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How We Improved Our First Response Time from 60 mins to 16 mins
The Birth of Support Function
During our early days in Customer Success, our small team of Customer Success Managers did everything for our accounts - Account Setup, Onboarding, Product Training, Resolving support queries (pardon all the CS jargon) - you name it, we did it. I was one of these members, who was a jack of all trades and we prided ourselves in being able to help out our customers - end to end. This was working well for us till we had a manageable no. of customers coming our way.
However, with any growth stage startup, there is a point where you realize that some of the existing processes that you flourished in, will not sustain you anymore. We hit this roadblock as well in Oct-2020 when we started seeing a surge in our incoming customers (What a good problem to have :)). We needed to change our processes.
Our customers were not just looking for an awesome product but also wanted an equally awesome service. We decided to have Customer Support as a separate team within Customer Success. And I was asked to take charge of this team starting Jan 2021.
Setting a Lofty Goal
We managed the first quarter of 2021 with 3 members in the Customer Support team. Till then, we weren't actively tracking Customer Support related metrics. In April-2021, I carried out an analysis of incoming tickets for the last 6 months. We found that:
Our overall average first response time was around 60 mins
The team responded to fewer than 50% of tickets within the first 30 mins
I knew that there was definitely a scope for improvement here. I wanted to set a target that can be aspirational to the team, but at the same time not seem dizzying that it felt like they could never achieve it. After running through the analysis and having a round of discussion with my manager, we set a goal for the team
Bring down our average First Response Time (FRT) to 20 mins
No, we were not crazy. We just wanted to set the bar of our service quality REALLY REALLY HIGH! 🙂
The Game Plan
We had a goal, but needed a game plan. After some deliberations, I narrowed down on a few focus areas that I felt could get us to our goal.
Focus Area 1: Accountability for Tickets
Historically, we had a fastest-finger-first way of deciding who responds to what ticket. This started breaking down as the ticket volumes and the team size grew. There was lack of clarity on who needed to respond to an incoming ticket. We needed to have a more robust process in place so that everyone knew who would be responding to an incoming ticket.
I decided to start with a simple setup using a team calendar using Google Calendar. Once we piloted this for 1 week, to our pleasant surprise
First Response Time drastically reduced from 1 hr in the first week of April to 21 mins
This indicated that we were on the right track and we incorporated scheduling of a support calendar among different support agents for better accountability.
Focus Area 2: Hiring
It was fantastic that we got to 21 minutes very quickly. However, our customer base was growing rapidly across multiple timezones. Improving or even maintaining this number seemed untenable with the lean team. I needed to make sure that we had the right number of people available at the right times. To plan this, I started tracking the following:
Average ticket load that an individual team member could handle
What timeslots did we hit peak load
Tracking average FRT by timeslots so we could tell when we were performing poorly
Incorporate some slack in the system to account for unavailability
Once I had these numbers, I could do better capacity planning so that we could provide predictable first response times to our customers while not overloading individuals. We could plan our hiring based on estimated number of new customers in subsequent quarters.
Focus Area 3: Onboarding New Joiners
Whenever we had a new person join the team, we had to ensure that they were trained sufficiently before they could start responding to incoming support queries from customers. I created a rigorous training program that ensured they had sufficient product knowledge, support process awareness, and hands-on experience to become fully productive within 6 weeks.
As a newbie, it can be quite overwhelming for a support agent to start responding to customer queries. I devised having an internal peer review process which ensured that new joiners had a solid support system in order to start responding to support tickets. This practical exposure and understanding of how the team addresses different types of customer queries gave them the confidence to start responding to complex tickets independently.
Focus Area 4: Product Knowledge
With different members joining the support team at different points in time, the depth of product knowledge was inconsistent. I wanted to even out the playing field for everyone so that they would not be intimidated by a customer query they had not encountered before. I would ask the team which areas of the product they were not confident about and pick one of the modules. Every week one member of the team volunteered and would do a detailed walkthrough of the module.
Purpose of the module within the product
Basic functionalities and steps to set it up
Advanced functionalities and steps to set it up
This helped the team a great deal to learn more about core areas of the product where they only had surface-level knowledge earlier. This in turn gave them the confidence to be able to manage any incoming queries in these areas of the product.
Tracking our results
Throughout the period the team was working on the focus areas, it was essential that I was able to track our performance without the need to manually download data from our ticketing software and spend hours building an analysis report. Seeing results in real-time was key to getting a quick validation of what was working and what was not. So I went about setting up a real-time dashboard on Google Data Studio by connecting it to our internal data source containing ticket details.
My manager and I would review this on a weekly basis. This was to ensure that if there was any discrepancy that we observed in a given week, we were able to identify it quickly. This helped me a great deal in identifying all of the focus areas discussed in this blog.
And since results speak for themselves, here is how our performance improved from Jan 2021 to May 2022 and we were able to hit 16 min average First Response Time.
If you are passionate about Customer Support, do send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.