A while back, I participated in a round of judging for a Customer Service and Support awards competition.  It was both an honor to be asked to participate, and a real inspiration to read so many great stories of dedicated Customer centricity.  I got a few good ideas from some of the stories that were told, and frankly the future does look bright for Customer Experience, if you know where to look.

That said, one thing I saw several times stood out to me and was a bit of a surprise.  There were a number of submissions whose authors touted the brand’s having hired a number of new Customer Service or Support team members as evidence that they’re doing a bang-up job of CX.


I can appreciate that the effort to make sure Customers don’t have to wait long to interact with an agent is a noble thing to do.  After all, nobody likes sitting on hold waiting for someone to pick up.  More agents will likely mean, ceteris paribus, less waiting (and surely less waiting than if you had fewer agents).  But is adding to your Customer Care center’s headcount really the big win you think it is?

Sure, if you’re adding tons of Customers to your rolls, you’ll likely need more support agents.  That kind of stands to reason.  But even so, only kind of.

You’ll recall the old Maytag commercials where the repairman laments (and sometimes enjoys) his lack of work, so dependable are their products?  There are literally generations of commercials, the message having outlived many of the actors (one of whom, trivia fact, is a fraternity brother of mine) who’d portrayed the iconic character.  There’s something to that.

On a couple of the award submissions, the author had listed not only the number of new support team members the organization had hired, but also the growth in their Customer base.  That at least offers some color to the picture, but it still remains unsolved:  How many more support team members are needed as you grow?  As the denominator in the agents-to-Customers ratio gets larger, instinctually you want to keep up.  But even when you grow is it necessarily good that you simply add proportionally to your support headcount as you go along?  I’d argue not necessarily so.

While higher volumes of Customers mean more people with your product or partaking in your service, why should it lead directly to a greater need for support?  If your systems and processes are built for growth, there’s no reason the increase in your Customer base should coincide in a strictly direct fashion with your growth in support personnel.  In fact, growing support suggests that the need to fix your Customers’ issues is outpacing your projections.

Now, I don’t want anybody to get fired of course.  But I didn’t come across any submission that identified efficiencies and improvements made to their company’s internal systems and processes that made Customer Care less necessary in the first place, freeing up members of that team to, say, transfer to the product division or move into sales or operations.

It’s not altogether snarky (because it’s mostly aspirational and fanciful at that) to suggest that good CX should drive CS out of business to some degree (which rests alongside the cliché that, a Customer Care call is evidence of a failure of CX, which while cliché, is cliché for a reason:  It’s somewhat true).  But frankly, I’d say that, absent more context, simply adding headcount to your Customer Support, Care, Success, or Service teams doesn’t necessarily demonstrate your dedication to Customer Experience…in many contexts, it may mean you’re doing it wrong!