This is a guest post from Luis Hernandez, VP of Customer Success at Geckoboard.
If you contact Geckoboard for support, your request could be handled from Christchurch (New Zealand), Mumbai (India), London (England), Boston (US), Seattle (US) or Kilauea (Hawai’i, US). In some special cases, your request could be worked on by different team members halfway around the world from one another.
But it hasn’t always been like this.
Not long ago, we handled all requests exclusively from our HQ in London. It made sense at the time. However, business was growing not only in Europe but overseas – most noticeably in North America and Australasia. That meant that customers abroad had to wait for the next British business day to get a reply. Support requests piled-up and the delay propagated.
After a while, it wasn’t just customers abroad who had to wait, but also customers in Europe. Despite our commitment to provide a response within 24 hours, our first response time was well above (circa 30 hours). We needed to do something!
We knew we had basically two options:
- Hire more people in the UK and implement shifts.
- Become distributed and scale the support team around the globe.
We decided for the latter, and we can proudly say that the result is a first response time of just over 1 business-hour.
Our journey towards becoming a distributed team started in January of 2015 with our first remote hire, Tamsen Arndt who’s based in New Zealand. A lot has changed since then.
Not only was remote work new to Geckoboard, it was new to the fantastic people we ended up hiring. We embarked on this new journey together, which is why I’ve incorporated the experiences of some of our remote team members in this article. After all, successfully managing a remote team is dependent on exercising empathy and trust with your remote team members.
Before we go too far, I’d like to say that I don’t think there is (or ever could be) an exact recipe for scaling support successfully. In my opinion, scaling support is an art as much as it is a science. This article is about the things that have worked for us, things I can’t recommend highly enough and that I hope can help you build a fantastic (remote) team across time zones.
Here’s what we have learned in scaling our support team across the globe and how you can apply our lessons to your company.
Attracting and filtering the right remote talent
Your remote team members will (unfortunately) miss out on some of the stuff going around the office. Don’t underestimate this. I’ve done some remote work in the past and I’m convinced that the only reason it worked for me back then was because I worked at the (same) company’s HQs for six years before that.
I personally enjoy working from the office, so in my opinion working remotely is a skill in itself. A very important one to look for when hiring remote team members.
With regards to hiring remote team members, two things have worked particularly well for us:
- We Work Remotely: at the beginning, we posted job offers there, on our webpage and a few other places. After the first two hires, we posted exclusively there because we were so happy with the results. We have never been short of talented applicants from all over the world.
- A candidate challenge: Instead of asking for a CV and a cover letter, all our job posts for remote positions have included a challenge to apply (similar to the one below):
Here’s how to apply:
- Sign up for a free Geckoboard account at https://www.geckoboard.com/try-geckoboard/
- Create your own dashboard with at least one custom widget containing some HTML. This is your opportunity to shine and show off so go wild. Bonus points if you can include a polling and a push custom widget and can add some custom CSS to the dashboard. Don’t forget to include the sharing URL on your application
- Tell us a little bit about your background and why you want to work at Geckoboard
- Links to your personal Twitter, LinkedIn, blog
- Your response to the following customer query: “Hi, Please cancel my account – Ben”
We Work Remotely has successfully provided us with talented applicants, but the candidate challenge has made the hiring process that much easier (and less tedious).
It has been particularly helpful in getting to know applicants who are thousands of miles away — something that can be hard to achieve by reviewing CVs, even when hiring locally.
A challenge also allows you to see who’s truly interested in and dedicated to the opportunity. Challenges take time, so only those who really want to work with you are going to take the time to complete it.
Building communication and transparency processes that scale
Communication and transparency is Geckoboard’s raison d’être, so I guess you can say that at Geckoboard we drink our own champagne!
Effective communication and transparency lead to trust, and trust is fundamental in a “long distance relationship.” Without trust, I would permanently be tempted to see what’s happening after I’ve left the office: Are customers being taken care of? Is everything ok?
Without trust, I’d probably end up working 18 or so hours, which in fact defeats the purpose of having remote team members in the first place.
These are but a few of the things your remote team needs to know:
- What is your dev team working on?
- Did you change anything in the app today?
Making sure they have everything they need for their day to day and that they know in advance what is coming next, ensures anyone in the team is in the same position to support our customers.
Fortunately, there are tools that can help you keep remote team members in the loop, always. We use Slack, Geckoboard, iDoneThis, and team and company “standups” for this.
Slack: We have a #customer-success channel where our team talks about projects, cases, asks each other questions, provide updates, etc. Our team also has access to the marketing, social media, and product channels so we’re always in the loop with bugs, requests, and features. We have a Google Calendar integration in our #main room (for the whole team) so we can see when team members are on vacation or out for the day. Finally, we have a #remote room where our distributed members keep each other company and chat about their workplaces, travel, and more.
Geckoboard: The support team has a live KPI dashboard indicating how we are doing as a team ticket wise and also the daily stats that show how we are doing as a business.
Here’s an example of what a Live Support Dashboard might look like.
I Done This: I Done This allows our team members to share what they’ve accomplished at the end of each day to stay on the same page.
Company Show and Tell: Every Friday, we have a company-wide Show and Tell on Zoom where each team shares our big wins for the week. This keeps remote team members in the loop and feeling motivated.
I also like talking to everyone in the team regularly (once a week) to see how they are doing (work related and not work related), to go through news or anything relevant I’ve heard in the office, and to see if there’s anything I can help them with.
Being straightforward and available is the best way I know to keep team members on board, happy and productive.
Creating a clear schedule
The ultimate tool for successfully scaling a global support team is a clear calendar defining who’s working, when. This eliminates any duplicated work and allows you to see if there are any holes in your support team’s availability.
We have team members available for support inquiries 24/5 across channels – email, tickets, social, etc.
Remote work lessons and experiences from the trenches
Here’s what Tamsen Arndt in New Zealand had to say about her remote work experience:
“I quit my last job to travel the world for a year, but when I returned, the thought of commuting and working specific hours was too much. I set out to find something that would give me the flexibility I craved and I successfully got a remote position with Geckoboard.”
“Fast forward almost 18 months and I still love working remotely. Working is my daily top priority but the timing of it is flexible. I can get a jump on the day and start work by 7am if I have an appointment during the day or if I need to finish early. While I’m out, I can keep an eye on the ticket queue from my phone to ensure tickets aren’t building up. My colleagues and I chat on Slack throughout the day to collaborate on tickets and ensure they’re all getting answered.”
“When I started my remote position, my major concern was missing out on the social aspect of working in an office, especially because I’m on the other side of the world and don’t even overlap online with the majority of my colleagues. I’ve found the positive tradeoff to be that I have more time to maintain my existing friendships in the city that I live due to greater flexibility in when I can see them. For me, the positives of working remotely far outweigh any negatives.”
Working Remotely in Hawai’i — Jason Mendes’ perspective:
“Working for Geckoboard as part of the Customer Success team from my house in Kilauea, Hawai’i (on the island of Kaua’i) has been an amazing experience thus far. While I had some experience communicating across time zones with software development on IRC, this is my first in depth journey into working remotely.”
“The most oft-heard response when I share that I work remotely in Hawai’i is that I get to work from paradise. I can’t argue that I love where I live! That is a tremendous benefit to working remotely: work from where you are and want to be. I believe, though, that this applies to any location where a person enjoys being. That is, paradise isn’t only in Hawai’i, it is in London, Christchurch, Mumbai, Seattle and Boston—or wherever you find yourself with the freedom to be there and do a job that you love.”
“Which touches on that you really must enjoy the work, no matter if it is wherever you’d like to be. Naturally, I really do enjoy the work I do at Geckoboard.”
“But how do you get to know the people in a company from afar? For me, the essential qualities are determination, flexibility, and patience.”
“Determination, in that a lot of what happens effortlessly in physical (IRL) interactions must be mindfully and purposefully constructed. For example, I find that GIFs and emojis are helpful in adding clarity to the tone of what I’m sharing (such as on Slack) with my colleagues.”
“Flexibility, in that we all don’t live in the same time zone! For me this has meant an openness to getting up early or staying up late to meet with my team (e.g. through Zoom), and my team has been generous to extend that same flexibility to me.”
“And patience, in that the relationships have in some ways developed more slowly.”
“Our team is still quite young, and even now it is in the middle of growing and changing, but I already see our team as tenacious, cohesive and connected and moving forward I see my connections with my colleagues and my work growing stronger. I’d love to meet them all in person soon!”
Scale customer support with focus
In short, you can have a remote team distributed across the globe who still act as a tight-knit, well-oiled machine. The key to success is a well-thought-out hiring process, clear and transparent communications, trust, empathy, and a clear schedule. With those characteristics and the proper tools in place, you can have a global support team before you know it.