This Fine Tuning session is about assessing your support organization. The session will be divided into 3 parts:
- Common misconceptions and mindsets to avoid
- Taking a realistic look at your organization's maturity level
- Keeping current in the ever-changing world of support
Conchita Mauro has been in the Customer Services industry for over 10 years, having started as a call centre agent for the Italian Market, and moving on to fulfilling different roles, such as Quality Analyst, Content Manager and Support Manager at Google in Dublin, Ireland, before joining Zendesk.
See all the Fine Tuning series discussions.
Part 1, 8 am: Common misconceptions and mindsets to avoid
The Customer Services industry is a little like an engine: it’s a crucial part of an organisation but it’s so full of moving parts that the room for error grows exponentially. However, and unlike with mechanical engineering, customer service strategies don’t follow a single setup that works every time.
In this section, we will explore some of the common misconceptions we face when managing support workflows. These can often lead us down the wrong path, and we don’t notice until it’s too late. Let’s get started!
Blindly embracing the status quo
So, you got the job, you’re the new support manager of your company. You’re excited, proud of your achievement, and, frankly, a bit nervous. In your first days you identify a few things that need upgrading, like CSAT could be better and agents lack motivation in general, which in turn does not help CSAT either. You wish to change all this straight away, but it can very hard to become the manager of an established team and start off by making changes. It’s easier to stick with the status quo. It’s less troublesome and a sure way to not upset anybody on the team.
One of the most common mistakes you can make when taking on a new leadership role is believing that by pleasing people on the team, you’re doing the right thing. Because, if they’re not mad at you, it means you’re doing something right, correct?… wrong!
The (ugly) truth is that being a support manager means doing right first by your customers, then by your company, and then by you and your team.
Of course you should not neglect your agents and colleagues, but blinding yourself to your customers’ needs in fear of shaking the org’s boat too hard is not the way to go. Like Google’s motto says “ focus on the user and all else will follow”... even if it means shaking things up!
Being a one-man / woman band
Becoming a jack of all trades is common in smaller, less established teams. Especially in start-up environments, not only is it common but it’s almost expected that you demonstrate a superhero level of multitasking.
This is sometimes inevitable: if you embark on the herculean job of implementing and growing a startup support org, you will have to do a bit of everything.
After some time, however, you will have to become accustomed to working in isolation and being the go-to-person for solutions to the rest of the team, and sometimes even the company.
This makes us fall into a habit where we feel like we can’t fail the expectation that we are meant to do everything alone. Ultimately, it will be very easy to believe that you have the right answer for everything, stopping you from ever asking questions and learning continuously.
Cutting corners (trusting easy fixes and skipping testing)
Another common misconception, and not only within the support industry but in many other areas as well, is believing that you can cut corners and you will find easy formulas that will magically make it all right.
The truth is, that, just as it is for most things worth doing in life, support is also about hard work, patience, and perseverance.
We may have compared support to a machine earlier, but it needs to be regarded as an eternally unfinished one. Trial and error are necessary strategies you need to practice, not only for large, but also for smaller projects and changes in the organisation. This principle has never been so true as it is in the era of agile project management.
These are only very few of the most common problematic behaviors I’ve seen or experienced. What are some of yours?
Tell us in the comments section below about issues you’ve seen or experienced that have led you or someone you know to make mistakes when leading a support organization. We’d love to hear more examples we can learn from!
Part 2, 11 am: Taking a realistic look at your organization's maturity level
At Zendesk, and especially in our Success team, we refer often to a very useful tool we like to call the Maturity Framework. You can find different versions of it online and possibly under different names, but basically, it’s a chart showcasing the different stages that a support organization normally goes through in its growth journey. (See image below.)
When evaluating an organisation’s maturity, we can do this by looking at three main categories of characteristics, which we have arranged horizontally across the top of the chart:
- Customer Experience
- Agent Experience
- Agent Lifecycle
So let’s say I’m the support manager of my organization, and I want to check-in to see where the gaps are in my team’s growth. I’ll use this tool to select the characteristic that best describes my team at the present moment from each pillar.
It may be that in the Customer Experience pillar I select the “4+ support channels” box (representing the number of avenues my customers have to reach support), whereas under Agent Lifecycle I select “QA Process” as something we’re only implementing. This means, my organization will be at a high maturity level in terms of the Customer Experience, but only at a Medium Maturity level in terms of the Agent Lifecycle.
Let’s check out an example of how a self-assessment could look like:
I have marked as green the characteristics where my organization has already met that goal, and I left in other colors the ones we’re yet to achieve. In this case, you can clearly see how our Customer Experience strategy has continued to scale to meet demand, demonstrating a healthy level of maturity. For both Agent Experience and Life Cycle, the green boxes appear mostly in the lower levels of maturity.
A diagnosis that looks similar to the above can be symptomatic of an organization that has paid attention to their customers, but not so much to the team. It’s a good indicator that it’s time to start thinking about your agents’ wellbeing as well.
It’s important to note that, in this context, the word ‘maturity’ is used as an indicator of a group of characteristics. “Lower maturity” does not necessarily equate to a “bad” or “negative” state.
In other words, just because an organization appears as low maturity in a specific aspect it does not mean the whole pillar is failing in some way. At that point, you’ll want to ask yourself if that level of maturity makes sense for your scaling company and if it is in line with the customers’ needs.
Every support organization is different, and though we can map out the most commonly successful practices, we often forget to respect the ‘flavors’ that make our own org unique and that can bring that differentiating touch to the way we support our users.
If you want to know more about the Maturity Model as a framework to improve your own organization and team, let us know in the comments section: we’d be happy to explore more in depth about the particular points you think are the most useful!
Part 3, 2 pm: Keeping current in the ever-changing world of support
Now that we've looked at common misconceptions to avoid, as well as the importance of evaluating your support organisation's current state, I’ll share some of my best practices for making your support org stronger. Let’s begin!
It was Socrates who was quoted as saying, “I know that I know nothing.” The Socratic Paradox is a great lens you can use to start improving your support team and your customer support strategy.
Start asking the right questions. And lots of them.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to associate the act of asking questions with the idea that one is unknowledgeable. This is particularly true someone in a position of leadership. We expect that managers should be the ones providing the answers, not asking the questions.
Certainly there has to be a measure of knowledge in any leader, but this particular idea is one of the most detrimental for a team. Precious time and plenty of resources are spent in trying to find answers in isolation, to avoid asking questions.
We need to distance ourselves from this concept. It is by spotting our comfort zone and then running away from it that we find ourselves in the position to ask questions and to question things as they are.
Some of the most useful questions we ask or should be asking, include:
- What are my clients thinking about the company and the service we provide, beyond the CSAT rating?
- Who are my clients (beyond demographics)?
- Is my team happy and how do I get to the truth about it?
- What are the current objectives of the support team? What should be the focus areas going forward? What are the company objectives and how do we ensure we align?
- What does the company expect of my team? What does my boss expect of my team and are his expectations aligned with the company's? What are my clients' expectations of support and how far have we come in satisfying them?
- What are the things we are doing well and how do I go about rewarding where reward is due? How do I tackle lack of resources for rewards?
- What are we not doing right and how do we organise and fix it?
- Do we have the resources we need to achieve our objectives? Or on the flip side, are we truly as under-resourced as some say?
You’re amazing… but are you invincible?
And, most importantly: do you need to be? If your answer is ‘yes’ because your org will fall apart otherwise, it may be time to take a step back and analyze some things. I am not suggesting you do your job halfway or delegate unnecessarily! What I am asking is whether your ‘superhero’ status is sustainable. If you can’t take holidays or get asked every question, or if you’re a Jack of all trades the answer is probably no.
Stop, take a deep breath or two, open your mind and try to analyze why that is the case. Understand that though it feels good to be the go-to-person on the team, this can be exhausting and depleting, not just for you but also for those around you who might not feel sufficiently valued!
Identifying the root cause is surely half of the solution: are you short-staffed? Have you and your bosses gotten into a vicious cycle along the way? Do you simply feel like that is the way things are meant to be?
Help your team help you and empower your agents.
- Organise brainstorming sessions: a smart way to get plenty of good ideas and also different perspectives and angles you would otherwise not see, is by getting your team in a room and organizing a brainstorming session. Be sure you follow the guidelines of basic brainstorming (do not say no to any idea, jot down all ideas, no matter how implausible, have everyone standing not sitting, etc). This is a perfect win-win strategy, where you get ideas while your team feels involved and recognized!
- Delegate by specialising: involving your team in a subject matter expert selection process is another good strategy to have agents feel recognized. Having subject matter experts on your team will unload a lot of the knowledge burden from you and from other team members. Appointing members of the team as ‘Macro Guru’, or ‘Internal Content Creator’ or other special roles that you think are helpful for your organisation, is as well a good way to recognize, as well as help, the team and yourself. Every step you take in democratizing knowledge is also getting you closer to higher CSAT and helping improve other support metrics.
Be like Socrates and pretend you know nothing.
Reading is possibly one of the oldest ways of learning but also one of the most disregarded or misused.
For some people, reading ends as soon as they graduate from school, whereas, for others, reading often happens exclusively through social media, which can provide a skewed and limited perspective.
Fix this by picking up a book. Don’t know where to begin? My recommendation is The Effortless Experience, focused on the art of building customer loyalty.
Also, don’t just limit yourself to books about the industry: I found that philosophy and psychology, even if at the basic levels, help with understanding behaviors and how we as humans react and interact.
My most recent favourite is Zero Degrees of Empathy - published as ‘The Science of Evil’ in the US - a study on human cruelty. Sounds like a subject you might not even want to go near, but it can be very insightful if you put it into the right perspective. Begin there and Google similar publications to get some other suggestions.
Do you have any favorite books that have helped you grow in your role? Tell us in the comments section, we’d love to share ideas!
Though books are a classic go-to, this does not mean we should ‘ban’ Internet reading from our lives--but beware! Not all that glitters is gold in the era of oversharing. Definitely Google ideas, concepts, and strategies to learn more about them, and while you do that, become more aware of truthful and reliable sources.
Bookmark those and go back when you want some inspiration. Subscribe to mailing lists of online publications you trust to get timely updates.
There are so many choices, so it can be a bit daunting at the start. Here a few I like:
- Our own Zendesk Blog and our Relate blog is a good first step; be sure to subscribe
- Forrester has very interesting content beyond their business reports
- Call Centre Helper, because it touches upon an extent variety of topics within our industry (check out their webinars)
The more you learn, the more likely you are to question what you're currently doing and the status quo. You'll be more open to experimenting with new strategies. You'll be more proactive and capable of identifying areas in your current setup that might need improvement.
Make a list and use all of the strategies and resources we’ve discussed to help you confirm or deny your assumptions, and start closing any gaps between your organisation’s current state and its long term goals. Let us know how it goes and what you learn along the way!