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Setting up a 24/7 support

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There are many aspects to consider when moving to a full blown 24/7 support setup. If you are starting from a regular 9am-5pm and you want to extend the hours to cover more time zones, that’s probably a separate exercise. Below, we are going to talk about moving from 24/5 to 24/7. When you are already covering the whole planet and you need to add the weekends.

  • What does 24/7 mean
  • What are you current resources, in people and tooling
  • What model will be used
  • And how to communicate

How we did it at Smartly.io

At Smartly.io, we’ve gone from a 24/5 support, with a follow-the-sun approach to a very hybrid and custom setup for serving customer 24/7.

It was a lot of work and a lot of planning to get this done. It was also part of a broader exercise of professionalizing and expanding the support as it was known by the customers.

The ratings were already really high at 98%. We were hoping to replicate the success of the “fanatical support” of Rackspace that Brian Marin was telling us about. Quite the objective as the size of the Rackspace organisation is immensely bigger and more complex than what we had.

What does 24/7 mean

When moving to 24/7, you may need to articulate what sort of channels and what level of service you are going to offer.

Some companies claim that their support is available 24/7. But in reality they use an email ticketing system and they always receive requests. “We’ve received your request and we will come back to you as soon as possible”. That’s a bit cheating, right?

Some other companies will take it a notch further and will enable a bot. Intercom with Resolution Bot, and Zendesk with Answer Bot make it very easy to get started. They leverage the existing support data hosted on their servers. They identify recurring questions and they prompt you to write a generic answer. It’s great for answering when nobody is available. And it’s also great for deflecting the support requests.

How Smartly.io uses customer support to win enterprise customers

But let’s face it, if you are reading this, you have higher ambitions. You are looking for answers or you are looking for the right questions to ask yourself.

So what does 24/7 mean for your channels?

Level of Service

Most likely you are going to start with a degraded level of service and you are going to have to make some choices.

At Smartly.io, we quickly realized that we should staff the weekend support with very technical agents. People who are not there to just be empathic and take the requests, but people who could actually fix issues. We realized that a high paying customer who would go out of their way to interrupt their weekend would most likely do it for a really good reason and this reason would need to be addressed as well as possible. Our weekend support staff was hired as Level 2 with the ambition to become Level 3 as soon as possible.

Depending on the type of service you are supporting, you may expect a higher or lower influx of requests or tickets over the weekend.

If your business is B2C, all bets are off. It may very well be that you would get more tickets over the weekend. You can probably already estimate that from your existing data.

If you’re in the wonderful world of B2B, there is a high chance that the number of requests over the weekend is very small compared with the rest of the week.

That should already inform the level of service you will provide and the staffing to expect.

But you may still decide to have Level 1 support over weekends and only take care of simple problems. It’s a cheap way to get started and you can always iterate and improve.

Channels

You want to avoid putting too much pressure on your workforce. Imagine you have a widespread issue affecting every customer. The last thing you want is to have them handle the comms to dozen of customers. They should be handling the resolution of the problem. Hitting the code base to fix the issue, restarting process or restoring some data… There may be operations, coordination and internal communication to carry out. They need to make sure all hands (and the right ones) are on the deck to get to a resolution.

What sorts of scalable tools do you have to avoid having the support agents handle the comms with every customers? Like an in-app notification or warning, or an auto-responder. Spawning a new custom bot to answer a problem. Is the problem affecting everyone? A subset of customers? You could deal with a certain category of customers (long tail) using the bot. And reserve in-person help for high paying customer.

You need to understand the implications of allowing all customers to contact support. What if they start bombarding the inbox over the weekend?

If you operate through email with the expectations to get a response within a few hours, you can live with it.

If you choose to keep the chat enabled for everyone, the sync aspect of chats may create a bad experience for the customers. They were told that the chat was open over the weekend, they are used to a great experience with near instance response time. If they come for an urgent problem over the weekend, and get a subpar treatment and are kept in the dark, that’s going to leave a mark.

What are you current resources

It’s likely you will not be able to expand to 24/7 without investing. You are going to have to make headcount requests, and potentially invest in new tools depending where you find yourself now.

Personnel

With the introduction of weekend support, you are going to have to start hiring more people.

Before speaking with your teams, you need to have a chat with your People team and probably with your operations. You will have to choose a model at some point, and some models may need to open new fiscal entities in countries where you were not operating before.

With that, you are going to have to understand what sort of budget you can get and how much you can pay your new employees, or how much extra you need to pay your current employees to switch to weekend support.

In some countries, the work laws are very flexible and allow you to change the working hours of your employees without much overhead. But in some others, it can a real problem.

In the US, in most states, this won’t be a problem at all. For Germany, it’s almost impossible to make someone work on Sundays unless there is a reason why the work can only be done in Germany.

Some other parts of Europe have different laws and in some cases, you will need to pay double for Sundays. This is going to inform your strategy and where you want your weekend resources to be stationed.

Once you have a good understanding of the salary constraints and the benefits they can have for the employees, you need to poll your teams and ask them very openly if they are interested in working over the weekend. You may be surprised to see that some people would actually prefer to work over the weekend.

At Smartly.io, I’ve hired some people for weekend work for quite surprising reasons. I had this Thai guy whose parents had a Thai restaurant and they would always ask him to work at the restaurant over the weekend. You see where this is going.

Don’t make too many assumptions over working hours and weekend work. People are surprising, especially in this gig economy trend.

Once you’ve poll your teams, you should have a good understanding of the number of working hours available Vs the number of hours you require for weekend work.

Tech

Working over weekend could mean a lot of things need to be arranged. If you are going global on top of extending working hours to the weekend, you may need to change some things.

  • Opening hours on your chat
  • Setup your chat bot (Answer bot on Zendesk or Resolution bot on Intercom) to pick up the slack when necessary
  • Adapt your data collection if you are fetching stats from the API
  • Can you route customers who have access to weekend support to a special inbox? How do you identify them? Did you sync with revops? Are they part of a special tier? Do you sync that tier from Salesforce or some other CRM to an Intercom custom parameter so you can create these routing rules?
  • Setup an autoresponder to manage expectations over the weekend
  • International phone numbers if you do support over the phone (that’s a big project, not just a small bullet point)

There are plenty of questions that will come along the way and most cases are different!

What model will be used

There a multiple models that can be used in order to cover 24/7 with shifts.

One great resource for this is here. There are a ton of different models that serve many different purposes. Fire departments, hospitals, hotels, etc. That’s not really what we need.

But frankly, it’s very confusing. If you are reading this, you are most likely in the SaaS business and you are running a support team. Not nurses, or firemen.

Seasonality

Most likely you have some seasonality across the day. You may be very strong in APAC region and expanding to the rest of the world, or very US-centric and expanding to Europe.

Can you articulate roughly how the next 3-6-12 months are going to look like? What percentage of support load are you going to expect from each region? That should inform your immediate needs, and potentially how you see the load growing.

In order to answer the question above, you have to get close to your Sales and leadership and understand the growth strategy.

At Smartly.io, there was a particular market where we got burned. The CSMs were exhausted and we were trying to understand how to support them and relieve the pressure they were experiencing. Because of language barriers, it was difficult to route the customers to support and they were always hitting the CSMs first. After discussing with the leadership, I understood that I should stop all investments on this market because it was seen as a test and we would likely pull out.

Three realistic models

There are probably a lot of models out there, but these are the ones I have been seriously considering

Follow-the-sun, all internal

  1. You only hire internal support agents for the usual working week, with some flexibility in the contract so they can do some replacement over some critical weekends, or supplementaire special days (Black Friday weekend, 11/11, 12/12, etc.)
  2. You hire dedicated weekend support agents who will have an alternative work-week. They will work Thursday-Monday, or Wednesday-Sunday, or Friday-Tuesday.
  3. You hire in places where you already have tax entities and hopefully fairly compatible with the follow-the-sun

Pros: High engagement of your support agents. Everyone internal means there are opportunities for career growth. There should be little to no friction between the team members and communication should be easy. Ideally, you want an alternative work-week that contains Monday and Friday. These days can be used to do handover communication. If an agent has been in support over the weekend and was dealing with a complicated topic, he can safely hand it over during the Monday. And vise versa, if there was an ongoing issue on Friday, they can step into the weekend with no safety net but a good understanding of what the problem was.

Cons: Hiring may be difficult or close to impossible in some markets. Also local legislation can make it plain impossible. For instance in Germany where it’s pretty much forbidden to work on Sundays (unless you’re in the restaurant or entertainment business)

At Smartly.io, it was close to impossible to hire for the weekend in Singapore. Our largest office in the APAC region was in Singapore and it was the only tax entity option of that time zone. After a few weeks of searching we found one person but they needed a working visa and never got the approval from Singapore government. We had to find another strategy.

Follow-the-sun, internal hires supplemented with offshore

  1. You hire internal agents to follow the projected growth in places where you have a tax entity.
  2. You setup operations with a BPO and identify how many additional agents you are going to need to cover the odd working hours where you are not able to hire.

There are many variations of that setup and it may look very different at your company.

  • You could have internal employees doing level 2 support over the weekend, because it may be harder to train a BPO to do technical support at such a high level that they can operate without a safety net.
  • You could chose to have only Level 3 support in-house, working closely with your engineering to solve the most complex tickets.
  • You could also chose to have a BPO only for the weekend. I would probably not go this way, as I would have very little understanding of what’s happening during the weekend, unless I would start monitoring and wasting all my weekends…

Pros: You can leverage having a hybrid setup with internals and externals working in the same function. Sick leave flexibility. You can dedicate a specific support level to your BPO. For instance Level 1, the frontline, can be handled by your offshore agents. They have a high incentive to prevent handovers to Level 2 as this is showing their value, which means they are going to grow and develop as fast as possible. You can hire fast with the right BPO. The cost should be interesting.

Cons: A hybrid setup means some overhead. You are going to have to figure a leadership structure that works. It’s an opportunity for someone internal to lead the offshore team, but it’s also a hassle for the BPO and potentially a source of disagreement. Most BPO will try to sell a supervisor, and a program manager. Do you need that? That’s more questions and more trouble.

At Smartly.io we chose a hybrid setup. It was very much a work in progress and probably did not reflect the ideal setup. One BPO in Guatemala with thescalefront.com. And a collections of agents in our hubs. Some internal weekend support agents on the US west coast, and in Helsinki, and a glaring gap in Singapore. The intention was to setup a new entity in the Philippines or hire offshore agents there.

Full offshore

Going full offshore is a realistic decision, albeit a hard one. It can be very well adapted to your needs if the product is very simple. With a more complex product it’s going to take a lot of work to train your new contact agents and transition your levels of support to the offshore partner.

  1. You setup operations with a BPO and identify how many agents you are going to need to cover the whole world.
  2. Your job becomes a lot less operational, and much more of a planning and program management.

In the two first models, you are going to hire a lot of people. In the third one, you will need a large budget.

You will hire based on the projected load at 6 months and you will keep a buffer for the following 12 months. It means you will need to be smart with your headcount requests. Most companies do a headcount plan only once per year, so you will need to hustle in order to get what you need if the plan has already been made.

How to communicate

You are going to need to communicate heavily. Going 24/7 means a lot of changes in expectations from your customer base.

Identify all the stakeholders

  • Product Marketing
  • Marketing
  • Product engineering
  • Customer Success
  • Sales
  • Leadership

Product Marketing

It can be very tricky to answer simple questions such as “Why do we need to offer 24/7 support?”

Product Marketing will help answer these questions. They help you with your Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy. They will help you formalize your positioning. Help you communicate with the other stakeholders. They are your best ally in this endeavour. Also if you are going to charge extra for offering support during the weekend, they will help you figure out the pricing.

Marketing

If your marketing folks are sharp they will see an opportunity to leverage the differentiation you are trying to pull off. Too many marketoids see support as a function that shouldn’t exist, a cost center that only exist to plug the holes in the product. If you are working with the right people who understood that a superb support can be a major sales point, they will know what to do with that new setup you are putting together.

Product Engineering

With technical people available over the weekend, there is a chance that product has to adapt. Most likely some people are on-call to address critical problems. You have to establish a channel to understand what the implications of these new working hours will have. Weekend support should not start flooding engineers with requests. You will likely need to establish a baseline of criticality. What’s a P0 bug/incident? Who should be contacted? What’s the SLA? How do you make it easy for the weekend support to contact the right person (hint hint, something like Pagerduty)

On the other hand, if you hire very technical people and your product is fairly static, it’s also possible that you could remove some on-call duties from product engineering. Is it good? Politics…

Customer Success

The implication of opening weekend support for your customers can be massive depending on your industry. But you need to communicate very early with your CS leadership in order to understand what this will create. It could have a lot of positive effects on the clients, but it could also mean that some CSMs are getting pinged over the weekend to answer questions. It could mean a better understanding of the frustrations the customers are having with the product during the weekend.

At Smartly.io we’ve been debating this for a long time. One of the Unique Sales Point of Smartly is to allow for quiet weekend thanks to automation. You should not have to handle your online marketing because everything is done through triggers and algorithms. Opening weekend support means normalizing weekend work for a customer base that was promised they wouldn’t have to do that anymore. A bit contradictory!

In the end, we recognized there was a lot of demand from big customers who had operations going on all the time and across the world. Time zones were just an annoying concept that was on the way.

Sales

Product Marketing will probably put together the sales enablement material but the Sales org and RevOps will be interested to understand how to structure deals involving 24/7 support, if it’s only available to a subset of customers. Building a nice narrative and starting to internalise the benefits of support available around the clock will score high on their todo list, especially if your support is a strong USP.

Finally you may be at a stage where it’s possible to sell the roadmap. The roadmap doesn’t need to be just for the product, it’s for the whole line of services.

Leadership

Getting the buy-in from your leadership is obviously a necessity. We’re not going to talk about how to convince them to let that happen. If anything, it’s quite likely that the decision to setup a 24/7 support is top down and just a piece of the overall company strategy.

The communication with the leadership is important to make sure that the other functions are investing enough to support the roll out of your new setup. Do you need the support from engineering to develop or change something in the product? Your CTO should be in the loop and able to pull the right strings. Does marketing need to use this new feature in the marketing material? Your CMO should drive this. If legal or finance need to be involved, they should get the relevant information from their line of management to help with the GTM. Etc.

As a rule, I would strongly recommend to be friends with your CFO. There is a lot to gain in understanding the financial strategy of your company.

Summary

To setup a 24/7 support, a lot depends on where you are starting. In my humble opinion, the most important aspect is the communication. Once you start speaking to the other functions, you will receive a lot of questions that will help you understand better what needs to happen, and then you can forget about that blog post.

This is why this guide is far from being an exhaustive list of tasks. As a leader you have to use your expertise, but probably more your common sense in order to get where you need to be.

If you want help to setup a 24/7 support, I am always available to answer questions. Hit me up on Linkedin

By Marc Olivier Meunier

Marc has spent the past 7 years putting oil on the fire of a hyper growth ad tech company. At Smartly.io he was in charge of scaling the support and its culture. He leads by example and puts a lot of emphasis on diversity and inclusion, constantly working to create a safe environment. A warm leader with a passion for memorable experiences and innovation.
Find me on Linkedin

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