What Type Of Companies Do We Support?

The Internet of Things (IoT) has grown quickly and spread widely throughout the consumer market in the last few years. Both manufacturers and end users find themselves overwhelmed by a rapid array of IoT products.

The IoT ecosystem is a moving target

It is in this context that Infolink-exp has decided to offer its services. We have specifically decided to serve IoT technology companies that have passed the early startup phase and are in active growth mode.

Specifically, Infolink-exp has designed a set of services and meth

 

odologies to help tech companies that want to support their users throughout the customer journey, and are committed to nurturing and supporting large numbers of customers for a long time.

In the emerging consumer IoT space, this includes producers of smart home devices, wearables, home security, sleep tech, pet tech, automotive and other similar tech devices.

These companies are highly innovative in both their technology, but also in the creation of new markets.

 

IoT Is A New Space That Needs Specialized Support Services88

The Internet of Things space is relatively new. Manufacturers are creating products consumers have never known, needed or used.

Consumers have never before had to think about connecting devices that are not phones or computers to the internet – or to each other. And they do not know what to expect or how to respond.

And the innovators, as well as manufacturers, do not all share the ability to reach and hold these consumers.

Total Customer Experience

That’s why we’ve decided to help consumer IoT companies with services that cover the totality of the customer experience.

For example, you can buy a purse containing a tracker for the personal safety of the individual carrying it. There are also trackers in smartphones, cars, pet chips and a number of other devices.

Needless to say, these companies are very sensitive to the customer concerns about their personal safety and data security — and

what type of companies we support

that of their families. And, those safety issues include user worries about their information being treated confidentially and invulnerability.

Fully Customer Supportive

We support vendors who fundamentally value customer support. They promote meaningful customer service, such as providing customers with the right plan for their unique needs.

They provide or demonstrate how to integrate a product’s operation with the customer’s local hub or related products. After all, the customer wants the easiest way to integrate Alexa or Google Home with other devices.

Strong On Customer Relationships

We succeed in supporting those companies that value and build long-term customer relationships. Where innovative technology can produce products with anticipated obsolescence, we are a better fit for those who value scalability. Companies must be able to scale efficiently and quickly as customer needs to increase or diversify.

In the current wave of IoT momentum, companies must have the infrastructure to move from a few thousand customers to hundreds of thousands in a fairly short period of time. Such companies must have the right team, experience and focus in place to be sensitive to the customer experience, intending to build and sustain the customer relationship over time.

The Type Of Companies We Support

Our clients are technology companies approaching or in the act of a fast phase of growth. They are consumer companies that prize their brand and reputation. But, they are also sensitive to retaining their own employees, relieving talent to focus on support and service instead of complaint resolution.

We also support some companies providing XaaS solutions. With the lines between SaaS and IoT blurring, consumers have a lower tolerance for poor performing hardware products than for subscription software with bugs.

In the rapid unfolding of the Internet of Things, providers and users need what Infolink-exp can do to reduce confusion, sell product and solve significant IoT business needs.

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How Long Should It Take for your Outsourced Support Team to Ramp Up?

You just had a great write-up on Mashable or Techcrunch. You’re company is growing like gangbusters. The products are flying off the shelves. And the support calls have exploded.

You need your new outsourced support team up and running like…yesterday.

But for this to happen, there are certain things that need to take place to ramp up your team, so they can do a great job supporting your product.

Proper Setup Will Take At Least a Few Weeks

If you want the job done right (happy customers, beaucoups of referrals, positive Yelp reviews and renewals, upsells and cross-sells driving profitability through the roof), then your new outsourced support partner needs at least a few weeks to get ramped up.

The more experienced your partner is, and the more experienced your company is, the quicker that ramp-up will be.

But I always tell my clients to expect about a four to eight week setup time to get your team handling the support queue like pros.

Be Suspicious of the Unrealistic Promise

However, there are some support outsourcers who will promise the moon.

If you get a quote from a call center that says that for $500 you’ll be good to go the day after tomorrow, be suspicious.  Be very suspicious.

If you sell some sort of technology product, proper setup for a new support team just won’t happen that fast.

You’re dealing with human talent. And those humans will be supporting your customers that you fought so hard to acquire.

You need to do this right.

So with this quick blog post, I’ve decided to summarize what all goes into preparing your new outsourced support team, and why it pays to wait a few weeks.

Pick a Partner with Relevant Expertise

This should be obvious, but it bears repeating: you should go to a partner with the relevant expertise in your type of product.

Don’t hire a call center that specializes in banking work to support your technology/IoT product. And if you’re a credit card company, you probably shouldn’t hire a company that specialized in tech products either!

Make Sure They’re Staffed Right

Look at the human element. Ask your partner what kind of human resources they already have in house, and determine how many they have access to at a moment’s notice. or how many they would have to hire.ramp-up-your-team

Ask how long would it take them to provide you with the right agent profile if they have to staff up the proper team?

Training Time

Training is essential, and you have to provide plenty of time to train your partner’s people on your product.

That said, they should already have the proper soft and hard skills.

Soft Skills

They need the emotional intelligence to deal with non-tech-savvy or even emotional customers; the proper writing and verbal skills to communicate effectively; and the ability to think on their feet when the unexpected happens.

Hard Skills

They need to know how to hook things up to a WiFi network or do a Bluetooth pairing; they should, at least to a reasonable degree, know about how to set up a home networking environment; and they should know how to configure settings on a mobile app.

These soft and hard skills can help reduce training time (because you don’t to waste time educating a brand new rep on home networking 101).

But assuming that they already have those skills, then you need to train them on your particular hardware and software.

They need to learn how to actually set it up, which includes setting it up in different environments too, connecting to different hubs, etc.

Then you need to walk them through potential different scenarios of things that could go wrong when a customer is trying to set up your product.

The training should include your software too, meaning your mobile or web app, configuring settings, using the various features and explaining to others how to do that same. They need time to get familiar with the settings on both the hardware and the software interfaces.

Time for Role Play

Next, you absolutely need to spend some time in role-play.

It’s like putting together a cast for a Broadway show. You wouldn’t let your actors get on stage on opening night without having rehearsed their lines, right? Then why would you let your support team get on the phones without having first practiced?

Once your new reps are familiar with your FAQ (and if you don’t have an FAQ, you need to build one ASAP), have your new reps refer to the FAQ while they gain the appropriate product knowledge during role-play.

Throw potential support scenarios at them. Evaluate how they write that email, and if they offered the right solution or not.   Was it complete?  Is it the right tone-of-voice based on your company’s brand image.

Role-playing is crucial so they know exactly how to handle the various support scenarios that may come up.

Setting Up the Right Tools

Now that you’ve handled the human factor (selecting the team, trained them, had them rehearse realistic scenarios), you need to arm them with the right tools.

You don’t want your shiny new well-trained team supporting your customers in Outlook. Make sure they have access to a CRM, a ticketing tool or a customer support platform.   We have talked about not underinvesting in your toolset in other blog posts.

Channel Setup

Finally, you need to set up the right support channels. This will take a little bit of time as well.

If your outsourced team will be handling phone support, make sure you reroute your support phone number (if you already have one) to the proper destination.

For email support, you need to make sure your team is set up with the right email accounts.

And finally, you need to set them up with their own logins to your customer support platform. If you have a chat channel for example, you need to provide them with the tools to do that and provide them with the right credentials.

Setting up these channels and testing them out is the last – but not the least – item in your ramp-up plan.

How to Execute Customer Support Plays for Your IoT Product

As we illustrated in our blog post The Guide to Growing Your IoT Business Through the Customer Journey Support Model, supporting the customer throughout their journey with your product is key to growth for IoT companies.

In fact, the rise of the Customer Success group in consumer technology organizations and of the Chief Customer Officer in larger enterprises is a testament to the importance of customer experience and customer retention as key growth drivers across industries.

We firmly believe you need to think beyond the traditional concept of support (where you try to solve a consumer’s problem after-the-fact).

9 with your product and company – from on-boarding and first use,  to specific milestones, say the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, the first year, and ongoing maintenance and support phase.  That is how you achieve delight, retention, renewal and advocacy.

In this article we describe what customer support plays are, and how consumer IoT companies can execute these plays within the context of this new customer-centric paradigm.

Here are the six points you need to keep in mind when executing your customer support plays so they will support your company’s growth.

1. B2B or B2C

First, is your company a B2B or a B2C product company? I know you know that, but does your support strategy know that?

The processes you put in place will be quite different depending on who your market is.

So if you’re selling to a retailer, to a transportation company, to a manufacturing company, or just to other companies in general, you’re dealing with hundreds or maybe thousands of customers.

But if you’re selling to consumers, you’re selling to hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of customers.

The difference in scale is enormous, and it affects what you do and how you do it.

High Touch vs. Automated

Maybe your product is a wearable and you sell through big box retailers. You know from the very beginning you’re going to support potentially millions of customers.

It’s obvious you can’t execute a high touch support process like a B2B company can. It’s cost-prohibitive and definitely not scalable.

You can’t pick up the phone to talk to each and every customer.

It would be impossible to do an on-boarding meeting for millions, like perhaps B2B IoT or SaaS companies do.

But maybe you can automate these processes.

Who Handles the Relationship?

Another point to consider is: who is going to handle the customer support relationship?

If you’re a B2B company it’s typically a customer success manager (CSM) or team. Each CSM can typically handle between 10 and 20 accounts.

But for the B2C scenario you’ll probably assign this to marketing. They have the skills to set up the automation tools needed to handle the one to many communications through the various channels, such as email, messaging and text apps.

Assisted vs. Self-Help

Finally, you need to decide if you can handle an assisted support situation or if you need to deliver self-help functionality.

If you’re a B2C company you may need to setup tutorials, FAQs or in-product support assistance that can help your users through various well-known scenarios.  But even with those tools available, it is feasible to provide a certain level of assisted support to your users, at least those that need it.  Some handholding for less tech-savvy customers, especially when unboxing the product or setting it up for the first time can prove extremely valuable, and profitable, as it potentially extends the life of that customer relationship and your average customer lifetime value (LTV).

2. Map Your Customer’s Journey

customer-journey-map

So you know whether you’re a B2B or B2C company. That’s obvious to you and your team, and you’ve chosen your support model.

Now you’re in a better position to map your customer journey.

You need to identify four things:

  1. What phases will your customer go through in their journey with you?
  2. What do those phases look like?
  3. What are the various touch points that occur?
  4. How many touch points are there?

By touch point I mean whenever your customer has an interaction with your company.

In other words, how many touch points are actually happening along these various phases? What do they look like?

Go through what your customer would go through: visualize and describe what happens at each touch point.

Mapping out the journey: a software services example

Since a lot of the Customer Success terminology and outlook in tech has been most developed in the SaaS industry, let’s take a software services company as an example and a model.

Their first touch point might be a kickoff meeting after the initial purchase.

In this initial meeting, which may last anywhere between 30 or 60 minutes, you’ll have the people that made the sale, the customer success manager, and maybe somebody else on your team there.

Of course the customer will be there…most probably the end-user.  In all, you may have five or six people in the room.  Then you would go through various items on the agenda to prepare the customer to be onboarded, set expectations, etc.

Now if you’re a B2C company you obviously cannot afford to do that. At least not in that way. You have to do something similar that’s not as high touch.  How can you do that?  Perhaps a canned e-mail with clear unboxing and setup instructions, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The point is that you would need to perform the same exercise for all the other touch points as well.

As you develop your customer journey map, it will start to look like a series of phases and a series of key touchpoints:  onboarding, first use, 30-day milestone, ongoing support, and cancellation and renewal, for instance. Each one of those phases has their own touch points.

3. Develop Specific Plays

The next step after the touch point and journey mapping exercise is to develop a specific set of plays for what you’re going to do at each touch point.

What are plays?

Just as a football game has a set of plays for each offensive or defensive scenario, the modern customer journey support paradigm also has plays, depending on what touch point the customer is at in their journey.

These are the standard operating procedures of your support operation. The plays guide you to perform certain support functions.

They specify the tools, roles, and actions your team will take at each touch point.

So in SaaS, if you’re going to onboard a new customer, you might design a play for a 50-minute call.  For consumer DIY products, such as Smart Home or wearables, you need to come up with an equivalent, much more automated lower-touch alternative.

That said, some of your customers will require assistance as mentioned before, so maybe you’ll have to create a play that describes a remote session where one of your agents actually walks her through the product, how to install it, connect it to her home WiFi or Bluetooth, and use its basic features.

Who’s involved in the play?

Each play might describe who’s involved from your end, how long it’s going to take and what tools you’ll need to complete the play.

In our SaaS model, that somebody may be a customer success manager, whereas in our DYI IoT e

support plays

xample the assisted services will be delegated to a trained customer support agent, or to an email or in-product guide on your mobile app..

At another point of the journey, if you’re trying to renew the customer’s subscription let’s say,  you’ll probably involve a sales person in a SaaS or B2B situation, while for B2C you might resort to well-planned renewal e-mails and agent reach-outs by phone only to customers at-risk of not renewing based on things like product usage patterns.

The one page play document

Before you execute anything you should have a pretty good idea what you’re going to do and how. We recommend developing a one-page document that describes each play. It really shouldn’t be more than a page.

Most companies don’t do this, which leaves you with a huge competitive advantage if you decide to follow this approach.

The one pager is one of the most powerful tools you can create (and it’s one of the things we help companies with).  It will make your processes for providing customer journey support services much more predictable, uniform and measurable.

Working with a partner

Another advantage of the one page play document is that it can get everybody on the same page, including outside people you might assign to perform any task. This is especially true if you’re outsourcing to a partner.

Be careful to choose a partner who views their relationship with you as a true partnership, instead of just a way to make money through hourly or transactional billing.

4. Develop your Support Playbook

After developing the plays for each of the touch points you identified, you then need to develop a support playlist and playbook.

The playlist is basically the list of plays, while the description of each play comprises your playbook, yes like a football playbook.

While plays may resemble each other from company to company, especially those that have similar products, support challenges and user bases, each company will develop their own unique playlists that are particular to their situation.

5. Focus on Execution

Once your playlists are set, then it’s time to focus on execution.

And by execution, I don’t necessarily mean you’re going to outsource everything. Execution just means getting your support plays done by any means possible.

You might have an internal team perform some of the functions, and you might outsource other functions.

Visualize what you can outsource

The advantage of having developed your playbook is that now you can easily visualize:

  • What you can outsource
  • Who will do what
  • What interfaces you’ll use between groups and with partners.
  • How your outsourced team, if you have one, is going to escalate to you or you to them
  • What they’re going to communicate to you, or with your customers
  • What metrics you will want to track
  • What metrics your partners will need to manage to and how they’re going to report them back to you

How the visualization works

By documenting your plays you break the whole process down into little pieces.

We use an Excel-based tool that visually does this for you. You can take a little piece of any play and figure out if that’s something an external party could do. It provides structure and forces you to be detailed and specific about your tasks.

Decide on automation

The visualization tool can also help you decide if something can be automated, or if live agents should do the task. Or can it be a mix of the two?

6. Find the Intersection Between Support, Marketing, Sales and Others

Finally, the playbook concept within the Customer Journey Support paradigm uniquely enables you to join customer success, customer support, marketing, sales, and other groups together into a cohesive whole.

You can now incorporate groups and functions that are outside of the traditional customer support space.

But the new customer journey support paradigm is more than just traditional customer support. It’s about a new business model.

Today, growth is not just a sales and marketing function. It’s a holistic function with customer experience (driven by the customer journey support model) as a critical driver for exponential growth.

Having a playbook is the ultimate tool for today’s technology companies (especially for the new wave of consumer DIY/IoT providers) where all of these groups intersect, because they each have a critical role to play in driving company success and top line revenues.

7 Criteria for Determining Your IoT Support Budget

IoT Support Budget

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:

Soft-skills:

  • 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?

Hard-skills:

  • 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.

Conclusion

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:

  1. Size of your team
  2. Volumes and coverage
  3. Whether your support will be insourced or outsourced
  4. Your goals and what they imply for skills and other technical resources
  5. Your degree of automation
  6. The time zones you sell to, and
  7. Partner resources

 

How IoT Operations Leaders Can Decide Whether to Insource or Outsource Support

insource or outsource

To really scale your IoT business, your customer success and support infrastructure and processes are critical. We discussed this at length in our blog post The Guide to Growing Your IoT Business Through the Customer Journey Support Model.

Two of the main considerations for any operations leader, customer success or customer support manager at a consumer IoT firm (or any technology company for that matter), are:

  1. Cost: How can I scale support cost-effectively? Does it make more sense, from a cost perspective, to insource or to outsource?
  2. Speed: How can I grow my team, infrastructure and processes really fast (especially if your company is hitting its stride in the marketplace)? Does it make sense to hire an outsourced team, or can I do this more effectively in-house?

In this article, we discuss nine considerations you should take into account when deciding whether to insource or outsource your support and other customer journey services.

1. Location of customer base

We put location first because we think it’s the most important point to consider. Why? Mostly because of time zones, though language is also a consideration.

Having alert support personnel handle support issues on your clients’ time zones is crucial.  It impacts availability, response time, language, cultural affinity and even cost.  You should really consider where your main markets are or are going to be, and make support team decisions based on that.

If you’re a European or Asian company, but your major market is the United States, then consider having a support team in the western hemisphere. The same goes for the opposite situation: if you’re a U.S.-based company, and your major markets are either Europe or Asia, then consider basing teams over there.

That said, you can support customers in remote time zones from a central location, just make sure you account for extended or round-the-clock shifts and language issues if that’s the way you want to go.  Having a well managed central location handle it all can be highly efficient too.

2. Your Growth Stage

Is your company an early stage startup, or are you starting to see explosive growth with your customer base, maybe growing by the tens, hundreds or even thousands of customers every week?

If you’re early stage, you might not even have a customer success or support manager yet. It’s still probably all hands on deck, with people wearing many hats. In that case, it may be best to keep support in-house for a while.

But if you’re going through a serious growth spurt or approaching one, then you need to consider outsourcing as a way to scale faster and more flexibly, especially if the pace of your internal recruitment can’t keep pace with growth or if it’s just too cost-prohibitive to grow your support team in your main location.

Outsourcing is a great way to scale quickly.

One word of advice we give all clients, however: you should consider outsourcing once you have a manager in place on your end, and our recommendation is not to outsource your customer success or customer support manager role. This person should always be in-house and on location, as close as possible to the rest of the startup team.

It is completely feasible to have operational leaders at the remote location to support your manager with the day-to-day operations, as well as with training, workforce planning, handling escalations, managing to pre-established goals, and providing valuable customer feedback.

The more sophisticated vendors will also understand the dynamics of a technology company well, and be able to provide valuable metrics and analytics to support your customer success operation.

Your growth stage will determine which of those things are important and when, and help you drive the conversation with your partner to increase the value of the outsourced engagement.

3. A Basic Support Playbook

When you’re scaling support, you need to have in place a basic of support plays and knowledge base elements.

We discuss plays extensively in our article mentioned above. We define support plays as follows:

“Plays are a set of steps that you follow to do something, decide who (or what or how) will do it, and schedule when it will be done.

Think about football plays. Members of a football team memorize dozens or hundreds of plays they can use at any given moment to move the ball forward.

The same is true for supporting the customer throughout her journey. The plays you design across the various stages of the journey will move the product forward.”

When you put together your set of support plays into a defined process, we call this a Playbook.customer journey plays

When do you need support plays? The defining moment is usually when you hire your first customer success manager or customer support manager, as the case may be.  But you definitely need to have some plays in place if you’re going to outsource any part of your customer support operation.  Doing so without a clear map of what’s going to be done, by whom, how and when will complicate things, and will likely lead to micromanagement of your partner.

The support play concept is fairly new and we believe it is an essential part of modern, high-quality support operation that contributes to customer retention and the growth of the bottom line.

You will increase the chances of your outsourcing effort being successful if you have taken the time to figure out and document what your outsourced partner, as well as your own internal team, will do and how.

You may also turn to a support partner who understands the dynamics of technology product support in the context of customer success, and who can help you develop these plays.  At Infolink-exp, we work with our clients from a customer success perspective, to make sure that they have at least some level of customer journey support playbook in place that provides predictability and scalability to the operation.

4. Your E-commerce Platform

Whether you sell through an online store or not is another important consideration.

In a consumer IoT company, your support team will likely have to do some order support, maybe handle some warranties, shipments, or handle orders directly.  This may be part of the operation you need to scale.

If you outsource this part of your customer’s journey or even a part of it, be prepared to make the outsourced team part of your e-commerce process, which means giving them access to your platform and the needed visibility into your ordering process.

At the same time, consider putting together a play for order support escalations.

5. A Clear Escalation Process

In customer support, there should always be a clear escalation process. In other words, you should be clear as to what your partner does versus what you’re going to continue to do, and how escalations will work between your support and customer success team and vice versa.

Usually, this will require putting together a play on what and how to escalate.  Examples are a customer success manager escalating a case to support when the customer needs technical help beyond the scope of what the CSM can or should do.  The reverse is also true, the person that talks to your customer about her subscription and maybe her high-level requirements for a plan upgrade, should not be the customer support technician, in which case he will need to escalate to the CSM.  But these also applies to regular support ticket escalations between your L1, L2 an L3 support staff.

In the absence of a clear escalation process, any support operation may turn chaotic, but this is particularly important if you plan to outsource to a remote team.

6. Customer Support Tools

You should also have a good set of tools in place. You don’t want to run customer service on Outlook.

Ideally, you should have a customer service platform such as Salesforce, Desk.com, Zendesk, or any one of many other support platforms in the market.

These are built for customer service, and allow you to document new issues, follow up on them even if more than one agent or support level intervenes, keep track of customer responses, generate reports and metrics, and record frequent questions and solutions for your internal or customer-facing knowledge base, among other benefits.

Support tools can also enable you to provide service through multiple channels in an integrated fashion.  For a consumer IoT offerings, you should probably at least be doing email, and phone, and possibly chat.

Many companies we talk to don’t have those tools in place, so we offer to help them choose and set them up.  The point is that these are mandatory if you hope for your operation to be scalable, especially if you are going to be relying on an outsourcing partner to achieve that scalability.

You’re probably too early to think about outsourcing support if you haven’t considered, or are not yet willing to invest in the right set of tools.

7. Don’t Underinvest

Related to No. 6 above, in our experience, the best outsourcing projects are those where companies focus on user success and on customer service no matter what.

That means that they’re not focused on minimizing the cost of investing in licensing tools. They also don’t shortchange themselves on the size of the team required. They spend plenty of time training their representatives or agents, defining what the ideal customer experience should be, building their customer journey playbook, updating their knowledge base, and tracking the right set of metrics.

The most successful companies have a clear set of goals that they want to accomplish, and they are willing to invest in the tools and processes needed to achieve them.

By goals I mean:

  • What are your CSAT or customer experience goals?
  • What are your productivity goals? How many calls? How many sessions? How many emails do you want per agent per hour?
  • What are your quality goals?

Then there are other operational goals, such as:

  • What are the maximum number of abandoned calls that are acceptable to you?
  • What is your maximum average time to answer?
  • What is the maximum resolution time?

You need really clear goals. And the only way to track them is to invest in the right tools, and in the right team.

The good news is that you don’t have to do it all on day 1.  Support operations tend to start fairly basic and get more sophisticated with time and experience.  Whether you insource or outsource though, you want to make sure that you invest enough in the elements required for a scalable operation.

8. Trust Your Partner

A big no-no in outsourcing relationships is trying to micromanage your partner. It’s counter-productive to tell people what to do at every step and sours the relationship.

You hired an outsourced team for a reason.  What you want to do is train them and then trust them.

You want to trust your partner to actually be your partner, and trust that they have your best interest in mind.

For example in our case, we do workforce management for some of our customers. We do volume projections and are able to predict what their requirements will be for team size, so we can handle those volumes.

trust your partnerWe actually do the scheduling, and real-time monitoring of resource availability to ensure the resource schedule is the best that it can be at any given hour of the day.

The procedure I just described requires a high level of trust from our client.

If a company insists on not letting us make adjustments on the fly, it makes it way harder for us to optimize what we do for them.

Once a partner has proven it’s trustworthiness, you also want to trust them to grow your team, especially when this needs to be done quickly.  Requesting a resume for every candidate is not a great way to make an outsourced operation scalable.

As a segue to my next point, I would also mention trusting your partner (if they have the capabilities) to have access to the right platforms and data to help optimize what they touch, in whatever part of the customer journey that happens to be.  That may mean allowing access to your e-commerce platform to process a warranty, or access to customer data (such as subscription plans or purchase history) for analyzing patterns or producing customer journey analytics.

Micromanagement is not healthy in an outsourced relationship – and probably not in an in-sourced situation either- but mostly, it is not conducive to a scalable operation.

9. Identifying corner cases, frequent issues, trends, outliers, predictions

Lastly, consider how a partner can help you discover corner cases and other insights.

We were in a situation where we were assisting a company who had blind users. This is a classic corner case. What can we do to provide better service to these different customers in different situations?

Your outsourced partner can help you identify:

  • What are these corner cases?
  • What are the most frequent issues that come up?
  • What trends are we seeing in volumes, specific user pockets or hot issues at a given point in time (say after a product release)?
  • Are we seeing any outliers and other things we should tackle?

Data can help you with many of these issues and others. In our case, we’re proselytizing this to our customers: “Let us work with your data and we’ll be more effective in terms of what we can go back to you with”, since typically internal teams don’t have the bandwidth to do data discovery and ask enough questions.

So if you decide to outsource, find a partner that can provide a feedback channel to your team, and ideally has data analytics capabilities to enable it.

Want to know how to get started with IoT support so you can grow your business the right way? Read our complete guide on Growing Your IoT Business Through the Customer Journey Support Model.

How to Determine the Size of your Support Team

the-size-of-your-outsourced-team

When you’re launching a startup, especially if you’re in the exciting IoT space, one of the last things on your mind is support. It’s not as fun as the other stuff: developing breakthrough technologies. Getting press on Mashable. Getting your first 100 users.

But support? That’s boring, right?

Well, support is essential, as we discuss in this post. It means the difference between fast growth and faltering on the line.  It also must be scaled well if your goal is to significantly scale the number of users you have and do it in a way that provides the best customer experience possible.

So ok, you’re thinking about support, and you’re going to organize and staff your support team.

How do you know how to size your team? How do you know what level of support you need at your particular stage of growth? What type of support do you need? Should you have multilevel support?  Does it include other specific touch-points, such as product setup or new user onboarding?  The questions are many.

You may already have a support manager on staff with plenty of experience sizing support teams. She may have already taken the first stab at sizing your team, based on her experience and knowledge, and may just need to verify with a third party.

Or you may have an operations person who is not as experienced. They may need the help of a third party or a blog post like this.

Well if you’re confused as a lot of our initial customers were, read on. We’ve developed this succinct guide to help you with how to size and configure your initial support team.

1. Your Growth Stage

Where you’re at in your growth trajectory determines a lot. You may be at the beta stage, with a hundred or so beta users. The volume is low, so the need for a large team or a highly structured operation isn’t there yet. But you still need to professionalize your support.

Put some tools in place. Get some basic resources to support your first users. At this stage, you need to emphasize learning. Learn and document issues in your ticketing system.  Feed back to engineering.  This is also a great opportunity to build your knowledge base or an FAQ, or your core “how to” tutorial blog posts.

For an early stage company it’s not so much about the size of your team (a hundred users just requires a support person or two), or even volumes or coverage. Focus instead on taking the first steps to create a professional support infrastructure and process: evaluating and setting up some good tools, putting some basic processes in place (for example to watch the incoming queue and assign tickets to individuals), document issues and escalate them as needed, and operate with some basic service level commitments to your customers, e.g. 4-hour e-mail response time, for example.

Just because you’re small, that’s no excuse not to have professional support.

If you are at the stage where your user base is or will be growing fast, then you should really worry about a few important considerations to size your initial team and grow it.  So let’s move on to what those are, shall we?

2. Touch-points in the Customer Journey

We recommend thinking of support from a Customer Success perspective.  That is, accompanying your customer with services throughout the customer journey, from the time they order your product to the time they’re -hopefully- ready to upgrade.  That is what we call Customer Journey Support.

In the context of IoT DIY (Do-It-Yourself) products, this means that you have an opportunity to engage with your customer during certain key touch-points.  Will you be providing order support? Will you be helping customers setup the product and connect with other devices in their network?  Can you help provide an assisted or recorded walkthrough on the product’s features?  Will you help your customer figure out how/when you upgrade?

These questions raise the prospect of either having a multi-functional team, or if you’re a more mature company, possibly having different teams handle different services.

Consider which of these services make sense for your company, and as you go through the rest of this guide, apply the criteria to the various journey support services you want to make available.

For an in-depth guide on how to grow your IoT business through the Customer Journey Support Model, click here.

3. Volume and Coverage

The first thing you should consider to size a team are your current and projected support volumes, as well as the expected productivity of your support staff (we’ll get to the latter a little later).  Some questions to ask yourself and perhaps others in your team are:

  • What are our support volumes today?
  • Are they e-mails, phone calls, chat requests, scheduled on-boarding sessions, or others?
  • What is my average handle time for the various channels, 15, 30 minutes? more?
  • How do we expect these volumes to grow, based on our product launch plans, marketing plans, etc.?
  • Do we expect to automate some of the support through FAQs, online guides, in-product help or chatbots?
  • What do we need our daily/hourly coverage to be? Where are our customers, geographically?

The answer to these questions will allow you to do some fairly simple math to figure out the expected productivity of your agents and project some current and future capacity needs.  You should work with at least 12 months of data.

Regarding coverage, almost everybody neglects it, but it’s a really important consideration. Going back to the example of the company with only a hundred users. Suppose you chose to offer support from 8am to 5pm, five days a week. Fine. You just need two resources. Max.

But what if you’re product is being sold globally, an extended support schedule or even 24/7 support may be a necessity. Your coverage for the same 100 users is completely different. You need at least five resources.

Are things starting to get real now?

4. Your Support Channels and SLAs

volume-and-coverage

Ok, good. So we’ve covered coverage (see what I did there?). But what about channels? We referred to those briefly above with regards to handle times.  But the more basic question is, as you scale customer support, how are you going to deliver it?

If you’re diving straight into phone support, then you need somebody who’s going answer the phones within 15 or 20 seconds of the phone ringing. You also need agents that are trained in handling phone support, including great tone of voice, a great attitude, and other phone service skills.

If you’re starting out with email, you have a little leeway. The expected response times for email may be four hours or more. You’ve got some breathing room. The pressure isn’t too high.

If you’ve decided you’re going to provide social media support – or support via chat – then you pretty much need to respond instantaneously.

Different channels, different resource commitments.  The E-mail channel will allow you to use your resources more flexibly and still meet your response and resolution time commitments.  The more synchronous channels (namely phone, chat, social) will require that you provide for greater redundancy and provide more human resources at any given time.

5. Handle Times and Shrinkage

Going back to handle times, we’re not talking about response times – the time it takes for somebody to actually respond to your support request – we’re talking about the time it takes your reps to handle the support request until the effective resolution of it in your customer’s mind.

If your handle time is 10 minutes, then your support people can handle a lot more cases than if your handle time is an hour.  Obvious, right?

What about shrinkage? Not the grocery store shrinkage, but the productivity kind. When we say “support resources,” we’re talking about human beings. Nobody is “on” 8 hours a day. Maybe they’re productive 85% of the time. Or maybe only 80%. Know your numbers, and size your team accordingly.

If a dedicated support agent has 8 hours in the day and you assume some shrinkage, then again, some simple math will help you figure out how many cases they can handle per day.

6. Scheduling

Consider your scheduling too. You need some overlap. No resources should start and stop at 12 o’clock. Who would be manning the phones during that crucial 5 minute period between shift changes?  What if there’s a longer than 5-minute exchange?  What about issues that need to be handed off for the next agent to continue to handle?

Make sure that as you size your team and schedules, you build overlap into your shifts, which will also affect the amount of human resource you need to consider.

Conclusion – Your Next Steps

My best recommendation is to use a spreadsheet to figure out, based on average handle times, how many issues a resource can handle. And if you know your volumes, you know how many resources to assign.

For example, if a resource can handle 100 issues a month, and you have 1000 issues a month, just divide B by A, this will give you an idea of how many you need.  Go from there to factor in the rest of the considerations we have mentioned.

A good outsourcing partner will help you think through this process not only when you start, but also as your team scales both in terms of size and capabilities (new channels, new services, and new touch points).

Want to know how to get started with IoT support so you can grow your business the right way? Read our complete guide on Growing Your IoT Business Through the Customer Journey Support Model

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5 Types of Customer Support Services Consumer IoT Companies Should Outsource

Internet-of-Things-Ecosystem

According to technology research firm International Data Corporation, the Internet of Things market will reach $1.4 trillion by 2021. IoT will become an intimate part of our lives, both on the consumer side of things and for industrial applications.

The diversity of IoT devices being brought to market is mindboggling, particularly in the consumer space, and the complexity of the IoT ecosystem is rapidly increasing.

New IoT devices, many of them introduced as DYI (Do-It-Yourself), must not only connect to your WiFi at home or your mobile’s Bluetooth, but also integrate with various IoT platforms –Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung– among them.

They must also cohabitate or integrate with other IoT devices connected to those same ecosystems.

All this will increasingly force vendors to not only support an increasing number of devices, but in some cases, handle issues that involve platforms or devices made by other manufacturers.

As IoT vendors scale their all-critical customer success operations, and consider combined insource-outsource strategies, they should consider outsourcing five types of support functions, which include but go beyond the traditional product support model.

These five functions are part of the Customer Journey Support model, which calls for accompanying your customer throughout the whole journey, with an end-to-end focus.  That is, providing a consistently great customer experience from the time the customer orders your product, to the time they’re -hopefully- ready to upgrade.

So what are these five types of support services? Here’s an overview with some details on each one.

For an in-depth guide on how to grow your IoT business through the Customer Journey Support Model, click here.

1. Order Support

In the consumer Internet of Things, many products are ordered online through vendor’s e-commerce sites.

This is where the customer experience begins.  Some customers may need help even generating the order, especially where some sort of service plan accompanies the product and there is more than one option to choose.

Your team can help clients figure that out, generate an order, handle exchanges, process warranties, and track the product’s delivery.  By doing this right, you can turn a potential hassle into a relationship-building experience.

2. Onboarding Support

Then there’s onboarding support, such as the physical installation of the product and helping the customer install the app that’s tied to the product.

Although products such as thermostats, security cameras or smart light controls are supposed to be Do-It-Yourself, all this technology is way too new for many users to easily figure out.  Onboarding is key.  The result of that should be a user ready-to-go and excited to take advantage of the product’s promised value.

Onboarding may include helping users setup the hardware, install the app on their mobile device, and also configure the mobile app once it’s installed.

 

3. Product Walkthrough

A product walkthrough is different from onboarding.

While onboarding helps the customer install the product to ensure sure it’s ready to use and functions properly, the product walkthrough is designed to help the customer understand HOW to use the product, as well as to inform them of the different functions available.

types-of-support-services-for-IoT-companies

This kind of assistance is not something that every user will need of course, and vendors could not afford to do it for everyone either, but as these devices reach beyond the more tech-savvy early adopters and the IoT ecosystem gets more complex, it is smart to be prepared to provide additional assistance when needed.

4. Ongoing and Technical Support

Since an IoT device is by definition a connected device and has to play nice with others, (both now and what will come in the future), ongoing product support needs will only increase.

Many factors will contribute to product issues needing support, such as software upgrades, new features, integrating a device with other devices offered by the same vendor or by other vendors, and more.

Ongoing technical (or non-technical) support is a lot of what takes place during the biggest chunk in the customer’s lifetime with a product, and can either be a great source of frustration or a great source of satisfaction for them.  Your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) depends on doing it well.

5. IoT Ecosystem Support

We hesitated in creating a separate category for this type of support, since in theory it falls under the general technical support bucket – but it’s different.

Since the industry is “Internet of Things”  – which implies a network of connected devices – vendors will need to provide support that goes beyond support for their own product.

An outsourced vendor that understands the growing IoT ecosystem will make the most sense and help you scale that type of support.  IoT manufacturers must go beyond thinking about just their own product, and must instead think about the larger context.

This requires a mental shift, because it extends the areas of responsibility that a vendor will support. Successful consumer IoT vendors will need to think beyond their own product to retain customers and continue to grow.

Conclusion

IoT has added a whole extra set of dimensions to consumers of technology: an exponential increase in product complexity compounded by connectivity to the wider Internet.

Accompanying your customer throughout the complexity of this journey means putting the right systems, tools and team in place.  As a product manufacturer, make sure that you think in terms of that journey.  Start by identifying the key touch-points along it.  Then think through which may be best for your own team to take on, and which you may need to scale through a partner.  We’ve provided a few ideas here that should help you provide a quality, consistent customer experience.

To really determine how you need to scale your customer journey support operations and what you can and cannot to outsource to an external vendor, check out our article on the Customer Journey Support process, and check out Step 3: “Identify “outsourceable” v. internal operational assignments.”

For an in-depth guide on how to grow your IoT business through the Customer Journey Support Model, click here.