In a perfect world, every customer would be 100% happy with every purchase. Shipments would arrive ahead of schedule, products or services would exceed expectations, and we could forever banish the terms “return” or “refund” from our daily lexicon.
While there’s no magic formula to guarantee customer happiness, new research shows how important of a role support agents play. According to our 2022 Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, only one bad experience will send over 60% of customers flocking elsewhere. Make up for it with excellent customer service and 74% of customers are willing to forgive and forget.
Make up for a bad experience with excellent customer service and 74% of customers are willing to forgive and forget.
It’s a powerful argument for companies to invest more in their support teams. But how to prioritise tickets or deal with upset customers are questions that every organization must grapple with. No team is perfect and no one gets it exactly right. What this means is that we should all be looking for ways to improve. Here at Zendesk, we use data to better understand our customers and our own performance metrics. This helps us strive to deliver better experiences for all involved.
Making the business case for best-in-class customer service
Can agents really help to turn a bad experience around? Or are upset customers more likely to leave negative reviews—no matter what kind of service they receive? To see how big of an impact agents can have on customer satisfaction, we took a look at 40,000 of our own tickets from the past year over chat, email, and webform.
What is sentiment analysis and CSAT?
Sentiment analysis uses natural language processing to determine whether text-based data is positive, negative, or neutral. It’s often used by companies to track brand or product sentiment, and better understand what customers need.
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
Customers can receive CSAT surveys at the end of any support with your company. They're quick and easy to respond to and customers rate their experience as good, neutral, or bad.
We used AI-powered sentiment analysis to assess how customers were feeling when they first reached out (rated as either positive or negative). Then we compared these findings to the resulting customer satisfaction (CSAT) score for each ticket.
Why is this important? Well, if CSAT is a sort of predetermined outcome—that upset customers are more likely to leave negative feedback—then companies might be tempted to rethink how to engage with them. Worse yet, they might write off their feedback entirely.
Here’s what we learned:
A good or bad experience can change any customer’s mind
We observed no compelling relationship between how upset a customer is initially and how they feel after interacting with a support agent. What does this mean? No matter what has happened prior to a customer reaching out, support teams are what define their lasting impression of any business—good or bad.
Support teams are what define a customer's lasting impression of any business—good or bad.
“It puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of the agents,” says Melissa Burch, director of customer advocacy at Zendesk. “They are a direct representation of the company and ultimately how good people feel about the company.”
A positive interaction can rescue a less-than-stellar product performance, improve on a convoluted ordering process, or even smooth over a shipment issue. In our own research, we found that for every 1,000 tickets, upset customers only left 20 additional bad CSAT ratings. This is nearly identical to those that started with a happier sentiment score.
Agents can help or hurt, no matter the issue
We found similar results across all types of tickets, from account issues to product questions and everything in between. Even for more sensitive topics like billing, customers left with similar satisfaction rates—no matter how upset they were to start.
For all the good that a positive experience can bring, a bad one can have just as big of an impact. Customers that started off using more positive or friendly language were just as likely to leave a negative review. What does this mean? You shouldn’t take any customer for granted.
Bad customer service can mar a company’s reputation, and get in the way of an otherwise good product. Comcast, for instance, actually gets decent product reviews, but it’s not a favorite among customers. Why? People aren’t big fans of the support experience.
“It puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of the agents. They are a direct representation of the company and ultimately how good people feel about the company.” Melissa Burch, director of customer advocacy at Zendesk
But efforts by the company to refocus on in-store and online customer experiences appears to be paying off. Comcast saw "staggering improvement" in customer satisfaction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
“Agents have the power to turn a happy customer mad, or turn a mad customer happy,” says Burch, “and there’s a ton we can do to help prepare agents to handle all types of scenarios.”
Great customer experiences start with agents
Over the past year, customer service has only become more important. Not only is it a key priority for customers—more than 60% say they now have higher standards—but businesses are also paying attention. In fact, 64% of global companies expect CX investment to rise in the next year.
Thanks to the seismic shifts in how we work and do business, digital adoption is already moving at an accelerated rate. From finding new ways to connect with customers to managing distributed workforces, 66% of companies say that the pandemic has sped up their own digital transformation.
“The data shows how critical it is to give support teams the tools and resources they need to resolve customer issues quickly and with less customer effort. It's vital for an overall positive customer experience." Jeannie Walters, CCXP, founder of Experience Investigators
"Customers turned to support teams to guide and help them during the pandemic, and those teams delivered,” says Jeannie Walters, CCXP, founder of Experience Investigators. “The data shows how critical it is to give support teams the tools and resources they need to resolve customer issues quickly and with less customer effort. It's vital for an overall positive customer experience."
In the hands of agents, these digital tools mean seamless online experiences and faster responses for customers. But investing in customer experience isn’t only about investing in tech. It’s also about investing in people.
When customers have a good or bad experience, they don’t walk away thinking about what’s happening behind the scenes. Truly seamless technology should feel invisible. In most cases, a customer’s lasting impression will be shaped by the agent that helped them.
Great experiences start with hiring great people. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you’re setting your agents (and your business!) up for success:
4 tips to set your company up for customer service success
Great experiences start with hiring great people. Here are some steps you can take—starting today—to prioritise your agents and drive better experiences for customers.
- Hire the right people
Customer service is all about building relationships. And as Brian Harris, who runs Zendesk’s Global Customer Care team, puts it, “your agents are going to be getting people through what is going to be their most frustrating time using your company’s products.” They’re often the only person that this customer will interact with at your company. Patience, empathy, and an eagerness to help are all important traits for success. You want them to leave a good impression.
- Improve mentoring and coaching
Onboarding new agents is just the first step; investments in your people should be continuous and ongoing. “People are greater than process plus technology,” says Harris. “By investing and reinvesting in your CX people, you’re getting teams that care about your business and the customer at the same time.”
- Clearly define your process
No matter how your company prioritises tickets, every customer should feel equally important. And much of that comes down to having clearly defined processes and structures in place so that agents don’t have to worry about making those decisions themselves. “It’s irrelevant how you set your teams up,” says Harris. “It could be product specialisation, it could be revenue or what the customer is paying, so long as it’s built into the workflow.”
- Monitor success
When it comes to gauging success, companies are often laser-focused on CSAT or other customer-based metrics. But if they aren't also talking to their agents, they might be missing out. “Often the biggest bang for the buck is actually employee satisfaction (ESAT,)” Harris says. “A customer speaks to you on their terms, but an agent has the ability to translate their feedback into actionable data for internal teams.”
A lifelong commitment to customer service
Customer service can be your company’s greatest asset or its biggest liability, which means that every company should be thinking about ways to continually improve. If you don’t know where to start, look no further than your frontline team.
Customer service can be your company’s greatest asset or its biggest liability, which means that every company should be thinking about ways to continually improve.
Research shows that agents play a major role in shaping how a customer ultimately feels about a company—and whether they return. By taking regular steps to assess and respond to agent feedback, create better training opportunities, and think about how to eliminate frustrating or cumbersome internal processes, we can all strive to deliver better experiences all around.