The Three Golden Rules of Great Support
Behind every great operator stands many great supporters. In order for the lead agents of any organization to act effectively they must rely on others to perform a variety of ancillary support roles. Supporters provide the services essential for a primary agent to accomplish his or her mission. The very best have the very best teammates supporting them.
In this post I offer the Three Golden Rules of Great Support. I have found that when my teammates and I are driven by these principles we more readily achieve the objectives of our parent organization and we gain an enduring trust with our customers.
Rule #1 – Be Customer Focused
Yes, this header is absolutely clichéd – and yet still completely relevant. In order to fully understand how to best support a customer you have to begin by putting yourself in their shoes. Customers may come from within or outside of your organization. They may be a boss, peer, teammate, or subordinate. I think of a customer as anyone who needs something from me or my team to perform his or her job. If I can better understand the demands on them – I can better meet their needs.
To better appreciate your customers’ needs, imagine a day in the life of whomever you support and ask yourself where your particular skill set provides value. Do not wait to be told what to do. Find out what tasks they have to accomplish and what they do on a daily basis. This will allow you to anticipate and not simply react. It will also help you find ways to innovate and add value.
Improve your customer focus by answer the following 5W Support Questions:
- WHAT is it that your customer HAS to do: What must they accomplish every day, every week, every month, every quarter, and every year? What is their primary purpose in their current role? Once you understand the answers to these questions you can begin to understand what their motivations are. You can start to analyze how your particular skill-set might make their lives easier. For example, if you know that an executive officer has a monthly budget review on the third week of the month – you can anticipate his or her need for a summary of your team’s expenses and provide it early – or you might see an opportunity to develop a custom budget tracking application you could employ across the organization.
- WHERE do your customers perform their primary functions: Where do your customers work? Do they work by themselves or as part of a team? Are they in a cubicle, office, or collaborative working environment? Do they have to work virtually with others? Do they traveling much? In tactical environments, where do they need information? What type of information do they need in these work environments? When you understand where your customers do their work you can better understand their support requirements. You can start to think about ways to improve how they can get the information they need in those locations. For example, if you know someone needs access to situation updates during crises management situations – you might consider how to automate the delivery of these updates to multiple devices. If you understand that convoy commanders may want increased situational awareness while traveling – you might develop a system that provides alerts automatically based on one’s location. Take an interest in where your customers work and you will begin to see how you can best support them.
- WHEN do your customers need your support the most: When do your customer’s critical events occur? When will your team have to provide “no-fail” support? What are the internal and external deadlines of your customers? Recognizing the particular demands of your customers will enhance your ability to offer world-class support. If you understand when your customer needs certain types of communication support or information you can position the support assets that can best meet these needs. Do not act surprised when your customers lose patience or get upset when a system fails during a critical VTC or teleconference. Though it is vital that your customers express to you precisely when their “no-fail” moments are – it is also your responsibility to seek out these needs. Again, customer satisfaction comes from great anticipation and responsiveness.
- WHY do my customers need a particular type of support: If you answer the first three of the 5W Support Questions you should be well prepared to answer why your customers need your support. Too often a customer asks for support and we litigate the wording of the request and miss the context of the question. We may get frustrated by those that cannot adequately articulate their requirements. Our expertise can lead to conceit and condescension. Instead, we can help our customers refine their request if we pause to consider why a customer is asking for a particular form of support. We can see that when someone says they want “comms on the drop-zone” they are not asking for a global internet connection – they only need the ability to talk to key leaders via voice locally. Taking the time to figure out why you are getting a request for support can alleviate friction due to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Patience is a virtue and I have found that it is better to be kind than curt when trying to understand the why behind a support request.
- HOW do my customers perform their work: Learning how your customers perform their given work may take the most time. If your customers come primarily from within your organization it will not take long before you understand how they accomplish their missions. A transportation company in an Airborne Brigade quickly learns the unique challenges of moving light infantrymen and their equipment to and from a drop-zone. If your customers come from outside your organization understanding the nature of how they do their jobs may be more challenging. If you invest in learning how they carry out their missions, however, you will gain new insights that can help you provide better support.
- 5W Support Questions Summary: By learning what your customers do, where they do it, when they need your support and why, you should be prepared to develop a plan for how you can best serve your customers. You will have some context to allow you to prioritize your time, money, and manpower. More importantly, you will have demonstrated to your customers that you care about the broader mission and their particular needs.
Rule #2 – Foster a Culture of Selfless Service
In the military, as well as many other government agencies, selfless service is espoused. Basic trainees develop an ethos to put their teammates before themselves. Leaders are mentored to make sacrifices for their subordinates. All are taught to give more than they take. In reality, however, it takes continuous focus and dedication by all teammates for an organization to embody truly selfless service.
Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke men’s basketball coach, once said: “To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.” In order for an organization to drive toward accomplishing its central objective – its reason for existing – it must have a team dedicated to selfless service – it must have all acting as one.
Truly selfless service requires an unconditional love approach. You must take your customer as they are and do your best to provide them what they need. Putting others before yourself can be challenging – but it is absolutely essential to building trust with your customers. Convincing your teammates to place the lead agents within your organization ahead of themselves may be difficult – particularly if they feel mistreated or underappreciated by these folks. Leaders, however, must find a way to develop this ethos while protecting their teammates from abuse or misuse.
Rule #3 – Embrace Hard Work
I have many times heard support personnel complain that they had to work twice as hard as those whom they support. At times this may be true, but it is important to remember that unless the organization’s lead operators accomplish their mission, there is no purpose behind their support. The physical therapists, equipment managers, and support staff of any given sport team would not have a job unless the team’s athletes required help in healing, gear, and administrative actions. These support personnel are there to help their team win on the field. The same is true for support roles in the military. Infantrymen, tankers, aviators, etc. cannot perform their mission essential security tasks without support personnel enabling them.
Leaders can help their teammates understand the importance of their hard work by communicating its value. Much of the work of combat enablers concerns buying down risk. Logistics, communications, transportation, medical care, etc. help military units preserve their combat potential. These support roles ensure units do not culminate. The time and effort to insure against loss can be great. Preparing for the known-unknowns and posturing for the unknown-unknowns requires a great deal of patience and hard work. Great support leaders recognize this – and actively convey the importance of this work to their teammates.
The work of supporters may not be easy – but it is well worth the effort. The hard work and dedication of support personnel is what makes any organization truly great – because their efforts allow an organization’s lead agents to remain focused on the organization’s primary mission. It’s true – nothing worth having comes easy. In the military, truly great support – requires truly great effort. Our customers deserve nothing less.
When our customers do not have to worry about anything other than their primary objective – then we are doing our job. By taking the time to learn about their needs we can begin to develop a culture of anticipation rather than reaction. If our team focuses on selfless service – they will prioritize their work to meet our organization’s needs. They will provide for a unity of effort. Last, but not least, if we foster a work ethic that values hard work – we can develop a resilient team prepared to take on whatever challenges our nation asks of us.
Questions for Readers
- What are your top rules to create world-class customer support?
- What would you share with the commercial world about support roles?
- How do you define selfless service?
- What do you wish all support personnel knew about your work?
As always – the views in this piece are mine alone and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, United States Army, or any other organization with which I have had any association.