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Building a Customer Service Team

Building
a Customer
Service Team

Mercer Smith-Looper

B uilding a team of any sort is much like building a bridge: from the outside, it can look beautiful, but if there is one structural piece missing, even the prettiest bridge will fall to pieces under pressure. With support teams, it’s no different. Support people are hyper-empathetic and take on the feelings of each of the people that they talk to every day. Given that, they can be quite emotionally demanding, and difficult to manage in a large group.

Building a customer support team is like an elaborate game of Jenga, with all the skills and people building on top of each other. You need to have a number of different roles on your team and their personality types all need to fit together. There are also outside pieces beyond the team to consider. For example, if you’re planning to offer support outside of local business hours, you also need to ensure that you have coverage for the different time zones. Finally, there isn’t just a line up of qualified candidates waiting outside your door. You need to recruit, interview and hire this specialized team of support agent heros with the right skills, personality types and availability.

Luckily, we’re going to cover all that and more within the span of this book: how do you hire? What do the people who are the “right fit” look like? Once you’ve got people hired, how do you onboard and continue to measure performance as they grow within their position? Read on! We’ve got your back.

2.

Hiring Tips

In order to build a team, you first need to hire them. Hiring the best person for each role takes a few different steps: first, you have to define the perfect role and write a job description, then you have to post it in all of the best places for candidates to find. After you’ve screened a few candidates, and are ready to interview, what does your hiring strategy look like?

Hiring Tips

Do you want to staff for 24/7 support? How much should you pay the right candidates? This is all just the beginning of your team building journey but is integral to its success. Here are some of the best ways to ensure that you go about hiring the right way the first time, rather than having to go back and revise your strategy.

Creating a Job Description

To get excellent members on your support team, you need to create excellent job descriptions to attract them to your company. Crafting an amazing job description eludes even the best managers — it’s easy to get bogged down on the requirements or job duties, and forget that the job description is actually an advertisement to attract an excellent candidate. There are a few key things to include and remember every time you’re writing a new description.

Necessary pieces to include in a job description

No matter what you include in your job description, or how you write it, there are a few pieces of information that need to be in every job post that you make. New potential employees need to know some key points about the role in order to make sure that it fits their needs and to measure themselves up to what you’re looking for. If you don’t include information such as the job title, a job summary, examples of job responsibilities, and necessary qualifications, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to compel anyone to apply for your role. That being said, there are definitely some ways that you can spice it up through personalization to make the post unique and interesting — that’s going to be the best way to get people to apply that fit your culture and the team you’re trying to build.

Make sure to include the following pieces of information on every job description you write:

  • Job Title
  • Job Summary
  • Responsibilities and Goals
  • Hours and Location
  • Qualifications and Skills Required

Choose your words wisely

How do you refer to what you are looking for and what you want a person coming into this role to accomplish? For example, do you refer to people working on your customer support team as “agents” or “representatives”? Do you want customer support team members to “do” certain tasks, or are you keen on them “accomplishing” things and getting them done?

As you write your job description, focus on action-oriented language that makes the role and the person within it feel empowered to do the work that energizes them. For example, instead of saying something like:

you’ll help customers with questions in the inbox

...you could say something like:

empowers customers by providing assistance and guidance to questions via email, chat, and video.

If you read one of those, wouldn’t you be more inclined to respond to the latter rather than the former?

Job descriptions are important, too, and should flow with the culture of your company. While some companies like Full Story call their support team members “Huggers” others, like Chatra or Wistia, call them Customer Champions. If neither of those fit for your needs, something like Customer Support Representatives, which Trello calls their employees, might have a good ring to it, and is slightly less hyperbolic.

In their job description, Figma showcases areas of responsibility that customer support agents can take on, depending on their own interests:

  • Work with our Product Education Specialist on drafts of new help center articles.
  • Write scripts for new video tutorials and work with our small production team.
  • Do you have SQL skills? Write queries and create dashboards for monitoring our support KPIs.
  • Help us compile and organize an internal knowledge base.
  • Aspiring author? Design a new onboarding manual for future Product Support Team members.
  • Are you a natural born teacher? Lead Figma 101 sessions for new hires to get them up to speed on Figma’s features and functionalities.

While you do want your language to be creative, compelling and joyful, make sure that it fits the way you would actually talk about your company. If a person is excited and amped up by your job description and then talks to someone and finds it to be a totally separate, disjointed experience, it will leave a bad taste in their mouth. So keep the tone of your post in line with how you brand your culture elsewhere.

Fill it up with culture

Chances are, you’re already doing this really well. Your marketing team does an excellent job pulsing your culture throughout everything you put on your marketing site and in the product. Your support team does a great job carrying it through every email, tweet, chat, or Facebook message they write. So now, it’s up to you to carry on the legacy and make sure that your job descriptions align with your company’s culture.

When you’re writing about qualities that you’re looking for in an ideal candidate, be sure to include lots of links to blog posts or recommended reading. This allows people to click out of the description and go and do some additional due-diligence to see if your company fits their dream role. It also lets them get a bit more of a hands-on feel for what your culture actually looks like, and how it comes through in things such as your blog or your customer-facing product pages.

GitLab has a culture page that they link to in their job description so that applicants can find out a little bit more about the company before applying:

About GitLab

GitLab Inc. is a company based on the GitLab open-source project. GitLab is a community project to which over 1,000 people worldwide have contributed. We are an active participant in this community, trying to serve its needs and lead by example. We have one vision: everyone can contribute to all digital content, and our mission is to change all creative work from read-only to read-write so that everyone can contribute.

We value results, transparency, sharing, freedom, efficiency, frugality, collaboration, directness, kindness, diversity, boring solutions, and quirkiness. If these values match your personality, work ethic, and personal goals, we encourage you to visit our primer to learn more. Open source is our culture, our way of life, our story, and what makes us truly unique.

Top 10 reasons to work for GitLab:

  1. Work with helpful, kind, motivated, and talented people.
  2. Work remote so you have no commute and are free to travel and move.
  3. Have flexible work hours so you are there for other people and free to plan the day how you like.

Another awesome opportunity to include an example of your culture without blatantly writing it out is to reference a particularly excellently written email or interaction (with the customer’s permission, of course). This fulfills the need for showing off your culture, but also shows how support team members take their own spin on things when talking to customers. People applying for the role will be able to see if your company’s style of support works for them or not.

Use an assignment

It’s a fine line to walk when asking someone to apply for your role and asking them to complete a project. While you want to see how they work, you can’t actually ask them to do unpaid work (legally or morally). A sample project can be anything from a straightforward six question sheet required along with their resume, or an hour-long more in-depth project that they can do on their own time separate from the application. Keep the assignment short and to the point to respect the candidate’s time — especially if you’re asking multiple candidates to complete the task.

Zapier includes a few short assignments in their customer champion application form, including setting up a “zap” in their product and questions about APIs, which are a really relevant part of their product and support process:

How to Apply

We have a non-standard application process. To jump-start the process we ask a few questions we normally would ask at the start of an interview. This helps speed up the process and lets us get to know you a bit better right out of the gate. Please make sure to answer each question.

Complete this form with answers to the below questions. Make sure each answer stands alone as we review question-by-question instead of applicant-by-applicant.

  1. Tell us why you'd be a good fit for this role.
  2. Tell us why you want to work at Zapier instead of somewhere else.
  3. What should our goal be when replying to users?
  4. A user requests an integration with a service that we don't support yet. Compose a reply to this user.
  5. Set up a zap that takes new Gmail emails from a specific sender and adds them to a Google Sheets spreadsheet. Send us the link to the zap and a share link for the spreadsheet.
  6. Send us a link to an app's API docs that you think are well done, and explain why you think they are good.

One of the major benefits to this, beyond learning a lot about the candidate, is that it weeds out bulk-application candidates. There are many people that submit their applications all over the place, whether they really resonate with a job or company or not. If you require them to do either of the two different types of projects (submitted before or submitted after their resume and the application), they’ll be weeded out. They either just won’t submit the project, or won’t submit their application at all. While this may mean that some great candidates don’t end up applying, you do end up having applicants that are more passionate and hungry for the opportunity.

The second benefit that this adds to your process is that it allows you to get a better feel for how they handle customer service and support in practice. It’s all well and good to write an impressive resume, but viewing a project lets you see how they actually do the job and how they’d be communicating with your customers (or how much training you would have to do).

Focus on the job, not the perks

While the perks of a job are definitely compelling and interesting to prospective employees, they aren’t the only thing that they care about. It should never be the case that someone gets halfway through your job posting and knows that you have seven ping pong tables and a competitive speech-giving team, but doesn’t know anything that will be required of them if they come onboard.

So, when you are writing your job description, focus on the job itself, with the perks woven into the description. For example, you could say:

Expect to handle around 60 email conversations with our customers a day. If that sounds like a lot: don’t worry, we have ample ways to help you blow off steam, such as our seven ping pong tables, or the nap room that we built especially for those necessary midday siestas.

Our support team is extremely intertwined with our product and engineering teams and is responsible for communicating any new incoming bugs, or misunderstandings with the product. Interpersonal communication must be one of your strong suits in this role.

If you’re a little bit shyer and this doesn’t come as naturally to you, you can practice at our monthly non-mandated game night where we break up into groups with people we haven’t played with before to try to get to know them better.

If you aren’t going for a long-form description, you can also do this by placing your job description and requirements section above the perks and culture sections in a bullet-pointed list. Lists are much easier to read for many people and allow people to skim and assess quickly if your company is a fit. Maybe consider some long-form content and some bulleted lists to break it up.

Now that you’ve gotten your job description completed and polished, it’s just a matter of finding people to apply for it.

3.

Best websites for
finding new talent

F inding the best place to post your job can be tricky: many places have certain connotations and reputations, and you want to make sure that where you post fits both the message that you are trying to send, and the type of applicant you’re looking to attract to your team. There are also specific sites to use if you are trying to find someone to work remotely, or if you want someone in office with you. Choosing a place to post your job that aligns with the role you’re hiring for is key as it ensures that you’re targeting the best possible audience. Here is a list of some of the best places where you can post your job listing for customer support team members.

In-office

Lots of support jobs are based within co-located offices across the world. It can be much more difficult to hire for an in-person role because you are restricted to a set location and the people that already live there. Given that, it’s especially important to be cognizant of where and when you are posting it, and how you are targeting your intended audience with the description. Here are some great places to post when looking for in-person roles:

  • SupportDriven.com. Support Driven has a whole part of their website that is devoted to support jobs, both remote and in-office. This is a great place to post your job if you are a small company looking to attract people that genuinely and deeply care about support. They do charge a fee for posting to their site, so it may be good to talk to them to see what fits in your budget.
  • Indeed.com. While Indeed is not limited to support jobs specifically, it is still a place where a lot of job seekers go to find roles that fit their abilities and strengths. Given that, it’s still a great place to post your job description, though you may have to weed through a larger amount of applicants that don’t necessarily fit what you’re looking for. Given the larger audience, the pay off of digging through heaps of extra applicants may be worth it: you may get some people that are excellent but wouldn’t have seen you on a smaller site.
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn feels like a necessary evil these days but has grown itself into quite the job market. Because of how much information it has aggregated, you can post your jobs and target people on a number of useful parameters, such as the applicant being within your market, or within your timezone. It also allows you to see if you have any second or third connections that might be a good fit for the role. People who are referred to a role are much more inclined to be excited by it.
  • Dice.com. Dice is a site specifically for people looking for jobs in tech. Registered users are able to upload a resume, get salary information, store resumes and cover letters, and track jobs. As a job publisher, you are able to reach out to all eligible users that meet your criteria and also have them apply to you automatically.
  • We Support. We Support is a popular newsletter for people that work in the support industry. In every newsletter, there is a section of jobs custom curated for the audience. Because they are located in New York, most of the listings are in New York City or remote. They also have excellent guidelines for the types of job listings that they will or won’t post.

Remote

Working remotely is incredibly attractive to a number of different types of people, but it also means that anyone from anywhere can apply to the role. Given that, you’re much more likely to get a larger number of applicants which a varying degree of experience and skill. There are several remote-specific job sites which will allow you to find anyone from the most entry-level support person to the most senior director of support. Some are specifically support focused, while others also allow for marketing, product, or even engineering job posts to be made. Here are a few of the top ones that we’ve found.

  • Remotive.io. Remotive started as a bi-monthly newsletter for job seekers interested in working remotely, and has a series of useful blog posts and links to support good practices when working remotely. In addition to news about how to get hired at remote jobs and tips on life as a digital nomad, the newsletter also has a robust listing of remote positions. Remotive’s job listings are broken down by job type — sales, support, product engineering, marketing — which means that if it works well for your hunt for an excellent remote employee, another department within your company could use it too.
  • Flexjobs. FlexJobs has multiple remote job categories, so they aren’t just for support employees. The neat thing about Flexjobs is that you can include anything from freelance gigs to part-time work, to full-time jobs, with your listings varying from entry-level to executive. Flexjobs screens both their job postings and the applicants, so unlike some of the other larger sites, you won’t have to dig through any people spam applying for jobs. This is one of the first places people look for remote opportunities and is a great place to list your jobs.
  • Remote.co. This site actually curates their listings from the ones submitted to their site and tries to limit it to roles that they know would fit their target audience. Because of that, it means that many of the applicants are high-quality and care about making a career in their chosen area. The listings are focused on customer service positions, design opportunities, developer jobs, recruiter and HR roles, sales jobs, and writing.
  • Justremote. Justremote allows for job hunters to search through a number of unique parameters, which makes it one of the easier platforms for people on the lookout for awesome opportunities to use to find roles that suit them. For example, if you post a role that is specifically looking for individuals able to cover the timezone of the western United States, people looking for jobs in that region will see that role first. That means you’ll never have to have the “so, we’re looking specifically for someone in this timezone…” conversation with a candidate again.
  • We Work Remotely. This site is very close to a traditional job board with very few bells and whistles. It’s a catch-all of remote, work from home and telecommuting jobs in customer service, to web design, to programming. We Work Remotely’s stated goal of “finding the most qualified people in the most unexpected place,” means that they’ll help connect you to over 130,000 monthly users to find your most ideal candidate in no time.
4.

Interviewing Candidates

O nce you’ve found your best candidates and you’ve got a pool going, you’re ready to start phone screening and interviewing. Interviewing can seem daunting, and there are so many different ways to do it, depending on what you and your company are looking for. When you get into interviewing, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

Interviewing Candidates

Look for the cream of the crop

If you are phone screening someone and anything in your mind tells you that they might not be a perfect fit, don’t move them on to the next step. Even if your talent pool is slim and you aren’t sure when you are going to get more applicants, starting over and recruiting more applicants is better than hiring someone that isn’t going to be a service to your team. You don’t want to hire someone that will be a good fit, you want to hire someone that’s going to knock it out of the park. Especially on small teams, having one person that isn’t an excellent fit can make a huge impact, both financially and interpersonally. If you have a bad hire that ends up not working out, for example, the loss is quantified to be about 30% of what their first year’s take home compensation would have been.

Understand and define the skills you’re looking for

Most of this work should be done when you are writing up your job description. You should know what types of traits and skills you are keen for someone moving into this role to have. Then, once you have those skills written out and defined, you should share them with your interviewing team, if it’s going to be anyone other than you (and it should be). Your interview questions and the types of interviewing that you do should center around these predefined skills — this will ensure that you ask about all of the things that are imperative for the role before you hire them. Socializing this out to the other people interviewing will give you the chance to communicate about things that you weren’t able to ask in the screening so that they can cover it in the second interview instead.

Ask the right types of questions

While the questions will differ depending on your company, the culture, and what kind of role you are hiring for, there are a few different types of questions that you should be sure to ask during an interview:

  • Hypothetical questions. These are pretty typical for most interviews, but they are usually asking about hypothetical situations pertaining to the role you’re hiring them for. For example, “if you were given the opportunity to lead a support team, what are the first things that you would do to make it the best support team ever?”
  • Self-assessment questions. This is both to see if they are able to admit fault, as well as to see where they think their strengths lay. Something like this might look like: “tell me about a time that you had a disagreement, why it happened, and how it was resolved?”
  • Metaphor questions. For example, “If you were given a set of legos, how would you go about putting them together?” This allows you to see how they deal with open-ended questions, as well as add some coded digging. The lego question above, for example, shows you how they deal with the process of starting a project.
  • Company-based questions. It may be good to ask them some questions about why they are interested in the role at your company specifically and what they like about your company. While that might not be necessary for the role, it’s good to make sure that someone has a little bit of background in your company before you continue interviewing them.
  • Technical knowledge/screening. Even if you are not hiring for a super-technical role, anyone working in support should have some working knowledge on the technical side of things. For example, they should know what HTML or CSS is, at least in concept. Talk with your team and determine the right types of things for you to be screening for, specifically for each individual role that you are interviewing with.

One of the questions that we ask our candidates during the interview is “A potential customer is thinking about switching Chatra from a different live chat tool and asks about a certain feature that we don’t have yet, but the competitor does. How do you reply?”

Their reaction helped us understand their train of thought. Do they just apologize and say that we don’t have this feature or do they offer to save the feature request and notify the customer if it gets implemented? Do they try to offer a workaround using the existing functionality? Or do they try and sell Chatra based on our other advantages?

Depending on their reply, you can see what candidate cares about the most: do they just answer the question, do they go the extra mile for the customer or do they care about making a sale?

Chat with us today to see how our successful hires handle the question!

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A little guidance on hiring remotely

Hiring and interviewing remotely is a totally different beast from interviewing for co-located roles. Primarily because when someone works remotely you are unable to visually supervise them and ensure that they are going to do the work that they need to be doing to succeed. You don’t get the same cues you do when working in an office. For example, if they are looking confused or checking Facebook constantly, you’ll have no idea. Remote employees need to be self-starters, and so it’s important to hire for such. We wrote a book on building a remote company culture, in which were a lot of great tips for hiring remotely. But, for an overarching view, here are a few specific things you can ask:

  • What attracts you to working remotely and how long have you been doing it? Listen carefully to what the person you are interviewing says here because it’s likely very indicative of the type of remote worker they would be on your team.
  • What was the last thing that you taught yourself and why? This question helps you discern how much of a self-starter your potential future employee is. If they can’t think of anything that they’ve taught themselves recently, it’s pretty unlikely that they’re going to be a good fit for a remote role.
  • Tell me about a time you had to work with another team. What was your role and how did it go? Remote employees have to work with most other teams within a company, just like everyone else, but they have the added challenge of having to communicate without always having the benefit of facial expressions or vocal intonations. So, when communication goes awry for them, it goes deeply awry.
  • Tell me about a time where you had an interaction that you thought was resolved, but actually snowballed and became a much bigger issue. How did you resolve it? It is super important to make sure that the person you hire is excellent at communication. In the event that communication goes awry in a remote role, which it can often do in chat or any written, rather than spoken, communication, it’s valuable to be able to understand how to repair the damage and deescalate the situation.
  • If you were given a puzzle (set of legos, or anything else like that), how would you go about putting it together? This is, obviously, a question about problem-solving. Listen to see how the candidate goes about thinking about something they need to solve (or put back together), and then how they actually take action to make it happen.
5.

What about hiring
in different time zones?

If you’re looking to build your team towards 24/5 or even 24/7 support, there are two ways to do it: first, you can have people work in your office on different shifts, or you could hire people to work remotely in different time zones and allow that to be your coverage instead. That being said, both of those have their own benefits and detriments, and the choice should really depend on the makeup of the team. After all, according to Gallup, while many customers do value fast support, it’s ultimately good support over anything else that makes them loyal to a company. So, what will enable you to offer the best, most compassionate support to customers in all different time zones?

Hiring in different timezones

Hiring in different time zones is a great way to get coverage, both temporal and lingual, in the time zones where you seem to have a lot of need. That being said, if you’ve don’t have a manager capable of working in that timezone, or you don’t have an infrastructure in place to handle remote workers, someone (or many people) working in a different timezone might be difficult for your company to maintain. It can also be tricky, from a tax-perspective, to have multiple employees in different entities. For that reason, especially if you are small, it might be good to consider keep this in-house and taking a look at our following tips to make it an excellent experience both for your customers and for the employees.

Work in shifts

If hiring in a different timezone is out of the question for your company, a first step to consider could be working in shifts. If you’ve never done it, it might feel hard to ask someone to work midnight to 8 AM. But, maybe people are looking for more flexibility in their schedule for a number of reasons. For example, when Len Markidan worked at Groove, he was keen to work the overnight or late night shifts so that he could get in some quality time with his wife, a nurse.

So, while it might seem to you to be a huge burden, it’s probable that there are people who are willing, able, and excited to work some of those rotating shifts. Building a team around that keeps the culture close, and also saves you some of the stress of having to find and manage people that are outside of your office.

Create an agent on call

Some companies choose to have rotations where there is a single agent on call responsible for responding to any urgent inquiries that come in during off hours. This could be a monthly, weekly, or even daily rotation to keep it fair between your employees, but it effectively means that any inquiries that come through during hours outside of your timezone (yes, including weekends!) would be the sole responsibility of that person. It’s also possible to make this something that has multiple team members working on it if you are a large enough team with a large enough need.

The main downfall of this approach is that, while it does cover important or urgent tickets that come through, it still leaves the “normal” or “regular” tickets without any cover. So, if you choose to advertise 24/5 support or 24/7 support, it should be with the caveat that it only covers some types of tickets, or some specific plans. Ultimately, the best tactic is being honest and making sure that what you decide on is marketable or appealing to at least some segments of your customers.

6.

How much
should you pay?

S alary is one of the most important things that you will talk to your prospective employees about. After all, everyone wants to get paid. The good news (or maybe bad news?) is, though, that once someone has been at your company a while, they actually don’t care as much about the salary. According to a study done at Northeastern University: if you start someone off at a fair salary, you likely won’t see any added frustration from them based on salary moving forward. As Laurence Stybel, a researcher says:

If I think I’m underpaid in the marketplace, I am absolutely dissatisfied. If, on the other hand, I just get a 15% bonus, I’m going to be happy for a while — but only for a while. It’s not necessarily going to make me happy.

So, getting it right from the start is pretty important. How do you do it?

Many companies have started to work towards the idea of transparent salary after Buffer introduced their truly transparent scale and calculator to the world. While Buffer has iterated on this multiple times, their formula has always remained somewhat constant in its consideration of its employees.

The newest version uses the following formula:

50% of the benchmark salary of the role (based on San Francisco market salary)
multiplied by a cost of living multiplier (based on where you live)

So, for example, if you live in a high-cost city, like New York, your multiplier would be 100%. If it was a medium cost city, like Nashville, your multiplier would be 85%, and a low-cost place to live, like the suburbs of Atlanta, would be 75% of the original base salary mentioned above.

Buffer also takes into consideration the role that you are working in, and how long you have been doing that kind of work. So, if you are coming in at a Director position, and have been working in that type of role for several years, you’ll get paid more than someone who has never done it before but is stepping up into the position.

When you build your salary system, whether it be transparent or otherwise, considering these factors is important. If you are working in a co-located office, you can still use the formula based on whether the city that you live in is high, medium or low cost of living, and you can continue to use the modifier based on experience and role. Setting your employees up with fair base salaries sets you up to be in a better place with them in the future.

Keep in mind, too, that if you use things like studies or guides for baselines on your surveys that they can be skewed by the types of people and industries that are attracted to the survey. For example, the Support Driven Customer Support Salary Survey shifted significantly as they attracted a larger, more diverse group of survey-takers.

7.

Employee Onboarding Tips

O nboarding is one of the most important and tenuous times in a new employee’s lifetime with the company. It’s your company’s opportunity to show your new employees what you’re all about, and the new employee’s time to see if it really is a good fit. In fact, studies show that roughly 33 percent of employees make the decision to stay on board with a company or jump ship within their first 30 days of employment.

Employee Onboarding Tips

So, those 30 days are integral to a successful relationship. What are some ways that you, as the company, can ensure that it all goes according to plan?

Reach out before the first day

Campaign Monitor, Help Scout and other companies have an email campaign that reaches out to new employees before they even get started. It includes information about things like when the new employee can expect their computer to arrive (both companies are remote), suggestions for reading that might help them during their first week, and even tidbits about company culture, such as what to wear and when lunch is served.

Not only does it give the employee key information to help them feel more comfortable on their first day, it also shows them that you are interested and excited about them coming onboard still.

Create all accounts and get all desks and equipment set up

There is no worse experience than getting to an office and discovering that none of the things that you need to do your job are available. It almost feels like you were an afterthought, or forgotten about completely. Don’t make your employees feel that way on their first day! Have all of their accounts as well as their desks and technology set up and ready for them before their first day. That way, when they do come in, they can get right into their training and meeting the team, and not have to figure out where the stuff they need actually is.

Make the first day memorable and meaningful

The first day should be all about meeting people, learning the culture, and high-level, inspirational aspects of your company. While getting down to the nitty-gritty of the product is nice, you want to give them an exciting and enthusiasm-inducing diving board to jump off of, first. So, do all kinds of team lunches, meetings with different heads of departments, and maybe even team-building exercises for the group of new onboardees so that new employees have built-in buddies in other departments. After the first day you can get into true onboarding curriculum, but keep the first-day fun and light to get them excited.

Keep the onboarding schedule tight and intentional

Everything that is on your onboarding schedule should be there for a reason. Similarly: it should be pretty closely spaced together. Brandon Hall Group did a study that suggested that by keeping all the scheduling tight, and the meetings close together, companies can improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent. If you give a lot of time between meetings, or you spread out onboarding more than it needs to be, you give new onboardees the opportunity to lose focus.

After all, if they’ve only had four trainings, and then they have a whole half day to themselves, they aren’t going to know what to do with it — and you shouldn’t expect them to! Make sure you have everything scheduled out ahead of time so that they can look and know what to expect, and keep everything close together to avoid their minds wandering or getting bored.

Get the whole company involved

The whole company should be involved in onboarding. What that means is that every head of every department should be responsible for a training talking about that department. This helps to get new employees familiarized with faces that they’ll be seeing around the office or on video (and vice versa) but also gives the new team members a sense of cross-functionality. For example, while salespeople might not immediately need to know the head of engineering, it would probably be good for them to at least know who to go to if they have an issue that they need to talk about in the future.

For support, this is even more important: new support team members should get to know and cultivate relationships with all of the different departments, as it’s very likely that they’ll have to work with them moving forward. So, getting the whole company involved in onboarding them is especially important and valuable.

Talk about culture often

Culture is often something that takes a backseat in onboarding, as tangible things like product functionality, or in-office protocols are taught. However, according to Glassdoor even just a one-star increase in culture and values ratings on Glassdoor raises the odds that employees will stay at their existing company when moving into their next role by five percent. That’s a pretty impressive statistic, so get started on it early. Discuss culture and values frequently, and ensure that you link them to something actually within the culture, or solid examples so they don’t just go in one ear and out the other. If new employees have something to anchor the intangible on, it can go a long way towards helping them align with it.

Encourage constructive insights amongst onboarding members

If you are bringing new employees in in groups, it’s a good practice to get into the habit of encouraging them to offer constructive insights amongst themselves, to themselves, and to the people instructing their training or meetings. This gets them into the habit of providing feedback, and also shows them that it is safe and encouraged. Lead by example and offer constructive insights when they are watching (if it makes sense to), and reiterate how important it is when in new training or sessions.

Don’t expect them to hit the ground running

While it’s always nice when you get an employee who gets started immediately and is automatically speeding along doing exactly what they are supposed to do, it’s pretty uncommon. It’s unfair for you to expect that a majority of employees would be able to take off at the same speed as someone who has been with the company for even just three months.

Most people need time to ramp up and familiarize themselves with the tools and functionality of your product. They also have to learn the tools that you use internally to do things like answer customer inquiries, respond on social media, review code and a number of other things. Give the time to learn that before you expect too much from them within their actual role.

Create a 30/60/90 plan and communicate it

As I wrote in this post for Help Scout, 30/60/90 plans are meetings that you set up with the employee and their manager at the 30-day mark, 60-day mark, and 90-day mark. Each step communicates things like what they should be accomplishing, benchmarks, and new job aspects that they are expected to take on each step of the way. 30/60/90 meetings are valuable for employees because it gives them a map of where they are supposed to go, and also lets them self-assess as they go through onboarding.

It also gives the manager a platform from which to speak about performance, as it’s already been communicated early on in the employee’s time with the company.

Assign a training buddy or mentor

When an employee starts at a new company and doesn’t know anybody, it can be really intimidating and scary. They might not even know who to turn to if something is going wrong, or something inappropriate has happened to or around them. So, if you assign a training buddy or mentor to them, they’ll always have someone within the company that they can talk to and ask questions. Depending on how big your company is, it could be good to have their buddy be on another team for more cross-functional team-building. There is an additional benefit, though, to have their buddy be someone that works on their team with them as it gives them a person to bounce ideas and questions off of, specifically when they get to work in their own role.

Have manager check-ins frequently

Much like the benefit of 30/60/90 reviews, having pre-scheduled, regular check-ins between manager and employee is a great way to make sure that there’s a thumb on the pulse of the employee’s performance. It also gives the employee a regular time to ask questions, share concerns, or get a bit more context as they go through the onboarding process.

Even if you feel like a daily check-in is too much, it might be good to start with that cadence as it sets the tone for the relationship between the manager and the employee. You can always shift it to be less frequent as needed, but at least starting there is a good jumping off point.

8.

Creating a perfect
working environment
for your support team

As any good manager would, most people in a leadership position deeply care about making sure their team members are comfortable and satisfied with their jobs. After all, when people are happy and feel like they are in a good environment, they usually thrive and do their best work.

Creating a perfect working environment for your support team

So, the benefits are two-fold: you can get productive, excellent work out of your team members, and you can feel good for helping them feel good in turn. But, what are some of the best ways to create the perfect working environment for your team? Great question:

Team building

The term “team building” sounds like something out of an 80s guide book for how to create the best company, but there’s a reason for that: team building has been around since the 80s (and even before then), and will continue to exist long after this book is written because it works. But, the negative association that many people associate with team building is real. A study from Citrix has shown that 31 percent of office workers say that they can’t stand team-building activities. That doesn’t however, negate that they are helpful.

The Small Group Research journal paper “Does Team Building Work?” analyzed data from 103 studies conducted between 1950 and 2007. The cumulative research concluded that team building that avoided forced or shame-building projects and behaviors produced measurable, positive effects on team performance. Harvard Business School agrees. So, what are some of the best ways to team build that leave out the awkward, forced, sometimes-overly-personal nature of traditional exercises?

  1. Volunteering. Volunteering, giving back and helping your community are the types of activities that everyone feels proud to be involved in, and good about at the end. Because of that, it makes for an excellent group activity: you help your community and do something good, and also do some good for your team. There’s even research that suggests that volunteering regularly actually makes you feel like you have even more time available to you and helps you live longer. Good stuff!
  2. Sports or physical activities. Not everyone likes sports, but if you keep this activity to a sport that is non-contact like ice-skating, rowing, or bowling you give opportunities to both the competitive extroverts and calculating introverts to have fun and work together. Avoid picking a sport that is any one of the higher up’s personal favorite to avoid having it feel like a chore.
  3. Field trips. Field trips don’t have to be a huge event where everyone goes galavanting off to the aquarium or another country together. They can be something simple like your team taking a walk to a local coffee shop, park or museum together and be just as powerful.
  4. Professional development. A great example of a way to do this is to send your team to a conference or professional convention together. They develop useful skills that they can utilize professionally, and they get a chance to bond together as they travel, eat, and stay together over the course of the conference. This also goes for day-long workshops, if those are all that is in your budget right now.
  5. Shared meals. Everyone needs to eat. Meals bring people together — there’s a reason why it’s so important to eat meals as a family. Getting the team together and sharing a meal creates a sense of team that can’t be found anywhere else. Extra points if it’s a potluck and people bring things that are their favorites or important to them so you can talk about it while you enjoy.

Keeping employees happy and motivated

Building your team is only half the battle. Once you’ve got them, you’ve got to actively work to keep them there — amazing people are hard to find, and if you don’t try to keep them on your team, they’re likely to get poached by other teams, or even your competitors. So, what are some great ways to keep your employees happy and motivated? Let us help.

Use theory to guide you

While theory can definitely be boring and dry, it can also be a useful framework to help guide your decision-making. After all, if someone else has already walked down the same path that you are walking, why not try to follow a bit of their guidance? There is one theory in particular that can be directly applied to keeping employees happy and motivated, and it’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In the office, just as in an individual’s personal life, all of these needs can be met. For basic needs to be met, the office can provide snacks and water and a safe, comfortable place to work. Moving on to psychological needs, slightly further up the pyramid: good relationships with your work colleagues and being recognized for work that you’ve done help to meet this need and move you further along to the tip of the pyramid towards self-actualization.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid

While self-actualization cannot be met by work alone, work is often part of it. Having a purpose and vision for your career is part of a balanced life. Within this theory, as a manager or the company where an employee works, you can get them all the way up to the top of their needs pyramid. Should you do that, they’ll be happy and motivated to stay, as they’ll feel actualized in their self and environment.

Give them the right tools

Imagine a carpenter, but instead of a saw, he had been given a hose. He wouldn’t be effective at his job, he wouldn’t be able to make anything, and eventually, he would get very discouraged and probably quit. The same goes for any of your employees who are not given the right tools. If they ask for something that they think would make their jobs easier or allow it to be easier for them to do what they need to do for the customers, you should seriously consider providing it for them.

If you’re perpetually arguing that you don’t have the budget for the tools, or making your team use lengthy workarounds to get done what they need to, they’ll eventually grow frustrated and unhappy with your company. Maybe even to the point where they would part ways!

Appreciate, encourage, and offer rewards

Forbes says that 81% of employees are motivated by recognition and rewards, and feel more appreciated when they receive them. Outside of incentivizing work and giving physical rewards, though, you can foster employee happiness and motivation just by recognizing the work that they do. Verbal or written recognition of a single employee or the whole team can go a long way when it comes to making them feel noticed and cared for. So, take the time to acknowledge the good work that your team or a specific employee is doing, whether just by telling them individually or by letting the whole company know. They’ll appreciate it, and it will help maintain team cohesion in the long run.

Pay attention to staffing

With support, specifically, it’s incredibly important to plan out staffing far ahead of time. You can gather pretty significant amounts of data just by pulling the information from your inbox. You can find out, for example, when your busy season is, how many tickets each of your employees can handle, and how much your volume is growing. From there, you’re able to calculate how many people you will need to scale to for the amount of growth for each busy period.

It sounds tedious, but making sure that your team is well-staffed and that they all feel comfortable doing things like taking time out of the queue or taking a vacation is important. Without the ability to have some of that freedom, they’ll stop being motivated to do good work for your company. Why care, after all, about something that you don’t feel cares about you?

Set clear goals

Goals are great! They align everyone towards a common goal and make it so that people understand where they are in the timeline towards accomplishing it. Or at least they do that if the goal is clear and straight-forward. Whenever setting goals for your team, try to keep them as clear-cut and metrics-based as you can. Instead of setting a goal like “Slay the queue!” for example, you could set the goal of “Increase output of support agents by 20% over the next quarter.” Both of those goals are saying the same thing, but one is measurable and the other is not. Shoot for measurable, attainable goals every time, and you’ll have a hyper-motivated team.

Offer opportunities for development

One of the biggest problems in support is that there are no perceived opportunities for growth. Many support agents don’t recognize what their path for growth looks like or if they do, they don’t have the time to do the work they need to get there. So, the problem is two-fold:

First, give your employees a clear path for growth. Make it clear to them what they have to do and how they have to do it if they want to move forward in their career — and not just as a people manager. Second, give your employee the time, during the work day, to do some of the work that they need to move forward in a timely way. Many companies set a goal like 10-20% of the employee’s normal time is allowed to be spent doing work on projects or other things that help to elevate them in their career.

9.

How to prevent burnout

T he flipside of motivation and happiness is burnout, and it’s all too common in support. In fact, a recent study shows that 20-50% of all employee turnover is due to burnout. Once you get to burnout, it’s pretty difficult to turn the ship around, so here are a few ways that you can prevent it and avoid the issue altogether.

Clarity

Similar to the above, giving a person clarity into their role, their placement within the team, and the expectations of the team as a whole can give them a really good view into what they can expect and how they should frame their time. Without any clarity, it’s hard to know what the goal is, and without a goal, it’s easier to work until you are unable to do so anymore. Help your employees create a balanced load for themselves by guiding them towards what the expected and encouraged output is for the role so that they have a measuring stick to put their performance against. Racing against nothing, after all, is sure to get exhausting.

Availability

Make yourself available to people if they want to talk. Nobody likes meetings, but if one of your employees comes to you and asks to talk about something, you should let them in and see what they want to talk about, even if you are supremely busy, Using some of your emotional energy to help out a person on your team who might be having trouble is incredibly worth it if they end up staying with your company because you used that extra 5 minutes of your time that you were a little reticent to.

Insights

If an employee doesn’t have any insight or coaching into how they are doing, or how the company is doing, they’re likely not going to feel as invested as they could. Make sure you have a feedback structure in place with your employee to let them know how they are doing regularly, not just quarterly or annually with the rest of your company like you might be tempted to.

Similarly, give them the opportunity to share their thoughts on what the company could be doing better. People want to feel like they are a part of something and have a say in what is happening, so let them have it. It takes little effort to sit and listen to your employees, and they likely have a lot of really great insights into how things could shift to be better. Quarterly town halls or all-hands meetings can boost motivation through showing progress and answering any concerns employees have.

Feedback from Customer Champions is extremely important for Chatra, since they are the ones who use our own live chat software the most. During company calls, each member of the support team can share their feedback, the whole team discusses it and decides whether the required changes or implementations can be made. This helps us keep the Chatra product customer-focused as we grow. Give it a try and see for yourself!

Sign up for free

Candid one-on-ones

For customer service agents, one-on-ones are super important to professional development and releasing some emotional burdens. Come to your team’s one-on-ones ready to be honest and straightforward, and answer whatever questions or thoughts your employee has with candor. This goes hand-in-hand with the point above: have a structure that you stick to so that people are ready and know what you’re going to ask, but then give your employee the opportunity to talk while you truly listen.

Also feel free to be candid and share your own thoughts, both about the employee’s performance and the company as a whole. Sometimes seeing someone in a managerial position behaving a certain way can give others the encouragement they need to also behave in that way.

Encourage them to take time off

Vacation is important and, especially with the rise of unlimited vacation, people are becoming more and more scared of “taking too much.” Ernst and Young did a study that found that for every 10 additional hours of vacation time their employees took, their performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8 percent. So, encourage your employees to take the time they need to refresh, and then watch as they turn into powerhouses upon return.

10.

Empowering your employees

T he most important aspect of maintaining an amazing customer support or service team is that your team feels most empowered to do the one thing that really matters for their career: helping the customer. But, it can be difficult for them to help the customer if there is a ton of process and policy in place blocking them from doing what they think is right. Working in a job with little say about what you do and how you do it doesn’t bring joy or happiness, and certainly won’t keep someone coming back to their job day-in-and-day-out. Try to focus on ways that you can give your employees autonomy, even if just in small ways, over what they do.

A great place to start is to examine where you are setting harsh rules that could be guidelines instead. These are usually the easiest areas for surprise and delight in a customer’s experience with your company along with being one of the best places to offer your employee some flex. It’s a win-win. An example that everyone can probably relate to is: how do you handle refunds? If a product is defective, or the person had an issue with shipping or purchase, the policy should be obvious: issue a refund. But what if the product wasn’t as someone expected, or they got it and no longer want it anymore? That makes it a little bit trickier.

In those cases, offer guidelines for how a person might handle the situation, but leave it up to the best judgment of the support agent handling the ticket. This empowers them in letting them know they’re allowed to make choices, and it gives them the opportunity to reap the benefits of delighting the customer with something they might not have expected.

11.

Tools and resources

T here are so many amazing tools and resources out there for customer support and service that we wanted to take a moment to list a few to get you started.

Customer Support Management

  • Chatra. Our very own customer service tool that allows you to talk with your website visitors in real time, or in messenger mode to answer questions and alleviate concerns more easily. We are currently expanding to offer full help desk features, with all the benefits of a messaging app — stay tuned!
  • Respond. Buffer’s social media support tool. Their tagging tracks things the same way that most helpdesks do and makes it easy to track trends in customer troubles.
  • StatusPage. A super-easy way to communicate swiftly with customers about status issues and events.
  • CloudApp. A tool that automatically uploads and creates a link for screenshots and screencasts.
  • Wistia. Video hosting with analytics! This is great for support documentation because you can see where people went back when they got confused.

Company Communication & Project Management

  • Trello. Trello it great for reporting and tracking bugs, feedback from customers, and offers a sleek interface for project management as well.
  • Slack. Great for asynchronous and cross-team communication, especially when you’re remote.
  • Dropbox and Dropbox Paper. This can keep all your documents together, and track meeting notes/minutes and or collaborate on specs for new features.
  • Google Hangouts. Great for weekly team meetings and one-on-ones, if remote.
  • Zoom. A more structured video chat tool that is excellent for webinars.
  • Basecamp. A good tool to use for daily updates including bugs, new support documents, and general news from the support team.

Community groups & resources for customer support

  • Support Driven. If you’re not prepared to start your own “support for support group,” you might consider joining this organization, which hosts a semi-annual conference, blog, newsletter, job board, and Slack chat with channels dedicated to local meetups, relevant reading material, and support in general. It’s an incredible resource for anyone wanting to start or further a career in support.
  • Support Ops. This great crew hosted a weekly podcast, published a newsletter, and offers a couple free support guides on their site. (Bonus: their “following” page on Twitter is a who’s who of support pros.) While they no longer record, their historical episodes are still useful!
  • We Support. An online community for community managers and support teams. You can sign up for their weekly newsletter here and follow the people they’re following on Twitter.

Customer support conferences & meetups

  • Elevate Summit. Formerly UserConf, this was the first conference geared exclusively toward modern customer support professionals.
  • SupConf. The semi-annual customer support conference put on by the Support Driven community.

Customer support-related reads

Customer support job sites

  • Support Driven Jobs. Is exclusive to jobs in customer support, both remote and co-located. It’s $150 to post a job for 30 days or $250 to post it for 45 days, plus a special highlight on the page. Join the email list to have new job postings sent to you.
  • We Work Remotely. Is a comprehensive remote-jobs-only site, created by the folks at Basecamp/writers of Remote, and it has a section dedicated to customer support. It’s $200 to post a job for 30 days.
  • Remote.co. Also has a job board section for customer service-related work. It’s $179 for 30 days with a discount for multiple job posts (helpful if your remote company is hiring in other departments). Job seekers can sign up to have new job posts emailed to them.
  • Remote OK. Lists customer support work among its non-technical job listings. It also lets searchers filter for the highest-paying jobs. Posts cost $200 a pop and are syndicated to other sites, so posting here may have you sifting through hundreds of applicants.
  • Remotive. A remote jobs community, hosts (you guessed it) a remote job site with a section dedicated to support.
  • Working Nomads. Also curates a remote jobs list with a section dedicated to customer success.
  • Hire Tech Ladies. Is a members-only service connecting women and non-binary folks in tech to companies who want to hire them. It’s free to post a job, pending approval and a direct-line email address to the hiring manager.
12.

Conclusion

T here are so many pieces that go into place when managing and building a customer service or support team. While it can feel overwhelming at first, the feeling that you get when you are able to look at the team you’ve built and see all the customers that they have helped is unparalleled. Remember to pay attention and listen to your team, go with your gut, align with the company around you, and ask for help when you need it. You’re going to be great.