Carolyn Breit is a Customer Support Manager at Sprout Social, a social media management tool that helps businesses find new customers and grow their social media presence. A BU, Sciences-Po and LSE grad, Carolyn loves hamburgers, social media and seeing the sights.
We managed to catch up with Carolyn and ask her about life at Sprout Social.
How big is your support team?
And where are you guys based?
Sprout Social is based in Chicago, but we have support team in the Philippines as well.
How many products do you guys support?
Just the one. Sprout Social.
What channels do you support?
Email, phone, live chat, social media.
How many queries do you guys get every day? A ballpark number will do.
100 chats, 100 emails, 20+ phone calls
The Sprout Social Office, Chicago, Illinois.
Tell us about how you ended up in customer support, Carolyn.
At my first job out of college, I worked customer support for an auto extended warranty financing company. It was pretty terrible.
But I discovered that I had a knack for customer support because I was able to remain calm and help people through some frustrating situations.
So when I started getting into social media and blogging about 5 years ago, I discovered Sprout Social during a networking dinner. One of the employees at the time introduced me to the company and they happened to have a support role opening up. I jumped at the opportunity and have never looked back!
You’ve been with Sprout Social since they started out, and you’ve seen the product take off. How has that helped you in delivering great support to your customers?
It has helped tremendously. Since I’ve known the product practically since Day 1, I have a huge advantage when I’m talking to our customers. Over the past four years, I’ve grown with the product and learned little by little as it evolved.
I can anticipate customer questions and understand where they’re running into trouble.
It also helps me identify any possible issues more quickly because I know how the app is supposed to work. That being said, I still learn something new about Sprout at least once a week – we just have so much cool stuff coming out.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Usually, I start in the office at about 8AM. I try to keep work at work as much as possible but sometimes, I check emails from home before I get to the office. This gives me an idea of what to expect when I arrive. When I get to the office, I fire up my computer and start going through any outstanding tickets that have come in overnight that our Philippines-based support staff might not have been able to respond to yet. Then, I go through any older tickets to see if our customers have responded and just generally try to keep our email workflow as clean as possible.
‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.’ Not at Sprout Social.
What are the challenges of having a remote team (We understand at least two of your support reps work from a different location from yours)?
The most challenging thing is just making sure that any changes we make to the app are communicated adequately and with enough advance notice to our team members in the Philippines. They adapt well to any adjustments made, but we want to make sure that if we have a new feature, we teach them all about it and help them anticipate any customer questions that may come in about that feature. My colleague, Tim, and I here in the office are able to talk informally and recognize trends.
We need to remember to extend that conversation to our team in the other side of the world and fill in our remote team members before it’s too late.
Keeping the team motivated (especially since of half of it is on the other side of the globe) must be hard. What’s your strategy?
I work with cool people that actually care about the work we’re doing and one another – it makes getting up in the morning a lot easier.
What queries do you find the most difficult to handle?
In any customer support role, I think that billing queries are always the toughest and most fraught with emotions.
I’ve been made to cry once by a customer.
She was very unhappy with our billing policy and waited for a very long time to contact us to address the situation. After trying to remain calm, she was making it very difficult for me to come to a compromise and eventually resorted to calling me a name. Eventually, I managed to end the call, take care of her account changes and provide a credit. Her colleague followed up with me via email to compliment my integrity. Although she made me feel very bad, it was nice to be recognized as still having provided good support. And situations like that always help us to make adjustments to our policies to ensure that customers have a positive experience with Sprout.
So sorry you had to go through something like that. The stress couldn’t have helped. How do you destress and take time off from support?
I have a lot of faith and trust in my colleagues, so when I need to take a day off or a vacation for an extended amount of time, I just unplug completely, and I expect my colleagues to do the same.
This job can be very stressful so I would never begrudge someone for needing a day or a week to themselves to recharge their batteries. In fact, I am planning an adventure to Asia in the spring. We’re training a new support employee to be fully operational by that time. And I know that with our community management team helping as well, we will be solid and I won’t have anything to worry about!
What do you look for in your support reps?
First, we really pay attention to work ethic. This job isn’t just 9-5 — people are always going to have questions and need help on the weekends or in the middle of the night.
It’s always best to have someone who doesn’t mind putting in that extra 5-10 minutes going above and beyond for our customers, even if that isn’t explicitly written in their job description.
Second, we look for someone who has a lot of patience and a good sense of humor. Not only are they going to be helping people who might not make it easy to help them, they are going to be working in a small team that really relies on each other. So, having a sense of humor can really help to make the work day go so much smoother.
Let’s talk numbers. What’s the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?
Here at Sprout, we take great pride in knowing that at least 90% of our incoming emails are responded to within the first hour.
Usually, it isn’t even that long of a wait; we write back to people within minutes. When I contact customer support at other companies, I want to know that someone cares and is working on my “issue” as soon as possible. We never want to keep people waiting, even if it is just an acknowledgement that we’re looking further into an issue. We even respond to people on weekends just so that they know they are heard and valued.
How do you measure customer happiness?
We have done away with the traditional post-email/chat survey because we didn’t feel that it gave us much insight into how we were doing as a support team.
The best vote of confidence from our customers is when we see their tweets or followup emails letting us know that they chose Sprout Social over a competitor because of the support we were able to provide.
We never let a tweet/email/chat/call go unanswered. People value that and know that, even if they need to complain about something, they’ll get a human response and we’ll work quickly to address their issue.
We’re going to throw some situations at you, Carolyn. Tell us how you guys would handle it.
a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you don’t think it’ll see the light of day anytime soon. How do you handle these requests?
I usually share, with customers, a general idea of our roadmap – we can even give them a general time frame if it has been approved by the leadership team. We try to keep information as general as possible though, because we’re in a quick-changing industry so priorities can shift.
b) What if it’s a feature that you’re not planning on building?
I’m always willing to pass along ideas to our team (we have a method of doing so). However, if someone is asking for something that I’m 99% sure we will not build, I generally try to suggest a workaround and let them know that the feature is not on our radar. After all, I’m just trying to manage expectations.
We love to scribble on glass as well.
c) A customer requests a feature that’s not on the plan he’s subscribed to. He’s willing to pay extra but he doesn’t want to upgrade. What do you do? Do you bump him up and offer him a discount?
For anything like this, I would usually have one of our account managers reach out. They’re more trained in how to accommodate those types of requests, talk about the value they’d receive with a more comprehensive plan and so on, so I tend to stay out of the conversation.
d) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake and a customer gets super annoyed. They’re trying to make amends but the customer only seems to get more and more frustrated. What do you do? Do you step in and handle things or do you let the rep try to contain the situation?
As the customer support manager, I do have faith in my employees and trust that they are giving out the most recent information possible.
However, as an auditing measure, I occasionally go through all the tickets that have been created by email overnight and check out how our team members responded on the whole. I just want to make sure that our wording is correct, that they are following the proper procedures, and that we’re doing all we can to troubleshoot a situation before we decide that something is a bug and needs to be escalated. If I find that there is any misinformation, I usually respond to the customer first, apologize, and offer a more correct explanation.
Then, I generally make note of the ticket and write directly to the employee to let them know how best to answer the customer’s question.
I try to teach at any and every opportunity so our customers can trust that whoever they’re hearing from, the answer will be correct.
The team volunteered at Alain Locke Charter School, in October, to give their playground a major refresh
What’s the protocol when a customer reports a security vulnerability during a weekend?
In this case or in something equally time-sensitive, I have the phone numbers of our senior-level engineers and can alert them no matter what time of day or night about an emergency. We let the customer know we’re working on addressing the issue immediately and will follow up when we’ve resolved the situation.
What was the biggest surprise you received as a support agent?
We have our photos posted to show that you’re talking to a real person but some of the inappropriate advances I’ve received as a result make me blush.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
This is very cliche but I love Zappos. I once found a pair of boots in a picture on their website and could not for the life of me find them on the site to order them. So I hopped on live chat with one of their support agents and she went above and beyond to help me find them.
While she was waiting for answers from her web team, we had a pleasant little chat that made me feel like I was talking to a friend.
I’ve tried to remember that conversation and apply that personable attitude to my chats and emails to make people feel like they’re our friends instead of just our customers.
What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?
I’ve always said that if there is a zombie apocalypse, I’d rather roll over than try to fight it. After watching The Walking Dead, living out on a farm or in an abandoned prison for survival just doesn’t seem like that much fun. If I can’t have HBO and brownies, then what’s the point in living? Just make me an undead and put me out of my misery.
We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support representative and we pick their brains. We find out what a typical day is like for these support rockstars, their personal work-philosophy, support process and what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. Know a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here? Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.