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Providing Excellent Customer Service as a Mission: 1-on-1 with LiveChat’s Head of Support
If you’re going to sell software that helps provide customer service, the customer service your company provides needs to be some of the best available. LiveChat’s Head of Support, Grzegorz Woźniczko, takes pride in the level of customer service provided at LiveChat.
Recently, I had a chance to sit down with him and talk about what perfect customer support is and how you go about instilling those best practices in your support team. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but Grzegorz has some insightful thoughts that will be helpful for anyone in the customer service arena.
How long have you worked at live chat?
It's been over four years now.
Has it changed a lot in that time?
Definitely. There are a lot more people, but also our day-to-day work has changed. There's a very specific difference because I always tend to see life at LiveChat from the perspective of my work. I remember times when we only had one technical person working LiveChat support. Solving technical cases was a process of going to him and asking which component of our application is causing this problem. He would tell us it was a case for, as an example, the chat window team, which was like two people. We would have to go downstairs, find them, and talk to them about it.
Being able to see the whole road of how we went from having to find a person to take care of a problem or handling it yourself to where we are now is very different. Eventually, we reached a stage where we had the various parts of the process in place in terms of communication; like making a ticket for the customer, making a ticket for level two tech support for qualification, and for escalation to other departments. Then, they provided us with an SLA (service level agreement) for handling those tickets, so we no longer had to pin them. We just had to notify tech support that it needs to be taken care of immediately. Another difference is that people actually plan things now.
Everyone wants to provide the best quality in everything we do. Having this process we have now is a huge difference. We became more complex as a company in terms of structure and in terms of what we actually do. I think it aligns well with every process. We grew as a company, and the growth is visible everywhere.
What is perfect customer support?
To provide perfect customer support is always giving the customer more than they expect. Customers have many different expectations. Some people just want to have the answer to their problem or question, and some want the communication aspect to be really good.
They need to be taken care of not only in terms of solving the problem but also in terms of the type of communication we provide. They need all the phrases, all the sentences, that make it look like a real conversation. Basically, a real-time conversation, one to one, with dedicated time and your full focus on just this person. No matter what the expectations of the customer are, we want to give them more than they expect to get. We want to push them to ask questions they didn't know they had, and then give them the answer to that unanticipated question. Basically, to cover subjects our customers may not have thought about yet. That is what I consider to be the best customer support: giving our customers an answer before they ask the question. Highlighting problem areas and giving them insight. Like the scene from The Lion King, “See the light? Soon, this will all be yours.” We want to also tell them about the dark areas.
How do you train your team to provide excellent customer support?
It's evolved over time. When I joined the support team, the person that taught me how to do my job was Piotr Bednarek (LiveChat's COO). He sat me down next to him and told me to start accepting chats. He explained everything on the go. Every time a customer would come to me with a case, I would think, "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?" Of course, I had ways to figure it out and resources to help me, but it was not structured at all. It was just like, here's a huge sack of knowledge, and I need to absorb it and learn. That lasted about a week, and then he sat in a different spot.
After that, I had someone else next to me, and she was trying to be the next tech support representative. She was busy all of the time. She had code open, and she was busy doing many things. I was really not sure if I could ask her questions. On the other side, there was someone from marketing because he also worked in support. He was always the silent guy writing stuff and not really talking much. I was also not really sure if I should bother him and ask questions. So, I just learned to throw a question out in the air and remember what the solution was. I also worked very hard to prepare a specific process for all the newcomers to make sure that they know they can always ask questions to everyone in the company, not only the team.
I want them to be open to the idea that asking questions, even to the customer, is cool. If you ask questions, you know what knowledge you have to get to answer them, or you know the area you should be looking in to. If you don't ask questions, if you assume the customer's problem, your solution may not be entirely relevant. That's not good customer support.
We want to start with our trial customers and really engage them. Give them more opportunities to ask questions and find out the information they need to know. We can focus our knowledge on areas that our customers need.
The whole process in support training works like this: when we get a newcomer, we have a prepared document for all the people in support. We have dedicated people to run the onboarding in our team. When it comes to how things work, about the product, work process, etc., we have one person always checking all the chats and providing feedback every day to make sure that everything runs smoothly. I also personally meet all of our new support team members to learn how they feel. For example, how do they feel about the job, or do they feel overwhelmed? If they do feel overwhelmed, maybe I can share with them a different but worthwhile perspective to help them cope with all the problems that they might encounter. We try to be very open to make sure that all of our combined knowledge is floating around and accessible to them.
Empathy towards your customers is a big topic right now. Especially as far as AI is concerned. For example, AI takes care of the routine tasks, and that frees up customer service agents to provide empathy to customers.
Yeah, but it's not as simple as it sounds.
Can you explain? How is empathy relevant to both our customers and members of your team?
Keep in mind, as head of support, my job is not to serve the customers. My job is to make sure that my people serve our customers in the best way possible. Putting it simply, empathy is very important when, for example, you write a status page update. Of course, you also need to include some of the emotional components in terms of empathy. You want to make sure that these customers not only get the information, but they also get an emotional response: We know there is a problem. We do care, and we are sorry. This helps provide our motivation to proceed and to do things quickly and precisely to address the issue at once.
But as you speak with customers, not only do they have different expectations, but they also have a different approach to customer service. Some of them need to be charmed, and some of them just need answers. If they need answers to specific problems or issues, like what brought them to us today, we sometimes hear that they don't need to know that we're sorry or that we care. They don't need us to make an emotional effort to have a conversation and act as if we care. They're telling us that they don't need us to put empathy into the conversation. They need us to put action into the conversation because they need answers.
As a support team leader, I understand from that perspective too. Our support heroes don't need me to tell them I understand their problems. They need me to address those problems. It's really hard, especially if you're working in a support team because we are our customers' representatives at LiveChat. We're also the voice of our customers. We hear what they think about any problems that might be happening. If they are frustrated with any deployments or any updates, we hear that frustration from them. Situations like this can, sometimes, make it really hard to play as one team with the rest of the company. We have to handle that frustration, while everyone else is really cut off from it, so they don't get it. It's really difficult because you are playing on both sides.
What is really helpful is instilling a mindset for the support team that they're a connector and catalyst between the company and the customer. So, it's not quite like playing on both sides of the field. Their work and their job are to make sure that everybody is on the same field and that our company is aligned with our customers. We're an advocate for the customer to make sure that the company is actively working for them.
We need to show our customers that we are all on the same field. This is empathy. Empathy is not really a response. It's a constant process. I think that empathy is mostly about someone expressing their emotions to you, and you respond to it. It needs to be a vibe that we are always conveying. The customer expects empathy to be in place, so we don't need to highlight it or convey it more. We need to teach the customer that us caring is the standard. We are all the time. If we say we're sorry, it means that we really are, and we no longer need to make a point of artificially injecting empathy into the conversation.
It's difficult because it also depends on the type of customer. Some customers need a very specific approach. Dealing with that many chats, it doesn't allow you to just jump on one track and stay there until the end of your shift. You have to switch tracks all the time. You have to adjust constantly. Everything is different from one customer to another, but you need to have this one vibe that you express all the time. You always have to adjust your thinking for each customer and for each case, and you'll have to do it as many times as you have chats every day.
I'm doing the same thing with my entire team. Everybody is different, and I need to have a unique approach for everybody.
Talk a little bit about why every employee at LiveChat goes through customer support training. What's the goal there?
Well, we provide software for customer support. It's like a meta-level for providing customer support software because we’re here to help our customers with the software we produce. It's very important because this is really a recurring issue when it comes to communication between other teams. For example, if you work in marketing, you see our customers as, initially, leads that then convert to full customers. When marketing pictures a customer, they see a sales funnel, right? When our product team looks at customers, they see users of their applications, they see actions, they see videos from Hotjar, or something similar.
I try really hard to make it so that when the support team looks at customers, by default, they see them from a wider perspective. They’re not just walking problems that need solutions. When we talk among all the teams about customers, everyone has their own picture of customers in their heads. Those contrasting pictures may cause some differences, arguments, or people just not understanding each other, or understanding why some decisions are made versus others. It's very important for the whole company to have one view of all the customers. It's not only you coming to your support training and to chat with our customers. We also get to talk to you and learn from your point of view. We can share experiences. It doesn't always happen, but it's an opportunity for us to learn how other people work and to hear more questions. It helps us see if we are missing anything or if we can be better at something.
It’s been said that the support team is the first customer of LiveChat. We try everything out and test all our features. It makes it easier to empathize with our customers because we’ve had the same frustrations too.
That's kind of the definition of empathy. Understanding the other person, whether it's your employee or your customer, right?
Empathy, in this case, is having a proper reaction to someone's emotions, while also having a cohesive point of view to see customers in a particular way throughout the whole company. It's really important when running a business. It's crucial because we want every team to be included in deployments, updates, and releases of our product. We need them to be included because not only do they have to do their part, but they also have to do their part properly. If our product team doesn't know our customers, they can't release updates in the most effective way. They need to be able to listen to customers, and the best way to listen to the customers is by going to support and chatting so they get to know them.
What's your favorite thing about your job?
I think my favorite thing is what also makes it difficult. Like I mentioned earlier, switching tracks all the time and the whole variety of cases. I really need to always expand my knowledge to learn more than just the solutions to problems. In a way, by leading our support team, my job is to have the most knowledge in the company. I need to know what is going on in every department and every issue that we're having. I need to know every type of customer that we have. Every case is going to be different today than it was yesterday, and they need their own approach. Of course, there are patterns, but I know that no two customers are the same. Even if the problem is the same as one I've seen before, the customers aren't. It's really cool. There are always ways to see if the solution you have in mind is the best one that you should be using. There's always something to adjust, and there's always something to tweak to make it work better.
This approach allows us to always be learning in both our work and in life in general. You get a chance to learn that you always get a second chance. Mistakes happen and they will keep happening, but you always get a chance for redemption. I always want to keep in mind that no matter what I do here, if I only just improve, we can always do things better. It's very good motivation. It’s a great part of working in support and it's a great attitude to cultivate in life. You can always do better - of course, you can do better. It's an obvious thing to strive for.
How would you describe the culture at live chat?
That's a very hard question. Partially because it's changed so much. I think that we really want to hire different people. We have quiet ones, we have noisy ones, we have professionals, we have some goofy ones. That being said, we all go in one direction. This company is very inclusive. The only group we don't like are lazy people. This is what comes from our approach and mindset. We still like to think of ourselves as a startup. We don't see different experiences or perspectives as competing. We see those things as a value-add to our company.
What's your philosophy to customer support at LiveChat?
Due to the nature of the tools that we're using, due to how they're implemented and how they work, I need to explain things to people using just my words. I need to make sure that I'm as precise as I can be. I can't delve into all the details, but I need to get into the right details. I think this is the philosophy: Pay attention to the things that actually matter. Learn what things matter, and then address them in the best possible way.
We always try to empower our people in support to go the extra mile. Not just solving the questions customers are asking, but the underlying problem. Anticipating the question before the customer asks it. We save our time in potential questions customers will ask in the future and help them at the same time. It’s our way of scaling. This is what we expect from our support team. It’s not intuitive, but it’s our bottom line for proper customer support. We always put our customers first. Whenever there is doubt, we refer back to that. We specialize not only in our product but also in our customers.
In support, I almost want to pretend that we have a blind person asking us for directions. Don't just describe where they should go or point them in the right direction. Take the time to lead that person exactly where they need to go. You don't need to take them by the hand or anything. Just help them in a way that they want to be helped. You don't need to do it for them, but do your job, and assist them to get the outcome they want.