Building a customer support team from 5 to 40 – In conversation with a Customer support veteran from Freshworks.

Customer support agents are the pillars of your organization.

They are the connecting link between customers and the product team. They play a pivotal role in taking your company through thick and thin. Hence, it is important that you have only the best of the best in your customer support team, right from your first hire. 

On that note, Maljeev Rafi, Director, Customer support, Freshservice shares his learnings from being in the field for 15 years and steering Freshservice’s support team towards growth from a 5 to a 40 member team.

In this article, we discuss Maljeev’s insights on the importance of a well-defined customer support team in a growing business, and the indispensable points to keep in mind while hiring for customer support. We touch upon employee onboarding practices and what it takes to retain the best employees.

How did customer support change as your team grew from a small team to a team of 40, handling thousands of queries?

Small businesses and startups usually comprise a few members who end up multi-tasking. While it is not possible to have well-equipped teams from the start, it is important that your small team should have experts for each function. Each function calls for a distinct skill set. You cannot expect a product designer to be a great salesperson. It is important to have clear definitions of each function.

Develop specialization as your team grows 

For instance, Freshservice was fairly new when I had joined. We were in the middle of understanding the product roadmap, which involved a lot of customer input. That’s where customer support came in. However, there was no demarcation between customer support and presales in the initial stages. It was a small team, and just like every other startup, there was a lot of multitasking involved.

That was probably the first change we had to make in the team. Presales and customer support call for different skill sets and their end goals are different too. In presales, you have to be a great communicator, establishing relationships with customers. They are the solution consultants who understand customers’ requirements,  negotiate with them and ensure the product fit. While Presales’s job is about making great first impressions with customers, Customer support is all about maintaining the relationship that the presales team has built. They carry the technical expertise required to solve the issues. It is about delivering the experience that was promised to the customer by the sales and presales team. 

So, we are looking for two kinds of people. Therefore, it was important to demarcate the two teams at the very beginning. Once that was decided, the next step was about hiring the right people.

What are some things to keep in mind while hiring for customer support?

Customer service has become a very common job profile. However, B2B environments place importance on professionalism and technical knowledge. Hence we go through great scrutiny in finding the right candidate.

The role of customer support asks for a myriad of skills like, 

  1. Great problem solving abilities, 
  2. Communication skills, 
  3. Logical thinking. 
  4. Ability to effortlessly maintain relationships with customers and associate their personal success with customers’ success. 

As for the hiring, we can break it down into: 

  • Hiring raw talent and grooming them
  • Hiring an experienced professional 

What to look for when hiring Fresh Graduates?

When hiring someone fresh out of college, we place importance on their communication skills and core values. Here are the things we look for when hiring fresh graduates:

  1. Why do they want to pursue a career in customer support? How have they envisioned their career growth in customer support? 
  2. How good and comfortable they are with their communication skills. Do they make you feel at ease when talking? How good are they in building relationships?
  3. Put them in the support agent’s shoes, give them scenarios based on real life. For instance, how do they react to a twitter complaint by an irate customer? Or, How do they write an email denying replacement for an item ordered through an e-commerce platform?
  4. Look into their basic writing skills to see how good they are with language and email construction.

What to look for when hiring experienced support professionals?

For hiring veterans, we trust them to possess the core skills. It is their technical skills and process orientation that interests us. Here are things we try to learn from an experienced professional:

  1. Learn how much homework they have done about our company.
  2. Identify what still holds them to customer support. How good are they at saying no to a customer?
  3. How was the work done in their previous company? What processes did they follow? What were their KPIs and Goals?
  4. How do they manage workplace conflicts and difference of opinions?

We are looking for someone who has the right mix of technical and soft skills, and the right attitude. We understand that technical skills can be learnt along the way. However, finding the right culture fit is something you should not compromise on. 

We understand that technical skills can be learnt along the way. However, finding the right culture fit is something you should not compromise on.

Also, it is important that every member of the hiring panel be on the same page. There has to be clarity on the career promises we offer to the candidates since it has a vital role to play in employee retention.


How should employee onboarding be done for customer support? How is it done in Freshservice?

The aim of employee onboarding is to make the employee feel at home and learn the product alongside. The duration of employee onboarding varies for each company and depends on factors like the complexity of the product and the experience of the employee.

In Freshworks, it can be broken down to three steps:

  1. Company wide onboarding program – Learn about company culture, work life and how different functions come together to achieve business goals.
  2. Meeting the Team:: Meet the team and socialize with them. In Freshservice, we assign a buddy to a new hire. They become the go-to person for the new employee and help them learn the product and ways of the company.
  3. Meeting the product: The new employee learns the product by attending demos and sales calls so he/she can understand customers better.

Overall, it takes close to a month for a new employee, particularly a fresh graduate, to acclimate themselves to the product. The pace should ideally be much faster for an experienced employee. They start with answering basic how-to questions over emails. As their product knowledge improves, they answer complex questions and we move them into other modes of communication such as chat, social media, calls. Based on how they perform, we give them more responsibilities such as managing key accounts, FAQ building, forum management and so on.

How do you ensure that employees are happy at work? What retention tactics would you advise?

Customer support agents are the representatives of your company. The experiences they deliver to the customers is key to growth of the company.

Your employees are happy when they know how their contribution is making a difference. It is important to give them clarity on how their work is faring and give timely feedback. Meet with them, tell them how well they are doing and what is expected of them in the future. Instill a sense of fulfilment in them. While you do that, also tell them about how their career path would be. Learn about their expectations and help them define their career goals.

It is important to give them clarity on how their work is faring and give timely feedback. Meet with them, tell them how well they are doing and what is expected of them in the future.

Another important factor is to trust your employees to do their best.

Give them their space to experiment. For instance, if they know of a way that can take away redundancy from their work, encourage them to try it out. If it works out well, implement that for the entire team. Trust your employees and make them a part of some initiatives such as reducing response time, improving the CSAT scores, devising efficient ways to tackle a particular customer problem and so on. 

To summarise it, let your employees know how indispensable they are to the team. Show them that you are invested in their career growth and entrust them to decide with the company’s best interests at heart. 

Key takeaways from growing our support team:

  1. Have clarity on what you expect from your customer support team and the goals they have to achieve regarding the growth of the company. 
  2. The success of your team depends on the people in the team. Ensure that you hire people who resonate with the values of the company.
  3. The service your employees provide to the customer depends on how well they know the product and ways of the company. As a result, it is paramount to invest in employee onboarding. 
  4. Customers are happy when your employees are happy. Ensure to do what it takes to retain them and keep them happy.