Aircall's Ian MacLean on helping support teams prevent the "swivel chair effect" - hero image

Aircall’s Global Head of Customer Care Ian MacLean on preventing the ‘swivel chair effect’

Ian MacLean is the Global Head of Customer Care at Aircall, the cloud-based phone system for modern business. With a mission to bring value to voice, Ian’s team of customer care specialists focus on building strong, lasting relationships with their customers, going far beyond just offering a plug-in phone system.

This is the first in a recurring series of articles looking at how modern support leaders are navigating the support landscape as it continues to evolve. With customer expectations on the rise, we look to find out how support leaders are creating best-in-class experiences to meet those expectations, and what support teams need to be set up for success as the future unfolds.

Having worked in the customer support industry for many years, Ian explains that support teams are often faced with what’s known as the “swivel chair effect” – the process of having to switch between multiple tools and screens to gather the necessary information or context to solve a problem. Aiming to simplify that process, the Aircall team has built out a suite of integrations with systems such as Salesforce and Intercom, enabling its customers to seamlessly marry the systems they use on a day-to-day basis with their phone system and eliminate the need for manual data exchange.

Working together towards a single goal

Aircall is dedicated to providing a consistent experience for its customers as they progress through their journey, which is why the support arm of the organization is so extensive. From Ian’s customer care team, to onboarding, customer success, and specialist teams focused on porting, knowledge, and training, it’s obvious that customer relations are at the core of Aircall’s business – in every way. Aircall customers can receive support over the phone, through the Intercom Messenger, or by submitting a ticket for their query. Across all of these channels, KPIs such as CSAT scores and NPS are helping the teams to keep a close pulse on customer sentiment and provide extra help where it’s needed.

As Ian shares, from the moment a customer signs up to your product, there’s ownership of their account – whether their key point person is in sales, onboarding, or customer success. Having that point person is an important part of the customer’s journey, but their relationship with other teams in your organization often goes deeper. In Aircall, making sure that everything is in good shape for its customers at the end of the day is a collaborative effort, with the customer care, porting, and knowledge teams working behind the scenes to make sure every customer is getting the best possible experience.

The shape of support

The Conversational Support Funnel breaks the customer support journey down into three stages: proactive, self-service, and human – the point of the journey at which you’re interacting one-on-one with a support agent. Drawing on years of industry experience, Ian shares that, “Proactive support is what we all dream of,” and that his team are actively working to get ahead of known issues, providing support before customers are even aware they need it.

Given that the nature of Aircall’s business is live phone lines, a large portion of the team’s customer support is reactive. With Intercom’s Custom Bots and Articles, Ian’s team has created a self-service support journey that guides customers down custom paths based on their query, enabling them to reference support docs to help resolve the issue. What Ian is noticing is that customers are having lots of interactions with the bots and help docs before ever needing to speak to an agent, freeing up his team to deal with more sensitive and urgent conversations.

Using automation to power human support

While humans are – and always will be – at the center of Aircall’s support operation, Ian acknowledges the power that automation affords his team to focus on what really matters. Using upfront collection bots, support agents can collect valuable information to help them quickly resolve customer queries, without having to spend precious minutes trying to understand the question. Using this method of information collection, Ian’s team has been able to keep its resolution times to a minimum, and CSAT scores high.

Speaking about the role technology plays in support, Ian looks at it as humans driving automation to power the behind-the-scenes work so they can focus on human-to-human interactions. “If somebody on my team can make a process happen with one click – or no clicks – all the better, because it means they can spend that time building a relationship with the customer,” he says.

A tech stack for success

Choosing tools for your support tech stack is a careful and considered process. At Aircall, the team has integrated several systems to build their support operation, including Intercom for its live chat and knowledge base, JIRA for ticketing, and of course, Aircall for phone support.

Sharing his customer-centric approach to building a support tech stack, Ian’s advice for support leaders looking to improve their support experience is, “Find a tool that’s going to improve the experience of the customer, have a clearly defined focus and set of initiatives for what you want the tool to do, and make it work with everything else you have going on.”

Building for the future

As an industry, customer support is undergoing massive change. The bygone days of “good enough” are now a distant memory, and customers are expecting more. When it comes to building a support experience that lasts the test of time, Ian emphasises the importance of balancing what already works with what’s next. In his own words, “You want to blend together the best parts of the experiences your customers have had, but also look to do something different and push what you can do for your customers to its limits.”

“We need to keep doing our job and make sure that we’re providing a great level of service”

COVID-19 has undeniably had reverberations on the support industry as a whole, with people needing more support than ever. Fortunately for Aircall’s team and customers, the company’s focus on systems consolidation meant that transitioning their phone systems from an office to home working environment was as simple as plugging out and plugging them back in. Despite the challenges brought about for Aircall’s team as a result of the pandemic, Ian attests that their customers kept them motivated, saying, “We need to keep doing our job and make sure that we’re providing a great level of service.”