A company lives and dies by how it treats its customers. You might have the best product in the world, but when things don’t work, or someone gets confused and needs an answer, if you can’t help them quickly and efficiently, they’ll move on. It’s just that simple.
As a support team, we spend most of our day dealing with inbound communication—questions from prospective and current customers who need answers. Now.
From an outsider’s perspective we need to always be on. But when it comes to internal communication, do we need to be equally ‘on’?
Growing up our support
Our support team has been through some major changes in the last year.
We’ve grown from two teammates to five, and we’re looking for more.
We’ve changed our client management process more than a couple times. Our team has moved from an purely email-based system to real-time chat exclusively.
And while we’ve been going through these changes, incoming project requests have doubled in quantity (now over 1,000 requests a month).
That meant a lot of chatter. Questions, comments, concerns—we needed to be on point with so many different customers at so many different times that it felt overwhelming. And unfortunately, we weren’t doing ourselves any favours internally.
Because we work with so many different clients and we each have different areas of expertise, there was a lot to discuss amongst ourselves. Processes were (and still are) changing and evolving constantly, and whenever something changed, there inevitably and understandably would be someone popping in with a question.
And because of the way our internal communication was set up, it didn’t matter what time of the day it was or where you were, that conversation happened when it happened.
But keeping up with that sort of relentless pressure from both sides is impossible. And when we finally took a step back, we realized we were facing three big issues:
- We’re being constantly distracted: With the Happiness team there’s definitely a ton of incoming stuff and we all deal with it in our own way. However, without clear processes set up for communicating, we were just adding to the workload for our teammates.
- We don’t have enough resources to deal with things this way: We’re still a small team and can fill the day with the tasks we have. When there’s even more put on the plate, it becomes a huge mess.
- Decisions were being made, but not tracked: While chat was great to come to a fast, easy conclusion, it wasn’t great for deciding clear action-items and making sure the entire team was informed of these changes.
So here’s 5 pretty big lessons we’ve learned about running your support team from the inside, so that you look like a well-oiled machine from the outside:
1. More channels, less chatter
Adding Slack channels and Trello boards might seem like it will add chatter, but by creating specific places for specific questions (based on things like urgency, who needs to know, etc…) we’ve actually been able to reduce the amount of communication that needs to happen.
Here’s an example:
When we first switched to Slack, we created the Happiness channel where all things Happiness (i.e. support) related would take place. But because this was a single channel, the requests moved from ‘@Marlee, can we chat about X project when you have a minute’, to ‘@channel I NEED HELP WITH X!’. Things quickly got lost.
So we deleted that channel and replaced it with multiple, focused channels and Trello boards. Here’s the breakdown of what type of communication goes where:
- Is it urgent? DM individual(s) or @channel us in #support-team
- Ex: something is broken, urgent client request
- Will there be a decision? post the topic in our ‘to-be-discussed’ Slack rooms
- Ex: process suggestions, client feedback
- Is an action required? straight into Trello
- Ex: finding a developer, need help with a client
- Just wanna chat or share a dog gif? #support-team
All channels are muted so they’re not taking attention away from the customer at hand, and for anything specific to one teammate we use a hard DM-only rule.
2. Schedule daily meetings instead of all day distractions
While these channels were good for getting rid of team-wide distractions, we still need a way to go over issues, processes, and new features that are affecting the whole team. Which is why we’ve scheduled a quick, daily meeting to go over anything new.
At any point, anyone on the support team can add topics to the ‘happiness-daily’ channel, which we’ll go over at a time that works for us.
These calls usually last for 15 minutes, replacing the hours we’d spend every day on Slack explaining and debating how we work.
Previously, when we’d talk about new processes or tasks in Slack, it was alongside all of our other work and no matter how much of a great discussion we had, it would quickly get buried with work and one-off questions.
Now, after each call, a separate Trello card is made with notes for anyone who missed the call and clear next steps tagged to who is responsible.
This way nothing gets missed or lost in a Slack channel and we all know where to look if we’re forgetting about a task.
3. Be accountable of tasks, not time
One issue so many of us were facing with the always on aspect of our communication was feeling guilty for being away.
We used to always update everyone about where we were at all times of the day. It was as if we thought we had to give an excuse about where we were and you’d feel bad if you just needed some time to yourself to step out and go for a walk or run some errands. Our chat was full of:
“Just running to the bank, then into the office. See ya soon ”
“Going to grab lunch – back in ~30”
There was this pressure to justify your time during the day which definitely goes against the company culture at Crew.
So we banned it. No more updates.
We don’t (and shouldn’t) care whether you’re getting your hair cut or walking to the grocery store. As long as the work gets done, that’s all that matters. And constantly sending updates became just another distraction in an already hectic day.
4. Make catching up less cringe-worthy
One benefit we hadn’t thought of that’s come about from getting rid of the amount of internal communication is that when you do take time off, there’s less of a feeling of ‘missing out’ when you come back.
We all know how it feels to take some nice relaxing time off only to come back to…
Stress. Anxiety. Pressure. All of the good your time off gave you is out the window.
So instead, we now know that all support questions, follow ups, and general messages will be in specific places.
Notes on a project are in our custom backend.
Direct questions are in Slack DMs.
Team ideas, questions, and thoughts are all in the latest Trello card.
If I take off a day and come back to Slack, I don’t ‘catch up’ anymore. I know that the conversations are going to be in the right place if I need to know instead of scrolling through Slack for 45min reading them.
5. The more trust, the less talk
In the end, what this all comes down to is trust. Trust in your team as well as trust in the process you’ve set up.
Right now we’re in a pretty good place with keeping our internal communication to a minimum and knowing where a question should go. Of course we fall off sometimes, and launch days are usually a ‘screw it, @channel I need to know this NOW!’ and that’s fine.
We know that if it’s urgent, you’ll make it urgent.
A good support team starts with communication. And once you nail your internal communication, the external will come just as easily.
Since we’ve taken the time to not always be on, we’ve been less stressed, more productive, and generally better at moving forward and dealing with all the amazing new changes from the product team (real-time chat!).
By taking those few extra people coming at you with questions, you might just lighten the load enough to find a balance.
Lead image by William Iven on Unsplash