Support teams don’t have it easy. It takes grit, determination, and perseverance to spend day after day helping customers learn, use, and understand a product.
But a tough job doesn’t always mean you get the credit you deserve. Regardless of how hard they’re working, CX teams consistently report feeling unheard, undervalued, and underappreciated. But why?
Aircall took this question to the Support Driven Expo in Portland. We gathered a panel of support leaders from Automattic, Bottle Cap Technology, DYME, and Olark to talk to us about out how they elevate the role of Customer Support in their workplaces.
Listen to your team
The best way to get recognition from other teams is to acknowledge your own.
If your crew routinely feels like their manager doesn’t listen to (and advocate for) them, then they’re not going to be empowered.
Lawrence Lewis, Director of Client Services at DYME, handled this by creating a way for his support team to have important conversations with other departments. The team felt that no matter how many times they pointed out recurring customer problems, they were not getting the needed attention in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, the developers had their own roadmaps to follow and often had to sideline the complaints from the support team in order to meet product deadlines. This led to a stalemate affecting both sides – with customers stuck in the middle.
“We got together and created an escalation path between managers and the development team,” Lewis says. “So now, when an issue is escalated to the support manager, the dev team knows that it’s a priority. They find a way to incorporate it into whatever they’re working on so it gets done.”
All Hands On Deck
Sarah Betts, Customer Champion at Olark, is a big believer in getting everyone involved in support from the start.
“At Olark everyone pitches in,” she says. “The entire company takes email shifts and is part of the process.”
Kristen Zuck, Happiness Engineer Team Lead at Automattic, is also a big proponent of the all-hands-on-deck method. All new hires are required to spend time in support as part of Automattic’s onboarding process. Additionally, everyone in the company spends a week working on support tickets each year.
“Everyone thinks they know what the customer wants. But unless they actually talk to the customers, they don’t really know what’s going on.”
– Brian Levine, Co-Founder at Bottle Cap Technology
Brian, however, opts for a different version of this approach. He shifted away from having the whole team doing support and instead decided to showcase support as a separate and stand-alone skill.
“There is no ‘all hands’ finance so there shouldn’t be an ‘all hands’ support,” states Brian Levine who was VP of Support at Github and Head of Support at Plaid before leaving to found Bottle Cap Technology.
Rather than focus on having other teams do support, Brian encourages the support team to participate in other departments, like tech and design. It’s a win-win for everyone. Support gets to flex their tech-savvy muscles and tech gets a more customer-centric perspective in their work.
Every team in the company can and should be customer-focused. But it’s a given that the team that understands the customer best is the team that talks to them the most.
Support teams have an intimate knowledge of customer pain points, obstacles, and successes in ways other teams do not. This unique positioning helps them understand things differently and contribute insights that might otherwise be missed.
“Your support, product, and development teams have to be working together to understand each other’s struggles”
-Kristen Zuck, Happiness Engineer Team Lead at Automattic
The team at Olark makes sure to build customer-centricity into their work. When the design team is planning their roadmap, they run it by the customer-facing teams first for feedback. Support agents participate in design team sprint plannings and advocate for customers directly to the product manager.
This hands-on approach allows the support team to have a leg-up when creating FAQs and Help Docs. Since they have been part of the design from the beginning, they know exactly which obstacles a customer is likely to encounter, and they can plan for it.
So how did this team get such a robust approach to customer-centric design?
“Relationships and time” Sarah Betts at Olark explained.
Q & A
After our panel discussion, the audience had a chance to ask our group of support leaders some questions. Here is what they asked:
Q: How do you overcome the stigma that Support is not a revenue-generating unit?
Kristen Zuck: Start small. Do your research and find the data on exactly how support-related things are impacting revenue. For example, look at the retention rates for customers who have interactions with the support teams vs those who don’t. Find the metrics that directly affect other teams, and you will get their buy-in.
Lawrence Lewis: Customer testimonials- advertise them! Other teams don’t get to see the stuff that support sees. They don’t see the praise for your work or your product. Make sure other teams have access by sharing it internally. Not only is it great for morale, but it’s also amazing for getting buy-in from other areas of the company.
Q: Sales vs Support. Help!
Lawrence Lewis: It’s not us vs them. I encourage sales teams to go to support standups and vice versa.
Sarah Betts: Agreed. Talk to people and empathize with them.
Brian Levine: I encourage the support team to sit in on the sales calls. It makes a huge difference. For example, a huge issue that comes up is complaining about overselling. Support would complain that the sales team was overselling the product and customers were unhappy. But when they sat in on sales calls they realized they weren’t overselling, there was just some misunderstanding. The support team was able to help coach the sales team on the language to use to give more clarity to the customer.
Q: How do you know what to prioritize?
Brian Levine: Everyone in your company has a pretty good internal sense of what’s important to the business…but they all don’t agree. And they will not agree until you talk about it. Learn to talk to other teams, and understand their point of view.
Lawrence Lewis: Keep the customer first. If it’s not something that’s endangering the customer or client, then know that it’s ok to compromise. Each team has different priorities, and you have to be able to respect that.
Q: Where do you go for daily guidance and inspiration?
Kristen Zuck: Support Driven community slack channel.
Brian Levine: Reading. I read tons of sales, development, and product blogs. It’s important to know what other teams are thinking if you’re going to be working with them.
Lawrence Lewis: Blogs on building and scaling culture. I also believe that having a mentor to help guide you is important.
Sarah Betts: Support driven community. Find the blogs and articles of companies that you admire and follow them. Know what they’re talking about and stay interested.
Q: Any Book Suggestions?
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
Never Split the Difference – Chriss Voss
The Miracle Morning – Hal Elrod
Published on January 2, 2024.