As part of the Influx sponsorship of the #leadership channel, we wanted to find and share simple techniques to build better support teams.  

We’ve learned so much from the #leadership channel over the last two years, and we thought we could contribute by pulling out some of our favorite tips, add some more context from our own contacts, then organize into a common theme.  

First topic: How to keep your remote team motivated.

First up, some background on motivation and why it matters

We all want everyone on our team to do a little bit more: Answer more tickets, try a little harder, accelerate feedback loops.

But how do you do this while maintaining consistency and ensuring that you don’t experience a mass walkout in six months?

The answer almost always lies in ensuring that your team is highly motivated.  Building a sustainable system to keep your team motivated is one of the trickiest challenges for any support manager.  Doing this for a REMOTE team can be particularly difficult.

How do you do that?  For this post, we asked leaders at Ellevate Network, Showpad, and Mailchimp, plus asked our own Head of Ops for his input.  

The result is five actionable techniques.

Tip #1: Set goals not just expectations

Setting clear expectations is one thing, but phrasing them in a way that’s accessible presents another challenge entirely — and it’s just as important. Giving new employees goals allows them to aspire to great work, and feel genuinely satisfied when they meet their marks.

Kirsten Penaloza, Customer Experience Lead at Ellevate Network articulates:

“I believe in goal setting, which goes along with expectations. But when you phrase it as “We expect from you..” psychologically it creates more fear to underperform and pressure to be good at everything.”

Goal setting with a remote teammate brings that player into the fold: everyone is working toward unified objectives.

She goes on to explain just how her team does it.

“When you say ‘Let’s make it our 30-day goal to have answered in Week 1, XY number of tickets. Then in Week 2, we increase it by XY additional quantity, and so on.’

Check back every week to see where your employee stands, why or how they did or did not accomplish the goal. With that benchmark, you can adjust, help, and move forward.”

Goal setting with a remote teammate brings that player into the fold: everyone is working toward unified objectives. Plus, they’re set up to achieve on measurable, clear, and straightforward terms, and that’s encouraging to employees and managers alike.

Tip #2: Create a culture for decision making from day one

Has your new hire received clear daily or weekly expectations for their performance? Can they reference it in writing? Do they have detailed, quality training and education materials on hand?

We’ve all seen that new staff can be nervous, and rightly so — they want you to think that they’re capable of the job, and will naturally be more hesitant to reach out for help. Great managers can seize this opportunity to be proactive: give new teammates the tools they need, empowering them to succeed, without looking silly or feeling incapable, or even having to ask for extra assistance.

It’s all part of an essential, proper on-boarding process. Providing key tools and documents before they’re needed, taking the time for training right out of the gate, and making ample time for shadowing and answering questions are all simple gestures that turn dry protocol into real-life scalable procedure.

Influx Head of Operations Mikey De Wildt talks directly to empowering decision making:

“You don’t want your agents to blindly follow processes, you want them to make good decisions based on the information presented to them.

If your policies are too rigid, they’ll only follow the policy.

Instead, set up clear training and regular feedback loops to make sure agents are making the right decisions. You need both a system that enables agents and shows them how to work effectively.”

Tip #3: Set a 30-minute challenge

For new workers, the process of getting comfortable feels more fun — and accessible — if the pressure to perform is replaced by a challenge to succeed. The 30-minute challenge has proven to be an industry favorite for onboarding customer support professionals: can your new hire perform at a high level when the desperate need to “get it right” is removed?

Bill Bounds, former Head of Support at Mailchimp, shares his tactic:

“I’m a big fan of something like a 30-minute challenge. An example of this challenge in action is to give your new hire a task and a time limit.

“For example, have your new hire aim to write responses to as many tickets as possible (without sending them) in a single 30-minute block. See how many tickets they can clear when the fear of getting it wrong is removed.

“The odds are that your remote worker will be more right than wrong when you look back through the results, and this typically leads to lasting, improved confidence working in the queue.”

Tip #4: Add extra check-in time for remote employees

Teams work together to succeed: being a great manager means taking the time to make things work.

Bill emphasizes that putting in extra time as a manager — especially when onboarding — is crucial.

“When a new hire is having trouble, it’s often because he or she is not getting the level of attention needed to feel properly comfortable. As a manager, I think quick check-ins are often overlooked — even though they can pay huge dividends in employee success.

When team leads set time aside to make everyone feel capable, the whole team rises together.

“Depending on where you feel like their capabilities are, you can either find ways to build up those capabilities or you can find ways to prove they actually do know and are capable.”

When team leads set time aside to make everyone feel capable, the whole team rises together.

Tip #5: Dive deep in your 1:1s

Effective support professionals need to ask customers the right questions, and the same goes for their teams: if you want to know how someone is doing, you need to ask.

First, are your employees happy, both on the job and outside of work? Do they seem to be struggling, or have they achieved key milestones with confidence?  In a remote context, it’s particularly important to ask direct questions like this because you lose the localized small talk and body language.

Virginia Ulrich, Director of Customer Success at Koan, encourages us to do more than just question employees. We should build a system for defining expectations and having direct reports record their own expectations in their own role.

“Are the expectations for the role in question very clear? If there’s confusion, it’s time for the manager to reassess the situation.”

If expectations are clear and from the outset all appears well, further investigation is needed. Next, Virginia suggests mapping wants and needs — for everyone:

“I make a list of what I want to see and have them rate themselves. I also rate them and see where we can improve. I pay particular attention to my responsibility vs. theirs. For example, we trained them, but was it what this person needed?”

To really get to the bottom of things, Virginia also takes asking “why” very seriously — again, and again, and again.  

“All along the way, I practice asking why. I ask five times to get to the root cause, and to really uncover what is happening. I firmly believe that no one wakes in the morning not caring or wanting to do a bad job.”

 

Like posts like this?  Check out the #leadership channel on Slack or sign up to the weekly newsletter.  There are tons of handy tips and discussions in there.  Read more support team interviews on the Influx blog.

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