The Secret Sauce to Xero Support

I'm Hannah Griffith and this is how we roll at Xero!

Written by on March 5, 2015

Hannah Griffith is a Customer Experience Team Leader (UK) at Xero, a beautiful online accounting software for small businesses. Headquartered in Wellington, New Zealand, Xero has over 15 offices and 400,000 customers worldwide.

Hannah Griffith, Customer Experience Team Leader, Xero

We managed to catch up with Hannah and ask her a few questions about customer support and life at Xero.

Let’s get the basics out of the way, Hannah. How big is Xero’s support team?

195 globally and 37 in the UK.

And how many products do you guys support?

Our core Xero product; the mobile accounting app, Xero Touch; Payroll; Xero Practice Manager and WorkflowMax.

Where is your team based?

We have Xero CX teams all around the world – Milton Keynes, Wellington, Auckland, Melbourne and Denver.

How many channels do you support?

E-mail, in-app, and phone. Heaps of our customers can get help right from the page they’re on, or, from our in-app help that serves up videos, help centre advice, and links to our community page.

How many questions do you get each day? A ballpark figure will do.

Given the size of our customer base, surprisingly very few. Xero is designed beautifully, so it’s actually fun and easy to use. We love questions from customers; the more the better. Customers who ask questions may be stuck or just need a bit of help, so it’s much better they ask and we get to help them. Once they’re set up with Xero, they seldom need to ask us anything, but we’re there for them at any time day or night.

Tell us about the tools you use.

We’ve grown massively over the last two years, so we’re still learning. We do primarily offer e-mail support, but we’re willing to phone a customer in need. We’ve also got a team of social managers that talk to customers on our Community, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

The Xero team loves playing pool

How did you end up in customer support, Hannah? I understand that you have a degree in accounting.

Yes. I was fresh out of university with an accounting and marketing degree when I found Xero. Supporting customers in an exciting new accounting software company sounded like the perfect fit for me.

Walk us through a typical day in the life of Hannah Griffiths, Customer Experience Leader.

There’s not so much a typical day here at Xero but if I could best describe it, then it’s trying to be better than the day before.

We try and look after customers exceptionally well; we want them to feel supported and know that we’re there for them if they get stuck.

As well as leading the team today, I need to balance that with thinking about tomorrow. Right now we’re preparing for our UK Payroll launch in March and with our team in the UK continuing to grow (we’ve doubled each year for the past six years), I’m heavily involved with finding more people to join the team and training our recent arrivals. Also just having fun!

Managing a team of 35 can be exhausting. How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?

We have an amazing culture in Xero. The environment we work in is awesome and above all, we’re all one team. Everybody in Xero trusts the other person to do the right thing and take the right action, so for me it’s about engagement, being supported, and being trusted to do the right thing for all our customers.

What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons to working as a part of a remote team? How do you collaborate when your team’s spread across timezones? What tools do you guys use?

Being part of the bigger team is great and we support each other (we apply ‘follow the sun’ principles to our tickets) and share the successes we have. All that would never work without the great collaboration tools inside Xero. We use Yammer to know what everybody’s up to both inside and outside of work, and Google Apps (Sheets, Docs, Drive) to collaborate. I think our most important internal tool is Google Hangouts. I can have an HD face to face video call with anybody in Xero and it feels like they’re in the same room.

The downside of working across time zones is that we’re pretty much the opposite to New Zealand and Australia, so it means the odd evening call or early morning catch up. Again though, with Hangouts, while we can feel physically isolated, it helps us keep communicating, even if I’m in my PJs for a call.

One of the cool things about being part of a Kiwi company and a global team means we have lots of Kiwis like me doing their OE in the UK, and visa versa. Kiwis especially love to travel and we can do that without leaving Xero.

The Milton Keynes Office, UK

The Xero Office, Milton Keynes, UK.

Taking time off must be tough.

Not really. I make sure holidays are booked well in advance and make arrangements for the team to carry on when I’m out. Being a New Zealander myself, I’m a keen traveller and want to make the most of my two years in the UK. And with a global team, things are taken care of pretty well.

Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, is the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?

Quality and giving an amazing customer experience.

We don’t just want to answer a question; we want to delight our customers, and help them get the most out of Xero.

But how do you measure customer delight?

We’ve just started doing some work on Net Promoter Scores, but we currently rely on feedback from customers replying to our answers or chatting to us through social media. We tag questions to a topic and our biggest topic by far is ‘Compliments’. They really make our day and show we’re making a huge difference to small businesses and our partners.

Are you pro-transparency? Would you be open to showing your customer feedback to the world or do you think there are some things  that are better off kept a secret?

I’d vote for transparency. As Xeroes, we have access at any time to lots of sensitive information. Rod, our founder and CEO, shares huge amounts with us all on the global company meeting which makes us feel included. For our customers I think we apply the same principle: if we stuff up, we apologise and look to make it right.

Xero's HQ is in Auckland, NZ

“We work hard and we play hard.”

I still can’t wrap my head around the size of your team. A hundred ninety five people around the world. How did you scale customer support at Xero, while keeping the culture and core values intact AND making sure customers end up happy?

We’ve grown as a company at over 100% year on year for the last six years and at any given time, half of Xeroes have been here less than 12 months. We’ve scaled by keeping structures flat and only hiring the best.

We try to be better at supporting our customers than we were yesterday and it just works.

It takes lots of hard work, but we do it.

One of the stories I heard recently sums that all up. Our CEO was visiting our Denver support team for the first time. He was so impressed with the team and when asked why, he said that he hadn’t recruited the people who recruited the support people in Denver, but they were exactly the ones he would have recruited. To him that summed up our culture and values.

How do you unwind after a long day of support?

Boot camp training. There’s nothing like a good run around and being yelled at by an ex-military guy during the English winter on a muddy field.

It’s cold and tiring, but you feel so much better for it.

I see that the word ‘unwinding’ means different things to us. Give me ice cream any day! But we’re getting off base here. I’m going to throw some situations at you, Hannah. Tell us how you handle them at Xero.

a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you don’t have an ETA. What’s the policy regarding these requests? What if it’s a feature you have no intention of ever building?

We work very closely with our product team and we have a feature request page where our customers can vote on the features they want the most. We try to be very honest with customers about features we have started, haven’t started, or probably won’t develop within Xero. The product team is great at interacting directly with our customers on our community forum too.

b) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue the refund or do you rope in a sales person to woo them back somewhere down the pipeline?

That depends. We have a billing team that looks after those. The beauty about Xero is, we’re a SaaS company, so we invoice our customers monthly in arrears. We don’t have long term subscriptions and we don’t invoice in advance.

Customers can choose to leave us at any point, so every month we have to show the value of using Xero in their small business.

We care about the long term relationship with a customer, not a short term one. If we make a mistake, we acknowledge it and look to make amends.

One of Xero's core values is Human

One of the core Xero values is ‘Human’.

c) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake that greatly annoys a customer. They’re trying to make things right but the customer only seems to get more frustrated with time. Do you step in and smooth things over? Or do you let the rep handle it on their own? How does this translate into feedback for the team?

Everyone makes mistakes, but the cool thing about our culture is that the team isn’t shy to put their hand up if they stuff up. We can share the learning with the wider team, and move forward together.

To me, it’s pretty important that the customer knows we’ve listened to them, understood their situation and have done everything in our realm to meet their needs.

We’ll usually follow-up to double check they’re happy.

What’s the protocol when a customer unearths a bug over the weekend?

We have 24×7 support that includes our ‘CX Tech’ team. It’s not common for us to have bugs, but we work with customers who may be having trouble running a report or who are having browser issues. The guys can normally solve things straight away or talk to our developers and our ‘Sniper’ team to resolve.

What’s your most memorable user interaction?

We’ve had a few memorable moments.  One of our recent ones was when a customer replied to a follow up we did by thanking us and asking for chips. So we sent him chips. Lots and lots of chips. The customer loved it and told lots of other people through Twitter and Instagram.

A memorable customer interaction, Xero Support

How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?

We have a ‘Xero voice’ which is friendly, professional, and knowledgeable. We don’t normally have unreasonable customers, but a few certainly keep us on our toes around new enhancements they want to see straight away.

We find being honest about things really important.

One of our core values is ‘human’, so we really try and live that out every day.

What’s the best thing about working for Xero?

Easy: the people. We work hard and we play hard. We do some amazing things as a company, but we’re all very committed to making Xero successful and making doing business a pleasure for our customers.

Tell us about your toughest day at Xero.

Recently, Xero hosted the UK’s largest accounting conference, Xerocon London. I’d had a long day helping and mingling with our accounting partners, then a long night celebrating the awards dinner with them. It was an early train ride to Milton Keynes the next day to work and things were looking busy. We had some staff still away helping at day two of the conference, and with our announcement of Payroll, as well as nine new staff to get up to speed… let’s just say I felt like a headless chook!

Give us some dope on your hiring policy. What do you look for in your support reps?

They need to be A’s. A’s hire A’s and we never ever compromise on that.

They have to understand our culture and what we’re trying to achieve. And our main Xero support people are almost all accounting qualified, so they have to be pretty switched-on people.

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve received as a support agent?

It’s not so much a surprise, but I’m constantly reminded of how much we are making a difference to our customers and partners. We’ve had partners tell us that Xero has allowed them for the first time to have a work-life balance and they now get to see their kids. That’s so cool. And our small business customers tell us that what we do has let them focus on growing their business and not doing paperwork. Some of the feedback we get really is amazing.

What has your time at Xero taught you?

Change is constant. We all work in a hyper-growth company and the pace we move is fast.  You have to evolve very quickly.

As a leader I constantly have to think about how we’ll support our customers next month, next year, and in three years time.

We focus on the day, but I think about the future. As a leader I’ve learnt to lead by not telling somebody to do something, but making sure everybody feels involved in what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what we’re trying to achieve. Lots and lots of communication.

In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?

Air New Zealand. Over the festive season they brought smiles to loads of passengers when staff dressed as Santa and his elves gave them a gift as they boarded their flights. They also have really entertaining in-flight safety briefings.

It’s the things people least expect that make memories.

Just one more question, Hannah. If you could have an endless supply of any food, what would you get?

Chips.

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 love@freshdesk.com with your suggestions.

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