Tag: customer support

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!




SupConf Now Accepting Speaker Applications



If you work in hospitality on the internet, or even really UX of any flavor, you should know about Support Driven – it’s a blog, it’s a podcast, it’s a Slack group!

And now, the fine folks at Support Driven (including my dear friends Andrea and Andrew) are organizing an all-new conference, with a really interesting take on the speaker submission and development process. If you work with customers, as a support person or as a data person or really in any form, you should look into this conference – especially if you have something to say!

Talks are only 15 minutes long and are focused on actionable results – do you have a lesson or story that could enrich the experience of other folks in customer-facing roles? You should absolutely submit a talk!


Ticket Non-Ownership: Reflections

After doing some ruminating here as well as the discussion over on UserCentered, I decided to iterate a little on the idea of Ticket Ownership with my squad over at Automattic.

For the month of April, we eschewed  all ownership of our incoming support requests. What does this mean, exactly? Traditionally, our approach is this: the first Happiness Engineer to respond to a customer then replied to that customer each time they supplied more answers or information, until the issue was resolved. This past month, rather than seeing tickets as being owned by an individual, we owned our entire queue of tickets as a team – focusing not on ownership, but rather replying to the tickets strictly in terms of wait time – whichever customer waited the longest got the next reply, regardless of who had interacted with them in the past. Another way to look at this is this: we were evenly distributing the wait time across tickets, which is reminiscent of line balancing, a method of improving capacity use in production settings.

As April came to a close, I spent some time talking with the rest of my squad, seeing how they felt about the whole idea, if they wanted to continue, and what they saw as the upsides and downsides of this sort of non-ownership. Here are the two big advantages that non-ownership offered:

  1. It created an informal peer review: in reading through a support request’s history, you are able to see in very clear terms how other members of the squad approach different problems, as well as getting a first-hand look at their writing style, tone, and use of outside links (both to WordPress.com support documents and other tools).
  2. It allowed the Happiness Engineer team to much more quickly identify bugs when compared to full ticket ownership: this is because we were exposed to a much larger number of conversations per day, thus making patterns in customer reports much easier to spot than a traditional ticket ownership system, where it is much easier to write off a customer’s problem as misuse or misunderstanding rather than as a broader systemic bug. You can imagine if a Happiness Engineer replies to one customer 6 times regarding a potential bug, it will be cognitively less obvious as a problematic pattern than if the same Happiness Engineer replies to 6 customers a single time each.

And the negatives:

  1. Each particular support request felt less personally involved, and less personally invested, and at least from the Happiness side, thus felt less hospitable.
  2. Working on a request that someone else had already replied to felt more time consuming, as the Happiness Engineer had to re-do the legwork of researching the customer’s site, background information, etc.
  3. Highly time sensitive replies are answered at the same pace as other tickets, since the wait time load is evenly distributed.

Moving forward, we’re hoping to find a way to embrace the advantages while removing or reducing the negatives.

P.S. Does this sound fun to you? Does working on a small team providing hospitality to an enormous userbase seem like a worthwhile pursuit? Would you be able to restrain from strangling a Squad Lead who pulled this kind of experimentation on you? Good news – we’re hiring.


Internal and External Service

When we think about service and support, it is very easy to think only of our customers, of the folks who have purchased our products or processes – we answer their questions, ensure their happiness, and so forth.

It’s worth considering that we cannot provide excellent service to our customers without first providing excellent service to one another – it’s always been my position that the very best way to serve a customer is not to put them first. Rather, there are a few groups of people who must be served with excellence and hospitality before we even reach our customers. In a restaurant, these are your vendors and your co-workers. This is sometimes called internal service – as opposed to customer-facing support or service, which would be external service.

This mindset applies to any business, especially in the tech sector – if your internal communications are flawed, if you don’t have a culture of mutual respect and support, it is impossible to extend really excellent hospitality toward your customers.