What is follow-the-sun and why should you care? In this post we share an overview of what follow-the-sun means, why it is an important model for every business to consider and how to operationalize it.
What Does Follow-the-Sun Mean?
In customer support, follow-the-sun is a team structure that allows you to have agents in time zones all around the world, making it easy for global businesses to support their customers no matter where those customers are. For example, a company headquartered in San Francisco, but that has customers in Europe and Asia, might choose to have support agents in EMEA and APAC time zones so that when customers from those regions reach out they can get a quick response without asking team members in their local time zone to work at night.
The main benefit of a follow-the-sun approach is that you can be sure your customers get a timely response no matter what time of day or night they contact you. In addition to being great for global teams, it can also be a great model for companies that are primarily US focused but who get questions late into the night.
Another benefit is it means your team is largely working normal business hours in their timezone. This has a huge impact on quality, and ultimately customer experience, and that is one reason we at PartnerHero are so passionate about it.
What are the Main Benefits of Follow-the-Sun?
Quality of work
Do you do your best work at 2am? How about 4am? Very few people would answer yes to that question. That is why PartnerHero has built operations all over the world, making it possible for us to support global companies without asking employees to sacrifice sleep and quality of life.
The two most important factors in the quality of your support org are the skills of your agents and the retention on your team, because all agents get better with time.
It is still very common for outsourcing companies to do all their hiring in one location, often in South East Asia - which means that most if not all the agents working there are working night shifts to align with US business hours. We’ve found that agents who work night shifts burn out more quickly which may be one reason why many outsourcing companies have very high churn rates, ultimately impacting quality.
Not only is it much harder to hire people to work overnight shifts, it can also impact how long they stay in the role before getting burned out and moving on to the next thing. Using a follow-the-sun model leads to lower churn and better morale.
When working with a follow-the-sun model you have built in redundancy in the case of a natural disaster or regional utility outage. By spreading your team across geographies you can ensure continuity of your support in case a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster impacts one regional team.
Respecting Circadian Rhythms:
There is some research that shows that night shifts can negatively impact health and even lead to obesity, diabetes and cancer. Humans evolved to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Having a team that works normal business hours ensures agents get to spend time with family and friends, get adequate sleep and generally lead a healthier life.
Follow-the-sun is a great way to build custom, high quality, high retention teams. Night shifts are not completely evil - people do get paid more for them and some people prefer them - they just shouldn’t be the standard approach to 24/7.
How PartnerHero Operationalizes Follow-the-Sun
We build custom teams and know that every company is different. That being said, with years of experience building global teams we’ve learned some best practices along the way.
The important thing is to systematize how you do handoffs. Some tips are:
Build in some overlap between the two shifts. One of our partners, a large fintech company, ensures there’s at least one hour of overlap between the shifts. During this time, Team Leads from both shifts meet to recap how the previous shift went, what trends they are seeing and anything major that the incoming shift needs to be aware of.
Shared dashboards that show things like cases that are under review that the incoming shift needs to be aware of and major trends from the previous 7 or 8 hours. For another of our customers that uses a follow-the-sun model, we maintain a Monday.com board so that team leads have visibility across shifts.
It’s important to have open communication channels. The two groups should not have different slack channels, it should all live in the same tools so that no matter what shift someone is working they have visibility into what happened during the previous one
Open communication and standardization is a big theme when it comes to follow-the-sun. For process updates like a new workflow or task it’s great to have a system that checks to make sure everyone on the team has seen the update. For example, sending it as an email with a read receipt or as a learning module with a quiz at the end so you can see who read the email or took the quiz.
Having an up-to-date knowledge base or intranet creates a centralized place where agents can look for updates and lookup answers to questions. To maintain the quality of this resource a good system is to have one person who is accountable for making sure it is up-to-date. Important updates should go through this person, ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.
IT and HR: Having 24/7 IT support means agents can get immediate help with networking, systems access and hardware. We also have HR personnel all around the globe which means people operations support is never far away.
Follow-the-Sun in Action
One of our partners, a large mobile advertising and app monetization company that gets 20,000+ tickets each week, leverages the follow-the-sun model with a total team of 85 associates to support their customers around the world. Their teams are based in Honduras, Romania and the Philippines. The key benefits they see are built in business continuity; their operations are always running and if something goes wrong in one location (for example, a typhoon that hit the Philippines last year), they are able to seamlessly continue to support customers from other locations.
To keep communication flowing across the geographies they share a dashboard that displays cases that are under review, cases that are in danger of missing an SLA, average handle time and associate productivity. In addition to the dashboard, they have a streamlined communication system that includes email and Slack to get important announcements out across the team and an individual who is in charge of making sure their knowledge base is always up to date making it easy for anyone, in any timezone to access information they might need to solve a ticket.
According to Evan Stewart, the Program Manager in charge of this account, “knowing that the associates are working daytime hours, which is better for their health, better for their responsibilities and their family, gives me peace of mind that they are bringing their A-game to work everyday. They are able to work daytime hours and have the evenings to have a healthy life and take care of their mental health and wellness. Humans have a natural rhythm around when they sleep and spend time with friends and family and I’m glad we respect that on our team. I know I would personally struggle if I didn’t get to see my family when they were home. Working night shifts might work for some people but that is the exception, not the rule.”
Want to learn more about follow-the-sun and how it might help you support your global customer base? Get in touch with our solutions team.
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