This is part of our ongoing series on Scaling Customer Service, based on our Customer Service Scaling Timeline. This month we're covering Stage 5.

We’ve all had this experience. You call the support number for a big corporation…maybe a bank, a cable company, or a phone company. You wade through some robo-menus, and then finally speak to a human. And they totally fail to help. They suggest obvious solutions, seem to actually be less technically competent than you, and spend a lot of time “checking your records” and looking things up.

These people aren’t trying to be irritating. They just know too little about too much.


Products can be complicated. It’s understandable that one person won’t be able to know everything about a single product. Most customer service reps develop generalized knowledge so they can help the largest number of customers. But why do we continue to bump people between generalists when certain issues clearly require specialization? We don’t hire generic developers to build our data centers, or nurse practitioners to treat cancer. Why do we think customer service is different?

Once your baseline team is built (hopefully by the end of Stage Three of our timeline), it’s time to focus. What areas of your product generate the most confusion? What areas require the most investigation by your reps? While there are always product improvements you can make, some areas are just going to generate questions and confusion no matter what (for us it’s Single Sign-On). A great way to track this is by marking product area in all tickets with something like UserVoice Helpdesk's custom fields.

uservoice graph of tickets by product area

Once you’ve found your problem area, create a dedicated position that is primarily focused on this area. Send all customer messages about this issue directly to this employee. Your regular customer service reps won’t have to spend their time digging into something they don’t know a lot about. And your customers with these issues will get quicker and definitive answers.

An added benefit for you is the low ramp-up time for specialists. Give them a brief overview of the whole product, do a deep dive into their area, and get them to work. Especially in times of huge growth, this is a more sustainable way to scale.

Specialists getting bored? Many companies solve this by simply rotating representatives into the specialist role. In the case of the low ramp-up time, this is a great way to eventually expand the knowledge of these specialists.

A specialist isn’t going to solve all your problems, nor should you stop trying to make that area of the product better. But having someone who can quickly and accurately answer the questions that take up the most time will thrill your customers and save your regular support reps a lot of money on painkillers. 

Painkiller photo courtesy of pinprick.