Evolving Support

For the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to provide awesome support. While there are many aspects to that question I believe at the most basic level is to ensure you are there. Make it so your users can reach you easily and in a timely manner.

The concept itself is fairly simple, but despite that there is a whole industry which has been constructed around work force and scheduling. In the past I haven’t seen the specialized software and people involved be able to properly cover support without having either a lot of down time or a queue of users waiting to contact support. This could very well be related to the companies I worked with, or call centers in general. I think the answer to the problem is much more straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Businesses are always changing, your users may change and their expectations will undoubtably change. What worked before isn’t always going to keep working. Support needs to stay flexible and be able to adapt in order to provide the best support. The same applies to scheduling.

At Automattic we’re pretty well known for having very flexible schedules. In The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun the inside cover of the book mentions “There are no schedules, few meetings, and fewer rules.” That was likely the case when the company was smaller, but not 100% accurate today, especially in support. This quote from the book is more true though when it comes to schedules, “About a third of the company had children, and working remotely helped them manage the logistical challenges of raising children. Much like college students, they could be free to arrange their work schedules to fit their lives rather than constantly struggling with the pull of one against another.”

While we Happiness Engineers still get to choose our schedule to fit our lives, the reality in providing 24 hour support for our users dictates there is now a need for us to be flexible in when we choose to schedule ourselves. Even if it might not be our first choice for hours, if there is time which is under scheduled, we need to bend and fill in that area. Our job is to best support our users, so scheduling ourselves for best coverage is part of our jobs. We don’t ask anyone to work crazy hours, that is part of the benefit of having co-workers across the globe. For the most part we have people who are available to work in normal times for them which could be the middle of the night for me.

Our goal is to actually over staff our live chat coverage so that there is no queue and there is always a Happiness Engineer available. This goes along with what I mentioned earlier about call centers. If you overstaff it means there is down time. Luckily for us live chat isn’t the only way users contact us. So if chat is slow through communication and flexibility we can switch gears a little and reply to email tickets or help out in our public support forums.

This isn’t something we’ve perfected yet, but the goal we are working towards. It also isn’t the way things have always been done, but as our business evolves the way we approach and handle support has to move with it.

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