Keeping our customer service reliable and consistent in the face of rapid growth

December 26, 2018

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Art Pachnine has been the Director of Merchant Success at Bold Commerce for just over a year. Prior to that, he worked in various management positions and brings with him his seven years of managerial experience (and his secret talent: juggling a soccer ball for 30 minutes!).

Bold Commerce is a rapidly-growing company, which means we are constantly hiring. The Merchant Success team is Bold's biggest department, providing customer service to thousands of merchants around the world. We have a diverse team of knowledgeable and talented specialists who are constantly working to help the merchants who use our apps.
 
Here's an overview of what I'll be talking about. If you wanted to skip right to any of those sections, just click on the text and it will take you right to that section!
  1. How our team is made up
  2. What sets us apart
  3. Why we've been successful so far
  4. Training needs
  5. Conclusion

Introduction to our customer service team

Bold has a motto that every Merchant Success Specialist lives by:

Customer > Team > Individual


Above all, our merchants (the customer) are our highest priority. These are eCommerce business owners who depend on our apps to run their business. As such, we've built a reputation that they have come to expect: High-quality responses and solutions in a timely manner.

Our large merchant success team's sole focus is to provide merchants with the best support through numerous channels, whether that be via email, live chat, or phone.

As it stands, our team is 79 specialists strong, including myself, three leads, and a quality assurance specialist. We've grown by 30 since this time last year, and continue to adapt our team based on data that helps us understand where improvements need to be made.

Every specialist is trained to have in-depth knowledge of a portion of our apps, depending on which team they're on. By having them focus on a few apps at a time, they have a thorough and expert understanding of how they work, rather than just a general idea about all of our apps. We have a lot of (amazing) apps, but we also have a large number of experts for each and every one of them.

With that being said, we have six teams in the merchant success department:

Frontline Team

The frontline team acts as our ticket triage - 90% of our tickets first come through our frontline specialists, which they send off to the appropriate teams based on the inquiry. They also work to answer live chat questions, general questions, billing inquiries, and voicemails.

Another one of their duties is responding to install requests, informing merchants about when their request will be completed. They also answer enquiries about our apps, whether it be about complementary apps, or to better understand how the one they've just downloaded works.

Our frontline team makes up 16% of our department (not including myself, our QA specialist, and our team leads).

Installs Team

This team tackles the aforementioned install requests and provides expert Liquid installations on the merchant’s behalf. Liquid is the code that Shopify uses, and it can be difficult to understand, which is why we’ve trained our specialists in this area. It can save merchants a lot of time (and headaches).

These team members will insert our app’s code into the merchant’s store and then test it to ensure that it works with their theme. If not, they adjust the code accordingly.

Our installs team makes up 13% of our department.

Tier 2

Our Tier 2 team is the last team who looks at the ticket, and are our most technical team. They often work with more complex tickets: troubleshooting and fixing technical issues. We refer to them as “front-end developers” because they work on the front end of a merchant's store.

If a store doesn’t appear to be functioning properly, they’ll take a look at the CSS code, ajax carts, and other major elements that make the store work.

Our tier 2 team makes up 20% of our entire department.

App Teams

We have three teams who specialize in three to seven of our apps. Our specialists are trained to know everything about those apps and be able to work with merchants to solve any problems they're experiencing with them.

Team 1 accounts for 13% of our department, Team 2 makes up 19% of our department, and Team 3 is 17% of our department.

What sets our customer service apart

I think there are four main things that really set our customer service team apart:

  1. We actively listen to our merchants.
  2. We provide consistent service.
  3. We constantly improve our training.
  4. We genuinely care.

Each of these is equally important in providing the best customer service that we possibly can to our merchants.

1. Actively listening to our merchants despite rapid growth

While some of customer service is intuitive, it’s not enough to just guess.

Not only do we listen to our merchants and the feedback that they give us, we act upon it and make adjustments in order to continuously improve our processes. What we’ve seen is that our merchants want faster service, and favor live chat due to the immediate, high-quality support they receive.

Because we know that merchants value prompt responses, we’ve begun increasing our live chat presence within our apps. It gives our merchants the almost-immediate resolution they enjoy, while still giving them top-notch service and makes it as easy as possible for them to reach out to us.

We’ve also created new positions that consist of responding to phone inquiries full-time. Where we used to use phone calls only in certain situations, or to respond to voicemails, we’re now using our full-time phone operators to provide even better service.

Statistics

Statistics are another way that we ensure our customers are receiving top-notch service.

While we are merchant-first and don’t put statistics at the front of our minds or our service, we’re lucky in the way that the statistics we do have (such as our 91.6% annual ticket satisfaction rate, and 97.8% live chat satisfaction rate) validate that we’re doing the right thing by our merchants.

We’re working on implementing some stronger software and reporting that will help us collect more data, which we already use to make decisions on how to best service our merchants.

2. Reliable and consistent service from our specialists

Because of our in-depth training and employee follow-ups, our merchants receive consistent, high-quality service no matter who they’re speaking to, or how big or small their issue is.

Continuing to offer this consistent service is a key factor for us since our team is expanding and growing quite rapidly.

That brings me to my next point.

3. Our training is constantly being re-evaluated and improved

I believe that one of the biggest reasons we’re so successful at serving our merchants is because we ask for feedback every time we serve a merchant through live chat or support ticket.

We use the feedback to cross-examine our training, and follow up with specialists to make sure they’ve been given the proper tools to be successful in their role. We also use it to evaluate our current training and make adjustments to it.

We invest a lot into the training piece, as it’s the foundation of our team.

4. We genuinely care

When a merchant installs one of our apps or interacts with us in any way, they can be sure that they're in good hands. Our team cares just as much about the success of their eCommerce business as they do.

Our mission is to empower merchants to succeed, and everything we do is with the merchant in mind. That's why we live by the Customer > Team > Individual motto.

We also have a lot of entrepreneurs on our team who can empathize with, and understand the need of our merchants since they are also business owners. Every one of our employees wants to see our merchants succeed.

How we’ve become successful through training

We have a dedicated trainer who works with our newest merchant success team members when they first start out. This gives them a basis for the sort of work they may be doing, including Liquid installations, answering tickets, and more, so they can really learn all the facets of the position.

Our training has become highly targeted and position-based, with every new hire receiving a tailored training checklist that relates directly to their team and position.

Employee resources

We ensure that all new employees have plenty of resources around them, whether it be through Slack (our company-wide communication channel), positioning their desks around our more experienced specialists, and having access to Confluence.

Confluence is a collaborative software program where we house all of our training materials (which are very specific), checklists, and any other resources they may need (‘how-to’ articles, information and explanations for different processes, etc.). These materials can be referenced at any point in time - whether an employee has been here for one month or one year.

Here’s an example of what one of our training checklists looks like for a couple of our smaller apps, Mapply and Store Locator:

store locator checklist
 
Our extensive Help Center is another amazing resource for not only our new employees, but also our merchants. The specialists frequently refer merchants to our Help Center database and provide articles about features in their newly-installed app, easy-to-follow walkthroughs and guides, and other technical information for further reading if the merchant is wanting to teach themselves or understand better.

Follow-ups

We’re very diligent in having follow-up meetings with our new specialist to get an idea of how they’re feeling on the team, what we can do to help them, to celebrate their achievements, and to get them to a place where they're more independent and confident in their role.

Not only does this ring true for our new employees, but all of our employees. The team leads are very consistent in having monthly one-on-one meetings with each of our specialists to understand how things are going in their role, and to talk about their goals, which helps us further their development.

We care about our employees' career development, and many of our specialists have gone on to work in other areas of Bold Commerce.

Other skills, cross-training, and further development

Soft skills training

Not only do we provide technical training due to the nature of our business, but we also develop soft skills training - that is, customer service training. This is ongoing as we are continuously thinking of ways that we can better serve our merchants. This also ensures that our customer service is consistent no matter which agent you’re speaking with.

Our overall goal with this is to have our specialists ask more targeted questions to get to the bottom of the issue within one or two questions, rather than four or five questions. The latter just prolongs the amount of time it takes to solve the merchant’s issue, unnecessarily increases our workload, and worst of all, is frustrating for our merchants.

Cross-training

Once our specialists have become comfortable with the apps they’re working with (usually takes around 2-3 months), we encourage them to sit with other teams in the department to upgrade their knowledge of other apps. Myself and the team leaders schedule this, so we can match people up with the best teachers on other teams.

This also aligns with our goal of achieving ‘one-touch’ resolutions, or having our merchants be able to speak with one specialist about  multiple apps, without the ticket being handed off to a different specialist to be worked on.

Further development through "10% time"

We’re very consistent in ensuring our team is working on their own development by using something that we call "10% time". Our employees are encouraged to use 10% of their working hours to improve upon their own skills or work on personal projects that help make Bold better. This is something we identify in our one-on-one meetings with specialists, and we work together to create a plan for this.

Furthermore we’ve got a mentorship program which also comes out of our one-on-one meetings; if a specialist is consistently exceeding their job expectations and has proven to be knowledgeable in their area, we talk about what they’d like to learn about next. Not only can they learn from their fellow colleagues, they have the option to be a mentor to others.

With that, we set them up with a strong mentor on that team (e.g. if they want to become a developer, we’ll have them mentor a Tier 2 specialist). It’s similar to cross-training, but this is really focused on the specialists’ own personal career development.

We invest a lot of time into our employees’ development to ensure they’re happy and we can help them succeed - whether that be in merchant success or in another department.

Black Friday training: It’s year-round

Black Friday is probably fresh in your mind because it just happened. Each year, we see a 50-60% increase in tickets during the ramp-up to Black Friday in November. And each year, our ticket volume doesn’t drop back down to the pre-Black Friday number, but becomes our new workload.

We’ve been successful at using January to August as our Black Friday preparation period to ensure we’re our best selves when ticket volumes increase. We make sure to have our hiring done at least three months before Black Friday so our new specialists are comfortable as we head into the busy period.

Black Friday is such a busy time for our entire company, and the volume we see over this holiday sets the pace for our following year. We have no choice but to continue growing (and improving our processes along the way).

You can read more from our CTO, Eric Boisjoli, about how Bold prepares for Black Friday traffic.

We never stop innovating

To conclude, the Merchant Success team here at Bold is full of hard-working, like-minded people who want to see our merchants succeed. They’ve been trained to be experts on the apps they work with, have the resources and support to elevate their knowledge, and benefit from a strategic training plan.

We’re always innovating and working to improve the things we do so we can make sure we’re able to give the best customer service possible.

Thanks to our amazing specialists, team leads, and trainer, we’ve been able to cultivate an exceptional team of individuals who have impressed our merchants time and time again.

Art Pachnine

Written by Art Pachnine

Art Pachnine has been the Director of Merchant Success at Bold Commerce for just over a year. Prior to that, he worked in various management positions and brings with him his seven years of managerial experience (and his secret talent: juggling a soccer ball for 30 minutes!).

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