Quick Summary: Frameworks have helped teams work smarter. However, it might be challenging figuring out whether a framework is the right solution for you. In this post, Diana Potter (Head of Support & Success at Qwilr in the B2B space) and Denise Twum (Support Process Manager at SmugMug in the B2C space) share their decision-making process on whether a framework will help them solve problems in support.
This article was created with the support of Intercom, provider of solutions and frameworks to help teams deliver personalized customer support efficiently. Thanks!
The work world has really shifted under my feet in the last year. Customers expect more, but we’re reaching a point where they don’t just expect it, they demand it. Customers want service that’s timely, informed, and personal. They have more options than ever, and support continues to rank as a top driver when it comes to sales and retention.
How can we give customers a great time with our products, have happy teams, and keeps things at scale to keep building and maintaining successful companies? Intercom’s Conversational Support Funnel got my friend Denise (who I met through Support Driven!) and I thinking about how it could fit into our workflows.
Denise and I both design and implement processes where we work. Denise is a Support Process Manager at SmugMug, and I’m the Head of Support and Success at Qwilr. Despite our differing customer bases we have a lot of the same challenges. Why rewrite the book every time? Keep reading to find both our takes on if the Intercom framework is right for us.
“A framework is, in a way, like a piece of IKEA furniture. It’s something already produced with a huge following.”
What is a framework?
A framework gives you a structure for approaching, perceiving, or understanding something, whether that thing is a situation, a problem, or a solution you’re evaluating. Frameworks are essentially basic flows or scaffolding that you build on. The support structure is there, and you add your own flourishes.
A framework is, in a way, like a piece of IKEA furniture. It’s something already produced with a huge following. Other people have worked out the kinks in how to assemble it, and there is a large community there to share instructions and tips. It’s also something that’s infinitely hackable. If someone can take a plain wooden dresser and turn it into a bespoke dresser with an open shelf and built-in charging points that exactly fits your space, we can take a support framework and mould it to suit our exact customer needs while still having that great reproducible base.
How would we decide on a framework?
Denise and I agreed that as long as we’re under the right circumstances, a framework is absolutely something we want to use. But how would we decide on the actual framework? We ended coming up with our own framework here. A framework for deciding on frameworks!
First, ask yourself these questions:
1. What problems are you trying to solve?
What would you need in six or 12 months? If you’re just hoping to make small tweaks, a new framework isn’t for you. You don’t want to or need to use a framework for every situation. To quote a colleague, “Sometimes a problem just needs a solution.” Write all of this down in a list. This will be important later.
2. What are the most important things on the above list(s)?
Put a * by the necessities.
3. Who will implement this?
Implementing something new isn’t a small task. It’s a multi-month project, and you’ll often live with the results for years. You also need internal support. There is no point in making big changes if there is resistance that would block you from releasing it.
4. Who will own it going forward?
5. How much time do you have to work on your scaffolding and accompanying tweaks?
This tends to vary depending on the circumstances. Are you trying to roll out something brand new in a greenfield and quick matters? That’s going to necessitate a different option vs. if you’re rebuilding something, and you have the time needed to replace years of process.
Now, you’re going to research possible frameworks.
This time, ask yourself these questions:
1. Does this do what you need?
No point in looking at a framework that emphasizes phone calls as a first course when you’re looking for a modern, scalable approach. Refer to your list of needs and wants. Remember, you generally can’t get everything you want, but you absolutely need the things you need.
2. Is this a framework that’s tied to just one platform, or could you switch tools without changing all of your processes?
This might not be important for you, and if so, you’d instead want to decide if this is a platform you’re happy to keep using for years to come.
3. How much community exists around this framework?
One of the big benefits of a framework is all the other companies using it. You can learn from them, and you can hire people already well-versed in it. This will save you a ton of time. Make sure you’re looking at true use rather than experimentation. Seeing companies larger than yours talking about how they’re actively using the framework helps you.
4. What are the consequences of this particular framework?
Imagine your team using it. Can you see it flowing with your company’s culture and giving you the results your customers need?
OK, what about Intercom’s framework?
All of this discussion brings us back to the original topic at hand. We both need to build support that is personal and amazing, but also somehow incredibly scalable and cost-effective. We need to handle 20% more customers with questions and a 0% larger team — all while customers want quick, efficient, and friendly help. I’m dealing with an ever-increasing number of customers, businesses who are facing their own influx (or decrease!) in customers with the feelings of urgency that go with it. Denise is investigating new ways to better support a large number of customers during the free-trial period.
“First, I’d take a step back and take stock of the situation I’m in to figure out how I could use the CSF.”
Is a framework right for us? Would Intercom’s be the right fit?
The question of whether a framework right for me is still a completely open question. Right now I’d say no, simply for time reasons. However, let’s assume the answer is yes. I have the time and internal support to make big changes and implement a new framework. Would the CSF work for me?
My needs are:
- Very scalable
I want whatever is put in place to grow with us over the next five years.
- Very efficient
I have a pretty small team, and we’re not expecting to hire more than a couple of people over the next couple of years.
We want to run pretty lean without large investments in more tools.
- Very personal
We pride ourselves on providing pretty amazing support. We want to give complete answers, anticipating the next question, and all so quickly the customer isn’t even sure their question has submitted before they get an answer. Basically, really high standards.
- Bringing team happiness and balance
As much as I want customers to love our service, I want my team to love providing it. Work is work, sure, but it takes up a huge percentage of everyone’s lives, and it should be a job you enjoy.
I also want a button I can push and have a Coke Zero delivered with every change I successfully implement, but I’m willing to let that one go.😉
The focus on proactive support first, then self-service, then human-centered fits well with my needs.
I’m a big believer in being proactive — reach out to customers ahead of when you think they’ll need help and everything can keep running smoothly. That gives a great personal touch, and as a bonus, it’s something that will make my team happier in the long run.
If writing a help doc takes an hour you’ll likely save 10 times that by letting customers help themselves. It also leads to a far happier work day as you strip out more of the repetitive tasks.
Ending on human support gives that final personal flourish that being proactive already started. It means customers can get help from a member of my team when they need it. We can also set up our processes to route VIPs to the team earlier, which is a way to add on that little extra bit of service where it matters.
Is it tied to one platform? No. You could shape those proactive outreaches, self-service, and human support with any number of tools.
The consequences are an open question for me. I’m still not sure if I am in a position to roll out and re-center around a framework, I can’t say exactly how it would play out for us. It meets the big goals we have for our service and packages them nicely in a way that’s easy to understand. That matters. It really comes back to the first questions. Until I know that a framework is right for me, I won’t know if this one is. In my perfect vision of what I could do at any given time, though, it’s definitely something I’d explore.
I’m still holding out for the Coke Zero button, too.
First, I’d take a step back and take stock of the situation I’m in to figure out how I could use the CSF. Since I’m experimenting with frameworks, my approach would be slightly different from Diana’s. I would:
Use a framework to determine what situation I’m in, and based on that information, decide what action I’m going to take. On reviewing the Cynefin framework, creating a support response for our free-trial customers falls under the “complicated” situation, mainly because:
1. We have known unknowns (what effect will having VIP support for free-trial customers have on conversion?)
2. The cause-and-effect relationship is discoverable, but not currently clear, meaning that more than one right answer is possible. This is great already because now I can experiment and try out different approaches to solve my problem. As such, the CSF would be a viable framework to consider for approaching this problem.
Now that I’ve determined that CSF is a possible framework for setting up VIP support for free-trial customers, I would try and place this work I’m doing in the context of improving customer experiences. A framework that can help conceptualize this is this one shared by Peter Merholz that recommends working from the outside in. This means:
1. What experiences do you want your customers to have?
I want our free-trial customers to experience personalized support to help them onboard and start using the features of our product quickly.
2. What interactions (activities) do your customers engage in with your product?
Our customers often upload photos, organize them, and then set up their websites to display/share their photos.
3. What touchpoints do you have with your customers?
Our customers interact with us via emails from the marketing team, and when they reach out to our support team via email. They can also view help articles on our help center and contact the support team via live chat.
4. What are the procedures that provide the logic behind how business is conducted?
Only customers on particular tiers have access to live chat, the fastest way to reach the support team.
5. What systems will support all the above in order to get the customer experience you want?
We use a live chat tool that’s separate from our support email inbox, but can be embedded on our website and in our apps.
CSF could help with the touchpoints portion of the customer experience framework referenced above, so I’m going to dive in right there:
1. Proactive: Known questions that can be answered preemptively using targeted content. When I first reviewed this framework, I was certain it might not work given that our focus on the trial customers was to give them personalized support. However, the more time I spent analyzing this framework, the more I realized that we could proactively share targeted content based on the kind of interaction they are having with our product, and give helpful information that will help them navigate the site better.
For instance, if a customer seems to be spending a lot of time uploading or customizing their site, we could use a chatbot to share information on those actions, giving them access to help articles in the second part of this framework below, or routing them straight to a Support Hero, in the third part of this framework.
2. Self-serve: Repetitive questions that can be automatically answered with chatbots and knowledge base articles. This section of the funnel is where I’m a little stuck, as it’s not directly applicable to the problem we’re trying to resolve. In our case, the kind of questions free-trial customers ask are often pretty complex and detailed, relating only to their accounts. As such, it’s a little challenging for me to envision the kind of automations that could answer these types of questions. Using it in conjunction with the proactive aspect of the funnel delineated previously, not to close tickets but to proactively push relevant help content/education to those trial customers might be the way to go.
3. Human: Complex and VIP questions that can only be answered by a human. When I first saw CSF, I felt that we could only use this part of the framework. That may be your situation, but I’m happy to be proven wrong. The human part where we focus on providing personalized support to free-trial customers will still be highly prioritized, but I can definitely see how the other two parts of the funnel could be helpful in our providing personalized, targeted support to customers who may not wish to or need that kind of support.
Based on this analysis, I’d be down to experiment with the CSF for this subset of customers and see how it affects their experience during the free-trial period.
Our final verdict
We’re both still deciding on if a framework is right for us and if the CSF the way to go. We both agree: the time has come for frameworks in support. Times are changing and so are our customers. If we want to keep up we need to lean in and shift for the existing change and be ready for what’s next.
What do you think? Are you ready for frameworks?
If you missed the first post on Introducing the Conversational Support Funnel, be sure to check it out. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we talk about moving from proactive to reactive support and the current landscape of support trends.
Intercom has put together an in-depth Starter Kit to help you learn more about their Conversation Support Funnel framework so you can start using it in your own operations.
The kit includes:
- The full scoop on the framework
- An interactive worksheet to help you plan your funnel
- Tactics for fast and personal issue response
- Advice on what to measure and how to get buy-in for your support program
About the Authors
Diana Potter heads up support at Qwilr, spending her days helping her team help customers, figuring out solutions to tricky problems, and trying to keep her cat from joining every video call and giving her opinions.
Follow her on Twitter @drpotter, and find her in Support Driven Slack @drpotter.
Denise Twum works with support leadership at SmugMug to improve policies and processes for the team and customers. Denise dabbles in creative endeavors — learning to read and speak Korean (so she can do better at K-pop Karaoke), knitting, and baking.
Follow her on Twitter @awurama, and in Support Driven Slack as @awurama.
Joy Matthews is a customer support and special operations manager (head of support) at The Tapping Solution. Joy loves processes, puzzles, and manages a small, all-remote team on a mission toward helping people lead happier and healthier lives.
Ozella Bowman is a customer success and marketing program manager at ABLSoft. Ozella develops and implements policy and procedure around customer interaction and support. Known for “putting out fires” with clients before they even begin to flame. Ozella is a crafty creative who loves to make things; literally, a living, breathing, Pinterest board. Weekends are filled with DIY projects and trips to Michael’s
Alex Armstead is a customer support operations manager at Clever Inc. Alex is responsible for driving internal operational effectiveness while optimizing the external customer experience to help Clever scale for growth. Alex is an avid runner, orchestral musician, outdoor adventurer, and beer/wine enthusiast. He can usually be found exploring the San Francisco Bay Area with his partner and dog.