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Q&A: How do you create a support team culture?

Head of Platform Partnerships, Intercom

Jeff Gardner


When you are launching a new product, you care for every customer as if they were your last.

You’re so concerned about maximizing your probability of success that any customer feeling annoyed or disappointed by their experience hurts you deeply. But as a company scales and acquires more and more customers, you’ll need to instil that same spirit into the support team you build around you.

This week, Naveen from Almabase asked us what how to instil a culture in a customer support team. As Intercom’s first support hire, and now Director of Customer Support, here’s what I’ve learned.

The most important thing for any team (or company for that matter), and certainly for one that’s newly formed, is to understand what mission they are on. That then informs how you should operate in order to peruse that mission.

A common mistake is for teams not to be specific enough.

Anyone can set goals, but instilling a sense of purpose is much harder. Ezra Pound wrote that, “Only emotion endures”. A strong sense of purpose helps to build an emotional connection to the work and this is where the magic can happen. Good teams and companies have a mission, but the best are on a mission.

For your customer success team you need to decide what you want to focus on. When it comes to this, a common mistake is for teams not to be specific enough. They simply want to “make customer experience better”, but they don’t make it clear how they plan to do that or what the outcome for the business is if they are successful.

Aim for something more precise. Do you want to increase customer loyalty scores (such as NPS)? Or are you really interested in increasing your renewal rate? Is it reduction of churn that you’re principally concerned with? Being precise makes it much easier for your newly formed team to focus on working on the right things at the right times.

You should also be thinking about how your newly formed team will work at a more granular level. For example, it’s easy to reduce churn by making it painfully difficult for a customer to cancel their service. But I think we’d all agree that’s a pitiful way to achieve the goal of churn reduction.

So it’s important to develop of set of operating principles or values that explicitly spell out how you expect the team to pursue the mission. Values, like your mission, should be opinionated. They are a reflection of what makes your company and your team uniquely “you”. They should make it clear what types of actions you value and what actions you don’t care about or are strongly against.

On Intercom’s customer support team, one of our operating principles is “Treat the problem, not the symptom”. This means that we’re not content to simply fix a customer’s problem and move on. We strive to understand the root cause that triggered the problem in the first place and actively look for ways to solve that issue over simply treating the symptom.

With a clear goal and purpose and a framework for understanding how to attain that goal your team should be well set up to make the right choices and work on the right things.