Tag: customer service

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”

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.

Support Folks: Don’t Confuse Your Problems For Your Customers’ Problems

I was talking with my lead, Andrew, about how software companies provide customer support – a standard topic for our conversations.

We ended up on a topic I hadn’t considered much, but it has resonated with me since.

The topic is the important distinction between your customer’s problems and your support team’s problems. 

Or, put another way: the difference between a hard product to use and a hard product to support. 

It’s very easy to ask a member of your support team: “What’s your biggest problem right now?”

They’ll likely reply with some combination of particular features of the product, maybe something to do with billing or receipts, and possibly something about internal communication (which virtually every support team has a 100% legitimate problem with, since virtually no tech companies communicate value well from the support team to the rest of the company).

Especially when we’re leveraging support teams to build more value into the product, the problem is: it’s easy to confuse support’s problem with the customer’s problem.

At the end of the day, the result should be the same: more value for the customer, right? If you solve a problem and it results in better support for your customers or a better product for your customers, well, everybody wins!

The bigger issue is that these two categories of problem have to be solved in different ways.

Consider this: if you’re running a web host, and you ask your support folks to list the biggest problem areas they encounter day to day. The number one reply across the board is “Domains.” 

You might be tempted to direct some UX or Product folks to run through the domain purchase flow, to check on accessibility or mobile friendliness of that particular part of your product – but the right move would be to ask more questions. Specifically:

“Are domains the biggest problem for our customers, or are they the biggest problem for our support team?”

You can see why it is so important to hash out the difference here, yeah?

If customers are struggling to purchase domains, or are struggling to use them correctly, that will take a particular approach – build some better flows, test them, deploy them, circle back to see if things improve.

If support folks are struggling to support domain customers, then you have a whole different job on your hands. Now you need to get into the thick of it – OK, what part of that support process is challenging? Where do you need more information but don’t have it? What tools can we build to make this process easier, faster, more user friendly?

These are questions that good support organizations need to ask themselves, too.

Too frequently we fall into the easy answer, to blame the edge cases, to throw our hands in the air as though our customers are mysterious beings with whom we have nothing in common.

What if the problem isn’t on the customer’s end? What if you struggle to support some part of your product because your tools aren’t good enough? The problem is not always with the customer, it’s not always with the product. Sometimes our own processes and approaches are what’s causing friction.

Next time you say to yourself, “Ugh, classic problem x with customers/our product” – take a minute, step back, and ask yourself: what’s the real problem here?

The Customer Comes Last

The Customer Comes Last

I left off a Post a while back with this:

I would argue that not only is there more to hospitality than your customer facing efforts, I would also argue that, of the people to whom you want to offer outstanding hospitality and service, your customers should be the last in line. But that’s a topic for another time.

You can read the rest of that Post, “Internal and External Hospitality,” here.

Let’s talk about serving your customers last – what I mean, what my argument is, and why there are are least two groups who should come before your customers in terms of hospitality.

If you haven’t been following my blog closely (I totally understand), let me catch you up on a two of the concepts I’ve been writing about:

Service and hospitality are different things – service is what happens when a customer interacts directly with someone who works for your company. Hospitality is the umbrella category for everything else that you and your company do to impact the way your customer feels about your company. The guy at the front desk at a hotel is providing service. A dirty elevator is detracting from the hospitality.

Internal and External Hospitality – Hospitality isn’t just something you provide for your customers – your internal culture, the way things work at your company, can also be seen through the lens of hospitality. External is what your customers see, internal is what your colleagues see.

Let me start with my conclusion – then we can work backwards.

In terms of hospitality, the best way to create value for your customers is to rank others above them.

I’m clearly taking aim at the old yarn ‘The Customer is always right,’ or ‘The Customer comes first,’ or one of a hundred other clichés. That’s nonsense. It’s the product of simple thinking, and in an ironic twist, your customers are actually worse off if you fail to rank some other folks ahead of them in your thinking.

Broadly, there are three cohorts in our equation – you and your colleagues, your company’s vendors, and your customers. This order is intentional – I would argue that is also the order that you should think about serving (and providing hospitality to) these groups.

There has been so much written about company culture, why it’s important, why is has to be attended to intentionally – we can very easily see the difference between a good culture and a bad one using our lens of hospitality, right? Working in a place where employees care for one another, support one another, and work to help one another is clearly more hospitable and a better place to work than the opposite.

Providing hospitality internally, to your colleagues, does not always cause tension with providing hospitality or service to your vendors or customers – but when it does, you should always, always put your colleagues first. If you have built a great team, of motivated, well-intentioned individuals, maintaining that positive culture internally is far more important than pleasing a single customer. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary to fire a customer to maintain that internal hospitality. The rest of your customers will be better off, enjoying the fruits of a happy, supportive workplace where employees aren’t afraid that missteps with customers will cost them their jobs.

Providing hospitality to your vendors – especially in a tech or food service environment – is absolutely more important than to individual customers. Yes, the guy delivering your produce should be given preferential treatment. Yes, the folks who keep your servers maintained should have their emails read first. They literally keep the lights on. Maintaining those personal and business relationships is key to ensuring a steady flow of resources that you can then turn into customer value.

If your end goal is to delight your customers, to create the most value for them and to instill in them loyalty and pride, you cannot put them first. You have to put them last – and in doing so, you’ll improve their lives far more than if you place them above your colleagues and your vendors.

Huge Thanks to Olark


Huge thanks to Olark (our live chat provider at Automattic) for inviting me to speak at their first ever Customers For The Win event at Boston’s We Work coworking space. I was in town for An Event Apart, and it was a real treat to meet their crew and talk a little bit about stealing ideas from the Toyota Production System. You can see my slides here, and I hope to have a video soon.

It was great to meet all the fine folks at Olark, as well as finally connect with some other folks I’ve chatted with in the Support Driven Slack Channel. If you ever have a chance to give a flash talk on a topic you’re excited about, make like Nike, and just do it!