The Greatest Support Conference I’ve Attended*

This week I attended SUPCONF, the first conference put on by Support Driven. It took place at Automattic’s HQ in the heart of San Francisco’s SoMa district. The theme of the conference was making a career out of support and had 14 talks that supported this theme. There was also 2 keynotes.

In this post I’m going to pull out the “Just tell me what to do” points I took away from the conference.

Language, Data, and Credibility

These three words weaved in throughout the conference.

Many times support departments don’t speak the same language as other departments in companies. The support department celebrates “A response time of 10 minutes” (which is great btw). That doesn’t mean something actionable to others in the company. The language others in the company speak is data and money. We need to realize this and create metrics around how they speak.

Find ways that your support team can build credibility by sharing data that’s meaningful to others in the company. Mix in stories to build empathy.

If you can say X problem is losing us Y signups causing us to miss out on Z revenue that’s something everyone can understand.

Learn to model staffing your support department. As ticket volume grows you can predict how many employees you need and the cost of those employees. It allows you to determine the cost savings if ticket volume can be diminished with product changes.

Highlight Positivity and train your employees to be more knowledgeable

There’s no doubt that support can be a negative job at times. Find ways to combat this by having employees keep a happiness folder. They can store their big “wins” or positive cases for reflection. If you have 1 on 1’s give constructive feedback and praise. Have different employees each month go through tickets to find and highlight the positive feedback. Share the positive feedback they find to everyone.

As long as you’re not an early stage company someone at your company has answers to questions. It could be “how do I install an SSL cert?” or “how do I use X feature in the product?”. Create a standardized process to request training, have internal trainings, QA the process, and store the artifacts of the training so others can refer to them.

Have employees become subject matter experts in what they’re interested as your team grows. This keeps them doing what they love.

Career & team development

Focus on support, not in support. Find time and create ways to get out of the whirlwind of answering cases. This allows to you to create proactive content. Delight your customers.

Be confident when communicating. Put yourself in the middle of passive and aggressive tones. It’s OK to ask “What is the status of the bug fix?”. When not necessary stop saying “I think,” “Just,” “I believe” these statements don’t create action.

Create niche and industry knowledge. If you work for a company that supports design work you should learn the type of work your customers do. Share their pain and victory. Learn how others support customers in similar situations. Like how to staff for weekend support.

Share your perspective (like I’m doing now!). This gives moments of “I didn’t think of that”. Realize posting on the internet opens yourself up to all kinds of feedback. Keep an open mind.

I was amazed by the professionalism and organization behind the conference. As I heard another attendee say, this is some professional grade shit. I’m proud to say I was a tiny part of the conference by clapping and listening in the crowd.

* For the record SUPCONF is the only Support Conference I’ve ever attended.

Header image in this post is courtesy of Ben MacAskill.

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.