, you could reduce the frequency of calls and allow motivated clients to learn how to resolve similar issues in the future. An online community allows peers to share best practices and ideas to enhance their user experience, all while reducing your support costs.

If you are dedicated to providing quality service, new business is generally easier to secure from referrals and marketing efforts. IT service companies in the midst of a growth stage are not typically able to hire a large enough group of skilled professionals to meet their exploding  support needs either, and pulling capital away from marketing and sales teams at that point can actually slow growth. Here you may consider teaming up with a third-party organization to augment your client’s support needs, and continue to keep your team’s call time focused where it’s  most needed.