Support can be a 24/7 job, but that doesn’t mean your support team members should be working 24/7 — especially during team events or holidays. What’s the best way to tackle support when your customers are still at work while your team has the day off?
It’s easy to overlook this issue until you’ve had an awesome team retreat and are left with unattended and unhappy customers or a support team that missed out because they were working through the queue.
Ryan Thielen from Procore recalls an all-hands trip during which the support team missed most of the events, “which was a disappointment and, in some ways, a waste of a trip for them.” When you run into that problem, you’ll surely be looking for a way to keep everyone happy and engaged the next time.
Luckily, there are lots of tried-and-true solutions to go to when this comes up. It’s all about designing one that makes the most sense for your team. Here are a few suggestions from some A-level support teams.
An opportunity for all-hands support
When your team gets together or takes a holiday, you can spread the obligation to your customers around to everyone at your company by taking advantage of the benefits of all-hands support. If your team is typically not all in the same place, this is a great way for folks who aren’t regularly working through the support queue to learn from your support team. Emily Chapman at Trello recently wrote about how their team decided to go this route during a retreat, and it inspired her to create and refine great training materials.
Help Scout practiced a version of this on a recent team retreat. We set up shifts throughout the day, with a couple customer team members and a couple non-supporters working to respond to customers. Our customers team was able to coach other team members closely on their responses, and it just might have created some new appreciation for our team:
Support team members are the best teachers for the rest of your company on all-hands support. With support duties spread across the whole company, your regular supporters won’t feel sidelined while everyone else is busy having fun.
Give support room to do their thing
On the flip side, there are advantages to letting your support team do the work they’re good at. Your support team is made up of pros, and they can handle customer queries with more speed and friendliness than anyone else. (And maybe all-hands support just isn’t right for you.)
Kristin Aardsma at Basecamp goes this route with her famously speedy team. During their twice-yearly team meetups, Basecamp’s normal U.S.-hours support team of five swells to a team of 11 (usually scattered across the globe) to work 9-6 p.m. CST, “allowing us to clear the overnight queue quickly and offering longer breaks to bond with other teams.” Customers are alerted that support is operating under somewhat more limited hours, and the support team is given space to do their best work, making that critical cross-team bonding possible.
Should you go a similar route, you have lots of options to make things easier on your team. Mat Patterson, who headed support at Campaign Monitor before joining Help Scout, ensured during Campaign Monitor meetups that support team members traveled earlier or later than others, so someone was always on the ground with stable wi-fi while others on the team were traveling. He’d also find his team a shared space to work and a good internet connection. If you’ll be staying at a hotel or spending time at another dedicated venue, get in touch with the staff to take care of this ahead of time.
With an international remote team, you might find you don’t need to worry about holiday coverage, since many holidays are specific to a country or culture. As your team grows, you’ll probably also find some folks are happy to take on holiday work in exchange for time off of their own choosing later on.
As big advocates for taking care of your customers, this one is hard to recommend! But what works best for you depends on your company and team, and that might mean going offline over a team meetup or a holiday. This makes the most sense if the type of support you offer is typically non-urgent (not an option for say, Airbnb, or your bank), and when your support volume is relatively low. If you’ve been reporting on volume and can be confident it won’t overwhelm you when you return, giving your team permission to go offline and enjoy themselves is a wonderful gift!
If you do opt to go offline, you can use that handy auto-reply in Help Scout (or any email client — most have a similar feature!) to let your customers know what’s going on and when they can expect to hear back from you. It’s also a good idea to peek at your inbox every once in awhile or have a system set up to ping you if an emergency arises. (As if you could resist checking your support inbox anyway.)
Use a third party
If your team is already working with a third party to help with support, you can lean heavily on that when your regular supporters are busy. Erica Seamster works at The Yeomen, a company that handles support for other companies, and she loves enabling teams to enjoy their company-wide events and meetings worry-free. “The staff can have company events and not worry at all because we have their back. While they are at an off-site event, their support doesn’t change because they have us answering all incoming email.”
While this is a great option if you’re already working with a third party to help with or manage support entirely, it’s a challenge to take this on just for a holiday or event. If the option interests you, it’s best to develop a relationship with a company like Seamster’s well before you’d rely on them to handle incoming customer messages while you’re unavailable.
Go your own way
This is a question with plenty of different answers! As always, everything depends on what works best for your customers and your team. That might be one of the above options, slightly altered versions of several of them combined, or something else entirely. As long as your team is happy and your customers are happy, you’re golden.