Category: Work

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.

WordPress.com 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”

Packing a Conference Bag & Recommended Reading

Or, Packing a Carry On, 2016 Edition

I have a conference coming up next week, so I’m putting together my things, as one does. In prepping for the trip, I figured I’d do another What’s In My Bag post, since things have changed some since January of 2015!

Check it out:

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 8.04.02 PM.png

The last conference I attended was the first-ever SupConf (number two is coming up!) and it illustrated for me the allure and the failure (for me) of one-bag travel. I love the idea – go where you’re headed, have one bag and only one bag. The simplicity! The ease!

On the recommendation of my dear friend Clicky Steve, I went with the Osprey Porter 46 – it’s a great bag! I could backpack using it through all sorts of terrain and terroir for as long as I’d like and it would never let me down. It’s a great recommendation and it will be coming with me on this trip as well – but not as a solo bag.

The problem, for me, is that I don’t want to bring all of my luggage with me from the hotel room to a conference floor. Carrying a 46 liter backpack through a professional setting – it’s not a good look. At SupConf I settled on a reusable grocery bag to shuttle my laptop and conference materials from the AirBNB to the conference – and then promptly stashed it away from sight. I have some impostor syndrome around looking professional, I guess!

OK, so the Osprey Porter 46 will be acting as my clothes-and-sundries bag. Not a problem. That means that this faux-leather Timbuk2 will be doing double duty as my carry-on and my day-carry conference bag.

While it’s true that Automattic provides all of its employees a WordPress branded Timbuk2, and I absolutely adore mine, the lack of an exterior water bottle holder has come to be a consistent irritation on longer days – this bag, which I’ve had since my days as a community organizer for the City of Binghamton, has water bottle holders on both sides.

That means I can have a travel mug of coffee on one side, and a reusable water bottle on the other. What more could I need?

Here’s what’s going in my carry-on and daily-carry conference bag, for a 3-night conference trip with air travel:

1.) This is the bag itself. A quick look at the Timbuk2 website doesn’t look like they’re actively producing them anymore – it has the TSA compliant laptop compartment and notably fewer pockets and zip-ups than my WordPress bag. This will be its first big trip. This is your chance to shine, little buddy.

2.) A little notebook! It’s unlined, a sort of oversized Field Notes notebook. I’m 90% sure my colleague Timmy gave me this for doing QA testing on our new Editor. This is for various travel notes, potential blog posts, sketches, doodles, talk notes, etc. Your classic catch-all.

3.) It’s a Kindle! I left my last one on an airplane. This one, also, is secondhand. It’s full of books! Sort of! I’ll have to find my Kindle light before I leave, it’s not pictured but I would like to bring it – airplane overhead lights are too diffuse, and I always worry I’m keeping my seatmates awake with it on. A nice focused book light is key for late night and early morning flights.

4.) Fitbit Blaze! I did not think I was going to like this as much as I do – the latest update especially has added a few new front-facing templates. Being able to have the screen stay off until I’ve turned my wrist always gives me a sense of “Oh yeah we’re living in the future.” Plus, quantifying my heartrate, etc, is really interesting to see over time. This is the only small device I’m bringing that doesn’t charge using a micro USB charger.

5.) Stickerbombed Anker Powercore battery pack – this thing is seriously a lifesaver, especially in unfamiliar towns where I’m using GPS, wireless data, and other power-sucking functions. I can charge my Galaxy S4 up to six times with this beast!

6.) Karma Go Wifi Hotspot – Certified 100x better than airport wifi. Plus, it creates a wireless network that anyone around you can use, and when they do, you get some additional free data. Being friendly to strangers and getting free data is a nice combination!

7.) Dopp kit! This has toiletries, mints, an eyeglass repair kit, all that sort of stuff. Super handy to have on layovers! Once I get to the hotel this will stay in the hotel bathroom. I could do a whole post on the contents of this bag alone – it’s changed over time and is, I think, a pretty ideal balance of the necessary and the nice to have.

8.) 13″ Macbook Pro. Not pictured: the charger for this.

9.) Another notebook! This one is a slimmer Moleskine, specifically a Bullet Journal! The Doc has been following the format for about a month, and has been raving about it, so I’ve started giving it a try. I’m still undecided!

10.) I AM CRAZY ABOUT THIS THING! It’s a leather travel wallet made by a local company called Samwell Leather – I met them at a craft fair and they were the coolest folks. I’ve been complaining that I needed something like this for travel every time I came home from a trip – it holds a little notebook (how many notebooks do I need?), plus has space for your boarding documents and a pen. I am also the kind of maniac who likes to have hardcopy boarding documents, even with a massive smartphone battery pack.

(I’m skipping the pencils, pens, crayons and pencil sharpener – y’all know what those are, right?)

11.) Backup headphones! These are the in-ear headphones that came with my phone. They work, they fit fine, and they don’t need a battery to operate. They take up nearly no space, so I tuck them into a bag pocket and forget about them until I need them.

12.) These are the same on-ear wireless bluetooth headphones from Outdoor Pursuits that caused such conversation in the last Post! I still like them a lot for travel (since they fold up and don’t have a cord) and they’re holding up to lots of being thrown into and yanked out of bags, which is a good sign!

In addition to getting my bags ready, I’ve been doing a literature review of blog posts and other articles on maximizing my conference experience – I tweeted my way through them, but here are those links if you missed them in the information dump truck that is Twitter:

Five in Five: Looking to the Future

I live in a neat little neighborhood just outside of the city center of my town – it’s not a development, but a little residential pocket with a half-dozen streets, maybe 80 homes?

It’s one of those neighborhoods whose first or second round of homeowners are starting to get a little older, move into apartments or somewhere where it doesn’t get so darn cold in the winter time. As they sell their homes, first time homebuyers and small families are moving in – it’s a neighborhood in transition, and it means that my kiddos, when they’re a little older, will have lots of kids around their age in the neighborhood. It’s a good thing. It’s a nice place to live.

One joke I have with my wife, about our neighborhood, is this: there’s a street hockey goal that’s always in the street where we turn toward home. We’ve never seen anyone actually using it, but it’s always there, rain or shine, spring, summer, fall. We had both noticed it, independently, and once, driving together, I said;

“I figured it out, by the way. It’s not for street hockey – it’s a reminder.”

She looked at me, and nodded.

“It’s a reminder, so when we drive in, when we get home, we say to ourselves, ‘Don’t forget to have a goal.’ ”

We had a chuckle – I’m still working on my Dad Jokes, obviously. But, still, it was the sort of little thing that has stuck with me, and every time I pull into our neighborhood, I see the street hockey goal, and I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to have a goal.’

Especially when you’re working in a job you enjoy, with people you respect, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day ebb and flow of The Work. It’s a small thing to do your work and go to meetings and let the tide carry you in and out of your daily labor. I have been in that type of aimless, do-good-work-and-go-home mindset for some time.

There’s no shame in it: to be ambitious without a clear destination, though, is a recipe for frustration and for burnout. So – I joined a Mastermind group. I got more involved in the broader support / success community. I’ve given it some thought – my need for a goal, I mean – and I’ve decided on this:

I’m going to be in the top five Customer Success professionals working in the SaaS space within the next five years

Or, ‘Five in five.’ Even shorter: 5in5.

Here’s why Customer Success is the right fit for me:

I’m an analyst; I know how to find patterns in behavior, I know how to use the tools of Big Data to identify the best course of action that will reveal real insights. I understand the import of Small Data; I’ve surveyed and interviewed customers across multiple product lines, using a diversity of approaches. I know how to turn all of that research into action and communicate that action clearly – even to busy folks who aren’t interested in statistical significance. 

I’m customer focused; I’ve built my career on finding ways to make the millions of publishers, bloggers, artists and business owners find success at WordPress.com. I understand how customers can provide us information even when we aren’t asking for it. I am keenly aware that while reducing the time it takes for customers to get a reply is important, it’s not as important as reducing and preventing the pain that causes your customers to reach out in the first place.

I am dedicated to leading; I know that I am better for the folks I work with. I know that a diverse collection of perspectives and approaches will always be greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve found great satisfaction and endless opportunities for humility in leading teams, especially remote teams. I’ve written about that an awful lot.

Customer Success is in its infancy; the combination of skills that I have, this weird intersection of analysis, customer experience, and team leadership – it’s not clear how I can leverage this into impact, into creating the most value in the universe. In this way, the fact that the work of Customer Success is still so flexible, without the more rigid history and expectations of something like Customer Support (‘Reduce response times’), it allows me to not only pursue impact – but to create the role, shape what it means to be successful.

The next piece of the puzzle; how do I get there?

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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.

Metrics, Means, and Maps

As a younger man, I spent a lot of time reading and discussing philosophy.

In the end, I was most attracted to modern moral theorists like Rawls and Nozick, but like all Philosophy majors at the State University of New York at Binghamton, I spent some time with all of the greats: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Marcuse, Arendt, and so forth.

(In fact, in the forward of Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick describes what I think is the most perfect description of all professional academia, not just Philosophy. I’m away from my copy, but I’ll post the passage when I get home!) edit: I gave it its own Post!

I’m bringing this up because one of my least favorite philosophers to read was Immanuel Kant. I struggled with Kant, like I suspect many 20 year olds do, as his writing is so incredibly dense, and translated from the original German. One piece of his moral philosophy that stands with me is this: to behave morally, a moral agent must treat other humans always as ends in themselves, and never as means.

To be more philosophically precise, Immanuel says never to treat other humans merely as means, but always as ends as well.  So, it’s not necessarily immoral to treat another human as a means, so long as you keep them in mind as an end also. It’s a tricky bit that’s easy to forget. Kant, he’s dense.

One thing that we need to bear in mind, whatever department we’re working in, is that our metrics are necessarily abstractions, a means to a larger end. In this way our mindset needs to be like Kant’s – some things are ends, some things are means, and we should be intentional about which is which, and remind ourselves that the distinction is important.

A quote that came up a number of times at the Growth Hackers convention this year was this: “Be careful what you optimize for,” and that, too, points at what I’m getting at here.

Our metrics, our measurable indicators of success, must necessarily be abstractions from real life. 

By this, I mean, reducing churn by 10% is only a means to a larger end, and has to be considered in that larger context. What’s the real reason? Why do you, personally and as an organization, want to reduce churn? Maybe it’s because you believe you have a product that can genuinely make peoples’ lives better, so the more folks who use it, longer, the better off they’ll be. That’s great! Maybe it’s to make more money – that’s OK too. 

In either of these cases, churn reduction is itself only a means toward a larger end. Success with this metric points to a larger success, something that you’re maybe not equipped to measure, something like Customer Happiness or Success of the Business. We need to keep this in mind.

Another quote that’s on my mind a lot these days: “The map is not the territory.

Our metrics are only maps upon which we build our assumptions and beliefs – the underlying terrain, the real territory of your customers and your business, is far more complex, far more nuanced. Remember that we use metrics because they are abstractions, because they take our complex world that is impossible to understand all at once, and break it into easier-to-understand chunks.

Our metrics are by design not the whole truth. They’re reductive because they must be – because only by reducing a complex concept can we hope to make meaningful decisions. If our metric were the whole truth, if the map were a perfectly accurate representation of the whole territory, it would be perfectly useless.

Measuring our work, and our companies, and our success or lack of success, is absolutely vital to the success of any enterprise in 2016. Choosing the right metrics, and bearing in mind that our metrics only represent one part of the truth, is the hard part.