How Follow the Sun Model helps you Deliver 24/7 Global Support

Finding the best way to support your customers can be down to plenty of factors. There are different approaches you can take based on your customer base, the industry, size of your organization, etc. The follow the sun model approach is one such example and in this article, you will read about the following

  • What is Follow the Sun model?
  • Principles behind Follow the Sun
  • Pros and Cons of Follow the Sun
  • Is Follow the Sun model right for you?
  • How Freshdesk can help you implement Follow the Sun

What is Follow the Sun Model?

The idea behind the ‘Follow the Sun’ model involved software development teams, sitting across different worldwide locations, working on the same project. Essentially, each team would hand off work at the end of their workday, to another team who is starting their day on the other side of the world. This way work is carried out 24/7 with task handoffs taking place between each of these global teams after the shift of a particular location ends.

IBM was one of the first to try out follow the sun model. There were three separate occasions where they used this approach. The first was a project team split between the US and Australia, which worked out really well. In another attempt at FTS, a team was spread across five locations worldwide but it was ultimately not successful because of handoff issues. In the third scenario, the team was present spread across the US and India which was also a failure because of communication problems and time zone issues.

Using Follow the Sun Model in Customer Service

Suppose you have a product or service where you have to provide round-the-clock support for different time zones. It means there needs to be someone available to help customers 24/7 and not just during peak business hours.

While this is possible with a shift-based system in a single location, the cost of hiring and managing multiple teams on a shift rotation can be extremely difficult.  The logistics are hard as well. You have to hire people in night shifts which can be demotivating. People constantly switching work hours also takes a toll on their health and you have to pay extra in the form of special allowances and perks to compensate these, need to take care of safety for night time commutes, and more.

The follow the sun model offers a better alternative in the form of lower cost, happier work culture and an energized, fresh team that can care for your customers. Using the Follow the Sun model approach, you can spread out your support team across just enough time zones to cover for all hours in a day, such that no customer faces a problem of availability. 

Principles Behind Follow the Sun Model

To dive a little deeper into understanding how ‘Follow the Sun’ model works and how you extract its benefits we have to look at the principles it has been built on:

#1 24/7 availability across multiple time-zones: Having your customer service team members spread across different locations with staggered time zones is one of the most important principles of Follow the Sun model. Agents work in different locations whose time zones follow each other. This is the best way to maintain continuity of support and is available to customers across any location.

#2 Faster Query Resolution: Follow the sun helps teams resolve queries with speed and efficiency. Since your agents are available 24/7, you are always on top of your ticket queues and customers have shorter wait times for their issues to be resolved regardless of when and where the ticket is raised.

#3 Knowledge Sharing through handoffs: For global support to be a success, there should be no information loss between teams sitting in different locations. This is carried out using handoffs where all pending tasks are handed over to another location before the shift in the first location ends. So if a ticket is halfway to resolution but the agent handling it is nearing the end of their shift, he/she has to make sure that the information is transferred to an available agent in the next location. 

Pros and Cons of Follow the Sun Model

Now that we’ve established the inner workings of the follow the sun model, let’s understand the pros and cons of using such a model in customer service:

Pros:

  • Faster resolution times: Since there is always someone available round the clock to get a ticket resolved, there is very little time wasted, meaning you will see fewer customers complaining about long call waiting times or worrying over their ticket not being assigned to an agent
  • Eliminate night shifts: While night shifts have their benefits its not difficult to see that supporting customers during these hours takes its toll on the agents. With follow the sun model, support timings are always during the day which means all your agents will be able to perform much better without requiring to alternate shifts which can affect their productivity
  • Global visibility: Follow the sun is a great way for your company to sell globally right from the start. If you want to reach customers in several locations worldwide but you don’t have the required employee strength you can spread your support across two or three time zones, maximizing your availability to customers and enhancing your global presence

Cons:

  • Handoff coordination: The most obvious drawback of the support model is successfully and consistently managing task handoffs. With different locations, time zones and even agent workloads, trying to ensure each task is handed off to the right personnel is extremely tedious. 
  • Communication problems: Even if you get the coordination spot on, it’s still difficult to convey context across locations and time zones. In certain cases, more than 3 or 4 teams sitting in different locations can be involved in solving a customer problem. Agents can have difficulty both communicating and understanding all the details of a customer problem during handoffs which can lead to mistakes.
  • Cultural differences: You can never predict how well your global support will perform your team consists of people from different countries and cultures. Roadblocks like language, cultural and social norms can make it harder to achieve any sort of consistency of support across all locations. So hiring and training them becomes a difficult process when trying to ensure all agents have the same idea of customer support.

Is Follow the Sun Model Right for you?

While a follow the sun approach definitely has its upside, there is no reason it is the right approach for your customer service. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself before deciding to go ahead with this approach:

#1 What is the nature of your customer service?

The type of customer service you offer can differ based on the industry you are in. For instance, if your product or service is high tech queries might be complex, long and require engineering time to solve bugs. In these types of situations follow the sun will be highly inefficient given the amount of communication required with remote teams. For large retail/consumer businesses, queries are solvable in real-time because they are as simple as ‘What’s my balance’ or ‘Can you help me with a refund/exchange’, etc. These can work well in follow the sun because handoffs are minimum and most queries can be solved by the person answering in the same shift.

#2 Where is your customer base?

Having global support only makes sense if you have a global customer base. If there are customers using your product or service in several locations across various time zones, then it makes a lot of sense to cover your bases and have your support team ‘follow the sun’. But if most of your customers are concentrated in a couple of countries or time zones then a singular customer support location catered to those time zones will be enough.

#3 What do your customers need?

Based on the type of customers you serve, follow the sun might or might not suit your particular customer service needs. These needs can sometimes require a local team for each location or a team that supports customers across the globe. For example, if you are a global logistics company that is present across various locations, then you’ll need a localized support team at each of these centers working independently of each other. On the other hand, if you are a software company with customers spread out evenly across several locations then follow the sun model would make sense because it means your support will be available at all times regardless of where the customer is based out of.

#4 What scale do you operate at?

If you already have a large number of people working for your company with multiple offices across the globe then follow the sun should work for you. But if you are a growing organization then you have to ask yourselves a few more questions: 

1) Do you have a big enough customer service team to follow the sun? 

2) Do you have a high ticket volume during non-peak hours that requires you to hire more full-time personnel?

3) If you hire a team that sits remotely across locations will you be able to train them effectively?   

If the answers to these are yes, then using follow the sun model makes a lot of sense 

How Freshdesk can Help you Implement Follow the Sun Model

Customer service software can be a great asset for companies that are catering to a global customer base. With challenges like collaboration and communication complicating the ‘Follow the Sun’ model, a ticketing system like Freshdesk can make it easy for teams sitting in different locations to stay on the same page. Here are some features that make Freshdesk a great fit for global customer service:

#1 Shared ownership:

If you need another agent to take over an issue currently owned by someone else or you need help from another team it can be difficult and time-consuming to explain the details of the problem. When your teams are sitting time zones apart that job gets slightly more complicated. Here’s where a feature like shared ownership comes into play. If one agent needs to perform a handover because the ticket is still pending and their shift is about to end, he can share the ownership of that ticket with another agent, sitting in the next location whose shift is about to start. This way both agents will have visibility into the issue and the first agent will still be able to track its progress.

#2 Collaboration:

Sometimes you need more than one person working on a ticket to get it resolved. This might be because your agent lacks the required experience or you are dealing with a technical issue that has to involve someone from the software team. Now, these agents and teams might not necessarily sit in the same location as the person currently handling the issue. So conveying context becomes a challenge. Freshdesk has an integration called Freshconnect that makes sharing context really simple. On the ticket itself, you can open up a chat and invite any other agent or team personnel to view the ticket history and understand the context of the issue. This way you can solve the problem on the go and give updates in real-time to the customer.

#3 Groups:

With an approach like Follow the sun, it can get very difficult to manage agents who are in different locations. Ticket assignment can become complicated and many rules have to be created to ensure that no customer issue is neglected. This manual work can be completely avoided by using Freshdesk to categorize agents into groups and assign them certain skills. Now tickets get assigned and routed automatically based on preset criteria. For example, if you have teams sitting out of both the US and the UK, you can create groups within Freshdesk that assign tickets based on the time zone of the agents. This way you don’t have to worry about any customer problem being mistakenly ignored.

Conclusion

While Follow the sun model sounds very solid on paper, it can be difficult to implement because of having different locations. The use cases for this model are very niche and there aren’t too many companies who make use of this approach. Most companies tend to lean towards the traditional model of 24/7 support from a single location. But if you need to develop a global support team and are willing to make the initial investment follow the sun model can be an extremely lean and effective way of running your support. 

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