The never sets for businesses that rely on remote support, and global support, for customer service.

The traditional “follow the sun” model is a type of global workflow in which issues can be handled by and passed between offices in different time zones, increasing responsiveness and reducing delays. It was developed so companies can provide round-the-clock customer service, literally following the sun around the globe. If the sun is shining over a region, be it San Francisco, Paris, Hong Kong, or Sydney, business is being conducted there. That means customers’ requests and communications are coming in quickly and often—and these businesses must meet that demand.

In its early days, this customer service approach only seemed feasible for big companies that had the resources to open and staff multiple offices around the world. The truth is, follow-the-sun support is simply a method meant to satisfy customers, regardless of time or location, and that too can be a reality for even small- to mid-size businesses. It can also be achieved in a variety of ways.

Getting started
First, there are some key questions to answer before you embark on any flavor of follow the sun customer service:

  1. Are you a small team or a big team?
  2. How complicated are your support issues?
  3. Where are your customers?
  4. When do their tickets come in?
  5. Are mobile apps being used?
  6. Are you driving self-service?

Some companies go with the more traditional application of follow the sun: which means providing anytime, anywhere, 24/7/365 support. For example, our customer and partner Zuora offers 24/7/365 support coverage. They do it by starting a team in Colorado at 8am (MST). In California, teams start in waves at 7am, 8am, and 9am (PST). In addition, team members in the Beijing office start at 7am, 9am, 1pm, and 2pm CST (China Standard Time). By staggering their support personnel start times across these key time zones, they are able to meet the service-level-agreements they’ve set for their customers. Zuora also employs a daily handoff model, in which open and pending matters are passed along to the next team when one goes off duty. Zuora uses private comments in Zendesk tickets to help communicate important details to team members picking up issues already in progress.

But other companies may determine that they can meet their global support needs with other tactics. In any case, one thing is clear: To provide the highest level of customer service, your support team must decide when to be available. Sure, this could mean 24/7/365. But it might not, and that’s OK; there are other options that allow you to deliver anytime, anywhere service and get global, fast—regardless of the size of your company.

For example, another Zendesk customer, Prezi, has teams in two locations—one in San Francisco and one in Budapest. They meet their global support goals with these two teams working together, giving them 18 hours a day of coverage without having to staff up aggressively. Or, consider the approach at Solium, which provides an equity management platform that performs real-time trades 21 hours per day. This schedule is determined by global stock exchange hours.

In creating a support structure based on this schedule, they examined the business units they needed to support and each region. They also divide their support to cater to two groups of customers: participants (employees at companies) and client administrators (HR teams administering equity and compensation). Which begs another question your team should consider when evaluating options: How would you categorize your customer base, and does your customer service team’s approach require variance between all of them?

We can also use ourselves as an example:

  • Dashboards offer the ultimate 360-degree view of all the teams and activity, and they’re very effective in helping everyone stay informed.
  • Collaboration tools are also invaluable: The Zendesk Support Team uses Flowdock to provide a space for conversations between customer service teammates. It’s a type of virtual follow the sun, because it allows one team to find out what another team was doing at any time of the day.
  • Daily handoffs mean more than just passing the baton once one team’s quitting bell sounds. It means agent accountability and tracking metrics based on performance, both of which we think are essential for best-in-class customer service.
  • Communications are essential; don’t underestimate the value in investing in a system that allows HQ and regional support teams to communicate with each other. You may find yourself in a frustrating game of telephone otherwise.
  • Leadership; there must be a leader for every team. Think about every time you, personally, were on a customer service call and the issue needed to be elevated to a manager? Team leads are the go-to resource for issues while they are occurring or when action must be taken immediately.
  • Training; if you’re going to follow the sun, follow the sun in a consistent manner across the globe. That means providing the same training experience and same program for all customer service agents in all regions. In addition to the all-important consistency, which also impacts the overall experience with your business and brand, it also allows teams to feel like a part of the team — not simply a satellite of HQ.
  • Languages; Talk the talk of the region you’re speaking to. Zendesk, for example, uses dynamic content to help address this need. It allows agents everywhere, with a few clicks of a button, to deliver support in the correct language.

What to think about
Once you’ve clarified your answers to these questions below, you’ll have a better idea of why and how to support your customers. More specifically, you’ll know if implementing a follow-the-sun system—or some variation—is right for you:

  1. What are your customer support goals and accountabilities?
  2. What are you trying to do with customer support? Does it have a basis in technology?
  3. Make sure to have a strong understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish globally, and in your overall department turnaround times. Think about what “follow-the-sun” means to you, and if a version could assist you. Is the main goal continuity of conversation (for which daily handoffs can really help)? Agent accountability? Perhaps it’s a philosophical standpoint?

Learn more about follow the sun support.