HBR: Kick-Ass Customer Service

An interesting write-up by HBR on what type of person excels in a customer service focused role. In a study of 1,440 customer service professionals, they found seven different personas: Accommodators, Competitors, Controllers, Empathizers, Hard Workers, Innovators, and Rocks.

Interestingly, they found that someone that fits the persona of a Controller excelled the most (lower handle time, higher customer satisfaction ratings). HBR defines a Controller as someone who is outspoken and opinionated; likes demonstrating expertise and directing the customer interaction.

Why do Controllers do better than their counterparts? Our structured interviews revealed that they are driven to deliver fast, easy service and are comfortable exerting their strong personalities in order to demonstrate their expertise. They describe themselves as “take charge” people who are more interested in building and following a plan than “going with the flow,” even in social situations. They’re confident decision makers, especially when nobody’s in charge, and they’re opinionated and vocal. As one Controller explained, “I like to take control of the situation and guide people.”

And as the problems reps deal with have become more complicated, Controllers have turned out to be the best problem solvers. Not only do they proactively diagnose customer issues, but they also consider the customer’s personality and the context of the call in order to customize a solution and present it effectively. Controllers focus less on asking customers what they’d like to do and more on telling them what they should do—the aim always being to get to the fastest and easiest resolution. The conversation feels decidedly human and off-script: Controllers tend to shun generic language and prescribed checklists, especially when their diagnosis suggests that customers have already invested significant time trying to resolve an issue on their own.

Consciously or not, Controllers deliver what information-saturated customers want (according to the research): clear guidance instead of excessive choice. In CEB’s customer contact practice, for example, we’ve found that 84% of customers would prefer a straightforward solution to their problem rather than a broad array of self-service channels (e-mail, chat, social media–based service, and so on).

The whole article is worth a read. It dives into hiring, training people to be controllers, and adopting a controller mindset at an organization level.

Reading this reminded me of Buffer cutting back on offering refunds.

In the end, empathy and accommodating a customer’s needs is necessary. But quickly coming to a solution is valued just as much if not more.

Packing a Workspace

This is my sixth and final post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “Share your workspace with us”.

I’m a remote worker, because of that, my physical workspace is in flux. Most days are spent either at home or a local coworking spot. Because of that, I wanted to capture what I keep in what I call my desk, my backpack.

I do have one rule for where I work: The space must be quiet and private. No open office and little time spent in coffee shops.

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Here’s what’s pictured above:

  • Standard issue MacBook Pro and charger.
  • Ear buds.
  • A notebook to write down thoughts.
  • Blue/Black Pen. Like a TV remote, I’m always losing one of these. Currently lost is the blue pen.
  • USB cable.
  • Clicky keyboard & mouse. Not always on me but a must have.
  • Water bottle.
  • The book I’m currently reading, Getting Things Done.
  • A local magazine, Little Village.
  • The desk, a Crumpler Backpack.

Unpictured:

  • Snacks/lunch.
  • Coffee mug.
  • Sweatshirt, mittens, and hat. (it’s getting cold)

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An Archetypal Week

This is my fifth post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “Tell us about a typical day in your life”.

I split my week and days between working in Support and working in Success. Support is what you’d expect: Answering emails, live chats, and Tweets. Success is working on proactive content, researching how customers are using our products, and campaigns reaching out to customers.

Before Work

I wake up anywhere between 7:30 AM – 9:30 AM. It depends on what I have planned for the morning. I might meet up with a friend for coffee, go to the gym, or sleep in as long as I can.

For breakfast, I’ll have a bowl of greek yogurt with granola. Before I log on for work, I’ll make a fussy cup of coffee with a Chemex or AeroPress.

Work

I start my day around 10:00 AM. I’ll hop into Slack to say hello to my team (we work remotely) and glance at Basecamp for what I missed.

At that point, I’ll turn my focus to what my role is for the day, support or success.

Support Days

My Support days are Monday, Thursday, and Friday. As you might expect, these are days where the work is done as it shows up.

When I load up Help Scout for the day, I’ll do my best to prioritize the cases in our queue: Are there any extremely urgent situations, are there any replies to European customers that I need to get out right away (to give them a chance to respond before their day is over).

From there, it’s heads down in the queue till lunch. I’ll also turn on Live Chat to have that available until 5:00 PM.

Lunch will happen between 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM. After lunch, it’s back into the queue.

For 3 hours I’m on alert monitoring shift for our transactional email service, Postmark. While on my shift, I’ll catch-up on my Pocket queue between alerts.

In my last hour of the day, I’ll follow-up on any Basecamp posts and finish up any to-dos. On Thursdays, I’ll write down any wandering thoughts from my previous Success days.

Success Days

My Success days are Tuesday and Wednesday. These days are much more focused than a support day. I’ll put Slack in DND (do not disturb). And I’m getting better at quitting Slack for a couple of hours.

As I said in the intro, Success is much more proactive work. Our goal in Success is to make our customers better developers, not just better Beanstalk users.

That’s where the content comes in. Maybe we find ourselves having to teach customers Git often, to help out with that we can create a Getting Started with Git guide. It can be blog posts, guides, or help articles.

Research is looking at all the data available like support requests and behavioral analytics. We try to find wedges here to make our customers more successful. Maybe there’s a pitfall we see people falling into. With that information, we can suggest product improvements or content to create.

A campaign would be reaching out to customers who haven’t reached MVE (minimum viable effort, i.e., the point of realizing the value of a product). It could also be reaching out to customers that we’ve identified that are at risk for churn. For example, I am planning to reach out to customers in a suspended state (payment is failing).

As you might be able to tell, there’s a lot of possibilities for what a Success day can look like hour by hour.

After Work

Around 6:00 PM I’ll start shutdown procedures (close the laptop lid) and end my day. There are no set plans for after work.

On days that my beautiful wife works, she won’t get home until 8:00 PM. The days she works I’ll cook dinner and on her days off she’ll cook dinner.

Some nights after work I might meet up with friends to watch a sporting event, or we might have a friend over for board games.

I’m a night owl and will stay up later than my wife. I’ll work on a project like this blog post or become terrified of technology by watching Black Mirror.

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Stacking Up Support

This is my fourth post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “What mediums does your team do support through? What are the pros and cons to each of these mediums?”

At Wildbit, our support stack is mundane, and that’s good. It means we’re not overwhelmed, and we can deliver exceptional support while being a small team.

We have the channels of email, live chat, Twitter, and are testing phone support. Along with help docs and guides.

Email

I love email support. To me, this is the bread and butter of helping customers.

Pros:

You can assume every customer has an email address. There are no extra accounts for them to learn and services to learn to interact with you.

Each customer is unique. Email support allows you time to make a response specific to the customers unique needs. For a tricky case, you can spend 10 minutes researching, and the customer doesn’t know the difference. In live chat, they’d be asking “are you there?”.

For the tricky cases, you can spend 10 minutes researching, and the customer doesn’t know the difference. In live chat, they’d be asking “are you there?”.

Cons:

For the customer, it can be difficult. If they’re coming to you, that means they have a problem. If you can’t get back to them quickly, it becomes a little terrifying with comments like:

Is there a phone number I can call?

Do you need more information?

Did my email get lost?

Live Chat

We have live chat on our marketing pages and in-app. It can be fun as you’re going over pricing/features, and at the same time teaching someone Git.

Pros:

The immediacy cons of email are all resolved with live chat.

A human connection is easy to make with a customer over chat.

It’s easier to judge the tone of a conversation compared to email. It allows for a more enjoyable exchange with a customer.

Cons:

An immediate, non-transactional answer can be hard.

I support developers. Teaching someone complicated topics or working through complex errors over chat is often mentally draining.

Twitter

Pros:

Like email, the barrier for a customer to ask a question is low.

Cons:

I’m not a fan of Twitter support. Tying a Twitter handle to a customer is hard.

Replies are “cold” with only 140 characters available to a question that deserves 140 words.

Phone

This is an experimental feature two of my colleagues are starting this week.

In their email signatures, they include a Calendy link to schedule a phone call for phone support. We’re not sure how this will go, the best part is if it’s successful, it’s a win. If it’s not, we can remove the link from the signature and move on.

Pros:

The most human of all popular channels.

Cons:

In a twenty-minute phone call, you can only help one customer, with email or live chat in the same period you can assist 4-6 customers. Your team has to in a position to handle the volume or limit access.

Some answers are best answered over text.

Self-service (docs and guides)

We have two types of self-service content: Docs & Guides.

Docs are product specific information. Guides are product agnostic. i.e., in theory, a competitor could link to them as a great resource for information on a topic, and a guild should provide value even if you aren’t using one of our products.

Pros:

The difficult how-to you get often? Turn it into a doc, and it can help the next 5 customers with the same question.

If your support team isn’t 24/7, it offers something in off hours.

Best practices? If you’re living and breathing your product you probably have some best practices, share them as a guide!

Cons:

Docs can be a crutch.

Creating a help doc doesn’t solve all problems. The fewer help docs, the better. If you have customers reaching out to you frequently about the same problem, it can be a sign there needs to be improvements there. This isn’t to say help docs aren’t important but it is dangerous to fall into the trap of creating X amount of help docs a week.

Simon Ouderkirk and Carolyn Kopprasch have written great posts on the dangers of self-service docs.

A parting thought

A piece of advice I once heard: Never add a new channel until you’ve mastered one for 6 months. i.e., if you were starting a support team on day one, you wouldn’t have email, chat, and phone.

Pick one, master it, and add more later. If you can deliver an amazing customer experience in one channel, it’ll go much farther, than a bad experience on many channels.

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My Thinking Space

This is my third post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “Describe your ‘Thinking space’ – What do you do, or where do you go, when you need to sort through thoughts.”

My thinking space is found walking. When I have a hard problem that I’m thinking through, it’s done walking. I’ll frequently pair my lunch with a 15 to 30-minute walk to clear my mind.

Most of my thinking will be on how to respond to a tricky support case, a message I want to post to my colleagues, brainstorming ideas, or thinking through a project that I’m working on.

For the deeper thoughts, I write them down days before I’m ready to share anything. That means drafting something up. It’s raw and not intended for anyone else to read, it could be a simple list on paper or a more formal written out draft.

The draft allows me to get my thinking out of my mind. During mental downtime or when walking, I can return to those thoughts and not fear about forgetting something.

When I’m ready to work deeply, I’ll employ Pomodoro to focus.

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From my lunch walk today. Can you feel the winter chill?

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Tools

This is my second post for the 6 week Support Driven writing challenge. For this post, the topic is “What tools do you use to manage your tasks and time?”

The tools that we use can become a black hole of conversation for me. I love to talk about what gadgets, apps, and services people are using to get things done.

With that said, I find that tools aren’t one size fits all. Just because Basecamp works for me, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Because of that I’m going to focus on non-traditional tools that I use to get things done.

Being a detective

Being a detective is a mindset. Others might classify it as simply “curious”. It’s the thinking that the answer to any question isn’t going to be staring you in the face and you need to dig for it.

With a Customer Support hat on, it’s taking a reply with no information given to you and finding the answer. For example, with a message of:

Hi, I can’t log in. Can you help me?

Assuming you have an admin panel to look up customers you can turn that into a response that thoroughly answers any questions the customer might have to log into their account. And add in customer account specific data like their account URL (since you’re a detective, you looked that up).

With a Customer Success hat on, being a detective is realizing that you’re going to ask hard questions about how your customers use your service. Take the time to shut off distractions, pull up a spreadsheet, and take a fine comb over the app-data that you have.

Site search

I created a tool to make searching the web easier. It’s a keyboard shortcut to pull up an AppleScript that searches Google for a particular keyword that I enter (to a predetermined domain).

I created this because I support two products. Along with that comes searching blogs/guides/help docs if I’m not sure on an answer. This helps me be a detective more efficiently.

While creating a tool yourself might be too difficult, simply using Google’s “site:” search operator allows you to search a website with ease.

Here’s how my site search tool works in action:

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Mastermind

On a weekly basis, I meet with others in a mastermind group. An official definition of mastermind groups would look something like:

Meetings where people who help each other to succeed through their advice and assistance.

It’s peer mentorship, where each member is on the same level–There isn’t the idea of a more knowledgeable person helping someone less knowledgeable, we’re all helping each other.

It’s a good way to learn how others are solving a similar problem. You can seek opinions on a hard problem you’re working through. Peer accountability to do something as simple as writing this blog post can also be created by a mastermind. Privacy is also important to create a place where you and others can discuss your challenges in a safe place.

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SUPCONF NYC

In mid-November, I was lucky enough to attend the second Support Driven conference, SUPCONF NYC. Held in the middle of lower-Manhattan at the DigitalOcean offices, it was a gathering of support professionals serious about delivering top-notch customer experiences.

For me, this SUPCONF was dear to my heart as I went with the Customer Success Team that I work with at Wildbit. And it was the first time that I was able to meet my wonderful colleagues in person since we all work remotely.

The NYC edition of the conference introduced a new wrinkle: lightning talks. Instead of a more curated talk, these were talks proposed by the Support Driven community. Before the conference, SUPCONF attendees voted on the proposals. The top 5 presented their talks at the conference.

The talks were great as they were short, rough around the edges, but packed tons of information. These will be the some of the first I watch when the videos come out. The presenters and topics covered were:

  • Justin Reist – Leading as an Introvert
  • Matt Dale – How to troubleshoot anything
  • Karl Pawlewicz – Surprise! You’re also a salesperson
  • Kelly O’Brien – You have been eaten by a grue: Self-service lessons from a text-based adventure game
  • Peter Shin – How to think about service like a product designer

The conference also featured a live taping of the fantastic support focused podcast, Support Ops. (For those that did attend: I’d be a dragon. The ability to spit fire? Sign me up!). Chase Clemons moderated and participated on a panel answering questions related to support submitted by those attending the conference. Along with Chase, the group had the full Support Ops crew: Carolyn Kopprasch, Chase Livingston, and Jeff Vincent.

Day 1 was a gut check for me. It was full of important topics in support that have become after thoughts for me. From investing in your team, modeling staffing needs, and building a case to fire a customer.

In my opinion, Day 2 was where the conference shined. I’m going to dive deeper into the topics covered on this day.

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The morning of Day 2

Create human relationships with your customers

Think about your memories of your best friend, significant other, or your parents.

Done thinking?

The memories that come to mind are most likely not virtual ones. Snapchat messages are fleeting, human relationships are not. For the relationships that we cultivate in life, the human element is the most important part.

Margot da Cunha covered how creating a human relationship with your customer is invaluable. In the world of SaaS apps, the barrier to switching is low. Sure, you can have sticky features, but there’s something even stickier: a human connection with your customer.

It’s possible to create the human connection many ways. From meeting clients in person when possible to creating one-off demo videos (with audio) describing how to do something in your service.

I’d also love to hear how others are crafting a human relationship with their customers. If you have any thoughts on this, please reach out to me via email or Twitter.

Move from transactions to partnerships

I believe we’ve hit peak transactional support. Meaning, the customer coming to the support person and asking for X to happen and receiving X. This could be from canceling an account, to “how do I update my credit card?” questions. AI is coming, and it’s going to take these types of support requests in some form–And that’s okay.

Chris Hardie from Automattic’s WordPress VIP team covered how they’ve moved from transactional support to partnerships support with their customers.

Moving to a partnership model turns the customer relationship on its head. “I can help you with that” becomes “We can work on this together”. You tie the customers success with your success.

Paired with creating a human relationship, the partnership model of support becomes worthwhile.

Burnout is real

While it’s handy to have Slack, Trello, Gmail, etc. on your phone, it can be hard to leave work after working hours.

On top of that, side-hustles to get a new job to or grow your experience are an important thing for many in 2016.

With all that in mind, burnout is becoming more and more common. Camille Acey hit on this while covering how to continue to seek and validate activities.

She noted the biggest causes of burnout are:

  • Lack of control
  • Insufficient reward
  • Absence of fairness
  • Conflict in values
  • Work overload
  • Lack of community

To avoid these causes of burnout, she’s created a framework evaluating new opportunities that address each cause of burnout. The framework has four pillars to evaluate from: Time commitment, growth possibility, safety (how risky), and whether the opportunity is any fun.

Create a time inventoryAvoids conflicts in values, and work overload: With everything you do, it takes time. Log it. From marriage that’s infinite, to a commitment that is for a local event coming up–It all takes time. Add up your time commitments and decide if you’re available to add more to your plate or take something off to work on a new opportunity. When adding something new to your plate, think: How long does it last, and do you want to do it?

GrowthAvoids insufficient reward: Does the opportunity improve yourself?

SafetyAvoids lack of control, absence of fairness: Do you feel accepted in this community where this work will take place? Will you feel like won’t embarrassed for speaking up?

FunAvoids lack of community: Is it something you enjoy? Is there a tribe for you there? If you don’t enjoy something, it’s not worth doing.

By following these rules, it allows you to check new opportunities while avoiding burnout.

Stop changing jobs

Ben MacAskill is my career spirit animal. While he was in college, where was he working? SmugMug. Thirteen years later where does he work? SmugMug. His talk, which closed out SUPCONF, covered his career journey at SmugMug.

While it takes some of us awhile to find our path, the lessons he learned are valuable to all. Instead of focusing on the next promotion or a job at the well-funded start-up on the other side of town, focus on doing your job great today–The journey is the reward. The opportunities will follow. It’s as simple as that.

Wrapping it up

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Support Ops Live

SUPCONF NYC was another great professional event put on by the Support Driven Community. Being in a room with 150 some support professionals got me more excited to do my job. And I learned a lot.

One theme that I saw echoed from SUPCONF SF at this event was data and money. When working with other departments at an organization, you need to speak in their language. That language? Data and money. Want to hire a new support employee? Show through data that you’ve hit the threshold for the workload your current support staff can handle. Have a pesky bug that isn’t getting fixed? Make your case by showing how much money the bug is costing your organization. I know these examples are easier said than done but speaking in data and money is crucial.

SUPCONF will be returning in 2017 with an event planned in Seattle on March 20th -21st. Learn more and get your tickets here.

Other write-ups

All images in this post are courtesy of Ben MacAskill. And a special thank you to Camille for help editing this post.