Supercharge Your Support With Data-Driven Smarts

Mo McKibbin | January 7, 2016

Throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks may make for a fun evening, but it’s not a sustainable strategy. At some point you’ve got to know your numbers, live by them, or die without them.

We celebrate the benefits of having a data-driven culture in companies, and it’s no secret that monitoring metrics is critical to the success of your customer support. Understanding the data behind things like churn rate, response time, and handle time can be invaluable to your team.

Reports shouldn’t be restricted to data analysts, but embraced by the whole team to keep everyone focused on a singular goal: constant and never-ending improvement. In that spirit, we’ll be using Help Scout Reports to illustrate how you can turn collected data into actionable insights.

Look at Reports Holistically...

Numbers are important, but obsessing over a single metric won’t do you any favors.

There’s a difference between having a goal to lose 20 lbs, and having goals to increase vegetable intake, decrease pizza intake, and add 30 minutes of exercise to your daily regimen.

If success in those goals subtracts 20 lbs, then great! End goal accomplished. But there are a lot of unhealthy ways to lose weight as well, just like there are a lot of unhealthy ways to get response times down, or customer satisfaction rates up.

Like the health of your body, it’s important to the health of your business to look at your Reports as a whole, and how each number relates to the others.

...And Then Drill Down

Distilling your data helps make your metrics more actionable, so it’s important to find the right filters to focus your attention on what matters. Think about how you can use your metrics to improve.

Let’s say you’ve noticed a spike in your churn rate for the month of July. You haven’t received much feedback on why, but the feedback you have received was that customers felt like your support team has taken too long to respond. Woof, but at least you know where to start looking.

Based on that feedback, we turn to the Productivity Report in Help Scout. That Report measures how quickly your support team responds to support requests. Because you might have multiple Mailboxes in your account, you filter your reports by Mailbox: Support. That’ll take any extraneous time spent from billing@ or marketing@ out of your Reporting metrics.

In the Support Mailbox, you are rightfully concerned over First Response Time, noticing it’s taken a hit in September. Improving that metric is your “20 lbs.” to lose. You think why is it taking so long for my team members to respond to our customers this month? Where is the time going?

Because we’re looking at the Reports holistically, we’ll not only see an increase in First Response Time, but also an increase in the Handle Time metric. Handle Time measures how long it takes for your teammates to respond to a request from when they open the reply editor to hitting send. Bingo. You’ve found out where your time goes. You’ve found your pizza metric.

At a glance, a high number in handle time could look like your support team is taking too long to compose their responses. Maybe they are distracted. Maybe they aren’t knowledgeable enough about the product. Maybe they are just slow typers. There’s no real action you can take to improve that metric without drilling down to find out the why.

Start by looking at the individual cases that have taken the longest amount of time, and look for trends. We have a handy list to view these conversations in the Reports, broken up by time frame.

In this case, looking at the list of conversations taking the most amount of time, we find a common culprit—conversations tagged with Custom-Import. Now we’re getting somewhere.

To confirm the hypothesis that new issues arising with custom imports have been specifically slowing down support for everyone, we add another filter to subtract the Custom Import tag from reports, and see the new reporting results.

While First Response has not changed much, Handle Time has gone way, way down. You’ve now identified what’s holding up your support.

Take a fine tooth comb to your reports, and refine them to actionable data. Once you find the metrics that provide answers to larger questions, save the filter set and continue to monitor those reports until you have solved the problem.

Using Reports to Inform Your Process

Once you have drilled down to identify the root cause you can use these metrics to inform your support process, evolving your strategy from we need to reply faster to we need to have some tools in place to help our team reply to custom import issues.

Maybe the tools you need to implement are a knowledge base article, and that will cut down the amount of customer questions about custom imports. If the responses about custom imports are lengthy and all over the place, maybe your team needs a Saved Reply that helps cut down on typing time.

If neither of those solve the issue, maybe the user experience should be improved to minimize customer confusion. Your support team now has concrete data to share with the product team—they should make custom imports easier to do.

That’s how you fix problems; instead of encouraging your support team to find new ways to say “I’m sorry.”

You still need to throw some spaghetti at the wall, but at least now you’re working with stickier spaghetti.

You not only have several actionable tasks to improve the customer experience around custom imports, you can also solve the rest of your customers’ speed issue by directing custom import issues to a separate folder at a lower solve priority, unclogging your queue.

Using Reports to Inform Your Team

Optimal team performance requires a buy-in at every level of the organization, but especially your support team. Get the whole team involved and educated on how to read reports, what metrics you’re drilling down on, and ultimately what the goals are.

Outlining goals does not mean telling your team to obsess over satisfaction ratings or response times. Those are 20-lb metrics. Sure, a little team competition is healthy, and it's never a bad thing to keep tabs on ourselves to know how we stack up against our peers. But responding hastily to increase customer response time, or being overly accommodating to bump up ratings, can be detrimental to the customer experience.

A better approach is to keep your team in the loop on what you’re watching and why. If you have discovered the response times have lagged based on custom import issues from the custom-import tag, the goal has become to solve that problem.

You’re now obsessing over finding and solving the pizza metrics, instead of the 20-lb metrics. Sharing these discoveries also reinforces good practices (like tagging) to make it easier to identify and solve for these problems as they arise.


About the author: Mo McKibbin is a product marketer at Help Scout. She enjoys surprising and delighting customers with feature updates, and spending time with her cats.