Inside Olark’s “All-Hands Support” Customer Service Team

By on November 06th, 2014

You must know we’re big fans of how customer service teams are structured here at Front. And since we’re always curious about the subject, we went to ask our friends at Olark how they managed to pull off a kick-ass customer support all around. Their secret: all-hands support.

This is how I got to meet with Laure Parsons, Chief Storyteller at Olark and part of their all-hands customer service team, because as you can probably guess, it is all-hands on.

She explained to us how they make it work and how you could do too.

Wait, what’s all-hands support? Who’s on the customer service team?

All-hands support is just what you imagine it is. It’s when you have companies that decide that customer support should be everyone’s job, not because it’s so easy that anyone can do it (it isn’t) but because they’re so much to take out of it that you shouldn’t underestimate its power.

Companies like Zappos, Amazon or Wufoo have been getting their team to do customer support on a regular basis for years now. But Olark has taken it a step further by having all their employees take weekly shifts at their helpdesk.

customer-support-quote

The guys at Olark actually got the idea when their first and only customer support employee had to leave the company to go back to college. Out of necessity, the 4 founders took turns to chat with customers and respond to support emails. They soon realized that they had been missing out. What they were learning was so valuable for their team, their product and their company that they should keep doing it instead of hiring someone to do it for them. Their all-hands customer service team was born.

Why on earth would you ever want to do all-hands customer support?

  • It gives a better focus to the entire team, whatever their job position is. Engineers that do customer service are more likely to build the right tools and will be more prone to make quick fixes because they’ve experienced real customer pain. Marketing teams get to be in direct contact with the people they try to target all day. And so on.
  • It teaches you more on your product than any survey could ever do. Because you’re the one building your product, you only have an insiders view on it. Having your team talk to your customers on a weekly basis gives them an exterior point of view and helps them adjust your product in the right direction. Product discussions become more interesting and more insightful thanks to the deep understanding that the team gains through doing support.
  • It bonds the team. Customer service teams are at the front line of your company. They are the ones dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly on a daily basis, sorting out through customer issues, dealing with requests and trying to make everyone happy. And it isn’t easy. Having the rest of your team giving them a hand makes everyone have a much better appreciation of all the decisions that could increase support burden.

A few things on Olark you should know

Before we dive into how they actually make all-hands work, here’s a few things to know about Olark. Founded in 2009 in San Francisco, Olark is a live chat app that you can install right on your website. It has to a team of 30 people in 5 years and has part of its employees working remotely.

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Out of the 30 Olark employees, 6 are entirely dedicated to support. But again, they are helped on a weekly basis by the 24 others that all have 3-hour shifts on customer care. Together, they manage incoming support requests through chat (50%), email (49%) and Twitter (1%).

How do they really make all-hands support work

  • A good workflow and the right processesHaving people only work part-time on customer support is a challenge as far as information sharing goes. Olark’s first priority is to make sure that what happens during the 3-hour shifts is always well documented, insights don’t get lost and that follow-up by another team member is scheduled if needed.To do this, they tag conversations in their help desk to give a quick overview for everyone to see, use a project management tool to record information for the long term (feature requests, signing up people for feature release…) and have a system to escalate important issues to employees that have the correct domain expertise. All the other interesting feedback that’s collected but that doesn’t need any particular follow up is shared in an HipChat room.
  • The right team organization and high engagement levelsAccording to Laure Parsons, scheduling is quite easy at Olark. Everyone more or less has a regular shift on a specific day of the week. This helps them to plan ahead and make sure that they stay available around that time period.And because everyone gets to do customer support, the 6 people working on the dedicated customer service team get to do work on another project inside of the company one day per week!
  • Continuous trainingFinally, an all-hands support approach can only work if everyone is trained to deal with customer requests, knowing the information that’s needed or at least where they can find it at all times.To deal with this, each person taking over a shift logs in a specific room in Hip Chat where they can ask questions to other people working on shiftsat the same time as well as the dedicated support engineers and learn from others’ experiences. They can also resort to internal documentation and an extensive help centre at all times.

Takeaways for your company

  • All-hands support has a deep impact on your company’s culture and you should keep that in mind when hiring. To make it work properly, you have to hire not only on people engineering, marketing or product expertise but also on their willingness to take risks, do something outside of their job qualification and enjoy chatting with customers.
  • All-hands support is not about cutting costs on customer support and avoiding to hire new customer support reps. If that’s what you have in mind, then don’t do it. It’s more about making sure that your entire company never loses focus of what’s really important: your customers. And even if that might mean more training for your team, in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
  • All-hands support might be one of the best investments out there. As Olark CEO Ben Congleton writes, “when you invest in your customers’  happiness your investment return is higher than investing in growth”. Customers are always thrilled when they learn that they are talking directly with the CEO or the engineer behind the product they use everyday. It makes your company seem more human while providing you with one of the best employee training there is out there.

 

Feel like all-hands customer support could work for you? Let us know why you’re not doing it already in the comments!

 

p.s. Learn more ways to improve how your company communicates, both inside and out, with our free 5-day course we just launched. Here it is…

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7 responses to “Inside Olark’s “All-Hands Support” Customer Service Team”

  1. […] This means getting people from your customer support team sit down on product meetings to give new insights that they are the only ones to have. Or have your sales team give feedback on the new design you’re releasing. Maybe even ask your engineers sit down with your marketing team to see if they couldn’t work on an interesting plug-in for acquisition. Or get everyone doing support! […]

  2. […] 2 months of customer service for every new hire. Olark has each and everyone of its employees do a weekly 3-hour shift at customer support. Stripe gets everyone on a bi-weekly rotation on […]

  3. Shep Hyken says:

    Olark is a great example of how customer service becomes engrained into the culture of the company. I love their story and their concept of “All Hands Support,” which gets everyone involved in supporting the customer.

  4. Kristen says:

    Absolutely agree that customer support goes beyond just that department – it’s a company wide mindset! Customers are crucial for our success – and having everyone in contact with them gives a broader + more meaningful view of what customers want and what to build, next. And, yeah, Olark is awesome 🙂

  5. Sanjay Harnote says:

    I do agree that today customer satisfaction is the main objective of any company and we believe in this http://www.developmentlogics.com/solutions/live-chat-support-agent-services/

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