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One Way We Leveraged Our Global Team to Improve Response Times

Have you ever been blown away by the short amount of time a support team has responded to your inquiry only to be left waiting days for subsequent replies?

It definitely happens.

It’s not rare to see a support team lean intentionally into the first reply time metric at the expense of maintaining response time consistency for their customers throughout the remainder of the conversation.

There are two main reasons this happens:

  1. Within your help desk software, the first reply time metric might be set to prioritize ahead of the next (subsequent) reply time metric, or
  2. You might have set things up so that tickets automatically assign to the support agent that originally responded to it. This is normally a great practice! When a customer works with the same support agent throughout the entire conversation, it’s less likely that they’ll find themselves repeating information they’ve already shared, and it’s more likely that they’ll build a little rapport. However, if the customer replies back outside the agent’s normal business hours, they’ll end up waiting for hours or days until the agent is available to respond.


At Buffer, we apply both of the above but found that the biggest hinderance on our next reply time was that tickets would wait in a team member’s Assigned view/inbox until they returned. There are tools that automatically unassign tickets when support agents are out to prevent this from happening, but as with most any solution, glitches and nuances work their way in, resulting in a poor experience for some of our customers.

To do our best to ensure that every customer had the most consistent experience possible, we implemented an inbox responsibility that we called: Assigned Surfer. While we don't use this exact method anymore, I'm hoping that sharing more about our experience inspires you to think beyond tool limitations to serve your customers in the best way.

In a nutshell, being an Assigned Surfer involved hopping into tickets assigned to other Advocates while they were away so that customers received responses a bit sooner than they otherwise would. Assigned Surfers worked with various strategies in an effort to reduce the number of tickets breaching our SLAs*.

*SLA = Service Level Agreements or reply time commitments that we created internally in order to keep us accountable to giving customers the experience they deserve. Having SLAs in place within our help desk software allows prioritization of the most urgent tickets first.

The Assigned Surfers effort started in April 2021 with just one person lending a hand to continue conversations that were stuck in the assigned view. It slowly grew into a well-oiled machine with some rules of thumb and best practices to help guide our approach.

We were able to make it collaborative, as well, and our team members chipped in with ideas and approaches to get us there, woo!

Before we implemented this concept of Assigned Surfing, we were achieving our Next Reply SLA 58.1% of the time. As we ramped up and tinkered with the approach, we were able to increase this to 67.9% over the course of six months. Just beyond that, we averaged 79.4%, touching our goal of 80% off and on.

To give you a picture of what this looked like in action, below are some of the guidelines we implemented for this effort.

Priority #1 ... Take care of your own assigned tickets

Just as all Advocates do, Assigned Surfers needed to first work with their own assigned tickets sorted to prioritize tickets that are closest to breaching their SLA first (or those that have already breached).

If both the main inbox view (new incoming tickets) and the assigned ticket view had tickets waiting on us, Assigned Surfers could make the decision to prioritize whichever felt most urgent.


Priority #2 ... Unassign any tickets that belong to Advocates that would still be offline for more than 12 hours from now

This priority was the quickest method to ensuring our waiting customers were served while their assigned Advocates were out. Assigned Surfers used our company-wide time-off tracker, Timetastic, to unassign tickets that were still assigned to an Advocate that was out for a weekend, vacation, or holiday.

Priority #3 ... Responding to breached or near-breached tickets in the Assigned view

This step is meant to cover team members who aren’t online right now and that you didn't work through in priority #2 above. Most of these team members were out for just the night.

The benefit of responding to these breached or near-breached tickets within the assigned tickets view and not unassigning these tickets is that the ticket stayed assigned to the original Advocate, which gave our customers the most consistent experience possible.

Note: Before moving to Priority #3, we made sure to double-check how the SLAs look in both the main inbox and the Assigned view. If the main inbox has longer breached tickets than in the Assigned view, it was best to first spend some time over there.

Priority #4 ... Proactive work in the Assigned Surfers view

If the main inbox looked great at this point, the Assigned Surfer stayed in the assigned tickets view and predicted which tickets would breach before that ticket's assigned Advocate came to work next. For instance, if it’s 11:00 am PST and Dave’s ticket is four hours from breaching, we know it will breach before he gets in next, because the SLA doesn’t close until 5:00 pm PST (six hours from now).

The result?

Once the Assigned Surfer went through all of the steps, they could feel confident jumping back to the main inbox view to tend to the newest support tickets that came in.

It’s also probably important to mention that while efforts like these can greatly enhance the experience for some customers, if we divert all of our focus and energy toward them, there’s a high likelihood that we’ll sacrifice the experience for other customers. To avoid this, we ensured that when one or a couple of people were working in the assigned inbox view, all other Customer Advocates worked within the main inbox view.

So, that’s it!

This is one way we've utilized our globally distributed team to provide our users with the best support experience we could, but we want to learn more from you!

What are you doing? Tweet us @buffer using #customersupportthoughts so we can continue the conversation!

Signing off,

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