The support I see #3 – Learn and share

Beach bonfire

This tale starts in a small town in Sussex, on a summer’s day that could only be described as perfection.

Sorry, just trying a new way to start these posts. I set the scene though right?

The year is 2013, a young(er) Kristian is sat on the beach after visiting his local library for the first time in 18 years. In those 18 years he hadn’t thought about missing the library, Amazon provides all he needs now, but as he looked back he started to remember all the things he loved. He loved that he could sit in a wooden fire engine and read Goosebumps and Horrible History books until the librarians kicked you out because they were closing. He loved the quiet and the sheer number of books, all could be his next favourite. He loved that they offered stories on tape, and also VHS videos. I wonder if mum will let me rent Terminator? No, ok then…

That’s enough of that.

The reason I started by talking about the library was that when I went back to join my local library as a 28-year-old I went straight to the business section. It was a small section but the title that jumped out was Buffett – The Biography. I had always admired the idea of Warren Buffett but knew very little about him.

Warren Buffett and rum

I went to the desk and took the book out. I walked home, grabbed a bottle of ginger beer and a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s and went to the beach. Pippa and I sat and read our books (Her choice was a Philippa Gregory novel about Tudor kings and queens). I read and read until I had been there all day.

There were so many lessons tucked away in that book. He is clearly a complex character and I don’t want to unpick all of that here. There were many things that stuck out to me about Mr Buffett. The methodical approach to investing, the lack of flashy cars, yachts etc and his passion not really being powered by money but more by success. In amongst all of these things there was one thing that really stuck with me.

Reading.

It has been said that a perfect day for Warren Buffett involves uninterrupted reading. He is a learning machine, studying newspapers, books and reports all in the pursuit of understanding what his next move should be.

Warren Buffett has said the greatest investment you can make is in yourself. To always be learning something new. Warren personified this idea by taking on a public speaking course early in his career. Tony Robbins, whilst earning $40 a week spent $35 on a course, and why countless CEO’s, Presidents of the United states and people in every walk of life have invested in going on Tony’s courses (See President Clinton, Marc Benioff and Kanye West).

Learn to support

Learning in a support environment requires an intentional effort to not just solve problems but to look back at them. It is very easy to live with a firefighting mindset, dashing from one case to another. This is vital and timely support is always needed. You will definitely learn things during this time. What is vital is to carve out time in a day to look back, even if just for a few minutes. What were the themes of the things I worked on? What documentation could I have used? What documentation isn’t available to customers yet? What could I have done better?

Team leads and managers should assist with this but the wonderful feeling that comes from being in control of your learning is your responsibility. Make your own time for it and make sure it gets done.

Each interaction is an opportunity to learn, and should be seen like that. What is the customer trying to achieve? What is their business? Have I helped anyone else in this sector? Is there another way to do this? This can bring a new way to look at your job, don’t want your role to be stale? Keep learning new things.

Share, share and share some more

If the goal of great support is to always be learning an equally important goal is to be sharing that information with as many people as possible. No one likes a paranoid support person trying to guard their job.

I believe that being generous sharing and communicating the knowledge you have is the only way to be in a support team. Take part in conversations with your team mates, document (I love documentation) and offer your team access to the skills you have built, acting as a sounding board for problems.

The benefits of this far, far, far outweigh any potential risk of job security. If you do get fired for sharing information and building others you should be running away from that company anyway.

Generosity is attractive, it shows a confidence. It makes you feel like an expert and allows you to further perfect your communication skills. If you can share with a good attitude, avoiding the pitfalls of “I know more than you” *Insert smug grin here*, you are building your team, assisting customers and building you.

That feels like a win, win, win.

The support I see #2 – Kindness

“I was in the middle of one of the biggest emergencies I have had at work and the internet phone company left me on hold for 25 minutes and then cut me off.”

Support teams come in for a lot of flack. Ask someone about their interaction with a support line and oftentimes I am hit with a variation of the sentence at the top of the page or one of the following:

“The support person on southern rail Twitter just didn’t care” (Note, I think the people on this support feed have one of the hardest jobs in the world, they are the face of the train company that always runs late – look at the hate they get!)

“I try wherever possible not to speak to support, they just don’t understand what I’m trying to do”

“Calling a support line just to feel like they are enjoying lording it over me because I don’t understand is not my idea of fun”

We’ve likely all experienced bad service or support, but it makes good support all the more noticeable and glorious.

“The simplest acts of kindness are far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” Ghandi

In the last post I spoke about being passionate about customers success, this post is about being kind to customers.

The benefit for you

Today I have been experimenting with honouring people, thinking kindly about everyone. I work in a city and people are busy and are accidentally (I choose to believe…) rude. As I walked through the doors of a coffee shop today a guy in the queue scowled at the waitress when she asked him a question, when then asked for the money he held the money in between his index and middle finger and threw the money down on the counter.

I know.

He was gone before I could understand what happened. I was annoyed at how rude he was, throwing money isn’t really ever right, unless it’s over a fence to someone who needs it. Or if it’s folded in the shape of a paper aeroplane. Then it’s fine.

I heard a talk about honouring people the other day. The talk went through different types of personalities, what can be great about them and what can be difficult and how to honour them in how you think and speak about them.

I decided I would choose to think kindly about this man. I decided to think about how committed he was to his work to be in his work clothes and in the queue for coffee at 7:30am. I decided to celebrate that he was getting his coffee to get his mind in the best shape to start his day.

It could have all been nonsense, but it changed how I felt. My day did not start on irritation, it started on a win. The day has been a good one and I’m still in a good mood.

Support teams should always start by choosing to be kind and to think well of all customers. They haven’t given the right information? Celebrate the fact that they know they can reach out to you to get help. They are being rude? Celebrate the fact that you have an opportunity to make their day a little bit better by helping to remove the problem that is blocking them.

Tony Robbins talks about “Changing your expectation for gratitude” as a key of a happy life, focussing on what you do have rather than what you want. The customer support version may be “Drop irritation and find a reason to celebrate them”.

You don’t need to carry around irritation about situations, no one wants to carry that through their day. The benefit for you is a lightness, a positive feeling and knowing you helped someone. All wonderful things.

The benefit for them

Can you remember a kindness that someone did for you? I can.

I remember the first kindness I was aware of. I was 7 and was 15 pence short on a comic and some sweets I wanted from the newsagent. The owner’s son said it didn’t matter and let me go without paying it. I still remember that kindness to this day.

Kindness changes everything. People contact support because they need to know something, because they need a roadblock removed. It is a vulnerable place to be, a combo of asking a stranger for help and not knowing something – feelings not many people like.

To be met with a genuine smile (Physical or digital) and kindness changes the dynamic not only of the support case, but potentially of that person’s day. I wrote about passionately desiring customers success in the last post, this kindness is just an extension of that. You not only influence that issue but potentially that day. The impact has the potential to be huge.

“You’re all so kind”

The second principle of great support is kindness. There isn’t enough kindness in the wider world, let alone in support. You don’t know what things have happened during the day of the person you are speaking to, but you are now a part of those events. Be kind, I think you’ll like the results.

The support I see #1 – Passionate about our customers succeeding

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” –Napolean Hill

Have you seen Coach Carter? The Mighty Ducks? The Blindside?

The underdogs who have never won anything who start to play and win as a team, the team that hates each other to start and then they grow to respect each other or the coach who discovers his or her true self by coaching this group of players.

Gold. Cinematic gold.

My wife disagrees slightly.

We watched Coach Carter when we were dating and I teared up at several points. Don’t listen to anyone who says real men don’t cry, they are silly and haven’t seen the actors of Coach Carter read a Marianne Williamson poem or the mighty ducks turn into a team and accept Gordon Banks from their hated rivals.

Chills.

After Coach Carter finished all I could quietly say, voice cracking, was:

“I just know what it means to them”.

Dramatic isn’t it.

My favourite part of these films? The passion of the coaches to see their players succeed. They are not on the pitch but they equip, they cheer, they enable the players to find their talents and work as a team. The coaches are not the point, they are just enabling the team to go further.

Teamwork features later on the list, but this post is about cheering on. It’s about a passion for seeing someone else achieve great things and that being the reward.

Move on down the road

If all of our support came from a place not of duty, but of excitement to help someone else achieve we would have stronger companies, more fans for these companies and, I believe, be happier in our roles.

Easy right?

What if we saw our support like this – Our success is in the success of others.

The benefits of this thinking are huge.

– You learn to communicate well because you are so excited to help people understand what you are saying.
– The day is measured in people helped, not in minutes worked (or survived) or any other metric.
– That person has the potential to be successful with that information in the hours, days and weeks to come. Your work has an impact.

It doesn’t rely on people saying thank you, or an award. Having a positive impact on the journey is the motivator.

I think the saddest part of the support role is when it is seen just as a step to another team, or if “it’s Just a job”.

Customers can tell when you are in it for that reason alone – see every standup comedian sketch about calling a support helpline.

Don’t get me wrong and support is a wonderful way to launch into other things with knowledge of your customer base and the product. The Scott Berkun book ‘A year without pants’ talks about a “Support tour” – I love the idea of everyone having to come through support.
What I am saying is that a customer will 100% know if you are cheering for them, or if you are just trying to get through the day as quickly as possible.

Passion is not easy to fake, but it can be built. How do you measure success? In support, we can measure it in customer’s success and in them having a blocker moved right out of their way so they can do something wonderful. So they can move on down the road unhindered to where they were trying to get to.

You did that you big legend.

The support I see – Introduction

Brighton in the sun
What I could see as I wrote this post, Brighton Pier.

I know, I know – grand title.

I once went to a leadership conference in a church in Bradford called Abundant life, a huge church which even had a Starbucks in it. I was very impressed with this and quickly got in the queue to get my caffeinated sugar hit. This was during simpler times when I wasn’t as aware of my caffeine or sugar intake. That all changed later on.

As I walked into the lobby towards the main auditorium there was a big sign saying ‘The church I see…’ and then a list of lots and lots of values. I was slightly overwhelmed by how many there were. They had quite the vision! It was in a public place, anyone going into the church would be met with a list of values detailing how they wanted to act as a community.

Over the past few months, I have been thinking more and more about vision and values for both my work and my personal life. In my career, I am developing the vision for the team I lead. I want a vision that people can remember and get behind, one that we can condense even further into a mission statement. In my personal life, it is more about trying to be the best dad and husband that I can be. Summed up, I am trying to be more intentional and this starts with redefining what my goals, dreams and focusses are.

Here are a few wonderful examples of company values.

Rackspace – First on the list, ‘We are Customer Service fanatics’. This makes me happier than I can say. I will cover this more in later posts in this series but I think customer happiness is everyone’s responsibility and should be at the core of all company values.

Zappos – Delivering happiness was a wonderful book and one I revisit often. Offering wonderful customer support is once again a foundation of the company values ‘Deliver WOW through service’. I knew about Zappos’ incredible service before I had any idea of what they did as a company.

Facebook – ‘Move Fast, Be bold, Be yourself’.

AutoMattic – You should read this creed all the way through. There are so many highlights, a personal favourite parts are “I will never stop learning.” and “Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable”.

Looking at all of these, and many other wonderful examples, they offer a framework through which teams can view their work. An engineer will face different challenges to a support representative, who will not have the same challenges as a sales team member. What you can offer is a framework so that when a challenge or decision arises there is a company line on how to approach it.

The Rackspace support engineer who has a distraught customer who needs some ‘above and beyond service’ at the detriment of other tasks understands that they can because the company are ‘Customer service fanatics’.

I realise I’m simplifying/romanticising in the example above. It is a huge challenge to take values or a mission statement from an intellectual exercise to a living, breathing culture. That is the true challenge of company visions or mission statements, you could have the slickest mission statement and values but how do you then empower people to work with it in mind every day, even if it means a drop in what they deem as productivity?

This is my introduction to the next few posts. The support I see is…

The support I see – My philosophy

Today I am launching a series called “The support I see”.

Over the past few months, I have been reading a lot of different support mission statements. I’ve taken some inspiration from them whilst using them to clarify my feelings about what makes for great support and starting to put those feelings into words.

You may get from these posts, I love support. I mean I really love it.

Here is my support philosophy listed in five easy points (links now added so you can go directly to the post should you so wish to do):

1) Be passionate about our customers succeeding

2) Be kind – you have the ability to make someone’s day much better

3) Learn and share

4) Consider your audience

5) Be yourself at work, on your commute and at home.

That’s it in a nutshell.

I will talk about each in more detail over the coming days. There are more things I could have on my list of things that make great support, but the five things listed above are what I believe to be the foundations. If we have these things at the core of our work we will have happy customers who achieve great things. I think that’s a wonderful thing for us to aim at.