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Customer Support Models: Pre-emptive support with MSW@USC

This is part of our ongoing series on models of doing support. We hope this series will inform and inspire your support efforts, and show the myriad of ways that a company can provide great support.

Good Support is Essential

book that is titled secret and mysterious order of word of mouthIf you ask Jenn Pedde, she’ll be totally honest: “our customers’ word-of-mouth can make or break our program.” This is true for any company, but doubly-so for the Masters of Social Work program offered online at the University of Southern California that she is the community manager for. As a provider of online classes via a custom-built platform that does class in real time and face to face, plus in the community field placement work, it’s easy for her customers – students that is – to leave the program for another if they aren’t satisfied. They don’t even have to clear out their dorm room.

To ensure continued great word-of-mouth (and it is great), the MSW@USC program does what I’d like to call “pre-emptive support.”

Helping Before there are Issues

The biggest thing done by those who work on MSW@USC doesn’t even sound like support. Their Student Support employees reach out personally to each student to walk them through the process of using the platform for the first time. And they continue to check in with them throughout the process, ensuring everything is still working fine and making sense. It’s certainly not standard support work, but the direct result is less confusion and fewer support tickets.

Jenn says that moving beyond the standard email channel for support is key. “It’s a very technological platform and it’s often changing”, she says, “We have to keep people informed.” Because it is an academic institution, keeping students well-informed takes place via old-fashioned email but also social media channels, live streaming events, webinars, online office hours, and in communities in the “Virtual Academic Center,” MSW@USC’s custom-built platform. The goal is that a MSW@USC student never feels without information and – in theory – they never have a chance to get frustrated.

the MSW @ USC blog

Significant Support Staff

international clocksHow does MSW@USC manage this intense level of support? A big part of it is size. Each well-trained support employee only works with a small number of students, ensuring the quality of interactions. This is certainly impressive, but Jenn is quick to point out that the reason they can do this is because groups of students start their academic years at specific times. Jenn, the team, and the Student Support Director James Schiller can plan ahead, knowing exactly how much support staff they’ll need.

The second trick up their sleeve is simply organization. The personal walk-throughs mentioned above are not haphazard affairs – there’s an organized schedule of calls that ensures everyone gets helped, and no time is wasted doing so. And by having employees across the country cover 18 hours a day of support shifts, they ensure nobody is overwhelmed by a buildup of emails in the morning.

But How Can I Afford This?

It’s totally fair to observe that MSW@USC is able to provide this support because they’ve got the resources, but the bottom line is that they have done the math. They know that they must have happy customers (students) or perish.

Many startups take the opposite route, assigning one person to support with no idea if they’re spending too much or too little helping their customers. Not everyone prioritizes support like MSW@USC does, but more of us could spend more time building organized support systems – in the end it will make our customers and our CFO’s happier. 

Word of mouth photo courtesy of Neville Hobson.
Clock photo courtesy of Fitch Resource Library.