Theo Panaritis, Customer Education Specialist at Workable joins us in this episode of Support Ops Simplified.
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Sid Bhambhani: Hi there and welcome to another episode of Support Ops Simplified. I’m your host Sid Bhambhani. With me today, I have Theo Panaritis from Workable. Welcome Theo.
Theo Panaritis: Thank you so much for having me Sid. Glad to be here.
Sid: Super excited to have you on. Theo has a number of years of customer operations positions under his belt. Both in terms of a telephonic company where he was a technical support rep and more recently with Workable where he’s on the customer operations side. Hopefully I got that right Theo but maybe if you can give us a little more insight into your experience, that would be great.
Theo: Yes, perfect. You got everything right. I have quite a few years of experience in various support and operations roles. Recently, actually last week I was happy to accept the position as the customer educational specialist in Workable.
Theo: Thank you so much. It has been a great few years working with different companies. Mostly, in the troubleshooting and customer support and customer-to-customer end but recently in Workable in the business to customer end. I’m very glad to have seen both sides of the coin if I may say so.
Sid: That’s fantastic. Tell us a little bit about how you got started into support. I was going through your profile and it seems like you started off in the social media space, if I got that right. Tell us a little bit about your journey.
Theo: That is quite almost the case. By degree, I’m a journalist. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s in journalism. That’s quite far away from support. That’s the best case scenario for somebody who is actually looking for a job that can still take values from journalism and engaging with people but on a different level. I found myself in London when I graduated from my master’s degree. My first position was in Totaljobs, which was in marketing at the time.
Although quite a little bit after that, I started working in telecommunications and that would be in Teleperformance for troubleshooting with two different projects. One will be for a very popular device manufacturer that has changed the way we see phones if that can be a hint for the project that I was. Then that will be quite the same for a different manufacturer, which is mostly working with Windows if that’s another hint. That was the main foundation of my support years, because that is where I familiarize myself with the way you support people over the phone and you help them resolve any situations they find themselves in.
Then, I was fortunate enough to work in the support department of Workable, which is an entirely different way of thinking about support, engaging with customers and basically helping clients hire the best people for the job. From troubleshooting software and hardware, we just moved into troubleshooting applicant tracking systems and SAS software. That was a lead that helped me with everything that I had already gathered from the previous roles into a new perspective and a new outlook and support.
Sid: That’s a great story. Then there’s a couple of points over there that you made that are very interesting. First one, is you started off supporting technology. Now you support technology but you support it in the context of helping find the right people. It goes to show how you can have a function like customer support be very similar across different verticals. At the core, even though the product or the service you’re supporting could be quite radically different.
Theo: Exactly, because at the end of the day, what do you want to do? You want to be able to listen to somebody’s problem, see why the problem is there and how you can actually turn it around and resolve it. No matter whether you’re just looking at a phone or at a computer or at any kind of software that you use dedicate it for even an entirely different function, at the end of the day, you have a problem, you have a reason and you need a solution. Trust me the empathy and the way that you would actually engage with a customer does not change much. Because everybody is looking for the same thing, a solution.
Theo: As long as you are able to communicate and to tailor the way that your communication is presented, that would be actually the success of any support member. It’s quite different to just speak to somebody who is just trying to play a game on their computer and just gets any amount of issues you may say.
It’s slightly different to get to speak to somebody who is approaching a deadline and wants to make his software or her software or their software is working as expected. Once that is put down into a solid foundation, then the product can change and the support will remain the same of the most part and only change the technical part.
Sid: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head over there. It’s quite the insight. People ask us, how does our product analyze support between different verticals? Our answer is almost the same every single time. Is, if you take the product out of the equation it’s people helping people. Then you’re basically looking at the conversation and the empathy and all of those soft skills and trying to figure out whether the customer had a good experience or not, rather than the technical semantics of what was given and how that helped change the equation.
That’s a very good observation. One other thing you mentioned that I found really interesting is from the marketing side of things as you came. You said, there were still a lot of overlaps between when you were in the marketing field and now that you’re in the customer support field. How do you draw some of those comparisons or what’s the overlap there?
Theo: That is a great question, Sid, because at the end of the day, support is part of the experience. When somebody is actually buying something, they don’t only buy the product itself, the software or the hardware. They don’t only buy what was promised to them by marketing or by sales or by what their perception for the product is. They do buy the experience as well and the experience that they get when they have a problem or an issue.
In this case, marketing is a part of support because you’re trying to continue to provide the same experience or the same sense of support of the product or of the experience as well. Marketing and sales and support are part of the same experience that the client is getting from you. Attributes that marketing can find useful like engaging copy, for example, in any of their articles or on their promotional material and so on engaging copy should be part of support as well [unintelligible 00:08:19] to a client.
Trying to explain steps or trying to make them follow instructions that somebody else might not want to follow because they have more sense than expected. The way you present things, is definitely something that is quite similar in marketing, in sales and in support as well. These fields, people that might be really different, but they’re not. They are part of the same thing if I may insist.
Sid: I can see that. I definitely see it now that you put that in that context. If you look at popular brands it’s not just the product that has that branding. It’s the way they interact with you, it’s the way a support rep would interact with you or how you would go about even getting support that’s part of that premium package or the premium experience you get out of buying a product or a service. I think you’re absolutely right about that. I never thought about it being a marketing aspect but it certainly makes sense.
Let me ask you this. In marketing it’s, I would say, relatively straightforward in terms of being able to say, “We’re going to have a brand and we’re going to put some collateral out there that tells the story of our brand.” Your success is driven by the number of people who recognize the brand and how much of a household name it becomes. I’m overgeneralizing here, but generally, that’s the yardstick right. What’s the equivalent yardstick for a customer experience? How would you go about measuring it if you’re still drawing the parallels between the two worlds.
Theo: I see what you mean. In this case, if we’re looking at about evaluating the support that somebody is getting, and evaluate the way that they interact with us after the sale has been made, and usually that is where support comes, I would say it’s about the customer satisfaction that is the first and foremost thing any business that can measure their customers feedback and endpoints. Customer satisfaction would be the first.
Reply time in terms of support SLA would be the second. Nobody wants to wait two days to get an answer and in Workable, we do have one of the fastest reply times that you can have. Normally, our support team gets back to anybody within two, three hours, and sometimes even less. That is quite important as well. Of course the resolution, first-time resolution. This is very important in terms of being able to inspire somebody to contact support again.
Imagine if you would contact support, you had an amazing experience, the support agent would be brilliant, the steps would be clear but it would take so long to resolve something. Even though on the surface the experience would be great, then you would be quite hesitant to say, “I have to call them back again or they going to take me through a whole lot of steps again. I will get to the end, I will say it but it will take me ages.”
It’s not only one of these aspects that you need to pay attention and measure success from, but it’s also a combination of all of them. Even if you have to make adjustments like stretch out your reply time a little bit further, but to ensure that you have the right steps and the right approach and the right expected resolution time or expectations sent to the client as well. Then all of these aspects combined will give you the metrics and satisfaction that’s eventually you need.
Sid: I agree. I think your answer encompasses a whole bunch of different KPIs in there which I mean that form the backbone of the industry. If you look at it, how accurately can you measure customer experience or satisfaction based on these individual scores? There’s definitely a relationship in them. How do you at Workable go about measuring the overall customer experience? What are some of the strategies that you employ?
Theo: I see what you mean. Well, that would be a great question for my manager and I’m pretty sure, he’s very happy to reply. In this case, though, I can definitely give you the perspective that I get from this important point. For us-
Sid: Absolutely. Just so you know, I wouldn’t discount that perspective. It takes a special person to be in the trenches every day. We would love to get that perspective from someone who’s answering the calls and getting that from the customer firsthand. By all means, go ahead.
Theo: Thank you for that. Well, it doesn’t clarify them again because I don’t want to set expectations that this would be from another aspect as well. In any case, from what we’ve seen is the measure that you get from the surveys that people reply from. Usually, when they chat with us, or when they email us or when they engage in a phone call with us, they have the option to leave feedback and see if that was helpful or not.
In a very easy way, in a very simple way, they will be able to just give you their feedback including a comment or not, and that would rate the experience that they had either with the positive or a negative aspect. It’s the most easy way to you can get because it’s a thumbs up-thumbs down situation. You can also see that in our help desk.
For example, if you would visit help.workable.com, below any article that you would get there, you will have the same question, “Was this article helpful?” You will be able to read it as well with thumbs up and thumbs down depending on your experience. That would be the most straight forward way to just measure quickly if somebody used your resource or found your approach helpful or not.
Sid: Do you get a lot of feedback from your customers through this? Are you getting a lot of people coming in and either giving you positive or negative feedback? Do you see that as a small percentage of the total number of overall interactions?
Theo: No, totally. We do have quite a wealth of feedback, I would say. Mmost of the time, people leave comments as well. For example, in comments where people did not find something quite useful or as useful as they would expect, then we would be able to see in their comments where we would need to just point our attention or engage the responsible team, for example, if it is a product, feedback or an update that needs to be done.
Of course, if we have positive feedback, usually that comes into comments like the agent was helpful. Sometimes they call our team’s names and they say, for example, Mark was helpful or Brian was helpful. These kinds of comments really make our day as well because sometimes in the positive feedback as well, they give us reasons that’s they pointed out in that feedback.
Then we can always learn from that and then we can always have all our members implement the same procedure to get this more and more. Either if it’s the positive or the negative one, for us, the negative of course gives us more things to work on. The positives ones as well, give us more things to just share and use all together.
Sid: Definitely a good morale boost, right?
Theo: Yes. It’s good as well to see how we progressed. Especially in the beginning when somebody joins the team, they have a lot to learn. When they start replying on the live channels and engaging with customers, then they are more able to track their progress.
Sid: Well, and that brings up a good point. There’s a lot we can mine from a customer’s feedback. As the organization starts growing, it always becomes a challenge to scale how many resources that you’re going to put into that mining effort. That notwithstanding, what are some of the things that you have learned or your team has learned that has helped you guys improve in the recent years? What are some of the improvements or achievements that you’ve had in customer experience or improving customer experience in the last little while?
Theo: That’s a great question. That’ll definitely be something different for most of us because everybody has their own points of improvement that they would like to work on. However, there is something that I have noticed recently a lot and that is something that helps other teams as well in general [inaudible 00:17:36] in each other. Especially since that is software that we’re talking about, of course, and it has lots of troubleshooting steps that needs information from the other side, from the client. What we have found useful and what we have really built on, is to go escalating for developments. For example, if something was-
Sid: Sorry, I just lost you there. Escalating to your development team? Is that what you mentioned there?
Theo: Yes. Let me just rephrase. The key points that we’re seeing quite some improvement there would be to gather all the information that our development team would need before even escalating to them. That way, we have a solid case to present instead of just going back and forth to the client to add more information or ask more details. Even though that is something that comes in terms of a procedure, when you are on the phone with somebody, you might skip things out and so on.
However, this is something that all our team members have really worked on hard and they can definitely say that now they have engaged in a different way with the customers as well and make this process easier for them and to speed up the resolution time because then we have a solid case to present for development. That is something that all our members have improved a lot and definitely change the experience for the customers as well.
Sid: That sounds great. I know escalations are a very tricky part for a support organization because it’s one of those where you end up relinquishing some control over the outcome because there’s a department you’re now waiting on that isn’t going by the same KPIs that you aren’t necessarily. In my experience, there always has to be a big shift in perspectives before people can get to the same page and work towards the same resolution which is we need to get an answer to the customer.
That’s a step in the right direction for you guys as you start streamlining that process. One other question I had for you was, as we’re talking about technology in the customer support and experience was, have you had any exposure to AI or AI-enabled tools? How do you see that playing out in the longer terms? Any opinions on that?
Theo: I see what you mean. Workable uses AI and we do use machine learning as well, especially when we run campaigns, targeted campaigns for our [inaudible 00:20:28] for certain job post. That is something that we already implements and we already see results from. From the support team though, and from anybody who is actually trying to troubleshoot that, this is not something that we mostly engage with as people in support because that is mostly automated procedures and this is mostly set up and intended and thankfully works as expected.
That was not something that we actively from the support team engage with. I’m definitely open to looking into this further, do some reading or some webinars and start getting more used to what the next few years will bring as well.
Sid: Sounds good. You seem to have a lot of experience under your belt already for you. I’m curious as to who some of the people are within the support operations or even through your career who have helped coach you to get to this point, some mentors perhaps.
Theo: Definitely and without mentors nobody can move forward that’s the first thing that’s I’m going to say. Especially when you change companies or when you change products most likely, each mentor will give you a different perspective on the similar foundation that we’ll discuss before. However, in this case I can definitely name my managers from the previous positions as well, especially from Teleperformance because that was my first touch with support and that was my first as well, big engagement with customers based on the amount of calls that we’re getting or chats or emails.
However, I can definitely give lots of credit to my management and my leadership in Workable because the got me into the applicant tracking systems world and they actually got me into the B2B support. That is something that’s I would not be able to even engage with without having the proper guidance. Getting into the support team of Workable with definitely not give me enough exposure to that if it wasn’t for the managers and for the leadership that gave me the right tools to do what they knew that I could do without tools.
Sid: That’s fantastic. Final thing, what is the one thing you want to leave our audience with as a titbit as we wrap up our conversation here?
Theo: That’s a very, very good question and it has lots of answers that can be [unintelligible 00:23:18]. I would definitely say that don’t be afraid to engage, that is the first thing. Don’t be afraid to engage with anybody within the organization, whether that would be [inaudible 00:23:31] the colleagues from another department, anybody within the organization.
If you’re in a support team, you will definitely engage with the customers, we know that, we leave that aside. Sometimes because people are speaking with customers all day, then they would neglect if I may say so the relationship within the company. It’s really important to learn from people within the company not only because some might have already done your job, but also because you learn perspectives and you see the same product or the same support item or anything that you are actually working on from a different person’s perspective.
For example, in our case in Workable, especially being able to engage with people from products, from marketing, from sales, from anywhere else, getting a fresh set of eyes to see the same thing as your customer would see it as well and not only engage from the support [unintelligible 00:24:32] Learning from your colleagues and learning from your peers is the best thing that you can do to yourself.
Sid: That’s great advice. I think a lot of organizations are trying to be more customer-centric in the sense that they want all of their departments regardless of whether they’re directly in customer support or not to contribute directly to the customer experience. Like you said, it’s a brand and the brand goes past the product that goes into how the company interacts with their customers so I think that’s excellent advice. With that Theo, I want to thank you for your time today. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and for some of the great tips and ideas you brought to the table and I’m sure our audience will get a great deal of value out of this so thanks again.
Theo: Thank you so much for having me. It was a great experience and it was really lovely speaking with you Sid. Thank you so much.
Sid: All right, perfect.
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