Are you struggling to provide efficient customer support as your business grows? It might be time to invest in customer support software.
In this detailed guide, we'll walk you through the signs that indicate it's time to buy your first customer support tool — or to make the leap to a more robust solution. We'll also help you identify the right platform for your business, and we’ll provide tips on how to evaluate and test your shortlisted platforms.
Whether you're a small business owner wondering when to move away from email-based support or a large organization looking to upgrade your existing platform, this guide is for you!
Companies in the earliest phases of launching a new business tend to focus on providing customer support that’s “good enough.” They don’t have the time or resources to figure out the best way to help their customers — after all, their primary goal is to ensure they have customers to help.
Typically, these teams take what appears to be the simplest and quickest approach. They generally give customers an email address, — possibly even a team member’s email address. But as the company grows and matures, this model quickly stops working. While email is an effective communication tool, it’s definitely not designed for managing customer support.
If you’re currently supporting customers via email, you’re probably wondering: How do I know when it’s time to make the leap to a more robust solution?
We’ve identified three signals that indicate it’s time to invest in a customer support platform.
A shared email address only works for very small teams of two or three support agents. The moment your team expands beyond that, the system starts to break down in the following ways:
When these things start to happen, no one’s happy. Customers feel like they’re not getting the support they need to be successful, and your team’s morale will nosedive because they’ll recognize that they’re not performing at their best.
As soon as you have someone assigned to full-time support — or more than one person wearing the customer support hat — it’s time to consider adopting software that’s dedicated to providing an excellent support experience. In other words, if your team is expanding, it’s time to move to a customer support platform.
Over time, as your customer base grows and your team responds to their questions from a shared email address, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow up on ongoing issues.
For maximum efficiency, you need access to the history of questions and responses for each client. Without that history, you might find yourself covering the same issues again and again, or suggesting a workaround that was previously recommended to the customer. This can make it extremely frustrating for customers.
If you find you are feeling lost about what’s being asked, pressured to find the answers to questions you’re sure you’ve already answered, or even letting things slip through the cracks, a customer support platform may just be the right solution.
As time goes on, you realize that simply responding to customer questions is the barest minimum you can do to give your customers the support they need. Imagine how much better your team could perform and how much more value you could offer your customers if you had access to additional information, such as your support volume or your first response time.
Insights like these could help you do a better job of planning your team’s time. And you could set expectations with your customers so they can be confident that for business critical issues, you’ve got the resources to support them.
A customer support platform can help you answer questions like:
If you don’t know which issues require the most support or how many questions your team is answering each week, it’s time to adopt a customer support platform.
If your team already uses a customer support platform, how will you know when it’s time to upgrade to a more robust solution?
As much as you try to plan for the future when you set up your first customer support platform, it’s likely you’ll eventually want additional features that aren’t supported. Or it’s possible that your company’s product or service pivoted and now requires different support offerings.
If your team is already using a support platform, moving to a different one isn’t something to be undertaken lightly. You don’t want to move to a new platform before you need it, but you also don’t want to stay with a platform that’s no longer meeting your requirements.
We’ve identified three signs that indicate it’s time to evaluate if your current platform still meets your business needs.
When your team was small and your customer support processes straightforward, you probably didn’t need to spend time or money on automation. You might have offered just one or two levels of support and treated most of your support inquiries the same way.
But as your processes become more complex and you’re looking for ways to work more efficiently, it may make sense to adopt automation. For example, if your company has moved upmarket, your new customer base might expect you to prioritize certain support cases or work within service level agreements (SLAs).
Automation can help your agents know which tickets to work on next and ensure that the agent with the right skills is the one assigned to provide support.
On the flip side, if your company started out targeting just a few large enterprises but is now focusing on numerous smaller companies — or even individual consumers — volume is going to be an issue. At this point, automation is going to be key in maximizing your agents’ time and making sure you can provide timely responses to all your customers.
If your current platform doesn’t support automation — or it does but only in a limited way — now is the time to investigate alternative solutions.
In the beginning, email was likely the only customer support channel you required. It was quick and easy to set up — and inexpensive. But, as your customer base expands, you might want to add messaging, live chat, social media, or even phone support.
If your current platform doesn’t support all these channels, should you add platforms for each or move to a new platform that supports them all? This is definitely when it makes the most sense to reevaluate your current platform. You might find that it does still meet your needs, or that you can get by with an integration. Or maybe it’s time to upgrade to something new altogether.
You might find your team growing and, with it, the complexity of providing first-rate customer support. You might need better collision avoidance, routing, or cherry-picking prevention. You probably anticipated some of these when you selected your current platform, but others, perhaps not.
What’s certain is as your business grows, your customer support needs will change as well. No one can imagine every possible future scenario, so a degree of agility to respond to change is always going to be required.
Once you’ve determined it’s time to adopt a new customer support tool, you’ll need to make a business case to explain why your company should invest the time and money in moving to a new solution.
Making a platform change is never a unilateral decision, so you’ll need to get buy-in from the others in your team and company. How do you do that? Let’s take a look.
You know why you want to move to a new solution, but you need to be able to explain it to everyone else. We recommend having at least three reasons that you can describe in detail and defend. For example, perhaps your current solution:
We all wish money was no object, but the reality is you’ll be working within a budget. Although you probably can’t give concrete numbers until the research phase, your initial pitch should include some ballpark figures.
Look at the pricing tables of the leading support platforms. They’re typically priced per agent, so you’ll want to give some ranges that reflect your current team size and projected growth for the next year.
Don’t forget about time. While money is a big factor, the amount of time required to implement a platform matters. Do you need developer help? Will you need to hire an outside consultant? Can you handle everything yourself, but it’ll take considerable time?
These are all things you’ll want to think about and explain. Be sure to provide your rough numbers and the different options that might exist.
Be realistic about your company’s growth phase. If you’re a bootstrapped startup wanting to implement your first customer support platform, your budget will probably be on the leaner side compared to that of a long-established public company looking to upgrade.
Now that you have your arguments and information prepared, it’s time to put it all together. You know your company best and you’ll want to pick a format that fits your culture. This could mean having a simple document laying out all the reasons, a presentation deck to walk through the different scenarios, or just a few bullets on a sticky note to cover in a casual chat with your manager.
The trick is to be ready with the details to support your case. Make sure you’re comfortable talking about your reasons for considering a customer support platform, the benefits of taking this path, and everything that will be involved.
Since you have a well-prepared case, odds are you’ll hear an enthusiastic “Yes” — or at least a tentative “Let’s do more research.” If that’s the case, you’ll want to talk about the next steps. Are you starting the search or providing more information to someone else first?
You should also be able to discuss your timelines. Can you start today? Or do you have to wait until the next quarter or even the next financial year? The important thing is to walk away from this meeting knowing exactly what your next steps are. If the answer was to wait a bit, make sure you set yourself a reminder to come back to this conversation down the road.
After your business case has been approved, the hard work begins. You’ll be figuring out exactly what you need in a platform and who your stakeholders are, and you’ll be researching different tools.
An important part of this process, and one that’s often glossed over, is the preparation phase. You need to know who your stakeholders are and what their requirements are, plus any extras that would make your team’s support life better. This is the time to dream big and really think about where you’re going in the future.
First up, determine who has a say in the customer support platform you choose. This typically includes people who will use the product (support agents, team leads, and managers), those who will support the product (operations teams), and anyone in leadership affected by the decision.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Everyone wants to have a say, especially those who will use the software day-to-day, but you don’t want too many people on your list. If possible, try to consolidate.
Rather than having every agent weigh in, ask your team and other groups to nominate one or two representatives each. These spokespeople offer a voice for each function within the company and can keep their teams in the loop as the search for a platform progresses.
We recommend that you also create a RAPID (Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, Decide) chart to delineate owners and roles within the decision-making process. Identify who people should go to for what and get everyone aligned on that so everyone knows what their role in the process is.
Set a regular cadence for meeting with your stakeholders. Decide whether that’s once a month or slightly more often. It’s probably not necessary to meet weekly since you'll need time between meetings to do your research and thinking.
You may want to split stakeholders into different sub-groups based on what they care about the most. This way, you can really think about what to bring to the group at each meeting to address their concerns and questions, keep them up to date on the process, and bring them along on this journey.
Next, bring all of your stakeholders together to brainstorm their needs and wants. This could be a real-time meeting or an asynchronous collaboration in a shared document. You want everyone to brain-dump everything they can think of into an unordered list. Don’t overthink it at this point. Also, don’t try to sort items into needs and wants; you’re just gathering ideas at this stage.
Ask your stakeholders:
In our experience, while this will give you a good picture of the current requirements from the stakeholders, you’ll need to dig deeper to identify potential future requirements. What makes this difficult?
Many teams don’t have a detailed vision that goes beyond the next 12 months. However, because implementing a customer support platform is a time-consuming project, it’s important to make a list that’s as thorough as possible so you don’t have to do it again for at least 3 to 5 years.
We recommend that you get everyone to voice their wildest ideas. Don’t think in terms of specific features. If there were no limits, what do they wish they could do? What’s the end goal for the customer? Automated answers to questions? Access to 24/7 support?
Another resource you could tap into is your peers, especially those who are more established. Talk to them about what they do now, what they’re planning for the next few years, and what they wish they’d planned for in hindsight. Your future won’t track identically to theirs, but you’ll still get a picture of where your team might go in the future. Add these ideas to your list.
Create bulleted lists of the features you need and want. Make sure you understand each item on the list so you can avoid duplicates. For example, if one stakeholder wants snippets and another wants macros, you should recognize that these are two names for the same feature.
Even in your list of needs, there will be some features you care about more than others. Identify features that are likely to be used daily — they’ll be your highest priority, and their ease of use will be the most important to consider.
Also, note features that might be necessary but not used frequently. A workaround could be an adequate solution for these features, but they should stay on your list in case they help you choose between two otherwise similar solutions.
Use the following hierarchy when prioritizing items:
Prioritize every feature on your list. Your priority ones and twos should be the main focus of your platform search (obviously, needs rate higher than wants). But if you’re trying to decide between two similar platforms, your priority threes and fours can help you fine-tune your selection criteria.
Remember that the features your peers have prioritized might not be the ones your business cares about the most.
A great place to start is with this list of the best customer support platforms by company size:
For each platform that you’re researching, check whether it meets your minimum requirements (priority ones). If it doesn’t have a feature you’ve identified as a need, eliminate it from your list of potential candidates.
If you have a long list of platforms that meet your needs, refine the list by considering if they also meet your wants (priority twos, threes, and fours).
It’s good to narrow your list down to five or fewer options. These are the ones you’re going to test, so it’s best to keep the list as short as possible. That will enable you to minimize the amount of time you spend on testing and focus your efforts on learning everything you need to know about each product.
You’re finally at the moment you’ve been planning for. You’ve talked to your stakeholders, prioritized the features that are most important to your team, and created a shortlist of platforms to test.
Until now, the next step was where things used to get particularly complicated. You’d sign up for demos and trials, talk to salespeople, and use a spreadsheet to manually check off and rate the features in your prioritized list.
If a trial was available, you’d want to add your own sample data, set up customers and tickets, and invite your stakeholders to test the platforms with you. Keep in mind that you’d be doing this in several different environments, either simultaneously or one after another, and trying to keep track of it all with a spreadsheet.
Now, with TestBox, you can expect a much more streamlined process. TestBox provides a single environment where you and your stakeholders can do your testing with data, use cases, and common routings already set up. It offers guided walkthroughs and tips on each platform and lets you record your findings and generate reports, saving you weeks — if not months — of time and effort.
If you haven’t already, the first thing to do is sign up for a free TestBox account. During the onboarding process, we’ll ask you which platforms are on your shortlist and set up your sandbox environment so you can test them side by side.
Try things out on each of your shortlisted platforms. Get a feel for changing settings, viewing and replying to tickets, and working with other users — all the things you’ll need to do day-to-day in your new platform.
Ask your stakeholders to provide details of their impressions and explain their ratings. Because you can add notes and rate features directly in TestBox, you won’t need a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.
Check your notebook and see how you’ve rated the various features in each platform. You can also use the open field section of the Notebook to add additional notes.
Sometimes there’s a clear winner and you can stop there. But if you’re undecided, take the top two platforms and have a conversation with your stakeholders. What does everyone think? Do they have a preference? You might also ask your stakeholders to vote and have them explain their choice.
Make sure none of their reasons conflict with the overall project or each others’ needs. What about other non-feature requirements, such as pricing, great support, an account manager, and security/data compliance?
If you still can’t identify a clear winner, do some further testing. There are probably specific areas of contention, so have all your stakeholders focus on those areas in your top two products. This can help break any ties or point the team toward the best fit for your needs.
At this point, you may also find it helpful to talk to the salespeople from your top platforms. In TestBox, you can click the “Ready to buy” button and request to be introduced to specific vendors.
It’s decision time. Take this last chance to weigh the features, the price, the overall experience, your future wants and vision for the software, and the stakeholder votes. Make the best decision you can. No matter what, any platform that made it to this final round should have everything you need and most of what you want.
You’ll need to write up your decision, including the costs, to present to your management. This might require some further back and forth with your chosen platform’s sales team to better capture what the pricing looks like or further conversations with your stakeholders.
When it’s time to present, having two or three of your stakeholders join you can be a powerful way to show that this new tool will benefit people in different functions across the company. The stakeholders can also back you up if management has any specific questions or concerns.
After you’ve got management on board, you’re done. The choice is made and it’s time to celebrate!
It’s also time to start the process of setting up the new platform. This might be something you hire out or you could choose to do it in-house, depending on the complexity of the implementation. You’ll have to configure the new platform to meet your needs, and if you’re switching platforms, you’ll have to create a migration plan.
You have a lot ahead of you, but take a deep breath. This first part is over, and you have your solution. Enjoy your accomplishment!
Start testing and comparing how software could help your team in seconds.
Oh and did we mention it’s free? Because it is.