Heroes and the craft of customer support – Interview with Nick Francis


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Today’s interview is with Nick Francis, CEO and co-founder of Help Scout, a Saas software company that provides an email-based customer support platform, knowledge base tool, and an embeddable search/contact widget for customer service professionals. Nick joins me today to talk about the ‘craft’ of customer support, making support and contact centre agents heroes and their latest Customer Support Survey.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Marrying self organising teams and customer obsession – Interview with Andrew Lawson – and is number 231 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Highlights from my conversation with Nick:

  • Nick and the folks at Help Scout view customer support as a ‘craft’.
  • That is very intentional and Nick believes that the industry talks too much about tools and technology and does not talk enough about the skills that it takes to do a great job supporting customers.
  • Support is a people powered experience.
  • Help Scout, through their blog and efforts in the community, aim to elevate those skills and to elevate the profession.
  • Their aim is to make contact centre agents and customer support people ‘heroes’.
  • There is a bit of a negative stigma in many business circles around the profession of customer support.
  • However, if you talk to many people that work in the customer support area, and have done so for a while, then they tend to be passionate and happy about their work and love helping people.
  • Most forward thinking companies are no longer thinking about customer support as a cost centre that is to be optimised. Support teams are increasingly becoming part of the marketing team and responsible for mission-critical, customer related tasks.
  • Help Scout support their ‘hero’ push by publishing a number of surveys each year. One of which is the Customer Support Salary Survey, which aims to help develop a better understanding of salary levels in the industry. In their most recent survey they found that SaaS companies pay the highest wages for customer support, with an average salary of $63,651.

Do Support Salaries Differ by Industry?

  • This number may surprise some people but what it indicates is that many companies highly value the role that customer support plays.
  • Customer support is no longer an entry level job where you work your way into other departments from there.
  • If you like helping people then you can develop a great career in customer support.
  • When you elevate someone, regardless of their position, invariably you will find that they go on to do outstanding work far beyond what you thought or may have thought they were capable of.
  • Nick recommends that if you want to embrace this idea/approach of making your customer support team (or anyone for that matter) then you should:
    • Firstly, go and talk to your support team.
      • They talk to customers every day and will have a great sense of what they could do better. and what you could do to help them.
    • Secondly, as a leader, be careful not to over-estimate the value and impact of the tools that you have chosen or use.
      • If your people are not happy at work then chances are that your customers will not be happy with their experience regardless of the tools you might be using.
  • Nick and the team at Help Scout talk a lot about building this type of culture at the Help Scout blog.
  • Adrian told Nick two stories that support his belief that leaders and, particularly, service, experience and support leaders will create a lot of value if they are willing to ask question, be curious, listen and be willing to change the way that their business functions in order to be more customer centric:
    • First, Adrian referenced the Big Ass Fans story where they grew their business from $34 million in revenue in 2009 to a projected $175 million in 2014 by focusing on eliminating silent customer complaints and customer success.
    • Second, he told the story (apologies to anyone that has already heard this story before) of Lloyds, a UK bank, who were in the process of redesigning their mortgages. As part of that process, they gathered a group of their call centre agents, without the presence of any managers, and asked them to help identify problems that existed with their mortgage process. It took the agents only 30 mins to identify the top 10 problems that customers faced. It took a data analysis team 6 weeks to analyse all of the customer and operational data and conclude that the agents were 80% right.
  • To start making your support team or your agents feel like heroes and, also, to start helping them be heroes then leadership has to start from a position of respect, humility and trust. Leadership has to trust that they, the support team and agents, have a huge amount of value and insight to offer the business.
  • It’s pretty normal for leaders to get further and further away from the customer as they ascend in responsibility. Therefore, they have to accept that their intuition may be wrong.
  • Customer support people are the voice of the company but they also hear the voice of your customer the most clearly.
  • Email and phone have been the primary support channels for years and years. But, now Help Scout is seeing a real shift towards in-app messaging or ‘chat’ applications as they can tend to be contextually better particularly when dealing with questions around a product order.
  • Therefore, Help Scout is thinking a lot about how messaging is changing, how they can best adopt it and how they can scale that for support teams behind the scenes.
  • Wow service/experience for Nick is all about respecting peoples time, showing empathy, being thorough and solving their problem.
  • Go to Help Scout’s blog and look for the blue subscribe button, where you can subscribe to their incredibly helpful newsletter all about customer support and service etc.
  • Finally, check out Support Driven, a community of over 2,000 customer service professionals that share the same values tat we have been talking about today. Their Slack group is the heart of their community. You can join the community here and sign up for their newsletter here.

About Nick

Nick FrancisNick Francis is Co-founder and CEO of Help Scout, where he is on a mission to make every customer service interaction a more human one.

His two passions — technology and entrepreneurship — led him to start a web consultancy soon after college. For several years, he learned how to craft user experiences with his partners, Denny Swindle and Jared McDaniel.

In 2010, the trio founded Help Scout and left their hometown of Nashville to join the TechStars accelerator program in Boston. That program, along with the Boston startup ecosystem, helped transform Help Scout into something real — a successful, remote company now serving more than 8,000 customer support teams around the globe.

Nick lives and breathes product design, customer experience, and building a thoughtful, thriving company. He feels lucky to wake up every day and work alongside people who challenge him to grow and do great work.

Remember: Go to Help Scout’s blog and look for the blue subscribe button, check out Support Driven, say Hi to Help Scout and Nick on Twitter @helpscout and @nickfrancis and connect with Nick on LinkedIn here.

Thanks to pixabay for the image.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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