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How we manage 24-hour support with a remote 4-person team

Jack Jenkins
Jack JenkinsSr. Customer Exp. Specialist
9 min read · November 16, 2022
9 min read
Nov 16, 2022
Link copied to your clipboard
Jack Jenkins
Jack JenkinsSr. Customer Exp. Specialist
9 min read · November 16, 2022
Link copied to your clipboard

Whimsical’s customers are based all over the world, and might need support at any time of day or night. We want to provide them all with the same level of support regardless of where they’re working from.

As a remote-first company our team is just as location-diverse — covering the globe from Norway to New Zealand. This makes it surprisingly simple to hire the right people, working at the right times.

When we hire for support, we list the hours we need to cover. Not the location that traditionally matches those hours. Our philosophy includes working in a balanced and sustainable way. That means making the most of your life outside of work. If you’re an early bird or a night owl, why not capitalize on that and offer support outside your local timezone?

With the team in place, the real challenge of managing remote customer support begins.

  • When do we find time to add value outside of the inbox?
  • How do we consistently deliver high-quality support?
  • How do we all connect and collaborate as a team?

As we’ve worked through these challenges ourselves, we’ve landed on a system that works, which I want to share in this post.

But first, an intro to our Customer Experience (CX) team 👋

Our amazing remote customer experience team
  • Dārta - As Whimsical’s first CX hire and our manager, she’s the pioneer behind most of what you’re about to read. Currently earning her Masters when she’s not running the show. Based in Latvia.
  • Rhoda - The undisputed champion of the punning world, Rhoda spends her mornings running a farm in the Hebrides, a tea company, and a social enterprise. After lunch, she’s our cross-continental superstar covering the second half of the European day, and the US morning.
  • Jack - That’s me. 👋 From my home/eternal-renovation-project in France, I cover the wee hours of the European morning, and get to spend afternoons chasing my kids, who chase our dogs, who chase our cats.
  • Jade - When you can pin Jade down to one location (a difficult task, I assure you) she’s based in the north island of New Zealand, supporting all our customers in Asia & the Pacific, as well as the second half of the US day. She makes the most of her sunshine hours with bike rides and ocean swims in the middle of her day. 👈 Lunch-break level: Expert.

And this is how all the pieces come together:

Our remote customer support team across timezones

Daylight saving time causes some variation. This example is October 2022

Daylight saving time causes some variation. This example is October 2022

As you can see, we all spend the bulk of our time working independently. This demands a high level of skill and autonomy. Customer Service teams are often seen as simply a cost for tech companies, but we’ve made a point to think differently about it. By investing in our Customer Experience team like any other team (and compensating accordingly), we get to choose from the best possible candidate pool, and have a competitive edge when making an offer.

This approach pays off, as we’ve hired a team who deliver in the inbox and out of it.

Getting out of the inbox

Our domain as the Customer Experience team extends beyond just supporting customers when they need a little help; it’s our responsibility to proactively ensure they have the best experience possible when using Whimsical. The parts of this that we all share are fairly standard for a team like ours:

  • Replicating and reporting bugs; we find interim workarounds and narrowing down causes.
  • Tracking, consolidating, and sharing feature requests; we gain a deep understanding of the reasoning and jobs-to-be-done.
  • Sharing tips and advice in our community.

Beyond these shared duties we have individual areas of ownership, and that’s where the crossover time comes in handy. Directly responding to customers is our priority, and we work around those conversations on our individual projects. The hours where we overlap are the perfect opportunity to lean on one another, and block out some focus time.

This approach lets us:

We also spend ample time doing our most important proactive work: Representing our customers internally.

Each member of the CX team has overlap with (at least) one of our product teams, so we can play an active role in weekly syncs and help prioritize which bugs to fix first, or highlight areas of potential confusion in features we’re planning.

This keeps us up to date with upcoming changes, since we’ll be testing new features and providing feedback, supporting them with social announcements, and preparing help content in advance.

Ensuring fast, high-quality support

Because we’re not always working alongside each other in the inbox, we need a way to ensure that the speed and quality of our support is as high as possible.

Speed is easy. As a team, we share the goal of 3 hours for average first response time, and average overall response time. We hold each other accountable if we ever get close to missing these goals.

The more nuanced part is the quality of each conversation. That’s where reviews come in.

We’re an experienced team, and we enjoy having as much impact on Whimsical’s future as we can. No one wants to spend more time than necessary checking in on each other, so we keep reviews lightweight.

Each week we all review one conversation from everyone else on the team, to highlight anything we could have done differently, or (more often) steal the best parts from each other’s approaches - Every day we learn new ways our customers use Whimsical, and improve how we can support them. Everything we learn, we want to share.

This means we each have three of our conversations reviewed weekly:

The customer experience team review process at Whimsical

Everyone reviews, and is reviewed by everyone else.

Every two months, we also do a calibration. We all review the same conversations to ensure that we’re aligned on what works, and what could be improved. We come from different places, but we move in the same direction when we review each other.

Collaboration and decision making

It’s critical when collaborating asynchronously that you take the time to pick the right tool. Well, we skipped that step for obvious reasons—this is less out of blind loyalty, and more from a desire to constantly push Whimsical by using it for as many things as possible.

When we’re working on content together, we plan it in boards and draft it in docs. Reviews and discussions take place asynchronously in comments. Here's our plan for new video guides:

Whimsical's content planning template

Check out the first video here. 😉

For decision making and announcements, we run an asynchronous “meeting” in Whimsical projects with a section for each week. Conversations and debates* take place in the comments and decisions are highlighted with a clear callout. If you’d like to run your own async meeting, we’ve made a template based on the board we use:

Asynchronous meeting template

Click the image to try out this template for your next async meeting!

Click the image to try out this template for your next async meeting!

*In reality, the closest we come to a debate is once a month when we nominate a “CX hero”. Someone from outside our team who helped us out the most. We do this completely asynchronously by voting on cards, and discussing the reasons in comments. It makes a tough choice fun, and fair! Then we send that person (or people) a treat. 😉

We also act as internal “content curators”. If something important comes up (in Slack, Github, or a customer conversation) during our working hours, we’ll link to it in our CX Slack channel. By including relevant context, and any necessary actions, we make it simple to stay on top of what’s most crucial when our teammates start their days.

For the status of our ongoing work we have public “Inbox” stacks for others to suggest ideas, or pitch a collaboration. Some are specific (e.g. the help center), and others more general. To monitor progress we use simple stacks for “In Progress”, “Shipped” or “Ice Box”.

This board also contains a publishing calendar for community content, and social media posts:

How we manage our remote customer support team at Whimsical

These are just a few of the ways we ensure that we can best serve our customers, have an impact on the future of Whimsical (the product, and the company), and live balanced and meaningful lives outside of work.

These simple ideas lay the foundation for our team to be empowered to roll up our sleeves, and evolve the way we work. Anything that can make our customers’ lives or our own lives easier, more fun, or more impactful.

If you want to use these same principles to build, develop and support a remote team (whether in CX or not), keep these points in mind:

  • Hire remote, and compensate fairly. — Stack the odds in your favor when it comes to choosing candidates.
  • Allow room for impact outside of core duties. — Take advantage of overlaps in time, and unique passions and skill sets.
  • Communicate asynchronously. — Keep discussions, decisions, and collaboration lightweight and written down.
    Less “busy work” + Fewer meetings = Happier, more productive team.

This article has just scratched the surface. If you want to learn more, reach out at help@whimsical.com.

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