Main illustration: Adam Henderson
Want to build an exceptional customer support team for your software company? Each member needs first-rate tech qualifications, right? Wrong.
Diversity within product teams is said to develop more inclusive, creative strategies, and ultimately better and more accessible products. Our customer support team, which includes everything from a TV editor (that’s me) to a Navy SEAL, is built on the same principle.
The team is made up of Customer Support Representatives and Customer Support Engineers. Our Support Reps are product experts. We pride ourselves on our in-depth knowledge of the ever-changing Intercom platform and products and aim to help customers use every feature available to them to the absolute fullest. Meanwhile, our Customer Support Engineers specialize in the tricky and technical deep-dive investigations into our APIs and codebase.
So how can this mix of skills and technical abilities enhance the overall performance and quality of a support team? Well, there are lots of benefits but here are three major ones that should not be overlooked.
1. Confused customer? We feel you…
Everyone worries about looking foolish when asking a question. So in most cases, people will go on the offensive and turn the question into a complaint. This is why empathy is such a crucial aspect of good customer support, and one of our team’s core values. Letting your customers know you care about their question and you appreciate why the answer isn’t clear to them builds trust and understanding from the get go.
Less technical teammates can offer unrivaled levels of empathy to users because of the similarities with their own learning curve. There is nothing like the memory of your own first few technical stumbling blocks to inspire more honest and compassionate responses to “easy” questions. Sometimes just a simple statement like “I know this one sounds a little technical, but don’t worry. I was daunted by it the first time I had to tackle it too!” can change the tone of a conversation completely.
Not everyone has experience opening the console on a page to check for errors. A more technical teammate might request a customer to do this without explanation or instruction because it’s instinctive to them. Before joining Intercom I didn’t even know this functionality existed, let alone have experience using it. I try to always be mindful of this example when I’m troubleshooting issues with customers. With that extra effort to be cognizant, suddenly the customer can let their guard down and ask the dreaded “stupid question” without feeling judged.
2. Transform technical teammates into teachers
We’ve already mentioned our support engineers have amazing technical skills. So how can less tech-savvy teammates help them improve? How about by encouraging them to share their expertise and become awesome teachers in the process?
Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” Customer support reps have the ability to help Customer Support Engineers deepen their expertise by forcing them to practice the “explain it simply” part.
Being able to effectively educate and explain complex issues in accessible, clear language is critical for providing sound support, particularly at Intercom. Change happens fast in our company – we ship product updates and new features every day. To keep up with this rapid growth rate and provide great customer support, it’s vital to have an effective communication strategy in place.
Every day the engineers on our team teach me something new. No exaggeration. Every. Single. Day. While I’m learning new skills, they’re consistently developing their teaching ability. And who else benefits from our engineers being able to succinctly explain how to configure DNS records for each of the domains someone wants to use as part of their sender addresses in Intercom? Customers do. Happier customers and a more skilled staff. Win win!
3. Clean slate = Endless creative opportunities
Sometimes having experience specific to the role you are in is fantastic and sometimes it’s not. Occasionally, that experience comes with baggage – negative associations and preconceived notions about what does and doesn’t work – and can breed complacency.
When you’ve been in a role a long time it’s easy to start thinking things like: “Why develop new workflows and creative approaches? I’ve got this playbook and that’s always worked for me.” It’s just a variation on the classic “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” A successful formula might work well but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.
Less technical teammates not only offer a fresh set of eyes but can also share workflows and creative tactics from previous experience in different work environments. In some cases, the further removed from the tech sector the better.
Maybe the workflow itself isn’t the right fit for your team but perhaps the discussion it sparks will inspire ideas that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. At Intercom, we recognize and appreciate the value of new perspectives. We’re encouraged from day one to share user feedback, from onboarding experiences to how usable a customer found the design of the app’s UI when they first logged in.
A collective effort
We’re genuinely eager to harness the ideas of all of our employees, technical or not. Our differences are what make us unique, and creativity is born where our various strengths intersect.
Incorporating a diverse and collective approach is a key pillar of customer support here at Intercom. It’s what makes our support more personal, enjoyable and truer to life.