Most of the time, the engineers and other professionals at software firm Olark are busy manipulating code as they try to push their product forward. But once a month, those computer gurus tackle a much different task: handling customer service inquiries from their users.
The company calls it their “All Hands Support” policy, intended to keep staffers throughout the organization in tune with the needs of clients. “Everyone in our 40-person company continues to contribute to our customer service efforts in some way,” says Karl Pawlewicz, the company’s spokesman.
Customer service is, in fact, at the very core of the San Francisco-based company. Founded in 2009, it offers a live chat platform that businesses large and small can use to address the real-time needs of their buyers. Today, more than 12,000 organizations around the globe use Olark’s easy-to-implement solution in order to address customer needs.
By giving all of its employees a taste of the customer service experience, they’re able to create a better product, Pawlewicz suggests. “It keeps our entire company in close contact with our customers' successes and frustrations, and ensures each department is aligned on customer priorities,” he says.
The idea originated from the early days when Olark’s four founders were living together in Palo Alto and developing the software platform. “They each took turns on customer service so they wouldn't burn out and so they could stay close to customer feedback,” according to Pawlewicz.
At a time when a lot of customer service is being automated through artificial intelligence and bots, Pawlewicz says it was important for Olark’s principals to create a solution that was simultaneously economical and person-oriented.
“We’re looking for ways to develop a hybrid approach, ensuring technology makes humans more efficient, rather than replacing them,” he notes.
Creating a better customer service experience is about more than spreading the workload around ‒ it’s also about developing a culture that turns employees into advocates for the company. That can can be a challenge for a geographically-diverse organization, where many employees work from home throughout North America, South America and Europe.
To develop that cohesiveness, the company, which recently won the Gold Stevie Award in the 2017 Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service for Customer Service Department of the Year ‒ Computer Software, hosts in-person retreats once a year. There, the company leaders preach Olark’s core values. Among them: “assume good faith,” “practice empathy” and “help each other grow.”
But the most unconventional of the company’s axioms is “chill out.” As its website describes, Olark wants its employees to “seek activities that recharge you and allow you to bring your best self to work.” So it’s no accident that the company has amateur musicians and even a couple of part-time farmers among its ranks.
Olark has some off-beat customs, to be sure. Its employees join in to sing Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel,” the firm’s unofficial anthem, whenever they get together. And they have secret, gift-giving gnomes to celebrate birthdays, since they’re apart for the other 51 weeks each year.
“Creating this positive environment helps our team maintain a healthy work/life balance and come to work every day refreshed and renewed,” explains Pawlewicz. (L1)
That balanced approach has paid off in the form of excellent customer service, decided by Stevie Awards judges. Pawlewicz says the honor has been a major shot in the arm for workers at the burgeoning company.
“It's a testament to the hard work that our customer service team puts in every day, and we hope it will be a compelling proof point for future candidates who consider working at Olark,” he says.