I’ve known Darach Beirne for decades and I was well aware that he had been born and raised in Ireland and had worked in the UK before moving to the US — but when we sat down for the interview, I was surprised to learn that he worked in the Netherlands for several years as well! He has worked in customer support/success for over 20 years, starting as a computer operator (tending line printers, changing reel to reel tapes, and the like), then became a systems manager, database administrator, and a support engineer for Ingres (on premise database server software)
Darach is now VP of Customer Success at Flowroute in Seattle, “commuting” from the Bay Area, and he still loves to talk with customers.
Flowroute is a telecom cloud vendor and such Darach’s team includes number porting specialists that understand how to work with each carrier, sometimes having to use technology that is stuck in the 1990s.
FT: One thing that’s interesting about the Flowroute support team is that you use self-managed teams. How did you make this decision and how do you make sure that it works well?
DB: Indeed, we have self-managed teams – no team leads! The teams manage their schedules. I was skeptical at first until we needed to make a change to our support hours. We had been getting feedback that our start time of 8am [PST] wasn’t working for East Coast customers so I decided that we needed to open earlier. I told the team and they rearranged the schedule so now we open at 6am and the team makes it work.
I’m a believer now. It works well for smaller support teams but I wonder if it would scale for larger teams…
FT: Apart from self-managed teams, what other innovative decision would you like to share with us?
DB: We provide pre-sales engineering resources from the support team. This allows the team to get exposure to the sales process and prospective customers. This also enables continuity of contact throughout the lifecycle of the customer.
FT: How do you measure success for support organizations?
DB: Both quantitatively and qualitatively. On the quantitative side, CSAT scores and employee turnover rates. On the qualitative side, feedback from CSAT, NPS and employee reviews. Our best assets are our employees and to paraphrase Richard Branson “if you keep your employees happy, they will keep the customer happy.”
FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?
DB: The confusion between customer success and customer support. Is the primary goal of success revenue expansion or revenue protection? If we stress expansion, is success nothing more than old-fashioned sales?
FT: Is there something you learned or saw done earlier in your career that you now completely reject? What was it and what made you change your mind?
DB: I’ve seen a lot of organizations hire “trainees” when deep experience was required, and I’ve found that it just does not work. If you are providing support to developers, for instance, then you must hire people who can hold their own in a technical discussion with developers. You can train on soft skills, and you can train on the specifics of the product, but you just cannot train on the deeper background.
FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?
DB: Invest more in training support people on both hard skills (technology) and soft skills (customer service). If you believe that people are our main assets, it should be obvious, but it’s hard to get the time to do training properly.
FT: Thank you very much, Darach!
(You can find earlier Support Star interviews here.)
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