Busy season: enhanced customer support saves accountants 104 hours

customer support | Busy season: enhanced customer support saves accountants 104 hours
By James Nadal | 16th March 2021 | 8 min read

This busy season was undoubtedly the busiest yet for the IRIS Accountancy Suite customer service team, and they have the receipts to prove it.

Calls to the helpline doubled this January, as customers reached out for assistance during an especially challenging time.

Under greater pressure than normal, the team stepped up and answered calls in just one minute. The impact of this was to save customers a colossal 104 hours – or 14 working days – of time. It meant less waiting and speedier support, all when customers needed it the most.

“The team were nothing short of amazing this year,” says Robert Cantwell, Customer Service Support Manager.

“The fact that we’re in a pandemic, had an increase in calls while working from home when we haven’t in previous years – there were so many challenges. Yet the team knocked it out of the park.”

The support provided is a success story. Despite soaring numbers of queries, the team improved upon its already high standards and solved the vast majority of queries within just one day. Here we look at how the team pulled off the busiest of busy seasons and offered unparalleled support to customers.

Skilled support

One of the things that sets this team apart is skill. This is a truly expert team, with staff hired who have Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Level 2 or 3 qualifications, straight from college or with finance backgrounds.

Robert says, “They have a greater depth of understanding of customers’ needs; they speak the same language, understand the terminology, and know the software.”

This skill level makes a tangible difference, “From an internal perspective, it means the time it has taken to get new starters up to speed has halved; they have a foundation of knowledge and we build on it. From a customer’s perspective, it means they can take tax and accounts queries and run with them, and they get to the root of the problem quickly.”

With skills front of mind, the team also utilised the Apprenticeship programme last autumn, with the team leader undertaking an Operations / Departmental Manager Apprenticeship. It gave her a wider remit to guide and develop the team, which has proven invaluable. The team reported that busy season had a different feel to this year, with more personal ownership of their work.

A significant shift in approach meant the team was empowered to take calls, work through issues, and resolve them themselves. Tasks were no longer escalated to management when they could be capably and competently completed by skilled call handlers.

So, while the volume of queries was up, the team handled them faster and more efficiently. For clients, it meant one point of contact throughout their query, who took responsibility for solving issues and giving guidance.

It shows our commitment to support and strengthen all members of the customer services team to do the best job they can for customers. And it is the embodiment of the team’s mantra, to always ‘put yourself in the customers’ shoes.’

Superior service

The customer service team has a core staff of 30 tax-focused team members. It also works with an offshore team that has been onboard for well over a year, upskilled in various areas of the business, and brought in to assist with busy season much sooner than in previous years with a detailed training plan. Rob adds, “The team handled more calls, with better results. We are really proud of this.”

The IRIS Hosting customer service team has 16 dedicated members of staff. They understood how crucial it was for servers to be running reliably and efficiently during the pressure point, to ensure optimal performance of customers’ tax software. This team were equipped with increased resources, including more memory and hard drive space.

Being prepared and constantly assessing the situation proved invaluable. One particularly helpful change this year saw the senior team assessing customer service tickets at the end of the day through a new automated system.

They would then instigate a team huddle the following morning, focusing on learnings from the day before and giving targeted advice to help everyone work better.

There is little doubt that customers have felt the benefit, with one claiming, “I couldn’t run my business in the way I’ve been able to without the help and guidance you have provided over the last 6-8 weeks.”

Another remarked, “Can you train HMRC to offer service like you have over the last month?” And surely the most satisfying of all shoutouts coming from one customer, who exclaimed, “You’ve saved Christmas!”

Stats and facts
  • Calls answered 26 seconds faster this busy season, saving customers a total of 104 hours
  • 1 minute and 2 seconds average call answering speed
  • 370–400 calls received per day in January 2021, compared to only hitting this over the last two days of January 2020
  • From 200 to 400 calls a day, year on year, in early January
  • 97% customer satisfaction
  • 19% up year on year by volume over December and January
  • 93.4% of cases closed and resolved within 24 hours and 95.2% within 48 hours
  • Zero backlog at the end of January, with no active cases needing a response
  • 83 Net Promoter Score – double the industry average of 40. This is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company's products or services to others
  • Our software helps customers save on average 22 hours per staff member per month.

Smooth sailing

The reason for this rise in calls? In part down to businesses turning to the support team as an extension of their own; customer care treated as trusted colleagues to give a helping hand. One customer even said, “I’ve been contacting you more during the last few weeks due to lockdown whereas I would usually ask my colleagues, but I’ve really appreciated the help and guidance you’ve provided here.”

The team had seen it coming, they expected a heightened need for help. In preparation, they ensured all FAQs, Knowledge Base articles, and help documents were up to date and readily available on client portals. Anticipating customers’ needs in this way all comes from the customer-first approach that IRIS takes.

The team also made themselves available at the times they knew customers would be working, this meant being available early until late during the week, and times at weekends too. The last weekend of January, the team worked right through until midnight to make sure they stood alongside clients at this pivotal point. Even though they were working from home themselves, customers understood the team was still on hand when they needed them.

Rob comments, “The team were there for customers, even out of hours. They wanted to go the extra mile and help, even though there was no expectation or pressure on them to. With all the challenges we’ve had, they have really stepped up and been there for our customers in the most important time.”

Setting standards

Hitting the high standards the team expects of itself and customers deserve has taken hard work and a genuine desire to offer exceptional levels of service. Rob believes part of what makes the team function so well is that the management has risen within the ranks.

“We have all worked through the different levels and I think that makes a real difference with the team. We know what they do and what challenges they face, so we can help them. The team know that too; they understand we would never ask them to do something we wouldn’t have done ourselves. We have a good team spirit, and a huge amount of knowledge and empathy.”

Change has come from higher up the chain too, to great effect. Alison Edgley, Customer Service Director at IRIS, has looked to use similar and successful methods across all customer support teams. This has meant looking at what works well elsewhere and adapting that to suit the various functions and teams across the business. It is sharing and implementing best practice, to better serve our customers.

It doesn’t stop here though, Rob adds, “It took us a lot of planning to get to this stage; we essentially started planning this last February. We get to the end of the tax season and start planning the next one. As soon as this January ended, we took stock, considered what went well and what we can do better next year.”

As Rob concludes, “We are committed to always improving and getting it right, we look to build on each year and drive forward. This is the standard we set for ourselves because it’s what we want for our customers.”

Sharing success

Jamesons is a chartered accountants and business advisers based in Oxfordshire that has been running for over 30 years. The practice went into 2020 already working towards becoming a more digital firm when the pandemic hit. Reliability of service and support, especially while working remotely, has been crucial according to Director Matthew Blow.

“We need our IT systems to be efficient at the best of times, but the past year has proven how crucial a dependable service is. We are all logging in remotely and have never had to worry about not being able to access the server. IRIS Hosting has made life easier working from home as we haven’t had to worry about being able to access all of the data required to be able to provide our service.”

In addition to being able to depend on the products they have, the talented team at Jamesons also recognises the importance of turning to experts to support them. “It is a huge comfort that our systems are taken care of by a skilled team now. There is next to no downtime – any updates are installed in a timely manner – and we know we are up to date with the latest technology. The ticketing system means we can see the job is being progressed… we have help on tap!”

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