Poor customer support could cost you dearly in a downturn

With a potential recession on the horizon, customer retention is now more important than acquisition writes Intercom’s Declan Ivory.

Rising inflation and geopolitical tensions have put Irish companies in a tight spot, with business confidence falling again in September 2022 and two thirds of business leaders saying, right now it is difficult to predict the future of their business.

During this period of economic uncertainty and against an increasingly competitive landscape, connecting with and supporting your customers has never been more business critical.

“The challenge for all businesses is to continue to innovate and remain competitive by connecting with their customers and building relationships that can survive turbulent times like these”

With a potential recession on the horizon, and less money to burn, retention is now more important than acquisition. Creating quality customer support experiences has always been essential for retaining customers and according to research from Intercom and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 69% of organisations cite loyalty and retention as the biggest business benefit of prioritising customer service.

But they’re facing big barriers. Disconnected, legacy technology stacks and siloed data are slowing their teams down and preventing them from connecting with customers in personalised ways. Almost one third of executives say they fail to properly distribute data-driven customer insights throughout the organisation. In addition, many don’t have the strategies, talent, and culture needed to succeed. Smart businesses are focusing on overcoming these challenges, to protect themselves against losing valued customers. 

Next-generation support holds the key

The way that businesses support their customers needs to change. Today’s support technology stack are bloated with legacy systems and disjointed tools that are slow and inefficient. What’s more, they lack the customer data needed to deliver personalised support—a rising demand from today’s consumers. These outdated customer support tools prevent employees from connecting with and supporting customers in a timely, personalised way. And in that same report, many executives agree—60% don’t feel their organisation is tailoring their customer communications well with their current tools.

What really matters is the ability to deliver the right message, to the right person, in the right way, at the right time—all through next-generation support. Next-generation support delivers personalised conversations, uses automation to scale and solve customer problems where and when they happen, whether that’s in your product, app or on your website.

But in the digital age, customers want and demand easy, proactive and personal customer service experiences, so in-product communication is the most important channel for businesses to invest in today in order to build relationships and retain and grow customers. In-product support is best delivered using messaging given it’s becoming both consumers’ preferred communication channel, and it’s the most effective channel—reaching customers in this way will have a major impact on customer satisfaction and long-term retention.

Automated Support Agents or Bots also offer a way to deliver next-generation support, giving businesses the ability to scale personalised conversations to hundreds or thousands of customers. Artificial Intelligence (AI) based-Chatbots can use existing support resources, such as FAQs or knowledge base articles, to help answer and resolve customers’ questions. They can also recognize and answer multiple forms of the same question and can be trained to give instant responses using a company’s preferred voice and tone. But automation will never replace the human aspect of customer support, so bots are best used to answer repetitive, transactional questions, so human support agents can tackle more complex queries.

When support is done right, retention becomes second nature, which means more growth, lower costs, and more secure revenue streams. When all businesses have to fight harder to win customer loyalty, personal and efficient customer support can be your key competitive advantage.

It starts at the top

The most successful customer support strategies start with buy-in from top executives, especially the CEO. C-level leaders set the tone for the entire company and showcase the importance of building strong customer relationships. Each support conversation with a customer is an opportunity to build a positive, long-lasting connection, but it’s also an opportunity to help remove roadblocks or other pain points for a customer. With the right tools in place you can easily remove these roadblocks and provide an exceptional customer experience in the process.

Leaders need to set their teams up for success by incorporating modern support tools into their technology stacks—those that enable personalised conversations and leverage AI based Chatbots to scale— and working diligently to hire the right talent, so that they can help their companies navigate the challenges that will come with the economic downturn.

Support interactions should be as seamless and enjoyable as possible – for customers and support teams alike. More than ever before, low quality service can make or break your business.

The challenge for all businesses is to continue to innovate and remain competitive by connecting with their customers and building relationships that can survive turbulent times like these. The winners in this space will be companies who transform their customer support to be modern, personalised and offered at-scale.

Declan Ivory
Declan Ivory, Intercom’s Vice President of Customer Support, is an experienced senior leader with a passion for building and developing high-performing teams and applying digital technologies to support organisations through major business transformation. Prior to sharing his operational expertise and strong leadership to support the growth of Intercom's customer support team, over the last 10 years Declan has held senior support leadership roles with Amazon Web Services, Tableau Software and Google Cloud.