empty office chairsWhat would you do if your whole customer support team got mono? (Aside from not letting them drink so much at the next Christmas Party!) Or more realistically, what would you do if you a huge article about your company appeared in the New York Times and you got 1000 new customers in a single day? This is the ultimate customer care litmus test.

The answer, for most companies, is not good. We rely on our support teams. We often don’t realize how much work they do (a recent UserCentered poll told us that the average number of tickets answered by an active support agent in a day is fourty-four). Even more often, we don’t really know how they do it.

So what do you do when your support team gets mono? Hire some contractors? They’re not going to know your product or your company, resulting in bad support (which leads to crises). Leave your support queue unanswered? Good luck with that.

The answer is culture. How does Zappos handle the holiday rush? They have everyone, including executives, do support from their desk. How do they ensure quality with C-suite “idiots” answering the phones? Every single employee, no matter what position, spends three weeks when they’re first hired doing support before moving to their normal position. They have the Zappos way drilled into them.

(This can apply to other departments as well. A team with a good product culture will be able to keep the various product endeavours on track even if your Product Manager gets geostigma.)

Practices like these aren’t just limited to Zappos anymore. More and more companies are realizing that a customer-centric culture is key…not just for busy periods, but for day-to-day work. About half of the teams I talk to these days have some involvement in support from the rest of the team.

Don’t be fooled. It doesn’t matter how great your support team is if your sales team treats customers like dirt. It doesn’t matter how great your community manager is if your CEO berates your users. In fact, that can be the undoing of a company that may have very competent customer-facing teams.

For the next two months, we’ll be exploring how company culture can make or break your customer experience. Want to join us? Subscribe to UserCentered today. No spam, just great content.

Chair photo courtesy of philomglol.

Thermometer photo courtesy of Claus Rebler.