Lead vs Lag Measures

“Make there be fewer tickets unsolved in the queue and speed up the response times!”.

In my career, those words have caused the most amount of stress. It happens when someone looks at the ticket system without context. I start to think about all the work I have put in. The thought that comes to mind is “… that’s not good enough!?”.

Recently I read The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX). It has given me a new perspective on ways to handle this type of situation.

While both of items mentioned would be great goals to achieve there are 2 questions:

  • Does it fit into the current goals of the support department?
  • If so, how do we achieve these goals?

The idea of saying “We need faster ticket response times” or “There should be less open/pending tickets” are Lag Measures.

To achieve goals we need to focus on a wildly important goal (WIG). If you have 15 goals you’ll lose focus and accomplish none. Identifying Lead Measures is the best way to achieve your WIG.

To Define:

Lag Measures are historical measures of some sort of performance. They’re easy to measure, but hard to influence.

Lead Measures are the highest leverage actions or activities that can accomplish goals.

Using Lag Measures without Lead Measures is dangerous. They only measure a result towards your goal. While Lead Measures can influence the chance of success in achieving your goal. In some cases, they can even be predictive of success.

An Example:

You might say “I want to lose 2 pounds this month!”. To do this let’s apply the principles of 4DX.

The 2 pounds is the Lag Measure, a way to measure if you’re successful or not at the end of the month. To actually achieve the weight loss you would apply Lead Measures. That could be cutting out 200 calories a day and working out 5 times a week.

It’s also good to keep yourself accountable. Keep score of when you go to the gym and eat less. On a weekly basis, weigh yourself to review progress.

By focusing on the Lead Measures it sets us up for success. We know going to the gym and eating less helps us lose weight. They’re the high leverage activities.

Applying this thinking to Support:

The goal: “In the next 6 months improve the first response times to our customers”.

To achieve this goal you could take an indirect route by using Lead Measures. Leave the whirlwind of customer support and creating proactive customer success content.

Think of the highest leverage activity your support team can do to achieve your goals. In this case, it might be to build out the best possible customer help site. It would answer customer questions before they have to contact support. Thus lowering case volume, and allowing your support team to have faster response times.

Now that you’ve identified what you’re going to be doing the next checkpoints would be:

  • Analyze the past X months of tickets and identify help docs to create.
  • Take employees off of support and have them focus on customer success by creating the help docs. This could raise response times. Keep in mind it’s about achieving your goals through high leverage activities.
  • Meet on a weekly basis to see how progress is going, keep score of how many docs you created.

After 6 months of Lead Measure work, take a look at Lag Measures. Ask “Are response times quicker?”. By focusing on the high leverage activities there’s a great chance they will be.


The idea behind these thoughts come from The 4 Disciplines of Execution. If you’re not achieving your goals I recommend checking it out.

The Case For Compassionate Empathy

One of the most sought after skills for a Customer Centric Professional is empathy. It’s easy to find article after article on how important it is the support world.

Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself in the shoes of another to see their perspective. It’s imagining as if you’re having the issue the person that your helping is having.

While empathy as a term is well liked, I don’t think it’s perfect for a Customer Centric Professional. It doesn’t convey action to resolve the situation.

To be in the right mindset for helping customers, we need to introduce compassion. Often empathy and compassion get mixed as if they’re synonyms. They’re related words.

Compassion is being consciousness of someone’s distress with a desire to ease it.

The difference between the two seems small at first. Zoom out to the bigger picture, and the differences are vast. Compassion is acknowledging the problem and working to resolve it!

Still, on its own, compassion isn’t enough. It has its flaws. It doesn’t put one in the position of another person.

Think of both words from the viewpoint of a Customer Centric Professional. It’s hard to create a connection with someone if you can’t imagine their situation. And it’s hard to create a feature if you don’t understand the customer’s problems. It’s also hard to solve a problem if you’re not driven to solve it.

Let’s improve empathy and compassion and use them together. This fusion creates a much more powerful skill: Compassionate Empathy.

The definition of Compassionate Empathy for a Customer Centric Professional is:

Acknowledging and valuing the position of the person that you’re helping and working to resolve their situation

When framed like this, the viewpoint becomes a super-power.

It means that when someone has a concern, you acknowledge it. You value the concern. When necessary, it’s okay to say you’re sorry. Or if you’ve been in that situation before, you can relate to the customer.

Your next step is working to resolve the concern. Because you have compassion, you’re driven to take care of the issue.

Compassionate empathy conveys action while understanding the position of the person you’re helping.


Compassionate empathy isn’t something one hires and has for the rest of their life. Like any other skill, it requires practice. It’s not set it and forget it. Somedays you’re able to channel more compassionate empathy and some days you’re not. If the pains of a customer base changes, it requires one to learn about those new pains.

Not every response requires a response filled with Compassion empathy. Sometimes all that’s needed is hospitality. That’s a friendly and warm response. Sometimes someone needs a reminder of their username, how to do a task, etc. These answers don’t require you to enter the position of the person or be sympathetic to their situation.


Reading and listening that formed these thoughts

Intercom: Does your support team know more about your product than you do?

Sabrina Gordon, a customer support lead at Intercom shares the value that a support team can provide to a product team.

She highlights the difference between survey feedback and unsolicited feedback.

To define

Survey feedback is when you reach out to customers after the fact. It could be in the form of “How do you like XYZ?” survey sent a week after a customer used XYZ. The danger with this feedback is it’s only regarding what you ask about.

Unsolicited feedback is from anyone directly working with customers. This is picking up on feedback as the customer uses XYZ. Think of this feedback as you’re already interviewing your customers.

Applying this thinking to a product

Say your product team releases a great new feature overhauling the permission settings for your service.

Two weeks after launching, the product team notices it’s not used as much as they expected. To figure out why they send out surveys to customers using the feature to get their feedback. Responses come back and the people that are using it rave about it. At this point, without looping in your support team, they might think they need to market the feature more.

In a world where the product team also uses unsolicited feedback, they would also incorporate going to the support team for the research. Right away, the support team could point an issue that tells a different story from the survey: A small portion of those who use the permission settings are confused on how to enable the new settings. The confusion causes an unknown amount of customers never to enable the new permissions.

This feedback provides the product team a place to go back and fix the confusion. The support team can fit into reducing the uncertainty by improving the support docs on the permission settings.

Tagging Unsolicited Feedback

Sabrina builds on how Intercom uses the Unsolicited feedback.

One of the most important things we do at Intercom is tag every single conversation that comes into our inbox with both a team tag and a category tag. The team tag denotes what product team owns that feature or part of the product, while the category tag describes what type of conversation we had.
Using these tags, our product team can create dashboards, look at unusual spikes, consistent trends, explore conversations and get insights into what we should be working on next.

This allows Intercom to see into the customer journey and where support requests are coming from.

Make it Happen

I recently finished Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s a 269-page book on how to get things done. Which might seem like overkill but it’s full of good information on task-management.

In the book, Allen makes his case for a system that he’s designed to get things done. The root idea is to come up with a system to process all the “stuff” that comes up in life. Stuff is any to-do. From a rebranding project at work to getting your kitchen sink fixed. It’s all stuff that can float up in your mind at any given point in a day and interrupt and ruin your workflow.

The most value I took away is creating a to-do system to capture your ideas in a way that is actionable to you.

Here are three points that I’ll be incorporating into my routine:

  • A Weekly Review
  • Next Action Decisions
  • Focusing on the Outcome

The Weekly Review

For me, one of the most satisfying feelings is heading out on vacation with all the loose ends at work tied up. It feels so great to be on top of everything, right? Of course, a few days off doesn’t hurt either.

That feeling is the weekly review. Every week have an hour on your calendar where you cover what happened over the last week.

Over a week, things get messy, and you get pulled into unexpected directions. It’s good to close the loop on your tasks and review your to-do list.

After this hour, your to-do list is clean and clarified. If there’s a simple task lingering on your to-do list, finish it up during the review. Catch up on emails, support tickets, and other stuff. And finally, set what you need to do for the next 5-7 days.

The weekly review is critical to a well-working to-do system. Without it, the whole process falls apart. It clears your mind and sets you up for success.

Next Action Decisions

Straightforward and sweet. Next action decision is asking What’s next? It empowers you to be able to move actions, to-dos, and projects to the next step and keep things running.

Before reading Getting Things Done, on my to-do list I had:

Katie’s battery

What the heck does that mean? It’s not a to-do, nor does it show what action is necessary. In reality, that meant clear the corrosion off of Katie’s car battery. The next action was getting the supplies to clear off the corrosion.

Next action decisions take vague stuff into actionable items. This is valuable for many reasons. Maybe you’re groggy on a Monday morning and looking for a quick win to spark your week. Look at your to-do list for something with a simple next action and get it done! Or, maybe you’re towards the end of 1-hour meeting that you don’t remember the purpose of. Ask “What are the next action steps?” this sets ground rules and expectations for what’s to be accomplished after the meeting.

Focusing on the Outcome

It’s hard to create a task when you don’t know what the end product looks like. As the famous quote goes:

A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision and a task are the hope of the world.

By being able to focus on the outcome, you’re able to create the tasks to achieve the outcome.

Say you want to onboard a new support employee. Focus on the elements of what a successful onboarding would look like for that employee. Create tasks to achieve those elements.


The ideas behind these thoughts come from Getting Things Done. If you download a to-do app never to return to it, I suggest giving the book a read.

HBR: Kick-Ass Customer Service

An interesting write-up by HBR on what type of person excels in a customer service focused role. In a study of 1,440 customer service professionals, they found seven different personas: Accommodators, Competitors, Controllers, Empathizers, Hard Workers, Innovators, and Rocks.

Interestingly, they found that someone that fits the persona of a Controller excelled the most (lower handle time, higher customer satisfaction ratings). HBR defines a Controller as someone who is outspoken and opinionated; likes demonstrating expertise and directing the customer interaction.

Why do Controllers do better than their counterparts? Our structured interviews revealed that they are driven to deliver fast, easy service and are comfortable exerting their strong personalities in order to demonstrate their expertise. They describe themselves as “take charge” people who are more interested in building and following a plan than “going with the flow,” even in social situations. They’re confident decision makers, especially when nobody’s in charge, and they’re opinionated and vocal. As one Controller explained, “I like to take control of the situation and guide people.”

And as the problems reps deal with have become more complicated, Controllers have turned out to be the best problem solvers. Not only do they proactively diagnose customer issues, but they also consider the customer’s personality and the context of the call in order to customize a solution and present it effectively. Controllers focus less on asking customers what they’d like to do and more on telling them what they should do—the aim always being to get to the fastest and easiest resolution. The conversation feels decidedly human and off-script: Controllers tend to shun generic language and prescribed checklists, especially when their diagnosis suggests that customers have already invested significant time trying to resolve an issue on their own.

Consciously or not, Controllers deliver what information-saturated customers want (according to the research): clear guidance instead of excessive choice. In CEB’s customer contact practice, for example, we’ve found that 84% of customers would prefer a straightforward solution to their problem rather than a broad array of self-service channels (e-mail, chat, social media–based service, and so on).

The whole article is worth a read. It dives into hiring, training people to be controllers, and adopting a controller mindset at an organization level.

Reading this reminded me of Buffer cutting back on offering refunds.

In the end, empathy and accommodating a customer’s needs is necessary. But quickly coming to a solution is valued just as much if not more.

Packing a Workspace

This is my sixth and final post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “Share your workspace with us”.

I’m a remote worker, because of that, my physical workspace is in flux. Most days are spent either at home or a local coworking spot. Because of that, I wanted to capture what I keep in what I call my desk, my backpack.

I do have one rule for where I work: The space must be quiet and private. No open office and little time spent in coffee shops.

img_20161208_082221846

Here’s what’s pictured above:

  • Standard issue MacBook Pro and charger.
  • Ear buds.
  • A notebook to write down thoughts.
  • Blue/Black Pen. Like a TV remote, I’m always losing one of these. Currently lost is the blue pen.
  • USB cable.
  • Clicky keyboard & mouse. Not always on me but a must have.
  • Water bottle.
  • The book I’m currently reading, Getting Things Done.
  • A local magazine, Little Village.
  • The desk, a Crumpler Backpack.

Unpictured:

  • Snacks/lunch.
  • Coffee mug.
  • Sweatshirt, mittens, and hat. (it’s getting cold)

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An Archetypal Week

This is my fifth post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “Tell us about a typical day in your life”.

I split my week and days between working in Support and working in Success. Support is what you’d expect: Answering emails, live chats, and Tweets. Success is working on proactive content, researching how customers are using our products, and campaigns reaching out to customers.

Before Work

I wake up anywhere between 7:30 AM – 9:30 AM. It depends on what I have planned for the morning. I might meet up with a friend for coffee, go to the gym, or sleep in as long as I can.

For breakfast, I’ll have a bowl of greek yogurt with granola. Before I log on for work, I’ll make a fussy cup of coffee with a Chemex or AeroPress.

Work

I start my day around 10:00 AM. I’ll hop into Slack to say hello to my team (we work remotely) and glance at Basecamp for what I missed.

At that point, I’ll turn my focus to what my role is for the day, support or success.

Support Days

My Support days are Monday, Thursday, and Friday. As you might expect, these are days where the work is done as it shows up.

When I load up Help Scout for the day, I’ll do my best to prioritize the cases in our queue: Are there any extremely urgent situations, are there any replies to European customers that I need to get out right away (to give them a chance to respond before their day is over).

From there, it’s heads down in the queue till lunch. I’ll also turn on Live Chat to have that available until 5:00 PM.

Lunch will happen between 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM. After lunch, it’s back into the queue.

For 3 hours I’m on alert monitoring shift for our transactional email service, Postmark. While on my shift, I’ll catch-up on my Pocket queue between alerts.

In my last hour of the day, I’ll follow-up on any Basecamp posts and finish up any to-dos. On Thursdays, I’ll write down any wandering thoughts from my previous Success days.

Success Days

My Success days are Tuesday and Wednesday. These days are much more focused than a support day. I’ll put Slack in DND (do not disturb). And I’m getting better at quitting Slack for a couple of hours.

As I said in the intro, Success is much more proactive work. Our goal in Success is to make our customers better developers, not just better Beanstalk users.

That’s where the content comes in. Maybe we find ourselves having to teach customers Git often, to help out with that we can create a Getting Started with Git guide. It can be blog posts, guides, or help articles.

Research is looking at all the data available like support requests and behavioral analytics. We try to find wedges here to make our customers more successful. Maybe there’s a pitfall we see people falling into. With that information, we can suggest product improvements or content to create.

A campaign would be reaching out to customers who haven’t reached MVE (minimum viable effort, i.e., the point of realizing the value of a product). It could also be reaching out to customers that we’ve identified that are at risk for churn. For example, I am planning to reach out to customers in a suspended state (payment is failing).

As you might be able to tell, there’s a lot of possibilities for what a Success day can look like hour by hour.

After Work

Around 6:00 PM I’ll start shutdown procedures (close the laptop lid) and end my day. There are no set plans for after work.

On days that my beautiful wife works, she won’t get home until 8:00 PM. The days she works I’ll cook dinner and on her days off she’ll cook dinner.

Some nights after work I might meet up with friends to watch a sporting event, or we might have a friend over for board games.

I’m a night owl and will stay up later than my wife. I’ll work on a project like this blog post or become terrified of technology by watching Black Mirror.

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Stacking Up Support

This is my fourth post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “What mediums does your team do support through? What are the pros and cons to each of these mediums?”

At Wildbit, our support stack is mundane, and that’s good. It means we’re not overwhelmed, and we can deliver exceptional support while being a small team.

We have the channels of email, live chat, Twitter, and are testing phone support. Along with help docs and guides.

Email

I love email support. To me, this is the bread and butter of helping customers.

Pros:

You can assume every customer has an email address. There are no extra accounts for them to learn and services to learn to interact with you.

Each customer is unique. Email support allows you time to make a response specific to the customers unique needs. For a tricky case, you can spend 10 minutes researching, and the customer doesn’t know the difference. In live chat, they’d be asking “are you there?”.

For the tricky cases, you can spend 10 minutes researching, and the customer doesn’t know the difference. In live chat, they’d be asking “are you there?”.

Cons:

For the customer, it can be difficult. If they’re coming to you, that means they have a problem. If you can’t get back to them quickly, it becomes a little terrifying with comments like:

Is there a phone number I can call?

Do you need more information?

Did my email get lost?

Live Chat

We have live chat on our marketing pages and in-app. It can be fun as you’re going over pricing/features, and at the same time teaching someone Git.

Pros:

The immediacy cons of email are all resolved with live chat.

A human connection is easy to make with a customer over chat.

It’s easier to judge the tone of a conversation compared to email. It allows for a more enjoyable exchange with a customer.

Cons:

An immediate, non-transactional answer can be hard.

I support developers. Teaching someone complicated topics or working through complex errors over chat is often mentally draining.

Twitter

Pros:

Like email, the barrier for a customer to ask a question is low.

Cons:

I’m not a fan of Twitter support. Tying a Twitter handle to a customer is hard.

Replies are “cold” with only 140 characters available to a question that deserves 140 words.

Phone

This is an experimental feature two of my colleagues are starting this week.

In their email signatures, they include a Calendy link to schedule a phone call for phone support. We’re not sure how this will go, the best part is if it’s successful, it’s a win. If it’s not, we can remove the link from the signature and move on.

Pros:

The most human of all popular channels.

Cons:

In a twenty-minute phone call, you can only help one customer, with email or live chat in the same period you can assist 4-6 customers. Your team has to in a position to handle the volume or limit access.

Some answers are best answered over text.

Self-service (docs and guides)

We have two types of self-service content: Docs & Guides.

Docs are product specific information. Guides are product agnostic. i.e., in theory, a competitor could link to them as a great resource for information on a topic, and a guild should provide value even if you aren’t using one of our products.

Pros:

The difficult how-to you get often? Turn it into a doc, and it can help the next 5 customers with the same question.

If your support team isn’t 24/7, it offers something in off hours.

Best practices? If you’re living and breathing your product you probably have some best practices, share them as a guide!

Cons:

Docs can be a crutch.

Creating a help doc doesn’t solve all problems. The fewer help docs, the better. If you have customers reaching out to you frequently about the same problem, it can be a sign there needs to be improvements there. This isn’t to say help docs aren’t important but it is dangerous to fall into the trap of creating X amount of help docs a week.

Simon Ouderkirk and Carolyn Kopprasch have written great posts on the dangers of self-service docs.

A parting thought

A piece of advice I once heard: Never add a new channel until you’ve mastered one for 6 months. i.e., if you were starting a support team on day one, you wouldn’t have email, chat, and phone.

Pick one, master it, and add more later. If you can deliver an amazing customer experience in one channel, it’ll go much farther, than a bad experience on many channels.

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