#20: Mat Patterson/Help Scout: How to Build Your First Customer Support Team
22 December 2016
00:00 00:00 CC Download
“Once we started implementing our own internal knowledge base and some kind of training course and people structure to the learning, people became productive more quickly.”

From today’s episode you’ll learn:

Today's guest

Mat Patterson
Mat Patterson started his professional life as the head of a small tech support team before taking a decade-long detour into web design for companies including ASX and In 2006, he left a role as web designer for Taronga Zoo to lead the customer service team at Campaign Monitor, the popular email marketing web application. Having grown the customer service team from 1 to 26, and with more than 50,000 resolved tickets under his belt, Mat moved on in 2016 to join Help Scout, creator of exceptional tools for customer support teams. As customer evangelist, Mat works to help elevate customer service teams and the work they do.

Podcast transcript

Hello guys, it’s Justyna, LiveChat content writer, welcome to Business Sidekick!

As you know, Business Sidekick is about growing your online business, so we’re talking about strategies helping to get more traffic to your website, be visible on the internet and stand out from your competition. I’ve talked with my guests about email marketing, social media strategies, how to make it easy to buy from you…

Well, it’s time for how to build your first customer service team!

My today’s guest is Mat Patterson from Help Scout. Mat has a experience in building customer support teams as he grew his team from 1 to 26 people, so basically name a problem and Mat knows how to solve it!


Alright, thanks a lot for accepting my invitation and welcome in Business Sidekick. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing on a daily basis?

Absolutely, so I am working for Help Scout, though my background here in Australia is actually is a web designer, actually I was a web designer for about 8 years in the early 2000, late 90’s era.

And it wasn’t until 2006 when I switched back to really doing customer service, I joined a small company called Campaign Monitor with 4 people at the time, to be their first customer person. And that was a good fit for me because I was a joined combination of web design, technical skills and kind of writing and communication skills.

Wow! How is web designing connected with customer service?

Well so Campaign Monitor was and is a web application, an email marketing weber application and it focused very much on web designers create and send html email. Web design knowledge was super helpful because one of the questions were technical related to email creation.

> Ok, now I get it. Alright so the topic of today’s episode is we’re talking about how to create your first support team and we’re talking to all listens that already have a business and its up and running and it’s quite successful. So they starting to think about hiring new people, so as you’re experienced in customer service, here’s my question? How to create your first customer team?

Yeah that’s a big question!

It is, I know.

Yes that is something that I did, I was the very first customer service person in that role in my previous company and I have been thinking about that a lot, this is a question that comes up.

The first thing you have to do is step back and figure out what is good customer service to you, so it’s going to be different for every company. But what does good customer service look like, you need to define that for yourself and figure out how that, the type of service that we want to provide is this, we want to do, hand holding kind of high customer service or we want to do a lot of self service because we want to scale it, not having to add a lot of staff.

So you got to figure out what you what to do ultimately to start with and then you’ll think of your values has a company. So if you value integrity or speed or whatever it is for you those things will help you figure, if they very high level what kind of people you should be hiring and how many you going to need and how quickly.

So I think that is the base line and they might be legal requirements for you as well in certain areas as to you need people that are qualified in certain ways who as certain licenses, that kind of thing. So there are a few elements there. And then when you move on from that you got that high level understanding I think you start then figuring out what, like what support channels we can offer.

Do we do email, do we do phone, do we do live chats, do we do combination of all of this , do we offer social support, when you starting up you may have to restrict that by the nature of being a small team. You probably can’t do everything straight away, so you want to pick which ones to start with.

Yes, exactly is there a communication tool that you’d suggest you use at the beginning?

I think this might be just my personal experience but I think email is the easiest one to start with because it creates, there is a little bit of separation, like if you go straight to chat the demand on your time is so high from the start that it can really difficult to scale up but email you know you can start with one person who’s answering a 100 emails a day at the beginning because they might be quite simple.

And you can live with that for quite a while and it scales much more easily in the early days than other channels that would be my personal one. And I think social media now if I was again with a team now, social media is probably much more important and so having some presents there and being able to be responsive on some social channel at least is probably also super important .

As you grow up and you have many more customers phone is difficult because you have one phone line, you got to figure out whole new systems , so that’s something you really have to commit to, phone service is important in the long term in you want to do it, you want to do it really well.

My philosophy was always it I can’t provide really good support on this channel, I’d rather just not offer that channel at all and do things that I can do.

Yes exactly, how do you look for people to your team? I mean was it difficult to find right people? Did you look for any important skills?

Yeah, I think this is something that we have written about at Help Scout about this a lot because I think hiring is do important, is getting the right person but even if the same company the kind of person that you want very early on is often very different than the person you want to hire later on.

So for me at the start I try to hire people who were just like me, so I hired some other people who were web designers by background or who had technical backgrounds like that and who wanted to move into customer service.

Because we needed a bunch of technical skills, we didn’t have a lot of documentation, people needed to figure out stuff a lot and they needed to be quite independent and that really worked early on. But then as you grow you want to bring in new skills and like people who have real high touch customer service skills and maybe they don’t have the technical backgrounds and so figuring out well the type of person I want now might be a little bit different they might look different than me because I want them to do a slightly different job than what I had to do you 3 years ago.

But some things are consistent I think you want to like figure out like yes we want people who have good customer empathy, people who have great communication skills and maybe the skills that you need is to operate live chat especially if you got decent amount of volume, those skills might be different than the person that answering emails or the person who is really good on the phone. I think understanding what you need them to do at the different stages will help you figure out what did I need to look for now.

I think that one of the problems in customer service area is that people hiring the support agents see customer service as just the one department and they don’t see the difference between the channels that you already said about. So when you writing an email you probably won’t write it the way you would respond to a person on Facebook or Twitter right, so you have to adapt your communication to the channel. Don’t you think so?

Yeah I totally agree. There are people who are temperamentally suited to live chat because it’s a little bit more high pressure because the person is waiting for the answer right now and you might be talking to 2 or 3 people at the same time as well. So keeping all that in your head, figuring out how to type quickly type an answer or to dig into the conversation or it’s a very different setting.

Sorry to interrupt but our agents talk to about 6 or 7 people at one time, that’s very funny.

Exactly so 6 or 7 people, there is lots of grey customer service people who just won’t do well in that environment because they prefer to think more deeply or to have more time to dig into technical background or do a lot of investigation and so the people who are really drawn to that type of work probably would not want to do 6 or 7 chats at the same time and they just feel frustrated or feel like they were overwhelmed.

But some people are super; they love that kind of high intensity fast moving conversation were it’s just talking to lots of people.

And do you have any examples of people’s personalities that would fit customer service? For example introverts are not a good fit for customer service. Would you agree with that?

That’s an interesting, I’m not sure. Again I think it depends on the channel , I think certainly from my experience some people who are really introverted who are really great at customer service because they feel , they are very empathic and they feel other people’s difficulties.

They probably don’t want to do phone calls because yeah their introversion would make that difficult for them but being able to read an email, empathizes would that person , go away and work by themselves , come back with an answer they love that kind of things, So I don’t know that it is that clear. The kind of qualities that are consistent across the different channels maybe is emotional intelligent , so people that can understand what this other person is feeling and respond appropriately to that, problem solving skill , communication in writing , communication in on occasionally in reading , people with some level of detail-orientness, that’s not a word.

No, it is now! Yeah but it’s really difficult to find those skills in those people, did you have any tricks on how to check it?

Yeah, I got better at this over the years I think, it was quite hard. I eventually started doing some better screening, I think we would ask people to apply to the job and explain why they wanted the job, all the normal things but also just throw in, like here’s a couple sample questions, these are the kind of things our customers ask and I was looking not for them to figure out the answers was cause I will just tell them the answer is on the website, it’s not that hard to find out. What I looking for am how you explain in this to this person. So you getting a bit more of a sense of what they’ll be like in the actual job and I think it’s the best.

It’s a very good idea.

So doing that and I think other people do it differently and I know at automatic make work press they do their whole interview through a chat so there is no voice contact, there’s no face to face contact, it’s all through a chat conversation because they try to test what is this person like in the medium that they will be working in. So I think there are different approaches to that but yeah you right like an interview is never as good as testing a person to see if they can actually do the job.

That’s a good idea. OK, so when we have those agents probably the most important thing when you have them on board is to train them, right?

Yep, so taking someone from day one and figuring out how you make them productive and successful in that team.

Yeah, can you share how much time it took you to train your agents?

So it depends when you’re e looking at, so early on I think it took quite a long time and that was because there was nothing written down, like I had so much stuff was in my head and trying to get that across to someone else who didn’t necessary have the same back ground as me so it was quite difficult.

So I have a chart somewhere of the time I’ve been productive conversations that a customer service agent could handle or resolving in a day or in a week or in a month and I had once chance, I had one line on that chart which is the four I really invested in properly training and one line that’s after would and you can see a big difference.

Once we started implementing our own internal knowledge base and some kind of training course and people structure to the learning people became productive more quickly. So that was a lesson it took me a while to get to that point and to have the time and capacity to build it out but once we did it was super effective.

Well because I had customer service with its background but I work for like 3 months, so not long. I remember that I had two week training and I was supposed to work in call center and after that 2 weeks my manager expected me to know everything about all processes like billing or credit and collection and I did not learn much about customer service itself!

So when I started to work I had no idea how to talk to people, for example someone started to shout at me and I had no idea what to do. So I think also another very important thing is to even if someone has a great emotional intelligence, it is important to teach them how to deal with people especially with the difficult ones.

Yes you are absolutely right about that because the thing that I end up doing because I was in Sydney and I was often hiring people who worked in Europe or in North America. And we once had a short amount of time face to face with them so we fly them out to Sydney to the office and have a week or a week and a half.

And you right you can’t learn everything in that time, so what I would end up concentrating on is more of what you were just saying. You can go back and teach yourself the product when you are sitting at home because we can have training modules on that, you can through practical experience learn it but what I wanted to get across to them in the first week and half is this is how we treat our customers, this is how our attitude, this is how phrase things and how we talk to customers and how we deal with difficult people.

All of those things which are much harder to pick up on your own if you don’t have someone sitting there next to you to help you. Yeah and I found that was a much more use of the first week or so was really teaching them what is this company, how do we treat people here.

Yeah and actually I think it’s much more important because even if your, you know even speaking on the phone with an agent and the agent doesn’t know the answer now, but when you hear that they care about your problem and they are nice to you, then it doesn’t matter that they don’t know what the response is.

Yeah if you are hiring people who are smart they will work out the product stuff for themselves, like they’ll figure out the right answers and they’ll especially if you give them access to a knowledge base or to existing you know past conversations or the help desk has all the history they will go back and finances they can do that themselves. But they may not necessarily know like in this situation how would we has a company behavior and what would we do for this customer and how far are we willing to go for them .

Those things is what makes customer service yeah more so that an answering machine which you can get a robot to do.

Yes actually, that’s the point, right. OK maybe the last question because I love to chat and I would chat longer but you know we have limited time. So, OK the favorite question of all managers, can you tell me something about the most important customer service metrics.

Yeah that is a popular question with managers, you’re right.

It’s a tricky one so this is again I think that changes over time there’s some very high level ones. Customer service is very easy to measure in the terms of like how much conversation we resolving, how quickly do we resolve them and how satisfied are people with those. Yes I think those ones are important everyone are going to measure those but I think if you want to go beyond that or you want to think about what’s useful for my particular company or my team there’s a few things to think about.

Why are you reporting? You probably not reporting just so you can produce nice graphs, you probably actually do something so it might be, hey I’m reporting to my boss so I can show that we need more support stuff. So in that case the metrics might want to do around the volume of conversation that each person is having and the training is going upwards over time and maybe that’s attached to a customer satisfaction level dropping, the busier this people get so.

That might be a different approach to reporting that person who’s trying to say I think we can add another channel here because we have a bit of capacity. So they might be looking at first response time and combination of that and customer satisfaction. Why you reporting is one thing, thinking about who the reports are for or are they for you team in which case they probably want all the details, the specs of who’s ranking were and who’s being more effective, if it’s for upper-level management, maybe it needs to something a bit broader, high or more of a story approach.

And then a good metric is something I guess that you want to be able to add meaning to. So a good metric to me it has meaning like it’s tied to something that the company is trying to actually do, like we want to be a very responsive company we can measure those kinds of things, it should be something that you can actually change. So there’s nothing more frustrating than metrics measuring something that you have no impact on.

If we’re just measuring the amount of incoming support so there’s a problem relating to the product, more so than the customer service team, so if we can’t change that has a team that’s going to be frustrating. It should be contextualized so that the number has a meaning attached to something that’s actually real, it should be for the company and it should be consistent over time and you can go back and look at. A year ago we were here and now we at this point and actually that trend is a meaningful piece of information.

And if you name a couple of metrics that were most important for you?

So for me if I think about HelpScout and the customer service team here, I think we definitely looking at how quickly we get back to people so kind of refer that first response time is really important. I think it creates a great impression if you can get back quickly.

The others would be the customer satisfaction with responses, so if we can get a combination of great first response time and we’ve got high levels of satisfaction then we on track, we don’t probably have to go too far beyond that.

The next big one I think maybe it’s the, I’m not sure what people call this but I think of it as a contact rate, so out of all the customers that we have what percentage of them actually we need to contact supporting every given month.

I think if you look at that number and you start to see that go up then you know you got a bit of an issue somewhere in the business which maybe not the customer service teams issue but it’s going to have an impact on them so that’s a good one to keep an eye on, customer contact rate.

Obviously, there are endless ones you can get into but that’s what I think. Me telling you what my ones are, I think you got to think about, for the listeners of this podcast, go back and figure out what do I actually care about on my team? What are we trying to change? What impact are we trying to have as a team and then figure what we can measure that would be a good proxy for that?

Because you can go measure a whole bunch of things but if you measure too much of stuff, you’ll just end up of not focusing anywhere. So I think, figure out for yourself and I got an article on Help Scout which people can check out, kind of talking about 5 different SaaS teams like Basecamp and MailChimp on, how they approach metrics reporting and they probably came up with a different set of metrics, each of them at different stages.

Alright. it makes sense, a lot of sense. Ok thank you very much for once again excepting the invitation, I loved the chat and it was really, really informative.

Thank you so much for having me.

That’s it for today! Thanks a lot for listening, I hoped that you’ve liked this interview.

And since it’s the end of the year, I’d like to thank you for listening to this podcast!

It’s been a busy year, I started this podcast in March and now, by the end of the year, I have published 20 podcasts with awesome guests, so… yeah, I’m happy!

I promise to make it even better in 2017 and thanks a lot for listening as I said: everything I do, I do it for you! Visit our website, or iTunes, or SoundCloud, or Youtube and hit subscribe button, to be up to date with new episodes of Business Sidekick!

All the best in 2017, take care!

#Customer Service


Do you like our podcast? You might also like our product.
Give LiveChat a go during a free, 14‑day trial.

Start free trial

Start free LiveChat trial!

Not convinced yet? Take the product tour!