Creating a Support-Driven Culture

We asked Help Scout's Mat Patterson what a "support-driven" company looks like. Read the full Q&A for his thoughts on culture, leadership & authenticity.


Jana Barrett

February 13, 2018

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Help Scout is all about helping people. The customer service company makes innovative help desk software that empowers support teams in over 140 countries. The devotion to support doesn’t stop with their products, either. Around the globe, Help Scout employees live and breathe support. We spoke to Mat Patterson to learn more about what it means to be truly “support-driven.”

Mathew Patterson, Customer Evangelist at Help Scout

Mat PattersonCustomer Service Evangelist, Help Scout@mrpatto

Q & A

Can you tell us a little about Help Scout’s culture?

Help Scout is a remote-first company, by design. Doing remote-first successfully requires a lot of communication and trust, and so those also become core elements of the company culture.

We’re also a customer-centric culture—we share a set of values about how we treat our customers with respect, we listen to them and by extension we highly value the role of customer support.

Help Scout uses the term support-driven to emphasize the impact customer support has on business growth and innovation. What does that term really mean to you?

Being a support-driven company means your success is based on making your customers successful.

A support-driven company culture means centering your success around your customer’s success. When you have all teams – marketing, sales, product, etc – thinking about the people who use your product, you will deliver a better overall customer experience, because you’ve created a culture laser focused on helping your customer succeed. You’re unifying your company around the fundamental thing keeping you in business: your customer.

What would a support-driven culture actually look like?

Support-driven culture will look a little different at every company, but here are a couple tactics we use at Help Scout.

Every new employee spends a whole week in the queue during onboarding, because we believe that no matter what an employee does for their job here, they are all working for the customer in the end, so they’d better get to know them.

Our founders are actively in the queue answering support questions. If your organization is too big, at the very least we suggest having your executive team meet regularly with the support team and ask them what to do next at your company to develop a culture around your customers. You do more to empower people through action than you can with words, so the more you show change to your support team and your company, the easier it will be to achieve.

Why is it valuable for customer support to be heavily invested in company culture?

Our head of support, Abigail, likes to say, “If you want to know how a company is doing internally, talk to their support team.” Company culture shows through clearly in how the customer-facing teams work with customers. It doesn’t matter how experienced, smart, and empathetic the support team are if the rest of the company doesn’t value customer service.

Ultimately, customer experiences are driven not just by interactions with the support team, but by how the product is designed, what the billing processes are like, how refunds are handled, how and when maintenance is performed—everything that happens in the rest of the company.

Customer support can be the voice of the customer back into the company, reminding everyone that without the customer there is no business.

In 6 Steps to Creating a Customer-Focused Culture, Shep Hyken says leaders have to be the example. What can leaders do to elevate the voice of support within their organizations?

  1. Invest in support by adequately staffing that team and providing them with the tools and skills they need to succeed.

  2. Give them a “seat at the table” by including them in product meetings, board meetings, and company-wide meetings. Elevate them in these meetings as stakeholders of the company’s success.

  3. Expose the rest of the company to real customers as often as you can – the more they understand your customer, the more they will value the people who enable those customers to succeed.

We talk a lot about being customer-centric, customer-first, customer-obsessed. But many companies lack the resources and expertise they need to actually achieve those goals. Are we putting the cart before the horse by focusing on our customers before we focus on our customer-facing employees?

A company can’t be customer-centric without investing in their customer-facing employees. Being a customer-first company begins with investing in your customer team and elevating them as key product and company stakeholders.

Of course you should focus on your customers! But a really effective, impactful way to do that is to make your frontline employees deeply committed, well trained and engaged advocates for those customers.

Many progressive companies find creative ways to infuse the voice of the customer into their daily operations. Jeff Bezos famously leaves a seat empty at board meetings to represent Amazon customers. How can companies do the same for their support teams?

Honestly, a lot of those things are about optics. It’s easy to appear customer-focused with ‘stunts’ like that, and I suppose it can send a message. Really though, if I’m a Zappos customer, I couldn’t care less that you’re spending 11 hours on the phone with another customer—that’s just marketing. I just want to know that when I pay you money, I’ll get what I needed, and if something goes wrong, you’ll fix it for me.

A company that is consistently bringing their support team into the boardroom, their product planning meetings, and elevating them through meaningful business actions, not gimmicks – those are the companies that are truly infusing the voice of the customer into their daily operations.

We see a lot of customer-centric titles popping up, like “customer advocate” and “customer champion.” Do you think seemingly small changes like this can have a meaningful, long-term impact on a company’s culture?

Nope. At best, they can be a signal that the company sees customer service as important. At worst, it’s a way to make a really crappy job sound more fun.

If you’re not taking meaningful action structurally in your business processes to elevate your customer teams, then a ‘fun’ titles does nothing for anyone. You have to change your business practices to support the customer-driven functions of the role for true impact.

If you were giving a new support leader advice on getting agents more involved in company culture, what would you say?

Start at the top and get buy-in from leadership first. All other efforts will be an uphill battle and likely fall flat if you don’t have support from the very top first. And if you can’t get it, go to another company. Customer teams are too valuable to settle for a company that doesn’t get it.

For customer service teams, they’ll be happiest when the company culture is a customer culture, and that’s hard to drive from bottom up. If you’re new in the role, then start by listening to the frontline teams to understand what the current culture really is, and work from there.

Which company cultures do you admire?

There are elements from many companies to admire:

  1. Basecamp for their commitment to slow growth and self-direction as a company.

  2. Github’s incredible success at building a remote team

  3. Southwest Airlines, who have built a long lasting service culture in an industry with a pretty low average on customer satisfaction.

Many thanks to Mat for taking the time to talk support with us! Check out HelpU or follow @helpscout for the latest in online customer service insights.

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