The front line of customer service: We speak to employees

Published on 30/05/2022 by Laura Burgess

Customer service is a major part of any purchasing experience, whether that’s in store or online, pre-purchase or post-sale. For this article, we surveyed customer support employees to get their insights into how customer service is carried out in their company and whether or not they think it’s working.

Header image showing customer service employee talking to customer online

Customer service —whether it’s good or bad— can leave a lasting impression. We all remember the times when someone went out of their way to help us, and we all remember our customer service nightmares with rude staff and endless bureaucracy.

To find out more about customer service in Australia, we wanted to hear both sides of the story, so we conducted two surveys —one of consumers and one of customer service employees.

In this first article, we explore findings from the employee survey, including the top challenges customer support employees face, the solutions they employ, and how new technologies such as chatbots and help desk software are changing the industry. Next time, we will see what customers think and compare the two groups.

Customer support workers are younger than average worker

400 people responded to our survey, which was designed specifically for customer support workers in small to medium enterprises (SMEs) of 1-250 employees. We defined customer support roles as those working in the following departments:

  • Retail
  • IT / technical support
  • Customer support
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Communication
  • Community management

Three industries made up just over half of all respondents, with 26% working in retail, 16% in healthcare, and 10% in IT. The rest came from a diverse range of other sectors.

Customer support employees in our survey tended to be younger than the average worker, with 35% of respondents aged 18–25. 34% were aged between 26 and 35, and 19% were aged 36-45. For context, the average age of the Australian workforce in 2021 was 43.5 years, according to the Australian Public Service Commission.

Job satisfaction among these workers is relatively high, and most customer service employees in our survey seem to think that their team does a good job. 91% are satisfied (36% ‘very’, 55% ‘moderately’) with the customer service offered by their company.

How is software used in customer support? 

Customer support employees responding to our survey named at least 14 types of software they use in their job. The most popular tool cited was customer service software (34%), followed by help desk software (28%), call centre software (28%), and customer support software (26%).

Infographic showing the most popular tools used in customer support

Customer service software helps organisations manage and track the interactions in customer relationships and support. Features such as ticket tracking, multi-channel communication, and escalation management help customer support teams to resolve issues quickly and increase customer satisfaction.

Companies can use help desk software to improve their responsiveness to customers. Help desk tools often include features such as ticket tracking, IT service management, and knowledge base management. The latter feature enables an organisation to create, store, and share information and support documentation in a centralised repository for customers or staff to access in a self-service manner. 

Helping customers help themselves

The top challenges that customer support employees face, according to our survey, are a lack of staffing resources (reported by 24%), team fatigue caused by consumer pressure (20%), and a lack of standardisation in responses (13%).

Graph shows the challenges that customer support employees face

One major response to these challenges is the introduction of automation and self-service. Many companies use online knowledge bases and chatbots so that customers can find their own answers before contacting a support agent. This can save the company money on staffing costs and often means customers can solve their problems with a simple search.

These solutions are widespread, with 80% of companies represented in our survey using at least one. 37% of the people we surveyed said that their customers can access online documentation and talk to chatbots. 30% have online documentation only, and 13% use chatbots only.

Did you know? A relatively new development, chatbot software helps companies develop automated chat features for their websites and apps. With some software, businesses can feed the chatbot with existing documentation like FAQs and then use artificial intelligence (AI) to develop sophisticated answers to customers’ questions.

Self-service tools: how, why, and do they work?

Of those participants that said they offered online documentation or automated customer service, 32% said their company had built up its online documentation using frequently asked questions from customers. 19% said they built theirs based on their own judgement, and 43% said they used a combination of internal and external knowledge.

Companies invest in online documentation bases and chatbots for several reasons, with the most common being speed. 46% of customer service employees who use these tools said that they were chosen because they make it quicker for customers to find answers, while 34% said the company chose to invest in them because it wanted to automate jobs. 12% said that their companies did so for budgetary reasons, because online documentation is less expensive than hiring more staff.

Three-quarters (75%) of customer support employees in our survey that use online documentation and chatbots said that they are enough to meet customers’ needs. The remainder (25%) said that they need to provide an additional layer of more tailored support.

Human-powered support: phone is still used by most

For the occasions where online documentation and automated chatbots aren’t enough, most of the companies we spoke to offer further options. Telephone support is still the most common of these, cited by 82% of the customer support employees in our survey as being used at their company. Email support (58%) and social media (39%) are also prevalent.

Bar graph shows other ways in which customer service employees can support client

Live chat with a human agent is less popular at the moment, although more than one-third (37%) of the employees in our survey said their company uses it. It’s also an area of high interest for customers. Respondents said that live chat is the area that their company would most like to explore, based on customer feedback. 29% of employees surveyed said their company is interested in it, putting it ahead of social media (20%), phone support (18%) and pre-filled online forms (13%) as potential new channels.

Bar graph showing other channels customer service agents would like to explore using in the future 

How has customer support changed during the pandemic?

We asked respondents to tell us about how customer support has evolved over the two years prior to April 2022. Taking into account the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding changes in buyer behaviour, it’s no surprise that companies have had to adapt. For most customer support employees (55%), the number of customer queries has gone up, while they have flatlined for 27% and decreased for 18%. 

However, those that experienced a rise in queries attribute this most commonly to the fact that their support is useful and that customers appreciate it as part of their purchase (46%). Only 16% of this group said that queries have gone up because customers are more demanding than in the past.

Graph showing why customer service agents have an increasing number of queries

Respondents who saw a drop in the number of queries over the last two years say that the creation of online documentation played a significant role. 44% credited the decrease in queries to the fact that their company has online documentation that covers most of the common issues, while a quarter (25%) said that the products and services they offer now require less support than in the past.

Bar graph showing why customer service agents have a decreasing number of queries

Dealing with customer feedback

Readers may be familiar with attempts by companies to collect feedback about their customer support experiences. These can take many forms, including surveys at the end of phone calls or sent via email after a support query has been resolved.

Among the customer support employees we spoke to, emailed customer satisfaction surveys are the most common method for collecting feedback, being used by 47% of those we surveyed. 37% of employees said their company solicits feedback at the end of phone calls, and 29% provide a comment box on their website. However, 12% say their company does not monitor or collect feedback at all.

Infographic highlighting how customer service agents collect client feedback

Of those respondents who say their company does collect customer feedback, nearly two-thirds (63%) report mostly positive responses, and only 7% say responses are mostly negative.

Did you know? Customer experience software helps companies collect, organise and track customer feedback. It allows organisations to gather feedback from multiple channels and convert written feedback into numeric data that can be analysed and later used for reporting or marketing. 

Customer support employees say their organisation responds to negative feedback in different ways. For 60%, it involves an apology to the customer, while 52% investigate to find the root cause of the issue in question. 25% offer compensation, while 12% said they have no protocol or do not take any action.

What makes good customer support?

We asked participants to rank what customers consider to be the most important aspects of customer support, based on their experience.

Bar graph that highlights what customers value the most in customer support

It appears that, in the opinion of employees, customers value both the ability to solve problems and the ability to create a pleasant experience. Politeness came out a clear winner, followed by quick problem-solving skills. Listening and communication skills are also important.

Within the companies where our participants work, the internal measure of good customer support is customer satisfaction. 81% of employees surveyed say this is considered the most valuable aspect of their job within their company. Employee wellbeing, including their mental health and work/life balance (51%), and customer retention (47%) are also highly valued for the companies of those surveyed, outranking ‘efficiency’ metrics such as numbers of tickets processed (28%) or closed (20%) in a day.

In summary

  • Customer support employees tend to be younger than the national average for employees and are overwhelmingly satisfied with the job they do.
  • Online knowledge bases and chatbots are significant contributors to the success of customer support.
  • Outside of this, telephone support is still the most common channel, with live chat growing in importance.
  • The volume of online support queries has grown in the past two years, with employees saying this is mainly because customers value their services.
  • Employees think that customers value politeness and quick problem solving skills in customer support interactions. 

Check back soon to read part two of this survey, where we explore consumer attitudes to customer service and see how they compare with employees’ experiences.

Looking for help desk software? Browse our catalogue.

Methodology:

To collect this data, Capterra interviewed 400 customer service agent employees in April 2022. Candidates had to fulfil the following criteria: 

  • Australian resident
  • Between the ages of 18 and 65
  • Employed full- or part-time at a company with 2 to 250 employees 
  • Works for a company that provides customer support services and/or Helpdesk services (technical support).

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

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