As the year slowly winds to a stop and everyone takes a breather to read yet another Top 10 list, we decided to take a look back at the year that was. 2015 was an eventful year for Freshdesk, with many a twist and turn. Our support team grew from a group of 6 to a whopping 26 – that’s a 333% percent increase. Hiring, training and onboarding so many people can be quite the challenge for even the most seasoned of managers but when you factor in that, at the same time, we doubled our customer base which means more tickets, more feature requests and more pressure to live up to expectations…
But more than anything else, despite all of that pressure, 2015 has been a year of learnings for us. Not just for the product team, but for our support team as well. Here’s a look at some of them:
Scaling up is easier said than done
Growing a team to nearly 5x its size can be quite the challenge – everything becomes a struggle. Training, onboarding, communication…
It took a lot of forethought and planning and every ounce of experience that our support leads have between them to make sure that even as we grew, our customers continued to enjoy the same kind of seamless service no matter what the time of the year.
We staggered hiring through the year so that we could make sure that every person on the team had all the time they needed to become more familiar with the product and the team before the next wave descended. If it looked like a particular group needed some more time, we held off the next group until this one acclimatized.
We augmented this approach with a training program that allowed for our learn-on-the-job approach. Every time a batch joins, we attach a mentor to the new hires. The mentors do everything from teaching email etiquette to showing them all the best eating joints in town, which also helps ease them into the team and the way we work.
However, the lesson that’s stuck the most is that a team trip is the best icebreaker there is. The first trip was a complete coincidence – no one expected it to work as well it did – but once we realized that it did, we started scheduling a trip every time a batch joined.
If we couldn’t go on a trip, we at least tried to go out for breakfast to liven things up.
After all, the team that eats together stays together!
Communication is the order of the day
When you’re growing this rapidly, nothing matters as much as communication. And if you thought training your new hires is the tough part, maintaining team culture and fostering communication is like trying to punch your way through a diamond mountain.
The Support Team on vacation in Goa, India
We tried quite a number of tools in our quest to keep everyone on the same page but most of them just didn’t stick. It’s as simple as that. We went the usual route: Slack, Hipchat, Hangouts groups and so on. Slack never really caught on and while Hangouts is excellent for banter, it doesn’t work half as well when you’re trying to tell your teammate the solution to a particular problem and another teammate keeps butting in with cat pictures.
What we needed was a tool that would allow us to pin certain topics so that everyone would know what’s going on, regardless of the point at which they enter the conversation. If only there was a tool that we were already using that would let us do that so we could save ourselves the time we’d otherwise spend getting the team to use it…
That’s when it hit us like a lightning bolt.
Now, there’s an internal forum in Freshdesk, away from the eyes of customers and other employees, where the support team shares tips, tricks and solutions to problems. We still have our Hangouts group for banter but the forum is business. A happy ending, if there ever was one.
A game of trophies and badges
Everything’s more fun when you turn it into a game. Even support.
When you hire as many people as we did this year, you’re always wondering if you’re doing everything to make sure that the team is engaged and involved. You want everyone to be enthused and full of life, to think of nothing but making customers happy every second of every day. This kind of enthusiasm is rampant when we hire people but as the days go by, the flame tends to die out.
We keep the flame alive with gamification.
When every ticket is a chance to win a happy face from a customer (and beat your neighbour on the leaderboard), you’re going to pull out all the stops to make sure that every customer is as happy as they can be.
It’s all about the people
I’m a firm believer in the fact that your support process lives and dies by the way your team is structured. An ad hoc approach results in a messy and chaotic user experience, the kind that makes sure no customer comes back ever.
As our support volume increased over the year, we sat down and brainstormed about the kind of approach that would work for our support load. We ended up splitting the team based on the channels we provide support on – reps were assigned to teams based on their skill set and everyone was happy, working in their channel of choice.
This worked out great…until, it didn’t. People hungered for variety and challenges – people were bored of supporting just over the phone or live chat – and we were having trouble keeping morale up. So, we broke it up and decided on a rotation roster. People now take turns being on the phone and handling live chat. Email and social tickets are up for grabs but people are assigned to the other two channels as per the roster.
The snowman is a fixed feature, every Christmas
Weekend support also received some much needed roster treatment this year. For a long time, we dealt with weekend support requests in an ad-hoc manner. Anyone who was free would check in whenever they could and work on tickets. Asking people to give up their weekends is a hard ask and we were reluctant to do so, for a long time. But as our customer base scales, something had to give. Now, there’s a rotation roster for the weekends as well.
All roads lead to customer success
At the beginning of this year, we made a solemn resolution to stop just solving problems as they come but to work more on building relationships with our customers and growing trust. A resolution to move from a passive, reactive approach to a more proactive approach.
To that end, we established key personnel as Points of Contact for our customers.
The PoCs focus on the only thing that matters: our relationship with the customer.
This involves, amongst other things, communicating better with our customers. We send out periodic updates on what we’re doing so that they know that we care and that we’re doing everything we can to make their life better.
Part of the Support Team on vacation in Ooty, India.
However, as the days went by and our operations scaled up, we ended up having to assign more customers to a PoC than a PoC could actively support. This eventually led to us splitting the responsibilities of a PoC between two teams: an independent customer success team and a team of Technical Account Managers (TAMs). The customer success team focuses on the relationship building while the TAMs take down the bugs and handle implementation.
Critics first, employees next
A part of our proactive pledge also involved working on the feedback loop between teams. Having a large team in place allows us to sit back, relax and strategize which led to a more comprehensive feedback loop that involves us prioritizing bug fixes, feature requests and checking in on feature requests every step of the way. We’re not Freshdesk’s biggest account – not by a long shot. But we are Freshdesk’s biggest critics, the team that’s working on making sure that the features that matter to you the most aren’t getting lost in the feature request bin.
The lesson of the hour, however, is that no matter how prepared you think are, what will come, will come and you just have to meet it when it does. All you can do is remember to pick yourself up and do what’s right for the business and your customer, every single time. That’s all there really is to it.
What lessons have you learnt in 2015? Share them with us in the comments section down below.