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Guide to effective phone support

You call tech support and you are put on hold, listening to awful hold music for what seems like forever. When you finally get connected to an agent, you are asked unrelated questions, and instructed to go to a web form and submit a ticket.

Or worse, you only got an answering machine. Let’s face it, we’ve all probably been there. We got the run around or simply no phone support at all, when you needed it the most.

What about your business? Do you offer phone support? If not, why? And if you do, do you have a performing team? Is it setting you apart from the competition?

How are you managing calls and measuring your phone team’s performance? Below are some ideas to ‘grease the bearings’ on your thinking wheel:

Is there a Need?

This is probably the first question you should ask yourself. Perhaps you asked yourself ‘if you needed phone support’ before you started reading this article.

Only you will truly know if phone support is necessary. Perhaps it’s something you can decide on a survey of existing customers or based on your customer base and target markets.

Scope of Support

Once you have determined your need, it’s critical to first identify the task of the team – that is, your scope of support. This will be a building block for all the other points discussed later on in this article.

For example, you may choose to have the phone team only provide Level1 support including things as: email setup and troubleshooting, ftp setup and publishing websites, and control panel functionality.

This might be largely dependant on your target market. Maybe you want phone support only as an emergency contact method, during business hours, or as a teaching tool for your new customers.

Training Program

Once your scope of support is clearly defined, you can create your training program. What does the team need to know to fulfill their scope of support? That’s not to say that they can’t learn more – in fact, encourage it so that they can grow with your organization.

Your training program should be setup in such a way that anyone within the team can be the teacher. This will allow you to effectively scale your team when the time comes.

There’s hundreds of books available on the proper training methods, so I won’t cover that deeply. But make the training program fun to keep the person engaged.

Work Instruction

A work instruction and policy should be created when you decide on your scope of support. As time goes on, this work instruction will adapt to the calls the team receives, and as new problems and situations are encountered.

The work instruction should clearly outline what’s expected of each team member and how to handle the most common scenarios. For example, How should the team handle calls about X? During a service outage, how should the team respond to Y?


Measuring Performance

Now that you have your phone support team in place, it’s time to determine how they are performing. Are they meeting the mark? What mark? Hopefully you create a QA Guideline along with the Work Instruction.

Remember: What’s to be expected of each phone agent? You will use this as your benchmark.

In addition to your call quality standards, you may consider including things like: average hold-times, call lengths, and customer feedback. Some of this data should be easy to collect from your phone system.

Others you might need to get inventive with. For example, customer feedback. Perhaps you can ask the customer to participate in a survey at the end of the call.

You should always collect random samples of call recordings, to ensure the agent is handling calls properly. Make sure you comply with any legal requirements before recording calls.

Use each criteria to create a performance formulae. Assign each criteria a weighted value based on your company values, when writing your formula.

For example, hold-times will obviously have less value than the call quality and following the QA guidelines. The formula won’t be perfect overnight, so you may need to perfect that over time.

Self Evaluation

It’s very important that you make your performance data available to your phone team. They should know how to generate their call stats (eg: hold-times & call lengths), listen to their own call recordings, and possibly compare with their team mates.

Generating weekly and monthly reports allows them to gain a snapshot of their performance. As your team grows, you will want to automate as much of this as you can.

For example, call stats can be generated automatically with a little development. Even so, the stats should be routinely looked at for call trends, etc. This might help you determine what shifts you need more staff on the phones.

Other things like listening to the call samples will always be a manual process. The person(s) listening to the calls should be well aware of the team’s work, expectations, and must be involved with the QA system and formula.

Everything Phone System

As I mentioned, you can get a lot of the stats from your phone system (hopefully.) We’ve had great success with our own custom Asterisk solution. We have it setup using the Realtime engine, which allows for CDR data to be saved to a database.

Then we wrote some software to generate ‘pretty’ stats and graphs. Call recording is also very easy with Asterisk. With some custom dial plans, we have implemented several cool features including the customer survey, and a caller callback module (An Idea I got from Tmobile’s Tech Support) Feel free to contact a sales representative, if you need any help with Asterisk or Trixbox.

So I hope this article proves useful when you launch your phone support team, or improve your existing team. But what if you don’t have a phone support team?

Or you are working with an outsourced phone support team? Bobcares offers Level1 Phone Support from its offices in the US and Germany. So next week, We’ll focus on how to effectively manage an outsourced phone support team.



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Bobcares provides Outsourced Web Hosting Support and Outsourced Server Management for online businesses. Our services include 24/7 server support, help desk support, live chat support and phone support.
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