Scaling Up Support Services

How do you scale up the support services you offer?

This is a question we get a lot at brightspot. Many organizations are trying to attract more users and want to have the people, systems, and culture in place to support them. Or they may have resource constraints and need to do more with less and somehow scale the impact for the same number of staff. Or they may need to respond to changes in their users/customers; such as trying to provide more personalized services at scale.

How you answer to this question varies based on your specific situation; such as what services you are offering, who your users are, their expectations, and your resources – people, tools, budgets, etc. However, there are some good strategies that you can employ in the combination and sequence that works for you. While not a comprehensive list, some of the strategies we see most often are: enabling self-service, removing inefficiencies for staff, leveraging peer-to-peer support, rebalancing generalist vs. specialist support, scaling up interactions, or even designing/redesigning the service offering so that it requires less support in the first place.

Enabling Self-Service
There are many situations in which tasks that providers might have completed in the past can now be done by user themselves, often in way that’s more convenient for them. Enabling users to complete more routine tasks can also free-up time for staff to handle more complex issues. This can be via self-serve kiosks, through applications, with videos and tutorials, or using searchable knowledge bases. (Often this is coupled with some roving on-call staff because people are often more likely to try self-service if they know “rescue support” is nearby). While this approach is commonplace in airports, banks, and libraries, it’s now being adopted elsewhere such as in Citizen M Hotels with self-service check-in in their awesome lobbies.


Identifying and Removing Inefficiencies
The same number of people can often provide more support – in a sustainable way – through process changes that target current points of friction or pain. For example, fast food “meals” bundle what were once a litany of choices into a single number which is faster to convey, easier for both customers and staff to remember, and reduces complexity and the potential for errors. Time can also be saved behind the scene by better tracking requests, complaints, and compliments so you know where the friction is. You can also more clearly define roles and guide situations when staff have to refer a user to another person or department. Another way to address inefficiencies for high volume face-to-face transactions is to condition or “train” your users to communicate more efficiently; for instance, next to the betting window at a racetrack, you’ll often find a “How to Bet” sign detailing the order in which to relay information.


Leveraging Peer-to-Peer Support
Often the best answers to a user’s question can come from other users. By providing a way for users to help each other in peer forums, other users are getting help that your organization would otherwise have to provide. Of course, this help doesn’t come for free as some kind of platform has to be created and the user community generally has to be actively managed; for instance by seeding the community with knowledgeable and willing super users and by motivating people to help with badging or other reward and recognition systems. For instance, Intuit creates robust, searchable knowledge base forums for the community of users for its products like Turbotax and Quickbooks.


Rethinking the Balance of Generalist and Specialists
Once you are tracking the kind of help you provide (such as categorizing the different questions you get asked, by volume and frequency) you can look at the balance of what needs to be answered by generalists with broad knowledge of the basics versus a specialist with deep knowledge in certain areas. Many organizations find that basic questions and basic tasks are the vast majority of their interactions with users and so they create generalist roles to field them along with guidelines for when and how to get a specialist involved. This is often better for everyone involved in that customers get help faster and specialists are not subsumed by basic tasks, allowing them to focus on the more complex things that only they can do. At the Hunt Library at NC State University, students staff the “Ask Us!” service point as well as rove throughout the spaces and guide people to specialist staff when needed.


Scaling up conversations
There many be user-staff interactions that are now happening at a small scale (i.e., one-on-one) that could be scaled up to the benefit of all. Sometimes issues of tradition, privacy, or preferences of personnel make this seem impossible, but some recent examples are encouraging. The University of Virginia’s Club Red provided a way for cardiology patients to opt-in to a small group consultations that have proven more effective than one-on-one time with a physician in several ways: routine advice is stated once for the group rather than with each patient and this frees up time for longer conversations. In addition, patients benefitted from hearing advice given to others and patients developed stronger relationships with the physicians. (This is featured in an HBR case article here, if you’re curious).


Redesigning the service
In addition to the specific tactics above, you can also step back and redesign the service so that less support is required (or design it that way from the start). A simple way to think about how to redesign a service is to consider the “what, who, when, how, and where” of your service. You can change what you are delivering – perhaps it can be simplified? You can change whois providing the service and support; for instance, moving to more of a peer support or self-service model. You can change when support is provided; such as reducing, increasing, or otherwise shifting hours of operations. You can change how the service is provided; for example, you might be able to automate some initial steps before staff get involved. Finally, you can also rethink where support is provided; such as providing something remotely that might have otherwise been in-person. One example is Uber’s rethinking of the dispatched car service to eliminate the “middleman” dispatcher and connect riders to drivers directly.



Good luck putting these strategies to work as you support and delight your users!