Support Talks: Cross-functional Relationships to Create Proactive Support

How does support provide value beyond the queue?

Commonly we talk about Support teams having the most contact with customers and we need to find ways to utilize this insight to create a better customer experience.

Ashley Sachs, Director of Customer Success at Sealed believes the key to that is cross-functional relationships and empathy. We recently sat down to chat about her experiences improving support services through better relationships.

What challenges do you see when it comes to cross-functional relationships?

Ashley: In my experiences, there is a disconnect between those determining strategy and the people working with customers every day. It boils down to understanding what the resources are within the team.

Whether that is technology or people, you need to understand those things to help make clear what bridges need to be built with those directing strategies on a daily basis.

I start with assessing what technologies the team uses and ask:

  • How are you talking to customers?
  • How are you tracking those conversations?
  • How are you translating that into something that a product or marketing manager would understand?

The simplest way of doing that is tracking tickets. For example, making sure tags and categories are consistent and understandable outside of the support team.

A more robust example is looking at feedback systems, such as survey tools, if they exist. You will want to leverage those to provide useful information to others internally.

Then I look at the cross-functional relationships, if one exists. I look between the customer, the front line teams, and then product designers, marketing etc.

Do those exist? If it doesn’t then we start the simplest form to set up personal meetings with the stakeholders. I ensure I describe our role and then ask them to help me with context into their roles, and finally ask how we can help each other.

For support, that could mean providing proactive support.nicereply blog

What is proactive support to you?

Ashley: Proactive support is anticipating customer needs and solving an issue before it needs to be asked anywhere across the customer journey.

For example, this could mean a well-written email sent at just the right time or a guidance feature inside a SaaS product.

I think it is valuable, not only from the growth of a company or customer experience standpoint but also from the growth of an individual standpoint, to embed your support team into a cross-functional team within the business.

For example, including them in a biweekly meeting with a product manager.

Cross-functional relationships allow a support agent to be valued beyond the queue, help them gain perspective, and build empathy for other functions which ultimately takes down silos or prevents them from being built. One of the coolest things is the value to the support team members. This helps growth trajectories for individuals.

Craig: With your examples, you would need help from other teams. And, within the product and marketing worlds, there is often a roadblock that the roadmap is “set”. They have their strategy and what Support brings to the table is “added work.”

How do you counter that?

Ashley: You need to unite the company under a mission and the product value. Those will be the clear goals. So you ask, how does the roadmap feed into that discussion?

One of the basics of this is the transparency of mission strategy. Something that helped me in those conversations is discuss problems the customer is facing and looking at if the roadmap solves for those?

Stop talking about feature requests, talk about solving problems. All of that can be united under we have a product and we have a mission.

You also need to tell a good story. Money is often part of that story. Advocating for a well-timed email or a feature in a dashboard is talking about the cost of not having that. Costs include churn or support resources.

For example, if we are getting 300 tickets on the topic and each takes ten minutes, that can be translated into money we can spend elsewhere.

Also like to ask, if we cannot do this now, what can we do now and plan for later? Finding a compromise is easier within an empathetic relationship. I see a big fix for this, but right now we can start on the path with a smaller one.

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How do you measure or understand the success of these types of fixes?

Ashley: One of the lessons I learned is the value of clear expectations, we often think about that in terms of customers, but not ourselves.

We need to set a goal for our relationship and write it down between the stakeholders (eg. between support and product, support and sales, support and marketing). Having clear and agreed-upon expectations of what we are going to do and why allows us to have honest conversations about if it is working or not working. Ask each yourself what does each party get out of this relationship? This makes things a whole lot easier.

In regards to measuring success, when you are advocating for something, such as a pro-active email in customer journey, I use a template that answers four questions:

  • This is the change we are advocating for.
  • This is why we want this change.
  • This is the problem it is causing today.
  • This is the outcome we expect from change (AKA Value statement).

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How does this scale within an organization?

Ashley: For growing companies, this is a constant evolution. The way your cross-functional relationships look at the beginning will be a lot more tight and personal compared as you scale to a large organization.

As you grow, you might have a lot more designated roles for this, or automation in place. I think it’s about foundations. Once they are set, evolution will follow. It’s like building a house. You set your foundation on really strong cross-functional empathy and working amongst teams.

This enables you to come up with ideas, technologies, frameworks, policies, etc. that will help you do that as you get bigger.

Because in the back of your mind, you have that foundation of empathy.


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Craig Stoss Craig Stoss

Craig has spent time in more than 30 countries working with support, development, and professional services teams building insight into Customer Experience and engagement. He is driven by building strong, effective support and services teams and ensuring his customers are successful. In his spare time Craig leads a local Support Thought Leadership group. He can be found on Twitter @StossInSupport

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