Why You'll Be Hiring More Customer Support People in 2017

December 22, 2016

Providing great customer service costs money. And, since most companies want to save money, they're always looking for ways to reduce costs. However, it seems likely that some firms may want to bite the proverbial bullet and staff up their in-house support teams. And, that will mean recruiters and talent managers will need to staff up quickly. 

Why? Because for the past two decades, companies have sought to reduce support costs by 1) nudging customers toward online support, 2) outsourcing customer service to third-world countries, and most recently, 3) implementing support bots that attempt to mimic human interaction. The problem is: all three cost-savings strategies suffer from the same thing: customers don't like them.

Take online support. While many companies (Amazon comes to mind) have successfully automated simple requests like product returns, it remains difficult for customers to find the answers to complex questions or unusual requests.

For example, a May 2016 study of the online support experiences of 1,000 UK adults revealed that 40% couldn't get online answers to even the simplest questions and that 100%--yes, that would be absolutely everyone--preferred to interact with a human being.

Outsourcing customer support to cheaper call centers overseas is similarly problematic. While outsourcing can provide the human contact that customers evidently crave, many consumers are resistant to foreign-based customer support, and growing more so, especially in the USA.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "many Indian call-center workers say they regularly face particular abuse from Americans, whose tantrums are sometimes racist and often inspired by anger over outsourcing." And that was ten years ago!

The abuse of offshore customer support personnel—and anger directed at the company doing the outsourcing--is growing, according to a recent lecture "'Hate Nationalism' and Call Centers" by University of Toronto Professor Kiran Mirchandani, author of the newly-published Phone Clones: Authenticity Work in the Transnational Service Economy.  

"Agents in India are likely experiencing greater stress because more customers feel they can tell them off for 'stealing' jobs," Mirchandani explains. "In fact, the people I interviewed in India told me that every time there was a story about terrorism or anti-offshoring in the US or Britain, they experienced more abuse on that day."

Since customers dislike online support and would prefer to talk to a human (but not one from East Asia), it's not surprising that many companies are turning to support bots. Ideally, such technology would provide an illusion of human-to-human contact without the expense of hiring more personnel.

However, anyone who's ever tried to get useful information from a support bot knows they don’t really work all that well, which makes perfect sense considering that they use the same search algorithms of the same FAQs that failed to provide adequate online support. According to a recent, unpublished survey conducted by Harris Poll and sponsored by the software firm Talkdesk:

  • Eight in ten Americans (79%) agree that talking to bots is a waste of their time.
  • The majority of Americans (93%) agree that they value a company who staffs their customer support with people instead of bots.
  • Nearly nine in ten Americans (88%) agree that their customer service experience is better because they engage with a live person instead of a bot.

In short, while support bots may be cost-effective, they unlikely to satisfy the customer's desire for human contact any time soon.

Indeed, some of the world's best companies have already pursued a more human-intensive customer experience. Apple—with its Apple Stores --is a prime example. On a smaller scale, consider CDN77.com, a content delivery network provider which serves over 19,500 websites. According to the company's blog, "we never even thought of a robotic or an outsourced support [because] robots and some outsourced company don’t seem to know the problems you may face."

While many companies will no doubt continue to outsource customer support or attempt to automate it, companies that truly care about their brand and customer satisfaction (especially in the US) will either be moving their customer support in-house or considering doing so. Recruiters should thus adjust their hiring plans accordingly. 

With that in mind, here is what you should be doing to prepare for the renewed demand for customer support personnel:

  1. Share this article with marketing management. Simply as a matter of corporate responsibility, you should provide your colleagues in marketing with a perspective that might prevent them from pursuing a customer support strategy that may alienate the company's customers.
  2. Create a plan for an in-house support capability. Pivoting to a more employee-intensive support strategy could prove difficult and time-consuming. Recruiters should work with HR to and leadership to create a plan for the transition.
  3. Define the ideal customer support candidate. Recruiters should define the type of candidate who would have the technical and personal skills to handle customer requests and questions and who would also fit well within the company's corporate culture.
  4. Build a list of (and interview) potential new-hires. In an ideal world, recruiters should already have candidates in mind for customer support positions, should they become available. Interviewing ahead of time will make ramping up easier. 

*Image by Clement127