Teams do their best, and most valuable, work when they have a deep understanding of their products, domain and customers. If you are not working to better understand and serve your customers, what are you working on?
Many companies still consider "technical support" and "customer service" to be a burden, nuisance and cost center. I wholeheartedly disagree and take the opposite view. I believe the support team is one of the most important teams in a company. They understand the products at an intimate level and most importantly, understand your customer's use cases, demands, pain points and requirements.
Whole Company Support, also known as All Hands Support, has been gaining traction with companies that want to build a more well-rounded organization with deep levels of customer empathy.
Technical support, customer service, customer success - whatever you want to call it - these roles are vital to the health of your company. These are roles that require skill, tact, communication, constant learning and patience. Although not typically considered as "valuable" as "technical skills", these "soft skills" can often be the difference between a satisfied or disgruntled customer. Remember, the support team is often responsible for mending relationships and playing a liaison role between customers and the rest of the company.
Customer Support is a craft and not everyone is good at it. If there are team members in the organization that do not have the confidence, patience or communication skills to directly handle support requests, all is not lost! The goal of Whole Company Support is not necessarily to create more support agents, although that may be a positive side effect. Rather, the goal is to increase collaboration and build a company where everyone develops a deeper understanding of their products and empathy for their customers. Everyone can help the company meet these goals by partnering with a member of the Support team, reviewing support cases for common themes and committing to use their skills to help solve problems and improve the customer experience.
My first software job was as a Technical Support engineer. It was with a new startup company that did not have many customers so I was asked to also perform QA duties during support downtime. This turned out to be ideal since the roles complement each other... As QA, you learn every inch of the products. As Tech Support, you learn how real customers are using the product. The combined knowledge is helpful in helping drive product direction and influencing the Engineering team to focus on the right things.
On a personal note, this combined role kept me intimately involved with the Sales and Engineering teams and I won Employee of the Year awards twice. Not just because of the great job I did but also because everyone at the company knew who I was since I found solutions for prospective and existing customers. I straddled the line between customer advocate and technical “Product Management”.
A friend of mine works customer support for a major retailer and most of his calls fall into one of a few common themes. The number of phone calls and level of customer frustration could be drastically reduced if the company practiced Whole Company Support and was closer to the customer experience. Some examples:
Mailed gift cards - There is a bug with the gift card system that falsely reports the gift cards as delivered when they have been received by the post office. In addition, the tracking number in the email and the support system is often incorrect. This creates anxiety for customers who often believe the gift card is lost in the mail. The support agents are helpless in tracking the gift card and all the customers can do is “wait a few days” and hope the gift card shows up.
Third party vendor items - This company employs “drop shipping” for many items which is invisible to their customers. Once the customer pays for the item, the system simply has a status of “Processing”. Tracking information is not available and it is not possible to get further information or cancel an item without an agent sending a request that is handled by another team. This can take several days and creates anxiety for customers. If an item is taking too long to be delivered, customers often want to immediately cancel the order and it is not possible due to the lack of integration between the in-house and partner systems.
Lack of emailed updates - If an agent cancels or discounts an ordered item, the customer is not sent a confirmation email. This leaves doubt in the customer’s mind as to whether their request has been fulfilled.
Lack of “after call work” following phone calls - On busier days, the incoming call volume can be very heavy. In order to reduce hold times, the telephone system does not support “after call work” which means that calls are often wrapped up without agents entering any notes. If the customer calls in again, there is no record in the system of what was done for them and who handled the call.
Old orders disappear from the system - In order to relieve strain on the database, orders over a certain age are archived off the main system and are unavailable for agent querying. They are available on another system which can only be viewed by certain supervisors. Wait times for supervisor escalation can often exceed ½ hour so customers are frustrated having to wait so long.
Restrictive coupon codes - Customers are often emailed coupons that give them “25% OFF EVERYTHING AND FREE SHIPPING ()”. The asterisk () is a long screen of fine print that customers don’t read. The fine print encompasses the brand and merchandise restrictions, so “EVERYTHING” is never really on sale.
Shopping cart view/edit - Customers often call in about items that are still in their shopping cart. Because many items have the same description, agents often need a model number to assist the customers. If agents had the ability to view/edit the customer’s shopping cart, they would be able to provide a faster and personalized level of support. I have seen this strategy employed at Crutchfield and was always impressed with the technology.
No price protection - Prices may change from day to day and the company does not have any type of price protection policy. If the price drops on an item that you ordered yesterday for a higher price, too bad. Perhaps if the company employed an “automatic [X] day price protection” policy, customers would believe they are getting the best possible deal and would happily continue shopping there in the future.
After reading this list of grievances, hopefully the wheels are spinning in your head as to how you may address each one. These are all items that can be addressed by various teams in the company - IT, website, marketing, partnerships, etc. Some of these items can be fixed with code updates, others with revisions to outdated policies that may have once made sense but should be reviewed due to the impact on customer satisfaction.
Regardless of one's role, there are always benefits to working with the support team and being closer to the needs of your customers. Spending time with the support team should be part of onboarding training. I also recommend rotating support assignments for each team member. The schedule should be published far in advance so teams can adjust for a member's absence and lessen the impact on scheduled deliverables.
Give your support team the respect, tools, trust and empathy they need to keep your customers happy. It can be the difference between customer attrition and lifelong customers who happily recommend your company to their friends and social media followers.
About the Author
Joe Giglio is a 25 year veteran of the software industry. In his career, he has worked for a local dial-up ISP, startups of all sizes and a well established, slow moving enterprise. There were important lessons learned along every stop.
His guiding principles are: Remote first, quality driven, customer champion and lifelong learning.
He currently resides in North Carolina and is always interested in new opportunities, meeting quality people and learning about exciting projects.