Promoting a team’s successes to the wider company must rank near the top of a proactive support leader’s task list. While it seems like other departments have built-in ways to do this (the very nature of the Feature Launch with Much Fanfare is often a celebration for the product teams involved), let’s face it — nobody’s really waiting to usher the support team onto the stage for a victory round every time they save the company’s bacon.
The cultural norm is for support teams to stay behind the scenes, running vital pieces of the business from the proverbial shadows. Of course, you know that your higher-ups will turn to you to get a handle on user sentiment during a company crisis or will want to check in on your KPIs as the end-of-year performance review season looms, but when do you organically get a chance to show off to the whole company what support has accomplished? Likely not very often.
The why: communicating team successes is communicating value
If you’re like most support leaders, you’re spread so thin you’ve genuinely looked into the possibility of cloning yourself. So it’s fair to want to know why you should halt your busy self-cloning research schedule to figure out how to better laud your team. The short answer is that regularly communicating your successes will translate into a solid perception of the value of your team to the larger business. Specifically, it will:
Secure resources. Simply listing out all the things your team isn’t able to do because of its lack of resources isn’t the preferred method. Show everything you have been able to do, then give specifics about all the great things you could also be doing if only you had X additional dollars. This will spur confidence in the fact that you really are squeezing all the productivity you possibly can out of the existing budget and that extra resources wouldn’t go to waste.
Increase morale on the team. Though many support professionals are certified perfect angels of humility, and most people have the common sense not to seek out a career in support if public accolades are super important to them, they’re still human beings. People want to know not just that their boss appreciates their work, but that their work is acknowledged and valued by the larger company. Feeling this sense of prestige will contribute to better morale, especially for long-term members of your staff.
Elevate the profession as a whole. We live in a world where ample credit isn’t always given where it’s due, but part of that is because we don’t reach out and take that credit when we can. Don’t be part of the problem. Be a manager or director who promotes the achievements of your team and, in doing so, promotes the essential importance of good support to all businesses.
Provide data that aids in product decision-making. The fact that you’re even having to spend time troubleshooting some of the issues that really get your customers’ collective goat can be eye-opening for product leaders. Data on user pain points will often reveal features and workflows within the product that could be improved.
Improve user empathy amongst the entire company. For everyone who doesn’t spend time talking to individual end users, it can be easy to forget the viewpoint of those who actually use this stuff. Taking the time to call out user concerns (and how you’ve been successfully addressing them) will keep the user cause fresh in their minds.
The how: sharing metrics and goals with the rest of the company
Now that you’re thoroughly convinced that you need to share your team’s success with the rest of the company, here are some actionable ideas for how to begin.
Start an internal support newsletter
A regular summary of what’s going on in support will keep your achievements fresh in the minds of other staff, and it’s a great way to reinforce with cold, hard data any sweeping statements you’ve made at all-hands meetings or spur-of-the-moment elevator conversations.
Use good design. Invest in some snazzy designs to make the newsletter look slickly-produced and intentional, or at the very least, make all headings and subheadings super clear so that it’s not just an unbroken wall of text. You can’t hold your audience’s attention if they stop reading after the first line because they aren’t visually grabbed by the layout.
Commit to a repeatable structure. Having a known structure that you can fill in each week makes the task easier to complete, helps contributors from your team remember where to put their info, and cues readers about what to expect. Make the newsletter itself as brief as possible so that the whole thing is easy to read, and know that you can always link out to more information wherever possible for those who want to go deeper. Some basic stats like incoming and outgoing ticket volume, top volume drivers and the status of any related bugs, and trends in user sentiment are a good place to start.
“We replaced a boring weekly meeting with this format and gave 40 people an hour back in their week.”
At GitLab, Lee Matos, Support Engineering Manager, breaks their summary down into four sections: Actionable, Kudos, Metrics, and Random. “We replaced a boring weekly meeting with this format and gave 40 people an hour back in their week,” says Matos. “One of our team members even reads it and records a podcast version which has been a hit.”
Start with a lightning-quick summary. A lot of people skim the first few lines of a report to see if they should keep reading or not, so this is your chance to make an impact. Cover the basics (What did we do last week? What do we expect to do next week?), and make it a true “TL;DR”: just a few sentences, as so many people merely skim emails that don’t include a specific action item for the reader.
Get specific. Call out specific team successes wherever possible. When you’re touting your team’s accomplishment at surviving a particularly hellacious launch week, state the exact amount of tickets they solved, and provide context. Saying “600 tickets” doesn’t mean a lot on its own to anybody who’s not watching support volume with bated breath every day, but saying “600 tickets compared to our usual 100 tickets” carries meaning. When naming those top volume-driving bugs, link out to the JIRA ticket (or whatever mechanism your organization uses for bugs) and state the status of that ticket. Some managers and engineers skim just to see if their group’s code is creating user strife, so if the answer is “Yes, you’re creating strife!” — make sure it’s actionable for them. And to make the numbers come alive, personify them with some qualitative information: an anecdote from a customer in their own words often hits home more than a stat, such as the “CSAT Wins or Call Wins” section in the SalesLoft examples above.
Charts and graphs. Everybody loves charts and graphs! Make the data you’re presenting as visual as possible, showing last week or month alongside your current stats to show context.
Get creative. As your newsletter ages and doubtless becomes the favorite and most looked-forward-to email of everyone’s week, you can’t rest on your laurels. Think of some ways to mix it up and keep the information fresh and interesting. This will also help on slow weeks during code freezes or holidays. You could break out a couple of fun or poignant quotes from users, or create an “Ask Support” corner where you highlight an FAQ every week, like “What’s the top user bugaboo with onboarding?” or “Where do I send support requests from friends?”
Make data accessible on the fly
So many companies give lip service to putting users first, and then they struggle to distill key user insights from marketing stats, focus groups, app reviews, and whatever else they’re monitoring. The secret weapon they’ve had in their back pocket all along is the support team. Unlock that rich data that support holds and make it accessible to everyone, in as few clicks as possible.
Start with support. Of course you can run a report to see how many tickets were crunched last February, or dig through Google Docs to find that one post-launch report about that one feature. But does everyone on your team have access to this stuff and know where to find it? Create a how-to or a simple index for your internal documentation so that they can figure out how to get a hold of anything they need. In meetings or on Slack, you want team leads and agents to be able to quickly call up stats around volume, satisfaction, and biggest pain points for an area of the product, a recent launch, etc.
Create an organized archive. Make sure a vast archive of relevant support data (volume, learnings from launches past, feature requests organized by product vertical and popularity) exists in a shareable place so you can link to it anytime someone wants to know more. Certainly there have been times when you’re trying to make a point in a meeting where you just wish the rest of the room had looked at the same data you looked at. Saying “I can send you some data from the last time we tried to launch this feature” is one way to get this information flowing more freely.
Think about where else you could shine the light on support. The possibilities are endless, but not everything will work for your organization. Here are a few ideas:
- Use large monitors to display support stats and user quotes around the office where all employees will see them. Throw a slide deck together that you can update regularly yourself, or check out Geckoboard or other tools that can help you automate it.
- Hold retrospective meetings after a launch to go over user sentiment and learnings from a support standpoint.
- Have a lunch n’ learn where you talk about the evolution of a product area and how users have responded through various iterations.
- Use integrations to push support data into company spaces. You could set up custom Slackbot responses to easily send folks to relevant docs after entering a shortcut (such as “.vip” to return a link to a doc that goes over what the criteria are for a user to be considered a VIP in support’s eyes). And the team at Tumblr recently developed a bot that will call up ticket volume for any tag and display it in the company chat. This puts previously support-only data at the fingertips of all the engineers, product managers, and leadership.
- Ostentatiously congratulate yourselves in public. Throw a pizza party to thank support agents for hitting a milestone (100k tickets solved! etc.) or for gracefully handling ALL the ticket volume from a recent unpopular launch, and invite stakeholders and leadership. Other departments congratulate themselves all the time, so why can’t you?
Present quarterly and yearly retrospectives for leadership
Beyond performance conversations, it’s a good idea to connect proactively with leadership on what your whole organization has been accomplishing.
- Give a high-level view of what was accomplished.
- Major projects: Did you overhaul the help center, onboard a team of contractors for seasonal help, or handle a company crisis with grace and poise?
- Efficiency gains: Were any new tools or policies implemented, and if so, what were their results?
- Traditional support stats/KPIs: Hit the high points of goals set and accomplished, overall volume handled, response time, full resolution time, quality assurance stats, and CSAT/NPS if applicable.
- Showcase support’s ability to drive revenue.
- Track and show when you provided other teams with data to help avoid deal breakers that prevent potential customers from choosing your product over alternatives.
- Document times when extra TLC helped to deter “anti-brand behavior” that damages the reputation and inhibits the company’s ability to grow sales.
- What notifications do you have set up for opportunities to reach out to users (trial users, survey responders), what percentage of the time did you reach out, and what percentage of those users became paying customers?
Give all-hands presentations
Here’s an example of a space where fortune favors the bold. Oftentimes, support doesn’t get a chunk of all-hands meeting time to wax rhapsodic, but you can’t wait for an invitation:
Make a pitch. Ask to have 3 minutes every week, or if not, 3 minutes every month, and if not even that much, then 3 minutes at the annual company retreat. Any amount of time you spend up in front of the company helps them remember your face and your work, and it can lead to a regular slot for going over support’s accomplishments. The worst they can say is no.
Make a deck. Make a slide deck that’s ready to go with the latest info, drawing on all the previous steps we’ve talked about (the newsletter, the data archive, the retrospectives you’ve put together for leadership).
Keep it simple. People only remember the most basic tenets (if anything) from the various meetings they’re paraded through in a given week, so make your tenets count. A handful of bullets or one chart are probably enough for each slide. Highlight the biggest and best accomplishments that are easy for all to understand, and avoid jargon. If support has handled a lot of negative user sentiment lately, don’t hide it, but make sure your presentation hinges on the positive stuff like what solutions you came up with to go along with it.
Get them laughing. When you can crack a joke about a hard situation or show a GIF that’s strangely relevant, the laughter creates goodwill with your audience which in turn helps with growing your rapport.
There’s a lot you can do to wave the banner of support in the workplace, and every one of these suggestions can probably be extended until support’s successes are downright ubiquitous. But the point is simply to remind the whole company that you’re there: behind the scenes, talking to customers on the ground every single day, supporting the work of all the other departments. And at the end of the day, that’s something anyone can appreciate.