Customer Support: Definition, Importance, + Strategies


Whether via phone call, live chat, a Tweet, or sending an email, people get the answers they need through a company’s customer support team. 

The results of customer support interactions play a huge role in how those customers feel about your business and brand as a whole, which is why it has the potential to greatly impact your business’ reputation, customer retention, bottom line, and more. 

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In this post, we’ll review everything you need to know about customer support, including why customer support is important, what makes it unique from other customer-facing roles within your company, and:

Customers always initiate customer support interactions as they tell you they’re facing a problem. The most significant reason to invest in your customer support teams is to delight your customers. Doing this is critical to your business’s long-term success — when you delight your customers, they’re more likely to be loyal, long-term customers that advocate for you and draw in new business. 

A few other stats that support the importance of customer support include: 

  • 50% will switch to a competitor after one bad experience. (Source)
  • 75% of customers are willing to spend more to buy from companies that give them a good customer experience. (Source)
  • If the company’s customer service is excellent, 78% of consumers will do business with a company again after a mistake. (Source)
  • 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies who offer excellent customer service. (Source

How Customer Support Interacts With Customer Service and Customer Success

Customer support, service, and success are all customer-facing teams critical to your business’s prosperity and growth — but these teams are often confused and referred to interchangeably.

Here’s a quick breakdown of their definitions and differences.

Customer Service vs. Customer Support

Customer service is more proactive than customer support. It’s about saying to a customer, “I have something for you,” instead of a customer saying, “I need something from you.”

Service reps often guide customers before they even know they need help, whereas support is about reacting to a customer’s problem. When you provide both proactive and reactive service and support, you’re acting as advocates for their growth. 

Customer Success vs. Customer Support

Customer success is doing something for customers that they might not have known they wanted or needed. It can’t exist without customer service and support, as you can only help customers succeed if you can provide reactive support and proactively guide your customers. 

 

For example, reps might upsell or cross-sell by suggesting other products or services for customers that complement whatever they’ve already purchased or to help them better align with their business needs and goals. 

The chart below displays significant differences between support and success. 

differences between customer service and customer support

Customer Support Team Structure

Whether you’re looking to improve your existing customer support strategies or to build a team from scratch, it’s important to recognize your team’s structure.

A customer support team’s structure is important as it will dictate: 

  1. How agile and informed your support team is, 
  2. How well they can support and delight customers, 
  3. How comfortably your team can scale as your company grows.

For these reasons, it’s important to start with, or reevaluate, your team’s foundation, and identifying your company’s circumstances and customer needs is a great way to start. Then, you can think about what your customers most often request help with. Technical issues? Onboarding? Refunds and returns? 

These factors will likely vary based on what industry you’re in and the products you’re selling, and your answers will help you understand how to specialize the smaller teams you create within your broader customer support organization. 

The image below shows a standard customer support team structure that you can follow:

sample customer support team structure

What will vary is the individual teams and what they specialize in and manage for your customers. For example, one of your teams could own on-boarding, another could manage demos, and another could handle training. You can also assign different levels of complexity to each team — one could manage general questions, one could answer technical questions, and one could own the most advanced issues.

How you create and assign these teams is up to you, what your customers need, and what responsibilities you’re assigning your CSRs.

Customer Support Responsibilities

Note that responsibilities might look slightly different depending on your company and your customers, but below is a list of the most common activities customer support reps undertake in their day-to-day: 

  • Answer customer phone calls

  • Reply to email requests and questions

  • Operate live chat on your website for customer requests

  • Manage, triage, assign, and work on tickets in the customer support queue

  • Respond to social media comments, direct messages, and requests

  • Write, publish, and share instructional, FAQ, blog, and knowledge base content for customers who want access to your self-help support materials

  • Assist in on-boarding and training for customers about how to use your products or services when they reach out

  • Manage all types of customer complaints, feedback, and praise (and escalate them if and when necessary)

  • Advise customers on company, product, or service information as needed

  • Understand the product or service inside and out to provide ample support

  • Upgrade, change, or cancel accounts and subscriptions

  • Suggest solutions for customers based on their specific needs and goals when working to resolve their challenges

  • Work with customers until they feel their pain points have been resolved

  • Provide solutions to challenges that will work long term (whenever possible)

  • Act as on-brand, positive representatives of your company at all times

As you can see, your customer support staff works on many different tasks every day. These responsibilities and tasks span across multiple channels, too.

Customer Support Channels

Adopting omnichannel support is important nowadays, as customers want the option to reach out on their most preferred channel. Below is a list of some of today’s most common customer support channels:

  • Phone: Every customer support team should be able to provide customers with the help they need via a phone support line managed by your CSRs.

  • Email: Ensure your customer support team has a universal email inbox where inquiries and questions can be sent in by customers who are looking for thoughtful, written responses in return.

  • Live Chat: Live chat will help your CSRs manage discussions they have with customers via instant message on your website pages.

  • Social Media: Whether you use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, (or any other social platform), ensure CSRs are checking direct messages, comments, and notifications for any inquires that need responses. This can be simplified with the help of a social media software.

  • Knowledge Base and FAQ: If your business has a knowledge base with an FAQ, ensure your CSRs are updating it frequently as you want information to be as accurate, specific, and helpful as possible to ensure customers can find answers to resolve their challenges on their own.

  • Community: A customer-led community is where customers can share knowledge, experiences, and also learn from each other. Have your support reps review the content shared in the community for opportunities to provide support if customers repeatedly mention certain challenges.

  • Tickets: Your customers may choose to submit a ticket via your website (and your ticketing software) to automatically be placed in a queue and receive the support they need from reps when their turn comes.

As an example, HubSpot has a Help & Support page that includes information for customers about all of the support channels offered, making the process of obtaining and providing support as simple as possible for customers and reps. 

Let’s go over some of the skills needed to ensure customer support success. 

Customer Support Skills

CSRs need exceptional people skills and intrinsic motivation to thrive in this customer-facing role. Here’s a quick rundown of some essential customer support skills that will help you develop a rapport with your customers. 

customer support skills

Communication

The most important skill CSRs need is effective communication. Support reps should be clear and effective communicators throughout any interaction. Whether it’s chatting with a customer via any support channel, escalating an issue to a manager, relaying information to higher-ups, or sharing experiences with other CSRs, strong communication skills are key.

Product Expertise

CSRs need to know how to answer any questions about your product or service customers may have. To do this, they need to know your product or service inside and out including its features and capabilities (along with details about any updates made to it over time).

Empathy

CSRs need to be empathetic — part of their role requires them to listen to stories about their customers’ challenges and pain points as well as general feedback. There are bound to be times when customers won’t be polite, yet your reps still need to show empathy and try to understand where each customer is coming from. This way, CSRs assist customers in a way that effectively meets their needs and makes them feel supported.

Mental Toughness and Patience

Speaking of customers who aren’t always patient or kind, your reps need to be mentally tough and patient with customers. They might receive feedback from customers that’s negative about your business and brand or even rude to them on a more personal level. CSRs need to be able to take this information in stride, as well as remain patient, calm, and positive, to get their job done.

Enthusiasm

CSRs should be enthusiastic employees at your company. No customer wants help from someone who sounds negative or unhappy. Reps act as educators and coaches for your brand — for this reason, they need to be positive representatives of your brand who are ready and willing to help customers grow better with your products or services.

Time Management

Not only are support reps expected to resolve the challenges of your customers thoroughly, but they also need to do so in a timely manner. These days, due to the multiple channels through which customers can reach support reps almost instantly, they’re expected to begin working on a fix to the problem at hand immediately and reach a final solution as efficiently as possible.

Problem-Solving

CSRs need to be problem solvers. They’re bound to have an array of issues brought to their attention by reps that they’re expected to solve. Whether it’s a new solution to an old or recurring problem they’ve encountered before or a solution to a challenge they’ve never had to solve before, reps must be able to look at any issue and find a way to fix it for the customer at hand.

Adaptability

Your business is bound to grow, evolve, and change. That includes information about your products or services (including features and capabilities) as well as your buyer personas and base of customers. Your CSRs need to be ready to adapt to those changes and willing to learn whatever it is they need to know to remain effective in their role.

Now, let’s talk about improving your customer support strategy to ensure great results among your reps and customers.

How to Improve Your Customer Support Strategy

Although customer-facing work can be highly rewarding, it also has the potential to become complicated and mentally taxing for CSRs. For this reason, it’s important to consistently improve upon your customer support strategy.

Here are some ways to help keep your CSRs excited to come to work and build a successful team over time. Remember, with happy customer support reps, you’ll be able to better serve and delight your customers.

1. Determine how you’ll staff and train your customer support reps.

To meet the needs of your customers, CSRs must be staffed and trained appropriately. Your business must know how and when to grow your customer support department as well as think about the best ways to train reps — this will allow you to ensure seamless and consistent processes for assisting any customers. Any CSR should be able to provide the same level of on-brand support in a way that satisfies the needs of the customer as well as the expectations of your business.

Be aware that every business will staff and train reps differently. For example, a software company may need more support employees than a clothing brand due to the level of attention needed and the amount of time it can take to walk a customer through a solution. Take stock of what is important to your business and your customers, and plan accordingly. 

2. Decide which skills are most important for your reps to focus on developing.

The skills we mentioned above are the most common skills for all CSRs to possess. However, it’s important to determine which are most important for you and your business. Brainstorm the different ways that your reps will interact with customers and the needs they may have, and decide the skills that are most applicable. 

3. Seat your customer support team physically close to your product team.

In your office, seat customer support close to your product team. Physical proximity means both teams will learn more about the other’s day-to-day experiences which will contribute to a shared understanding of how they can collaborate to better serve customers (and each other).

4. Provide tools and solutions for your support reps to better help customers.

Ensure your CSRs have all of the tools and solutions they need to best help your customers. Try comparing different customer support platforms that best fit your needs. Whether it’s software, training on your product’s latest updates or newest features, or feedback on how to improve, help set your reps up for success so they can contribute to the success of your customers.

Note: You might obtain this feedback about your prior success in providing your reps with these resources, or details about what they’re still missing, through employee satisfaction surveys or other employee satisfaction and engagement tools.

5. Empower your customer support reps.

In addition to providing tools and solutions for your CSRs to better help customers, empower and motivate them by showing them how much you value their work and commitment. This will help you improve their happiness, loyalty, and desire to provide the best support they possibly can for customers.

You can also ask for their feedback and recommendations, and include them in decision-making processes for enhancing your products and support practices. 

6. Consistently measure your customer support team’s results.

You should constantly be measuring your customer support team’s results to improve your strategy. This includes the results of your rep-to-customer interactions as well as the results of your rep satisfaction and happiness efforts in the workplace.

To ensure your CSRs are meeting the needs of your customers, deploy customer feedback surveys, ask for feedback after they work with a rep, and use Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) to determine how likely customers are to refer you.

7. Promote self-care among reps.

Preventing burnout, unhappiness, and exhaustion — which are all common results of working in customer-facing roles — is critical to your support team’s success. This will allow you to retain your employees for longer periods of time (meaning you won’t have to spend the majority of your time hiring and training new CSRs).

Here are a few ways to help promote self-care among CSRs and ensure they are happy and productive members of the team.

1. Prioritize extracurricular passions and necessary downtime.

CSRs should ensure they’re creating or setting aside time during the workday for side projects, skill-building, and professional development activities. Working as a customer support rep is often, but not always, a starting point in one’s career or their time at a given company.

Whether or not a rep’s intention is to work in support long term, it’s important they have time to put down the phone and explore other passions and interests. This includes simple things like providing time for your reps to leave the office for lunch, coffee, internal networking, or team bonding activities.

2. Invest in rep education.

Whether a CSR needs help improving some of their responsibilities or if they’re interested in the work of an employee in another department at your company, provide them with the education and tools they need to obtain the information they’re searching for.

Now, let’s review some ways you can make your support team as efficient as possible with the help of support software.

Customer Support Software

Customer support software helps your team build and automate processes, manage and share customer information, obtain feedback, and manage processes from one central location. 

customer support software

HubSpot Service Hub is a great full-service option, as it allows you to manage all of the processes mentioned above in a customer-centric software. Below we’ll go over a list of some additional high-quality support tools you can consider for your team. 

Ticketing Software

Help desk and ticketing software helps CSRs track and organize incoming customer requests, stay organized, build processes, and prioritize requests based on when they came in and their level of significance. 

Surveys

Surveys are critical to measuring your business’s internal and external successes. Whether it’s obtaining customer feedback prior to or after working with a rep or asking your CSRs about their satisfaction and happiness working for your company, Survey and customer feedback software has the power to tell you important information about the people who matter most to your success and growth.

Knowledge Base

Managing a knowledge base for your customers is an important part of empowering them. Knowledge base software will help you create this hub of educational support materials so customers can try to help themselves and solve challenges on their own. Your knowledge base may include FAQ and other instructional information. This type of support is not only empowering to your customers but it saves your CSRs time, too.

Universal Inbox

HubSpot, Zendesk , and Freshdesk offer universal and collaborative inboxes to help CSRs organize all of your business’s support channels in a way that ensures no customer request goes unnoticed. A universal inbox also keeps track of each customer’s interaction history so reps have the context they need to best assist them and manage their specific situation appropriately.

Live Chat Software

In today’s world of customer support, customers often expect an option to receive immediate support via live chat software. This provides your customers with another option for support to choose from that they can access via your website. Live chat is also great for efficiency because your CSRs can assist multiple people at once.

Social Media Software

Your CSRs are bound to receive feedback, inquires, and more via social media. Social media software helps you manage all contact through your various platforms from a central location. Your reps can easily view your pages and profiles and respond to requests, questions, and more through the software in a timely and organized fashion.

Customer Support Examples

1. JetBlue: Caring About Its Customers More Than Profit 

Back when Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017, many airlines began surging their prices out of Florida airports. 

Not JetBlue.

To help its customers get somewhere safe, JetBlue discounted its prices and capped them at a mere $99

The company has been given the title of highest in customer satisfaction among low-cost carriers over 13 times now, and it’s no wonder why. While some companies preferred to use the increase in demand as an opportunity to make a profit, JetBlue demonstrated it cared more about its customers’ safety than it did about its own bottom-line. 

Takeaway

When it counts, consider how you can show your appreciation or support for your customers. You might provide discounts to veterans or teachers, or donate a percentage of your proceeds to a specific cause or charity. Demonstrating kindness and empathy is critical when aiming to build long-term brand loyalty and stronger customer relationships. 

2. Adobe Care: Seeking Out Feedback 

Adobe created a separate Adobe Care Twitter account specifically geared towards customer service requests, and the brand often posts cheerful messages encouraging its followers to comment with any questions or concerns. 

This enables open dialogue and encourages Adobe customers to publicly post complaints or issues. While this could seem like a risky move, it helps other customers find the answers they’re looking for — while also demonstrating the brand’s commitment to transparency and trust. 

Take a look, for instance, at the following thread, which highlights Adobe’s desire to improve their customers’ experience by providing speedy, helpful advice to those who reach out: 

adobe care customer service example

Takeaway

Create a specific channel dedicated to customer support, and ensure your service reps are available during pre-set times to quickly and efficiently answer your followers’ questions or concerns. 

3. MADE.COM: Responding to Each Customers’ Comment 

If you scroll through some of furniture company MADE.com’s Instagram posts, you’ll quickly notice a trend: the brand responds to every comment left on their posts, including the ones that mention customers’ frustrations. 

Similar to the Adobe example, above, this shows MADE.com’s interest in providing its customers with the support they need — wherever, and whenever, they prefer to receive it. 

While these customers could pick up the phone to call MADE.com’s support line, many find it easier to comment on Instagram with their problems or concerns. Rather than deleting or ignoring the comments, MADE.com makes the smart customer support decision by replying directly. 

Each comment is delivered with empathy and care, and encourages these customers to reach out to a rep directly for more information or help. 

made.com example of customer support

Takeaway 

Provide effective, kind customer service to your customers wherever they most prefer to receive it. Customer service shouldn’t just exist via phone or email — it should also exist on social media, where most of your customers’ would prefer to interact with brands. 

4. Zappos.com: Giving Back to the Community 

Customer service isn’t just about putting out fires; It’s also about going above-and-beyond for a community or group of people to show the human-side of your brand. 

Consider, for instance, how Zappos.com partnered with Shoes That Fit, a program that aims to provide new athletic shoes for every child in need. In November 2021, Zappos.com and Shoes That Fit provided 150 kids in the Las Vegas area with new shoes, school supplies, food, and sports equipment.

These kids are not paying customers’ of Zappos.com, but Zappos.com showed an empathetic, human side to their brand when they donated shoes to those in need. Additionally, Zappos.com demonstrated its company values, ideally increasing brand loyalty and pride among its consumers. 

zappos.com customer service example

Takeaway

63% of customers are more willing to buy from companies that are socially responsible. To create long-term brand loyalty while making a difference, look for ways to give back and get involved in charity efforts to demonstrate your company’s values. 

5. Disney: Creating Quality Standards 

We love Disney’s customer service experience so much, we wrote a whole post about it

Simply put, Disney does a phenomenal job with customer service. How? Well, among other things, Disney defined a set of quality standards to ensure each staff member feels empowered to deliver an excellent customer experience. 

Additionally, the brand also has seven service guidelines, which include: 

  • Be Happy – make eye contact and smile.
  • Be like Sneezy – greet and welcome every customer. Spread the spirit of hospitality. It’s contagious!
  • Don’t be Bashful – seek out guest contact.
  • Be like Doc – provide immediate service recovery.
  • Don’t be Grumpy – display appropriate body language at all times.
  • Be like Sleepy – create dreams and preserve the magical guest experience.
  • Don’t be Dopey – thank every Guest!

By ensuring each customer feels appreciated and valued, Disney is increasing brand loyalty and customer retention. To learn more about Disney’s customer service experience, watch this video: 

 

Takeaway

Encourage your customer service leaders to define principles which they believe every customer support rep should honor. Guiding principles can empower your support reps to make decisions that best serve your customers without requiring micro-management. 

Delight Your Customers With Great Customer Support

The impact your customer support team has on your business is tremendous — by helping delight customers, customer support reps have a direct influence on retainment, revenue, and overall growth.

When you invest in your customer support team, you’ll reap the benefits of these returns. So, think about your support strategy and implement the necessary tools and systems that allow your CSRs to serve your customers to the best of their ability.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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