How to cut your new agent on-boarding time in half with Martin Kõiva

This time we hosted Martin Kõiva, a co-founder at Qualitista is a peer feedback and ticket review system for support teams which helps agents onboard faster and improve the quality of answers. 

How did you come up with the idea for Qualitista and what problems are you solving?

In my previous role, I was heading a large, fast-growing support team and struggled to find a way to keep quality consistent and make sure we are giving the right answers to our customers.

CSAT and NPS only tell half the story, when it comes to the quality of your support. That is because the customer cannot actually know if the answer he/she received was up to your company standards or not. I realized we need a system when I kept getting forwarded emails from the CEO of something having gone wrong with support – by that time it was too late of course.

Qualitista is a system for solving that problem, by making it really easy to review and analyze support conversations. It integrates with your helpdesk and you can easily review samples of cases, send feedback to your agents, track progress etc. In that sense, it’s also good for general agent development and performance management.



How do you ensure that all your support team members are all in sync and how does your support agent on-boarding look like?

I think it goes back to that same process. Like great sports teams look at a video of their past games, great support teams analyze their support cases and learn from it.  The big difference is that support teams do not see what teammates are doing at all time – all the more reason to go back and make sure everybody is aligned and knows how to answer customers. Peer review or even just manager/trainer review of support tickets ensures that

  •   people are getting the same answers for the same questions,
  •   there are no knowledge gaps across the teams. 

What does good customer service mean to you?

The motto that my previous team went by was “Give fast and useful answers with a human touch”. That summarizes it in my mind. Each part of that is important. You need to be responsive, otherwise, it doesn’t matter how good the answers are, you need actually solve the problem, not simply “answer” and last but not least, there needs to be a dose of empathy.  Nailing all of this is tricky, but if you hire great people, it’s possible – even at scale. Something that many more traditional call-center type organizations have given up on, I believe.

Personally, I believe amazing customer service is possible at scale. It most certainly is not possible, if one does not even believe it can be achieved.

How does the support function looks like at your organization?

Again, mostly talking about my previous job, as we don’t have a significant support operation yet at Qualitista. My view was that we had to be special forces, not regular army. Especially in a B2B environment, each interaction carries a lot of weight and that made me believe that support had to be geared towards high quality more than anything else. This, of course, depends on the price point of your product and many other factors, but lifting it from the stigma that it’s just a chor and a cost is important.

So our setup was in many ways deprived of that kind of thinking. There was a lot of emphasis and reflection. Obsessing about quality took many forms – we obviously focus on CSAT a lot and certain speed related metrics. We especially emphasized the first response time, because that was directly correlated to the CSAT results. It makes sense obviously because until you have that first real reply, you’re in the dark. Imagine if the fire department took 10 minutes to pick up your call? Even if they say that “we are already outside your house and just put out the fire”, those will have been a hellish ten minutes.

How do you measure the success of your support efforts?

The ultimate result for support of is the bottom line, but that is quite complicated to measure. But it is crucial that your support folks understand that they do in fact have a big impact on how the company does, especially at scale. Having some sort of an internal quality related metric (even if it’s just volume related – how many tickets did you review?) is vital if you value quality as well as speed.

Another telling metric is CES (customer effort score). Antonio King from gave a great talk about that how there is a correlation to repeat purchases at a Support Driven event. That I think is brilliant, because anyone can make up metrics, but if you can tie it to real business results, it becomes way more tangible all of a sudden and other parts of the organization also start listening. Even though CSAT is falling somewhat out of fashion these days, I still believe that it should be a mainstay of your KPI set. Seriously – ask your customers how you did. It cannot be the only thing you measure, but if you don’t do it in any form at all, you’re doing it wrong. Zendesk’s built-in option is very robust for example.

What have been the biggest roadblocks you had to overcome to provide great support?

At risk of sounding like broken record, getting a large, fast-growing team to work in synch was by far the biggest challenge. It’s easy to achieve results in terms of speed and quality if you are operating in a stable environment and all you need to do is control your own actions. But it becomes much more complicated if you are constantly subjected to a changing situation – as most start-ups are. The product changes, the company grows, the market changes, your own team changes, your understanding of the situation evolves. It can be a lot like building an airplane mid-flight.

If I had to name to specific challenges, then one would certainly be getting the ticket review process off the ground and establishing a feedback loop for the team. We started with a very manual process and some spreadsheets, which gave me the idea for Qualitista as well.

The other one has related actually to contextual support. Namely answering the question “how do we make support scale without hiring a 1:1 ratio to customer growth?”. Contextual help ended up being the solution, so in that sense, I think Support Hero is solving an absolutely crucial issue.

What role does support play on your product roadmap?

It plays a vital role. We are at an early stage and are looking for customers that would join us most for that feedback. Almost all major feature developments of the past year can be traced back to feature request by a customer. Extracting that insight and feedback is in large part the task of customer support – at least in a smaller organization.

It’s easy for me to say that as a member of a tiny team, but realizing that you have a lot of customers giving you invaluable feedback and product ideas can become less obvious in a large organization, where the product team is separated from customer-facing departments. Therein lies an opportunity for support organization. Go find some valuable nuggets from support cases and present them to your colleagues proactively. They will be blown away by the richness of the data you have.

What’s the role of self-help support in your support framework?

I think it’s the future. Not in the sense that regular human-to-human support would disappear, but that it will become heavily supplemented and actually make “regular” support better for it. We plan on introducing various elements of self-help in Qualitista. It just gives you more “bang for your buck”. In my previous job, we ended up with a proprietary tool, as an Elevio alternative, but honestly, I would today stick with one of the purpose-built external solutions. Building it ourselves would simply eat up development resources that are needed elsewhere. Not to mention the speed and continuous updates.

How to achieve perfect customer support framework for SaaS?

No silver bullets, but I think it’s important to provide users with ways of interaction (or not interacting) with you that they are most comfortable with.

What you guys do is a great example of that I think – in many situations contextual help is even preferable to live-support because if you are an international SaaS customer. Getting in touch with support could mean a costly phone call abroad and talk in a non-native language. While possible, it is certainly not convenient.

The format of the channel is also becoming more of a matter of choice. What kinds of tools and channels are your customers used to? That should dictate whether you have phone support, plain old email support or something “fancier” for getting in touch.

What would be number one advice you will give to junior support manager before starting his or her position?

Especially when talking about a larger company, it is vital to understand what the business is and how the organization works. Otherwise, you may end as a team that is great at giving “answers”. But what customers need are solutions, which are aligned with the interests of the company. Nicely crafted and polished “answers” benefit nobody. But that is what many traditional support organizations produce, instead of solving the issues of the customer. It is not to say that these teams do not try their best, but it is very easy to find yourself siloed and isolated from the rest of the company. If that happens, then indeed giving just some replies to users is all you can do.

My recommendation would be to study the inner workings of the company, so you know what needs to happen in order to get customers what they need and also your colleagues in other departments what they need. And they do need a lot from customers because the silo effect applies equally to them

Where is customer support heading? How would you like it to change in the future?

I think support is not just support anymore. It’s all merging with other functions and it’s important to be aware of this shift.


Qualitista team

Support is also marketing, branding, and sales. So approaching support from the traditional angle of “yeah, let’s just dump that department in a low-cost location and try not to think about it” is a losing strategy. Allowing teams to strive for excellence is at the heart of why we started Qualitista too. Partially because of that old way of thinking, I see many great support folks having self-esteem issues, both individually and as groups. I wish that this change was even more rapid because it is already true today for many companies. Customer support is a vital business function that impacts sales, conversion, word of mouth etc etc and one that can make or break a business because it’s a direct reflection of who you are an organization.


About the Author: Martin Kõiva, co-founder at Qualitista is a peer feedback and ticket review system for support teams which helps agents onboard faster and improve the quality of answers.

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