How Upwork Scaled Their CX Organization (and How You Can Too)

The last few years have brought unprecedented changes to the world of customer support, including massive upticks in ticket volume, a significant increase in teams operating remotely, and higher customer expectations across the board. In this fireside chat featuring Brandon Savage, VP of Customer Experience & Trust at Upwork, learn how they’ve successfully scaled their CX organization to meet increased demand—plus the challenges they faced, the changes they’ve implemented, and the results they’ve seen along the way.

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Webinar Summary

In this session from Forward 2022, Forethought’s Chief Customer Officer, Dave Ginsburg, sits down with Brandon Savage, VP of Customer Experience & Trust at Upwork for an insightful conversation about Upwork’s CX journey.

Keep reading for an overview of “How Upwork Scaled Their CX Organization (and How You Can Too)” and watch the full session above.

The State of CX at Upwork

The conversation starts with Dave asking Brandon about his first year at Upwork and the CX challenges they’ve faced during his time there. Brandon explains that while they’ve encountered challenges, it’s also been a year full of tremendous opportunities. The company has grown a lot, and this growth has put increased pressure on the support organization.

This growth has led Brandon and his team to look for ways to rapidly scale and adjust their operations to meet the increased demand. And with regards to Dave’s question about what CX challenges they’re facing, Brandon replies directly: “In full transparency, the appropriate answer is probably all of them.”

This includes having the right set of people on the ground solving the right set of problems, leveraging their agents in the most effective way, and finding the best set of metrics to measure agent performance and customer satisfaction.

Brandon then remarks, “[Our team members] are globally distributed all over the globe. So in order to make rapid change, I had to really quickly find ways to evaluate and inspire consistency across that entire population.” One of the tools Upwork used? Forethought.

The Importance of Triage

The conversation then pivots to the importance of triaging tickets effectively. Brandon explains, “One of the key tenets of great support is great triage, getting a question to the expert who can solve that question as quickly and effectively as possible.”

When a support team can effectively get the right ticket to the right support agent, giving the appropriate time and attention, this allows your workforce to spend their time on the most important tickets instead of pouring resources into answering repetitive requests.

From Cost Center to Value Add

Dave next asks Brandon about a common issue facing support teams across industries: changing the perception of customer support from a cost center to a value add.

Brandon shares a story about his first week at Upwork. While he was preparing for a QBR, he came across a slide in the presentation titled ‘The Cost of Support.’ All it had was a dollar figure, and that was it.

He explains that helping other areas of the organization see support in a new light relies on showing the results that come from positive support interactions. These can include aspects like retention rates or feature usage that comes from positive support experiences.

While it’s a journey, this exercise of shifting perceptions can be incredibly valuable in the long run.

Effectively Utilizing CX Data

Dave then asks Brandon about data and how he uses it effectively. He explains that he likes to break up the data into two categories: 

  1. What the internal team thinks great support looks like and how they’re doing against that set of metrics
  2. What their customers are telling them about the support experience that they’re having

In that first category, they like to keep an eye on total wait time, resolution rate, and the number of back and forth interactions in a single support experience.

The second category, what customers are saying about their support experiences, often involves CSAT. Brandon explains that he has a love/hate relationship with this metric. 

He further states that CSAT doesn’t really explain what everyone thinks it does, which is “Is our support good or bad?” You can have an amazing support experience but be dealing with a subpar product or unsupported marketing claims. And these other areas of the business could be affecting your CSAT score.

This challenge, however, can be turned into a positive in Brandon’s opinion. He likes to take all of this feedback—often related to the product functionality—and pass it on to the appropriate teams within the company.

Creating Predictable Customer Experiences

Next, Dave turns to the topic of creating predictability in customer support experiences. Specifically, with a distributed team, how can you ensure consistency across the entire experience?

Brandon explains that the first thing he would recommend is to focus on training. Providing each of your agents with a consistent set of training materials, walking through team expectations and company values, is an essential place to start.

Then, he says it’s all about getting the right set of information to customers at the right time—and this is where AI is super helpful. His team has important information spread across knowledge bases, internal documentation, and throughout Zendesk. Utilizing Forethought allows his agents to have access to the correct information at the time they need it without having to search through all of the documentation—and this is all possible through Forethought’s AI.

The Top Tip for Scaling Your CX Org

To wrap up, Dave asks Brandon a final question: “What is the most important thing that a CX leader needs to know when they start scaling rapidly?”

Brandon’s answer? Internal storytelling and partnership building.

He recommends doing whatever you can to change the narrative from “How much is support going to cost us?” to “How is support a part of the product experience that enables the growth we are trying to achieve?”

He also talks about demonstrating to other areas of the company how support is a growth enabler rather than a cost center. Customers’ most frequent human interaction is with your support team, so it’s crucial that those experiences are filled with trust, consistency, and positivity. This can also be a brand differentiator as you look to outperform competitors.

Wrapping Up

Dave finishes the conversation by thanking Brandon for his time and Brandon says he’d love to chat again next year to cover how year 2 at Upwork goes.

Want to learn more about Forethought’s suite of AI tools for customer support teams? Schedule a demo with our team today.

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