Don’t Leave Your Support Team Navigating Without a Compass

Poor presentation offers a deluge of information and not a drop of insight.

During my three years at Help Scout, I’ve had the unique opportunity to talk to support managers at many top-tier companies. One thing they have in common? Presenting a monthly update to the support team. It always kicks in after growth allows communication to do what it does best: break down.

While Reporting helps in a big way, there’s more to a great support update than just the numbers. Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

The tools—from Slack posts to the P2 theme—make sharing these updates easy, but you are responsible for making them useful. Here are few things to consider including.

Help Scout Informed Support

From the Mouths of Customers

Helping customers figure out tough problems is a job based on giving; you won’t find excessive egos in support.

One way this actually backfires is that the team may be hesitant to celebrate deserved wins. I recall one conversation with a support manager as clear as day:

You know, for a while we didn’t include any sort of collection of customer love. “Didn’t need to be said” was taken a bit too far, and I regret not sharing that stuff sooner because it directly impacts morale.

A quick section with curated feedback is well deserved. It’s about feeling good that you’ve made a contribution to the people who keep the business afloat.

Justin writes our support updates, and he divides kind words into four categories:

1. Compliments for the support.

The most important section, in my opinion. Here’s where you should share a few quotes from customers who contacted support and walked away thoroughly pleased.

2. Praise for the product.

Whether from a new sign-up or a longtime customer who noticed detail-oriented polish, it’s nice to hear the product you support is having a meaningful impact on the people who use it.

3. Giving thanks for the little extras.

For Help Scout, this might mean the writing on our blog. I’m always grateful when Justin includes a mention of a customer who incorporated our advice into their workflow.

4. Nods for above-and-beyond effort.

If someone on your team is punching above their weight, especially someone outside of support, there’s an opportunity to acknowledge them here.

If one of your aims is to get the whole company involved in support, it’s smart to include the feel good stuff.

Justin will call out engineers who are going the extra mile. Be careful though, because if you help out too much, like our engineer Craig, an embarrassing amazing photoshopped pic is headed your way.

Craig Davis - Help Scout Support

The Goings On

“Status” is an important part of team communication, because silence isn’t always golden.

If you have team-wide broadcast responsibilities—like a support update—you need to make your words count.

There is often a lot going on in support outside of the inbox. Here’s where you nail down what that is.

Hiring and team status

Are there any new faces? Is anyone parting ways? Who starts when? How have the latest applicants been for the open position? There are few things the team cares about more than the future of the team.

What’s been launched recently?

In our last update we mentioned the new and improved product demos. We also shared which help docs had been updated, and informed everyone about a big change to an internal support doc.

What’s new with the product?

As the support lead, you need to update your team on where the product is headed. Have new features been deployed? What’s on the roadmap for next month? Support needs to know about even the minor changes that could affect a customer’s workflow.

Refresher on great support

Let’s be honest, most of us forget more than we learn. It can be useful to get a mini-refresher on dealing with tough scenarios, or to be reminded of those common slip-ups that snag us once in a while (especially helpful for non-support folks who step into the queue).

Any narratives worth noticing?

Feedback can start to form a narrative if you hear it enough times. You can’t take action without confirmation, but support will often be the first to spot and notice warning signs and opportunities.

What is support advocating for?

It can be tough to hear “we need this drill” all day long. To talk to the product team, instead figure out why a customer needs a certain type of hole. If support has opinions on that, share them here.

The Numbers, with Context

The team needs to see the numbers. If you want to overachieve here, you’re going to need to provide the context.

Reports will pull plenty of insight, but the best communication is bespoke—what does your team need to know and why do they need to know it right now?

Here are a few common themes to consider:

What has the workload been like?

Help Scout Conversation Report

A Conversations Report would be the Help Scout equivalent, but this is where you outline what the volume of requests has been like, and what that means for the future.

Total volume

Does the team need to discuss bringing on another person (or two)? Why was Monday so busy? Was there an outage or an issue with the product? It looks like far more customers were helped this month than last—why was that?

Types of questions

When using tags to categorize and sort conversations, you’re also going to have data available on top tags for any given time period. Why was the “Refund” tag used 13% more often this month? Better get to the bottom of it.

Types of responses

If your team is using Saved Replies to answer conversations, you’ll see how many instances a particular reply has been used. Say you notice that the Pricing: Subscriptions reply has been inserted quite a few times. Maybe you need to make the pricing options clearer on the website? Your update is a good time to bring it up.

What has customer activity been like?

Help Scout Conversation Report - Busiest Time of Day

Showcase what times are hectic and when things quiet down, and if there are any trends that you’ve seen over the long-term. This will help the team know when they are most needed, and consistent trends will sway how you hire in the future.

We ended up searching for a customer champion in Europe to better cover our bases with activity we were seeing in the evenings and early mornings.

Have there been any outliers recently?

Help Scout - Team and User Reports

The Team Report and User Report will help you dial down into how much work—and what kind of work—each of your team members is doing. Use them as jumping off points to identify red flags.

As Cassie Marketos explains, common narratives that can crop up are seeing someone moving too fast or noticing that one person is being overloaded with difficult conversations:

Users moving too fast or overloaded

Discussing these numbers publicly can let the team know that adjustments are needed.

One support manager I spoke with gave the following example (paraphrased):

If I see someone is being unfairly burdened with too many of the long, difficult requests we are getting, I’m going to say something in the update. I know that it’s happening on accident, meaning the team doesn’t realize it and the person probably thinks she’s just doing her part.

It’s my job to step in and say, “Hey folks, Stacy has contributed in a big way this past month with the toughest tickets, but we need to lighten the load for her a little and make sure we’re pitching in and taking on some of the more difficult conversations.”

Finding out their teammate needs help is all that the best people need to hear.

Internal transparency can resolve the issue easily for the right teams.

How happy have our customers been?

Help Scout Happiness Report

Explained perfectly by Dave Cole of Wistia, Happiness Ratings need to be presented with the most context of all, because too much incentive to get “better ratings” won’t correlate with better customer support:

The pushback I have about ranking team members on their happiness stats is that doing so could incentivize people to work towards the numbers in an unhealthy way.

If people want to make sure they only get “happy” ratings, they might only reply to soft emails they see in the inbox — ones that they know will be super easy to handle. See a customer with a really challenging question? Or asking for a feature that we definitely won’t build? Perhaps typing in all-caps and freaking out? No thanks! Onto the next one.

I learned that some departments have a “happiness section” in their updates dedicated to individual ratings.

The idea is that there is sometimes—but not always—something to be learned from the best and worst ratings you get.

Help Scout Happiness Report - Ratings

The good.

Did a customer take the time not only to leave a “great” rating, but give an extended reply as to why? What was done to make this an exceptional experience? How can it be repeated?

The bad.

“Okay” and “Bad” ratings with mild feedback may represent a small detail gone wrong. Often they are the result of a moody customer, but if you notice a common theme (“Didn’t explain it to me clearly…”), that’s something to discuss.

The ugly.

Praise in public, reprimand in private. If you’re going to share a misstep, either make it your own or have it land softly, discussing it with your teammate beforehand. “Steve promised too much to the customer here without consulting engineering, and they ended up being let down when reality came around. Let’s be sure to keep expectations within reason; better to under-promise and over-deliver.”

If you politely ask to bring that up, Steve has the opportunity to let the mistake be a learning experience for all. Candor is tough, and this approach isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth discussing.

What have our response times been like?

Help Scout Productivity Report

The Productivity Report is what we use at Help Scout.

There are only so many “Sorry for the wait!” messages you can send before customers stop waiting and start getting in line for your competitors.

Your update is a place where you can discuss how quickly the team has been replying and why those response times were what they were.

Results can be achieved when this information is shared throughout. What steps will be taken next to improve? Is there a certain time where the team is lagging? Why is that? What goals are you setting and how are you staying accountable? Will a new escalation Workflow be used to keep older emails moving?

Make it Your Own

The reason you are updating your team with your information is so that you can collectively make better decisions.

What’s included here doesn’t need to make its way into all of your updates; a section shouldn’t appear at all if you feel it isn’t a fit. You know your people best.

As Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”

With experience, you’ll learn exactly what to include in these updates to help your support team avoid navigating without a compass. I hope these suggestions are useful for kicking things off in the meantime.

Gregory Ciotti

Gregory Ciotti

Greg is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.