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This article was published on January 29, 2018

Why ‘all hands’ customer support makes zero sense

Why ‘all hands’ customer support makes zero sense
Jamie Edwards
Story by

Jamie Edwards

Jamie Edwards is the COO and co-founder of Kayako, makers of effortless help desk software. Jamie Edwards is the COO and co-founder of Kayako, makers of effortless help desk software.

In the software world and perhaps beyond, it has become increasingly popular to implement an “all hands” approach to customer support. The thinking goes that if everyone on a team spends some time at the support desk engaging with customers and solving their problems they will better understand how the customer uses the product and what they’re actually trying to accomplish.

Customer empathy and will increase and team members will go about their actual role in a more customer-centric way. Engineers will engineer with the customer in mind because they’ve interacted with them. Marketers will market to the customer more effectively because they’ve been in direct contact with them.

Everyone will have a newfound respect for what support does all day and perhaps most importantly, customer problems get solved faster because those with the answers are right there, rotating through the frontlines.

Except none of this holds water.

While well intentioned, business owners that have given the go-ahead to the “all hands” approach to support need to shut it down. It doesn’t work and it’s likely leaving revenue on the table. Here’s why.

Customer support takes specialized talent

For as long as customer support has been a thing, it’s been an afterthought; a necessary cost that anyone can do. And if anyone can do it, why not everyone — especially when the supposed benefits clearly outweigh potentially negative effects?

The truth of the matter is simple: customer support requires specialized talent. Are those talents as quantitative as one would identify in an engineer? No. But softer, more qualitative skills like empathy, humility, and creativity are absolute prerequisites. Customer support reps must have these traits and companies must hire for them.

These are the people on the frontlines with customers. They are the primary feedback gatherers. In a way, they are marketers shaping the post-purchase experience and building loyalty. Do support right and customers might tell their friends. Do it wrong and they’ll definitely tell their friends.

Doing customer support right requires a specialized set of skills that an “all hands” approach simply cannot achieve — and that prevents support from operating as the net profit center it should be.

The customer is not a guinea pig

At its core, the “all hands” approach to support is an experiment. While experimentation is a fundamentally good thing, it starts to become a risky proposition when the customer is the subject.

Just imagine stepping into the customer’s shoes. They call or write in to support. This isn’t something they wanted to do. They didn’t wake up excited to set aside some time to get an issue solved. Then imagine if they knew they were a part of an “all hands” support experiment. How thrilled would they be to know that the value of their business to your company is an experiment?

Is it likely they’d figure it out? Probably not. Consumer expectations of support are relatively low, so they might not be that much more frustrated encountering someone who doesn’t do support every day. That said, it doesn’t take much for the whole thing to unravel.

A salesperson spending some required time at the support desk might let it slip: “Oh, I’m actually in sales. I don’t normally do support. It’s this thing we do here…” There isn’t a customer in the world who is going to appreciate that, let alone repeat their business.

The bottom line

If organizations change their perspective of support from one of cost to one of revenue, they’ll start to understand the impracticality of an “all hands” approach. Instead, invest in support. Set metrics that can indirectly tie back to revenue without putting a quota on your reps. (After all, support’s primary objective is to solve customer problems, not upsell.)

Foster collaboration amongst all team members within a defined support infrastructure led by support. Make it known to all employees that they need to keep an open and ready ear to help the support team solve customer problems, not lead the charge. Everyone and everything — including your bottom line — will thank you.

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