Want to maintain exceptional support without breaking the bank? Here’s how
With Q1 well underway, as soaring inflation rocks the economy and smarter, faster AI tools rise to worldwide popularity, customer support teams across industries are scrambling to cut expenses and find the secret recipe for happy customers and a happy wallet.
Unbabel’s Vice President of Sales, Melanie Hornig, and Director of Product Marketing, Phill Brougham, recently hosted a webinar on “Maintaining Excellent Customer Support Without Breaking the Bank.” They were joined by Johanna Pyykonen, Head of Operations at pioneering iGaming company Hero Gaming, and Adrian Swinscoe, CX Expert and Forbes Contributor and Author.
The conversation centered around how companies can determine where to allocate funds — not just to lower long-term customer service costs, but also to bring added value to their business and customers. It pinpointed three critical areas of investment: People, technology, and channels.
Here are the highlights of the discussion.
Customer support and cutting costs: One size doesn’t fit all
Every company aims to reduce costs and boost profit — but the reasons that drive each business to attempt to cut expenses can be vastly different.
“Change is in our industry’s DNA,” said Johanna Pyykonen. “In iGaming, we never have the luxury of stability. Regulatory shifts — with market openings and closures — make the sector incredibly fast-paced. We must think ahead and ensure our tools, support teams, and mindset are primed to face the next challenge.”
As pointed out by Adrian Swinscoe, modern cyclical recessions, with economies periodically growing and contracting, are also pushing companies to “rethink the new normal” and switch up their support strategy. In the recent downturn, low-cost US airline Frontier Airlines decided to axe its customer service phone line and bet entirely on text-based support.
But, Melanie Horning warned, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all customer support solution: “It has to be appropriate to your brand, your offering, and your market positioning, and it needs to fit your business strategy. Everyone is vying for the attention of the same customers, and we’re all trying to save costs and improve margins — but at the root of it is the need to build a customer service experience driven by customer expectations. What do they want? Which channels do they prefer? You have to ask yourself these questions and continually challenge your vision.”
The power of investing in people — and why it pays off
When it comes to optimizing costs, slashing headcount isn’t the only option. Companies that know how to leverage their human capital can rein in future expenses while still offering great customer service. It starts with three steps: Investing in the skills of existing customer service representatives, fostering high-potential leadership, and building strong internal relationships through effective storytelling.
Upskilling and empowering agents
The key to providing truly good customer service lies in viewing agents not just as customer support representatives, but as drivers of the customer experience, involved in all touchpoints of the customer’s journey and easily shifted across departments. A company that invests in its existing agents and knows how to identify and leverage their skills isn’t bound by demand fluctuations. Instead, it can achieve full scalability at a lower cost — often with shorter response times and fewer escalations.
Support as a whole is also switching from reactive to proactive, with agents preemptively reaching out to customers in need of assistance. Hero Gaming’s agents, for example, can identify and help customers that are struggling with technical issues. This approach improves both the customer’s and the agent’s experience.
And as Swinscoe highlighted, the shift towards digital investment and self-service has only heightened the importance of agent experience: Customers tend to prefer self-service tools, so when they do reach out to a customer support rep, their expectations are higher. To provide excellent customer service, organizations must operationalize excellence and enable their agents to grow.
The relationship between agent experience and customer experience is symbiotic: Nurturing and empowering support teams is part of nurturing and empowering the customer.
Fostering management’s potential
There’s a saying that employees quit bosses, not companies, and data shows that the quality of management can explain 70% of the variance in team engagement. This is why, to improve performance and reduce turnover, organizations should invest both in their frontline employees and their managers.
Failing to nurture capable middle management can hinder employee development, and in turn, have a costly impact on the customer experience.
Telling a compelling CS story
Although their work can heavily impact aspects such as customer loyalty, customer satisfaction, and customer retention, the contributions of support teams are often taken for granted or not fully understood.
This is where compelling storytelling becomes paramount: It can help CS teams build visibility and stronger internal connections, gain recognition across departments, and highlight the true scope of their work. In turn, it will allow key stakeholders within the organization to understand the value of exceptional customer service and better allocate resources to foster it.
Cost-saving through tools and tech
As better, smarter tools become widely available, it’s easy to believe that technology is the silver bullet to solve all problems. But the cost of investing in multiple tech solutions can be significant. So, which tools and platforms are the most effective at keeping expenses contained, and how should companies evaluate their impact?
Pyykonen explained that to start, customer service teams should have easy access to information and always be able to communicate with subject matter experts. A seamless ticket routing system, where easy questions can be handled instantly and more complex queries are automatically redirected to the appropriate team, can also make the difference between a CS strategy that satisfies customer needs and bad customer service.
The best tool, then, should be able to offer a single source of truth that is accessible to all agents within the organization and should implement a combination of human expertise and automation to leverage workers’ customer service skills across tasks, markets, and subjects.
Moreover, added Swinscoe, when picking new tools there should be a clear strategy and vision of the company’s bottom line. Recent years have seen a shift in favor of digital solutions and remote work; some businesses responded quickly by implementing new technologies without a defined strategy. The result? An experience driven by technology, rather than customer feedback or the desired outcome.
Technology and automation can help reduce agent burnout, turnover, and churn, and allow customer support teams to go the extra mile in more complex tasks. It can also elevate self-service resources like FAQs. However, new tools should be chosen based on their long-term fit for the business. Will they be able to scale and meet the company’s needs in different scenarios? To avoid additional costs, a strategic approach that considers future business success is essential.
Hornig recommended that businesses start by looking at their current customer service software and identifying small changes that can have a huge impact, such as adjusting routing or setting different triggers. Then, when evaluating new tools, companies should consider their ROI and how they can improve customer service metrics, such as lifetime value, churn, and customer feedback. Gathering and leveraging this data can help organizations make a stronger case for acquiring new technology.
Creating a cost-effective channel strategy
As we have seen, ideally, companies should have well-trained, engaged team members supported by technology that truly enables them to offer the best customer service. At the same time, however, it’s important to consider the customer’s perspective and how they will engage with a brand through various communication channels. In the context of cost reduction, would it be more beneficial to offer omnichannel support or focus on a few channels and provide excellent service?
According to Swinscoe, many CS departments are asked to add new channels to their roster without the additional resources to scale up. This results in support teams being stretched thin across channels, which can become unsustainable when demand increases. That’s why he’d recommend a ‘channel-less’ approach, where all communications with customers are seen as part of a larger conversation — regardless of whether they take place on social media, via email, real-time chat, a phone call, or any other platform — and there’s a clear view of the conversation history, offering agents the full context.
“We tell ourselves that we have to be everywhere our customers are,” he explained. “But actually what we overlook is the idea that customers will travel for better service and a better experience, both physically and digitally. (…) By clearly communicating which channels you will prioritize and holding yourself accountable to them, you can better manage customer expectations and focus resources to deliver better outcomes.”
Hornig also noted that over the years, there’s been increasingly widespread adoption of non-voice support that is easier to scale and can be transferred between markets and resources.
And while agents’ communication skills can’t be entirely replaced by chatbots, such solutions can be great for solving simple queries. That’s where integration comes in: If a chatbot is unable to find the right answer, the conversation should be transferred to a human agent without the customer noticing and with all previous conversation history remaining accessible.
In short, it’s not about the channel itself. Delivering excellent customer service means making sure each process is redesigned according to customers’ needs and aligning the right tools to support it.
To minimize the impact of strategic changes and new tool adoption, businesses should involve their employees in the process as early as possible and communicate openly with them. This will not only allow companies to tap into their agents’ insight and expertise, but also offer them new perspectives on whether the technology fits the business and will bring real value.
“You do not buy technology, you buy agility and flexibility,” said Swinscoe. Encouraging employee feedback ensures that their voices are heard, boosts buy-in, and makes the transition easier, reducing the need for more extensive training and fostering a more positive culture.
The smart choice for excellent customer service at a lower cost
“One of the main reasons for implementing Unbabel was to save costs on hiring additional headcount,” explained Pyykonen. As Hero Gaming was entering a new market, it didn’t have a solid estimate of the volume of work this move would bring and didn’t want to invest in a larger team right away.
Unbabel allowed the company to explore the market with its existing agents, all while providing extended hours of availability across its brands and improving customer satisfaction. It was also able to help Hero Gaming deal with urgent issues, such as deposit problems, at any time, reducing the risk of losing customers due to a lack of support or slow response times.
Unbabel can help companies across the world scale their support teams quickly and efficiently, all while maintaining costs contained and CSAT scores soaring. Interested in testing out our solution? Schedule a demo today.