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Industry Research Research:
2011 People Issues in Customer Support - Survey Results

Customer support, at its root, is about relationships with people. Even its core technology falls under the rubric of customer relationship management. It often represents an organization's face and branding to the public. A great deal of literature now exists on the technology, metrics, and infrastructure behind this profession. But relatively little survey research benchmarks how well our profession delivers what it does: serving customers, and training, coaching, and evaluating the people who serve them.

This survey, which began life in 2010 as Service and Leadership Trends in Customer Support, examines the "people" issues that drive customer support operations: how satisfied customers are, how agents feel, how we supervise people and measure performance, and the systems we have in place to train and coach people. Sponsored by, it provides a unique annual snapshot of how well the industry manages its human capital and delivers its end product.

The current edition of this survey was conducted via e-mail in April 2011, drawing 80 responses from a wide range of industries including technology (34%), health care (10%), and services (9%). Most respondents were in executive (25%) or managerial (45%) positions, along with people in supervisory (9%), front line (6%) and other roles. There was a broad size distribution of support operations, with 30% coming from support operations whose annual budgets exceeded US $1 million, and the remainder fairly evenly distributed across budgets ranging from under US $100,000 to US $1 million.

Survey Highlights

Customers are happy, but a little less so: Self-reported customer sat ratings track very closely with last year's results, with the majority of those surveyed reporting levels of over 80%, and 35% of respondents delivering average customer sat levels over 90%. But nearly 6% more of those surveyed reported that their average customer was at least somewhat frustrated by the end of the call.

Agents are ready for (almost) anything: Over 85% of respondents feel their agents are "confident" or "very confident" in typical customer situations, with 45% (versus 35% last year) giving them the latter ranking. The majority feel they are also confident in critical customer situations. The biggest challenges revolve around issue resolution and communications skills, with a noticeable spike in pressures on average handle time.

Training: keeping it real: This year's survey drilled deeper into agent training and its effectiveness, and found that the highest marks went toward training that involved role-playing, simulation, and realistic scenarios based on actual customer issues. There is also a correlation between supervisor training and customer satisfaction.

Performance evaluation: metrics loom larger: Support managers continue to use a wide range of tools for performance evaluation; however, there is more reliance on performance metrics and less on customer satisfaction levels compared with last year's results.

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