All Hands Support - Talk to your Customers


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Break the wall between your organization
and your customers. Olark Live Chat rotates all of our team through support, here are some lessons we've learned along the way.

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  • Hi guys, I am Ben Congleton from Olark Live Chat. We make it incredibly easy to add live chat to your website so you can talk to your customers.\n\nI am big wufoo fan! So it’s great to be up here after Kevin.\n\nThe guys over at wufoo really built something amazing.\n\nHe had a lot of good things to say about how to engineer your product to reduce support cost.\n\nI am going to talk about how to Engineer your organization to improve customer insight.\n\nAnd what I mean by that is.\n\nYour entire team is making decisions every day.\n\nYou want all of those decisions to acknowledge the voice of the customer.\n \n\n\n\n
  • Let me give you a brief overview of where I am coming from\n\nOlark was founded in 2009.\n\nWe built Olark because we were incredibly passionate about helping companies connect with their customers.\n\nThe main way we do that right now is by letting you add this floating chat box to your website.\n\nOur customers use it to talk directly to their customers on their website. \n\nLittle bit confusing but you get the idea.\n\nSo we started with this idea of building a customer centric company from day 1.\n\n
  • But we made mistake.\n\nBack in 2009 when we were first starting out, we made our first hire.\n\nA great guy named Andrew.\n\nHis job was to do customer service.\n\nHe would respond to all the customer emails, uservoice comments, handle phone calls, and even do a bit of outbound sales when he had time.\n\nYou could think of Andrew as our community Manager.\n\nHe worked really hard, the harder he worked, the less we were distracted by our customers.\n\nIf your in a smaller organization, you probably have your own Andrew.\n\n\n
  • The thing is, as we got more and more busy.\n\nWe started mostly hearing about our customers through our issue tracker.\n\nBugs and Feature Improvements went into the issue tracker.\n\nCommon support questions were handled by Andrew with macros and tutorials.\n\n
  • \nAt this point our product feedback loop looked like this.\n\nBasically andrew had become our product feedback loop.\n\nHe was learning a ton through all these interactions with customers. \n\nBut we could not directly benefit from all this insight. We had to rely on andrew to convey this knowledge to us.\n\n---------\nThere is a nice metaphor for this.\n\nThis is kind of like how the Catholic Church use to work. You can think of Andrew like the Pope.\n\nHe got to talk directly to customers, or in the pope’s case God.\n\nAnd take that knowledge to the rest of the company. \n\nWe could only interpret the will of the customer filtered through Andrew.\n\nAnd this caused problems.\n\n
  • We were not engineering for support.\nIt’s hard to internalize support cost if you never see it.\n\nWe built features that didn’t make a ton of sense, given the pain points of our customers. \n\nAnd finally we didn’t realize or really have an appreciation for how hard it was to do an amazing job of customer service.\n\nIn short, this was not good.\n \n
  • We were limiting our connection to our customers through one person.\n\nThat structure is fairly common. In a bigger organization, the feedback would have been limited to mostly project managers and support teams.\n\nAn in most companies not everyone in the company was in that feedback loop.\n\nThat’s the old model.\n\n
  • This is the new model.\n\nYou can think of this like the protestant revolution of customer understanding. \n\nIn the old model direct customer insight is reserved for a limited few.\n\nLike the pope’s relationship with god in the catholic church.\n\nWe decided to remove the filter and have everyone on the team talk directly to customers. Mirroring companies like Zappos, WuFoo, and Intuit.\n\nIn the new model everyone on the team could interpret the will of the customer themselves. Now everyone in the organization would know voice of a customer when they make a decision.\n\nNow certainly, this was a tradeoff since we were spending a lot more of our time talking to customers we were spending less time building product. But, we felt that the extra insight was worth it. \n\nHere’s what happened as we scaled this.\n \n
  • The first thing we noticed\n\nPain points experienced by customers become personal pain. Which lead to new feature development and a lot of improvements in the product\n\nFor example, Nathan spear headed the development of our new operator console based on his experience helping customer setup a third party chat tool. Which was clearly painful.\n\nMatt’s hard work helping a customer with a Javascript issues, resulted in a really happy customer. He brought really good scotch to our office as a reward.\n\nAnd improved performance for all of our customers.\n\n\n \n\n
  • There were also direct benefits to engineering.\n\nKevin talked about engineering for support.\n\nOne quick hack is to start engineering for support is to put engineers on support, you will immediately find that the motivation to improve internal tools, and solve recurring issues improves a ton.\n\nJoel from Fog Creek \n\nKayak, has no support team, just engineering. All support requests are handled by the engineering team. Paul English CTO Kayak. To motivate engineers to fix issues.\n\nPutting product team on support will time and time again improve your product and reduce support.\n \n
  • The last benefit I want to talk about\n\nTalking directly to our customers and supporting our customers gave the entire team a shared experience to bond around. It breaks down barriers between support, engineering, and design.\n\nIt means that issues are solved quicker, and we are all on the same page about the focus on our customers.\n\nThe focus on out customers, is not the job of a single department.\n\n
  • So how do you do it?\n\nI will admit that Olark is a little over the top, we put a huge effort into talking directly with our customers. And it’s expensive. We rotate our entire team through support. But to us it’s worth it.\n\nSo let’s say, you aren’t Olark. And you want to to get started.\n\n\n\n
  • You can start small.\n\nWepay is a fast growing alternative to Paypal.\n\nThey have a separate support team that is somewhat isolated from product.\n\nSophie, who runs their customer service operation has a few tricks for getting other teams involved.\n\nAt their all hands retreat they let anyone on the team take turns talking to customers with live chat. Within just a few conversations engineers were already finding bugs.\n\nWepay has a weekly tech-talk/ fun presentation. She has used this forum to show live demos of how her support team engages customers with Olark.\n\n
  • Kayak is another great example.\n\nIn addition to having the engineering team handle all support, they have a Red phone in the middle of the engineering floor. When a customer calls in the whole team can hear the phone call between the engineer.\n\nJust the idea that talking to customers outside of a support department can be powerful. \n\nEven if it doesn’t happen that often.\n
  • If your just starting out you could model yourself after wufoo.\n\nThey were inspirational in our decision to move to all hands support\nIn the early day, Chris, Ryan and Kevin had a gentlemens agreement to share support, but Chris ended up doing most of the support. \n\nChris didn’t feel it was fair that he was responding to all the email so pushed to involve kevin and Ryan in the process.\n\nOnce kevin and Ryan started taking their share of support seriously and spent time interacting with customers they never looked back.\n\nThey started prioritizing their design and product work around the feedback they got from their customers.\n\n
  • Wistia is a Saas startup that builds professional video hosting and analytics.\n\nNew non technical hires learn the ropes by spending a lot of their onboarding time doing support.\n\nThe thing that motivated this decision for wistia.\n\nThey were doing rotations for a while and then stopped.\n\nAnd about 3 months later one of their development, and didn’t know they had an API.\n\nSupport has become a tool they use to help new hires really understand their product, and stay up to date as the product evolves.\n\n
  • NewRelic makes server performance monitoring software primary for developers.\n\nThey are one of my favorite examples of how to scale a team wide support rotation \n\nWhen they first started off they grew to over 5000 customers with development engineers doing front line support\n\nThey now have a dedicated team of support engineers.\n\nEven with this dedicated team. They realize the value of keeping engineering connected to customers \n\nThey do this by rotating project teams through support.\n\n
  • Another way getting the whole team involved in support is to look for opportunities to involve the whole team.\n\nI have two favorite examples of this. And both make clear business sense.\n\nAt Intuit, their peak season is Tax Season. All 700 turbotax employees get in the cafeteria and respond to support questions. Via the turboxtax lifeline \n\nAt Zappos every employee does 10 hours of work in the call center during the peak 3 weeks for the company. They call it Holiday Helpers.\n\nIf you have some time of the year where you have a lot of support consider bringing the team to help you handle that load.\n\n\n\n
  • I like all these examples.\n\nOf course, many were from companies started by founders who were passionate about customer service.\n\nIf you are a leader in your organization, you can be the change you want to see in the world.\n\nLead by example. \n\nIf you want to get the whole team involved start with by getting yourself involved.\n\nWhen David Marcus, the new CEO of paypal responded directly to a customer complaint it sent a message to the entire organization that we care about our customers.\n\n\n\n
  • I wanted to leave you with one point.\n\nand that point is\n\nOnce you directly interact with customers you’ll have that little voice of the customer in the back of your mind as you make decisions.\n\nSo I know it doesn’t make sense in every company for every team to rotate through support all the time.\n\nBut, look for opportunities to give your whole team that little voice of the customer in the back of their head.\n\n
  • All Hands Support - Talk to your Customers

    1. All Hands SupportBreaking down the wall between your organization and your customers Ben Congleton
    2. Olark
    3. Our interaction with our customerswas primarily through an issue tracker
    4. Issue Tracker Escalated Issues AndrewCustomers
    5. Problems• Engineering was not reducing support.• We were making decisions without really knowing our customers.• We lacked appreciation for the work that Andrew was doing.
    6. Issue Tracker Escalated Issues Customer FacingCustomers
    7. Issue Tracker Escalated IssuesCustomers
    8. Our whole team started to have a much betterunderstanding of our customers and our product.
    9. Engineering wasdown the to engineer to Break motivated wallremove barriers to customer feedback and understanding reduce support and build better internal tools.
    10. We built a strong culture of customer service across the entire team.
    11. How?
    12. Provide simple opportunities for the rest of the team to spend time supporting customers
    13. At Kayak you call the red phone in engineering
    14. Wufoo has been an inspiration to many companies, byconstantly rotating the entire team through support.
    15. Uses support as a tool for new hires to learn the product.
    16. Teams of Rotating Support Heroes handle 25% of support questions
    17. Look for opportunities where it makes sense to involve the whole team.
    18. Leaders lead by example.
    19. Democratize your Customer Insight. have the whole team talk to customers