The Advantage of In-house Support- 5 mins
The Advantage of In-house Support
Let’s face reality. Support is often seen as a cost center, and an unpleasant service a business has to provide. Not many thoughts go into the chosen medium via the service is provided. However, support is critical to the day to day running of a business and for ensuring customer satisfaction. In general, we can distinguish between two primary support types:
- In-house support
- Outsourced support
Today we want to take a closer look at in-house support and how engineering teams can benefit from providing and owning the support service of a business.
Support - The Software Engineer’s angle
Support represents the company’s culture, and it is often the only direct, unfiltered feedback link businesses have established to its customers. Communication is the key part of an excellent support experience. The right choice of communication channels and mediums affects not only the support experience, but it also affects the perceived business image. Questions like “Do we need to provide a live chat or are phone numbers and emails sufficient ways of how the customer can reach out to us?” need careful consideration.
Defining the scope
One thing that often gets underestimate is how the employees’ happiness correlates to the scope of the support tasks. Not everyone wants to do 1st Line support; some prefer live chat and screen sharing over an email. The key to employee engagement and a successful support culture is to define clear boundaries and define ownership and accountability of each task. An example is at what point other teams need to get involved in support and at what scale. All support inquiries should reach a central platform in the first instance. The support engineer on duty is responsible for the right allocation and distribution to other departments, be it because of already established customer relationships or to access the knowledge required to solve the customer needs best. The golden rule is to open only one communication channel per inquiry.
How to provide a delightful support experience - for both customers and employees
Having worked both in a corporate support team and being on a support rota in a small scaling up a startup, support was always representing the primary contact point for inquiries and incident reporting. I’m sharing some of my experiences in the below list.
Establish a support culture - Support has priority over the daily business. Engineers on rota should be excluded from the sprint. Instead, they should work on documentation, internal process improvements, or other housekeeping tasks.
Onboarding - Every new support engineer needs to run through the basic setup. Profiles need to get created, permissions, and access key granted.
Provide training - Change is inevitable; new product features get added on a daily base; the infrastructure is evolving along with the latest tech trends. Keeping the support engineers in the loop and up to date means constant training, establishing of simple processes, clear ownership of responsibility areas, regular product updates and demos as well as monthly support meetings for planning and retrospective.
Knowledgebase - Document everything: internal process, how to operate the support platform, internal contact numbers/channel in case of a major incident. Writing a knowledge article should become a habit, especially when being on support.
Leverage existing tooling - There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The market provides excellent solutions which provide a ticket system, live chat and customer faced help guidelines out of the box.
Internal support structure - Internal process needs to align with the current product state to guaranties a skeleton that holds up or provides a sounds foundation. Access to staging or production instances should not differ. Internal guidelines, protocols and automated escalation hierarchies in case of a major incident need to be in place. The interconnection of all parts of the system together can easily be achieved by automating workflows, providing self-service features to the customer as well as being up to date in terms of security, system resilience and UX.
Define key metrics - Service level agreements (SLA) define, e.g., average response time, as well as remedies or penalties, should agreed-on service levels not be achieved. It is a critical component of any SASS vendor contract these days. KPI’s that track the median first response time, the median time to solve a ticket or conversation rating/feedback contribute to fulfilling the SLAs.
Remove the imbalance of being on support - Support means to react. An organization can be proactive by providing some of the above points. Nobody knows when and what kind of inquire or incident gets reported or an outage occurs. Follow the sun model not only increases responsiveness and reducing delays, but it also interrupts less free time or family life. Gamification can be used to keep the pressure and stress levels low. Acknowledgment of the support engineer that solves the most tickets or response the fastest with either a voucher or a friendly team treat. In case of weekend or holiday support duty, think about monetary compensation or issue an annual leave day in lieu.
The right mix
Organizations need to find, define, and align their support with their own company culture to enable the best support experience. The tone as well the channels of communication affect the first impression. Embrace every support ticket as an opportunity to understand your customer better.
Short turnarounds for fixing small bugs, implementing small feature requests, or gaining new insights into the feedback loop can strengthen the customer relationship. A transparent, well-planned support rota helps employees get ahead of knowing when they will be on support duty so that they can also plan work and free-time activities accordingly. Support should not only be represented by certain job-titles or team, but rather a combination of client-facing and technical teams with clearly defined responsibilities. The result is an increase in the support experience for both sides, the customer as well the employees involved.
In the end, support is not only the engineering team’s responsibility. It’s a mindset.