22 Experts Reveal: The Most Important Factors for Scaling Quality Support

By John Hughes

What are the secrets of scaling awesome support? We ask the experts presiding over support for multi-million dollar businesses for their insights and strategies for scaling quality customer support.

Working out how to successfully scale support as you prosper is essential to the long-term success of your business.

We reached out to 22 of the biggest names in the WordPress community and asked them one simple question:

What do you think is the most important factor in successfully scaling quality support?

We’ve distilled the responses of our expert panel into the key lessons that businesses large and small should consider when looking to scale quality support.

Introducing the Experts

wordpress-expert-panel

Our panel consists of experts from all sectors of the WordPress ecosystem, the biggest names in their respective fields.

We touched base with the folks behind some of the most successful WordPress themes and frameworks of all time. Brian Gardner of StudioPressLuke Beck of Theme Fusion, and Christian Budschedl of Kriesi. We also picked the brains of Mitch Skolnik, the Operations Director over at Elegant Themes.

Plugin developers in Billy Young of Beaver Builder fame, John Turner from SeedProd, Pippin Williamson of Easy Digital Downloads and AffiliateWP fame, and Cory Lamle. We also managed to snag Daniel Cid from SucuriPetar Atanasovski from ManageWP, and Ionut Neagu of ThemeIsle.

Experts inside the Automattic empire included Happiness Engineers Davor Altman and Ryan Cowles, and WooCommerce support technician Rémi Corson.

Kings of WordPress blogs Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner and OptinMonster, and Jean Galea of WP Mayor and WP RSS Aggregator. Two of the most respected names in WordPress podcasting in Bob Dunn of BobWP and the Do the Woo podcast, and Matt Medeiros from the Matt Report.

Finally, Jean-Baptiste Marchand-Arvier of WP MediaTimothy Bowers from WPMU DEV, Tom Willmot of Human Made, and Tom McFarlin of PressWare.

Here’s what they had to say…

1. Make the Most of Technology and Tiers

Technology is vital to handle the heavy lifting when scaling support. Implement good software to reduce time spent on support queries, for both you and your customers.

Having the right technology in place is essential to successfully scaling support.
~ Mitch Skolnik - Operations Director , Elegant Themes

Don’t cheap out when it comes to selecting the right tools for facilitating awesome support.

You will never scale a quality support without proper tools. So stop trying to save a few bucks by using your own tools, at the end this will cost you a lot. Start using a good help desk software.
~ Jean-Baptiste Marchand-Arvier - Co-Founder , WP Media

Team structure also plays a critical role as you scale.

When your project grows and you need to employ more people on support, a good idea is to divide them into support tiers.
~ Jean Galea - Founder , WP Mayor

Get the tiers correct and quality can be improved, while reducing costs.

Split your support team into distinct tiers. Give higher tiers the freedom to chime in immediately where necessary, rather than forcing customers to jump through hoops.
~ Tom McFarlin , PressWare
Select good quality support tools to help manage queries and tickets that scale with you. Ensure simple queries can be dealt with quickly and effectively, while more complex issues get the attention of the right people by splitting support into tiers.

2. Write Great Documentation

Internal and external documentation lie at the heart of reducing tickets and queries relating to your products and services.

The best way to scale support is to focus on the documentation. In the end, the more documentation you have, the less likely someone will be to have a question that remains unanswered.
~ Brian Gardner , StudioPress

This should encompass aspects of internal and external training, which should be documented appropriately to ensure quality and consistency.

Being able to quickly train new hires and get them up to speed is priceless. This implies that all the support processes are well documented.
~ Davor Altman - Happiness Engineer , Automattic
Documentation is essential for excellent product support, helping customers and staff understand your product. It’s a great way of communicating to a large audience and provides discovery and optimization benefits.

3. Love Your Team

Support your team in the way you want them to support your customers. Provide the right tools, training and environment for your team to grow.

[Ensure your support team is] invested in your project and want to see the same from new members. It creates a kind of snowball effect over time.
~ Billy Young - Co-founder , Beaver Builder

The chief role of the support team is to guide your customer through the product support process, directing them to the most relevant resource.

In the technical support realm, half the time quality support is about educating the customer.
~ Luke Beck - Founder , Theme Fusion

Not everyone is a natural fit for customer support roles, and it’s virtually impossible to scale quickly if your team is composed of people whose hearts aren’t truly in it.

Choosing the right people to hire saves you a lot of hassle down the road. Here I have in mind both their technical and “empathy” skills.
~ Ionut Neagu - Founder , ThemeIsle

Customer support is an inherently emotional environment. You need to be hiring team members with the skills to excel in this environment.

Customer support is often a matter of dealing with people who are frustrated or disappointed, so there’s an emotional component that some personality types are better at dealing with than others.
~ Tom McFarlin , PressWare

Having a great team in place is critical, but unless you’re going above and beyond as an employer to keep that team happy, they’re not going to be able to scale and consistently deliver value to customers.

To be the punchbag of the organisation — that’s soul destroying, and can really stunt personal and professional development within your team. It’s also a recipe for high staff turnover. Yuk!
~ Timothy Bowers - Support Team Lead , WPMU DEV

Nearly every one of our experts agree in the importance of cultivating a happy support team.

Keeping the support team happy and healthy is priority number one.
~ Pippin Williamson , Easy Digital Downloads
Your team is the personality behind the business, for many of customers the first time they deal with a person could be a member of the support team, so ensure the team is well looked after and supported themselves.

4. Prioritize Processes and Training

With the right technology and team in place, you’re in a great position to scale your support. Processes, training, and structure provide the essential scaffolding to accelerate towards your support goals as smoothly as possible.

The most important factor in scaling quality support is having good leadership and processes in place to handle different situations.
~ Syed Balkhi , OptinMonster

Prioritize training from the get-go, and always be planning one step ahead.

If you’re planning a team structure for ten people, ask yourself how that structure might play out with 20 people. Or 50.
~ Ryan Cowles - Team Lead , Automattic

Be prepared to work on the meta structure to get the processes right and have feedback loops to ensure continuous improvement.

We had some moments where we didn’t feel the quality of the team was where we wanted, and we spent quite a bit of time getting it fixed.
~ Daniel Cid - CTO , Sucuri
The process of support defines standards and help you improve you product and service over time. By defining your process and using feedback loops, weak points can be identified and eliminated.

5. Ensure the Product Pulls Its Weight

Without a great product at the heart of your operation, you risk merely scaling problems when trying to scale support.

If you are getting lots of support requests due to bugs and conflicts, you need to improve your product.
~ John Turner - Founder , SeedProd

Product failings don’t just manifest themselves in busy support queues; they’re also a ticking time bomb in terms of revenue.

Statistics say that while one customer complains about a bad experience, 26 remain silent (and unsatisfied).
~ Petar Atanasovski - Head of Customer Happiness , ManageWP

This focus on product needs to run deep across your team, particularly when you’re dealing with early versions.

During the early release of the product, it’s important that whoever is doing support have a deep understanding how the product works in every way. This doesn’t necessarily mean they know what plugins it works with or doesn’t work with, or what CSS might cause a conflict or things like this, but they should have the ability to understand the complete feature-set offered by the project and know how to replicate the issue.
~ Tom McFarlin , PressWare
Active and iterative product improvement helps lower the overall support burden. Use your own product and ensure your team does the same, not only does the product improve, but so does the quality of support.

6. Set Expectations Early

Regardless of what level of support you’re dealing with, setting expectation early is a key factor in keeping things ticking over and planning the best way to grow your support offering. Bob Dunn draws on his own experience in moving beyond being a one-man shop to illustrate the point:

I made sure the client understood what to expect, and that in turn gave me enough sense to know just how much more support I could take on.
~ Bob Dunn - Founder , BobWP
Set standards, ensuring both your business and your customers understand what to expect. Seek to minimise the ‘expectation gap’, one of the biggest causes of unhappy customers.

7. Use Meaningful Support Metrics

Knowing which metrics to focus on goes a long way towards learning how to scale.

The number one factor I’ve found to impact the quality and scalability of our support has been accurate and transparent metrics.
~ Tom Willmot - Founder , Human Made
It’s not just a numbers game, meaningful metrics allow you to quantify the success of your support channels. Asking customers how well their query was answered is an good measure of effective support.

Conclusions

Scaling quality support is a multistep process and our team of experts have shared some excellent tips for making it work for you.

What we’ve learned:

  • Take advantage of technology and tiered teams as you grow.
  • Commit to process and training early on, and document thoroughly as you go.
  • Work on creating a happy, committed support team.
  • Even world-class support can’t fix a broken product.
  • Set customer expectations as early as possible.
  • Make sure you’re focusing on meaningful metrics to avoid drowning in detail.

Do you have any thoughts or tips of your own to share on scaling quality customer support? Get in touch via the comments below and let us know!

Leave A Comment?