Why does the whole company (still) do support?

06/07/2021

One of our main values is "Customer Love" – two words that are easy to scratch down in any company handbook. We want our customers to like us – who can argue with that? Actually acting upon it, actually proving internally and externally that you live by that value, is a lot harder.

Figuring out how to take those words and make them mean something takes meticulous planning and discussions spanning many months.

Or, as happened in our case, it takes sheer dumb luck.

Back in 2015, half a lifetime ago for our then fledgling business, we stumbled into it by introducing a little thing called "client day". Client day is one day every week during which each and every member of the Prezly team provides support to our clients. If you have a problem importing contacts on Monday, Camil, one of our key developers, will talk you through it; if you feel like changing the colour of your newsroom font on Wednesday, I'll personally help you out. You get the idea.

We didn't start it because of some epiphany that actually speaking with our clients would bring us closer to their priorities and inform how we build out the product they use. We did it because someone had to handle support and no single employee had the availability to take up the role full time.

It turned out to be one of the most important things a growing business could have done.

Two years into the decision, the value of client day became so apparent that I wrote a blog post about it, revealing all our deepest, darkest secrets.

It was working: we were getting to know our customers, improving the way we talked about our software by using their words instead of ours, fixing bugs before they piled up and caused a fire.

Then last week, one of our team members posted a message in our internal discussion board:

Even though I fully understand that the current approach is backed by our Customer Love company value, I believe that the only way to increase the quality of our support is to have dedicated experts for the job. The complexity of this job has increased, as well as how well we expect it to be done. It seems to me, Prezly might have overgrown the "everyone does support every week" approach.

Others soon pitched in with their points of view and so the main criticisms of client day were defined:

  • Less "techy" team members feel the pressure of becoming the middleman between a client in crisis and the developer that knows how to help them
  • More "techy" team members feel that they can provide more value spending their time actually fixing the bugs and improvements that clients report rather than answering process questions
  • It's difficult to equate the value of one type of support task to another, particularly when some (vital) client day tasks are virtually invisible (think answering incoming conversations vs fixing a bug). So how do we measure client day success?

You see, many things have changed since we first introduced the client day system, chief among them being that our product has evolved in complexity and our team has grown. And despite the increased number of people working to develop Prezly, today there is more to do than ever before.

It was time to reassess.

Every business needs to review its processes as it grows; it's the only route to progress. The same may be true of any organization and even human beings more generally, but as an entrepreneur, I chose to focus on business, so that's what I'll talk about here.

If you want to skip straight to what we eventually decided, scroll down to the last set of bullets. But I think it would be helpful first to understand what our client day process looks like.

Our client day process

  • Client day involves more than answering support tickets, although that's an important part of it. On your client day you're also expected to, depending on your skills, improve articles in our Help Center, document internal guides on how to do things like run SMTP delivery reports or update a client's invoice, file and fix bugs, log feature requests and speak with customers
  • We do have a group of dedicated support experts: our Customer Success team. Just as everyone else, they spend one day each week providing hands-on support, but they're also responsible for coaching the rest of the team on how to make their support better
  • We don't get a high volume of inbound tickets, around 10–20 inbound conversations per day
  • Client day is not a cost-saving measure. On the contrary, with literally everyone at the company spending 20% of their time on it, client day is an over-investment whatever way you slice it
  • We rock at support. When it comes to solving problems in a way that's efficient, friendly and above all human, we knock it out of the goddamn park. It's what our customers mention in almost every review, NPS comment and customer conversation. It may be easy to forget, but the majority of customers value great support more than any new feature you can build

So what's the verdict?

After considering the above points together with the 26 comments on our internal message board (a discursive essay racking up a staggering 2,175 words), we decided to keep client day. But we're also investing into making it better for everyone by...

  • Scheduling regular coaching sessions on how to deal with certain types of conversations
  • Creating more internal and external documentation (although we already have a ton!)
  • Encouraging people to focus on the tasks that are closest to their skills

Here's why.

  1. Doing support does not require you to be a trained expert. It boils down to two skills:
    1. being able to communicate, and
    2. knowing the product inside-out These are skills we require from everyone at Prezly and they will benefit everyone in the long-term
  2. Doing support/client-related work makes you better at your job the other four days of the week. You know customer pains, you are exposed to common use cases, etc
  3. Committing to providing awesome support is a major way to demonstrate "Customer Love"
  4. Putting a dedicated team in charge of support would make customers less visible in our company decisions, which in turn will lead to a drop in quality of our product
  5. It’s perfectly ok that new team members don’t feel completely comfortable speaking with customers right from the get-go – we know it's a lot of pressure. But we also believe that in helping and coaching people to learn how to do it will prime them to empathise with clients' points of view and develop Prezly in a way that works better

This won't be the last time we re-evaluate how we do client day, or whether we even continue to do it at all. Should the day come we decide to resign the idea to the waybackmachine of the business, we will need to find an effective alternative, because the people who actually use our product must factor into every decision – for us, and for any business that truly believes it provides a service.

The very fact that this conversation exists is testament to how engrained customer support is within our culture. It's too important to ever become an afterthought.

About Jailhouse

Personal blog of Jesse Wynants, Founder of Prezly.com