Customer support teams deserve empathy!

I’ve long been an advocate for empathy-building in companies by promoting and communicating user voice as much as possible. It’s also inherent to my role to drive a customer-centric product. Whilst reading a recommended article (thanks, Osama Hanif!) I came across an interesting initiative from former ClassPass and now Skyscanner CMO Joanna Lord.

She explained how she delivered a one-off ‘slay day’ event, where:

“the entire company supported CX and jumped in to work on help tickets, and get them to inbox zero…Engineers, product managers, and marketing all came out of that day obsessed with solving problems for the customer”.

Kahoot! is no stranger to encouraging company-wide customer support. In the very early days, all new hires spent time answering support tickets, and the founders were also committed to regularly hopping onto our helpdesk software. Fast forward to now - with nearly a hundred employees - no longer a handful! - how could I take this activity idea and execute it across the company? Here’s how I did it.

Gather a small and dedicated task force to help

I recruited colleagues from marketing, customer support and HR to help manage logistics promote the event internally. My biggest challenge was making the activity something that wasn’t just for marketing, sales and support folks. Crucially, we decided to overcome this by making the activity opt-out, not opt-in. I was pleasantly surprised to find there was little drop-out, and we ended up with a 70% participation rate in the whole company overall.

We also realized that practically, we wouldn’t be able to have employees answer support tickets in real-time. Therefore, we…

  • Grouped staff into small groups of 3-4 people, with each group taking an hour out of their day for the activity
  • Pulled a list of the top 20 trending support issues
  • Added our assumption for why the user contacted us about the specific issue
  • Asked staff to draft responses for as many tickets as they could in the time allocated
  • Also asked staff to brainstorm improvements for the issues at hand

Enlisting advocates in other teams to help champion this activity was invaluable!

Structure it to be inclusive

It’s hard to arrange a fair and inclusive all-company activity when your teams are distributed! If you’re curious about how companies can support globally distributed teams, check out my other article. We organized the activity so that each employee took only one hour out of their day, and timed the activity so every couple of teams switched out every hour, so it was a bit like a relay race.

This meant employees in the US could join a team in Europe in a fair time - it would be morning for the US folks, and early evening for those in Europe. To lessen drop-out, we added the incentive of prizes!

  • Prize for the team who came up with the best support ticket responses overall
  • Prize for the team who came up with the most creative solution to improve a common pain-point or challenge in the product overall

Use prizes to get internal buy-in!

Cross-functional teams are a huge motivator

Positive feedback about the activity was mostly based around employees getting to collaborate and work with those they didn’t normally.

As I outlined in a previous article about company-wide hackathons, many employees value the experience of working with different teams and understanding the different opinions and skills that are brought to the table.

It also brought empathy to the support team, and helped newer employees get to know the product better!

Focus on product improvement and innovation, rather than the writing details

In the briefing document for the teams partaking in the exercise, I included what I thought to be a concise set of tone of voice guidelines, to help teams understand how to structure and write their answers to support tickets. However, I soon discovered all teams struggled to get through this and answer a sufficient amount of tickets, as well as brainstorm improvements in the time allocated.

As someone who produces and consumes content nearly all day, I took this completely for granted! One team said they spent nearly 30 minutes just getting through the tone of voice content and understanding how best to frame a response. However, by the end of the day, we had 4-5 excellent suggestions for improvement.

Therefore, as an immediate improvement - if we were to do the activity again - would be to reframe it as a product-focused exercise. Instead of drafting the answers to support tickets, we’d…

  • Focus on 3-4 current product or feature areas we want to improve
  • Spend the hour looking at current support tickets related to each issue
  • Collaborate on suggestions for improvements

TL;DR

A company-wide customer support day can bring many new benefits and insights, especially as a cross-functional, customer-centric activity. I’d recommend making it a product-driven exercise, and focus on the culture-building benefits it can bring.