Scott Allison is the Director of Customer Support at Talkdesk, a software that enables companies to set up a call centre in just a matter of minutes. Working out of San Francisco and Lisbon, their 10-member strong support team handles more than 100 customer queries over phone and email everyday.
We managed to chat with him about life at Talkdesk and customer support.
How did you get started in customer support, Scott?
As a consumer, I had always been fascinated by how companies dealt with their customers. When I founded my first business almost 20 years ago, I wrote a chapter on how we would deal with customers. A subsequent business I founded called abica was built with customer service as the priority. That was a deliberate decision to do something different in a market where customers were used to receiving sub-par service.
Following this, I was approached by Talkdesk to join their team and I decided to take it up. My experience on the other side made me ideal to lead support here.
Does Talkdesk work as a remote team? How has this impacted your support?
Yeah, we do! Our team is spread across two offices that are 8 hours apart. This way, we manage to offer round the clock service for our customers without any of us having to work tedious shifts. We take time off to connect with each other over Google Hangouts or our Hipchat room and sync up on our work.
Scaling support while keeping the culture and core values intact must be a pretty tough job when you’re spread across the world. How do you manage?
We want to create amazing customer experiences just like the companies we look up to. Rackspace figures high on that list with their ‘fanatical support’. This is something deeply embedded in their company culture. When we started scaling the team, I drafted a set of values for the support team. We use these values to guide our judgements while providing our customers with the best support possible.
How do you look for people who fit the bill when hiring for support?
I’m very proud that we have a diverse team. The main thing I look for when hiring someone is whether they are a culture fit.
My favourite interview question is, “If you had 100 job offers, how would you choose between them? What’s important to you?”
I don’t believe there’s a single ideal customer support persona. I think a good support team encompasses different skills and personalities. The one thing everyone must share is being committed to helping the customer and solving a problem!
We completely agree, Scott! So what’s the best thing about working for Talkdesk?
We have an incredible team of smart and motivated people. It’s a pleasure to come to work every day and be around them. I know this is a cliche, but it’s true! That’s what I feel and I’ve heard other Talkdeskers say it too.
How do you measure customer happiness?
Every time we solve a customer problem, we follow up with a simple question: ‘Are you satisfied?’. This is actually pretty helpful as their comments sometimes reveal a situation where we dropped the ball. Following up once something has been “closed” is also a good way to show to customers that we want to go the extra mile to help them. For measuring longer term trends, we also run quarterly NPS surveys.
Tell us about your most memorable customer interaction.
To be honest, I think everyone who works in customer support remembers the truly awful ones more than the happy ones! My role in the team inevitably gets me involved in the “problematic” ones, but there is one customer in particular who keeps offering me a job. All I had done was immediately call them back in response to an email question, and it was just not what they had expected. I wasn’t even able to solve their problem, but we identified an action plan and had an honest conversation.
Sometimes it’s just about getting expectations on the same page.
That’s incredible! What’s your biggest challenge in providing great support?
Our customers can have very complex environments, with hundreds of phone numbers, locations, agents, and a myriad of configurations including IVRs, greetings, voicemail, etc.
Quickly assessing an account, getting to the root of their question and coming up with the right solution is part science, part art.
Phew! Sounds like a tough job, indeed. Have you ever had your developers or product managers get on support?
Our engineers and product managers all have access to the help desk, and all regularly get involved in support. Sometimes they directly respond to tickets, but more often, they’ll assist, or advise the support team. We’re very hands on, and will do whatever it takes to help out a customer.
Does your CEO spend time on the help desk talking with customers directly too?
Yes! Until not very long ago, our CEO and his cofounder were doing much of the support personally. They were sales, account management and support all rolled into one. Now that we’ve expanded, we do have dedicated teams for all of these functions, but this hands-on approach by our founders is what influenced the whole company: we’re close to our customers and understand them and their businesses.
How does feedback from your customers trickle down to the rest of the company and to your product roadmap in the long run?
We have a very close relationship with our product managers. The product management team sits in on our weekly support team meetings and outside of that, we frequently have conversations in person or by Hipchat. We play our part by ensuring the product team get as much data as possible. I’ve been a product manager myself, and you need a lot of feedback, without which the job would be impossible.
How would you react if one of your support reps makes a mistake? Would you step in or would you let the rep handle it themselves?
I trust my team so I’d rather let them use their good judgement and deal with a query than sit on it. We don’t review every ticket response before it goes out and it’s highly unlikely that a single thing will cause irreversible damage. We accept that mistakes occur and we learn from them.
One thing that all of us have done at certain times is post an internal reply as a public comment. There’s always that butt-clenching moment when you realise what you just did!
We have a simple rule to never get ourselves in trouble: don’t write anything in a private note you wouldn’t be comfortable with a customer reading!
That’s some sound advice 🙂 Which company do you admire a lot in terms of customer service?
In the consumer space, there are quite a lot of companies to choose from like Southwest, Nordstrom or Zappos. But, there aren’t as many role models in the field of enterprise. The only one that really stands out, to me, is definitely Rackspace. Their “fanatical support” inspired me many years ago and I still hold it up today as the best. I like their honesty that they can’t promise things won’t break, but that they promise to “rise to the occasion, take action and do our best to resolve the issue.” That’s very authentic and I think that’s what customers appreciate.
Last question, Scott. If you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie. Can you imagine how awesome that conversation would be? They’d do all the talking, but I’d be happy just to listen!
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.