It’s no secret that the last year wrought dramatic changes in our society. While some experiences are alien, the pandemic catapulted a practice that has been on the fast track since the ’90s: remote work. And with this shift came new problems. Chief among them? Remote customer success team challenges.
How COVID-19 changed remote work
The coronavirus pandemic did something we never thought possible: it pushed the bulk of the workforce out of the workplace. And while there were some layoffs and exits as parents grappled with 24/7 childcare, that’s not what we mean.
Instead, we’re referring to the more than half of the workforce that found themselves working from home. This bracket included everyone from IT managers, to salespeople, and customer success teams.
In short, if you weren’t deemed essential, you were banned from the office.
This led to the accelerated evolution of technologies that supported work-from-home conditions. One of the big, early breakouts was Zoom. This free webcasting software made face-to-screen meetings accessible when everyone was scrambling to find a new normal.
But Zoom is far from the only software that rose to prominence. Their success is mirrored in dozens of other companies. Businesses from Amazon to Slack to Zapier boomed as we turned to them to fulfill everyday needs.
Buying household goods, attending meetings, entertaining bored children – you name it. Anything that we needed, we had delivered to our homes in boxes or via wireless internet.
But as businesses moved to remote conditions, one nagging problem remained: How do companies navigate the inevitable remote customer success team challenges?
Remote work is here to stay
Before we tackle that issue, we’re going to touch on an important point: Like it or not, work-from-home is here to stay.
A few reasons play into this burgeoning reality.
For one, innovative technologies make remote jobs possible, efficient, and effective.
Secondly, businesses have realized that having remote workers means they don’t have to shell out for expensive office space.
Take IBM, for example. This massive tech conglomerate is downgrading from 50 million square feet of workspace to a mere 150,000. It’s possible, the company says, because they expect 80% of their workforce to enter a hybrid work-from-home arrangement, while the other 20% goes fully remote.
And last but not least, at the height of the pandemic, more than half of the U.S. workforce worked from home. This is a massive shift from the single-digit percentage of people who worked remotely in years past.
As individuals got a taste of working from home, they also got a taste of the benefits, including:
- No long commutes
- Decreased travel and food expenses
- More flexibility in their schedules
- The ability to log off when they’re finished with their work
Work-from-home has become so popular that almost half of the employees will threaten to leave if they can’t continue in a hybrid or remote arrangement.
Customer success team challenges during the pandemic
But with all these hard-won successes came many issues, as well. In particular, companies had to address remote customer success management challenges.
Remote Customer Success, or RCS, is a relatively new term. It refers to customer service teams that work from home rather than in an office. With the sudden move from work to home came some unintended consequences.
Customer success teams experienced drastic changes such as:
- Lacking a defined, insulated workspace. This is especially true for phone-based support teams who need to reduce the sounds of daily life.
- Asynchronous communication – especially in text-based customer support teams.
- Increased working hours as employees struggle to define a new work-life balance.
- Increased support requests as users of all ages adapted to new technologies.
- New customer success software – which made some teams feel like they needed customer support of their own.
- Difficulties with customer retention – retaining customers and reducing churn could be more difficult when your working conditions are changing.
How can customer success leaders promote success?
Fortunately, all these problems have workable solutions. While you can address some more quickly than others, the goal for customer service leaders should not be to double down on their employees, but to open up. Empathy, flexibility, and adaptability are the keys to success.
Not only that, but by propping up your customer relationship team, you may even find more success yourself.
So, without further ado, let’s examine how managers and leaders can mitigate the remote customer success team challenges brought on by COVID-19.
1. Set people up for success
The first step you can take is to make sure your team has what it needs to collaborate. Without the proper setup, your team is doomed for a slow – but inevitable – collapse.
Even if you’ve been at it for a while, there still may be some room for improvement. For instance, leaders should ensure every team member has a dedicated workspace. Separating from their home life will help them focus, and can increase productivity.
You may want to provide extra help to reps who have families, pets, or noisy neighbors. Depending on the nature of your business, some distractions cannot be addressed effectively (such as when reps need to work while homeschooling).
Still, you can take steps to help your team succeed. You might offer to pay for soundproofing, move them to another team, or rearrange their schedule.
If you have team members who must face clients or vendors, make sure that their online appearance is impeccable. Similarly, as in earlier days, when many companies had a dress code – some organizations have an “online presentation code.”
It can be as simple as setting up some ground rules on online appearance, or you can go as far as providing green screen software (along with an actual green screen) to your employees to make sure their call with a third party is on a professional level.
If you set your team up for success, your business will flourish from the get-go.
2. Offer proper training and technical support
Another key to tackling remote customer success team challenges is to provide your team with:
- The proper software and technology
- Knowledge of their tools and your product or service
- Skills support
- Effective, up-to-date training
- Managerial support
Of particular importance here is training. Virtual onboarding practices have evolved considerably in the past year. Because everyone is working from home, new hires and reps working with new technology won’t have their coworkers around to help them out. As such, the onus falls on you to make training comprehensive and understandable.
3. Emphasize client onboarding
Your customer success teams aren’t the only ones enduring lasting change. Most of your customers are dealing with new and unprecedented challenges, such as:
- Tight budgets
- Tough working conditions
- Depressed customer traffic (and profits)
One thing you can do is emphasize the customer onboarding process. Attracting business with a flashy ad campaign is the first step. But keeping customers by delivering top-notch experience is often better for the company’s growth.
For instance, you’ll want to promote your value throughout the process by highlighting how your product will mesh with their business. Then, you should walk clients through the details of your product to provide concrete, working examples.
After all, the key to repeat business is ensuring customers use your products properly – and for the long haul.
And keep in mind, with users forced to use new technology, your customer success team may experience an uptick in support tickets. To help offset increased activity, consider implementing strategies like:
- Canned responses on company status for emails, phone calls, and live chat
- Chatbots to provide answers to FAQs and fulfill simple requests
- Encourage your team to work quickly – but without rushing – to avoid escalating non issues
- Promote online messaging and emails to your customers whenever possible
To make sure that the level of your services remains as high as possible, it might be a good idea to ask your customers to fill out customer satisfaction surveys a couple of weeks after the transition period.
Apart from the classic scoring system, allow them to leave written feedback. This way, you may catch any issues that your customers are experiencing as the whole office moves to the remote work style.
4. Communicate, collaborate, conversate
Clear communication is crucial for remote employees. This applies to communicating with customers, coworkers, and team leaders alike.
The first step to clear communication is to set effective boundaries. Make sure your team knows what’s appropriate for chat rooms and customers.
You should also make sure your teams turn off their personal notifications and social platforms. (Just because the new environment is more relaxed doesn’t mean that your standards can go, too!)
And when the workday ends, let your teams know that they can feel free to mute you until it’s time to log back on.
Second, you want to make sure that you pick a customer success platform that works for your business. Whether you go with Google Meets, Slack, or a more comprehensive CRM platform, ensure that you can:
- Bolster team and interpersonal communication.
- Record, analyze, and implement changes based on customer data.
- Collaborate with customers, coworkers, and managers alike on projects, milestones, and specific tasks.
- Develop and stick to a streamlined workflow.
By developing positive communication and collaboration, you’ll set up your customer service teams and customers for the utmost success.
5. Target your goals
When your employees are working from hither to yon, cohesion and company culture is challenging to maintain. Setting goals and tracking customer success metrics can provide stability and unity to scattered teams.
Once again, the onus here falls on leaders to support their teams. Encourage team leaders to familiarize themselves with and train their staff on:
- Adoption metrics. These help you understand how your products are used and can inform future improvements.
- Business metrics. These show how your product delivers according to expectations.
- Support and escalation feedback. These indicate both challenges and support encountered by your customers.
By understanding the granularities of their work, your customer support team will be more invested in customer outcomes. Not to mention, setting reasonable goals can lead to improvement across the board.
6. Initiate individual problem-solving
Speaking of scattered teams…
Now that your employees can no longer walk down the hall and ask for advice, problem-solving is crucial to your success. Empowering teams to use their individual skills will improve their work lives – and customer outcomes.
You can start by making essential customer data available and easy to read for your teams. Depending on your business, this may involve:
- Employing a customer data dashboard
- Sending out weekly progress reports
- Holding regular team meetings
- Adopting other methods that work for your specific business
Additionally, your team leaders should set standards for renewals, escalations, and onboarding. Rather than relying on management to declare verdicts, empower your employees to take charge.
If you’ve provided them with proper training, your teams should see massive success. In turn, your customer success outcomes will fly through the roof.
Last, you can ensure that your remote customer success teams can predict and solve problems ahead of time. Nipping problems in the bud is always more effective than cleaning up messes after the fact.
For that, it’s crucial to provide your teams with the tools and data they need. One trick is to monitor customer data in tandem with employee reports and reviews. You can also use software that alerts team members and management to red flags.
By keeping ahead of the curve, you’ll not only promote success, but your employees will become more invested in their jobs, too.
Support your customer success teams with flexibility and empathy
Above all else, you can overcome remote customer success team challenges by being flexible and empathetic. After all, this is a time of great transition for workers, families, and businesses alike.
And with families working and learning together, adjusting – rather than insisting on business as usual – is critical. Be lenient with schedules, extend deadlines, and keep communication open.
As a matter of fact, remember that employee satisfaction is one key to customer satisfaction. Using survey tools such as SatisMeter, you can easily collect feedback from your customer service team and make sure you leverage their answers to improve remote work conditions.
At the same time, make sure that it’s not all about work. The water cooler may be gone, but you can still promote water cooler conversations. Set up informal social channels, after-hours video chats, and leave time for your employees to connect on a more personal level. (Inviting their cats to Zoom meetings is a great place to start!)
Furthermore, take time to schedule both group and one-on-one meetings with team members. Listen to what they have to say. What’s working? What could be improved? What can you do to support them?
Above all, keep in mind that the new work-life balance is forever changed. Instead of keeping your employees tethered to their technology, encourage them to breathe and take breaks. Give them space to work – and let them take space from work for the sake of their health, families, and productivity.
Your employees will thank you for it.
Jan Kuzel is the Head of Growth at SatisMeter—a platform that helps you get customer feedback and grow your business.