We were recently working with a company’s support organization helping them to elevate the experience of their face-to-face support services. Throughout the day we covered several topics with the engineers and managers of the support centers. While many components must come together to enable a great support experience, several barriers were discussed that hindered the engineers ability to deliver the desired experience. We thought these served as a nice reminder for any organization as it is imperative to remember that: engineer enablement, engagement, and experience, are critical to delivering the customer experience.
1: Communications and Information: Knowing what’s going on, what’s coming, and ease of access to knowledge.
Each year organizations can spend months upon months figuring out their strategy and what is being released when, yet, it seems that many times the front line support engineers are not as familiar as they should be with what is going on and what is coming down the pipeline. The quicker they can get their hands on new solutions or releases, the more they are enabled to be able to support it. When the engineer hasn’t had enough time, or things get released without any support readiness, the customer suffers – obviously! There’s nothing more aggravating than an already frustrated customer seeking aid from an engineer in a less than optimal position to help. This situation can also foster negative emotions as engineers can feel stupid in front of their customer through no fault of their own, which impacts their employee engagement.
There is also another advantage to having a good support readiness process in place. Your front line support engineers know your customers really well. They hear their frustrations and needs on a consistent basis. Their feedback early on is an incredibly valuable source of information for new solutions or releases, not just to help you make better decisions, but to better prepare the release for minimal disruption among your customers.
Another challenge was where information was stored and how easily it could be accessed. When the engineer’s tools do not enable them to access the right information quickly, it impacts the time it takes to serve a customer. This includes official documentation, as well as the engineers own notes and shared fixes with their colleagues. Having information spread across many systems, without easy and accurate search capabilities across the ecosystem, leads to an impact on productivity.
The need for better communications between organizational leadership, delivery teams, and the engineers themselves also came up. For example, what are the policies that need to be upheld for reasons of compliance or security? What is the guidance on what the engineers can do to meet customer needs? The reason this needs to be clearly communicated is that you want to foster an environment where engineers have the ability to deliver the right experience, while still maintaining consistency and setting the right expectations.
A few things we have seen work well:
- Have a Support “Lab”, to bring in the solutions and hardware that the engineers support, and those that are coming down the pipeline, so that they can see it and familiarize themselves, as well as have access to it while supporting customers.
- Have a process of support readiness, to make sure the necessary steps are taken prior to widespread deployment.
- Bring in the support engineer perspectives early on in planning or strategy setting, as a normal part of the life cycle.
2: Growth: Training and development that goes beyond commandments and rules.
In the area of engineer development and growth, there seemed to be a good focus on the technical skills, but there was a gap in the other interaction skills needed, as well as training on other indirectly linked tools and applications that customers may ask about, regardless if they are a part of the specifically supported tools or products.
When looking at the other skills needed to deliver the support experience, including things like situational awareness, emotion management, and empathy – the trainings available seemed to fall a little short. While there are best practices, and general rules of thumbs, like “listen to your customer” – the truth is that the engineer has to learn the mind-set and behaviors that enable them to interact in the best way, in that moment, in context. For example, one engineer told us that in one situation where he was smiling and nodding to be friendly, it was actually seen as mocking by the customer. This is because how the engineer responds to each customer’s needs is dependent on how the customer is as a person and their current situation. The engineer has to be able to process the proper social cues from the customer – what they say, their body language, and how they react, to then respond purposefully. Related to this, is the need to equip them with the ability to handle challenging customers. Everyone that has worked in the support domain knows the job in itself can be draining from handling frustrated people one after the other. While this is a part of the role, sadly, there are times when the customer behaves poorly or crosses a line. In these moments, it is wise to have a process to escalate. Not only can this help with the customer and convert the scenario into something more positive with some manager interaction, it can help the engineers know that management is there for them, as well as training customers’ behavior to be respectful.
When it comes to training on customer experience, many engineers mentioned that often trainings can feel generic and thus lose the intended impact. To elevate the training experience further, engineers can be a part of creating the ideas and vision of the customer support experience so that there is a level of ownership in delivering it, as well as taking the mindset and behavioral development into the context of their real life.
Another area in which training fell short, was making sure that the engineers were equipped with knowledge on the other applications that impact the customer as a part of their products greater ecosystem, even at the simple level. There are sometimes some simple but common issues that would help the customer experience if the engineers could answer them, without passing the customer onto another team. In the case that they need to be passed on, then there needs to be clear paths that do not frustrate the customer or engineers.
Lastly, seeing their career path or a way for the engineers to experience career growth is critical. No one wants to feel stuck “where they are”. Seeing that they have the possibility of growth and the ability to develop new skills that keep them competitive in their domain is critical for their engagement.
A few things we have seen work well:
- Elevate traditional training methods with techniques that bring learning into context, and cover the underlying behaviors and mindset needed to create ownership and accountability.
- Conduct frequent cross-team engineer sessions in which they can vent, share best practices, review how things are going, and keep each other accountable for behaviors and the experience being delivered.
- Have some common how-to’s or solutions available so that the engineers can respond to simple things without passing the customer on.
- Create clear career growth paths, this could be links into other areas of the business or rotations.
3: Understanding: How experience is measured.
The engineers are measured on the experience by their customers: solving the problem quickly, being polite and caring, having the right level of knowledge….. However, many engineers had no idea what is actually asked on the customer feedback survey sent to the customer. If they do not know how they are measured – how can anyone expect them to deliver it?
There is also a perception gap between the SLA’s and what the customers feel. The SLA’s can show up green on the pretty scorecards used to maintain a particular service level, however, the customers may still feel the experience is bad. Often, when we look at feedback surveys put together to measure the support experience they are riddled with nuances – for example: when the survey is triggered, having relevant questions for the support journey the customer actually experienced, the questions themselves…the list goes on.
Related to this, was a lack in the engineer’s visibility to organizational strategy when it comes to customer experience – what is the experience vision and how does it trickle into their particular role and service? Worst still, was that many organizations had never translated what the experience vision and values meant to the support experience. Without the cohesive glue of a shared common experience to deliver and the application of that vision not put into context – it is very hard to consistently deliver it.
Lastly, related to feedback, often the negative feedback is dealt with, however there was a lack of sharing of the positives. It is critical to share the great work that the engineers are doing. Not only does this increase engagement and evoke positive emotions, but it also ensures that they have focused areas for improvement. Saying they need to “improve” a score is much too general and is much harder to achieve than being clear on what is working and what is not.
A few things we have seen work well:
- Make sure that the engineers know what the surveys are measuring and why.
- Share the positive feedback as well as the negative.
- Have the addressing of feedback be a frequent and consistent part of operations.
- Check your survey triggers and questions to make sure they are valid.
- Define and utilize your customer experience vision to align goals – when a customer walks away from their interaction, how should they feel? What are those 3-5 words that you want them to describe their experience as?
While there are many other facets to delivering the best support experience for your customer’s, remember:
- Keep your engineers informed of what is coming so that they have the time to familiarize themselves with it and can give you valuable feedback from their frontline customer perspective.
- Make sure your engineers have the tools they need, and that information is easily findable, so that they can deliver a high quality service as quickly as possible.
- Look at the common issues customers are coming in for and enable your engineers to provide some form of response to limit hand-offs for simple matters.
- Ensure there are growth paths for your engineers and that you have clear development plans in place that include a range of capabilities that go beyond their technical ability.
- Make sure your engineers know how they are measured and share both the good and bad reviews or feedback.
- Give your engineers strong guidance and then the trust to make the right decisions to deliver the customer experience.