The 80/20 Rule: How it Can Transform Your Customer Support

Tim Jordan Tim Jordan · 5 min read

In the early 1900s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered  that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population.

As he studied this phenomenon further, he found this far-reaching principle—which came to be known as the “Pareto Principle”—applied to many areas of life.

Today, the Pareto Principle is more commonly known as the 80/20 rule. It states that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort. For example:

80% of revenue comes from 20% of your customers.
80% of your sales comes from 20% of your products.
80% of your support tickets come from 20% of your customers.

The 80/20 rule applies in many different areas of business. Applying the 80/20 rule with your support team can increase your customer satisfaction, improve your CSAT and NPS scores, and virtually transform your customer support.

Here are three 80/20 questions to ask, along with examples of how you can use them to transform your customer support.

What 20% of support issues drive 80% of your ticket volume?

A quick look at your helpdesk reporting will probably show you that a few key issues make up the majority of your support ticket volume. While the numbers may not always add up exactly to 80%, the 80/20 rule still applies.

For example, you may find that 80% of your tickets are from general inquiries or simple customer updates. Or you may find that 80% of your tickets are related to a few key aspects of your product. Identifying these trends will help inform what actions you need to take to reduce ticket volume.

How you can use this to transform your customer support

The magic of the 80/20 rule is that it doesn’t just help you identify opportunities. It also extends to the solution.

This means that 20% of your efforts to lower ticket volume are going to drive the majority of the change. Instead of trying to tackle a wide range of opportunities, you should strategically focus your efforts on a few key areas.

To reduce volume for common support tickets like account updates and questions, try introducing self-service options or improving your knowledge base.

If you’re seeing a large volume of follow-up questions on existing tickets, focusing on improving communication and setting clear expectations can reduce the need for customers to ask those follow-up questions.

Put another way, you’ll see a higher return on your investment if you focus on the right areas.

What 20% of your resolution times drive 80% of your customer satisfaction?

Are your customers satisfied with the time it takes to resolve their issues?

Determine a range of the maximum and a minimum number of business hours it takes to satisfy the majority of your customers.

This is where CSAT survey data is crucial. Survey your customers after you close your support tickets. Make one of the questions “How satisfied were you with the speed of support in resolving your issue?”

You may find your customers’ answers were not what you expected.

How you can use this to transform your customer support

Determining what resolution times drive the majority of customer satisfaction allows you to adjust your expectations for your team.

For example, if the majority of your customers respond to your survey that they are not satisfied with how long it took to resolve their issue, it may be time to update your team goals or hire additional support agents.

Alternatively, it may also spark some ideas on how to improve your existing processes so that you can solve customer issues faster.

On the other hand, if your customers are all very satisfied with your resolution times, you may be able to leave your goals as-is, reduce staff by a headcount or two, or allow more time for projects and career development.

What 20% of your customers bring in 80% of your revenue?

This one may seem self-explanatory. A small number of your customers are going to bring in most of your revenue.

Retaining these customers is critical for the success of your business, so you need to understand who they are and how you can best help them achieve success with your product.

How you can use this to transform your customer support

This question helps you understand which customers might need additional help from your support team to aid in retention.

Many companies offer premium support or white-glove service for VIP customers. If you don’t, this group of customers should be at the top of your list for additional support services.

Once you’ve identified the 20% of customers driving most of your revenue, ask questions like:

  • Why are they spending so much money?
  • Is there anything unique about these customers?
  • What do they have in common?
  • Are you providing any dedicated support to them?
  • How does their customer experience compare to your lower-spending customers?

Of course, you should never forget the other 80% of your customers. While each of these customers might not be as vital to your business individually, all of them together still make up a significant portion of your revenue. The 80/20 rule can help you uncover opportunities to apply what’s working well with the top 20% of customers to the rest of your customer base.

One last way you can apply the 80/20 rule here is by flipping it on its head. What customers are not spending much money but are costing you a significant amount of money, time, and support energy?

While you may encounter some pushback, you should at least consider if you should scale back support or find more cost-effective ways to assist these customers.

Caveats with the 80/20 rule

It’s worth noting that even though the 80/20 rule applies in many areas of life, it isn’t always a guarantee. As you apply it in your business, remember that the data you uncover should ultimately dictate the actions you take.

Experts are also split in regards to what to do with the 80% of the effort that is driving the remaining 20% of your results.

Some suggest that you should ignore the 80% and focus on the 20% driving the majority of revenue, while others advise doubling down on the “lower” 80% to increase revenue. For example:

  • Entrepreneur magazine says, “Your goal should be to zero in on that 20% of customers who are essential for your business’ prosperity.”
  • But CustomerThink argues that “Though they don’t give as much revenue, the Average80 delivers something far more precious to the business: credibility. It is this credibility that can take a company to dizzying heights of prosperity, of which revenue is a byproduct.”

Where you land will depend on your business and your unique priorities. Personally, I would argue that the 20% of customers providing you with 80% of your revenue are often already bought in, so there might be more opportunity for revenue growth within the other 80% of your customers.

Lastly, you should always focus on making customer support such a value-add that it becomes a feature of the product or service you’re selling.

This is the key to driving a great customer experience across the board, which ultimately turns your support team into a revenue driver.

As HelpScout says, “The goal of a customer-focused company should be to build in systems across teams that support great service so that delighting customers is more of an automatic outcome of doing business rather than an occasional, heroic feat.”

When you make amazing customer support something your customers automatically receive as part of doing business with you, it’s a lot easier to please 100% of your customers.

The 80/20 rule: Put it into practice

The 80/20 rule is a great principle for customer support teams looking for ways to improve with limited resources. Instead of gambling on random ideas and hoping they’ll pay off, the 80/20 rule helps you identify prime opportunities and prioritize them accordingly.


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Tim Jordan Tim Jordan

Tim is a Manager of Customer Support at and a writer for Supported Content. When he’s not busy leading his team, you’ll find him spending time with his wife and two daughters, usually on some Disney-related activity. He also blogs about personal finance at Atypical Finance.

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