2017 was cray cray, like, everywhere, but especially in the low-lit, high-energy CallRail support pod. Over here, we somehow survived an avalanche of phone calls and tickets, with a team of just eight humans for most of the year. (In hindsight, I’m actually questioning that minor detail about my team being human, because their ability to keep calm amid the avalanche of calls was nothing short of superhuman.)
In total, the CallRail support team answered over 28,000 phone calls and closed over 23,500 tickets. I just used my calculator: that’s 3,500 calls and 2,938 tickets per person.
If you’re someone who works in software and you’re reading this, you may be gawking right now, the way you do when someone trips on the sidewalk or when you drive by a fender bender: “Yikes! What did the CallRail engineers break last year?!”
There’s a good answer for that: nothing. Well, not nothing, but broken software was not the reason behind that avalanche of support requests. If anything, that avalanche came from a rapidly growing mountain of customers and features and progressive tweaks to the software.
But we made it. We are survivors. Not gonna give up. Not gonna stop. Just gonna work harder.
What did I learn along the way, leading this scrappy team of eight through that avalanche? Glad you asked. I’ve got a list.
1. Everyone can’t do everything all at the same time
Support is not synchronized swimming. We’re not The Rockettes out here. More accurately, we’re basically the best roster of whack-a-mole players you’ve ever seen.
But here’s the thing: some of us are naturally better at hitting the moles that pop up in the top right, while others own the bottom-left moles, and some are just pretty good at hitting them all.
Early in 2017, our entire team was constantly having to scramble to own every nook and cranny of CallRail. Everyone was working hard to gain expertise on new features and new customer needs. Hats off to the superhumans, who willingly dove down rabbit holes with our customers, getting full resolution on ticket after ticket.
And while we averaged a full resolution time of just under 10 hours, as the year trudged along, I realized we’d be better off if we were more specialized.
In 2018, we’ll have four types of support people (and 22 –– not eight –– of us), each with an area of expertise, each playing a different position on our championship whack-a-mole team.
Bring on the avalanche.
2. Metrics are important and necessary, but team morale is foremost
Okay, I flexed a little earlier. 28,000 calls, 23,500 tickets, average full resolution time of 10 hours. That’s all cool, but superhuman whack-a-mole players don’t get baseball cards printed with their stats on them.
Metrics are great. They quantify our work. But they mean jack if your team is stuck in the doldrums, or smothered by an avalanche.
At CallRail, we’ve always prioritized employee happiness. And in cray-cray 2017, it was apparent to me that I needed to double down on that with my team if we stood any chance of surviving our workload.
Warning: I’m about to go full-Kumbaya on you.
One thing I preached non-stop to my team last year: We’re in this together. We have to get each other’s backs, keep our heads down and, most importantly, party. Yes, party.
If you were to walk into our support pod right now, you’d see a neon-lit “party” sign propped up in the corner. This is our totem, and it has been for years. (Back when CallRail’s offices were, well, a closet, we pooled our tickets during a company outing to Game X to go home with something that reflected our startup vibe, and we ended up with this beaut, which Support has now claimed as its own.)
When (stuff) starts hitting the fan, we light the party sign, to remind ourselves that we’re supposed to be having fun. We turn the music up a few notches. Tupac reminds us that it’s real out there (and fixing Dynamic Number Insertion for a customer, or correcting a billing error isn’t all that bad). And pop-punk songs remind us that, well… They remind us of something. Not really sure what. I’m going to defer to my A.M. shift leader on that.
Setting the right mood in the pod is just like a restaurant setting a mood for its guests with ambiance and aesthetics. The mood we set is one that’s fun and lighthearted, meant to keep us positive in a serious, rigorous role. There are TVs playing live streams of pandas or puppies or pythons, allowing for a soothing –– or, maybe, frighteningly stimulating –– diversion. And best of all, there are a bunch of superhumans who look different, dress different, play different music, eat different snacks, solve problems differently, but survive (and party) just the same.
3. Training is underrated
Even superhumans need training.
As 2017 progressed, I began to appreciate more and more the value of learning every single day.
If you stay open-minded, even back-to-the-basics training can teach you new things –– uncovering new facets of the product you’ve been working in for five years. You just have to approach it as if you’re learning it for the first time –– just as inquisitive as you once were.
So, with the help of some amazing people, we revamped the way we train. We now use milestone-based training, rather than core-dumping. We’ve gotten super hands-on with all support superhumans, equipping them for the sometimes maddening realities of their job, where no day is the same. Indeed, everyday comes with new challenges –– different-looking moles to whack –– which puts our need for agility at the forefront.
Through training, we empower our support team to be creative, instead of robotic. They’re sitting on a stockpile of knowledge, and they each weaponize and wield that in different ways. And we encourage all of them to learn everyday, with every ticket and every call. This gives them a bigger stockpile with a greater variety of mallets for whacking. We learned in 2017 just how important this was.
I should note, too, that I’m not just learning new CallRail stuff everyday. I’m also learning about myself, which helps me to serve my team and our customers better. Everyday, our customers teach us more than we teach them. Setting a goal to always focus on learning something new –– like how those customers are using our application or the best way to communicate to people in specific industries or regions –– betters us both professionally and personally. We’re all about that.
In support, we want our beautiful, diverse, superhuman team of 22 to approach both work and life with that knowledge-hungry attitude, because there are avalanches to survive out there.