Natasha is an expert in the field of customer service, and the Founder of Surfboard — an innovative startup that offers smarter, fairer, scheduling tooling for customer service teams. Having started her career in finance, she moved into the CX space where she successfully took on the role of Chief of Staff at UK-based energy company Bulb. After experiencing the difficulties of managing a modern support team using outdated software and processes, she decided to build Surfboard. Here’s what Natasha had to say about the state of customer experience today.
Q. How did you get into customer support, and what inspired you to stay?
I joined Bulb in 2019 and, at the time, scaling our customer support was the biggest opportunity to delight customers with industry-leading response times and service quality. This meant we had to grow the team by 10x — from 75 to 750 agents — in less than 1 year. During this process I saw that existing workforce management practices in the customer service space were not keeping up with the complexities of modern ways of working.
So I ended up founding Surfboard at the end of 2020 off the back of this experience. I strongly believe customer service teams are being held back by traditional software and scheduling practices ruining the agent experience — and ultimately the customer experience. Instead of accepting that support teams should go back to legacy ways of working (optimizing for bums on seats and causing burnout) I started Surfboard to build scheduling that makes support teams work in a simpler, smarter, and fairer way.
Q. Speaking to aspiring CX leaders out there, what advice would you give them?
Invest in your people and use automation effectively to remove tedious tasks — so your team can work on what matters most. You can either have a vicious cycle of an unhappy team and unhappy customers, or a virtuous cycle of happy teams and happy customers. The two go hand in hand. If you obsess over squeezing every last drop of productivity from your team, you’ll end up with burnout and poor customer service, leading to churn and loss of revenue.
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Q. Looking back, have you ever faced a challenge that changed the way you look at CX and how did you overcome it?
One challenge is that when a CX team surpasses 50 people and introduces new processes and metrics, it can lose the cohesiveness and sense of ownership that agents feel when the team is smaller. Instead of reverting to processes that rely on micromanagement and intrusive surveillance, it’s a really exciting time to think about investing in the human side of the team.
This means don’t cut corners: train managers, use the right tooling, and have good wikis and issue trees in place. Work in collaboration with your early team members to define how your team can scale, and keep the culture of ownership in place as you grow to 100, 200, 500 people, or even bigger.
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Q. What is the one trend or approach in CX that every organization should be implementing?
Flexibility in how your team works. We’ve seen during the pandemic that teams were able to transition from in-person to remote or hybrid models of working.
This means you have a much larger pool of talent to choose from, and you can give your team more flexibility to work when and where they want to. Of course this means investing in tooling that can look at how many people you require, when people are available in the different time zones your team is located, and how you can best achieve the service levels needed.
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Q. The average turnover rate for customer service agents is 30-45% globally. What can CS leaders do to limit churn within their teams?
This is exactly why Surfboard exists. Churn is high because customer service teams experience high burnout — from dealing with unhappy customers, repetitive tasks, and a lack of career progression.
To limit agent turnover there are 3 key things you can do:
- Make sure your schedules aren’t burning out your team and give them as much flexibility as possible
- Keep the job stimulating by investing in automation to reduce the repetitive tasks, and letting your team flex their problem-solving skills as much as possible
- Ensure your team has enough time to spend for training and development, so that they feel invested in and can progress in their careers
Q. What role (if any) does the employee experience play in delivering a better experience for customers?
A very large role! When you have a burned out and tired team, this very quickly trickles down to your customer experience. You’ll see customer satisfaction (CSAT) dropping and a lower Net Promoter Score (NPS). As the experience worsens, you experience higher team churn.
This means in the short term you won’t have enough people, which results in customers waiting longer for responses. In the mid-term you’ll end up with low-tenured agents who are less productive and less equipped to solve customers’ problems.
Q. What place do you see automation having in operating a modern and adaptable support team?
At Surfboard we are super excited about the velocity at which we’re seeing improvements in automation. Support teams will always need humans, but automation is a great opportunity to reduce the mundane and repetitive tasks humans need to work on — which translates directly to improved productivity, lower handle times and, ultimately, better service for customers.