Creating The Right Customer Support Culture

You’re frustrated. You don’t have a lot of time. You just want to get the answer and move on with your day. But you can’t. You need to contact someone in Customer Support. We’ve all been there.

This is what I would call a “moment of truth” for a company’s Support team. They need to come through for you in this situation. How will it go? Will you get your question or issue resolved?

I had the pleasure at speaking at one of Freshdesk’s “Customer Happiness Tours” and I wanted to write out some of the key themes that I presented on regarding the culture of the Support team we created at Influitive.

This is my philosophy on Customer Support:

“Customer Support is about creating a great customer experience that helps customers get Sh!T done AS EASILY AS POSSIBLE”

What’s the secret to a great customer experience? It’s creating the right support culture. I will dig further into these four key areas of how to create the right Support culture:

  • Hire smart, hire right
  • Quality isn’t the only thing, it’s part of everything
  • Empowerment not employment
  • The right tools & perks make a difference

Hire smart, hire right

The number one component of creating an amazing culture will depend on the people you hire. These are the characteristics I look for when hiring:

  • They have something to prove
  • They are service orientated
  • They “go over and above”.
  • They have a curiosity for technology

There are different ways that we test for these characteristics. For example, I’ve used an online assessment tool called Clearfit to evaluate a candidate’s drive and customer service skills. It’s helpful but we also ask our candidates to respond to a real support scenario and give them all the tools that they need to resolve it. We’re looking to see if the response is thorough, demonstrates empathy for the customer’s situation, is written coherently and has some personality to it which reflects our own culture. It will also tell us if they have the right technical acumen to do the job.

For many candidates, especially those that are new to the workforce, their technical skills may not be very apparent on their resume. As an example, I hired one person right out of university but I knew he was technically savvy, as he had built a web presence for his parent’s tour business. It depends on the company but for us, I’ll look first for the right attitude and then ensure they have the necessary skills.

bautista_flip-1040x572
The famous batflip in the 2015 playoffs

By “something to prove” I don’t mean that they want to show everyone that they can come to work on time every day. It’s way beyond that. I’m looking for people that may have been underutilized in their past roles or who are looking to start a different career. These are people that have something to prove.

I love the example of the baseball player Jose Bautista. He was wasting away in Pittsburg in a platoon position and being told to hit a certain way. His statistics for the earlier part of his career were mediocre and it didn’t look like he would achieve his potential. When he came to Toronto, he wasn’t put under the same restrictions. His coaches worked on his swing and he was allowed to do his thing. Jose turned heads in 2010 when he hit 54 homers and won the homer crown. Jose had something to prove and he showed everyone what he can really do when given the chance.

You need to be looking for your own Jose Bautistas for your Support organization. Here are my examples. I hired one person who was teaching English in Korea and came back to North America looking for a new career in technology. He became our Support lead and won a prestigious award as one of top people in the company as voted upon by his peers. I hired another person who came to Canada from Ireland and was determined to work and stay in Canada. He has established himself as a go to person to get issues resolved quickly and efficiently. These type people are the ones you want. They have something to prove to you, to your company, to your customers but more importantly, to themselves.

Quality isn’t the only thing, it’s part of everything

Quality isn’t something that is static. You need to maintain high standards of quality all the time and reinforce them. I was chided at times by our Support lead as I would review most of our support tickets that came in. I did this as I wanted to ensure that our response was professional and appropriate. Set the bar high when it comes to quality and ensure that it remains there as it’s easy to let this slip away if you aren’t vigilant – especially as your company grows.

Here are the areas around quality that are the most important:

  • Measure things that matter
  • Go the extra mile

Measure things that matter. We go beyond just volume metrics when it comes to our Support team. How many tickets are team completes in a day is less important then the overall customer satisfaction and how we make our customers feel. The following metrics are the ones that matter the most:

  1. Customer satisfaction rating should be paramount. After each customer interaction, our customers are provided with a simple survey from our Support team to rate their experience. We have a target of 99% customer satisfaction and we average 98% which we are proud of.
  2. Track response time combined with FCR (First Contact Resolution). Our goal is to get back to our customers within 30 minutes of first hearing from them. This may seem like a long time for some Support organizations but this response time works well for our customers. It helps build trust with both internal and external customers. It also encourages customers to take advantage of our self-service options such as our knowledge base and support community if they are looking for an instant answer.While the speed of the response is important, what is more important is the quality of the response so we equate response time and First Contact Resolution (FDR) with equal weight. FCR means that you were able to resolve the issue that the customer had within the first response. Getting a question answered right away is not good enough. We want to provide the best response the first time rather to prevent a lingering issue.
  3. Track the average resolution time. There is a non-spoken rule within the Support team that “no ticket will be left behind”. What we mean is that we review any open tickets to ensure that there isn’t more that can be done to resolve an open issue. By focusing on a target to have all tickets completed by, you encourage your Support team to work with all teams and the customer to get these issues taken care of within a reasonable amount of time.
  4. Product Support should also own a product adoption metric. Limiting your Support team to metrics that only pertain to tickets will not transform your team from being reactive to proactive. Support should also be tasked with helping to increase overall product adoption by creating best practice materials, helping to administer community questions and maintaining the knowledge base.

Go the extra mile. Here are a few examples of what we mean by “going the extra mile”. If you see them, call them out and celebrate them:

  1. Don’t just solve the problem – find a better solution. We see examples of this all the time. In one instance, one our team members wasn’t happy as he couldn’t find the valuable information he needed to help resolve a certain issue that came up. He recognized that if he was having issues, so were his teammates. He decided to come up with a better solution. He setup a searchable wiki that could be used to capture and share information that his teammates needed to know but didn’t necessarily belong in the knowledge base. The idea caught on and now other departments have created their own wikis.
  2. Go down the path that others wouldn’t. Think of firefighters who run towards danger rather than away. Your Support team should have a similar mentality. One of Support Magicians (that’s what we call them) did some extensive research and testing that was needed to resolve an issue. This went well beyond was expected but it was the right approach as she was able to ensure she had the correct recommendation.
  3. Help yourself first and then help others. We’ve all seen the pictures on a plane where the parent is told to put on a mask before putting it on their children. The same holds true for Customer Support. Your Support team should be properly onboarded before tackling customer issues on their own and you need to ensure that you continuously upgrade their skills especially as you roll out new products.

Empowerment not employment

How do you create a culture where your Support team thinks proactively and not just reactively? We have already covered some of the fundamental building blocks in terms of focusing on quality and hiring the right people. Empowerment is a key component of this and it’s closely tied to these other concepts.

In a previous company survey, our Customer Success team was rated #1 in empowerment as compared to the other departments in the company. This didn’t happen by accident. There is a strong focus on providing opportunities for the team to do things beyond their role as time permitted. Admittedly, this was difficult at times as our company was growing as quickly as it did.

Here are some of the important concepts that helped foster empowerment within the team:

  • They were given super human powers by naming them Support Magicians. This was something that preceded me but we ended up keeping the name as customers loved it and it reinforced the culture we were forming. The team also liked the messages that they would receive from customers such as “I really need your magic today” or “today you upgraded yourselves to wizard status – thank you!”. This makes the day more fun for the team.
  • They had the ability to influence the product roadmap. Every two weeks, our Customer Success team sits down with the Product team to discuss ways to enhance the product or areas that the product is deficient in. Having the ability to affect change in the product makes your team more aware of where improvements need to be made and build synergies within your company to come up with better solutions to problems.
  • We set them free (with oversight). Your Support team should have the freedom to bring forward new ideas that will support the metrics that you have set out. As an example, one of our Magicians wanted to conduct a bi-weekly educational webinar for customers as a way of helping customers and increasing adoption. This has now become a permanent part of how we help our customers and remains very popular. This allowed our Support team to do something beyond just handling tickets and gave them more exposure to our customers who they sometimes include in these webinars.
  • Create career paths and not dead ends. Something that has always been important to me was to ensure that our team was always thinking about what was next for their career. For many, they may want to continue to hone their craft within Support which is fine but in a start-up environment, there are many that are looking to expand their careers. What is important is creating the right opportunities and encouraging your team to seek these out. We’ve had one person on our team move from Support into Quality Assurance on the Development team. We’ve had another move into a new role I created within our Professional Services team. Our current Support lead was promoted from within the team. There may not always be opportunities for people to move into but you should have these conversations with your team and have a plan to get them where they would like to eventually go if it makes sense.

In addition, I never saw the team as employees and myself as the boss. They are my teammates and I would refer to them as team members. That distinction is important.

The right tools & perks make a difference

Empowering the brilliant people you hire and setting the right standards of quality will only get you so far. You need to have the right tools in place to make your team efficient and offer up some nice perks to reinforce the culture that you’re creating.

Tools of the trade. I’m not going to delve too deep into the tools we use as I’ll save that for another post. However, I will highlight some important themes when it comes to selecting the right technologies to enhance your Support culture:

  1. Allow for quick communication. We use a messaging tool called Flowdock, which allows our team to quickly, and easily share information. There are a bunch out there like Slack, Hipchat and Yammer. Choose one and start to use it. It works best when a few departments buy into the concept.
  2. Keep the tools simple. We use Freshdesk as our Support platform. We like it because it’s easy and we know we can scale it up as our processes get more complex.
  3. The tools you use should integrate and work together. Here’s a great example of how our tools work together. When a Support ticket comes in, it will show up instantly in Flowdock so our Support team sees it as well as any other interested parties including our Development team. At times, Development has fixed bugs even before we first responded to the customer. Most bugs are logged in Jira directly from Freshdesk so our developers will have the details they need. Once the issue is resolved in Jira, we’ll see a notification in Flowdock and the Freshdesk ticket is updated. This type of integration makes the Support team more efficient and helps them work more closely with other departments so they can get items resolved more quickly.

UntitledPerks. The common startup perks like branded hoodies shouldn’t be overlooked. This uniform does help reinforce the culture you’re creating within the team and within your company. While free lunches are a great perk as you don’t need to worry about your lunch that day it also encourages people to spend time together socially. Team outings are also part of team bonding outside of the normal work environment and should occur regularly.

We’ve also implemented an unlimited vacation policy, which was something I wasn’t a proponent of until we had enough people to provide accurate coverage for our customers. It is a powerful perk though. In addition, we also cover the majority of the team’s mobile phone bill and provide laptops to make it easier to respond to customer issues. The last thing I want the team to worry about is how they will pay for their data usage when they are responsible for getting back to a customer and it’s an emergency.

The Secret Sauce of Customer Support

Creating a culture that will help resolve your customer issues as quickly and painlessly as possible isn’t easy. Remember to focus on hiring the right people, establishing the right metrics, fostering a close relationship with other teams (especially Product and Development) and setting your team free.

Our next challenge will be to ensure that we maintain this culture as grow.

What have you done to help foster the culture within your Support team?

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