By Tiaan Muller, Breakpoint Service Manager
As a relatively small company with a fast-growing international footprint, Breakpoint’s success rests heavily on our ability to offer service excellence and support to clients around the world.
We’ve developed a fairly unique model for delivering exceptional global IT services. We call it ‘big picture support’, in which our support teams are developed across a broad range of technologies, learning about understanding integrations and dependencies, and they are fully integrated into our technical teams.
In this way, they are not only able to offer better technical support, but they also go on to build software that is more supportable. As part of our ‘big picture support’ approach, we also go to great lengths to adapt to cultural differences around the world, so that we can deliver on SLAs and keep clients happy 24/7/365 – wherever in the world they are.
Bringing passion into service
Our success begins with the people we recruit to the team. Our IT support team is relatively small, based in Africa and Australia, and works in three eight-hour shifts a day to follow the sun to offer 24/7 365 days a year support. But they aren’t only support workers – they become involved across our development and implementation work.
Breakpoint is known for the wide variety of technical skills and disciplines covered by the skilled teams within the company. This covers almost every discipline existing in IT and that brings with it its own challenges.
Finding people who will not only fit from a work and effort perspective, but also who fit within the company culture of camaraderie and independence is not easy. Over many years, we have found that the ideal candidates are ‘older young people’ aged 24 – 29, who no longer have inflated opinions about their level of skills and who are passionate about learning more. Many of them found a passion for IT later in life, after working in unrelated areas. They did not study IT because it seemed like a lucrative career: rather they ‘found IT’. They are self-motivated, and now live and breathe IT. We try to keep this passion alive in the company building camaraderie and encouraging people to learn.
Team members are challenged often, taken beyond their comfort zone and exposed to an ever-widening variety of IT disciplines and skill sets. We also take our training seriously with team members encouraged to do online courses and complete certifications.
New team members are added to the support teams as soon as their knowledge base is sufficient and before they are allowed to do development for the company. We do this to cultivate a support friendly approach to development and implementation strategy, after all, once a person knows what they need in order to support the product, they will in the future develop with that need in mind, rather than adding it on later because troubleshooting the product was problematic. In the long run, it lowers the support burden.
Because we recruit the type of people who are passionate about IT, they naturally want to understand why things happen, how they fit together, and what other factors or systems might be influencing the problem. They start seeing the bigger picture and the symptoms they need to look out for.
Because IT people are often introverts, it can take work to help them come out of their shells and start enjoying client interaction. It can also take some time for staff to adapt to the cultural nuances of global service and support.
Navigating culture in service and support
A happy client tends to be independent from client culture. They generally behave in a similar way, are fairly forgiving of mistakes made by inexperienced support personnel, and they refer you to other companies.
However, it should be noted that business etiquette, culture and language can vary around the world. Language barriers can exist, especially across Africa and Asia, where English is at most an understood second language rather than being a primary language. We have found that if it is difficult to make yourself understood verbally, it is better to stick to either instant messaging or email, which helps avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
With new clients, it may take time to build rapport and understand their culture. Our advice to our support teams is quite simple – they should just be professional and relatively formal, and leave out any jokes and colloquialisms, as their jokes may not translate well. We believe it is ideal to visit the client in person to understand their focus areas, concerns, culture, and where their boundaries lie. A quick phone call (or IM call) can make a big difference to both client’s perception of how the issue is being handled but also humanises the person on the other side, they are immediately more patient and less rude under most circumstances.
The inflation rates of IT debt are currently unknown, but it is well known that when you pay your first instalment, you’ll wish you did it right the first time.
Where you have a skills crunch and don’t have the resources to do more than keep the lights on, a managed services specialist like Breakpoint can help you achieve enhanced functionality through rearchitecting, cloud migration, and data compression and deduplication. Where the business has financial constraints, we can also help balance the trade-offs and help architect a cloud environment that meets the business’s strategic needs – within budget.
Bringing passion into service
A critical component of service excellence is rapid and personal response.
By using notification tools such as Atlassian’s Opsgenie, and service management tools such as Zoho desk, client support tickets are instantly classified and routed to the appropriate team to handle the issue. Notifications are sent via a mobile application, SMS and even voice calls to the technical support agents as necessary and Opsgenie will automatically escalate if it receives no acknowledgement of its notifications within set periods of time.
While Breakpoint only needs to adhere to the letter of the SLA in terms of response time, we always try to add the human touch as quickly as possible. Breakpoint’s support team will respond personally to the client, even if only to assure them we are looking at the issue.
Because we are not a vast and highly hierarchical company, any major issues or conflict can be escalated right to the top – anytime.
In addition to a normal SLA agreement, it can also be negotiated that Breakpoint creates and discusses a report with the client each month, covering the performance and any issues experienced with their system by Breakpoint’s many tools. This interactive session with the client allows them to both get clarity for any questions they might have but also allows for Breakpoint to help the client with identifying problem areas and paths of investigation to assist the client in improving their systems. The result: happier clients.
Our approach to customer support has contributed to our track record of almost 100% client retention. Our customers renew their support agreements year after year, and our relationship with them is continually improving.