8 customer service challenges (and how to address them)

Responsive, thoughtful customer service is one of the cornerstones of a successful business. But cultivating an effective, sustainable customer service team takes time and effort.

As your business becomes more successful and your customer base grows, you may need to hire dedicated customer support agents to answer the influx of customer inquiries.

To make sure your team can offer exceptional customer service, it’s important to get to know the most common customer service challenges – and plan thoughtful processes to deal with them. A little foresight can help you provide timely solutions to meet your customers’ needs.

Here are eight of the biggest customer service challenges businesses can face and steps you can take to overcome them.

8 Biggest Customer Service Challenges

Support agent overcoming customer service challenges

Great customer service delivers a positive customer experience and meets customer expectations. Customers will feel taken care of when their concerns are promptly and considerately addressed. This tends to improve customer retention and decrease churn. On the other hand, slow response times and unanswered calls can lead to angry customers and negative customer feedback.

Although every customer journey is different, some of the most common complaints can be traced back to common customer service challenges. When you address them early, you can give your customer service associates the tools (and skills) they need to empathize with customers using their preferred communication channel.

Let’s take a look:

1. Customer service associates are having too many conversations at once

When a company’s just beginning, many startup and small business founders field customer support requests on their own, between other business activities. After all, they know their product best, and they may be able to provide answers relatively quickly – at first.

However, a sudden spike in sales or web traffic can quickly overwhelm a small team – even one that has a few dedicated customer support teammates, and before you know it, each team member is fielding dozens of requests at once just to keep up. As associates toggle between chats, emails, and phone calls, customers can start to experience large gaps in conversations and slower response times.

Solution: You may need to hire more customer service representatives or consider onshore or offshore outsourcing. In addition, you can provide customers with more self-service tools, such as a knowledge base, how-to articles, or chatbots, that help customers solve problems on their own (which lowers support volume for your team). If your business is still small, on demand support options can be a great way to help. 

2. Lack of accessible customer history

The more a customer support team knows about past interactions with a customer, the easier it is to meet their expectations. To get this information, an associate may have to ask the customer to repeat themselves or dig through multiple support tickets and customer channels.

Solution: With an omnichannel customer service strategy, customer support agents can quickly view a customer’s conversation history in one place – whether it started on email, live chat, phone or social media. And when a customer calls a contact center, associates can easily pull up any existing support tickets or purchase history on their account.

3. It takes too long to find an answer

Businesswoman learning about customer service challenges to overcome them

It can take time for customer service associates to understand your product, values, and voice. This is especially true if your customer support team has a lot of turnover or only works with your company part-time. There may be times when new reps simply don’t know the answer to a customer’s problem. For a customer who needs help troubleshooting an issue, this can be incredibly frustrating.

Solution: One option is to work with a dedicated customer support team that can focus 100% on your product and serve as an extension of your in-house team. It’s also important to make sure your internal team training, guides, documentation, and playbooks are always up-to-date and accessible, so your team members can find answers quickly.

4. No process for escalation

Customer service challenges can occur at any point during the customer’s journey. Your team needs to know how to escalate interactions when they need help. These situations cover anything from angry customers who want a refund you wouldn’t normally offer to technical issues that can’t be resolved by Tier 1 support staff.

If you haven’t developed standard procedures for dealing with complex questions, emotional interactions, or technical issues, your associates may not know when to compromise and when to escalate.

Solution: By developing clear and concise escalation protocols for associates to follow, they’ll know when to offer deals and discounts – such as in response to a billing error or an unusual wait time for a product. They’ll also know when to escalate things to a higher tier, a support engineer, or to another department and when to politely decline a customer’s request.

5. Backlog of tickets

Sometimes, no matter how fantastic your team is, you simply can’t keep up with the pace of customer calls and support requests. Although this is similar to the first challenge, in which your company grows too quickly, in this case, the backlog is temporary.

This could be caused by a software outage, a seasonal uptick in sales, or another unexpected issue. Eventually, customer support requests can start piling up, and customers may even complain on social media.

Solution: The first solution is simply to be honest and put a note on social media or your website about the unusual circumstances so customers understand what wait times to expect.

Another option is to hire an on-demand customer service team. While dedicated teams are designed to handle a predictable volume of support and grow with your business over time, flexible teams can help during busy seasons, but wind down when you have things under control again. An AI-powered business messaging platform can help to manage your mountain of support tickets by rerouting basic requests through to a chatbot.

6. Time zone issues

Time zones can be a big challenge for customer support teams, especially if you have customers around the world who would like support 24/7. Asking your customer support team to work nights or evenings just isn’t sustainable, so you need another solution.

Solution: With a follow-the-sun model, you can outsource some of your customer support needs to associates in other time zones. For example, a combination of nearshore and offshore outsourcing means your customers will always have support, no matter where they are.

7. Poor workflow and/or software

One mistake that companies make is to introduce new communication channels without integrating them into a customer relationship management (CRM) system to track engagement, conversion rates, and other customer success metrics.

After all, customer service works best if you interact with your customers at various touchpoints along the customer journey – not only when they need help. You can ask customers to leave a review after buying a product, or send a special offer if you haven’t heard from them in a while.

Solution: By choosing CRM marketing automation software with the functionality you need – such as a chatbot that helps with general questions or marketing automation tools to follow up with potential customers – you can provide an excellent customer service experience that improves customer loyalty.

8. Product or service mismatch

The last customer service challenge that companies are likely to encounter is when a product doesn’t meet customer expectations. A customer may call your team suggesting you offer services or features that don’t quite align with your company’s vision. While your customer associates may be tempted to offer an optimistic, “We’ll consider that,” this can lead to false hope.

Solution: Be honest and let the customer know that while you appreciate their feedback, you can’t act on it right now. Then, point them toward a suitable alternative.

For software products, one option is to release a product roadmap so customers can see for themselves what’s in the works and when new features are likely to be available.

Be Proactive in Addressing Customer Service Challenges

Support agents talking about customer service challenges

Customer service challenges can arise from many unexpected scenarios, including rapid growth, lack of accessible customer history, and time zone issues. While many customer service challenges can be mitigated by planning ahead and creating protocols for dealing with them, some challenges may require extra support or resources.

Stay on top of customer service challenges by identifying them early and addressing them before they become a recurring problem.

For more customer service tips, follow the Partner Hero blog.