The Toast Method to Serving up Great Customer Support
Toast tab is a nifty, all in one Point-of-Sale or POS system for restaurant management. Self-described as the “partially brown, partially golden, never totally finished piece of toast”, they have over 1,000 customers and a massive 550% recorded year-on-year growth.
Couple their buttery-smooth product with their empathetic approach to support and you can guess why their customers have only nice things to say about them. We managed to get in touch with Stephen Eaton and Robert Sutherland from their Customer Success team to talk about support and how they manage to keep it ticking.
Tell us about Toast and how the idea of a POS system came into play.
S: Here’s the story as I know it: Basically, the founders of the company were working at a company called ‘Endeca’ which was eventually sold to Oracle. While thinking about what was next for them, they had some ideas about mobile apps and mobile payments, particularly in the restaurant business. As they moved forward, the idea of a POS system came into play.
The restaurant market is huge and the scope of services is great. I think that’s what motivated us to keep working and deliver a world class product.
Stephen, you’ve been in the customer support space since 1996. How did it all start off and how did you end up joining the Toast team?
S: I started off as a technical writer and moved on to become a network administrator at a Public Housing Authority. While at the Housing Authority, I realized an interest in security and, eventually, decided to move to work in the space at a small company called ‘Netegrity’. As the company grew I became the director of worldwide support. Later, I spent time at IBM before working at Kiva delivering innovative support for a mobile robots warehouse fulfilment system.
Before I joined Toast, I worked as a Senior Support Manager at PTC (Parametric Technology Corporation). My focus was on enterprise field service when the VP of Product Management from Toast contacted me about heading up services and support at Toast.
What about you, Rob? Did you join Toast after Stephen?
R: Not exactly, I was actually the very first support agent to be hired by Toast! We grew quite a bit as time went on, and I seemed to have become the defacto senior support representative. I just went with my natural sense of leadership and was eventually promoted to support manager.
So, how does a typical day look like for a support rep at Toast?
R: A general day usually involves working on incoming tickets and periodically checking up on unresolved older ones requiring gradual, long term solutions. Product training, bug fixing and testing also take up a huge chunk of our day. We believe in publishing articles so that our customers can become more self-sufficient.
S: It’s a hectic day but our customers need us and here’s why:
Basically, a large chunk of our customers are used to an archaic POS system that barely does the job. Toast provides several options for wireless access, report generation and mobile sales so it’s quite the paradigm shift for the folks making the jump.
Our audience is actually 3 fold. We support our sales team, the services/account management teams, and we support the customer.
That does seem like quite the day! How do you keep yourself going?
S: The group of people here are all motivated by wanting to help our customers succeed. I’m proud of their passion and it is the main ingredient in our secret sauce.
I have a support model that takes time off into consideration. I don’t think we will get any better by just answering the phone. I firmly believe that real progress will only take place when we get our support representatives off the phone. Getting them in the field talking to customers, talking to engineers, and solving problems in real time will help them grow massively.
There is a balance that you have to strike between solving problems and solving tickets. It’s imperative to understand that.
I also think it is important to create career paths from support into other areas of the company. As a part of the executive team here at Toast, I can tell you that everyone wants this to happen. We want to organically grow talent and have Toast be a real opportunity for our employees.
You spoke about support teams jumping into other fields. Has it ever happened the other way? Do people from tech or sales ever jump in to help a few customers with their queries?
S: Yes it happens all the time. We often get assistance from product management, sales and engineering. Toast works as a team.
I think the greatest secret is the other side of the problem.
Most people think of support as handling problems, but it is also the satisfaction of solving the problem and bringing relief to the customer. It really feels good to be of service.
I can see why your reps love working at Toast! What do you look for in your support reps?
For the most part, we look at their communication skills and if they have any experience working in restaurants. Relevant tech experience with databases and tools like SQL is certainly welcome but it isn’t really a deal breaker.
Let’s put it this way, there are three buckets to a hire. Customer support skills like communication skills, customer empathy, and deep problem solving, is one key area. Technical skills is the second category – we even have specialists in some deep technical areas related to our product and network setup. And finally, restaurant experience is the third bucket, because we’ve found that candidates that have restaurant experience can better understand the environment that we work in. If they have qualities from two buckets, they’re a good candidate, and if they have qualities from all three of them, we’re hiring them. Our goal is to develop an organisation with core competencies in each area, including restaurant operations.
I understand that Toast places a lot of emphasis on self-service. What is the Toast approach to self-service driven support?
S: We believe that a support system has the potential to help the customer help themselves. Rob manages our knowledge base, which is our way of carrying out this self-service support model. There are both internal articles and customer-facing articles. About 11,000 views were recorded last quarter and that number is rising.
We anticipate the move to a knowledge-centric support model, but the implementation of this is pure art.
For example, Rob has an initiative right now where he is mapping training content to specific use cases so that we can create macros to quickly provide answers and resolution to customer problems.
What’s your biggest time-saving trick?
S: Whenever we get a question, it’s very probable that it’s not the first time we’re hearing it. We try to introduce things like macros, solution articles, or some sort of training resources so that the customer can solve their problems easier next time. I also like to track metrics and score our performance to analyse if we’re being efficient with our problem solving.
We also use a proactive reporting tool to survey the entire customer base to locate specific error types that are not being reported by our customers. This way, we can be proactive.
We actually call them before they call us! Our customers love it when we do that.
What do you think is the most important metric a support rep should aim for? Do you have any specific system of rewarding a rep?
S: We do have a bonus structure and it’s based on a number of factors. I’ll briefly explain a few of them.
- We like to maintain a good knowledge base and we look for all our support reps to contribute to it. There is a record of how many knowledge base articles each rep pushes out every quarter and we expect our employees to fulfil a minimum requirement with respect to that.
- I also advise our agents to develop the habit of documenting their work. We like to look at how well a support rep is documenting their interactions with their clients because that gives us valuable insight into the agent-client relationship.
- Another important metric we look at is the training. We have training requirements and we have allocated a percentage of their time for training.
- Customer satisfaction. We expect our reps to maintain a 90% or better customer satisfaction rating.
There are other metrics but these are some that we focus on.
How do you measure customer happiness? Do you have customer satisfaction surveys?
R: Yes. We use NPS and that’s led by the marketing team. We also look at the customer satisfaction ratings weekly and quarterly.
I’d like to know more about the training metric that you spoke of. How exactly do you train them?
S: All reps have required training and we invest heavily into training. This is because we have a strong desire to be the best technical support group in this industry and I believe that we can reach that goal only by having the group with the best technical acumen.
Everyone on the team is A+ network trained and certified. Our training programs are mostly internal and their training is expanded based upon specific situations we may run into.
We also have something called ‘Toast University’ which is a portal for e-learning. It was made for our customers but our employees go through it as well, supplemented with some additional internal training.
Rob actually came up with a training matrix for support too. Each rep is trained on every aspect of the support matrix.
Our customers are restaurants and they usually find it easier to communicate with someone who understands them and can empathize with their problem. Some employees don’t come in with restaurant experience, though, so if an employee doesn’t have sufficient restaurant experience, we make arrangements with our customers for a mentorship kind of program. Our employees get to walk in the restaurant manager’s shoes for a day or two and understand what problems plague them on a day-to-day basis. Our customers like it because it gives them a closer relationship with support and we like it too because we learn a lot.
I can see why Toast is so great at support. How do you segregate all this workload between your support teams?
R: We have two tiers of support teams. Tier one is the front line support and tier 2 is the one wielding all the tools for advanced problem solving. There is a separate team responsible for installing the product and an account management team fielding inquiries beyond the reach of our support.
For example, if a customer feels like the X product is supposed to do Y, we cannot change that. We get our account management team into the loop for situations like these that don’t have any immediate solutions. They can provide the individual focus the customer needs and evaluate the customer need. Our customers have good ideas and the Account Management team is great at listening to feedback and sharing it with internal teams.
With a support structure like that, it’s no wonder that Toast has grown colossally! Is there a way in which you’ve scaled support while keeping the culture and core values intact?
S: We do things slightly different here at Toast. While other companies frame a set of core values and hang it on a wall or something, we actually prefer to just have a few values that reflect what Toast is all about.
We have an employee award called the “Toastie”. It is actually a gold-plated toaster. It’s a peer recognition award that looks great on your desk when you win it. In addition to bragging rights, the Toastie is also a reflection of what our values stand for and it helps our team get better. Plus, since only two employees can win a Toastie every quarter, it is pretty exclusive and significant!
The Toast office seems like a really fun place to work at! Tell us about some memorable experiences from your time at Toast.
S: My most memorable experiences come from being able to help customers who are struggling with their restaurant management systems, probably when they’re changing a shift. There was this customer who was really struggling with his system. His equipment was not on the supported equipment matrix, and as a result he was having a lot of problems with it. So, he used to call us a lot. Frustration gradually builds up when you’re facing problems with your product.
We put in a lot of effort to make things right by him and he’s now a Toast power user! He recently recommended Toast to another customer.
It’s an amazing feeling when you convert a customer from a detractor to a promoter
With over 1,000 restaurants using Toast, there must be quite a lot of traffic generated over your social channels! Does Toast provide support over channels like Twitter and Facebook?
R: Our marketing team is responsible for Twitter, Facebook, and blog channels. They take a look at what’s happening there and forward the support-related inquiries over to us. We don’t really get inbound tickets directly from social media at this time, but we are looking at it.
Tell us about your feedback process. How do you make sure that customer feedback makes its way to the right people?
S: Yes. We automate the feedback on the product. I maintain a dashboard that lists the category of problems that our customers are opening tickets about. Additionally, the product management team talks to customers directly and gathers their input about new features. Support takes feature requests from our customers and submits them to the product management team, which maintains the product roadmap on future updates.
If these requests genuinely look like they’ll add value to our customer experience, I am fairly certain that we’d implement it.
How do you deal with these frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?
S: No we don’t have a tone guide, but we have a philosophy about service and customer empathy. We don’t think customers are frustrated for no reason. There’s usually some expectation set that we did not meet. We validate the issue with the customer.
We validate the customers’ frustration and empathize with them. The goal is to focus on the solution and move past the problem.
What if it’s a tough call? How do you handle those?
S: I specialize in tough calls! I actually advise my teams to forward the difficult calls to me.
I like the tough calls because I feel like they are an opportunity wrapped in a problem.
A lot of customers experience a paradigm shift when they move from their older POS systems onto Toast. Change does not always feel good. I put myself in the customers’ shoes and become their advocate. I explain to the customer that many restaurants are using Toast with no problems and they should be able to as well, so let’s figure out how to get the system working right for you.
How do you get back to your happy place when you have a tough call like this?
S: Rob has a beer. I go outside and get some air. I also follow a specific meditation process every day in the morning to stay calm. It’s a form of yoga called Agnihorta and it helps me stay centered.
It’s important to keep everything in a proper perspective so that you are not overwhelmed.
So what would you say, is the best thing about working for Toast?
R: It’s just the excitement of working for an emerging company. Even if we’re answering the same kind of questions, every day is different. This is challenging and amazing in many ways. This kind of freshness day in and day out is what keeps me going.
S: I love the idea of developing a company and watching the staff build it. I love watching programs and processes develop, watching things mature and nurturing them to make sure that everything is going in the right direction.
You can go off on a tangent in a wrong direction very easily, something that takes a lot of resource and effort to correct.
My role is sort of like a gardener weeding things out of the way so that your plants can grow properly.
If someone were just starting out to build a customer support team, what would your advice be?
S: It’s all about your investments. Invest smartly in your training and people. As easy as it sounds, hiring the best talent and giving them the resources and training is quite hard.
Guiding your team towards success can only be possible if your team feels empowered and you are open to their ideas. If they have a good idea, they should be confident that their idea will be given a chance. You will have greater success if everyone feels involved. In the end, customer satisfaction is dependent upon employee satisfaction.
That’s some great advice. What’s the greatest advice you’ve ever received wrt customer support?
S: There was this one time, at my previous company, when I prepared a very extensive report for the Senior Vice President. It had all kinds of conclusions on the data that was presented. But he had only one question for me when I submitted it – “Why?”. I was stumped, because I had all this data that showed something was happening but I didn’t know why. I’d say that’s the greatest advice I’ve ever received. About how it is imperative to analyze data and not just report on it.
Let’s go for some harder questions now. If you could have any famous person to fill in with your customer support for a day, who would you pick?
S: Just for the fun of it, I think I’d have Snoop Dogg and Willy Nelson answer my support phone calls!
R: I’m going to go for Barack Obama…People respond well to him and that would surely help when he’s doing support.
Snoop Dogg and Barack Obama would make a great Customer Service team! Which real-life team do you look up to, though?
S: I’d have to say, Zappos. Their support is out of this world!
Wrapping up, what would you say is the secret sauce to customer happiness?
S: It’s the attitude of the representative and their willingness to help others. People can tell if you don’t want to talk to them and that’s why it’s important to understand the other side. Customer satisfaction is completely dependent upon employee satisfaction. Focus on the employee’s need and rest will take care of itself!
We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support representative and we pick their brains. We find out what a typical day is like for these support rockstars, their personal work-philosophy, support process and what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. Know a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here? Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.