Main illustration: Rachel Suggs
Traditionally, IT support has been seen as a source of frustration for people – almost inevitably, as you only get in touch with your IT support team when something has gone wrong.
And it’s easy to transfer the irritation from the malfunctioning computer or the buggy software to the IT department if it doesn’t feel like the problem is getting resolved fast enough. In that case, a technical hurdle quickly feels like an IT hurdle, and once that starts to be the case, it’s very hard to correct.
Exacerbating that frustration in many companies is the pervasive use of enterprise level ticketed systems. Now, we here at Intercom make no secret of our dislike of ticketing systems, but the issue goes further when dealing with corporate IT – to file a problem, you often have to fill out a convoluted form full of drop-down questions about what your machine is or what software version you’re on. It’s a pain, basically.
It’s key that our IT support team is seen as being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
In a company like Intercom, where people like to move fast and build things, it’s key that our IT support team is seen as being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. You want people gladly coming back to you every time they face an issue, and you don’t want people thinking you’re just an obstacle that needs to be overcome.
To do this, we have embraced the values that Intercom espouses for our own customers – we strive to make IT personal, and to do that we use the Intercom Messenger itself, rather than a traditional enterprise IT ticketing system. It turns out this has a lot of important and related benefits.
For a start, it’s excellent practice to be using our own product to solve our own problems – if tickets aren’t the best solution for our customers, they certainly aren’t the best solution for our colleagues.
Secondly, it encourages speed, for both parties. There’s a different sort of engagement from the get go – people are less reluctant to open a case because the sense of burden is so much lighter. Filing a problem on our Messenger is like sending a WhatsApp message rather than tediously filling out a form.
And for us on the IT support team, it’s easy to respond fast and let your colleague know you’re aware of the problem and will get around to it. A quick little message to your colleague is so much more appreciated and effective than a canned, automated response.
Even if I’m not going to deal with the problem right there, responding fast just to say I’ve registered the problem and will get around to it is crucial. Part of the sense of frustration people have is the not knowing what state their issue is in, and using Messenger allows us to show that we care and are handling it much better than a traditional IT support system, where the interactions can feel faceless and robotic.
Colour and character
Also, because the conversation is via the Messenger, it becomes natural to embrace emoji and gifs to add character to your conversations, and I can’t overstate the difference that makes.
When I joined Intercom, I was nearly anti-emoji, I thought it was over-the-top. But almost immediately, I began to appreciate the connection a well-chosen emoji or gif really helps make with someone.
What you realise working in IT is that these obstacles people encounter when something doesn’t work right can cause quite a bit of anxiety, and a light-hearted emoji or gif can break that sense of anxiety very efficiently – it brightens up people’s day and alleviates the sense that things aren’t going well.
Tagging and reports
Beyond those aspects, Intercom offers us powerful and yet lightweight tools to organise and triage problems as they are raised. Through the use of a tagging hierarchy, which my colleague Joao Fernandes is currently redesigning, we quickly and near effortlessly label issues, allowing us to very efficiently triage the messages that come in. As opposed to the heavily formatted tagging of traditional ticketing IT systems, which can be very restrictive in how you deal with an issue, Intercom makes for a free-flowing solution, which is key when you’re trying to efficiently deal with problems.
As a request comes in, we tag it as being either a request, for a piece of hardware say; an access request for a service; or an issue that requires further investigation on our part. Depending on that parent tag, we can then add more detailed tags in a kind of tree-like hierarchy. And we can rapidly ascribe a priority level to the issue also.
We get a much better bird’s eye view of the nature of our work.
An added benefit of this tagging system is very detailed reports, which give us great insights into the nature of the problems we’re dealing with very quickly. So at a glance we can see what proportion of conversations are hardware requests, and that can lead us to determine whether to, say, introduce hardware vending machines for cables and dongles and so on.
Without that data, it would be hard to determine whether that was worth the investment. We get a much better bird’s eye view of the nature of our work, all through a very lightweight tagging system.
They can also let us quickly see how satisfied our colleagues are with our performance.
Customers, then colleagues
Most of all, though, using Intercom to power our IT support helps us focus on making those personal connections and to see our colleagues as customers.
Being an IT support team member means you’re coming into contact with your “customers” every day – they’re also colleagues and friends a lot of the time. But when you consider them customers first and foremost, it reinforces the sense that the quality of your support needs to be next level.
Seeing our colleagues as our customers is a simple mantra that is easy to communicate to new people joining the team – it is the principle that the rest of our approach stems from.
Our mission is to make internet business personal – I think if we’re not doing that internally then we’re doing something wrong.