Category: saas

It’s Good that Data is Man Made

There’s a post from the folks at Highrise that’s been going around Customer Support and Success circles over the last couple of weeks: Data is Man Made, from Chris Gallo.

As someone who writes and speaks about customer support and leveraging data to do customer support better, I’ve had this article dropped to me in at least two Slack channels. Folks get a sense of mirth, I suspect, from needling me with articles and arguments that run contrary to the sorts of things I write about, and try to be persuasive around.

Yes; I will admit that I found this piece hard to swallow at first blush. Opening with…

Here’s a secret from the support team at Highrise. Customer support metrics make us feel icky.

… is a guaranteed burr in my side. Arguing against measurement from emotional premises?

Continue reading “It’s Good that Data is Man Made”

Research in the Right Order: When to Interview Your Customers

One of the parts of my work that I get the most satisfaction from, and the part that most consistently surprises me, is in listening to our customers. has a lot of customers. When you are dealing with a B2C company at this scale, it gets to be important not just to learn to listen, but learn to seek information in the right order.

(If you were at my SupConf talk, some of this is going to be very familiar!)

I like to talk to people – it’s part of who I am. I am an unapologetic talk-to-think-er. My most successful side hustle was a thinly-veiled attempt to get incredibly smart and incredibly busy cutting-edge farmers to talk to me. It worked! I interviewed them (and other members of their industry) for over a year. I think the art of the interview is a subtle one, and I’m the sort of person who literally reads books about different types of interviews.

Continue reading “Research in the Right Order: When to Interview Your Customers”

Hospitality is a Team Sport

If you’ve been reading my stuff for very long, you’re aware that I think about hospitality a lot.

I use it in broad terms – I think that the work that we call Customer Support, Customer Success, Customer Service, and so on, all fall under this same umbrella.

Before I worked for Automattic I had a successful career in high end coffee – before that I was in grad school and working in restaurants and cafes.

One piece that’s worth keeping in mind, one cornerstone to excellence in hospitality regardless of industry, is that we’re playing a team sport.

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary (Happy Anniversary, Doc!)  – last night we went out to a nice dinner. She had a lobster salad and I had the tuna steak. During our meal, I noticed a waiter serving a large table next to us.

Each of the entrées had toothpicks with different colored foil on the end – some red, some blue, you know the kind. As he turned his back to the table to pick up another diner’s plate, he’d quietly remove the toothpick, leave it on the larger serving tray, and present the entrée to the customer, announcing confidently the entrée, the sides, the special bibs and bobs requested by that particular diner.

If you’ve worked in a restaurant, you know what those toothpicks were – they indicated the done-ness of a steak, or which cheeseburger had the Swiss rather than the cheddar. They were little reminders built into the process to allow the server to present an entirely seamless and apparently perfect experience to the customers without holding all of that information in his head.

(This was a table of maybe twelve diners? Not an easy task to remember every person’s nuanced order)

It was an interesting reminder for me, that a seamless and lovely delivery to a customer, a shiny and outstanding experience, is the result of a whole team of folks working behind the scenes – working to support one another just as much as they’re working to support the customer directly.

(I’ve written some about this here and here.)

This kind of internal hospitality may seem small – a cook leaving reminders of what makes each dish special – but it adds up to a lower effort, higher-level experience for the customer.

It’s easy for us to extend this idea to the work we do in developing software. Think of your internal tooling – are there obvious, visible flags for features or situations where things are different from the usual? How much do you make your colleagues lives easier?

This doesn’t just apply to development teams working with success/support teams, either. If you work in a customer-facing role, whether support or success or whatever, how easy do you make it for others in your company to understand your work? What are the toothpicks that you offer to make their jobs easier? Do you have a standard, easily replicated template for bug reports that includes steps for reproduction, customers effected, and a consistent urgency scale?

(If not; think about making one 🙂 )

The customer experience, especially an excellent customer experience, is the end result of tons of tiny decisions, all stacked on top of one another. It’s only possible to really do the very best for our customers when we first do the very best we can for one another.

You’re Already Interviewing Your Customers

Let’s start with a story!

At Automattic, we’re lucky enough to have some pretty sophisticated internal tracking and analysis tools. I was recently involved in a conversation with my friend and colleague Martin, about a particular slice of our customer base, whose churn is higher than we would have expected.

One of the ingredients for this particular group of customers was that they had, at some point in the seven days before leaving our services, interacted with our Happiness Engineers via our live chat support offering. Given the tools at our disposal, we were able to pull together a list of all of these customers – and with the churn rate being what it was, and the total userbase for that product what it was, the list was not terrifically long. Double digits.

Some of you out there know this story, right? What better way to find out what is going on with your customers (or former customers) than asking them outright? Put together some post-churn interviews, offer an Amazon gift card, learn something new and helpful about your product or service. This is a pretty standard flow for researchers – start with Big Data to identify a focus spot, then focus in with more quantitative methods, interviews, surveys, what I think of as Small Data.

In this case, rather than jump to the usual move, and at Martin’s suggestion, I pulled up all of the chat transcripts, and read through them, categorizing them along obvious lines, pulling out noteworthy quotes and common understandings (and misunderstandings!) – treating these last live chats with churned customers like they were transcribed interviews, because in a real way, that’s what they are.

I was really surprised how insightful and interesting these live chat sessions were, especially when read back-to-back-to-back like that. In fact, I did not even feel the need to follow up with any of the customers, the picture was clear enough from what they’d already communicated with us. I was honestly floored by this, and left wondering: how much good stuff is already in these transcripts? 

Moving forward, I’m including customer email and live chat review as an integral part of any user cohort research that I do – it will allow me to come to the interviews three steps ahead, with far better questions in mind, and a much sharper understanding of what their experience might have been like.

Especially with robust data slicing tools, being able to cut down through verticals, cohorts and purchase levels means that I’ll be able to see a ton of useful, relevant conversations with customers similar to those I’m looking to learn more about.

This is also the case with you and your customers.

Even if you don’t have a user research team, or even one researcher, your support team is interviewing your customers every day. Even without data slicing tools, you can do something as simple as a full-text search on your last month of email interactions and get something close to what you’re looking to learn.

If you enjoy a support tool that has a taxonomy system or plugs into your existing verticals and cohorts, all the better.

This Small Data on your customers, these conversations, already exist. You don’t need to generate new information, you don’t need to sign up for third party user testing.

You’ve heard me say it before, folks – there’s value in the data you have. Use it!





SaaS Companies: Stop Putting Support in a Silo

I get it – you’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. We can all spend too much time praying at the altar of hustle. 

Here’s a quick tip from me to you: take ten minutes, stop reading the top stories on Hacker News or Growth Hackers. Stop scrolling through Quora questions. They’re all going to tell you the same thing:

Listen to your customers.

This message might come in different shapes and flavors:

“Find product market fit.”

“Conduct customer interviews.”

“Get out of the office.”

It all boils down to one simple necessity for any software company – but especially for recurring revenue Saas companies.  That necessity is this: gaining and maintaining a deep understanding of your customers, their problems in the world, and their problems with your product.

Don’t hire a consultant to do this for you.

You already have this understanding in your company, and it is entirely likely that you’re sitting on a gold mine of potential information. What’s blocking you from that information, that almost-guaranteed revenue boost, is not financial or technological.

It’s cultural.

When was the last time one of your Product folks sat down and asked your support team about their work?

You have an entire team of people who talk with your customers all day, every day.

It doesn’t have to be a formal process. It doesn’t have to be some sort of support veteran embedded in your Product teams  – although I’d recommend that.

Just go talk to them. Go ask them what customers are struggling with. They won’t necessarily be able to solve your problems, but I promise you they’re going to reveal to you points of friction, trouble areas, and parts of your product that aren’t even on your radar as costing you customers.

Because the fact of the matter is, if you have a large enough customer base, and you’re relying on them for recurring revenue, even small problems, small sticking points, semi-irritating workarounds, these are going to cause churn. Maybe not a lot of churn – but some. Imagine eliminating all of those tiny pain points. They add up.

First, you have to find them.

The good news is, someone in your company already has. Go ask them about it.