Scaling Customer Service

Scaling customer service is something that comes up time and time again. I was talking to an executive at a very interesting company today. The company is fairly large (close to 2,000 employees) and as they have grown larger, it becomes harder to scale their customer service.

1. Customer service is not technology.
The executive I spoke to is very technical by training. He was surprisingly well versed about the challenges related to customer service and how to handle them. A lot of technologists (and people in technology companies) have a hard time accepting the fact that scaling customer service is different than scaling technology. You can’t just buy new servers or put three or four really smart people at it and it’ll get done. Working with people is hard and customer service is all about the people.

2. Scale the management team.
The metaphor I used was as companies hire another 100 frontline people a month, they still keep the same number of managers and executives. This does not work! Set a ratio (1 senior executive for every 100 frontline employees) and stick with it as you grow. Keep hiring and promoting managers and executives as you grow.

2.5. Don’t promote exclusively from within.
Many, many companies refuse to hire people into management and other senior positions. For a lot of reasons, this makes sense. For an equal number of reasons, this doesn’t make sense.

  • When you promote from within, you deplete your internal talent. You need people to continue being shift supervisors and if you always promote your best shift supervisors to VPs, it won’t be good.
  • Some people are good at their job, but not good at the new job. I’ve seen situations when fantastic CSRs get promoted to more manager type positions and they do terrible. Some people just aren’t good in management or leadership positions. Others are.
  • When you hire people from elsewhere, it brings an outside and new perspective to the company.

3. Use mentor based training.
Mentor based training is great. It scales from 3 or 4 employees to 50,000 employees. Use formal, mentor based training as your company grows and it should work out okay. The post explains the best practices for mentor based training and it works!

4. Invest in hiring and training.
As a company grows, it needs to invest heavily in hiring and training. Increase the size of your HR staff, dedicate more managers to hiring, hire better recruiters, improve the employee referral program (important!), and so on. Encourage executives and existing staff members to offer jobs to qualified people. Don’t limit that pool to just job seekers, either. Offer jobs to people are prominent in your industry (journalists, consultants, speakers, etc.), people who already have jobs, and people in similar jobs, but different industries. You’ll get a lot of nos, but that’s okay. (No is only the beginning of the conversation). It’s necessary to do that as you grow and something that will be well worth it in the end.

5. Don’t let the message get diluted.
This company has done a tremendous job at articulating their corporate culture, which is very customer service focused. If they keep that message present and continue to make it an important aspect of their company, I am confident that they will do okay.