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Developing a customer support department

I work for a very small software company and we are in the first stages of developing our customer support department. Where do we start? What resources are geared to a small company?
As with any new direction, the best place to start is with your own business plan. Do you plan to grow your company? Will you become a multiple location enterprise? How important is customer service to your customers' satisfaction? The answers to these questions will help drive your decision-making process as you evaluate the technologies you'll need for your customer support center.

With this analysis of your overall business direction, start to develop a needs statement. This outlines, in as much detail as possible, what business problem you are trying to solve. Try to examine every aspect of what needs to be accomplished with your customer support department. Don't let cost be a factor yet - develop your needs statement solely based on what you want to accomplish. Of course, this is different for every company, but some things you might want to consider are:

- - How will customers interact with you (now and in the future)? Phone calls, e-mail? As a software company, you may have more technologically sophisticated customers that would value text chat or pc-to-pc calling options.
- - Will your service agents be dedicated solely to customer interactions or will they have other responsibilities as well?
- - How will customers access your contact center? Through a Web site portal? Through a toll-free number?
- - What kind of volume do you expect? Are you already getting flooded with e-mail or phone calls?
- - What is the current status of your telephony and data networks?

With a clear understanding of what business need you are trying fill and a picture of how the customer service center will fit into the overall business plan, you're ready to start shopping for a contact center. There are specific features a small company would generally look for in a customer contact management solution. These include, but aren't necessarily limited to, flexibility, scalability, ease of use and ease of implementation. Most small companies also look for systems that can work with, rather than replace, current telephony and data systems.

I'm not comfortable publicly recommending specific products, but if you'd like to contact me directly, please e-mail me at bdowney@cintechsolutions.com. A good place to start is also the Buyer's Guide right here in SearchCRM.com - use the link at the top of the page above. Go through all the vendors and compare their product descriptions to your needs list. You may need to go to the company Web site to gather more specific product info. This may take a while but the research will be well worthwhile. There are consultants that can be hired to assist in this decision-making process. A referral source for a consultant specializing in small to mid-size contact center solutions is the Society of Telecommunications Consultants at www.stcconsultants.org. Finally, you might also want to turn to your local telecommunications provider.

For more information, check out searchCRM's Best Web Links on Customer Service & Support.

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