4 Things To Figure Out Before Hiring Another Customer Support Agent

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Having an empty support inbox at the end of the day is a goal most customer support teams only dream about. When a business is first starting out, an empty inbox may be possible to maintain even with only one or two agents on the team. But as a business takes off, the number of customer support inquiries often grows exponentially and answering all the new questions promptly and accurately can be a struggle. From phone calls to social media, customers begin to vent their frustrations and inundate you with new questions, forcing you to allocate more resources to customer support than you ever imagined.

Is the only way to scale your customer support efforts adding more headcount to your team? Or is there something else you can do to help alleviate the real issue at hand?

Let's say, for example, you’re a 10-person support team managing 600 support tickets every day. Your company is mentioned in a hot news article that causes a spike in your web traffic and interest in your product. In one week, you see a drastic jump to 900 support tickets. You'd be asking your team to support a 50% increase in support ticket volume in the same amount of time. Your team would have to work at a much faster rate or dedicate many more hours per week to get the job done. As a backlog of support tickets piles up, you're faced with more work than your team can keep up with and everyone is exhausted.

Here are four things to figure out before you hire another customer support agent:

  1. Are you experiencing true growth in support ticket volume or just a temporary spike?
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  3. Uncover the cause of your support volume overload and decide whether it is temporary or not. Perhaps your engineering team pushed a new update that contained a bug, which caused a swell of customers to contact you with questions about what is going on. If the issue will be resolved in a short amount of time, it does not make sense to invest in a new agent. Once the volume lowers back to normal levels, your overall productivity per agent would be lower with the extra headcount.
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  6. What proportion of your support tickets are commonly asked questions?
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  8. Are you receiving a large volume of the same questions over-and-over? Research shows that the questions customers have when using a website or web app follow a power law, or 80/20 rule. That means a small number of questions comprise a large percentage of the questions people ask. If you aren't facing a bunch of new questions that require personal conversations with your agents, there are alternate ways to get those questions answered than hiring another agent, like website self-service or community forums.
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  11. Can you improve the user experience on your website or web app?
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  13. If you notice the bulk of your questions relate to a certain page or section of your website, such as your billing page, improve the experience on that page. Think of your support tickets as customer feedback. How can you improve the experience so no future visitor would have to ask the same question again? Could you add more information or modify the existing content so that is more relevant and more helpful? 
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  16. Could you help your customers better help themselves through website self-service?
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  18. Customers can usually find answers to questions for themselves when self-service is implemented well and is relevant to your customers’ questions. A bonus: It is also very, very cheap! Forrester estimates on average, a customer service phone call costs a company $12 and up, a live chat costs $5, an email costs $2.50, but customer self-service only costs $0.10 per incident. Website self-service can resolve a large percentage of the common questions your customers have without taking any time from your support team.