What is a follow the sun model in customer support and how do you implement it?
A follow the sun model refers to a way of working that uses global timezones in order to provide around the clock, or 24 hour support, in customer service.
Follow the sun models became popularised as a result of three changing dynamics:
- Customer expectations increased, meaning they want to be able to reach customer service teams at any time. This is particularly true in industries such as financial services, healthcare, utilities and emergency services. It can also be the case for software-as-a-service businesses with globally distributed customer bases.
- Globalisation means that companies have customers located anywhere in the world. In order to service different timezones, they need to be available and easy to contact around the clock.
- The pandemic and shift to remote and hybrid working has meant that instead of having teams work shifts spanning 24/7, customer support teams can leverage different time zones to cover the same working hours without having to schedule anti-social shift patterns or pay overtime.
What is the follow the sun model?
The follow the sun model is a customer support approach that aims to provide continuous support to customers by seamlessly transitioning work from one geographic location to another as time zones change.
This strategy takes advantage of the time zone differences between various support teams to ensure that customer inquiries are addressed promptly, no matter when they are received.
How to implement a follow the sun model
Assess your customer base
To implement the follow the sun model, you need to understand your customer base across a number of parameters. This means identifying both where your customers are located and the hours they expect to get in contact with you. You might have a customer base only in one geography, but expecting 8AM – 8PM service, or you might have customers located across the five different timezones in the United States.
Establish support centres in multiple time zones
Select which geographies you want to build customer support teams in. You want to look at their ability to service the languages your customers speak in, ability to understand your product and service, costs and scalability. You also want to make sure you can invest in a suitable management layer to ensure hiring, training, coaching and quality assurance are constantly looked after without needing too much support from your HQ.
Define handover protocols
Effective communication and coordination between support teams are essential. Define clear handover protocols to ensure that customer inquiries are seamlessly transferred between teams as time zones shift. This includes detailing the information that needs to be passed on, ensuring all support teams are on the same page. This will often happen with pending tickets that don’t get resolved by one team and need to be handed over when shifts changeover.
Utilise technology to streamline the handover process and enhance communication between teams. Implement workforce management software so that everyone knows when they are supposed to be working, what they are working on and can handle handovers between teams or geographies. Ideally your workforce management software can also handle timezones to avoid manual calculations.
You can select a timezone when scheduling in Surfboard, and it auto-adjusts the hours. The page’s timezone picker enables viewing of shifts across regions
Training and consistency
It’s crucial to maintain a consistent level of service quality across all support teams. Provide comprehensive training for support agents, ensuring they follow the same procedures and standards regardless of their location. Regular training and updates can help maintain consistency in customer service. The best way to do this is to invest in standardised training materials, help centres, frequently asked questions and do ensure quality assurance is done centrally to ensure uniformity.
Continuous monitoring and improvement
Implement a system for monitoring and analysing customer support performance across different time zones. Gather feedback from customers and support agents to identify areas for improvement. Regularly assess the effectiveness of your follow the sun model and make necessary adjustments.
You can easily review performance of multiple teams across different timezones with Surfboard’s time-on-task
Benefits of the follow the sun model
- 24/7 customer support: The most obvious benefit is that customers receive support around the clock, leading to higher customer satisfaction and your brand being associated with being easy to reach.
- Faster response times: By strategically placing support teams in various time zones, you can reduce response times and resolve customer inquiries more quickly. This means you can avoid building up overnight backlogs on channels like email and live chat.
- Global coverage: The model enables you to serve a global customer base effectively, expanding your reach and market presence.
- Enhanced flexibility: The follow the sun model offers flexibility in scheduling and resource allocation, allowing you to adapt to changing customer demands. It also avoids you needing to manage night shifts if you offer 24/7 service.
- Improved team collaboration: Support teams across different time zones learn to collaborate effectively, sharing best practices and knowledge, which can lead to increased expertise and efficiency.
The follow the sun model in customer support is a powerful strategy that allows businesses to offer continuous support to a global customer base while optimising headcount and response times.
To implement a follow the sun model effectively, you need to have the right software in place. Workforce management that schedules different shifts across disparate timezones ensures you can have a follow the sun model that works for your team and works for your customers.
To hear about how Surfboard workforce management software (WFM) schedules follow the sun models: