Frontline Managers: Your Team is Only as Strong as the People Behind It

When I ventured into my first job at a law firm back in 1995, it was pitched to me in a very unique way.

Employment Agent: “Do you want to work today?”

Me: “Yes.”

Employment Agent: “You’d be a receptionist.” (Long pause to gauge my reaction.) “And…you’d be answering questions about Microsoft Word. If you don’t know the answer, you’d take a message.”

Suddenly I was providing virtual support (done remotely through an online support session) during a Microsoft Word rollout to one of the largest law firms in the nation. With that came floor support as well, which is provided at someone’s desk.

Less than two years later, I was in frontline management, leading 14 virtual and floor support team members. It was then that I decided it was time to really understand what I did for a living. After taking a deep dive, I came across a thought that has never left me: A frontline support team is only as strong the people standing behind it. Often we think, “That’s us, managers!” but it goes beyond that. It’s the second and third lines of support, your database and system administrators - anyone backing up your frontline support.

Think about it. What happens if someone on the support team doesn’t know an answer or mistakenly gives the wrong answer? What if no one follows up with a customer about their issue? The entire IT team can be immediately discredited.

How can this be avoided during your next big rollout?

Most of your team will consist of people who are jacks of all applications, knowing the answers to at least 80% of what’s thrown at them. But it’s often the unknown 20% that stands out to a customer. Here are some tips to ensure your frontline support team has the backing it needs:

  • Communication: During a large-scale deployment, if someone reports a bug, glitch or error message, have a way to get that information to the team immediately – even if the user can continue working. This creates awareness that allows the support team to report to future callers that this is a known issue that’s being investigated.

  • Knowledge Management: Have an area where issues can be logged, including “how do I” questions. This empowers team members to find answers in case someone doesn’t know, for instance, about a feature addition in a settings dialog box from a release a few days ago.

  • Escalation Procedures: Have a documented method for escalating issues that require attention beyond the hands of the frontline. Make sure those escalations are addressed and, if appropriate, a solution is given back to the frontline team.

  • The Value of Yes: The word “no” shouldn’t be in your frontline team’s vocabulary. They should be empowered to say “yes,” “absolutely” and “I’m happy to show you (or find out for you).” The moment they are the team that says “no,” users will want to step past them to someone who can say “yes.” Everyone on the team should know whose job it will be to deliver a hard “no.” And if the answer is “yes, but with an exception,” let your frontline team deliver the good news.

  • Accountability: Document who maintains ownership of reported issues that are escalated. Decide in which situations the frontline owns the communication, and share those decisions with the team. If the frontline will not be communicating escalated solutions or maintaining ownership of issues, make sure the user community is aware prior to deployment so they understand the role of the frontline team.

  • More Communication: Equip your users with what they need to know about the deployment, including training, how to reach out for support if they need it, and how the process for escalated support will be handled. The more you communicate to the firm and your team, the better your chances of a pain-free rollout.

As a frontline manager, you most likely have a very knowledgeable support team, but navigating the waters during a firmwide technology rollout isn’t easy. Make sure they have the backing they need. After all, frontline support is only as strong as the people standing behind them. And, of course, you can always lean on Traveling Coaches and your system integrator for more support!

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