We Asked 5 Customer Support Managers How They Stay Productive Working In A Startup

Whilst the triumphs and defeats of many executives are illuminated in the media, perhaps one of the most under-represented juggling acts are startups’ customer support teams.
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It’s no secret that working in a startup can often be chaotic. Juggling roles, ideas and deadlines can make it hard to gain clarity and remain productive. Whilst the triumphs and defeats of many executives are illuminated in the media, perhaps one of the most under-represented juggling acts are startups’ customer support teams. Customer support is a profession based on experiences and empathy, so it makes sense to circulate useful content that applies to and can help with the challenges many startup customer support teams are experiencing.

With this in mind, I interviewed 5 customer support managers who had differing advice on staying productive amidst the chaos of working for a startup.

Summary of Findings

  • Identify tasks by priority and execute in that order
  • When it comes to goals- focus on less and do them right
  • Don’t underestimate work-related distractions- e.g- Gmail, Slack
  • Team transparency is the key to working towards a common goal
  • Use the tools at your disposal to automize repetitive tasks
  • Don’t let your customer focus detract from the importance of internal development

Interviews

Linnea- Community Manager (Creative Fabrica)

Working in Customer Support, and especially in a startup, require that you always have an overview of everything. In Swedish, we call it being able to have many balls in the air. I have a few tips for juggling many tasks within Customer Support, and still staying productive. Have strict procedures and priorities as a team but also for yourself. Since there is always a lot that needs to be done, identifying which tasks are the most important and have the highest priority, and always do those first. For the more repetitive tasks, implement an easy way to automatize them. It can be writing help articles for your most frequent questions, creating a knowledge document for your team and so on.

Another tip is to set up goals for yourself of what you’d like to accomplish in a day or a week. This has helped me manage my time better and being able to stay productive. For all those ideas of tasks or features that you want to implement, but really don’t have time to do now, make sure to keep them written down. It can come in handy when you later need it for a brainstorming session and have completely forgotten all your great ideas. I use an old fashion notebook just because I feel like actually writing it down with a pen on a paper helps me develop my ideas further.

Leonie- Customer Team Manager (Homerun)

I think there are 3 main ingredients in keeping you focused and productive:

Productive Goals

To be productive, you have to know what to focus on. Especially in an early-stage startup, there is so much to do, so much to improve and so much to learn. You’ll have to make choices. It’s very helpful to come up with some shared goals as a team to work towards. They could be monthly goals or quarterly goals or even annual goals. It helps to say no to 10 things and focus on 1 or 2 things to do really well. What do you wish to get out of it and when should it be finished? If you can’t answer those questions, it might not be worth your time.

Planning

I think it’s also important to have a clear week schedule with actionable goals set for that week and specific days assigned to specific tasks. This helps me to create an overview but it also creates regularity.

I use Monday morning to check on some metrics, reply to emails and plan my week ahead. I try to come up with at least one or two things I definitely want to achieve that week and make sure I plan time on my agenda to focus on those things. The rest of Monday is reserved for team meetings, department meetings and all other stuff that comes up. Tuesday and Thursday are my Customer Success days. I reserve those days for sending emails, talking to the product team about improvements, sharing feedback, etc. On Wednesdays, I work remotely to do some focus work. And Friday is reserved for improvement projects and experiments.

Tooling

The third thing that helps me to be productive is to block specific time in my agenda to focus on stuff and make sure I’m not logged into Gmail, Slack and all those communication tools at that time. My mistake is to keep different tabs and tools open with notifications that distract me from the things I really should be doing. It would be better to check my email just a few moments a day, for example. Most of those things can wait, so it’s fine to pause notifications for a couple of hours a day.

One last personal tip: Follow your gut feeling about things. Especially in the beginning, when you haven’t set up a real department yet and you’re not measuring all the metrics you want, follow your instinct when it comes to what is important right now and work on the things you feel really can’t wait.

Mike- Head of Customer Happiness (JustPark)

Be Accountable. Each morning, our CS Management team come in 15 minutes early and have a quick meeting. We speak about what we want to work on and get completed throughout the day. We then all publically announce to our team, during our morning standup, what we’re working on for the day and what we want to complete that day.

It’s very easy a manager to crack on with the day job and almost be a rule onto yourself, in regards to workload, which I’ve felt has made it easier for things to slip. By publically announcing this to our management team and our whole team, it builds in a feeling of accountability for ourselves and also it engages the team due to it building a layer of transparency on our work versus theirs, which is often easily lost.

Ingmar- Support Quality Officer (NMBRS)

Assuming every support agent has an intrinsic motivation to perform his work as efficiently and effectively as possible, productivity is a part or logical consequence of this. However, doing much of the same simply provides an automatic pilot course. Where you might work very quickly, productively as we call it, it is not at the expense of quality. Are you providing a good customer experience by just being productive?

We believe that for a support agent, there must be variety in daily tasks. That is why we work with a proactive and reactive role, which is shared in daily shifts. The reactive role consists of answering tickets and incoming questions from customers. While in the proactive role your goal is trying to prevent recurring questions. In short, improving the product, in-app support and expanding our knowledge base.

In this way, our support agents have the feeling that they are really contributing and making a difference. While this, without realizing, incentivizes their productivity by the variety in their daily tasks.

Victoria- Support Manager (Scribbr)

For my own work-routine, I make sure that I define different OKRs for every quarter. That’s how I can make sure to work on exciting new projects next to the daily operational tasks of my job. As a manager, I try to monitor the progress of my team members to be able to come up with a new goal/challenge for them once their learning curve is slowing down. I think new input, projects, updates are the best way to engage and therefore increase productivity.

If you liked this content please let us know in the comments. We understand how helpful tips from other startups can be (we are one ourselves). We aim to continue creating content that is relatable and actionable for customer support teams in startups. Did you have any topics you feel are underrepresented? What content about customer support would you like to read about?

For more information about growing your customer support team check out our Dōjō app for Zendesk.