How to implement All Hands Support – but wait, should you?

Sarah Chambers Sarah Chambers · 5 min read

Whether All Hands Support works for your business or not, make the decision to bring your customers and your employees closer together.

When you search for All Hands Support, the top four results are conflicting. Two of them are from successful, customer-centric companies sharing their methods for All Hands Support (also known as Whole Company Support). The other two… are not so positive. For every story of All Hands Support bringing the company closer together and building a customer-focused culture, there’s another horror story where it didn’t quite go to plan.

It’s all a bit confusing, isn’t it? So if you’re wondering whether you should jump in and try All Hands Support, or whether you should stay far away and leave the support pros to do their job…. we’ll try to answer that for you now.

The Pros of Whole Company Support

When Slack had a huge outage in 2015, many people took to Twitter to check what was happening… and all of them received a personalized, almost immediate response. In fact, Slack was sending about 10 tweets per minute, seemingly without copy/pasting a templated response.all hands support

The only way this was possible was through All Hands Support. Up to this moment, Slack had been training employees across the company to help respond to customers. When everything hit the fan, employees from all departments could step up to help.

But a team of trained assistants isn’t the only benefit from All Hands Support. Bringing other employees closer to customers is, in the words of Basecamp, like infecting every employee with a “merciless empathy virus”. This empathy for the problems that customers have pays off in a multitude of ways. Empathy-driven development is a known effective framework for more productive engineering teams with benefits ranging from fewer assumptions to better inter-team communication. In companies where engineers spend time answering customer questions, there’s a notable increase in bug fixes. Olark also notes that engineers tend to develop better internal tools after working in support!

Even McDonald’s and Starbucks see the advantages of putting every employee on the front line. No matter what position you’re hired into (even in head office), new employees spend time flipping burgers and pouring coffee. It improves company morale and builds respect across functional roles.all hands support

The Cons of All Hands Support

Great customer support professionals are rare. They’re experienced in de-escalating situations, have a knack for troubleshooting, and communicate exceptionally well.

So it’s no surprise that other employees rarely measure up to the same level of quality when they’re providing support. For example, when Big Cartel implemented All Hands Support, they found that customer satisfaction decreased.

“In many cases, satisfaction dropped because the developer/marketer/engineer answering customer questions lacked the communication skills, empathy, sense of humor, and patience that companies like Big Cartel look for in support team members.” – Kayako blog

All Hands Support isn’t always better for the customers on the receiving end of the response.

But it’s also not always convenient for the employees participating. Depending on how your All Hands program is scheduled, engineers and salespeople might be pulled away from their day job for a few hours each month. This can be a drain on their productivity, and expensive for the company to manage.

And speaking about lost productivity — who’s responsible for training other employees to answer customer inquiries? For support teams who are already underwater, taking on the task of supervising a number of “new” part-time agents can feel overwhelming.

It will take several sessions before the other employees are really able to help lend a hand.

5 Tricks to Remove the Cons and Elevate the Pros of All Hands Support

If you’re ready to cautiously give All Hands Support a try, there are a number of ways you can reduce the risks and costs. These five strategies will help you dip your toe in to the waters of whole company support while keeping your risk to a minimum.

Research how other companies do it

There are a number of companies that have successfully implemented whole company support. Each of them use a different method of training, scheduling and collaborating that works for them, their employees and their customers.

Zapier offers a thorough guide on how they do All Hands Support, but they also link to a number of other companies who’ve written about their own methods. Check out this list of resources for more inspiration.

Start with Pair Support

One way to reduce the risk of letting marketers, accountants, and engineers talk directly to customers is by using Pair Support. Similar to pair programming, pair support connects two employees together (one support agent and one non-support agent) to work through customer problems. Because this is a collaborative method, both team members can learn from the other, and quality is kept high.

This is also really helpful for building connections between departments. Spending an hour together on Zoom answering customer emails can form a stronger bond than just chatting over the watercooler.

Add Quality Control

If you do choose to let non-support employees talk directly to your customers, consider adding a level of quality control to the process. When all responses have to be run by a member of the support team, you can rest-assured that customers are getting the quality of support they expect.

A quality assurance tool like Klaus will let you add “training wheels” for new agents. All responses require approval before they’re sent to the customer. Reviewers can also add suggestions or comments to the response to provide more feedback.

Let Employees Choose Their Own Tickets

Rather than forcing employees to answer questions that aren’t relevant to their interests, allow each employee to choose what they want to work on. That way, marketers can help prospects, engineers can help with bug fixes, and accountants can help with billing issues. They’ll gather more insights and find the job more rewarding.

Keep Scheduling Flexible

Many of the concerns that arise from implementing All Hands Support revolve around the amount of time it will take out of people’s days. Will new hires be required to spend time in support before starting their real job? Will engineers be pulled away from important product work to do support, and then need to re-integrate back into the development cycle?

Reduce stress and keep scheduling flexible. Offer multiple options, from a couple of hour drop-in to a scheduled full day once a quarter. Different people have different working styles, so don’t force them into a routine that disrupts their normal work schedule.

Create a Customer-Centric Company with All Hands Support…or Not!

Whether All Hands Support works for your business or not, make the decision to bring your customers and your employees closer together. That might be through pair support or whole company support – or it might be through a number of other ways. The important thing is to be intentional about connecting customers with your business

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Sarah Chambers Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers is a Customer Support Consultant and Content Creator from Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter @sarahleeyoga to keep up with her adventures.

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