This is a guest post from Tia Fomenoff. Tia is the Director of Product Marketing at @thinkific and was previously a customer success & social media specialist at Buffer & Unbounce 😊 Happy to have her on the ilos blog!
Every day we’re bombarded with thousands of bits of information from coworkers, friends, family, advertisers and entertainers (um… ever been down a YouTube spiral?) Distractions can pop up out of nowhere, making it tough to keep response times down and customers happy. When you’re busy putting out fires left and right, keeping internal communication efficient can be a challenge!
What does it take to become a well-oiled machine?
If you work at a growing SaaS company, you know that your customers expect only the fastest, most thoughtful and delightful service — and that requires solid teamwork, especially from your friends in Support (or Happiness, or whatever you may call it where you work!)
And while growth is a wonderful thing, as you add more and more team members, you might start to find it more challenging to simply turn to your desk mate for advice. Modern challenges like distributed teams, pressing deadlines and the threat of server downtime can all impact how we do our jobs.
So, whether it’s preparing for that new product launch or dealing with widespread bugs, how can you receive and deliver messages across the company with speed and clarity?
I spoke with some pros in the space to find out what seems to be working well for their teams, and what common mistakes to avoid. No matter what approach each of these companies has to improving internal communication, I found there were some common themes when I asked them to share the keys to their success. Here’s some of the super thoughtful advice I got:
Use the right tools — and use them consistently
When I asked about some favorite tools used to facilitate communication, a few constants popped up, and some were unique to one team!
Slack was by far the most-mentioned, being used by Unbounce, Wistia, Kayako, and Buffer:
“With support teams in both Montreal and Vancouver, Slack is absolutely crucial for our team. Slack allows us to quickly communicate about possible bugs, and it’s also a fantastic tool for collaboration. Some of our best support interactions have been crowd-sourced :)”
— Laura Faunt, Trainer and Team Lead at Unbounce
Skype and in-person meetings are favorites for small-scale decision-making (used by Zendesk), while “larger” conversations happen in a variety of channels like Flowdock, Gmail, Discourse, and Dropbox Paper. Also mentioned: GitHub for reporting bugs and creating knowledge bases, and Trello for managing the status of projects and fleshing out ideas.
“In the last couple of months, we’ve increased our use of GitHub to document our internal team processes & tips and on-boarding materials. We’re able to work collaboratively, add, and edit documents to our team GitHub repo. As new teammates have joined on, we’ve been able to get them up to speed pretty easily with how to navigate GitHub, and add documents of their own.”
— Sarah-Mei Estrada, Customer Champion at Wistia
Clearly define roles & responsibilities
Having the right tools is crucial, but even top-of-the-line products can’t help much if you don’t have a process in place. Especially if you have multiple teams working on issues, it’s essential to set up some common workflows so nothing gets lost in the shuffle during critical times. It’s great when everyone wants to help — but keeping a sense of organization should be top of mind.
One situation to especially consider is if you have both Support and Success teams (the former dealing more reactively, the latter more proactively). In that case, Lincoln Murphy of Sixteen Ventures has some excellent advice:
“[There’s this] idea that Customer Success is there to ensure the customer is on their way to achieving their Desired Outcome; that is difficult to do if the entire conversation is about outstanding tickets or other support issues. Obviously if those support tickets are tied to elements critical to the mission of the customer then you can’t move them forward without fixing them; but other non-mission critical tickets shouldn’t be the topic of most CSM-customer interactions. Telling the customer to go directly to Support [for certain issues] isn’t deflecting them or offloading — it’s ensuring the customer gets the help they need when they need it and allows the CSM to do what they do best: move the customer toward that Desired Outcome.”
To eliminate any confusion about who should handle what ahead of time, sit down with your team leads and establish steps that should be taken in certain situations, like when a major bug arises or when billing questions come through the inbox. Don’t forget to consider different levels of urgency, too!
“It’s important that every team works well together and assists each other to have a smooth experience and information flow of the customers. However, in this case of proactive overlaps, it’s important to have very clear definitions of who’s in the end responsible for what. Otherwise it can quickly end up in a mess.”
— Rasmus Burkal, Co-founder of Pipetop
Open your doors to other departments
Following that line of thinking, don’t work in a vacuum! Rasmus stresses it’s important to keep team members from other areas in the loop on any new marketing and product activities. He even goes one step further to suggest:
“While your team is still small, make sure Support, Marketing, and Product are sitting physically close to each other to stimulate the organic communication between these teams and individuals.”
Support can play an integral role in ensuring new initiatives are rolled out smoothly both internally and to the customers. Laura explains:
“As the Trainer and Team Lead on the Unbounce Support team, communication is crucial when educating my team about feature releases and app improvements. When communicating effectively, I try to account for different learning styles. Depending on the complexity of the feature, I might offer an interactive workshop, write an internal support article, and communicate feature updates and reminders verbally in our daily team stand ups. Effective communication means that we’re able to support our customers quickly, accurately, and with confidence.”
Over communicate, but don’t overcomplicate
When you’re working with teams that may not be sharing the same physical office space, an extra layer of complexity is added to the equation. In these cases especially, effort needs to be made in keeping conversations as clear and transparent as possible across various channels.
“We were founded in India, and that’s where most of our team lives, while I live in London, and a few team members are remote in the USA. This makes communication really difficult because we’re all over timezones and a lot of discussion happens in person at our Jalandhar office. We focus on over communicating. It’s better to filter out things that aren’t important, than to potentially miss something that dramatically impacts a customer’s experience.”
— Sarah Chambers, Director of Support at Kayako
Not only does keeping these lines of communication strong benefit customers, it can also affect team morale. When you’re working with a tight-knit crew, everything can feel better if you’re open with each other:
“Building a strong team of advocates requires trust and a strong bond between everyone. In order to help foster that trust, being transparent and clear when communicating a message to your team or another department is essential. Nothing can wear away at that trust as quickly as a half-told message that leaves out key information, purpose or background.”
— Collin Murray, Customer Advocate at Zendesk
Keep the conversation going
Points of friction like timezones, an office spread out over multiple floors or building, and even overcrowded schedules can make it difficult to keep in sync. Never assume that just because you’ve sent out a memo or announcement that everyone is immediately on the same page. Follow up when important pieces of information are involved — whether that means communicating through multiple channels, keeping the door open for questions or assigning “homework” to make sure all of your team members are in sync. This approach also does wonders for keeping projects on time and in scope — which is especially crucial when launching to the public!
“With setting up ‘all the things’ on a tight schedule for our Respond acquisition and support release announcement recently, it was amazing to have each piece of content and all of our deadlines documented in Paper, while also using Trello to make sure everything was completed in time.”
— Åsa Nyström, Director of Customer Success, Buffer
Learn from your mistakes and iterate
No one is perfect, and the top teams in the business are quick to admit this. Some of the best processes come out of previous breakdowns, where learnings were uncovered and habits improved upon. When you run into problems on the communication front, ask why this may have happened and work on small changes little by little until you find something that works.
“We’re still finding the right method for certain types of communication between regions — it can be tricky with the timezone differences! We have counterparts in EMEA and APAC that we’re aligned with but are working towards a smoother two-way path of updates and announcements. One short example: we started creating a training deck for a certain process and halfway through completion, learned another region already had a fantastic presentation they’d been using. The major lesson we’ve learned here is to just keep that line open and check in often!”
— Erin Hampe, Team Lead | US East — Tier 1 at Zendesk
Putting it all together
Whether you’re servicing everyday individual users or giant enterprises, it’s important to work together with the people you rely on to come up with communications processes and tools that feel best — there is no “one size fits all” solution! The SaaS industry is constantly changing and it can feel tough to keep up. Hopefully I’ve been able to provide you with some inspiration on how you can step back from your day-to-day work and make adaptations of your own to start improving for your team, and your customers.
Changing the way your team communicates comes full circle to have an impact your customer’s experience (whether good or bad), and ultimately, how they talk about you to others. Whether you’re on the front lines of support or working closely with a number of areas in a SaaS company, I’d love to hear any tips you might have for other folks in the industry!