Managing a remote team is challenging. There’s no water cooler to catch up with team members around or a shared office to check in on what your employees are up to, so you have to have the right processes in place for effective management.
Diony McPherson knows a thing or two about doing just this. As co-founder of Paperform, she’s gone from having to deal only with her partner and co-founder Dean, to managing a remote team based all around the globe. In this article, she outlines some of the challenges of remote work as well as tips some of the tips she’s picked up along the way.
Challenges of Remote Team Management
Having a remote support team is a double-edged sword. While working remotely can improve productivity, expand your talent pool and keep operating costs down, it can also cause lack of collaboration and communication, more distractions and increased cybersecurity risks.
Fortunately, we’ve found these challenges can be managed fairly easily by establishing a few common goals and policies and creating a positive, collaborative company culture.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a thriving remote team isn’t either. Learning the ropes of managing your remote employees takes a bit of trial and error, remembering the different time zones and having the essential tools and applications to bring teams together and ensure operations run smoothly.
Most importantly to us at Paperform, developing our exceptional remote support team meant ingraining the attitude of providing an outstanding customer experience in everything we do.
When experiencing periods of high growth, many founders lose sight of what matters most: their customers. After all, you can have an amazing product without strong customer support and still ride the wave of success.
We wanted to do things differently. The two founders of Paperform, Dean and Diony, saw to every customer inquiry and started meaningful conversations. Growth and support became so intertwined that product development was shaped by the stories of the customers whom they listened to daily.
Products exist to solve problems, and in conversing with customers we discovered ways in which our product provided a solution to struggles in their work and lives.
To get your customers to share their stories, customer support needs to be more than transactions of information. You treat each customer as an individual, not a case number.
When you do this, each interaction unearths the unique role your product plays in situations beyond your imagination.
The transition that was made from our founders handling support themselves to managing a remote support team was a difficult yet important one. As Paperform’s customer base grew, so too did the number of everyday issues.
The best support team for us, we knew, would be one that came from in-house. Our support team is truly remote, with employees across time zones and in the United States, Europe, and Australia. We even considered it an advantage that our team resided in countries from all over the world and as our customers did, too.
Each of our team members contributed skills outside of support, such as technical expertise and development, and are entirely diverse in personality and expression. Our goal was to establish common knowledge, values, and practices, and allow support to excel as one unified team.
Train to Be an Expert
For one, we needed to make sure that the team consisted of product experts who could resolve both known and unknown issues. An agency that was initially hired didn’t have a full grasp of the capabilities of our product, which meant our customers were receiving mixed messages.
To manage our support team, we needed to ensure that they understood the product in and out, and no one understood Paperform like our internal team.
For the technical experts, this meant working with the coding and calculations in order to examine unexpected and complex issues and bugs. And for everyone, this meant actually testing and experimenting with the product themselves.
Seek to Solve, Not to Fix
Often in support, customers provide us with a problem with a solution already in their minds, even when it’s not necessarily the solution they need. A dilemma occurs: do we do as they say or do what’s actually required?
While each of our support team members knows how to solve single-sided issues, there’s not always a clear-cut approach for more ambiguous, multi-faceted problems.
We believe that customer support begins with having the right intentions, so we made “customer’s best interest” our rule of thumb.
Sometimes this meant probing into context and their usage of our product before rushing in to respond to their query. “What is actually the problem?” is a common probing question. “What are you attempting to achieve with our product today?”
Our policies and procedures are constantly in development and rework, but our attitude towards customers remains consistent across our remote team — look for underlying causes rather than the surface-level signs.
Policies, Procedures, and Practices
Of course, policies and procedures are the foundation of training and maintaining one voice across the support. This means documenting scenarios to streamline our responses as much as possible.
Whenever we come across a unique situation for which there are no existing guidelines, we lay it out in a shared database under our support policies and procedures. This way, there are clear expectations on how to approach different customers.
However, with the impossibility of preparing for every scenario, we integrate our values of respect, candor, and transparency into our support practices.
Though consisting of diverse personalities, each of our support employees learns to be transparent, even if it means telling the rare customer that Paperform is not what they’re looking for.
One of the core beliefs within support is that while attracting customers is important, attracting the right customers that have a real, authentic need for the product is even more so.
By ensuring each of our team members understands this principle, we can reflect this in our practices every time we respond to a customer, solve an issue, and invite them to share their stories.
Paperform has learned over the years that a strong support team is an invaluable resource. Through it, we can connect to our customers and foster genuine conversations within our community.
Customers learn from our support team about the product, but more importantly, we learn from them, too.