Some of the biggest mysteries of the world come in “7s.” The seven wonders of the world. Seven unsolved mysteries that science can’t explain. The seven “new” wonders of the world.
And then there are the seven criteria for determining an outsourced customer journey support budget. Because really, trying to figure out how to set a budget for your customer support needs is a mystery, especially for a startup.
But you’ve come to the right place, because today we reveal the seven criteria for setting a realistic and effective budget for outsourcing your support.
First, let me clarify something: when budgeting for your support needs, you’re budgeting not just for your immediate needs, but for your needs 12 months, 18 months, or even 24 months in the future.
You need to plan for your growth, because before you know it the demand for support could explode, catching you flat-footed.
You don’t want to be growing at a nice clip, on the way to an IPO or an important milestone, only to have that growth throttled because you lack the resources to properly care of your customers.
1. The size of your team based on the services that you will provide to your customer
First, consider which services you’re going to be providing to your customer base. As we’ve said in other blog posts, we encourage you approach this from the perspective of the whole customer journey, what we call Customer Journey Support. Will you be helping your users with order support? Will you be on-boarding users with product setup or a product walkthrough? What about technical support? You can find our blog post on services your should consider here.
Second, consider the size of your support team based on the answers to the questions above. You will need to do some simple math once you figure out how long it takes on average for an agent to provide each of these services to a customer.
Use a spreadsheet for this exercise. This isn’t a “back of the napkin” project.
Also, consider not only what you need now, but what you will need in the future? Use today as a baseline and extrapolate to three, six, even 12 months from now based on expected volumes.
If you need help with this project, please refer to our blog post on determining the size of your support team.
2. Consider volumes and coverage
As part of #1 above, make sure you consider expected volumes, handle times, service levels and channels. Go back and add this to your spreadsheet. Your team sizing will be much more accurate if you do this. Again, the blog post I just referred to discusses this more in detail.
3. Is the team going to be outsourced or insourced?
If you plan to insource support, understand you’re using your own resources. What will it cost if you use your own employees versus contractors or a partner firm?
Consider other costs as well, like managers or supervisors, quality assurance resources, office space, hardware needs such as computers and headsets, software licensing and other tools, and anything else that might be applicable to your particular situation.
It’s usually a lot easier to cost outsourced support, since your outsourcing partner will usually charge you an all-inclusive fee for at least some of those cost items. No need to worry about the minutiae. You’re paying your partner to worry about that.
You’re paying for cost predictability and peace of mind.
4. Start with the goal in mind so that you invest in the right skills and technology
I know this is obvious, but it bears stating for the record: your ultimate support goal is either customer experience, or customer retention, and really should be both. Those two goals are tightly coupled, and some would argue they’re actually one and the same.
If your goal is to retain customers (which it should be), then don’t underinvest.
Ensure your team has the right set of soft-skills, hard-skills and tools, to be able to provide the ideal customer experience you wish to deliver. That is not to say that the delivery of such an experience will happen by magic or overnight. Even if you plan to have some degree of automation for certain types of support, the rest of it involves people, aka support agents. This implies that you should plan for enough time to train your team properly, not only on the technical aspects of your product, but also on the specifics of each support play (procedure), role playing for different support scenarios, and particular aspects of the experience, such as tone-of-voice, things to say, things to avoid, etc.
Other considerations to make for your IoT support team:
- Can your support people stay calm under pressure, or when faced with a rude customer? Can they calm down an upset customer?
- Can they read the customers’ mood and switch from support rep to sales rep? Can they convincingly pitch a cross-sell or upsell offer?
- Does your support team have the right technical skills?
- Can they configure a web app or mobile app? A Bluetooth connection or a WiFi connection?
The right support tools:
- Are you providing the right tools for your team? Ticketing, phone, chat, CRM, e-Commerce, quality assurance?
- Is everyone getting a seat that needs one?
- Will you have the right reporting capabilities in order to track the right set of metrics (calls per agent, response time, handle time, CSAT, etc.)?
The right analytics tools and technical resources:
- Do you want to be able to analyze frequent issues and trends in workload or customer behavior?
- Do you want to be able to do some advanced analytics such as predicting customers at risk or upsell opportunities?
Don’t skimp on this part. Don’t say you’re committed to customer retention, but then short-change yourself by underinvesting in what it takes to be successful.
5. Degree of automation (bots, interactive manuals, FAQs/KB)
With the advent of AI and automation, and even older technologies for customer self-support, you may be in a position to automate certain tasks and reduce your human head-count requirements. Some automation might make some services more effective and cost-efficient, and it’s feasible with today’s technology.
If that is the case, budget for the right automation tools, including:
- FAQ’s or a knowledge base for self- support
- Interactive manuals built in-app or in-product.
- Chat bots that automate – and simulate – the chat experience for some of the more frequent support questions
Budgeting for automation can help you reduce the cost associated with an all-human support team.
6. Consider time zones. Will this be a distributed or centralized team?
Depending on where your customer base is, you will opt to have your team either in a centralized location, or have it distributed. If you’re in a U.S. time zone and that’s where your customer base is also, you can have an in-house support team or partner with a support company in a North-American time zone. However, if you have a significant portion of your customer base in Asia or Europe, you will either need to complement your team with a team based in those locations, or allow for your North-American team to provide support round-the-clock. The same holds true for a company based in Europe or Asia.
All of these options will have a different cost structure.
7. Partner resources
If you already have a support, customer service or e-commerce platform, it’s not just your own internal team, but your partners who may need licenses for the software tools needed for the job.
If you’re running on Zendesk, Salesforce or desk.com, for example, you should make sure you have enough seats for your in-house team and your outsourced team.
And licensing isn’t just for agents, managers need licenses too. They need access to dashboards so they can monitor performance, view performance metrics and run reports. And they need to report all this back to you.
The same may apply to seats of your e-commerce platform, test products that you may need to provide to your partner and possibly other incidentals, such as travel or training expenses. These are probably not significant, but they need to be part of your budget.
Outsourcing support brings a lot of advantages, namely the fact that the outsourcer takes care of all the details and costs associated with support. But to properly cost it out you need to consider these seven criteria:
- Size of your team
- Volumes and coverage
- Whether your support will be insourced or outsourced
- Your goals and what they imply for skills and other technical resources
- Your degree of automation
- The time zones you sell to, and
- Partner resources
CEO and Founder of Infolink-EXP. He’s founded technology companies in big data analytics, Internet services, software, nearshore outsourcing and technology customer support for 20+ years. Lives in El Paso, Texas and spends part of his time in San Jose, CA and the Silicon Valley. Passionate about customer experience (CX), in particular through consumers’ complete cycle of selecting, adopting and fully utilizing IoT technology to improve their lives.