Focus on Solving Support Problems, Not Tickets

NOTE: This is cross-posted from a blog I maintained while I was the VP of Customer Experience at a previous company.

In my conversations with support leaders over the years, I've often heard people ask each other questions like "How many tickets do you expect your team members to solve each day?" or "What are your employee ticket KPIs?"

And while I'm mentally responding with "We don't have ticket KPIs," that thought is shocked out of my system when I hear others reply with answers like "Between 80 and 100." I find this to be absolutely B-A-N-A-N-A-S. So in this blog post, I bring you my thoughts on why we should focus on solving support problems instead of on support tickets.

Reason 1: The goal in support should be to eliminate tickets, not find more tickets to solve

People do what you incentivize them to do. I'm still taken aback when I recall that while I was (briefly) at a company, the support managers would actually create more support tickets so that they could meet their daily ticket KPIs. Their support signatures said things like "1 problem = 1 ticket" and instructed customers to create individual tickets for each question or problem they had. Not only did this artificially inflate support volume; it put the burden on customers to ask for help multiple times when they reached out to the company that had, in some way, already failed them.

With the exception of when a customer emails just to tell you how badass you are (which does happen but isn't likely a large portion of any support team's ticket volume), every support ticket represents a company failure:

  • you didn't have a feature that the customer wanted
  • the customer didn't understand how to use the app
  • the customer encountered a bug
  • the customer didn't discover that it was already possible to do something

The customer had to take time out of their day to contact the company. Nearly everyone hates doing this. It is the worst. Products and services should just work. And when they don't, for the love of all things holy, don't make your customers list their concerns across multiple emails in a single sitting.

No one wins when there are a lot of support tickets: customers don't receive the experience that they want with a product or service, and the company doesn't earn loyal and successful customers. Our goal as support managers should be to eliminate support tickets, not make our team members wish the company failed the customer more just so they can meet their daily ticket KPIs.

Reason 2: If team members are solving 80-100 tickets in a normal work day, they're likely solving a lot of easily-answered questions

The only way a person can answer 80-100 tickets in a day is if those tickets are, by and large, easy to solve. I argue that if most of your tickets are easy to solve (i.e., they don't require expert troubleshooting), you're probably either not doing enough to help your customers help themselves or not doing enough to advocate for product changes–or, more likely, you could be better at both.

My team members don't even solve 50 tickets a day. That's because the bulk of the support requests that we receive require expert troubleshooting. Is this because we have incredibly tech savvy customers? Nope! We work with farmers who are more comfortable operating $300,000 tractors than they are a $300 smartphone.

Rather, it's because we make it really easy for customers to self service and get nearly-instant answers, if they want to, from our support site. Of course, we welcome them to contact us and will always dedicate time to them one-on-one if they prefer that. But the simple truth is that people don't want to wait for answers to questions that they shouldn't have had to ask in the first place.

In fact, the 2016 Consumer Experience Index Study showed that 71% of consumers prefer to self service and value a brand more when they're able to do so.

The bulk of the messages that make it to your support team should be the kinds of messages that require expert intervention: unusual bugs that strike in rare circumstances that your team didn't foresee, major issues with billing, feature requests that go beyond what most customers have considered, etc. The more that your support team is focused on solving the root of support problems, the more that your team will:

  • eliminate tickets
  • work on really interesting stuff
  • collaborate with engineering and product management
  • add long-term value to the company

Essentially, the more that you try to eliminate support tickets, the more valuable your team becomes. This means that you shouldn't have to worry about job security. The truth of the matter is that the company will likely be more interested in investing in your team. And if it isn't, it might just be time to get the hell outta there, because investing in a value-adding support team is a customer investment that gives high returns.

Reason 3: Focusing on quantity compromises quality

This one is pretty simple, folks: if you measure your team members' success by the number of support tickets they solve each day, then you incentivize them to solve tickets quickly and at the expense of thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and care. Granted, part of what makes up good service is fast responses to customer concerns. However, fast answers that aren't the correct answer, don't illustrate that you heard the customer, or don't foster a healthy relationship by showing that you're willing to invest time and care in serving the customer will all backfire on building customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Recently on my team, two Customer Advocates and a customer exchanged seven carefully-crafted emails that involved methodical troubleshooting and friendly language to reach a resolution for the customer's issue. In the end, the customer wasn't at all upset that it took just over a day to fully resolve his concern. In fact, when evaluating his support, he said, "It was awesome. I felt like your only customer. Very attentive." Of course, he wasn't our only customer; rather, we simply took the time to actually help him, asked him the right questions at the right times, didn't ask him to repeat things that he already told us, and showed him that it's important to us that he have long-term success with our product.

We take this approach with all of our support tickets. Although we don't always nail it, we try our best to ensure that we have time to give our customers a high-quality experience with our support. After all, it's one of the personal experiences they have with our company. The result? Year over year, the result is 97% satisfaction with our support, as evaluated by more than 39% of the customers who requested support. Not too shabby. It's also worth noting that our resolution times are quite fast, although they're not always single-touch.

In fact, although we measure ticket resolution times and analyze efficiency in our emails, we don't measure ticket touches. After all, that would incentivize us to not reply to customer emails, which would also just be B-A-N-A-N-A-S.