The Hardest Hire: Technical Support
CEO & Founder of Server Density.
Published on the 10th March, 2016.
The problem with articulating a compelling vision for technical support, is that nobody believes you anymore.
“Your call is important to us?” No, it’s not. Most support experiences remind us just how unimportant we are. Minute for minute, time spent dealing with support is regarded as whatever is slightly worse than pointless.
Nobody likes wasting time. We don’t. Our customers certainly don’t. Nobody wakes up in the morning itching to call a customer support helpline.
Good technical support is not a question of technology or process. It’s got nothing to do with tools, computers and CRM tricks. At its core, support provisioning is a human experience. It goes back to business fundamentals. Simple things like, you know, honoring you customer; placing them right at the center of what you do.
How we hire technical support
Server Density launched in 2009. The SaaS idea had not gone mainstream yet, but our technical audience were early adopters. In many ways Server Density was the right product, for the right market, at the right time.
But as our client-base grew, so did the amount of data we processed. From then on, things moved quickly. David, our CEO, was on call 24×7 and was taking support tickets at the same time.
Soon enough, time proved to be our most precious resource, and hiring for support became an obvious choice. What was less obvious was how to hire the right people for the job.
Several years, and numerous hires later, here’s what we’ve learned.
By executives I don’t mean striped suits and high-powered MBAs.
What I mean is, whoever interacts with customers needs to have an authoritative voice. A voice that embodies your company culture.
Apple’s retail chief, Angela Ahrendts, views Apple Store employees as “executives in the company”.
Do it the Apple way. Undertake your support hiring with the investment and rigour it deserves.
Support people need to be doers. How do you take the data and make it human? A shiny CRM can’t automate that for you. The surest way to solve a customer problem happens to be the most low tech of all.
“Just pick up the phone,” says Harry, our customer success lead. “Be outgoing. Be proactive. Care.”
Owning customer issues means working with engineers. Understanding their constraints and timelines. You can’t do that without a strong technical affinity, and an even stronger hunger to learn.
“One of our biggest challenges, is making sure we’re up to date,” says Harry. “Know all the releases, all bug fixes. Be aware of everything that’s happening in the engineering realm. Do that, while keeping the trains running.”
Our support team will often parachute issues right into the development cycle. They participate in engineering planning games—a fortnightly forum where we plan our development efforts—and carry an equal voice in the fight for development prioritisation.
“Authoritative voice,” means you understand and own all customer issues. If the problem is due to a bug, our support folks raise a Jira ticket and then monitor (fight for) their progression all the way to resolution.
The best perks money can’t buy
Once you internalise the sheer skill and scope of the customer success role, it changes the way you approach hiring.
You are no longer hiring for extra pairs of hands. Instead, you are bidding for core constituents of your company culture.
How do you attract the right talent? You give them the right perks.
Daniel Pink writes how autonomy, mastery and purpose motivate creative problem solvers better than money. Our support people are encouraged to approach customer cases in the most innovative way they can think of. We pull out all the stops, give them all the tools and training they need, strip out all unnecessary process, and get out of their way.
They are entrepreneurs. Chances are they’ve run their own business before joining or on the side. They are driven minds that thrive on situations where they influence the outcome and make a difference in people’s lives.
“You got to know your customers. Know their business, and how they use your products,” says Harry. “You need to be responsive, friendly. There are no scripts. Be genuine. Be nice.”
Server Density is a remote-first team based across the UK and Europe. While growing our support team, the thought of placing a part of our customer success team in the PST timezone did cross our mind. Doing so would allow us to offer around-the-clock support cover.
But we decided otherwise.
Instead we placed the entire support team at the very center. In the HQ, right next to David, our CEO.
We have some very strict SLAs for answering calls. When the phone rings, everyone can answer. Non-support people can wade in. If nobody answers within 2 rings, calls route directly to David’s cell.
Having all support folks in London is a more expensive choice compared to most locations. But the investment has paid off, as evidenced in our low churn and high NPS metrics.
Our technical support stack
We use Totango as an early warning system. In simple terms, Totango tells us when it’s time to pick up the phone and speak to a customer, who might otherwise churn.
We are also using Intercom to help us with customer onboarding. Totango and Intercom can coexist in the same stack.
We just started using readme.io for hosting our API documentation.
If customer churn is important to you, then support should be an integral part of your product and brand.
A successful support team is a team of passionate, technical, customer advocates. We position (and hire) that team at the very core of who we are.
What about you? What’s on your support playbook? How do you hire, and where do you place your customer success teams?
Leave a comment below, and we’d love to see you in our dedicated support channel on Slack.