Trust & Safety from the Ground-Up: An Insider Look at Building Your Team
By Kevin Lee /
25 Sep 2017
Congrats, you have the green light to build your Trust & Safety (T&S) team! It may have taken plenty of rationale building, a high chargeback rate, and a high profile case, but now you’re ready to start building. Whether you are one-person operation and looking to expand by a couple more or a new manager looking to significantly grow your team, each hire you make is critical to your team’s success. Below I’ll cover some tips that I picked up along my own 10+ year journey in this unique space.
Where are you going to hire?
- The majority of small T&S teams tend to initially grow from within. After all, it’s tempting to hire someone that you already have an existing rapport with. Perhaps Joe from the customer service team. He’s always curious about what you’re doing, has a good attitude, and seems to be proactive. In addition, he already knows the product and people at the company, and has customer empathy to spare. Onboarding would also be much easier since nothing is really documented yet.
- However, he may have *too* much customer empathy and want to let through all those shady transactions
- External hires can be great, as well, since they come to the table without any internal baggage, ready to question and learn from everything. It tends to be easier to mold them into the type of teammate you need. They also can bring a fresh perspective. What things worked (or didn’t work) at their past company? Even people fresh out of school can bring something to the table. Keep in mind, however, that if you go with an external person, you’ll need to do more to get them up to speed.
I always found it better to go with an internal person if you’re growing from a 1-person team to a 2-person team. In most of those cases, training material isn’t documented, but you need to get someone up to speed ASASP. Plus, from a personality and performance perspective, you have many more data points to pull from. Personality, communication and other soft skills can be difficult to gauge in an interview process. You’re going to be spending more time with this person than your significant other so you better be very confident you have someone you can work well with. However, as your team grows, it’s important to start hiring external talent with different skillsets to fill out your team.
What type of skillset are you looking for?
- On any successful team, it’s important to have a diverse skillset. It goes without saying that you want smart, passionate, determined and gritty teammates who are proactive and authentic communicators. But what else? One thing that has changed over the years is the tendency to hire more technical individuals.
- When I first started in the fraud business 10+ years ago, work tended to be more single-transaction based. You had a queue of accounts or transactions and you reviewed them one by one. While there’s a ton of value in human investigation, it does not scale that effectively. If your product is growing like crazy, don’t expect your human team to match that pace. In addition, engineering resources are almost always hard to come by, so you can quickly find yourself in a tight spot.
- This was the case when I worked at Facebook. We didn’t have the people to review every single account by hand. We also had engineering constraints, so we had to change the way that we fought abuse on the platform. As a result, we started hiring people with much more technical and data analysis backgrounds. We empowered our team to take on more by changing up our skillset.
If your product is growing quickly, you need to get more technical in order to scale. Getting engineering and data science resources will always be tough. Invest in things (and people) that enable your team to accomplish your goals more effectively.
What kind of metrics do you look at?
- An old manager of mine used to tell me, “What’s measured is monitored.” I took this advice to heart and really drove deep on this channel. Below are a handful of stats that I reviewed in order to make sure my team was performing well.
- Chargeback rate – there are several ways to calculate this stat. I would always trace the chargeback back to the original order date to get a more accurate picture of our performance. I would then forecast the expected chargeback rate based the average time it took for chargebacks to come in. Keep in mind as you get closer to present day, there will be more variance in your forecast since there are less data points to pull from.
- Account or transaction close rate
- Reopen rate
- Refund rate
- False positive rate
- Number and dollar amount of reviews manually completed
- Number of phone calls received
- Number of emails received and sent
- Almost all of these metrics would be broken down by agent, dollar amount, transaction count etc. over X period of time
- I didn’t have some secret metric that I used to measure performance; I made virtually all stats transparent to everyone In fact, each week, the team would get automated emails on our performance, both from a team and individual perspective, so everyone could get feedback in real time. This allowed each person to course correct independently.
What career paths are available?
- Once your team has been established, you and your team will eventually start thinking about career progression. Obviously, this will need to be done in conjunction with your HR team, but it’s an incredibly important aspect of building your T&S team that does not get as much attention as it should. Career progression does not necessarily mean promotion or a new title: it can also mean new experiences.
- At Facebook and at Square, both companies had a “jungle gym” approach, where individuals were encouraged to constantly try new things even if they did not necessarily come with a promotion. There were a few different objectives here: first, to allow people to explore new things so that they could understand what they liked and didn’t like, and second, Two, build common skillsets across the team/organization so there were no single points of failure
- At Facebook, we ended up creating one path that was more technical (e.g. coding, modeling, analysis) and one path that was more program management (eg: cross functional initiatives, vendor management, training, fake accounts, user appeals)
Be proactive with your team and talk about what they are looking for and why. People’s motives can vary widely. Very likely they may not have an exact sense of what they want to do, so it can be a continuous discussion and learning process.
Kevin is the Trust and Safety Architect at Sift Science. Building high-performing teams and systems to combat malicious behavior are what drive him. Prior to Sift, Kevin worked as a manager at Facebook, Square, and Google in various risk, spam, and trust and safety roles.