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All-hands support: pros and cons

by Max Al Farakh · May 17 2016

All-hands support — an approach where everyone in a company does customer support to some extent — has been a widely discussed topic lately. The idea is not new. A lot of big companies, like Basecamp, Stripe, Slack and even us, have been advocating this for quite some time.

But is it really that beneficial as they make it out to be?

Not everyone can do customer support

All-hands support is basically saying “everyone can and should talk to customers equally good”. That’s simply not true.

I’ve worked in a couple of companies where developers had to work on support tickets. And trust me — no one had benefited from this approach. Developers think they are too good for the job and sometimes get annoyed by customers.

Customers can easily feel the annoyance in the replies (actually, the developers didn’t really try to cover it) and get angry very quickly. In the end me or some other customer support agents had to clean the mess after the developers.

That leads me to the next point:

Customer doesn’t always benefit

The big idea behind all-hands support is that it is very beneficial for your customers. They will get faster, better answers right from the core employees — the app developers. That’s not the case due to the reasons listed above.

More often than not, developers or managers talking to customers do more harm than good. Generally, they are simply not equipped with the right set of skills needed to do customer support on a regular basis, namely patience and empathy. Oh and of course, they have big egos and think they’re too good for the job. And that’s fine.

It will lead your team to a burnout

Burnouts among customer support workers are very frequent. Avoiding a burnout is probably the biggest challenge in customer support, if you ask me. Eventually, we learn to cope with it. We learn to stay calm and patient even when dealing with total assholes, toxic customers and plain stupidity. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but, come on, we all know that’s part of the job.

That’s one of the reasons we do this job and not someone else. We can deal with it and stay nice and polite throughout the whole thing no matter what for months and years.

Other people — developers, project managers, CEOs, etc., – can’t do that for an extended period of time. They will inevitably burn out, this will hurt their productivity, this will hurt your customers and it will cost a lot of money for your company.

Divide your customer support into multiple levels

If you decide to go with the all-hands support model, you need to be smart about it.

I recommend splitting “hard” and “easy” tickets into two different groups. Let customer support agents handle the easy routine tickets and ask them to pass the complicated ones to the developers as they need help.

That way everyone can remain effective: customer support won’t spend as much time dealing with complicated issues and the developers get to work on actually interesting problems. It’s a win for everyone — customer support has more time, developers are occupied with interesting issues and talk to customers directly, while the customers will have faster and better resolutions.

Essentially, all-hands support resonates a lot with “support by founders”, that I have covered twice by now: “Support by founders” and “Support by founders revisited”. The borderline is: not everyone is equipped to work in support and you should not force people do it. If you still decide to go with it, be careful and avoid burnouts.