The Best Way to Stay Close to Your Customers: A Guide to How We Run Chat Duty at Drift

Tate Knapp Drift

Chat Duty. It’s just like Jury Duty, but with a social, techy, non-dreadful spin.

I’m Tate, and I’m a Customer Advocate on Drift’s Support team. We recently received the tweet below 👇 asking how we run chat duty at Drift. It’s a pretty interesting story. One that’s evolved over time.

How to run chat duty_Drift

I have to say that of all the quirky things we do as a company, the way we run chat duty might just be my favorite. Here’s how it works: Members of each team report for chat duty for one hour, once a month, joining the Customer Advocates to talk directly with our customers. All in real time to support their Drift experience.

But it wasn’t always like this.

Back in the day, Drift support was entirely powered by company chat. We didn’t have a dedicated support team. We relied on our VP of Operations, Conversational Sales Advisors, Product Designers, Office Manager – you name it. Teammates from every department were responsible for supporting our customers.

This process was a product of the scrappy state we were in as a young startup. Every team hopped into chat duty with enthusiasm, pumped to start conversations and advocate for our customers.

But this process wasn’t feasible in the long run. While it was a fun story to tell, and it was cool for customers to chat in with a question and be greeted by David Cancel, our CEO (who does still do chat duty, but during our new monthly assigned slots), we weren’t providing an effective customer experience. Handoffs were frequent, scheduling was difficult, and the pressure was too high to maintain. It became unrealistic for everyone across the company to provide technical and strategic support in addition to doing their day jobs. So, to succeed, we needed a team dedicated to helping our customers succeed with Conversational Marketing.

Enter the Customer Advocate team. We now operate as a group of ten reps, who handle all support-related traffic. We’ve built an engine and no longer have to rely on our developers and sales reps to do the job. But they’re not quite off the hook…

Company-wide chat duty is still in motion today. Our Customer Advocates are the backbone of all things support, but we realized one team couldn’t replace the value that the company receives as a whole from chatting with our customers.

To accommodate this shift, we put together a company-wide schedule, where members across marketing, sales, company success, product and yes, our executive team, rotate.

Check out the schedule we use to operate. It’s booked to the brim. Part of each new Drifter’s onboarding experience includes choosing a chat duty slot. The whole company has access to the schedule, and are always welcome to change their slot or trade shifts with a teammate.

Drift company wide chat duty

Training our team is the other half of the battle. We hold semi-weekly Company Chat training sessions, where a Customer Advocate trains the team on the basics of support chat. We hold these sessions both for brand new and long-time Drifters looking to freshen up their skills.

When teammates join the chat duty squad, the majority are terrified. Sure – real time support can seem intimidating. But these people build, sell and market our product. There’s no question that they’ll do great in customer support.

We push this idea to the company during onboarding, to calm their nerves and assure them that they’ll kill it. We walk newbies through a basic product overview, describe common support inquiries, and introduce them to the resources available to help troubleshoot. Our trainings are super informative, and also super therapeutic.

When the time comes, teammates hang out with the Customer Advocate squad and join us in the support inbox. We work through tough customer questions as a team and compile our knowledge and areas of expertise to best address each situation. The combination of efforts from Drifters across departments is unstoppable.

One time, a customer chatted in with a pretty specific legal question, which was a bit over my head as a technical support rep. This happened to be during our Corporate Counsel, Zareena’s, chat shift. We routed the conversation right over to her, and she walked us through the inquiry. My team and I gained some really valuable insights into what Zareena does by watching her explain the legal concepts in real time. This happy coincidence equipped me for our customers’ legal questions moving forward.

Thinking about starting company-wide chat at your own company? Take it from Kari Howe, our Director of Learning and Development, who’s a huge advocate of the practice. She’s no wimp in chat either – and brings the heat during her shift.

“I think it’s critical for everyone, regardless of role, to get exposure to our customers. I am answering real customer questions, and engaging with them in a very conversational way. It’s actually really fun!”

And because we all label our Drift profiles with our position in the company, it’s really funny when a customer notices that a marketer is answering one of their technical support questions – and that becomes a great jumping off point for a personal interaction.

Or, when you’re Dave Gerhardt, our VP of Marketing, and are recognized by name!

Dave Gerhardt company chat duty

Another benefit of the way we run chat at Drift? When a Software Engineer is talking to a customer and gets inspired to build something new. “Woah, we should make Drift do X, Y, and Z!” they exclaim, when stumbling across a unique customer use case. The discovery of a new feature idea excites all of us, and it’s a powerful moment when a developer experiences Drift from the perspective of a customer. When this happens, advocating goes into full effect, and we all get fired up about our new feature idea.

“For a product designer, this is pure GOLD,” Kristin Ackerson from our Product Design team says. “It allows us to get to the root of the issue right then and there.”

The exposure to our product and customers is valuable for every department, and is worth the investment in time and coordination. Long-time Drifter, Dan Murphy, grew with company-wide chat duty as he grew in his career at Drift. “When I first started chat duty, the company was only about 50 employees and I thought ‘this won’t scale,’” Dan says. “But here we are, some 300 plus employees later and we’re still doing it.”

Company-wide chat duty is part of what makes Drift special. It keeps everyone close to our product, our customers, and each other.

How do you run chat duty at your company?