Webstock Workshop notes

On February the 17th we spent a day together discussing customer service and how to help build a successful customer service culture inside a company.

These are the associated notes and resources from the day for your reference.

Session 1 — What is success in customer service

We started the day by meeting each other and talking a little about the structure of the day. You can read more about my history in customer service here:


The day is split into 4 sessions:

  1. What is success?
  2. Building a customer service team
  3. Creating a culture of service
  4. Scaling that service culture through your company

We discussed expectations for the day, and wrote down some of what we hoped to get out of the workshop.

What is success

The attitude that your company has towards customer service can influence how success is defined for the customer service team. Do your front end agents (or you, if you are one) have a clear idea of what is considered success for their roles?

Is it about:

  • Solving technical problems as quickly as possible
  • Making customers happy?
  • Getting back to everyone within X minutes or hours or days?
  • Being known for great service?

Do you have a clear idea of what success looks like? How does that fit into your overall businesses plan? Are there conflicts between individual success and the companies success?

EXERCISE: We spent a few minutes in groups talking about success for individuals and success for customer service teams.

Measuring success

Taking your definition of success, what can you measure? Are there elements of success that it isn't so easy to measure? Or that you don't measure?

Challenges to success

What stops you or your customer service team from achieving success, or from achieving more? I surveyed a bunch of customer service agents and team leads and their top reasons were:

  • A lack of resources, most commonly time to do great work, developers to build tools and fix problems, or money to invest in the team / tools / product
  • A lack of authority: The agents know how to provide better service but are restricted by policies or tools from doing their best work
  • Poor communication: Not knowing enough about the customers or about the product roadmap to make good decisions.
  • Lack of interest from the company: There's not enough support from the broader company to do the things that need doing to make customer service better.

Morning tea break

Forrester's Customer Success Primer—http://access.gainsight.com/csm-forrester-ty/

Session 2—Building a team

After a short break we began by talking about our respective team sizes, and how they had grown over time. I joined Campaign Monitor when the whole company was only 4 people, but now there are 27 customer service people reporting to me across several teams.

Growing a team presents a number of tricky decisions

  • When do you hire?
  • Where do you hire them (remote? In-office? Overnight or overseas?)
  • How do you find the right people?
  • How do you interview them effectively?
  • How much should you pay them?

We spent some time discussing when to make a hire:

  • Number of tickets?
  • Coverage of times?
  • Stress levels?
  • Quality metrics?
  • predicting customer growth, tickets per customer

Finding the right people

The right person for a company can change dramatically over time. When Campaign Monitor was small and our product was fairly new we needed quite technical people with web design backgrounds who were similar to our customers, and similar to me.

As we grew larger, hiring people like me became a limiting factor, we needed skills I did not have, other backgrounds and interests.

The first time I tried to do that, I made life very difficult for myself and for my new hires, because I knew I wanted to hire people from different backgrounds but I hadn't a very clear idea which parts of "like me" were necessary and which weren't.

So I hired people without , for example, technical troubleshooting skills. The problem was non of our existing onboarding and training taught those skills, because they'd always just been there in previous team members.

Before you can find the right people you need to define the right people.

We discussed hiring problems and talked about how we might reach the right people and hire more effectively.

Some useful hiring resources if you're looking for smart, capable web savvy support agents:

  • SupportOps job board http://jobs.supportops.co/
  • https://weworkremotely.com/
  • http://supportdriven.com/ (group chat)
  • http://userconf.co/ (for meeting support people)


How do you take a new support hire from day one to be a productive, confident member of the team? When the team is small and the products not too complex you can afford to shadow someone and let them learn as they go.

That system works surprisingly well for quite a while, but eventually becomes too time consuming and inefficient.

We discussed onboarding and training practices at our different companies, particularly on factors that might prevent people from getting up to speed.

At Campaign Monitor I've seen marked improvements in speed to productiveness after implementing some onboarding and training changes:

Our post on pre-start onboarding is at: https://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/4330/email-autoresponders-onboard-new-employees

I shared my experience of talking to my team in our all-company meeting, and having one brave person share:

"I thought I was going to be fired!"

New people, especially the kind of empathetic people drawn to support and service roles, can easily be overwhelmed. Support work can be somewhat isolating once it is just you, the ticket and the customer.

The fears my team expressed included:

  • I don't know if I'm doing a good job
  • I don't know if anyone would tell me if I did something wrong
  • I worry about asking too many "dumb" questions
  • I am not sure how to know if I got the right answer

This was eye opening for me; we had a very successful team with great customer ratings, but newer people were not always comfortable.

Improving productivity is important, but doing it in a way that also improves confidence and enjoyment is crucial to keeping a team together longer term.

I mentioned some of the tools and systems we now use:

  • CMU (our internal training courses)
  • Yoda (knowledgebase with internal private notes mixed into public help) https://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/4075/yoda-our-support-ally
  • Dunwello
  • Like a Version
  • Training budget
  • Meetup budget

At Campaign Monitor I have support agents who have been with me for 5 and 6 years.

These are all aimed at providing access to information without having to disrupt someone else, and at providing more opportunities for feedback.

Before lunch we talked about our different businesses and how to skill people up quickly in different situations.

Session 3—A culture of service


The second half of the day focused on how to go from a well functioning support team to a company wide culture of service.

We listened to this painful retention call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXFbkvEybls (it's only part of the call!) and the follow up http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/19/6028059/training-materials-show-how-comcast-pushes-customer-service-reps-to

We talked about how the quality of the agent's training and skill don't really matter when the company value the immediate sale over the customer service aspect. My team at Campaign Monitor, transplanted into Comcast, could not possibly succeed.

We don't need heroes in customer service, we need businesses which create the environment in which great customer service is the consistent, reliable result of normal practices. It's a Wizard of Oz style customer service, where there's a huge machine behind the scenes doing all the work to give the person at the front the time and space to be great.

What do we need: From my survey and from many discussions with customer service folk over the years, the most important elements are:

The core requirements boild down to authority and opportunity. Authority meaning that people are given scope to do the right thing without having to escalate. Escalation wastes time, makes the frontline person feel less important and undervalued and creates a disincentive.

Instead of creating policies, create guidelines http://trackydacks.com/cost-of-policies-in-customer-service/

Opportunity is giving them the best chance to make a difference - measuring on success and not just speed, providing tools to make smarter decisions, contextual data, roadmaps, and a way to send feedback to the company.

At Campaign Monitor, one of the ways our company shows it is willing to listen is by letting us be vocal about problems. Kill that question and our cringe list; wiki posts that are lists of irritations.

Raising the bar

Retaining valuable support

Integrating into the company

So how do you get the rest of your company to value customer service beyond lip service? We discussed some different ways of getting a support attitude into a company, and the challenges that presents.

A popular method is "Whole company support" http://www.helpscout.net/whole-company-support/ https://www.desk.com/success-center/webinar-improve-customer-experience-whole-company-support

It has substantial benefits: * Exposure to customer knowledge for non customer facing people * A sense of the workload and context of the support agents (more empathy for their role) * Ideas and suggestions that come from people who deeply understand the product and know what's quickly done

It's quite simple for small companies but harder for bigger teams. Some alternatives:

  • Hold a "support day" and get people to buddy up with support for the day
  • Kayak.com has a system that will Bcc: the entire company on five random customer responses each day. This is an interesting way to keep full-time support people on their toes and inform the company about what they are hearing from customers.
  • Have every new person sit down in support for a day or a week (or months, like Wordpress)
  • Have a member of the support team meet with different departments and talk through current support issues and examples of tickets.

    Serving the rest of the company internally is a great way to build up some profile too. At Campaign Monitor our customer service team also get involved in onboarding new team members, and training people on the product.

    That's a great opportunity to show how we treat customers. We also report monthly to the whole company and try to raise common issues.

    I also shared our live dashboard of support feedback that plays in both our Sydney and San Francisco offices, showing real time customer feedback via NiceReply.com stats.

Session 4

In the final session of the day we dug into the challenge of scaling support and scaling a support culture as the company grows. When you get past the point that the founder is jumping in on tickets and when most of the team members don't have direct customer exposure most of the time.

I shared my experience of having new starters in other departments get the big walk around, being introduced to everyone, and hearing how people from other areas describe the job we do.

"These guys answer technical questions" or "They help customers". Even at Campaign Monitor there's a lot of work customer service teams do that is invisible (pre-sales, sales, strategy, external integrations, invoicing, forums....)

We discussed: How is customer service perceived in your company? How would people describe the jobs of your customer service team?

Companies like to talk about their passion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz2-49q6DOI

You can't be passionate about everything, and not every company is passionate about support.

Uncommon Service has a great discussion of this that can help you clarify http://www.amazon.com/Uncommon-Service-Putting-Customers-Business/dp/1422133311

You can’t be good at everything. Striving for all-around excellence leads directly to mediocrity. Achieving service excellence requires underperforming on the things your customers value least, so you can over-deliver on the dimensions they value most. Decide what trade-offs you will make – where you will do things badly, even very badly, in the service of great – based on deep insight into who your customers are and what they need operationally. Then be unapologetic about it.

Someone has to pay for it. Great service must be funded, or you risk giving it away. Either find a palatable way to charge your customers for it, reduce costs while improving the experience, or get customers to do some of the work for you. Choosing among these strategies will depend on both industry dynamics and the specific relationship you have with your customers.

It’s not your employees’ fault. Too many organizations have designed service models for phantom employees, superstar employees they wish they had but actually don’t. Hiring those superstars – or getting your current employees to act more like them by “trying harder” – is not the solution. Instead, you must design a service model that sets up average employees to deliver excellence as a daily routine.

You must manage your customers.

Customers are major players in any service experience. They don’t just consume or purchase the service; they help create it, even if it’s just by showing up for an appointment on time. You need a strategy for managing them, just as you need a strategy for managing your employees. You and your customers must work together to deliver great service.

See more at: http://uncommonservice.com/about-uncommon-service-book/#sthash.zfyUBwxA.dpuf

The same book sees three distinct elements to a service culture:

Clarity If the company truly commits to great service, everybody in the company should know and be constantly immersed in that knowledge. At Campaign Monitor we all know our top 7 methods for company success, one of which is customer success.

Zappos ethos and culture book are a great example of putting a customer focus on everything - nobody is confused at Zappos about whether they should help a customer out.

Signaling To create a company wide customer culture, early interactions between new team members and the company should touch on customer focus - whether that's through time in support, through sharing of customer stories from support people, sitting in on customer sessions, watching customer interviews.

A twitter wall of love, or customer feedback being published internally; they all send a strong message that we care about our customers above all.

Consistency The third element is just walking the walk; putting into practice those customer friendly behaviours over time, and even when it is painful.


If you're in a high level position, you may be able to push through a lot of change, but not everyone is. How do you build influence in your company if you're starting from a less powerful position?

A helpful 3 part practice is outlined here: http://michaelhyatt.com/building-influence-that-matters.html

At Campaign Monitor we're growing rapidly and there are a lot of new people in higher tiers. I have to be quite intentional about making connections, especially with people who have the power to shape the way the company works.

We talked about identifying people inside the company who do have the power we'd need access to, and some ways to connect with them.

Lunches, passing on useful information, offering to help them get their work done...

Work on understanding the pressures and context of the people you need help from. If you are held back by lack of tools, figure out who would need to build those tools, and ask them how work is allocated.

Some other useful links on influence: http://thebuildnetwork.com/leadership/strategic-influence-keys/

Share stories about your successes with customers; they'll often have much more impact than any reporting you can do.

Turn it into money

One powerful way to get more attention is to figure out how to represent customer problems as costs to the company, and opportunities as incoming money.

If you can calculate:

  • We answer this question 10 times a week, and we resolve them in 30 minutes each, that's 5 hours of support time, $300, every week forever. Plus all the additional customers who run into this problem, but never bother reporting it.

Then you can take that figure and compare it to the cost to fix the underlying issue.


Presenting the impact of customer service in a digestible format can raise the profile of the work that is being done. Report on the most common issues, share stories of customers won and saved, highlight great feedback.

We discussed what reporting is done about customer service, who it is written for, and how to present it in more effective ways.

If your reporting is purely cost driven, there's little incentive other than driving costs down.

Wrap up

We ended the day with a recap of the core points, and a discussion of what is next. What could we take back to our different businesses and do differently.

We shared details and made plans for a follow up session.

Disney U: http://www.amazon.com/Disney-University-Develops-Customer-Centric-Employees/dp/0071808078/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2014/11/16/8-leadership-steps-that-can-transform-your-customer-experience-culture-and-your-day-to-day-customer-service - company stuff


http://www.helpscout.net/blog/long-day/ http://www.helpscout.net/blog/harsh-truths/ http://kotaku.com/we-do-apologize-life-at-sony-customer-service-during-t-1677612560/+tcberman

Passionate about... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz2-49q6DOI