As professionals, it can be surprising how roles within a business that seem completely opposite really aren’t that much different. A product manager and a technology stack manager may seem like they have nothing in common with their day-to-day work life, but take a step back and you’ll see both roles are constantly evaluating processes and solutions to ensure everything is running smoothly.
From a departmental perspective, it’s also eerie how similar sales and customer support are in the workplace. They're both defined roles interacting with people outside of your company, and require knowledge to answer questions about your business. With this said, let’s evaluate a common concept from the business development world – the infamous “sales funnel” – and see why it’s quite similar to customer support processes and operations.
1. The top of the funnel is disorganized and unclear – When a new “lead” hits the sales funnel, it may contain only a contact name and a quick overview of what solutions they are interested in. Customer support teams also often suffer from a lack of information when a ticket comes in, usually with just a name and a very brief synopsis of the issues. Both departments need to “follow up” to help move the person who contacted your company through the funnel.
2. Conversion is the main goal for both funnels – Completing the sales funnel is simple; when someone reaches the bottom, they convert into a new customer. This process is similar for support, except a customer exits the funnel when they have received a working solution to their problem. It’s easy for a customer to enter the funnel when they have a question or issue, but just like sales the process of navigating through to the bottom can be highly unique and take time to move through the various stages. To increase conversion for customer support and answer more questions, it’s important to clearly define each stage in the funnel…
- Top – This is where an issue request is received and sorted (ticket created)
- Brainstorm – In this location, support agents will ask the customer for more information (if needed) and think of ways to resolve the issue
- Execute – In the middle of the funnel, agents will work together and with other departments as needed to implement a solution to the issue (ticket updated)
- Follow up – An agent will reach out to the customer, stating the solution and asking if it meets their needs
- Bottom – The customer will evaluate the solution and if it solves the issue they will exit the funnel (ticket closed)
3. Both funnels need oversight and maintenance to avoid “leaks” – Sales processes can look great on paper, but sometimes unforeseen circumstances occur that cause a leak in your funnel. For example, a sales team may be understaffed and not following up with mid-funnel opportunities enough because they are spending too much time sorting through the top of their funnel. A similar process happens with support teams and customer issues, especially when the issues are complex to solve and require assistance from multiple departments. To avoid leaks and improve customer satisfaction, make sure a leader on the support team is keeping an eye on customer interactions so no issues are getting lost in the shuffle. Even a “we’re still working on this” response to a customer is better than nothing at all. If you’re utilizing customer support software, a task management feature can be excellent for helping to prevent leaks in the funnel by improving the collaboration process with multiple departments.
4. Tracking is Crucial - Both sales and support need to keep detailed notes of all customer interactions. This aids in future conversations with the customer as well as providing important data for process analysis and customer insights. Sales will typically use a CRM (Customer Relationship Software) while Support will use a customer support software. In an ideal business, these two systems will work together to increase data sharing and improve communication.
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To summarize, customer support is like a sales funnel because it’s procedural in nature with a single outcome (issue resolution) that the whole team is striving towards with their work. When starting to implement a funnel concept with a support team, define each stage and focus on creating clarity at the top of the funnel. From here, always evaluate your funnel to avoid leaks and dissatisfied customers. The concept of a funnel in customer support can be valuable to keep issues and requests organized and to minimize the number of issues that are missed.