Tagcustomer support

No Reply

Embrace the idea of a yes-reply email address. It’ll keep that communication lane open between you and your customer. It’ll make customers realize that you do value their time and will give them some of yours if they want it.
No Reply Addresses — Medium

This has always bugged me. If you use a no-reply mailbox to communicate with customers, provide them another way to reach you. Even if it’s not the address you’re using, give customers a way to reach a human being.

It’s frustrating to reach out to support and find none.

How to Improve Training

I had a long talk with a co-worker today about training for WebEx. There are training classes being offered and a need for people to take training based on the calls to our help desk. However, people are not signing up for the training sessions. He wanted to pick my brain to see if I had any ideas on what they could do to encourage more people to attend training.

I wish I had recorded what I told him since I was overflowing with ideas, having given this a lot of thought in my former job when I was a team of one and had to streamline my training efforts and education to a large user community.

The ideas here are about training adults to use WebEx in a government environment. But many of these ideas can be tweaked and applied to your own user community.

Find Your Allies

Somewhere in your organization people know who needs training. If you’re at a loss where to begin, start with managers or team leaders. They’ll know who could use training because they need the help or can find power users who want training. In many groups there’s a go-to person for, in this case, WebEx. They’re the unofficial support person and person everyone relies on for help.

They’re also a valuable source of information. They can tell you where they struggle and what trips people up. Is training unclear on a topic? Is that topic missed in the training? Does the training reflect reality?

Finding these power users and getting an email correspondence going, or sitting down for a 15 minute call or meeting can teach you more about what you need to be doing than weeks of struggling on your own. Everyone uses WebEx differently.

When I schedule training with a group of users, the first thing I try to find out is how do you use the tool? Because everyone uses it differently depending on their job. An Administrative Assistant scheduling for an Executive is going to use it very differently from an A/V Support professional managing a large meeting space.

Find the Pain Points

Everyone struggles with technology. The secret to better training is to find where people struggle then lessen their struggle. Talk to your super users. Talk to your new hires. A fresh set of eyes can help spot a problem you’ve overlooked because you’re so familiar with the system and its quirks.

Do you know it can take up to 24 hours for a recorded WebEx session to become available to the host? Or that certain elements such as the Multimedia Panel are not captured in the WebEx recording? What about the audio solution(s) available? Do they have the same attendee limit as your WebEx system or will you need multiple options to reach capacity? Can you accommodate international participants?

People try to help themselves before calling for help. Make sure all available documentation is up to date. Especially in large organizations, information can get siloed into different places. There may be a set of documents on an Intranet site. A SharePoint site may contain a different version of those documents. Got a Wiki? Well, those may be different as well. Be sure you’re telling everyone the same thing.

I’ve walked into situations where I had a user tell me there was a set of documentation they used I never knew existed before that moment. It’s good to get a handle on what is available to your user community. If you need to, ask them. If someone tells you “that’s not what the documentation here says”, ask them where they’re looking and get it updated or corrected.

Schedule Conflicts and Geography

Live trainings are great. There’s no better experience than being in the room with a trainer and learning in person. That may sound weird coming from someone who supports and lives in WebEx, Jabber, Lync and other collaboration technologies all day. But I still feel there’s no better way to learn something new than sitting in the room where you can look the trainer in the eye and ask questions.

That’s a perfect world. For many people, they’re never going to get into the room with the trainer. Even if the training is offered remotely through WebEx, GoToMeeting or another tool. There are still some people who will never make it to a training session.

Geography plays a big role in large organizations. Do not schedule an 8am training in Washington, DC if you expect your Seattle office to join. It’s 5am there! The problem is only compounded if you are catering to an international audience.

Even without geographical constraints, there are people in the same building who will never make a live (or online) training due to their job. Remember those Administrative Assistants? They may have a hard time blocking an hour of their time to better learn a tool they use daily, because it’s not directly part of their job. Anyone who works phone support may not be able to leave that phone. And there are still others who will simply have conflicts of all sorts during the scheduled training times.

On-Demand Content

The solution for these folks is to create content for them to consume on their schedule. Are you holding a training class? Record it with WebEx or another tool and make the recording available? Create documentation (and I am not talking about the slide deck from the training class.) Create documents that stand on their own and do not need a presenter to explain their contents.

Even more valuable than a recorded live session if you’re able to manage it, is to record a session with the trainer without a live audience that is just the content. While question can be helpful in a live session, there can also be interruptions, audio issues and other distractions which detract from the content that make it frustrating to watch.

If the user has set aside time specifically to learn this content, make that content as valuable as possible. Cut out the 15 minute introduction before the presenter gets started. If there a break for a group activity in the training? Edit that out. It’s easy to take a recording of a live session and put it online for those who could not attend to watch. But there is often a large amount of dead air while people work in groups or take bathroom breaks.

The person watching the session doesn’t need to spend an hour on a recording that only has 35 minutes of actual training. Respect their time.

Target a specific group

Targeting a specific group can be useful if you’re trying to improve your training for the organization at-large or simply want to offer better training to that community. A couple of groups I identified as good places to start for WebEx are:

  • Administrative Assistants
  • Trainers
  • Help Desk
  • A/V Support
  • WebEx Support Group

In your organization, there are people who use and interact with your tool differently. By identifying them, you’ll see weak spots in your information or training you never knew existed. It’s important to talk to people with all varying levels of comfort with the tool.

Since WebEx training is my example, here is how I would target these groups to better serve them.

  • Administrative Assistants

They’re going to see weird edge cases. Executives are going to have mobile devices and different models of hardware than many other users. If there’s an incompatibility in a product, they are going to find it.

This is also a group who lives in other people’s calendars and email all day long. They’re my experts on how WebEx works in Outlook when scheduling for another user. They do this all day. They’ll know where the shortcomings are and where the system breaks down.

  • Trainers

Other trainers are a valuable resource. Especially in my field since WebEx is our tool for meetings, it’s often used for trainings as well. Ask other trainers where they struggle. Find out what questions they have or where people who attend their trainings have problems.

They’re a group who is already focused on teaching skills to other people and they’ll have their own outlook on the tools they use to do the work.

  • Help Desk / WebEx Support / A/V Support Staffs

I’m lucky enough to work in a place with a dedicated WebEx Support group. Your Help Desk may be the catch-all for all things broken. These people are a treasure trove of information about problems in the organization. No matter what you want to train people on, your Help Desk has information you need.

Who else talks to the user community every single day? There are always people within your help desk who are anxious and willing to share what they know with you. (And many times, nobody is asking them.) It’s a resource that gets overlooked. Anything the help desk staff is able to teach you about training or supporting your users will in turn help them out.

The fewer calls they get, they more time they have to focus on other problems. If there’s a recurring issue with your application, the help desk will know about it (and will be cursing your name as they field their 100th call for the week about it.)

Talk to your support staff, open a dialog with members of the team, or work with the help desk managers. They will be able to find members of the help desk who will be able to help with providing ongoing information to make your training better and lessen their workload.

Vary Training Topics

Often times, there’s a perceived need to offer the same introductory training all the time. There are always new hires to your organization or people new to your particular application. While there is value in getting those people introduced to the tool, you lose everyone else.

Remember those power users? They’ll never attend your training because they know how to use the tool. They want to use the tool better. Even people who are not power users, but want to learn more will not repeat the same training over and over. But if give them a reason to come back, they will.

I gave a couple of examples of how you could vary the schedule for a weekly WebEx training session. There are three different “Centers” in WebEx. They each have a purpose and a feature set which makes them stronger in some scenarios than others.

The Meeting Center is for meetings. Imagine everyone around a conference room table. Everyone has the same privileges and there’s no hierarchy of control.

The Event Center is for events. This allows a set of panelists to have greater rights such as an open phone line and share their webcams with a large number of attendees who are muted and unable to share video.

The Training Center offers features for training such as the ability to virtually break a single conference phone line into multiple groups for smaller discussions.

There is more than enough content to cover each of these centers in an hour-long session. There are the first three weeks of your month. Each week, a different topic. For the fourth week, offer a deep-dive into a specific topic.

How does closed captioning work? Tell me everything I need to know about recording, converting and sharing my meeting. How could I manage large events better? Hold a session for the 10 Tips to Make Your WebEx Better! Open the time for a Q&A session where anyone can join to ask questions and either answer them on the spot or follow-up in a later session. (You just got your next session’s content!)

Create a calendar

For WebEx, it’s easy to cycles through those 3 centers on a monthly of bi-monthly basis. Then fill in the weeks in between with special sessions into a single topic. It’s just as important to tell people ahead of time what to expect and when. I may not care about Training Center because I’ll never use it, but Event Center sounds like it will solve my problems with attendees unmuting their phones and talking in a meeting with 350 people.

This is also a perfect opportunity to see what new features or changes are coming and work those into your training before they happen. People hate change. Especially if it’s a tool they’ve come to rely on and have developed muscle memory about how it works and where menus are. Even for something as simple as an interface change, that could be enough to focus on for an entire session.

The idea with offering different content is to reach the greatest number of users. So make a calendar and publicize that calendar. Make sure people know what is coming up. Take note of what popular topics are and what few people use. Then change-up your schedule or training accordingly.

Listen and Learn

Every time I host a training, I always learn something new. I see a new problem no one ever reports to our support group. I learn a new way to use the tool I had never considered (because everyone uses tools for different things). I learn where my flaws in training are and how to improve them.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your training, take the time to look and listen for feedback. Offer multiple ways to provide feedback. Host an open Q&A for the people who want to come to a room and meet in person. Provide your phone number for those who prefer the phone. Give your email for those who think best in text.

Your user community is a valuable resource and can give you everything you need to make their lives easier. Your task is to find those people and groups who will help you succeed. Once you start looking, they’ll start coming to you.

Patience

People have been taught to get off the line as quickly as possible. This comes from a toxic help desk culture of tracking the seconds of each call and keeping agents to strict quotas.

I work in a place where we are not bombarded with hundreds of calls per hours even though we serve a user community of over 20,000 people. Everyday once I’ve unlocked an account or reset a password, the caller says please wait with me while I try that or please don’t go! And I reassure them I am here for as long as they need me.

I am not held to a time limit for calls. My metric is customer satisfaction. Did I solve the problem? Did I give the customer an avenue for support if I’m not able to offer it? I want my customers to be happy and I work in an environment where that is not only expected but encouraged.

When you work in a place that respects the customer’s time and success, you’re still fighting against those in the industry who do not.

Avoiding Empathy Burnout

I used to volunteer at a web site for teens looking for help. Some of them needed help with dating or sex questions. Others were looking for relief from abuse from parents, bullies or siblings. Some just needed a friendly ear to talk to and they didn’t have one in their life.

I was there during my last year of high school and first year of college. It was a good place to me since I was a lost, shy person as well. I often noticed the people I volunteered with, other teens/early 20s folks from around the world were also looking for something. We needed the site as much as those who wrote in for help.

We would answer emails, some times as many as 50 per week. And there was a chat room on the site where I would live in the evening hours until the early morning. I was the night owl. I was a mainstay in that room and I loved being there to talk with people. I would hang out in the open chat, but if someone wanted to talk privately, we could easily move our session into a private room.

I helped a lot of people who way and often thought perhaps I had missed my calling as I studied Creative Advertising by day. But I would get so burned out from internalizing people’s problems. I didn’t know how to turn it off. I was burning out, which is why I eventually left.

How to Avoid Empathy Burnout explains the situation well.

Many helpers feel that they face a double bind. They can preserve themselves by growing emotional callouses and blunting their responses to those in need. Or they can throw themselves into building connections with their patients and risk being crushed by the weight of caring.

I was employing emotion contagion. I became overwhelmed quickly and burnout. I needed to use empathic concern.

Emotion Contagion vs. Empathic Concern

I didn’t know there were different types of empathy. How to Avoid Empathy Burnout explains two types of empathy with my emphasis added:

Caregivers need to be empathetic, but empathy is not one thing. Both neuroscience and psychology have uncovered an important distinction between two aspects of empathy: Emotion contagion, which is vicariously sharing another person’s feeling, and empathic concern, which entails forming a goal to alleviate that person’s suffering. Whereas contagion involves blurring the boundary between self and other, concern requires retaining or even strengthening such boundaries.

I consider myself to be a highly empathetic person. I’ve described it as my greatest gift and curse. And I had no idea there was another way to channel that empathy. If I had known that sooner, perhaps I would have followed a different path.

In the end, I work in customer support where I unknowingly learned and implemented empathic concern. I form goals to alleviate suffering through technology rather than through physical or emotional violence.

Forming goals to alleviate suffering is a perfect way to describe any sort of support work. There’s some level of suffering and we’re trying to remove it. It’s hard work and it takes investing part of yourself to connect with people since we’re their digital Sherpas. Our ability to empathize can make a huge difference in how we serve our customers.

Blueprint for better support

When I start a new job supporting people with technology I look for the excited. I look for the passion. I look for people who care about the work and about the mission.

I’m often disappointed.

I find people going through the motions. I find people who have given up and given in to the rote memorization of their lines. They answer phones and reply to emails. Not with any urgency or excitement but with disdain.

The joy is gone. If it was ever there to begin with and I ask myself if I’ve made another mistake. I keep looking for people who care about their work. And I’m looking in all the wrong places.

The Challenge

There is a certain challenge to supporting people within a rigid structure such as government. The tools are limited. The ways are structured and set forth, usually long ago. But there’s still room to make the work easier.

There are places to supply information and point people in the right direction. There are ways to decrease the number of calls and give those who want to seek knowledge a place to find it.

How?

Where is the wiki? Where is the knowledge base? Why are support techs asking others for emails? Why does a new member of the team have nowhere to go to get the information they need to excel?

The easiest thing a support team can do is create a centralized place to store information, tips, fixes, and other vital knowledge the team needs. This is the first, and usually, last place a support tech should go for answers.

Step 1: Create a team knowledge space.
Be it a Sharepoint site or a wiki. Start small, with a collection of documents or a One Note notebook. Start somewhere and put everything in one place.

It will help the seasoned support staff because they won’t have to hunt for their past work. It will be right there. It will help the new support staff because they have a place to start looking before asking questions. They have a place to read and learn and get up to speed faster.

Step 2: Create a place for customers to get answers.

I don’t know how many times I’ve answered the same question by copying and pasting emails to customers. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the same questions asked and answered because the customer has nowhere to get this information.

By creating a place for the customer to help themselves, it will not only cut the number of support calls. It will help the support techs because to write good documentation, you have to fully understand the product you’re supporting.

Step 3: Consistent Improvement

Neither of these resources can be built in a day. They will be built over time. The team will build the structure they’ll use internally and keep changing it until they get it right. Nobody knows how to build a perfect system from the start. By building a living system, it will improve and become the support resource the team needs and relies on.

The same thing goes for the customers. In the beginning the space can be stocked with documentation that already exists. Collect everything that gets sent out to the customers and put it there. Give it a home. Put a URL on it. Send the link to people instead of the content.

A link can be shared and bookmarked. An email is designed to get lost under the mountain of other identical text.

This is what I believe in and this is what I am going to build.

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