SupConf, the self-described "best support conference", took place in Atlanta last week for Fall 2017. And it was, indeed, truly excellent -- I really do agree with the superlative description, and learned a ton about remote work, knowledgebases, proactive support, and the SupportDriven community.
Personally, I was honored to have been able to kick it off with a talk on scaling your support team from 0 to 250+.
For more on SupConf and the community behind it, here are a few links:
- SupConf ATL Fall 2017 megapost
- SupConf 2017 ATL Fall 2017 slides
- SupConf home (they happen pretty frequently)
- SupportDriven home (if you want to learn more)
What I Learned at SupConf Fall 2017
Remote work, proactive support, knowledge, and about the community. Read on...
- Remote work: Learning of the week. I really learned 2 things about remote work:
- Prevalence of remote work: About 80% of people at the conference had worked or currently work remote. It shouldn't be a surprise that support people are on the leading edge of modern work/life relationships, but the degree to which remote work featured was more than I expected. Any company that's not leaning into remote and pushing their own boundaries here is far, far behind the industry.
- How to manage remote teams: From a management perspective, remote team success is about time, effort, and self-driven engagement. I found Katharine's talk and tips on Remote Work one of the most actionable talks of the conference for us at HubSpot, as we've just started HubSpot's remote support team this year and are looking forward to leading the way for HubSpot's remote work effort globally.
Rupaul your way to remote work
- "Proactive support": buzzphrase of the week. But it can mean very different things to different types of companies:
- For early stage companies: They're bogged down in the never-ending queue of support tickets. To them, "proactive support" represents a far-away dream that goes like: if only we could use our amazing support people to get ahead of these tickets, the quality of life on our team would be better. Sometimes they had more specific ideas, other times not. Massive desire for proactive support, though. Personally, I think this is a place ML/AI/bots could be big in the future; these companies don't really have resourcing to execute on their dream, but bots can expand their capability.
- For later stage companies: These folks referred something specific when talking about "proactive support". They meant onboarding, customer success, and account management -- other customer team functions beyond core reactive support. These companies had managed to grow those organizations and created specific teams for "proactive support". I got a sense from these companies that they wishes they could be "smarter" than just having thrown people at the problem, but were generally satisfied with their approach and were continuing down that path, now working on making those functions, like onboarding, better.
- For vendors: What got me a little cynical on the phrase is how often "proactive support" was used by vendors at the conference. Everywhere I went, "proactive support" was on the tip of vendors' tongues and signage. My take? Software vendors are picking up on the energy around "proactive support" but using the phrase in as many varied ways as the folks their listening to on the buyer side. Vendors would do well to contextualize and be more specific about what their own version of "proactive support" is or isn't. As an industry, we software vendors need to go deeper and be clearer here in our positioning.
- Knowledgebases: Guru was a sponsor and great presence at SupConf, and Nora West of Guru hosted a panel with Jacob Touchette (Shopify) and Stephanie Westbrook (Wrike) on knowledge bases. My learnings here fell into two groups:
- Adoption and visibility: These are key when getting up and running. Ensuring that KB screen is up on support's screen all the time; referring internal users (e.g. salespeople, servicepeople) back to the KB; ensuring support can trust the KB content and has visibility into updates; and so on. "Trusted" or "official" content is a big deal and needs to be called out. Anything KB owners can do to tag and make easy the proliferation and apparentness of trusted content is useful to KB adoption in the early days.
- Knowledge of record vs. the undernet: The other side of KB adoption is making it the official knowledge of record at a company. "Killing the undernet" was a phrase Jacob used and I loved. The "undernet" is the non-formal and unintentionally walled off bits of knowledge that teams document in private and create trust, visibility, and content issues over time. Jacob was passionate about finding and assimilating these, borg-like. I like that perspective from a knowledge team.
Knowledgeable talk on knowledgebases
- Support Driven community - This was my first in-person exposure to the Support Driven community. I've been on the group Slack for years, but it's really different in person (and I'm not much for non-work Slack workspaces, tbh). Let me tell you: this community is really special. Every single person I met was generous, thoughtful, curious, and caring. After just 36 hours in person with this gang, I'd happy go out on a limb to help SD folks with anything they need. They're good people. You can learn more about them in the links at the top of this post.
Support Scale in the Morning Keynote -- Content and Reflections
I gave a talk that hopefully had something for everyone in it: how to scale a support team from 0 to 250+ (Slideshare). It was, effectively, a candid and in-person-with-color-commentary version of the HBR article I wrote on the topic.
Just like the framework I lay out in the talk, we had audience members in all different stages of support and company maturity in the audience. Some points of my talk seemed to land better for different components of the audience:
- Early Stage (5-20 employees): I opened the talk with a tale of failure and vulnerability, about how HubSpot support crumbled when we really hit hyper growth. Seemed like the early stage folks could relate to the "world is on fire" vision of this era :-) Self-assessment: 4/5
- Mid-Stage (20-100 employees): For the folks I talked to, the conversation about being more "deliberate" at this stage struck a chord. Picking your channels, deciding what you measure, and being proactive in communicating those to your customers and your company -- those are things mid-stage companies are aspiring to do and have in the rear-view mirror. The biggest thing companies of this size struggle with is specialization, and how to do "proactive support" (see above for more on my observations here). Self-assessment: 5/5
- Growth Stage (100-250 employees): These guys were a blast to talk to. We mixed it up on culture, models, and growth pressures. It was exciting to hear that most folks were solidifying their hiring profile and optimistically focusing on what was next in their growth. For me, my message of moving from "survival" to "leadership" landed well emotionally, but I don't think was tactical enough. I've got some more work to do here on how to make this transition in practice. I'm working on a piece right now about modeling and team growth that should help here. Self-assessment: 2/5
- Scale-up (250+ employees): I got a ton of questions following my talk on hiring leadership, organization, and more. The bulk of it felt like it was from people who were out of the "growth" stage and starting to really scale up. One of the challenges of having a focused conversation with these guys is that there is so much going on (knowledge, hiring, systems, company growth, and more!) that the conversations -- while fun -- were sometimes just surface level. Luckily, I know a lot about this stage, and it's the part I've lived most recently. That said, I'm going to do more to break this apart for myself. Self-assessment: 4/5
Any way you cut it, I had a great time. I felt like I contributed, and helped set the tone with the opening talk for an awesome, awesome event. It was fantastic. You should go.
Whether you were at SupConf or not, if you have thoughts or feedback about any of this, let me know. Or if you have a speaking opportunity or other collaboration idea, tell me! Use the comments below, email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or the SupportDriven slack (@redbord on SD).