Winning the business lottery and rocketing into success is every company’s dream, but are you ready to scale your customer service to meet your new demand?
The last thing you want to do after gaining a huge new customer base is to let them down. Join Katherine Pan of Kickstarter, Veronica Armstrong of Lovepop, and Mat Patterson of Help Scout to learn about the best practices for delivering exceptional customer service at scale.
What you’ll learn:
Mat: Just another hello to everybody, thanks for joining us today. We’re going to be talking about scaling up customer service - specifically the kind of scaling where you have a sudden business expansion or you have a whole new support volume to deal with in a very short space of time - how you deal with that, how you can kind of prepare yourself to what degree you can. My name is Mat Patterson, I work for Help Scout and we provide help desk and Knowledge Base software. In my role there, I talk about customer service and make videos, do these kinds of discussions, and generally organize all the customer-related content on HelpU, which is our customer service education platform.
Mat: Before this job, which I’ve been at for about a year and a half now, I spent almost a decade running a support team for a SaaS company in Sydney called Campaign Monitor. With me today I’ve got two people with lots more experience in that kind of sudden demand as I said, we’ve got Katherine who is from Kickstarter and Veronica who is from Lovepop, and Katherine I want to start with you. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Kickstarter.
Katherine: Hi I’m Katherine, I’ve been a Kickstarter since January 2012, just joined on the support team directly. We were two of six at that time and we were all responsible for answering support tickets and also reviewing project submissions and also moderating the entire site, so definitely a lot for one small team but since then with Kickstarter’s kind of very rapid growth over the past few years, we’ve grown out dedicated teams to kind of specialize and fully own these three areas - so I’ve been the director of the support team since 2014.
Mat: Fantastic. Veronica?
Veronica: Hi, I’m Veronica, which you said already, joined Lovepop about two years ago so before we launched Shark Tank I came on as our first marketing hire and my role evolved after our first Shark Tank appearance. I took ownership of our support team, became head of customer happiness, and I also simultaneously lead growth and marketing for our wedding product. We can get into it later but I have two different teams who kind of serve a similar function because ultimately the main goal for us is to provide magical experiences for our customers.
Mat: Lovepop is, for those of us who are not familiar, it’s the crazy cool cards. That’s very cool. Okay so today we’re going to be talking about as I said scaling up service but not like slowly scaling up all of the time but kind of going from a very small volume or a reasonably manageable volume to suddenly a very large volume and how to cope with that. As I said as we’re talking through this, if you’ve got a question or comment just chuck it in the chat then we’ll try to get into those. I think I want to start with the Shark Tank story, I think that’s a pretty good example of an event that creates a sudden amount of demand that wasn’t there before and full disclosure, being in Australia, it’s not a show that I have seen especially that version of Shark Tank, so I kind of went and looked it up on You Tube and I discovered that there’s a show in which there’s a person who calls himself Mr Wonderful, which seems weird to me.
Mat: Sounds like he should be a Batman villain but I assume he’s not, but maybe Veronica you can kind of talk us through what that experience was like and the impact of it.
Veronica: As the only marketer in the company at the time, I worked really closely with my boss, our CEO Wombi, and our Head of Product once he was onboarded so Wombi and I were doing everything from like managing agencies, doing acquisition to organic and things like that and then working with our Head of Product who was doing a lot of onsite optimization and SEM, lots of stuff was going on with a very lean team but one thing was a constant is that it was deeply ingrained in me that most leverage we have for any outcome that was positive for the business was to understand the customer. So, I called up every single person who’d placed an order for a decent period of time and I asked them, “Where did you learn about us, what do you like, what do you not like?”
Veronica: I just got in the rhythm of doing that so I think it was about five months later, when we aired, it was a really natural thing for us to be very considerate of the effect that the demand or the sudden attention would have on these people. So we started to think about it we were like okay well we don’t have a support team and we haven’t invested a lot into thinking about how we will support them at scale. Obviously so we put our heads together and at that time we thought that the best idea was to work with somebody who was managing support as a contractor for a company that was like in the hundreds of millions which was very far away from where we were at. Our COO and a partner who was basically a former friend that attended the same architecture school with them and was an amazing person and was helping us out, the two of them tag teamed this really crazy process where they were driving 60 miles between HQ and where these people were located and trying to onboard them.
Veronica: Mind you, I’m like not really a huge part of this conversation because I’m not doing support, I’m kind of like on the periphery. They spent all this time onboarding these people, we’re all super excited and we’re ready to go, we’re sitting in a circle around our COO John and we’re testing and we’re calling them out with different scripts and we’re trying to see how they mange customer interactions with us pretending to be the customers. Everyone immediately looked at each other like we cannot do this. We cannot do this to our customers. It’s not that they were bad, they were not going to be able to do it the way that we would and with the level of care.
Veronica: I believe it was like an hour and a half before we aired for the first time in front of seven million people, our COO pulled the plug and decided that we would do this ourselves and the Head of Happiness was born. So he pulled the plug which was an incredibly scary thing because what do you compare that to? We used to be able to look at everything single order that came in and be like, “Oh I know Catherine, oh my goodness she got the new fall bear.” You know like having that real intimate knowledge of every single person who’s purchasing up until that point.
Veronica: So, we aired, we did it, we tag teamed it, all of us were in front, all of us were on tickets and one super memorable moment, a woman called and our CEO John picked up and she said in a whisper she was like, “Are they paying you well?” Hi ma’am this is John, you just saw me on the TV I’m the one with the short hair. She was mortified but the point of that story is there are so many people that we talk to today who remember talking to one of us that night and that has carried us really really far. They knew there was a human, nothing was fully polished, nothing was methodical, it was literally like nice to meet you, thank you for believing in us, we’re glad you called and moving on to the next 50 calls that would come in.
Veronica: What happened is we were for the first time closed the following week after Shark Tank so people could enjoy some time off with their families and I spent that week along with one other team member in a froggy bathrobe on account of moving as little as possible crushing thousands and thousands of tickets pretty much alone and so that’s how I pivoted to overseeing support. The impact of Shark Tank is … its amazing for anyone whether you got a deal or not but it’s really important that you make the most of that experience and with that little bit of knowledge that I had at that time about what the impact of suddenly having like seven million people watching you, is my hypothesis was correct which is the thing that matters the most is personal connections and how you treat people during that first interaction will never be forgotten.
Veronica: So, when things don’t go smoothly you will be forgiven because people really understand the human brand behind whatever product it is that you’re selling and offering to them. I don’t want to go on about Shark Tank forever without people asking questions but a lot of people come to us before they air for advice which is something that’s really amazing because obviously I love talking about it and I think that the lessons from it can be applied to anybody who is working in support.
Mat: Yeah, and I think obviously we’ll dig into that a little bit but I want to hear from Katherine. I think Kickstarter is like a machine that every now and then produces an enormous number of customers for a small team. Have you got any good examples or favorite stories?
Katherine: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think just generally virality, the concept or the phenomenon on the internet, is just so literally unpredictable. I think if someone could really solve how to go viral then every marketing agency would not be a thing. I think the example that comes most to mind for me that I think is the most applicable for the subject of the stream is the fidget cube project. You’ve heard of it, it’s a little fidget cube device, it’s not a fidget spinner but it’s cubed. They originally launched on Kickstarter and with a fifteen thousand dollar goal, they ended up raising over $6 million with over a hundred and fifty thousand backers, so they definitely were not obviously, not expecting this number of backers or just even anticipating the incoming message or comment that would generate.
Katherine: I think they had a really difficult experience of having to one, figure out how to scale very quickly while also trying to manage day-to-day which is just very difficult. If I have one piece of advice that I think we’ll get to later in the stream is just plan ahead, like this situation is doable, it’s solvable but it’s better to not have this happen in the first place.
Mat: Yes, I mean in Kickstarter you kind of do have an indication if it’s going well even before.
Katherine: Yeah, that’s true.
Mat: You can be prepared to a degree I guess. Some of those are so far outside of what the expectations are that it must be a challenge to switch your thinking from we need to potentially cope with this to this. That would be interesting. I think we’ll get into … start to think about the practical implications of what can you actually do, how can you prepare for it. At Kickstarter, what do you tell people in terms of what they should be doing at the start to prepare themselves for dealing with their future potential customers?
Katherine: I think this you know, this applies to support teams, well when you’re a Kickstarter creator, often you’re also doing support for your backers and for your community right, so it’s all kind of the same but I would just say if you’re looking to scale very quickly then I think documentation is key. Just like very clear documentation on how things work, what expected behavior features are, anticipating common questions so folks can deduce if something isn’t working properly because they know what it’s supposed to be like. I would also say leveraging, I think basically your effort should be towards making public resources or easily sharable resources that people can then help use themselves to self-serve as their support so they shouldn’t have to write in in the first place.
Katherine: You should make sure that on your project page or just in the FAQ if things are super clear, you’re anticipating common questions. If you’re getting a lot of one question in a row, maybe make that a FAQ so then you hopefully stop answering these questions. Yeah, like all the stuff that kind of saves time, writing out FAQs beforehand, setting up macros, not typing out the same response over and over, just really empower your agents or whoever just needs to quickly jump in on the queues to be more efficient and make sure that the quality that you’re looking for is there, the brand tone of voice whatever is consistent because you’ve set it up beforehand.
Mat: The brand, like the tone of voice, Veronica sort of like what you were saying, that a lot of the value of doing it in-house is that they’re going to talk to people who are actually in that company and who know this is how we are like, this is how we treat our customers. Do you think if you had tried to stay with that external agency that relationships wouldn’t have been created in the same way?
Veronica: I do believe that, I firmly believe that in that pivotal moment. Things are a little bit different now, last year somebody approached me, they were a start up who … they provide kind of like on-demand support services for companies for this exact reason. I was super intrigued by it because it was just a really cool concept and I also have my team structured very differently than most people do so my team is not exclusively support. One of my team members was doing 50% support 50% working with acquisition so what it allows me to do is hire this like really amazing talent who has other interests that they can infuse into the support channel but also helps develop skills that they really want for their future career. With that, very flexible people, really different kinds of personalities and things on the team, but what’s happened now is we’re in a position where I need to likely quadruple the team soon.
Veronica: I think about what that looks like as a place that’s running out of space right now. And all sorts of fun challenges of start ups and I reengage in this conversation with this company and I’m really excited to try them out because after you’ve gone through that very early part of grand evolution, the voice is kind of solidified. Like we know who we are, we’re confident in that and that’s spread across the team so that I feel more confident now that I can on board a partner. I understand what I’m looking for and the stakes aren’t as high because I’m doing this at a time where there’s not like a national PR event.
Veronica: That first interaction I believe could have made us or broken us as an organization and I’ve seen sadly some Shark Tank companies did not handle that part that well and it’s very painful for them so in that moment it wasn’t the right thing for us to do but I believe still you have to start thinking about solutions like that because depending on the way that you’ve built the support organizations, the one thing I feel super strongly about it is keeping in mind the impact that my team has on revenue. Whether it’s a savings that we’re generating with this team or whether we are driving more organic reach because of our participation and acquisition effort, I think it’s really important because it solidifies the position of support professionals as more than people who can answer the same question over and over again, which I think is a misconception a lot of people who aren’t informed on what a lot of us do is. So for me I really keep that front and center.
Veronica: What this does and I haven’t executed the project, this part, but what I’m excited to learn is can I segment a part of that like straight up customer support stuff that’s like an easy answer to these people which would free up the team then to take on some of the other … I say bigger challenges but when it comes to a pop up card it’s pretty basic. I lost it, here’s a new one, it’s broken, here’s three more, super happy, we love you, but there is more to that in support as well. It’s the way that I treat you ensures that you come back which is repeat, how much you buy, which is lifetime value, how many people you tell, which is NPS and word of mouth referral and all that other stuff.
Veronica: It’s a very long answer but I think that it’s … in the beginning I thought it was very clearly defined where it’s like no, we keep this in-house, end of story. Only we know how to talk to these people but I think there’s some really smart people out there who are building businesses and resources that allow people like us to scale even more quickly with minimal risk by taking on some of those more repetitive tasks overtly.
Mat: Absolutely that’s a really interesting point and I think it would be possible even for someone in that situation like about to go on television, going to have a huge spike to use external people but if you’re going to do it you probably need to start it. Like it sounds like you pulled the plug because it wasn’t working but in theory it would have been possible and I think particularly for a company which has a longer history, has that kind of brand voice really nailed down and could … because I was working with … and I’ll put this in the chat actually because it’s an article that I worked on recently.
Mat: I was talking with some people who have done this, who have outsourced part of their support and one of the things that I was talking to the providers, the companies that provide that support about like what makes it really work for you and basically the closer they can get to these people as a part of your team, they are embedded in the team, they understand the culture, they know how you speak to each other, how you work as a company, where the lines are, then the more effective they can be like representing you to other people because you’re right. That’s a huge moment when it’s often the very first interaction that these customers have with you is that first support interaction.
Veronica: It’s like this magical feeling where people still call us and we’re not a massively giant company but people believe that is just still me in my froggy robe on a couch, which to me is amazing and I walk them through the fact and I go, oh I have a team now and things like that but people still call my cell phone number that they got from me the night of Shark Tank and they just check in. Yes sometimes and I can’t think of any greater, the streets are noisy sorry, I can’t think of any greater compliment to our company and our team that people really get who we are as human beings and think enough of us to check literally just check in and say, “Hey remember me from Shark Tank night?” To me that’s just super magical and amazing.
Mat: Katherine you must probably get people who have kind of started doing this and are in trouble like they don’t know how to … not everybody has that ability to listen to a person.
Katherine: I think, sorry what’s the question about?
Mat: You must have people who’ve come to you who are like, I don’t know how to deal with these kinds of issues. How should I be responding?
Katherine: I think a lot of people … it feels easy to hide behind some kind of elevated corporate tone. In support, I think to what Veronica was saying like keeping a human touch is like having that human connection is almost more important than actually solving that person’s problem right away, that kind of thing. The advice I give creators the most is about trying to be your authentic self, just be real. People will get frustrated if they feel like they’re not talking to a human just generally and I think also the most important thing is to just set expectations. I think the best way for like quick wins to build trust like early on in support or just early on in a startup’s life is just setting expectations and then following through on them.
Katherine: This most easily translates to in my opinion like turnaround time, so if someone sends in a ticket you should get an auto response back that says, “Hey you’ll genuinely hear from us in you know X days something like that,” and then you work to make that actually happen. So you’re like it’s very clear what to expect so they don’t get too impatient or like just understanding when they might hear back lessens anxiety and then you follow through so that’s just like trust building right there. So I just kind of say like it’s as simple as just saying … I think creators mostly communicate with their backers on Kickstarter through project updates so which is like their blog, a little different than support tickets, but I would say, even if you are still working on your projects, don’t have answers yet for specific questions backers are asking, just post an update saying hey we hear you, we’re going to work on this, I’ll get back to you in whatever a month whatever, and then actually do it.
Mat: A product I use is called “Things”, it’s like a task management application on the Mac, and they released a big new version and they put up a blog post a week later saying, “Hey, just so you know, we’ve got about 10,000 open public conversations that have come in last week. This is going to take us a little while to get to but we are going to work on it.” and like gives information that is useful to everybody. The difference between that and the same 10,000 conversations where they’re not acknowledging it, there’s no context set for why am I suddenly getting no reply? That’s a very different customer relationship moment, I think that’s a really valuable point.
Mat: Veronica, you want to talk a little bit about how to … we’re talking about scaling, how do you find people, who are going to quadruple the team? One option or one part of it is going to be you know working with this external provider who can give you that scale, how do you find people there who are a good fit in terms of customer service?
Veronica: It’s super challenging, there’s two parts, before we had a certain amount of traction and visibility in the past TV and things like that, it was very very hard to after awhile to go through who we are, what we do, why this is an amazing opportunity and things like that. I recently realized that I’m a little bit passed that which feels very luxurious because people know who I am, what I’m talking about, they’ve seen us on TV a few times and stuff like that so that’s a real privilege and that builds that top of the funnel pipeline for you a little bit which has been again luxurious because it just used to be me out finding people.
Veronica: Our posting for happiness people is very very big, it’s intentional. If you read it almost sounds like your standard support job and we do this for a very specific reason. If you are not energized about doing nothing but talking to the people who are kind enough to purchase our products, then nothing in this organization will be a good fit for you, period. End of story. That goes from our founders John and Wombi to every single person here so it’s very much a cultural thing and I walk people through these anecdotes of examples of times when people here have gone through you know, gone to crazy lengths to make a customer happy.
Veronica: I keep the posting vague which is very challenging because sometimes people don’t know exactly what they’re getting into and it’s not a good fit and it takes me a little more time to qualify the people but I think it’s really worth it because again, if you’re not excited when we’re on Shark Tank and you’re going to need to sit in your froggy bathrobe for five hours straight, are you still going to smile through every single ticket because you can’t believe that you have a good fortune of having all these people who care about your product. If you’re not that obsessed with what we do, then it’s not the opportunity for you.
Veronica: Taking a step further when I start to walk people because it’s mostly people who wouldn’t traditionally consider support because they’re imagining people in a call center, everyone’s angry and it’s all like the customer service mean Buzzfeed collection of things. They’re thinking through all the worst things about customer service and I start talking to them about it and they’re like wow that’s a really incredible opportunity. All the job fairs have been super awesome, local publications that write about startups have also been a really great source because the kinds of people who follow startup news have a really solid understanding of how we work which is like you’re going to come in here in your first day and it’s not going to be … we’re not send you off to a retreat at a house where you spend 14 days going used to the brand. You’re here to crush tickets and it’s going to be amazing that’s how it is.
Veronica: Just to give you a sense for the talent that we have on our team - so they’re brilliant people who could do anything anywhere, but they choose to do support at Lovepop because of what we have to offer them beyond that because even the kindest person in the world will get burned out answering the same questions over and over again so what we do is we really develop this culture of the data drives the things that we do. You really kind of give a five. You are like I got 20 tickets, out of those 20 tickets 10 people said this thing let me drill into that. People are taught to independently drill into that, talk to cross functional-teams they get to interact with product and engineering.
Veronica: They get to do all sorts of cool stuff and as you can see I’m super passionate about it so for me, and not to pat myself on the back even though I totally am, I can sell anybody almost anything and I firmly believe that because I believe everything that I say and I can prove it and I have a really amazing team to back it up. These people could legitimately be doing anything and they choose to be here. That’s a privilege that I don’t take lightly. Flip side is it takes a really long time, so that this will come in handy and then of course as you grow you get a recruiting team and stuff like that so hoping for that someday but I’m curious to hear about it from Katherine’s perspective.
Katherine: Good end up. I actually do have some experience recently with working with a kind of third party support vendor. So Kickstarter actually does outsource work with a remote team through ModSquad, shout out ModSquad, but in terms of the hiring process, I think everyone has hit the nail on the head here like you can’t just throw over a body of work over the wall and expect the same quality or even care that your in-house team would have. I think when I worked with ModSquad to source candidates, I sent them the job description that I would put on the site for an in-house hire, I sent them a support quiz that I would send to any prospective candidates, you know they write a little blurb about themselves and just like why Kickstarter, things like that.
Katherine: I think that’s really paid off just being able to treat them like they are in-house, they’re just remote. I think it’s worked out really well, I think just generally training a remote team just generally it just takes longer than if the person were in-house with you because you could just go up to them, ask questions, be really hands-on but I don’t think that is unique to outsourcing, just like remote team work.
Mat: Yes, and I think we are making that point like this, you can do this with people who aren’t part of your company but you have to put a lot of extra effort into making sure that what you get out is a level of quality which is acceptable to what you would expect from people inside as well. So another approach that some people, and then I bet both of your companies, certainly at Campaign Monitor I did and here at Help Scout too, is just getting help from everybody like in times of peak demand. Have you got systems to like can we get other people to jump in whose job is not normally to talk to customers directly. Veronica have you ever done that?
Veronica: So the way that my team is built again, because I lead two different teams and two of the three people on the wedding marketing team are former happiness associates and that is my fail safe, so when things get really nuts we have those two resources during peak times, and truthfully, I love talking to customers, I do it all the time. It’s cool to think about something different so I haven’t had any opposition on that so it’s really nice to have that as an emergency resource but again something that I really stress to people who are interested in being on the team is not a lot of organizations allow support to have the seat at the table that Lovepop does and that voice isn’t as always respected as it is here and because John and Wombi have fostered that culture it makes it really easy for us to ask anybody for help like other members of the leadership team will turn on chat, ask customers how they’re feeling about things and they’ll talk to them directly.
Veronica: They’ll pick up the phones or go to our retail locations and talk to them face-to-face. Will they execute whatever the action is flawlessly the way that a professional supporter would? Absolutely not, they’re usually coding and watching customer videos and things like that. Absolutely not but once again it goes back to what Katherine said, it’s a person and as long as they’re honest and it’s like you know hey I’m not from product and I actually don’t do this often but I’m super excited to talk to you. We’re going to chat but Veronica and her team are going to take this home. As long as you have that honesty and transparency and a culture that really values the customer first, I think you can throw anybody on the phone or on tickets and feel safe because they have the best intentions.
Mat: So in terms of scaling it’s definitely it’s generally true that everybody needs to care about that customer experience even if it’s not their job because you’re really expecting everybody to be on board for, hey we’ve got tons of new customers coming we need to look after them some way, we’re going to figure it out. If it doesn’t come from the top, it’s very hard to do like this-
Veronica: It’s shocking that that it wouldn’t though, like I honestly I’m always super confused how people don’t get it, you do understand you have no business with no customers, right? Bizarre.
Mat: You’d think so but it is sadly common.
Veronica: Send them to me.
Mat: That’s a new plan. Keep them over for some customer inculcation. Fantastic just before we move on I just want to like we’ve already gone half an hour here so I want to just remind people if they do have any questions, if you’ve got anything you want to ask, any topics that you think you would be interested to hear from Catherine or Veronica on, chuck them in the chat now so that we have time to get to them otherwise we would probably keep talking forever. There’s plenty, always plenty to talk about in customer service so I’ll throw that out there, put them in and then we’ll move on from it and I’ll check the chat if there’s anything people want to cover.
Mat: Let’s talk about in the midst of that like sudden volume, I don’t know if a bathrobe is provided to everybody. I laughed off but what can you do, and Katherine let’s start with you on this one, what can you do to kind of get through that actual busy period when it’s all chaos and weight?
Katherine: I think we are lucky that we have ModSquad to lean on, I think they’re very flexible with hours and very willing to work with us to work with our existing agents and team to work out availability so we really do rely heavily on them for front line kind of first touch responses. This is advice I think will apply to just outside of support as well but I think just taking the time before stuff goes down hopefully like there’s always unforeseen things that come up but hopefully taking the time to just plan all the scenarios like what’s the ideal outcome, what’s the worst outcome, what’s most likely to happen and then just have those plans out. I think again just going back to documentation, macros just like writing down making sure the team is on the same page like if there is this, then that kind of thing.
Katherine: I think in a situation where it’s like totally an anticipated volume, for example if like a site went down, a huge outage or something like that then you’re talking all hands on deck situation. We work … our in-house team will just kind of drop everything they’re working on, jump in the queues, acknowledge that there is an issue, we’re working on it, update our status bar, things like that. I think in times of … and that I would say it’s like a real time kind of crisis that’s happening, I would say then internal communication is super key so I think about establishing a point person that’s like your job is to make sure that this running doc of what everyone’s working from in terms of Knowledge Base whatever is up to date and it’s your job to make sure that people know when there’s an edit or new addition like new information.
Katherine: And just kind of like do traffic control that way and then you have a team of agents on the front line applying that. It’s like a … I don’t know, if anyone plays like team sports or something just like I play basketball so just even on the court when you’re on defense where you’re always talking anyway because that’s the only way people know where you are like if someone’s behind me or whatever so I just apply that same kind of thing to activating a team to be fully productive and efficient and no confusion, no overlap, kind of stuff like that.
Mat: Very good even with a sports metaphor.
Mat: Veronica, you must have I imagine kind of retail bursts of volume in your business. Do you do anything differently, do your systems kind of just absorb that now?
Veronica: Because most people on the team are doing other things, it’s really easy to pull back on those other things and not do them and they go to a hundred percent support which helps us crank so having that flexible team model, having other people in the organization hear from our happiness professionals is also really great. Another good thing is to not commute. If you have a team of four and it takes everyone two hours minimum to commute per day you’ve automatically gained eight extra hours which really will take you far in those crunch times. If you don’t have to leave your house on a snowy day or whatever that’s been really helpful but I think the smartest thing to do is to anticipate the issues that lead to those strikes.
Veronica: The seasonality is a given that’s going to happen over and over again but what I try to do is really reflect on the most painful moments that we’ve experienced as a team and how we got there. In the past, one of those challenges was inventory and something really horrible that happened was we were advertising a product that was doing really really well and we ran out and we continued to advertise because the ad was performing and we were getting more product in but then the product took a little longer than expected but this was a card that was for men who were in serious relationships and it was a newer design and people really wanted it for their partners on Valentines day.
Veronica: I had a really hard time because I had promised people that card was going to be back in time and they were going to give their beloved this amazing card that they’d never seen before on this day and ultimately I was not able to do that in some cases. I never wanted to feel that feeling again and I never wanted to leave anybody that disappointed again so I learned at that point and said okay every single time I have to sit down and think about the upcoming season I’ve got the knowns, the things that I know can go wrong that can really derail stuff that will involve us to have to scale up very quickly but what are some potential unknowns especially if you mature as a company it starts to become a thing because you’re like okay we’re not going to run out of that.
Veronica: It’s highly likely that is not going to happen but there’s something new that’s going to come out of this. Not this phase that I’m in right now as we head into our biggest holiday season ever, I’m really wrapping my mind around that this season is going to be bigger than Shark Tank ever was and that’s a really hard thing for me to understand. I as one individual can no longer bail us out if things go wrong and I’m really taking the time to absorb that because I’m trying to find these pockets, just pockets of opportunity like if this happens, I’ll do this and if this happens, I’ll do that. Then here’s the space I’m going to leave just in case everything goes wrong and you know five, six whomever people will be a hundred percent at this point.
Veronica: So, think creatively but also take the time to step outside of the day-to-day and look at the big picture and anticipate anything and everything that can go wrong and then just plan for something going wrong by having a little bit of extra capacity whether that’s outsourcing or a cross-functional support from the rest of the teams.
Mat: Yeah, that’s like time is super valuable and actually next month on HelpU we are talking about these kind of rush hour seasonal volume changes and Adrian Swinscoe is going to be writing an article for us but I was talking with him about it and he was saying one of the big things that he tries to teach his businesses that he works with is to learn. Learn from those peak periods so that next year you can cut out a lot of the causes of some of those peaks so that you save yourself. Then he said there will always be something new but at least if you’re constantly improving your systems, you avoid some of those. You even avoid recreating it every year but this flies nicely into … where did all my questions just go? They just disappeared on me.
Mat: The question was how do you handle that tough conversation when you haven’t been able to deliver something or when you’re disappointing your customers in some way? Katherine do you want to start with one?
Katherine: Honestly I think just staying human, this is super key which is very difficult in times like this. No one likes to admit they were wrong or like you know, these are uncomfortable situations just like human nature but I think … I mean the best thing to do is apologize and when I say apologize I mean do it, like actually apologize. Don’t be defensive don’t go on about like what you intended to do or not do or whatever, it’s like more focused, you should acknowledge the impact that whatever happened, I mean this is a little hard to talk about because I don’t know if it’s a technical issue or a policy or something but acknowledge that whatever happened had an impact on this customer. Like real one, don’t dismiss their feelings and even if you can’t solve it right away just helping them feel heard and that you listen, you’re learning from this, we’re all in this together.
Katherine: I think especially for an early stage startup or like a smallish company, I think people can be more forgiving if they can see that there’s a human behind the person they’re, you know the interaction and that the company itself is not trying to hide behind a facade of some corporate like whatever you know.
Mat: Absolutely, that question was from Vivian, thank you Vivian. Got a couple of other questions and we’ll get into those. What metrics do you use to measure success and have you started to use Customer Effort Score? That’s from Amy, Veronica do you use Customer Effort Score in Lovepop?
Veronica: I don’t and I don’t know if it applies directly to us, I think I have a good understanding of what it is but could you tell me more about it Mat?
Mat: There’s a book, Matt Dixon I think wrote the book about Customer Effort Score if I’m right but essentially it’s trying to measure not just the satisfaction rate but how much work did the customer have to do to get helped in that situation. So you’re trying to look at a broader picture than just like what was the final outcome of it.
Veronica: Got it, got it so no but I will look at it because that’s super interesting. What I do look at really closely if … so I think different support teams optimize for different things. We in the beginning made a decision to have our number on the site so that people call us and talk to a human which is very different than a lot of people in e-commerce. So our main objective is happy customers at whatever cost. We’re not optimizing for getting off the phone fast, any of those things even though they’re critically important, so happiness is basically it, so what’s this customer satisfaction rating holistically and for individuals and our minimum threshold is 95, so you’re expected to be over 95 and we consistently are which is just bonkers and I’m super proud of that.
Veronica: The other thing we look at, which is a measure of the health of the overall business, but something really cool that we do is we look at the top line NPS which I know there’s a lot of arguments to be had for that number but let’s just go with NPS. Within there you can apply theme tags in a service that we use and then we have an NPS strictly for support which is also in the 90s. I feel very happy about that. The last thing that I really care about is response time obviously but because we’re not an organization that’s really prioritizing speed to resolution at all times, even though it’s important that’s one.
Veronica: And then another, sorry know I said last one, there’s one that’s really becoming more important as we grow which is looking at the number of tickets that come in per order so I think that might align with the Customer Effort Score basically. Are we driving that number down, are we looking ahead where we are anticipating these needs and removing these barriers so that we see that number come down and now that I’ve have talked through it, I think we’re using the tickets per order as a proxy for the customer effort because ultimately while we want to talk to everyone and say, what’s up, the best thing possible would be for these people to never need us at all, just be delighted with their product. That’s the measure that we’re currently using but I will also look at the other.
Katherine: The last two days I was at the Zendesk Relate Conference where they talked a bit about Customer Effort Score and that was the first time I heard of it too. Sound really interesting and actually actionable. Right from a support perspective in terms of metrics for us we still are really small team. Kickstarter as a whole like the entire Kickstarter company is like a hundred twenty-something people, still our ModSquad team is seven around the globe and then our in-house support team including myself it’s eight. Still, very easy to be very hands on and not have to reduce your agents to a number or metric so I think we are a little more flexible in that area. But yeah I mean obviously tracking turnaround time, whatever our expected is, making sure we’re hitting that.
Katherine: We kind of built our own CSAT survey through SurveyMonkey that asks a series of questions so it’s not so binary so trying to measure not just did we help you solve your problem but also how well did the agent understand the question, how satisfied are you, are you over the score interaction, and I think drilling down into those questions helps us tease out the feedback we get or the scores that we get. Specifically for support stuff, what we can edit on our end whether a macro or if an FAQ is unclear or a process is just like too high effort for the customer. Through that you also get some feedback from policies that other teams have like product feedback, things turn into basically just like news or stories about user needs and pin points that we just forward to the prod team. That’s just generally our workflow right now in terms of metrics.
Mat: We’ve got a couple more questions and I think we’ll wrap it up. What types of professional development do you provide to your team and Veronica I think you already have a team who are doing two different sorts of roles which is sort of a built-in development path for them but do you have an explicit training or learning budget for them?
Veronica: Very shameful to say no, not exactly and here is why and what we’re doing about it so very … this very noisy chair sorry. We have a very … it’s a young team I have in terms of I think we’re about to cross the one year threshold with one person or a few months away from that, the way that we’ve looked at the development is when you come in, we have a really transparent conversation about what are your aspirations and where do you want to be, and then I develop a score card a year and a role that allows people to have those interactions. I think coming back to Tom because he is my first employee who’s graduated to another team that’s not mine.
Veronica: Tom had an interest in technical marketing and so I made him learning that a huge priority. Was it hard for me? Sure like he’s an animal and it would be amazing just to have him for support but that is sort of like that’s the deal that was made. In exchange for your incredible talent on support we’re going to offer you on-the-job development in this skill that’s really hard to get entry level experience in. I do believe that that is literally the most valuable thing that we can offer people is to be really honest and be like cool, you know the customer, we get that you see the value of understanding that customer voice in any role that you want to go in but tell me truthfully what you want to be doing so I can make sure that you have exposure to those areas so we can figure out if that’s something you should ultimately pursue or not. You can even decide you don’t want to, so very much at the core of that team, that is a thing we legitimately do.
Veronica: We recently hired an amazing Head of People, her name is Julia and that is something that Julia is working on is making it easier for people who lead teams, so to look and be like, oh hey cool this is how much we get for every month, this is what we’re going to do. That kind of structured professional development in the support side is something we’re doing a little bit ad hoc so on my wedding team we’re going to do a SQL class together and on the support side we’ve been looking at Zendesk trainings in different conferences and things like that.
Veronica: I expect to be way more structured in that in six months or more because eventually we’re going to hire people who are like, “No support is my thing and that’s what I want to do and I just want to learn more and more about support,” and those people who will require a very different kind of professional development than people who for instance want to work with operations or products or things that you just naturally do as part of the team when you’re trying to take that next step in your career. Hopefully that’s helpful, I know the way we do it isn’t very clean but it works for us.
Katherine: I think similar to what you said when Kickstarter was a smaller company it was definitely more kind of less structured, less clear what your career path could be but at the same time meaning there’s a lot of opportunity if you just understand it and can like seize that, but I think I want to speak to now we also have like a Head of People and like a people team who do just org-wide offerings like management trainings for people who maybe want to become people managers instead of stay in the IC track, a lot of workshops on how to be a good coworker, running effective meetings like agendas, time management stuff, how to give feedback, how to have difficult conversations, things like that.
Katherine: A lot of these I suppose they’re like softer skills just in business or in the office would make you successful. It’s of course specifically I would say … honestly using a remote team like ModSquad whose sole focus is to kind of answer the bulk of our first responses for Tier 1/Tier 2 tickets has really helped level up my team in-house. Before we started working with ModSquad, we had an in-house … In our Brooklyn office like in-house weekend shift, like no off-hour support stuff like that so just not even does that not even scale just long term but it’s just not great support to write your users if you’re just kind of like nine to seven Monday to Friday that kind of thing.
Katherine: Since we partnered with ModSquad that means if you think about support in one facet as a kind of data collection for product, like every ticket, if you tag it a certain way, that’s like a data point. I see like ModSquad’s task being the primary data collection part. They are helping solve users’ problems but they’re also tagging in a certain way so we can pull that data, we don’t have to answer the tickets ourselves but we can just see what’s happening like larger term trends. It’s freed up a lot of time to take the in-house team away from the queues, work on projects or ownership in support like one person on my team was recently officially Zendesk certified. He took the test and studied for it and passed, so now he’s like our architect for Zendesk with all the triggers, tools, automations what have you and designing that workflow.
Katherine: Then other people are just learning a lot about data so like these metrics questions like how do you learn more about how to illustrate the work that your team does quantitatively, not just qualitatively. Now that we’re working with ModSquad, our full-time job honestly is kind of just like developing that relationship just with our project managers but also with our Mods, helping them do QA, answering one of questions but also just like, yeah like staying human with team too so they know that we care about them and the work they do so they bring that love and attention to their interactions with our community as well. I think it’s all good. I think there’s a lot of stuff you can learn in support that is outside of doing tickets that obviously makes an impact as well and does not detract from the overall support experience.
Veronica: I want to shadow Katherine, you guys do, I don’t know have you an internship or something there for me?
Katherine: You can come visit, come visit.
Mat: Fantastic I think we’ve got … we’re almost out of time, I’m going to get … Carolyn asked what support systems do you both use and what do you love about them, let us do that quickly.
Katherine: We use Zendesk primarily and through that we do primarily email support, some Twitter support but I think Zendesk is great they have a lot of … I mean I know that they are trying to make a support software like Help Desk like out-of-the-box kind of work for you without needing developers, without needing minimal kind of like technical knowledge. I think that’s not to say it’s not complicated because it is but it’s learnable and I think they’re doing a lot of exciting things in the future with future trends like using artificial intelligence to kind of … like AI robots to help sort or prioritize tickets or just gather data on a customer so an agent doesn’t have to manually do that. Like what are tools that … if you’re thinking about support tools, what are tools that can help you remove as much of the load, kind of repetitive work as possible, so that the humans who are your agents, your human agents can then focus on the human interactions.
Mat: You use Zendesk as well Veronica?
Veronica: I do and I don’t have a super good answer for why other than that’s what was there when I took on the team-
Katherine: Same, I mean honestly same.
Veronica: It is a little more complex than I think we needed when we had it at that time, now that scaling its sort of like okay we’re learning it, a team member of mine will likely get Zendesk certified as well. We’re maturing along with the platform and I’m happy with it, I think there’s a lot of people out there though who are doing really cool stuff so sometimes I have FOMO on different platforms and just don’t have the bandwidth to play in all of them but I have a belief that I will in the near term. Only because I read a lot of what people are doing in the space and the commitment that people have to improving the experience for not only the customers but also the agents.
Veronica: It’s something I’m super passionate about personally obviously it’s what I do professionally but I’m a hundred percent not the most super awesome person for telling you like, “Here are the tools you need to set up the best customer support team.” I’m still learning in that regard but I can say that we have it set up in a way that allows us to crank through tickets, I can do 50 in an hour, so I’m satisfied that when we look at the low budget match which is like how happy is my customer and how quickly can I get through all of these and on those counts we’re killing it, so I keep it kind of basic.
Veronica: But, we’re quickly getting Into a point where we’re going to have way broader needs and that’s why I’ve started the investment of looking at trainings for the team and investigating other options just to make sure that we are actually where we belong from a support platform.
Mat: Absolutely, and of course at Help Scout we use Help Scout. I just posted in the chat there, I like this article about how do you pick the right help desk software and this is not about Help Scout, this article is just underlying what are the things you should think about because I’d say at different stages different things will make sense or you have different needs. This is an article that will help you kind of think through like which one is the right one for me at this particular time. I want to wrap up there’s a good question here, there’s a good question from Michelle which is good good question to finish on which is if you look back at the kind of quick scale experiences you’ve been through, is there anything you would have done differently or that you wish you had done your planning for that kind of scaling period? Katherine, you want to kick us off there?
Katherine: Let’s see, this is a resource that I shared with the Help Scout team so I think you’ll be blasting it out to your followers as well but in terms of a quick scale like actually all hands on deck or global situation that Kickstarter went through in 2014, we had a security breach and there’s a blog post you can read more about it, don’t worry everything’s fine, change your passwords, but that was truly an all hands on deck situation over Valentine’s Day weekend. It was also a three day holiday for some reason but I think obviously what I would have done differently is not had a security breach in the first place. I think we did actually a great job. Just really having documentation out for anyone who wanted to help could jump in and understand exactly what their role was but I think also just keeping calm in like the line of fire, not panicking, these are all just things that you should think about.
Katherine: Things can feel really urgent or super on fire but it always always always works out better if you can just like pause and take a step back and just come up with a plan instead of just diving in and then trying to do that simultaneously.
Veronica: Well said! Is Mat still there?
Mat: Sorry, yes I am.
Veronica: No, I mean I’ll hop in real briefly. I think what Katherine said is amazing if I could go back, I’d probably be more like Katherine but because I joined the company as a marketer and actually didn’t have support experience, I think it would have been incredibly beneficial to us if I had thought like a leader before I was like formally became one. Pure leadership is something that I value tremendously in others and myself, it’s like how can you inspire and motivate people when they have no reason to listen to you, I think is the most important thing in the world. What I would have done is I’d be like okay well I don’t formally lead this team but nobody’s currently doing it and if I think to the kind of organization that we’re building here which is a place that wants to create a billion magical moments for people and that’s a big company.
Veronica: And what does a big company need? And what I would have done is I would have spent more time thinking about the onboarding of the people who joined the team and also just formal documentation internally so similar to what Katherine said but the Lovepop way because our needs are very different to those of your customers it’s just-
Katherine: For sure, for sure.
Veronica: making people’s … It’s just so much more simple which is … it’s a blessing because it’s simple I think you have to be careful that people don’t get really comfortable with that and understanding that a spike in a certain kind of phone call sounds just like, “Oh I just got a bunch of phone calls,” but what it actually is maybe one of the product team’s tasks didn’t get executed in the way that they thought it would and they’re really busy.
Veronica: What that means is you exhibit that pure leadership, quantify that issue, measure it and give it to them, so if I had resource for people to refer to when these kinds of things happen versus it being this tribal knowledge that will only get you so far, I think we would have been in a better position so learn from that, take the time to get out of the ticket crushing, set that expectation that Katherine mentioned, “People, I’ll get back to you in 48 hours. If your card is missing, you’ll get it right away,” and take that time away to do the work that’s going to set you up for success in the future when you’re bigger.
Mat: Absolutely, I think that for me even though my scaling up was over a longer period but it was exactly the same challenge which is needed to get out of directly working with an individual customer to be able to step back and say, “Where are these problems coming from, what can we do to stop some of them?” So when we have to answer that again and how can we restructure the time so it is very valuable time and you have to make that time even when it feels like you don’t have the time.
Mat: This has been a really great chat, I wanted to wrap it up there. I want to thank everybody for watching in Zoom directly and on Facebook as well. The recording of this conversation and the resources, some are resources from Veronica and Katherine, and some other ones from me as well, we’ll be putting them up with the video on the HelpU website sometime in the next couple of weeks and you can watch that again there if you want to. Then next month we’ve got Adrian Swinscoe, as I said he’s a customer service expert, he’s going to be talking about ramping up service in busy times so it’s a nice flow on from this one and we’ll have a whole month worth about articles around dealing with seasonal busyness or events or something going horribly wrong, that kind of stuff. Thank you very much to Katherine and Veronica for taking part today, it’s been really good. I think we learned a lot in there.
Veronica: Thank you for having us and thank you for all the amazing questions everyone, bye.
Katherine: It was great.
Mat: Thank you so much.
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