Common customer support challenges in fast-growing companies

Alice Godfrey, Founder, Bloomic, Ex-Zava

Support Insights Community
Join a community of 2200+ customer-focused professionals and receive bi-weekly articles, podcasts, webinars, and more!
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Understand your customer’s problems and get actionable insights
See pricing

This week we interview Alice Godfrey, the founder of Bloomic.

Before founding Bloomic, Alice was Head of Support at the fast-growing health technology startup, Zava, where she lead four teams that serviced six countries.

While at Zava, she learned the best practice for overcoming the challenges of scaling a support team while your customer base is rapidly growing.

She's narrowed the core difficulties down to three:

  1. Training: It's hard to hire and onboard lots of staff in a very short amount of time.
  2. Leadership: It's likely that you once had just one customer support agent who now leads the team. That's a challenge for anyone, but especially so in customer support.
  3. Policy: When you grow naturally, you forget to formalise it. To stop an overwhelm that impacts your customers, you need proper policy in place.

We deep dive these topics and much more, hearing stories from complex CS environments like healthcare and Alice's tips for creating a happy customer and a happy CS team.

Topics covered include:

- Alice’s favourite podcasts, influencers, company doing CX well, and favourite thing about working with customers.

- Why Alice set up her new venture, Bloomic, for growing support teams

- How to make sure your customer service is set up right so it doesn’t crumble as you grow fast.

- Common challenges faced by fast growing companies going from one person in support to 10+.

- Why it’s so hard being a customer support agent

- Why everything is heightened as a CS agent in healthcare

- How to hire for challenging environments

- The power of gift-giving and gifts from Hugg, Bloom & Wild, Pret

- What other industries can learn from the meticulous documentation in healthcare CS

- How we can get companies to think of support as a growth driver, not a secondary operational department.

Watch the Episode

In the next 5 years, customer experience is 45% of companies top priority. Investing in CX initiatives has the potential to double your revenue within 36 months. 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.
  • In the next 5 years, customer experience is 45% of companies top priority.
  • Investing in CX initiatives has the potential to double your revenue within 36 months.
  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.
Source: CX statistics

Try SentiSum today

Democratise voice of the customer insights across your company

Free 2-week trial

Common customer support challenges in fast-growing companies

Alice Godfrey, Founder, Bloomic, Ex-Zava
Alice Godfrey, Founder, Bloomic, Ex-Zava
Join a community of 2139+ customer-focused professionals and receive bi-weekly articles, podcasts, webinars, and more!
← Browse other podcasts

This week we interview Alice Godfrey, the founder of Bloomic.

Before founding Bloomic, Alice was Head of Support at the fast-growing health technology startup, Zava, where she lead four teams that serviced six countries.

While at Zava, she learned the best practice for overcoming the challenges of scaling a support team while your customer base is rapidly growing.

She's narrowed the core difficulties down to three:

  1. Training: It's hard to hire and onboard lots of staff in a very short amount of time.
  2. Leadership: It's likely that you once had just one customer support agent who now leads the team. That's a challenge for anyone, but especially so in customer support.
  3. Policy: When you grow naturally, you forget to formalise it. To stop an overwhelm that impacts your customers, you need proper policy in place.

We deep dive these topics and much more, hearing stories from complex CS environments like healthcare and Alice's tips for creating a happy customer and a happy CS team.

AI for customer service ebook

Topics covered include:

- Alice’s favourite podcasts, influencers, company doing CX well, and favourite thing about working with customers.

- Why Alice set up her new venture, Bloomic, for growing support teams

- How to make sure your customer service is set up right so it doesn’t crumble as you grow fast.

- Common challenges faced by fast growing companies going from one person in support to 10+.

- Why it’s so hard being a customer support agent

- Why everything is heightened as a CS agent in healthcare

- How to hire for challenging environments

- The power of gift-giving and gifts from Hugg, Bloom & Wild, Pret

- What other industries can learn from the meticulous documentation in healthcare CS

- How we can get companies to think of support as a growth driver, not a secondary operational department.

Watch the episode

Ben Goodey: Hi, Alice! Welcome to the Support Insights podcast.

Alice Godfrey: Hi, thank you for having me.

Ben Goodey: So, I thought it'd be great to start with just a quick-fire round that we've been doing with everyone to get your tips and to get to know you a little bit more. So, the first question that we've been asking everyone is: what company at the moment do you think is sort of smashing this customer experience, customer obsession thing and giving their customer everything they want from every angle.

Alice Godfrey: I feel like my answer is probably what a lot of people will have said to you, but Bloom & Wild always spring to mind as being incredible with this. Not only if you read into how they developed that product, which was always with the customer at the forefront, but there are a really flawless mobile experience and marketing, and their customer comes before anything.

I don't know if you remember but they went viral on Mother’s Day a few years ago because just before Mother’s Day they emailed everybody and said look, we know this could be a sensitive topic for you. So, if you don't want any of our Mother’s Day marketing, just let us know. And that was incredible.

Do you remember when they did that? And now they do it for everything, every sort of occasion that could have any potentially sensitive, connections with people, they do that and it's just that sort of thing that's just really sort of inspirational.

Ben Goodey: No actually I hadn't heard of that but that is actually such a good idea.

Kirsty Pinner: Yeah. And now it's this massive initiative where loads of other companies do it. So yeah. They totally have led the way there.

Ben Goodey: I've definitely ordered from Bloom & Wild once and I thought just being able to post it through the letterbox is good in itself.

Alice Godfrey: I use them a lot, actually. They're really good to use as a tool for your customers. It's not a cheap one that you would use every day, but if something happens with a customer where they mentioned that maybe someone's passed away or they've had a really bad experience, it's a really good tool to use, to send them some Bloom & Wild flowers because the whole experience is just so joyful for them that it really means a lot.

Ben Goodey: Number two then: is there a particular industry blog or like an influencer you'd like to follow on LinkedIn who posts lots of good stuff?

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. I don't read blogs if I'm honest. I think that's not really my sort of format for what I would do, but there is a person that I really follow, her name's Kerry Bodine, she's always been at the forefront of customer experience. She wrote a book in, I think it was 2012, it was it's quite a while ago called Outside In.

And it's really about putting the customers at the centre of everything and, it was written then, but it's still what I would consider to be like a really recommended read when you're trying to develop your skills in that area. She does a lot of stuff on YouTube. She has amazing resources on her website for free for people within sort of CS and CX leadership. And I actually just reached out to her on LinkedIn once and we ended up having a chat, so she's really accessible, which is incredible.

So, I really like her, but what I would say I do more is spend more time listening to podcasts of just really inspirational people who are really good at what they do, regardless of what that is.

So not specifically CS or CX. I don't know if you've heard of the High Performance Podcast that Jake from Sky Sports presents. Each episode they speak to somebody who just completely excels in whatever they do. Doesn't have to be sports, it could be academics or business.

I was listening to an episode with Michelle Mone who founded Ultimo and she's just been through incredible times over the years, really difficult challenges and just listening to the way that people like them tackle things.

I find to be really useful to actually motivate people within customer service, but it sounds like a big leap, but stick with me. When you're talking to advisors in customer service or team leaders, you have to acknowledge that for a lot of them that's not actually their forever career.

They might just be taking calls for a couple of years to pay the rent. But actually, they're going to do something else. So, you want to motivate them to be the very best that they can be while you've got them. And you need to inspire them as people, not just as customer service people.

So, it's no use just learning about customer service, specific stuff. I think you just need to learn how to inspire.

Ben Goodey: Definitely. What was that name again? The High Performance podcast?

Alice Godfrey: Yes. Yeah, it's really good.

Kirsty Pinner: Yeah, we'll definitely be listening to that.

Ben Goodey: Yeah. Those people have a unique way of doing things very often that helps them be that high performing. And that's always great to learn from.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Kirsty Pinner: And it's like such a creative way to because I think we all get stuck in like boxes of okay, I'm in product or I'm in customer support and there are these ways can learn from other areas.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, exactly. And I think they feel more valued as a person rather than just a sort of machine of customer service.

Ben Goodey: And you're not the first person to say that people often go into customer support and they didn't see it as their long-term career originally, but then ended up in it for the long term. Our podcast guests last week (Karolina Zielenow, MoonPay, Revolut) was a customer support lead at Revolut and had exactly the same experience of falling into it, but it is now leading customer support a great start-up.

Alice Godfrey: I moved to London and then the rent was obviously sky high for anything I've ever experienced. I needed a job and I got a job. That's fine. No one grows up thinking I want to work in customer service and that's because it's perceived and presented in society is not being skilled or important a lot of the time.

And that's something that needs to change. People don't, in like career conversations at school, no teachers are saying to you, ‘oh, I think you'd be really great working in a call centre.’ Cause that's almost perceived as being offensive in some ways.

And that mindset around customer service is just definitely something that I'm always working to change.

Ben Goodey: Yeah. I wonder why that is. I wonder because I think a lot of people have negative customer experience when they're on the support services of whatever company do you think that's part of why people have a bad view of it?

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, I suppose it's a cycle, isn't it? I think historically the role has always been something that you didn’t need qualifications or experience for and then in the job you're then trained, and you become someone very skilled. And I think it's maybe changing that to saying, I actually know there's there are some really high standards that are expected in this role. Recruiting for those standards rather than just training them in the role and so then as customers' experience change, and as customer service becomes more of an experience for people, then I think that mindset will change.

Ben Goodey: Yeah, definitely. So, final question, what's your favourite part about working with customers?

Alice Godfrey: It's an interesting question. I think for me, it keeps you grounded.

You can't ever get away from the importance of what you do, but I think you probably can in other jobs or, the crux of why you do what you do, you can't ever get away from it in customer support because if you're not doing your job well, you immediately see or hear the fallout of that.

So, whether it's just as an advisor, you don't do very well in a call and you get a bad quality score. Like you see that very quickly. It's like a living, changing, constantly moving machine that you have to pay attention to and nurture it's almost, it's like a live being.

Ben Goodey: I think that's must be like the benefit of really being very close to the customer line is that you get instant feedback from them.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, exactly. Definitely.

Ben Goodey: I think Kirsty in product would like to have that kind of customer insight.

Kirsty Pinner: Yeah. I was just thinking about how long I have to wait sometimes to get feedback on stuff. You have to set up a call with a customer and not ask any kind of leading questions and be very careful about how you get up.

I guess with multiple B2C customers it's a lot less tactical. It's more just, people will tell you if they’re really annoyed.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. Oh exactly. And it might even just be that they don't tell you, but you learn to develop a sixth sense. You get that vibe from customers and then you what's happening.

Ben Goodey: Yeah, definitely. I think there's a lot of gut feeling to it unless you have really solid live chat analytics or an insights platform set up.

So, I'd love to sort of jump into you and Bloomic now. This is a new venture for you just started in January, but it's been going so well, so how did you get going and why did you set it up?

Alice Godfrey: I think one thing I've noticed working as sort of head of customer service support over the years is that a lot of businesses, they go through really rapid growth or change, and they find their customers contact more. And then they realize that customer service team is struggling. And I started to realize that I think it's because when they're initially set up, the people that haven’t set them up at the beginning right.

Maybe the founder or the CEO, not really aware of the foundations that are absolutely essential within customer service, so it's not there. So then when the business just starts to thrive, customer service can crumble. I thought let's set something up that can provide that consulting to businesses to stop them compromising the quality of the service due to the speed of growth.

And we do that differently to other consulting businesses because we do it on a ground level with the team. So, I'm not working with senior management saying you need to do this and that, I’m working with the team leaders and the advisors and developing them and helping them improve.

The best thing about it is, obviously helping customers get the experiments that they should be having, but also for me personally, helping the young or new sort of leaders within the team develop and create environments where the team feel driven and motivated and looked after, that's really amazing. And that's a huge part of it for me.

And as I always come back to as a woman in leadership and as someone working within customer service, like we've said, it's often hugely undervalued, it's really my mission to ensure that the teams I work with are left feeling valued by their business, but also feeling equipped to bring that value in return to the business.

Does that make sense?

Ben Goodey: Feeling valued and equipped to bring that value. I think that's a great way of putting it. So, if we dig into the challenges that those companies face, like what are they that if you're going through that kind of high growth period and you're feeling overwhelmed, what are the common challenges?

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, it does tend to be a lot of the same challenges. It depends I would say that our three sort of common things.

So, the first one is Training. So normally you at this point need to recruit normally potentially in bulk so you might be saying, we need to bring in 10 advisors as soon as possible, and they need to be helping us within a week.

And because previous they've probably just been bringing people on one at a time and just having them learn on the job side by side with an advisor that's been.

So, something that you have to do quite quickly is understand the service, develop some really effective training and also think about how that's delivered and who by.

So, it might be somewhere when the team who is really good at that. And you actually create an install role for them as a learning and development type person within the team. So, there's normally something that you definitely have to look at straight away.

Yeah, so that you can bring those people on. And then I think, secondly, really importantly, is the leadership. So, whatever the structure is in the team, whether there's a team leader or a manager or whatever, it's normally in this environment, it's normally someone who used to be an advisor has been promoted through and they're fantastic and what they do and knowing what the advisors do, but this growth brings with it some challenges that they've probably not encountered before.

Like performance management, motivating a team, resource planning at a larger scale.

The advisors in that time are under so much pressure, the customers can be very angry because the service is a bit rubbish in that moment. There's pressure from within the business and motivating them to keep going is a huge challenge. So, developing those team leaders to become really fantastic people leaders is always essential.

Ben Goodey: That must be so hard if you're just in one of the first one or two people in the customer support team and then suddenly you grow and end up leading a huge team.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. And it happens all the time. It was my route into management, and I think it makes perfect sense because you want them to have a really good understanding of what the advisors do. So yeah. Take your best advisor. And push them through that if they want to develop. But customer service management is such a specific type of management.

In my opinion, it's such a different beast to other people management and so if the founder, the business maybe has put them in that role and supported them in many ways, but maybe not spoken to them specifically about, motivating people who are just taking the same call every few minutes.

All day, every day, that's a real specific challenge. So, support them in those sorts of things is always needed.

Ben Goodey: What you would say would makes it specifically like a different management challenge? That the people are like doing something that's a bit repetitive?

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. That's one thing it's also the very often the people that are doing the job don't have much autonomy. So that's, compared to any other role that you can think of within your business, it's marketing engineering or whatever, you have a level of autonomy about what you do, but normally as a customer service advisor, you're quite restricted in that way.

Whether it's about decisions that you can make, sometimes even physically, you might be physically tethered to your desk by a headset and you can't even go to the toilet unless you've checked that there's someone else there to answer calls. If you go to the toilet, things like that have such a huge impact on how people feel throughout the day.

And that's something that if you're managing a person in amongst the team, you don't have to deal with, but if you're managing in a call centre, you do need to deal with. Advisor wellbeing is just a huge part of it.

Ben Goodey: That's interesting because I definitely have felt that autonomy is like very much linked to my mental health.

Alice Godfrey: And also, if you think about the fact that yes, they are having a lot of similar conversations all day, every day, which can be quite boring, but also not everybody's a nice person that they're speaking to, or maybe they're just really unhappy. And the toll that is taken from dealing with that quite a lot, or even if everybody that you speak to is nice.

When you have a day and your calendar is full of meetings all day, you're exhausted after talking all day, if that was your job all day, every day, it takes a different kind of toll on you.

Kirsty Pinner: So, there's like little micro aggressions and you're still having to solve a problem for people, even if they're being nice.

I think that's such an important point, about the autonomy, because even how you answer, how you solve a problem can be heavily scripted as well.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. And if you're the sort of person who (and you hope they are in a way, cause it's high empathy) really takes it upon yourself, if someone's looking to you to solve a problem and you try hard to solve that problem, but you can't, whether it's because of something to do with tech or I don't know anything.

It can really weigh on you, no matter how nice the person is, if you say, look, I'm really sorry, but I just can't fix this for you right now, or ever, that can really be difficult for people.

I definitely have new empathy for the people on the other side of the phone, which I guess I should have had already, but like, why would you, if you haven't yet?

I've done it. it's really difficult to understand.

Ben Goodey: I think it's one of those things you don't really think about just as a customer, rather than in customer support. For you, it's just one interaction, but for them you may be their hundredth one of the day. And you sort of forget that. You aren't as unique to them as they are to you.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, totally. And you have to train them to. Make the customer feel that it's unique to you as it is to them. And that can be something as small as like how you answer the phone, not sounding bored of it.

It’s simple to say to someone don't sound bored when you answer the phone, but in reality to help them to deliver that when it is their 50th call of the day and to help understand why they might sound that way or why they might feel that way or how they can stop themselves feeling that way, whether it's, I dunno, taking a better break or talking to someone, whatever it is, it's real sort of people skills and all human psychology.

And that's why I think contact centre team leaders are really undervalued because they probably dealing with 15 people, maybe more, and each person requires so much sort of psychological support and it's really difficult and interesting. And I think they make the best managers in the long run, people that have dealt with that.

Ben Goodey: Do you see quite a high employee churn as a result of that?

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, but I would expect it to be, and I often say that I want it to be, because if you're really, it does depend on the role obviously, and it depends on the development within the team.

But if you were working on the phones or, just, tickets and emails all day, you can be the best person at the job. But I think after maybe two years of doing it, maybe even a year it's, takes a real time. The present to be giving us same standard of service two years down the line that they were beginning, but that they were giving at the beginning.

I just, I wouldn't expect it. I would want them to be the develop through the team and through the company or to move on. I think it's important to have fresh people in the team.  

Kirsty Pinner: I think that's such a good way to look at it from a hiring perspective. you could have a role that's for the first year or two, you can be highly motivated but then, if you find the right people who are highly motivated, they will probably want to do something else in that third year. And you have to properly select those people. So it's a good long-term view to have.  

Ben Goodey: I think we got to the second three challenges, what was the third?

Alice Godfrey: Yes. So training and leadership we're number one and two. And I think that the next is a boring one, really, but it's just: policy. I would call it in sort of summary because often the contact centre wasn't set up in a sort of proper customer service way.

I think the business started with the phone that was in the office, it started ringing, they got one person to answer it. Then there was more calls, they got more people to do it, and it just grew like that. They don't have the specifics or policies in place that you need. So there might be a business wide probation policy. For example, view a customer service probation policy needs to be completely different and needs to be really specific to the work.

It probably needs to be way more target driven, more hands on, more regularly checked. Rather than if you were bringing someone into engineering, I was speaking to a friend of mine. Who's an engineering manager and she leaves them for three months with basically no sort of input because she wants them to find themselves, to get to know the business and to really understand what they want to bring to it.

That wouldn't work with the customer service advisor. So things like that need to be specific to customer service and then things like complaints, policies, performance management, KPIs, those sorts of things are normally not in place at the time when I would go in to a business to help them.

Kirsty Pinner: Yeah. I guess the important thing here is if they're not in place, they're not being tracked. So, you don't even know if you're doing well.

Alice Godfrey: That's exactly the point. So, it's not there to monitor and be this horrible sort of big brother thing over the advisors. They often really appreciate it once it's implemented. Like you say, because they want to see how they're progressing or they want to see, they want to see something they can aim for. Everyone wants to know how they're getting on.

Kirsty Pinner: That’s a really good point.

Ben Goodey: On that note, I think it would be great to see how some of these things have played out before for you in your experience as a customer support leader in the companies that you work for. For example, I know you worked for Zava, a really successful UK health tech start-up, and you were head of customer support there for a while.

What is it about that kind of environment health care that you think is really unique and challenging? How is it different to have patients on the other end of the line while working with the customer?

Alice Godfrey: Well, the way I describe it, everything is heightened. Everything you, there's not a single thing that you can think of that wouldn't be heightened when you're dealing with patients. Is that of customers, For the customer for the patient, it's probably more important than that.

Other things. It might even be vital. It might even be if I don't get this service or this product, it's like life threatening, that brings with it obviously anxiety. It means that complaints come from a different place emotionally. It's not just like I've paid money for this. And so I deserve it. It's no, I need this.

So complaints come from a different place. I think for the advisors, everything expected of them is not more important, but it's just heightened. It's empathy is heightened. Their attention to detail needs to be so much more just exact. and then on the flip side of things, their wellbeing to come back to that, they're exposed often to very difficult.

Cool things. It might be, with Echo, who I've worked with recently that dispensing all NHS medication and a huge amount of that is to do with mental health. So they might be speaking to patients who are really struggling and it's a very difficult conversation to have. Or, with Zava a huge amount of what they're doing is to do with erectile dysfunction and they might be having a conversation with someone who might say things that they don't want to hear.

There's a whole adviser sort of wellbeing side. I think that is bought in. It's not just the patients are having a harder time, but the advisors have to deal with it a lot. Yeah. Yeah. And I think for the business as well, everything, again, it's heightened because errors can be so much more significant. Patients are very quick, rightly so, to go to the CQC or the GPAC if something's gone wrong, because it's so important. And so it means that complaints. Regulators data protection, everything is just so much more heightened so that if something does happen, the conversations that the advisor or the team leader, or the, the head of CS or whatever are having with maybe the CEO or something so extreme.

And I think these. These team leaders that we've talked about as being maybe young or new or relatively inexperienced or talking about a complaint that's potentially to do with something maybe life-threatening or I dunno like an unwanted pregnancy or something. That's the fault of a business. It's huge.

So yeah, it's just, everything is just, it just means a lot more.

Ben Goodey: I can imagine like the severity of the problems that they're calling you about must make it a really challenging environment for every agent actually. Do you need to equip them with like extra certifications if they’re going to give health advice?

Alice Godfrey: No, that's a huge challenge you could, as a business, make the decision that our customer service team, because we're healthcare are all going to be healthcare professionals. So maybe they have a certain qualification they've worked previously within health care or something. But in my experience, that's not been the case.

Yes. they are typically not healthcare chain. So, you really have to find that balance. When you get a call from a patient, you have to really carefully train the advisors to say, I can, I'm going to talk to you about what's happening with this. Medication that we're delivering to you. But if they ask a question about, is this medication okay appropriate for me?

You have to be able to say, look, I'm not medically trained, which can sometimes bring a negative response from a customer. Make sure you've equipped the advisors with the right routes. To maybe transfer that call to a pharmacist or a doctor, or to put them on hold and speak to a doctor, but normally there is no health care training within the team.

Kirsty Pinner: It sounds like there's a bit of a gap right now? Because there are these growing, health tech start-ups and people are still figuring out how to do it. So do you think there should be training?

Alice Godfrey: I think there's so many any complications there, because just think about the recruitment of it.

People that through that medical training for those years, do they really do that to come out of it to then work on the phones, in a digital sort of tech company, the health company, is that what they want? Yeah, probably not. So, it's quite difficult to find.

And then you've got to think about the salary for those people and whether that works compared to a normal sort of customer service one. And then, just because they're medically trained, do they have the customer service skills? So it's trying to find that balance between the two. And I think in my experience what works best is having both people working well together and having the tools to communicate really effectively.

So, like at Zava, there was a team of doctors that were very close to the customer service team. And with Echo, there's pharmacists within the customer service team that the advisors can turn to.  

Ben Goodey: And they would pass the phone over?

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, absolutely. If you, need to escalate something, it's just like escalate anything really, it might be that they say it's, it's not vital or urgent.

And it might say, do you know what I'm going to go away and just find out that information for you and I'll come back to you and they'll come back and maybe quote a pharmacist or a pharmacist will take over the email chain, for example.

Something that does come up is patients talking about suicidal thoughts and you have to have the avenue there for the advisor to pass that on, because that needs to be with a medical professional. So, the advisor needs to be trained well enough to handle it in the moment.

So, you do have to have that sort of immediate escalation process available to them. And then following that, you need to have the support for the advisor. That's just dealt with that call. Cause that's really horrible. that's a huge thing that definitely always comes up because I think patients often, and this is something that needs to really be addressed across all digital health is we think wherever we're getting our healthcare from no matter what channel it's going through, that we can have that side care sort of service.

And why shouldn't we, if we're speaking to what is a health care provider, if we're feeling that way, we should be able to say it. and when your, digital operation and you need to be able to respond to that in the same way that you would, if someone came into a GP surgery and said it.

Ben Goodey: Wow that's actually such a complex challenge especially in a start-up environment where the employees might be new and not yet fully trained.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, exactly. And it could be your first week on the job. It could be the first call you've ever taken. And that's why the recruitment is so important for the right people. If you've naturally got some form of empathy. And if you're naturally, someone that's comfortable talking to people, then you'd probably be able to navigate that conversation enough while you're trying to find someone to ask later to help.

Ben Goodey: How does this challenge translate into recruitment when you have such a complex problem and you need specific types of people? What are you looking for?

Alice Godfrey: It really is that sort of gut feel in terms of, are they a nice person, what's their motivation for this. I never ever expected them come in and say, I want to work in customer service because I want to work in customer service. They probably just want to pay some bills initially, and that's fine, but if they can appreciate it, the importance of what the business is doing and that doesn't need to be healthcare or anything.

Cool. but if they can understand the person that's speaking to you is calling because they've got some sort of problem and they just need to be a nice person and empathize with that and not be selfish or anything like that. Then that's what you're trying to pull out in the recruitment.

So, I think I probably spend more time talking to me, people in recruitment then he would for, I don't know, customer service recruitment to a massive corporation. That's really established, I think, because. Yeah, it's really just about getting to know them as a person.

Ben Goodey: When you come to a start-up that's in one of these complex environments and is going through this kind of rapid growth stage, what are the first things that you tried to teach and to bring?

Alice Godfrey: So just to get back to the training, really, because not only is it a stressful thing to deal with for them, it's often really complicated. There's a reason you have years and years of medical training for anything that you want to do, whether it's healthcare, assistant pharmacist, doctor, whatever.

So, a new person into the team is learning not only how to use the system or understand things within the business, they will say need to be able to talk about. Things that are quite complicated, even saying the name of a certain or any medication then will difficult to say, just saying the name of a medication, because if you've got a customer on the phone who is angry because their medication hasn't arrived and they're a bit stressed.

The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling over the word of their medication because they just think you don't know what you're talking about. So I think.

there's a fine line. You train them to be a medical professional, but you need to train them enough for them to understand the periphery of things.

So you upskill them in all the areas that they need. Yeah. Finding that balance between sort of customer service and healthcare professional is really difficult. And I think the other thing is the fact that healthcare is similar to finance. It's really highly regulated. So if you can bringing someone who's a really experienced customer service advisor, but they've maybe worked.

In like retail. And do you think they've got fantastic people skills? They're a fantastic communicator, but you need to get them up to speed on what it means to be in such a regulated environment.

Ben Goodey: So would you say that they're more free to say what they want and retail but much less than healthcare?

Alice Godfrey: I maybe shouldn't say it because I've not really worked that, but are definitely restricted within healthcare because you can't just say, do you know what?

Yeah, that was really rubbish. I’m going to give you a big refund.

You can't necessarily say that you might be able to in some situations, but you can't, you're really restricted when it comes to the fun customer experience side of things.

So, in a lot of call centers now they will be a lot more. they have a lot more autonomy, a bit like Pret where you can get free coffee that like every person, every worker has a sort of budget.

I think when they can give out free things throughout the day, and a lot of sort of customer service teams and now adapt adopting that, which is great. But within health care, we can do that. We can give our advisors autonomy to, I dunno, give free delivery or something when they think we've made a mistake, but you have to really

make sure that they understand when it's appropriate and when it's not, and you can't make it look as if you know where admitting fault in some cases, because it might then, if that was to be taken further to a sort of CQC, a Care Quality Commission complaint, it's almost like more than admitting fault.

It's potentially admitting harm to a patient. So it does really restrict you when it comes for the team leaders, dealing with complaints, where you might normally just be able to give them a free something or a discount code to calm them down again.

You can do those things, but it's just has to be a lot more carefully thought about.

Ben Goodey: At what moments do you give free things to people? I love it when Pret do that.

Kirsty Pinner: I love it. I’ve had a it a few times at Pret!

Ben Goodey: It always feels like they’re flirting with me.

Kirsty Pinner: Yeah. It's probably like totally random, but I'm like I must look real good today.

Ben Goodey: Yeah i literally always walk away wondering what i did right and what i can do it again next

Kirsty Pinner: It means it's a great initiative, because we'll go back to Pret to feel like that.

Ben Goodey: It's genius we need to get the head of customer experience from Pret on this podcast.

What in your experience is that the times that have led to you giving people a perk or a sort of present to say sorry? What instigated that?

Alice Godfrey: I personally would try not to give a gift if it's in response to something that we've done wrong or a mistake that we did, we've made, I would want to rectify that appropriately.

And if you can reimburse or replace the product or whatever then yeah, great. But I think what means more is when you've actively listened so I would always encourage advisors to actively listen. If during a phone call someone in passing says “it's my birthday”, or they say someone has died or someone's having a baby, things like that.

If you can actively pick up on them and that is a surprise, send a little card from the business or a bunch of flowers or whatever it may be that just say, we're sorry to hear about your father passing away, or we hope you enjoy your birthday. Here's a little something, things like that mean so much more to people because rectifying a complaint or replacing a product that's expected.

That's like almost the bad minimum of what you should be doing. it's about going further than that.

Ben Goodey: That's true. I think I would potentially be more annoyed if I messed up really bad and then they gave me a five-pound coffee voucher.

Kirsty Pinner: Yeah. It might feel like such an insult.

Alice Godfrey: Exactly. Yeah. I think I've mentioned before about the business called Huggg, which is like hug with three Gs, I think. And. It's an app that you can use to send little gifts to people like that.

And it could just be a coffee and it goes to them as a sort of, what's it called? Like a code on their phone that they just scan in the shop and you've paid for that coffee for them. And things like that. If you can implement that within your team, that's a really good, thing that you can give advice to them autonomy on because it's restricted.

It just, yeah. Off the record. They're not going to be able to send 50 pounds of something. and it's not going to cause the fence. So that's things like that. If you can give the advice, is that it really helps them. I feel motivated as well throughout the day, because a lot of the time in customer service, you're just fixing problems, and everything's quite negative.

And I think bringing some joy to that day, if they can give things and you always get a response when you send a surprise sort of thing, Thoughtful thing to a customer, you always get a response that says, wow, thank you. you don't know how much that means to me. And that thank you for the advisor is going to motivate them.

Ben Goodey: Yeah. Yeah. That would definitely make me feel much happier in my job. If you get to give free stuff and people love it. Also, I'm thinking like unethical life tip. Just to mention it's your birthday on every customer support.

Alice Godfrey: Like when people pretend to get engaged and restaurants,

Ben Goodey: I think it'd be so funny to do it to your friend at a restaurant. Just pretend it's their birthday and they get a cake.

Just coming back to healthcare, I'm really keen to know what other customer support professionals can take away from the way that you've worked in healthcare environments previously.

I think it's such a unique and challenging environment but what is it that we can take away as a best practice for less challenging environments.

Alice Godfrey: in terms of sort of soft skills and empathy and all that, I think it’s important in every industry.

If someone phones you and says, I ordered this dress for my birthday party and it didn't arrive on time, you're not going to be like calm down. It's not medication. You're not going to say that. So, I think in that respect, empathy is just a skill that's vital across all customer service. but I think when they may be could learn.

Would be in the sort of meticulous nature that we have to deal with escalations and complaints and logging and learning from that because of the regulation. you have to just be so meticulous with all of those things so that if. The CQC do say we're investigating you because of how you dealt with that patient there you've got everything that you need to present to them. So that's something that we always have to spend a lot of time on, not just developing the process, we don't miss anything from the advisor level and making sure across the business, it goes to the right people, both.

So you would normally have to have a, I think you do everywhere, a superintendent pharmacist when there's a pharmacy involvement, who would be the person that CPC would be going to, they need to be fully aware of the details and all the details of every complaint. This would be not just what the complaint is, but what the advisor said, where the advisor went for assistance, what assistance with given, what actions were taken every year.

Nothing can be missed because you're putting yourself at risk if it is. Yeah. so I'd say that's probably an area where we're more meticulous in other areas.

Ben Goodey: but it's not necessarily something like a retail customer support team needs, right?

Alice Godfrey: they have to have a complaints process. It would be silly not to, but I just don't think it would be as stringent as it would have to be in healthcare.

But I think it's probably more challenging in many ways outside of healthcare. Because if the advisor is talking about, some clothes that have been sold and they're being shouted out by someone, it's probably, you're probably sitting there thinking, why are you shouting at me?

Because this is not that important. And you have to bypass that and then act as if it is really important and solve that problem. That's probably harder to train and to motivate people because in healthcare, not many people are gonna say, well, I don't care about this person's health. So I would probably say from a call centre sort of manager and leader perspective, that's probably more challenging, in many ways.

And I see that when I think it's very difficult. once someone works within health care customer service, I don't see them then going into retail. Health care customer service very often because it's difficult to make that transition from something that would be really important to them talking about something that you don't deem to be important, but a customer shouting at you about it.

So I think there's huge challenges on both sites that are just completely different.

Kirsty Pinner: Maybe people in retail like actually need higher levels of empathy, because actually, it doesn't matter when the address is sent to you, but you need to be like super empathetic.

Alice Godfrey: I think it's a real skill. And I'm not sure that I would be able to do it.

Ben Goodey: That sort of segues into my last question for you, which is really about this concept of customer support being undervalued. You've talked about it a little bit before, just about how you fell into it and how it's generally like not seen as a career path. How can we get companies to think of support as not a cost and not an annoying kind of operational part of the business, but something that is a really beneficial channel to deliver great customer experience?

Alice Godfrey: I think it's seen as an abstract thing to the people who need to see it. So to the founders, the senior management, I think customer service feels like HR, it's just like an abstract concept that they know they need to have, but they don't necessarily know too much about.

And I think what you're asking is the million-dollar question really. And I think it's different everywhere, but for me, I would say the answer is the mindset of the right people. The people making the decisions need to understand that the customer service, the customer support is the only pure route to what's actually going on with your customer.

It's far better than any customer NPS survey or research you could do.

The insight from the advisors and support ticket insights is completely invaluable. And like you said earlier, getting that customer voice to product and marketing. I think the value of that outweighs the cost of having the team.

And if you can then do it well with the team, they can be a huge part of the retention journey, significantly reducing customer churn or increasing revenue.

So, I think it's flipping that mindset from the fact that it's an annoyance and it's actually really valuable. And I tried to do that in really simple ways, just say, for example, I would say, every week at the same time for two hours, so let's say every Tuesday, two o'clock or four o'clock, I'll make a Google hangout. The one of the advisors will just sit in and they'll just take calls yeah. And deal with everything as normal. But there'll be in this Google hangout and I'll encourage anyone across the business to join that on a weekly basis, just mute themselves, join and just watch because if the advisor shares their screen and, they take the call, without headphones, then the person in engineering or something can sit and watch how the advisor is using the tool, and listen to what the patient is saying.

But it means the people in product or whatever can see first-hand and see it straight away, and it shows the advisers that people are listening to them and people are respecting what they do.

And seeing that it's not that easy. Take it further than that. I would really like to see a business where the sort of C-Suite level people taking calls regularly once a month, get on the phones for an hour, speak to the customers. why not?

Every single new starter goes through customer service as part of their onboarding and listens to calls for a few hours.  

Ben Goodey: that was one of the first things that we would do, or like when anyone has joined SentiSum since I have, it's that we want to get to know the customer as much as possible. If we could sit on a call or interact with them, it would be amazing.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah. And I think. Coming back to it as well, because if you do that in your one thing I have found is that if you do that in your first week of onboarding, you know what, the first week of any jobs, like you forget everything that anyone told you a month later, because you were just so focused on ‘God, I've got so much to learn and I don't understand anything’, and so it's good to do that at the beginning. Yeah. But I think it's good to come back to it regularly. If I was head of engineering or head of marketing, I would really encourage my team to spend an hour a month doing that. I think the value that brings outweighs the fact that you're taking them away from their day to day work for an hour a month.

And they're the people that I will always try and target when I, with businesses, I'm really trying to target those heads up, to get their mindset to that place as well, because without them on board, Then you're not going to be able to convince these tech people that are already interested to come and say all the fines and listen.

Ben Goodey: I think it's actually a really good point to just be able to present the customer support team is value in terms that really resonate with other departments in your company, like talking about how the impacts, how you impact churn, how you impact customer experience, how you create loyalty, how you help renewals and how you help retention and that kind of thing. Like those can be really convincing from a marketer's perspective or a CEO's perspective for sure.

Alice Godfrey: Yeah, exactly. And it's just what you were saying about Pret, isn't it? How it makes you feel, and you want to go back. It's exactly the same.

Kirsty Pinner: I think this has been really interesting actually like learning about the healthcare industry, there's so many little things I didn't know about how difficult house tests will is like now I'm like, I want to. she thought using one of those, because you understand what's going behind it now. the, yet I think it's been really interesting.

Ben Goodey: Yeah, I completely agree, and I think everyone listening would have got a lot of value as well. So, thank you so much Alice for coming on the On Hold podcast.

Alice Godfrey: Oh, I hope so. Thanks for having me.

Join a community of 2139+ customer-focused professionals and receive bi-weekly articles, podcasts, webinars, and more!