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Small and mighty: Empowered support teams lead to CX success for SMBs

"Champion" small businesses deliver on customer service, agent experience and agility

By Kathy Dalpes, SVP, Global SMB GTM and Sales Development at Zendesk

Last updated October 7, 2021

A good customer service interaction can lift your entire day. It's no surprise that an excellent frontline team has the power to elevate your entire customer experience operation – especially when that operation is on the small side.

Newly released data outlined in a report, The State of CX Maturity 2021, shows that companies that invest in their customer service and support agents lead the pack on business outcomes with their stellar CX. What's more, investing in customer service had positive ripple effects beyond those teams. The data shows correlations with broader business successes, such as customer satisfaction, growth and increased spend within the existing customer base, and overall confidence in the organisation's ability to retain customers.

For the second year in a row, Zendesk partnered with a leading research firm, ESG, to survey 3,250 business decision-makers across the globe about customer service: what those at the top of their game are doing to stay there and what everyone else can learn as they rise to the top. ESG built a CX maturity scale to identify common patterns and behaviours that separate high-maturity CX orgs, Champions, from three levels of less-mature ones: Starting, Emerging and Rising. The report outlines what businesses need to do to move up the maturity scale.

CX maturity doesn’t have anything to do with company size. This report about CX maturity at SMBs demonstrates that smaller companies can design a mature, elevated customer experience – and the data suggests that it's imperative for them to do so.

"For those organisations stuck in either the Starter or Emerging segment of the market, this data is a clear warning that CX stagnation will lead to customer loss and competitive displacement." The State of CX Maturity for SMBs, ESG Research

It sounds urgent, and it is. But there is hope on the horizon with more CX maturity success stories year over year – there are twice as many SMB Champions in the market in 2021 vs. 2020, and 17% fewer SMB Starters in the market in 2021 vs. 2020. With the vast majority of CX leaders – 89% – believing that CX stagnation leads to business risk, there's no better time to make the assessment and then the investment.

That investment belongs in customer support. Among the many findings was the essential role of an empowered support team in delivering a Champion-level customer experience. Let's examine how SMBs can build their operation for maximum impact.

Champions demonstrate customer service excellence

Champions demonstrate customer service excellence by providing superior customer experiences. They are 2.1 times more likely than Starters to view their service and support team as a competitive differentiator, which is a welcome change from the not-so-distant past, when business leaders had to be convinced that customer service was not merely a cost centre. In fact, in 2021, four out of five SMB Champions see their service and support team as a profit centre, for good reason – SMB Champions are 3.1 times more likely than Starters to report growing their customer base in the last six months. Well into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, that's no small feat.

SMB Champions are also 18.3 times more likely to "generally exceed" customer satisfaction goals. This is important because improving customer satisfaction can help an organisation build loyalty, engagement and foster customer retention. Consider the story of Wool and the Gang, the UK-based knitting and crochet retailer that earned an Instagram follow from Olympic diver-cum-knitting sensation Tom Daley. This SMB uses the power of relevant content to improve their customer experience and drive awareness and connection with their products and services. Embedding tutorial videos into their website gave the customer experience a lift by making the website a destination. This memorable, instructive, and inclusive welcome proved a draw for potential customers – newbies and advanced knitters alike – increasing the likelihood that visitors become paying customers and even brand evangelists.

Champions set agents up for success

Since SMB Champions take a whopping 49% less time than Starters to ramp up their teams, it's worth emulating their approach to building their support function.

A key element of their success is giving agents the insight and flexibility needed to provide customers with true omnichannel support. That means that, regardless of which channel a customer uses to get in touch, or how many times that customer switches channels or gets transferred to a different agent – ideally few, if any – each agent has a complete record of the customer's issue and previous attempts to help. Champions are 2.6 times more likely than Starters to provide their agents with seamless support in channel-switching, and 71% of Champions offer 360-degree visibility over their customers. Integrations like Shopify and MailChimp can work with your support solution to provide this visibility, helping small businesses stay focused on customers even as they switch channels.

Finding the budget for technology can be a challenge, especially for companies with less funding and smaller support teams, but the business impact demonstrates why agents must work with tools that provide them with this visibility. In addition to being more likely to grow their customer base, as mentioned above, SMB Champions are also 7.6 times more likely to report their per-customer spending has increased significantly in the past six months. This suggests that support budgets are catching up with the needs of both agents and customers.

Tools help agents provide customers with a good support experience, but agent efficiency and experience is also at stake. Champions have 72% higher agent throughput – a measure of efficiency and issues resolved – than Starters vs. 50% in 2020. Still, throughput is only part of the equation. Champions also tend to include conversational experiences as part of their CX, where issues take the form of an ongoing, asynchronous conversation that can be picked up and put down at will. They are proving to be the most forward-thinking, as 67% of SMBs surveyed anticipate heavy use of chat and social channels in the future, vs. 53% today.

"Service, when done right, lets your customers know they are heard and valued. A conversational experience conveys empathy, builds rapport and helps the service team have a productive interaction with the customer." The State of CX Maturity for SMBs, ESG Research

Champions set the business up for success

COVID-19 continues to have an outsize impact on our lives and work, but no matter what lies around the corner, an agile customer service operation can give smaller businesses the necessary runway to survive whatever comes next. In 2021, SMB Champions were 2.4 times more likely than Starters to be able to adapt when needing to completely rethink support processes in the face of a major issue, including external factors like a pandemic, a new product launch or a major product issue.

There are two major contributing factors to their adaptability:

  • Investment in CX. SMB Champions were 2.9 times more likely than Starters to have accelerated major CX projects. As a result, they were also 9.6 times more likely to believe they made the right decisions during the pandemic to maximise their resiliency.
  • Using CX metrics to make data-driven decisions. Support is an essential link in the feedback loop and Champions use CX data to course-correct in the name of better customer experiences. Business leaders at SMB Champions are six times more likely than Starters to review CX metrics and key performance indicators daily.

A regular flow of information between customer service and support staff and decision-makers leads to a better business. Maintaining this essential link in the feedback loop helps ensure the customer support teammates will remain trusted collaborators as the company matures and, perhaps, scales up. SMBs can create an even stronger feedback loop by integrating multiple customer touchpoints, via tools like Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey.

Maturing SMBs would also be wise to plan for agents to serve customers remotely. SMB organisations expect a 20% increase in remote agents after the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer an issue. No one can pinpoint when that will be, but it is just another proof point for tools needed for agents to stay engaged and productive in the coming years. Using tools like Zoom and Slack to drive remote collaboration across your business can go a long way.

Of course, achieving Champion status isn't the end of the road. SMB Champions continue to provide excellent customer service, giving agents what they need to do great work, and streamlining operations to make sure they stay not only arrive in the winners' circle, but stay there for years to come.

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