Article | 5 min read

Shadowing: A day in the life of a Tier 1 advocate

Last updated February 4, 2016

Meet Rodney, our Tier 1 team lead at Zendesk’s headquarters in San Francisco. After earning his degree in Resort & Hotel Management in college, Rodney planned on a career in business and hotel management. Instead, he found his way to Disney Interactive’s customer service team and a career in the tech industry.

That underlying drive to work in hospitality is no doubt why Rodney quickly became one of Zendesk’s lead advocates. These days he focuses on helping Zendesk’s distributed Tier 1 teams—located in San Francisco and Madison, Wisconsin—feel and operate like a single unit, and trains and onboards agents at every tier level. Increasingly, he’s also become a central figure for other internal, customer-facing teams by providing them with the opportunity to shadow support. “The shadowing is so much fun and reveals what Tier 1 does day-to-day,” his manager explained. “Rodney has worked with almost every department in Zendesk and has made it easy for other teams to learn how to talk to customers.”

Here he shares a few things any team can do to keep from operating in silos, and explains the team’s burgeoning shadowing program.

Name: Rodney Lewis
Tenure at Zendesk: Since May 2014
Years in a support role: 6 years
Personal mantra: Something I live by is a belief that you can learn something new every day. And it sounds cliché, but when life gives me lemons, I’m going to make lemonade. I’m not going to complain about it. I try to look at the big picture and just try to make it a great day. Try to. If you can’t, then you can’t, but if you can do that seventy-five percent of the time, you’re winning.
Fun fact about you? I like to fish. A lot—for trout, catfish, striper bass… I also like sports and used to play college basketball.
You also let slip you like to garden. What are you growing? Yeah, I like to grow stuff. I’ve grown tomatoes, corn, peppers, bell peppers…all kinds of stuff.

Rodney Lewis collage

The Tier 1 team here in San Francisco is smaller than the team in Madison. What are some things that have worked to help integrate the teams despite the distance?
It can be hard because support is one of those jobs that always have to be on, so you can’t take the entire team offsite for team bonding or customer service training. But there are a few things we’ve been able to do that have helped:

  • We talk it out: We have a Tier 1 Functional Council. This is where all the team leads and some global managers call in and just talk about what’s happening in other offices and what we’re doing with our teams, things we’re noticing in the queue, either from customers or the way the team is interacting with tickets. We try to figure out the best way to solve any problems we see happening. For example, we talked about work-life balance and making sure advocates weren’t burnt out and realized that we needed to adjust our expectations around how many tickets an advocate should aim to answer a day and to leave them more room for other types of career development.
  • Uniform training: We’ve created training curriculum so that our advocates, no matter which office they’re in, are still getting the same training. We modify a little by location, but the training is at least 80 percent uniform, and something the council has all agreed on.
  • Mentoring program: We also use mentors. This gives advocates more responsibility and an opportunity to start moving up in their career, once they become a mentor. And mentors give new hires a go-to person for questions or help.
  • Tier 1 All Hands meetings: We do this just in Tier 1, but we’ll have a global call-in to do advocate recognition and to keep everyone aligned on what’s going on. As far as performance, we make sure we’re measuring the same things and reviewing advocates in the same way.

Talk to me about internal shadowing. How does it work, and what do you hope participants in the shadowing program walk away with?
We like other teams to shadow Tier 1 specifically because Tier 1 touches everything. We’re generalists, handling 80 percent of all tickets that come in, so this is really where other teams will see the most breadth and benefit.

The shadowing started as kind of an ad-hoc thing, but now I get emails from 2-3 managers for every new hire class we have. I schedule people to come sit with me either one on one or in groups. It’s different for each team. I give everyone a general overview of the tiers, queue, triage, admin tools, apps, and so on, but sometimes we’ll just spend a few hours answering tickets and sometimes we’ll go more in-depth and even through the Keboola training on Zendesk Insights. There’s a lot of people in the company who are customer-facing but are not trained in support or soft skills. The shadowing gives us a chance to say, “Hey, here’s how I would handle that.”

We also have about 50 test tickets so, in some cases, myself and my most senior advocate will act like customers and have people work on being more hands-on. We’re messing with them the whole time. Across the gamut, I’ll act like a know-it-all customer and then like a customer who doesn’t know anything and then I’ll be disgruntled. And we’ve also done the reverse—we’ve sat with sales to shadow them, too.

Sometimes people think Tier 1 is lower-level and less important than other tiers, or that they Google and send articles all day. That’s the perception. But we had one person who recently shadowed and then came back and wanted to do more, so we set her up and made her a support person for a day. She was the first person to do this, and then gave us feedback about her experience. It was very valuable, and it helped the advocates feel more appreciated—to have someone come sit in our shoes and do our job, and also to offer a different perspective.

Zendesk advocates are front and center with our customers and our product. This series highlights the people behind the tickets and their perspective on what makes great customer service.

See past posts from:
Abel Martin, on building great internal partnerships
Arthur Mori, on what everyone should know about Tier 1 support
Benjamin Towne, on constructive criticism and mentoring advocates