I still remember my first week as Global Head of Operations for a Rocket Internet venture.
I just arrived straight from Syndey to Berlin, and it was my very first senior role in Operations.
I decided to sit a day doing Customer Support with the dedicated team and I thought — this is a mad world.
It could basically be summed up as answering to clients calls and emails with an extreme sense of urgency, as we were experimenting many bugs and issues with our product, and having to calm down people screaming in our ears.
Customer Support is a key team within any startup — they are the voice of your product. They will be the one having direct interactions with your clients, who will probably have to handle situations of extreme unhappiness, and they’re a key part of the clients experience, as they want to be able to talk to someone when they’re having issues.
Before my experience as Global Head of Operations, I already had a foot in Customer Support. As Expansion Manager for SpaceWays, I was setting up the business in new cities and once I had set up some first client acquisition channels, it was key to ensure clients can get all their questions answered through our Customer Support team.
I was myself using the Customer Support tools to get to know the clients and try to achieve some additional conversions. We had a chat on our website where we could communicate with anyone checking our webpages. On the evening, after I was done with my “day work”, I was going on this chat and checking what was happening in the cities where it was still day time — we were live in diverse countries in the world through different timelines.
Based in Paris, I was talking with people from Chicago who were asking me what was the maximum size of items we were eager to pickup and store for them. It was like a personal game and challenge for me — making them use our service straight out of the chat. I managed to close a couple of clients who were nicely surprised to get so much attention and personalised dedication straight from their very first interaction with SpaceWays.
We then decided to set up a “Sales” KPI for all our Customer Support agents — an incentive on them closing potential clients who were calling or writing through the chat to know more about our service.
I therefore realised that Customer Support agents could become Sales people. It is not the case everywhere and mostly apply to B2C products, while B2B Sales are more about longer processes that need structure and salespeople on it.
Customer Supports agents are your salespeople
This highlights the fact that Customer Support is part of the Client experience from the very beginning. They are the ones who will pick up some requests of interest for the product, and either re dispatch that within the team or handle it and try to get the clients on board.
It is in my view very important to foster a Sales mindset within your Customer Support teams in all occasions:
- They will likely often have to handle angry customers. It should be like a challenge for them to change their mind and turn them into happy clients, whatever the situation and initial reason of dissatisfaction. If a client was charged 10 times because of a bug with the payment system, he or she will likely be very upset. But it is up to you as a Customer Support agent to show them that a) the company is very sorry for what happened b) we will fix this asap, and here is a proof that this will be handled (for instance, you will send the client a written email notifying of a refund request that should be done within the next days). Gamification and incentives can help your Customer Support agents to always keep the focus on making anyone talking to them happier. The client might not come back and churn — but still consider the reaction of the startup as fair and not spread negative vibes through Social Media for instance
- Along with this Sales mindset comes almost an advisory role. The Customer Support agent should position him/herself as the client’s best friend and advise on the best option. We are an on-demand delivery service, our client is a business who needs a driver but none is available right away — we advise the client to wait 15 minute so that we can drag a driver from another London area to come to the pickup. We are a fitness booking platform and the client is unhappy her yoga class was canceled last minute — we apologise and advise to book a pilates class which is somewhat similar to yoga, nearby her place and at a time that suits her.
Their feedback need to be listened and follow up actions implemented
Through all these situations, Customer Support agents are gathering key client information for the rest of the team that need to be dispatched in an organised way to the right stakeholders (it’s always all about organisation in my articles, isn’t it? ;)):
- to the Sales team, any potential lead who reached out for information
- to the Account Management team, any client issue / request that has come to their ears
- to the Operations / tech teams, any operational or product issue or feedback
This is a LOT of information that needs to be wisely used. There is a lot of room for empowering the Customer Support team and give them room to do some work outside their “peak times” which is not only answering Customer immediate requests, but also handling the refund process, setting up some reporting for other teams, etc. This is essential both for the whole team of the startup as well as for the Customer Support team to show them how important their work is, if it is done the smart and right way. This is what our Head of Customer Support at Stuart Andrew Baylis has been working on since the beginning — making sure the different teams (Operations, Sales, etc) don’t work in silos but talk to the Customer Support agents and learn from them.
Promote efficiency and best practices within the team is key
The Customer Support team also needs to have the right tools to work as efficiently as possible: a proper CRM set up with automated messages and emails macros, as well as KPIs to track individual and team performance and being able to learn from the best. When I was Global Head of Operations for Somuchmore, we had a Customer Support KPIs board with notably number of tickets answered / person / week. We realised that one girl was particularly fast at this and was always in top position— I asked her to gather her best practices in a couple of bullet points and present to the team. She felt very honoured to be recognised and the productivity of the rest of the team increased thanks to her quick wins advice.
At Stuart, some Customer Support agents also have side projects — some are involved in the clients billing process, and I recently discussed with our Head of Support to involve some in Account Management related tasks to free up some of my time while giving them insights on another team.
In my view, anyone should start his or her startup journey sitting a day with the Customer Support team to understand what is going on there. It is a very challenging but essential position — it is up to the managers to make it fun and rewarding, and make sure that everyone is recognised and grow within the team and the startup.