How Distributed Customer Service Teams Improve Each Other’s Skills
This post is part of The Supportive, Mathew Patterson’s column for customer service professionals. Learn what The Supportive is, or browse through all of the posts from this series.
Starting out in customer support, especially for complex or technical fields, can be tough. There is so much to learn, and no matter how good the onboarding sessions, video training, and documentation are, they can only ever cover a tiny portion of the work.
In the past, when people were mostly working in the same room, information could be transferred from person to person pretty easily. When you felt stuck, you’d just pop up from your cubicle like a business meerkat and ask your colleague to wheel their slightly-better-than-yours chair over to your desk and show you how it was done.
In an age of globally distributed support teams, that option may not be available. Your colleagues are more than a wheely chair distance away. They may not even be in the same day as you. There is no serendipitous overhearing of solutions and no hallway-chat-based flashes of inspiration.
The problem is real, but it’s not insurmountable. Remote teams just have to be a little more deliberate in sharing their knowledge. Here are some practical techniques that can replace (or augment) in-person learning for customer service teams.
Screen-sharing sessions with new team members
The most direct equivalent to sitting next to a more experienced colleague is to screen share with them as they talk through their approach. Yes, there is a little more friction to getting set up, but on the plus side, you never need to worry about your coffee breath.
Team-wide discussions of tricky cases
Identify your most common challenging conversations, and invite team members to attempt an answer individually, then discuss them all as a group. You can explore different approaches, learn from each other, and synthesize a “best” answer from them all.
Showing your work
Great customer service can feel like magic to the customer, but you should always reveal your tricks to your colleagues. For any less common and more complex cases, leave a note explaining what you did, why, and how. That way the next time it comes up, there will be a path to follow. And it might even be you-in-the-future who benefits.
For new support agents, opening up a customer conversation with no clue about where to start looking for an answer can be intimidating. Ask your more experienced team members to add a good internal note with some ideas on how to get started, and then leave the conversation for newer folks to answer.
Thoughtful group chat discussion
Your internal Slack or equivalent group chat location might be the closest thing to a lunch room discussion about how to approach tricky scenarios. Rather than have those discussions in one-on-one chats, default to sharing them with the whole team.
Capturing and documenting knowledge
Make sure to have a process and a location for regularly recording knowledge. Whether it comes from experienced support staff or from other parts of the business, make it a normal practice to spot those insights, record them, and make them accessible to the whole team.
Subscribing to conversations
If your help desk tool offers something like Help Scout’s follow function, encourage everyone to subscribe to and learn from conversations they would be hesitant to attempt answering themselves.
We’re all in a transitional time. Office-based work has been the norm for so long, and many of the systems and processes that have formed around that model are starting to fracture as we adjust to a remote-first world.
The difficulties we are seeing are not signs that remote work can’t work — they are just a sign that it is different and needs a new approach. With a little thought and effort, our teams can build each other’s skills more effectively than ever.