Expectations have never been higher.

Today’s businesses are operating outside of the bounds of their industries — you’re not just competing with brands that sell similar products or services, you’re competing with brands everywhere. In fact, it goes beyond brands — when Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings said that they were competing with sleep, he wasn’t exactly joking.

The same thing applies to customer service. When I first started working at Unbabel, one of the biggest challenges I had was to scale our customer service operations. Because it doesn’t really matter whether you’re paying for a $5 toothbrush subscription, a $15 Netflix account, or a $500 premium B2B service. In the age of instant gratification, if one business starts offering instant customer service, suddenly, everywhere, everyone expects the same.

And so, as your business grows, and your customer base evolves beyond the borders of your initial market, you are left with a very important question.

Do you really need 24/7 support?

Scaling your support operations is not a decision to be taken lightly. According to Zendesk, by doing more of the same, you’re essentially increasing the cost of your support function by 60%-100%. So before pitching it in your next management meeting, you should consider whether your business really needs it.

There are some good indicators that it may be the right move for your business.

  • You serve customers in many different time zones — Maybe it makes sense for you to have an in-house team for each different market or timezone in your customer base, but then again, it most likely doesn’t. Not all companies can afford to open contact centers in 20 different locations, so if you’re hoping to expand your business globally, you’re going to need to offer great local support, even if it’s just from your headquarters;
  • You’re catering to enterprise customers — With bigger deals, and premium subscriptions, expectations will often rise, especially in the B2B industry. If a customer with a high value subscription runs into any technical difficulties, it’s not a good idea to put it on hold;
  • Your support operations are a key differentiator — Perhaps it’s not about the product at all, but about the support. If 24/7 support can be a business driver, and differentiate your business from all other competitors, then it’s probably a good bet.

But the most important reason of all, in our view, is feedback from your customers. Because truth be told, while these are all perfectly valid reasons, we only started implementing 24/7 customer support when our customers started asking for it.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

When you’re working to implement 24/7 support, there’s a point at which you realize you can’t scale your support functions without implementing clear processes and guidelines, a robust knowledge base and structured workflows. If something gets flagged at 2 a.m. and your support agent doesn’t know where to escalate the problem to, it defeats the purpose of offering that service in the first place.

In order to optimize operations, escalation points need to be readily available and well defined, especially when it involves other teams. Every change, every request must be documented, visible, across the entire organization.

Of course, as with anything in the business world, implementing processes is always a balancing act between adding structure while still maintaining some degree of flexibility. And when it comes to customer service, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. You’ll always have to take into account customers’ linguistic and cultural differences, different tones of voice, and even different technologies at their disposal. At Unbabel, we believe that personalized customer service is the key to good customer experience — given that we are selling multilingual support solutions to help our clients provide personalized support to their clients, it’s only fair that we do the same.

And that’s where playbooks come in. This quarter, one of our main goals is to create a playbook to guide our approach to 24/7 customer support. They give you enough structure to achieve the results you need, while still leaving some room to adapt to all these different idiosyncrasies.

It takes a village

One of the main challenges of moving towards 24/7 customer service is keeping costs at bay. Of course, you can always to outsource your support operations with a BPO, but if you’re going through the in-house route, you’re inevitably going to recruit a lot more people. It’s not about volume, it’s about coverage — if you have people doing night shifts, you need extra hands for rotation.

The other big challenge, well, is setting the right expectations, both internally and externally. 24/7 support is a cross-functional project that requires full commitment from several teams, especially engineering, and, in our case, community.

So to make this collaboration as smooth as possible, we have bi-weekly syncs with both these teams, but also project management and implementation. Everyone should understand what we’re doing and have a clear view of the roadmap, so we make a point to involve everyone in the discussion straight away, to build proper workflows and integrations. It really does take a village.

Then, it’s about aligning with your customers, especially at this initial stage of trial and error. We didn’t just go from 8-hour support during weekdays to a full-blown 24/7 support operation — that wasn’t necessary, and it wouldn’t have been wise either. We did it in increments: the customer started by requesting two extra hours in the early morning. A few weeks later, two extra hours in the night shift. And only then, only when we saw that everything was up and running, and both we and our customers were comfortable with it, we moved to 24-hour support on weekdays.

This is the perfect example of how an implementation of 24/7 support should go. Setting the right expectations, being honest from the very start, and communicating every step of the way.

Leveraging technology

Even as you create playbooks, define guidelines, and establish different priority levels, in customer support, there’s always a lingering feeling that every issue is urgent. The good news is that agents don’t need to be burdened with every minor problem. In fact, 81% of all customers try to find their own solution before reaching out to a customer support agent.

Self-service options, such as chatbots and FAQs, are always a good bet — they’re easy to implement, they’re cost effective, and work around the clock, 24/7, 365 days a year. They don’t take vacations or sick days. Not only that, but they also free your team from the routine issues, the I-forgot-my-password-type requests. This way, agents have time to have meaningful conversations with your customers, to focus on the more complex problems, to quickly jump on a call if need be. These are the interactions that build trust and loyalty.

And a bit of advice, make sure that your FAQs, knowledge bases, and other self-service tools are translated into as many languages as necessary, and that both original and translated versions are revisited regularly.

The best support operation is one that’s driven not just by your business needs, but by the ones of your customers. It’s one that listens to what they have to say, that acts on their feedback, and evolves with their needs.

No matter how much you think about scaling your support operations, the decision will never be anything short of overwhelming. It will never not be a challenge. But sometimes, it’s not about all the reasons not to do something. Sometimes it’s just about having a customer reaching out to you, and saying yes.