Article

How to set SMART goals for customer service

Learn how to use the SMART goals model to set and achieve key customer service objectives.

Published March 3, 2021
Last updated September 15, 2021

The road to unhappy customers is paved with vague intentions.

Okay, so that’s not precisely how the common adage goes. But it is true that a lack of solid goal setting can do serious damage to a support team’s success—and, by proxy, your customers’ happiness.

Achieving your ideal customer service results starts with clear objectives. One of the most popular methods of goal development is SMART. The acronym, originally released in a 1981 article by Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company George T. Doran, lists five requirements each goal must meet.

  1. Specific: The goal must be focused on one particular problem or area.
  2. Measurable: There must be a clear method for measuring progress and gauging success.
  3. Achievable: For a goal to be worth pursuing, success has to be possible.
  4. Relevant: Your goals must tie back to your company’s overarching strategy and mission.
  5. Time-bound: The goal has to have a set deadline or deadlines.

Using the SMART method, you can help your reps work towards the ultimate support goal: customer happiness.

Specific: Design narrow, support-focused objectives

Eighty percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. One reason? The objectives aren’t specific enough. To meet your goals, they must be highly specific and detailed.

Think about the New Year’s resolution nearly half of all people make: losing weight. A goal so broad can seem impossible to meet because it’s hard to know where to get started. That feeling of being overwhelmed causes most people to abandon the goal before they’ve really begun.

What if, instead of having this vague, fuzzy goal, you zoomed in a little? Maybe, “I will walk two miles every day for three months,” or “I will lose two pounds a week for a total of 40 pounds in five months.” These goals are more likely to succeed because they break a larger, overarching goal into smaller, and more achievable, goals and tasks.

The same tactic can apply to customer service goals. “Improve customer satisfaction” can be broken down into targeted goals like “decrease call transfer occurrence by 30 percent over a six-week period.”

If you want to make sure your goals are focused enough, test them by making sure you can answer the following questions.

Say, for example, that you currently have customers complaining about the long wait times when they call support and you want to build a goal around improving first call reply times.

  • What: Can you explain what the goal is in a sentence or less?
    • Ex: To reduce long wait times, Mark (the support lead), will meet with agents to determine possible causes. I.e., Staffing ratios, calls that take longer than X minutes to complete, technology issues, etc.
  • Who: Does the goal have a clear target and champion?
    • Ex: Mark, a support manager with fast turnaround times, will be the SME responsible for the program. After meeting with the team, the first focus will be resolving calls in 10 minutes or less.
  • When: Does the goal have an established deadline?
    • Ex: Mark will hold a weekly meeting over the course of six weeks to review metrics.
  • Why: Can you clearly explain the goal’s value for your team?
    • Ex: Customer complaints on wait times decrease overall satisfaction. Callers who are already frustrated when they reach a support rep are more likely to come away with a negative impression.

Based on these answers, you can set your new goal: “We will decrease our average support call wait times by 50 percent within six weeks by designing and implementing a targeted and detailed program led by Mark.” Instead of setting for the original objective—lowering wait times—you’ve crafted a goal that is more specific, detailed, and actionable.

Measurable: Make a plan for tracking your customer service team’s progress

Metrics are the best way to objectively track how your goals are moving along. They’re especially valuable in support because so many measures of success aren’t always easily quantitative, like customer loyalty and customer happiness. But supporting your team with real-time metrics can be a great motivator.

To use metrics in customer service goal setting, choose one stat for every objective that clearly shows your progress. Consider these examples.

High-level goal: Boost agents’ productivity by offering more self-service options for customers. Track the number of issues resolved per day over the eight-week period following the release of self-service options.

High-level goal: Decrease the time it takes reps to resolve a customer issue. Track average resolution time over a set period.

High-level goal: Improve rep knowledge base to shorten the customer support experience. Monitor the first-call resolution. That's the rate of how many issues are resolved in a single phone call without having to escalate or transfer the call. If your reps' knowledge bases are growing effectively, they shouldn't have to transfer as many calls or put as many customers on hold to solve their issue. The first-call resolution rate should therefore increase.

Focusing your goals around a single metric gives you a tangible way to see the results of your teams’ efforts.

Achievable: Set goals within reach of your support reps

Make sure you only set goals that are within your team’s power to achieve independently of another team. For example, “Gain 10% more customers this month” isn’t realistic for a support team alone. Growing a customer base also depends on the sales and marketing teams.

Setting unachievable goals can lower team morale and motivation—the exact opposite of what you want in goal setting. On the flip side, setting goals your team can reasonably achieve builds confidence and motivation. In fact, a 2019 study from the University of Basel ound that setting goals that are reachable are the key to personal well-being.

Sometimes, a reality check can be helpful to make sure your goals aren’t just pipe dreams. Grab another support manager to review these questions with you to determine if your goal is doable or not.

  • Do you have the staff necessary to complete the task? You can’t carry out a grand plan without adequate manpower. If your goal is to increase the amount of resolved tickets as a team, do you have enough staff to spread the workload?
  • Do you have the budget to properly invest in this goal? Say, for example, the goal is to offer omnichannel support. Consider whether you have a realistic budget for upgrading your CRM that has omnichannel functionality. If you don’t, assess whether there are other budget areas you can cut to invest in the CRM.
  • Do you have the expertise, or a staff member who does, to achieve your goal? You have the manpower and the money—but what about the necessary knowledge? If your goal is to adopt a new CRM in the next quarter, for example, consider whether you’ll have specialists to train reps about the tool.

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, all hope is not lost. You just need to create a plan to get the resources you need to move forward.

Relevant: Make sure your goals resonate with the entire company

Good goals have to matter to more than just you, the team manager. They should tie into your customer’s pain points, your reps’ objectives and the company’s overall strategy. For customers, the support team’s objectives should alleviate product issues. For reps, the goals should help them meet their own individual objectives. And for the company, the goals should contribute to the overall organization’s vision and purpose.

  • Collect common rep goals. Look for trends in your reps’ reported individual goals within their roles, paying special attention to goals that are repeated by multiple people. Multiple teammates echoing the same thing suggests areas of improvement for your organization as a whole.
  • Understand customers’ pain points using surveys, feedback forms and social media research. Make sure all of your goals ultimately work toward an easier, more positive experience for your buyers.
  • Make sure you can make a clear case for how these goals tie into the overall company strategy. Most customer support strategies are based on customer satisfaction, and satisfaction is achieved by providing exceptional experiences. Test whether goals concerning your reps are relevant to your customers and company by making sure that achieving said goal will ultimately make for happier customers.

Tying all team goals back to your company’s strategy gives your team a unified purpose—and reminds them that, ultimately, you’re all there for the customers.

Time-bound: Give your support reps a deadline to work toward

A deadline adds accountability. Once you have a due date set, you can work backward from that deadline. Set internal goals and check-ins to make sure your team is staying on task and hitting the mini-milestones necessary to be successful.

Short-term goals can be especially good at boosting team morale and motivation because patient reps quickly see results. These short-term goals can be either team-wide or individual for each person on the team.

Say your goal is increasing individual resolved issues by 10% this week compared to the previous week. If a rep averages 10 resolved issues a day, that’s an average of 50 issues a week. To reach a goal of a 10% increase, that rep only has to resolve one more issue a day.

This short-term goal can feel a lot easier to attain than setting the same goal on a larger scale. Small wins like this can keep your support team motivated, and achieving them can build confidence.

If you’re chasing a bigger goal, make it look like a short-term goal. See if there’s a way to break it up into mini-deadlines, so it’s more approachable for your team to tackle.

  • Ex: Increase CSAT score by 25% from last quarter. Use the “S” (specific) in SMART to break this goal up into weekly increases. Check in with your team weekly to work slowly toward the larger goal by hitting smaller goals along the way.
  • Ex: Decrease support call volume by 50% compared to last year by building out the self-service resource library. Break this long-term goal down into monthly and weekly goals.
    • Weekly: “Each rep will write one article a week addressing a common issue for the self-service section.”
    • Monthly: :“Call volume will decrease by 5% each month, and site views on the self-service page will increase by 5%.”

Setting the right timeline can make otherwise lofty goals more manageable and add a sense of challenge and urgency to easily attainable goals.

Set and measure SMART goals with Zendesk

The perfect partner for SMART goal setting? A CRM with advanced reporting features. Zendesk’s support suite includes advanced analytics that makes measuring your team’s progress easy. The wide variety of reporting features lets you customize your statistics to track what’s most important to your goals. Our platform also automatically tracks real-time customer interaction data for extra insights. You can use this data as a live feedback mechanism to see how your goals are directly affecting customer interactions.

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