In a typical office environment, it’s easy to walk over to your teammate’s desk when you have a question or need help with an issue.
But what happens when your teammates are on the other side of the world? The protocol obviously changes entirely, and some extra elements need to be taken into account.
Help Scout’s remote customer service team is scattered across the United States, Europe and Australia. We’re able to find some decent overlap during the work day, but a lot of our collaboration happens asynchronously.
Related: Keeping Your Remote Team Connected
As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve established processes and rhythms that keep us on track. For any remote customer service team that isn’t online all at once, asynchronous communication is a huge key to success. It’s taken a lot of trial and error over the years, but we’ve found a good system for staying up to date, especially in the ever-changing environment of a SaaS company!
5 tools we use for remote customer support
We’re obviously big fans of Help Scout for customer conversations — more on that later! — but we rely on a range of other services to help us collaborate effectively. The following tools have been critical to our growth and effectiveness as a remote customer support team.
We manage all of our updates as a team in Basecamp: product releases, upcoming days off, daily roundups that give a synopsis of the entire day (bugs, fixes, knowledge nuggets, etc.).
Previously, we were relying on Slack to keep our support team in the loop regarding every new bug, fix, product update or launch, and so on. While it was nice in theory to keep all of our communication in one place, Slack got noisy during the day with all the other important work chatter, and Amanda (in Paris) and I (in Melbourne) had to scroll through tons of messages to catch up.
The daily roundup in Basecamp has solved that issue — and other team members across the company can opt in to receive those updates as well, so everyone who’s interested can keep a finger on the pulse of the customer support team’s goings-on.
This is mainly where our product specs live (so that our support team can be more informed about product and feature releases), important internal guides and instructions, company and team updates, and also where we outline our team huddle agenda. It’s a great way for us to have cross-departmental communication and keep abreast of what the Engineering or Product teams are up to, as well as stay on top of our own team meetings and action items.
We use Google Hangouts for our one-on-ones, as well as our weekly team huddles. These let us talk about important events happening that week, hash out any issues, and just get in some face time and off-topic banter. We go over how we’re feeling, what we’d like to work on or improve, and any causes for celebration. It’s a great way to connect with one another during the week outside of Slack, and efficiently work through any issues we may be facing as a team.
We also have a team Google Calendar, so we can tell at a glance who will be out of the queue for appointments, meetings, or focusing on other projects — that way, we can tell who will be out and at what time, so we can easily fill in the gaps and make sure all is accounted for.
This is our primary form of communication; it’s where we chat throughout the day, troubleshoot with one another, send funny GIFs, and log updates regarding new bugs or issues. We use one specific channel to list the links to new bugs in Trello, or any other changes (such as edits to Docs articles or saved replies in Help Scout) across our account, so everyone stays in the loop.
It’s chatter-free and lets us quickly see which issues and updates to be aware of without having to look through Trello or scroll through our regular channel where we chat.
It can be hard to scroll through tons of notifications and get the gist of any new bugs or updates, so we use Trello to log bugs or anything that needs a fix, and to manage all feature requests.
Asynchronous customer support in Help Scout
Unsurprisingly, we love using Help Scout to collaborate! A couple nifty tools in particular really help us stay on track as a remote support team:
@mentions: The ability to mention one another in notes has become so useful for getting others to chime in with their expertise and input, as well as keeping a “paper trail” of communication in our account. It’s an asynchronous-friendly and non-invasive way to get someone’s help without actually having to assign a conversation or wait for a ping back on Slack or via email.
Following conversations: Being able to follow conversations is particularly helpful for new teammates going through onboarding, as they’re able to receive notifications for each reply and keep a record for learning purposes. The “follow” feature also comes in handy when we’re signing off for the day, but want to keep track of any activity in a particular conversation to follow up with the next day.
Passing the baton
As some teammates get ready to “clock out” for the day, others are grabbing their coffee and signing in. While we don’t have a rigid process in place to pass the torch, we do try to be as communicative as possible so that important and time-sensitive tasks don’t fall through the cracks.
Your customers need help around the clock, but are you ready to expand support beyond weekday office hours?
When hopping out of the queue to walk the dog or to head out for the evening, we always announce it in Slack. That way, everyone else online knows to take ownership of the emails rolling in. It helps to keep the train chugging along, and we don’t risk letting customer conversations pile up.
Face time with the team
In addition to our weekly Google Hangouts, we get to see one another and work together at our company retreats, which is always a delight. It’s also likely we’ve added new teammates since the last retreat, so it gives us a chance to formally meet one another. During the retreats, we hold team break-out sessions where we sit down for a few hours together. It’s a great time to hash out ideas and build social capital.
No substitute for trial and error
In the ever-evolving tech space, there are always new tools and services to help us collaborate better. While the above is what works for us now, it likely will change as time goes on — as we continue to grow not only in number, but in how we communicate and work.
As you look for ways to collaborate more effectively, don’t be scared to experiment with lots of different tools, and be open to constructive criticism. Trial-and-error is still the best way to determine what does and does not work for your team — it’s how we’ve gotten to a strong and organized place today, and how we’ll continue to iterate and improve over time.