Tag: customer success

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”

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.

Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence.


Over the last month or so, I’ve been working closely with our Mobile development folks to take a closer look at the way we provide support for and through our apps.

One of the greatest points that was illustrated to me very clearly was one that I’d heard probably a hundred times before but never really internalized: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

What do I mean when I say this? Let’s take a look at the Android and iOS Forums for the WordPress App. Here’s Android. Here’s iOS. These forums are not what you’d call super active support forums – maybe 2-3 posts and replies a day, all answered fairly quickly and accurately by folks who can help.

When I started in with the mobile support work, I imagined that the response from customers to our in-app help option would be fairly similar – low-volume, fairly straightforward, entirely in a language I speak and understand.

This was wrong – very wrong. Our in-app support (powered by Helpshift) received 1400 support requests last week. That’s 200 new issues opened every day, larger than our forum activity by an order of magnitude.

By including access to support within the application itself, we lowered the barrier of entry, and suddenly we found ourselves with truckloads more support requests – requests that we never would have had access to using only forum-based support. While it may be more work in terms of sheer reply volume, it is also offers far more insight into the app and our customers, and we are already improving the app experience using these new insights.

Assuming that the low volume of support requests in the forums indicated a low level of demand for support was an example of confusing an absence of evidence for evidence of absence. Simply because we did not see them, or offer them an outlet to be heard, did not mean that that need for support did not exist.

Remember that your customers might have needs and questions you’re not hearing because they don’t know how to tell you. How can you listen in a new way?

Don’t Confuse Your Success for Customer Success

Data is awesome. Scientists have known this for a while now, but now we have Big Data, which some are going so far as to call a “Natural Resource” – watching a site like Growth Hackers only confirms that we are more interested in our data, and what it can tell us, than ever before.

This is a cautionary post. I love Google Analytics. I take great pride in being a part of a data-informed company, and I think solid data analysis and the drawing of insights from that analysis has a place in any modern business.

That part we can all agree on. That part is easy.


What I want to distinguish here is the difference between your success as a company, and the success of your customer. It is harder to focus on customer success when your data provides actionable insight that could trade their success for yours. I don’t mean to preach to you which one you should prefer: I’m a pragmatist, I can appreciate that sometimes to keep the doors open you have to make compromises. I’d encourage you to be honest with yourself, and simply recognize when you’re acting for your customer, and when you’re acting for yourself.

Maybe some examples would help illustrate what I mean.

  • Pop-up ads were gone for a while – remember? But now they’re back. Visually disruptive ad campaigns are the easiest example in this category. They may lead to more clicks, to additional ad revenue, but they are clearly not leading your customers to success. They are on your site to engage with your content and your products – obscuring those things with an external (or internal!) ad is putting your success ahead of theirs, plainly.
  • Opt-out or cancellation buttons and screens that include passive aggressive or semi-threatening language are becoming popular – “I don’t want to maximize my income.” “Leaving now may leave you at risk!” – these are, again, plainly putting a win for the company ahead of a win for the customer. You may minimize loss, but you’re not only putting aside hospitality, you’re being a bit of a bully. url
  • A/B Testing is a huge part of growth engineering and data collection. A button placed differently, a header image removed or altered, testing adjustments to see what converts, what leads to more traffic. Try to construct your A/B tests with customer success in mind. Their success is not usually tied as closely to conversions and page views – I can’t tell you what their success looks like, but they sure can!
  • When defining your Goals in a tool like Google Analytics, the same sort of thinking applies: yes, knowing the path your customers take to the final purchase confirmation page is important, but it is also worth considering the (much larger) group that does not convert. Identifying where they drop off, and using a tool like Qualaroo to find out why they leave, would help focus on their success.

Keep collecting data. Keep drawing actionable insights from it, but remember: the data doesn’t tell the whole story. Additional conversions, decreasing customer churn, these may look great on a quarterly spreadsheet, but you need to dig deeper to see if they are really giving your customers the best experience they can have.