Sarah Hatter on Support is Never, Ever as Important as Product Development

Why is support still a dirty word in some companies? At BoS USA 2013, after more than 10 years in technology and support, including setting up the support function for 37 Signals, Sarah Hatter has some pithy, pertinant and downright hilarious stories to tell about why it’s important, what it can do for you and what it does to build a better, stronger company.

Find Sarah’s talk video, transcript, and more from Sarah below.

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Sarah Hatter: Am I good? Okay. I’m super loud, I’m very red, and I’m very orange and red, and loud. So, if it’s too loud just let me know. So, hey, you guys thanks for having be here. I run a company called ‘CoSupport’. We teach and train people who build web and mobile apps. How to do excellent customer support? How to change the customer experience? Anyone heard of my company before?

Yes, yes, it’s working. Okay, @sh on Twitter. Also my personal website is up there where I talk a lot about what is been like for the past three years starting this company, leaving a very well known, very rich and wonderful company to start my own thing. I started my company out of spite because the former that I used to work for told me that, “My job wasn’t important, I was too opinionated, and I wasn’t a good employee, and people won’t gonna listen to me because I was too abrasive about my message.” [Chuckle] He was really encouraging about me and everything about my life. So, where’s my clicker? Do you take the clicker, Tom? Well, we are just gonna stare at my beautiful logo for a while. Whilst I finish telling you the story.

Yeah, how did I get here? So, you saw for this tech company we just probably know which one I work there for the last half of my 20s and then I wanted to have a bigger message, ‘Thank You’. You know, it doesn’t work I don’t think. About customer support, that’s me when I was 10. I was going for a Joan Jett but I think I just got young lesbian but…[Laughter] And I’m not I’d make a great lesbian just by my taste of music but I’m not a lesbian sadly. So, anyway, and this is when I was 10 years old and that was very cool and my voice just been very forward thinking and fashionable, and opinionated, and brash about everything obviously I wouldn’t even look at the camera during this picture. So, I’m also beyond just being really cool, can you go one forward one more this isn’t working, yeah, Hermionne you’re the best thank you.

I’m an ideal customer, there’re a lot of reasons for this that are scientific and there’s a lot of reasons that I just feel about myself, one of them is being I’m really kind of cool, the other one is I’m super, super, super brand loyal. I’m also incredibly vocal about the things that I love and these make me an ideal customer but they also make me an ideal person to talk about the customer experience because I’m an obsessive customer.

There are some things if you know me you probably know all about the loves of my life like Sonos & Spotify. I discovered Sonos & Spotify about a year and half two years ago. I bought every single person and all my employees of Sonos System. I was like, “That you have got to try it. This is so amazing and it will change your life, it’s a life changing situation to have in your home.” If you wanna talk about Sonos & Spotify come find me, I will talk about it all day along.

TOMS Shoes, everyone knows TOMS Shoes, just ugly little flats if you buy a pair of ugly flats they give a pair of ugly flats to the kids who need them somewhere. And I hated these shoes and I just think they are so ugly looking and then last year they came out with like, “Wedge heels and Sandels.” And they were the most comfortable shoes that I ever owned, I throw all my shoes, I bought 17 pairs of TOMS Shoes. [Laughter] Except for these boots, they don’t make boots yet but once they do god damn it I’m getting them. I’m so excited. They are the most comfortable shoes and I don’t even care that some kids were trumping on in the wedge heels that I bought for him that’s not the point, “I love the shoes. It has nothing to do about that honestly.”

H&M leggings, ladies best investment you will ever make, look at they are clapping, they know how wonderful they are, they are fantastic, they are like $10 and they are the best things you sorry guys  and maybe some of you guys I don’t really know, if you wanna try it. [Laughter] I don’t know but we can talk about that later in private if you guys have question about that. Saddleback Leather anyone ever heard of Saddleback Leather?

Yes, yes. You guys, look how your hands were raised like, “Yes look at that. I love this company because they make great stuff. They make high quality stuff and they guarantee on if you go to their website and read their product guarantee. Its like, “Your bags are not gonna rip, that’s it. If it does like we’ll send you a couple of new ones because it’s never happened before.” I just love this and I love everything about these, it’s a fantastic experience, right. That’s the reason why I’m an ideal customer, that’s the reason why I’m passionate about the customer experience, the consumer experience, I’m passionate about making people who build shit really passionate about the experience getting that shit for your customer front to back. And I’m calling it shit but you know it’s just a word like to use. [Laughter]

Why is customer support suddenly so important?

I don’t believe that it’s suddenly so important but my company is a great sort of reference that people are suddenly starting to think it’s very important out of the blue. 10 years ago I started working for a tech company and I was told really kind of matter of fact that, “We don’t build for our customers we build for ourselves.” Right, the customers who are gonna complain about the things that we build or they are gonna complain about features and we are just gonna tell them know a lot and we are just gonna not build those features if we don’t want to use them. Even if people ask for the features we are not gonna build them and there’re odd even for against this but for me it always struck me as kind of an egotistical experience because you are not buying your product, other people are buying your product, other people are giving you money for the use of your product that you are building for them.

So, if you are spending, if I’m spending money on something I wanna to be something I’m passionate about and loyal I don’t wanna to be something that you just like and mommy choose the way like I like to choose it.

So, anyway we started this company three years ago, we are profitable since day one, we are 100% debt and investment free, and right now we’re at a complete stopping point taking on new customers because we don’t have the bandwidth for it, so many people wanting to jump on this bandwagon and how do I surprisingly to like?

Every customer expects more

It’s one of the things we get all of the time, and people write us emails all the time, we wanna be like Zappos, we wanna be like this experience and this is the problem, every customer expects more from that because of the Zappos’ experience because what the Zappos book anyone reference that as part of your customer support manual or whatever? It’s kind of the big deal, every customer writes that too and they expect way more from you guys now.

Every complaint is completely immediate and it’s completely permanent

Even if it’s a total bullshit compliant. So, like if I’m the customer well, I just say I’m a person and Dave Collins here promises to send me an Amazon Gift Card two years ago and doesn’t do it. I can as a customer, I can go Twitter and I say that, “Dave Collins didn’t send me my gift card.” And it’s there. So, anytime someone Googles that Dave Collins it’s there.  That’s gonna be the first thing that they see. [Laughter] It’s permanent even if it’s something like you know, we see people, most of our customer what CoSupport does for our customers just crises sort of mediation between customers and people who are trying to make products, right.

So, we come in when there’s like social media mishaps and people…We had a customer two weeks ago ask me, if we would contact a customer who left a negative review on items and ask him to take it down. And I was like, “No, absolutely not because the part with the point that this should never got into that in the first place. We are not gonna ask the customers to change their experience just because you don’t like the fact that it’s out there, right.”

The other thing too is now, customers expect to be treated like what royalty

I know I do, I expects because I have very, very, very high standards about customer support that those high standards are telepathic to everyone that I encounter in a service position and when it’s not you know, I’m that vocal customer who’s gonna tell people about it and that’s not really good. A lot of you guys are dealing with that kind of stuff now and especially on the web it’s even easier to be vocal about it when you are completely anonymous and you can write reviews, right. So, ops wrong way! Sorry guys.

Customer support

The big thing about customer support, the things that we are teaching people all the time is that there’s no such thing is like, “I just heard Tom say the back office, right. They support people, there’s no such thing is that anymore because customer support is now part of everything that we do. All of the stuff now is under a huge blanket of the customer experience. And customer support is your customer’s experience. And it’s really the product that you are selling, it’s how easy this for me to find it and understand it, sign up for it, and pay for it, start using it, get help if I need a problem with that having to contact a person, cancel if I want to get a refund if I need it.” All of that stuff is a customer experience and everything in between that all of the trees that branch out from under that are a part of your product and that’s the customer support experience.

So, when people talk to us about we wanna be like Zappos, I sort of shake my head and laugh because Zappos is not doing anything new. I’m a scholar of History and scholar of History, I’m a student of Scholars of History, I love History, I love context, again I’m very red, I like to know everything about everything that I’m doing and I started maybe about five years ago doing a lot of research in customer support wherever these ideas that we have manifest from what was the origin? Some people say, “It was you know, Henry Ford or Walt Disney or whatever?” But again and again and again I came back to one guy, this guy that some of you probably have never heard of H. Gordon Selfridge. So, this is actually Jeremy Piven playing H. Gordon Selfridge in the Masterpiece Theater show, “Mr. Selfridge did you guys ever see that? Has anyone watched it?” Like four people awesome! Those are my people up there who sat through a many series about a department store. Anyway, I just think he is more good looking than the real H. Gordon Selfridge. But he did have this moustache that was pretty amazing. [Chuckle]

Window shopping & glass display cases

H. Gordon Selfridge is an amazing guy because he was a total visionary about the consumer merchant relationship, he was born in Wisconsin, he was schooled under Marshall Fields, he worked his way up and working in Marshall Fields from being an arrant boy to delivering things to the customers, to working on the floor and then becoming an executive level and being mentored by Marshall Field himself. He has done so much for the consumer experience and all of us encounter every single day and none of us give him any credit for including this. He’s a person who is most likely reference to the first time imprint this, “The Customer is always right.” We see this and we kind of just people will make things and know the people buy because it sounds it’s a very different context for us because it means that the person writing that crappy yelp review is right obviously. But when he said this way back at the turn of the century 100 years ago or more it was actually because at the time you know, there’s a legal precedent about this caveat emptor, it was the buyer beware, “You can’t take me to court if I sell you shitty stuff. It’s your fault for buying it, right?” And it ended up being that consumers were very weary of merchant’s catalogs started becoming way more prevalent because people didn’t have to go and see people and forcing those buying things. And people just really didn’t like the idea it wasn’t a fancy which sort I’m looking for a glamorous lifestyle to be a merchant anymore because there’s no trust on the consumer side.

So, Selfridge was actually very vocal that the customer should be the one in the power position in this, the customer should be given a completely glamorous experience, the customer should have a romantic experience with the things that they are purchasing and be very excited about it and they also helped to make a different legal term kind of a bit more prevalent which is ‘Caveat Venditor’ which means that the vendor needs to be aware, you can’t sell shitty stuff anymore and get away with it. You can’t just you know, close up shop after people start complaining and then go down the board walk another one instead of a new shop under your name which people used to do all the time, right. If you are again like into history at all I recommend wikipeding this, this is a one of the very first law like law suits that reference this is an outcome, McPherson versus Buick Motor Co. (1916).

So, it’s real interesting talk, isn’t it? I can talk about this stuff all day along but I know you guys don’t wanna hear about that stuff. There’s other stuff that he actually pioneered that we are used to seeing all the time and we never think about. Window shopping, glass display cases any of guys who is watching or watch the show the very first scene of the very first episode of this mini series Mr. Selfridge, he goes into a shop that has a little closet it in the West End in London and it’s a girl behind an oak desk and she has doors on her side that he can’t see and he goes and he says, “I like to buy some gloves.” And she says, “Which ones?” And he says, “I don’t know, why you don’t show me all of them.” And she’s kind of startled by this because that’s not the process in 1909. The process is, “I’d like to buy some gloves, I like brown ones, here they are, and thank you and you leave.” But he wants to have the opportunity to inspect whatever she had there.

And then in the real life story this actually really did happen after she took out all of the gloves to show him what they were, he decided he don’t wanna buy any of them and he just left and thanked her. And that was scandalous, he was actually in the newspaper that he had this con artist had swung into town and looking at gloves and beware of the man who doesn’t buy things. [Laughter]I mean it was so crazy this was in 1909, it’s also London I mean that’s why Dave Collins is from. So, it’s sort of like you know, they are little crazy, they are little crazy about the stuff but he thought that these things were just you know – window shopping – when he started his own store he wanted people to walk by and be shocked at this artistic expression that they saw and then it was a free artistic experience that they could have, it was a free experience with commerce they could have, they didn’t have to come into the store, they could still be entertained on the street. People thought it was ludicrous that he wants to do this.

Cosmetics in the front of a departmental store

Does anyone know why we have cosmetics and perfumes in the front of a department store? Its because when Selfridge started his store, Selfridges at the West, the very, very far end of Oxford Street. Oxford Street at the time was a turnaround for horse carriages which meant that their front doors where the horses would come by stop drop people off and then shit all over the street. So, people were walking through horse shit to get into his beautiful brand new store. And he thought he could mask the smell of horse shit by having beautiful smelling powders and sprays as you walk in you are sprayed with them. So, we would thank him for that. It’s ingenious but we don’t know why any of this stuff happens until we research it.

Food Courts

When Selfridge was building his store he decided he wanna to put in a world class restaurant at the very top of his store and he lost 40% of his investors because it was again the craziest thing that I ever heard about. Why would someone go shopping for gloves and wanna sit down and have lunch? And Selfridge thought why wouldn’t we went to extend this experience for people to fall in love with our store and making a place where they just wanna to come and sit and have a conversation. He wants people to be able to say meet me at Selfridge and come over and we’ll have a cup of tea or whatever? People thought again it was ludicrous. But he is the reason why we have a food court in our malls now, the reason why Norm Jims have cafes no one was doing this until he decided to take on the idea of the customer experience being a key part of people shopping habits.

Commerce as a romantic experience

He also wrote a book, if any of you guys are interested in really dry history of Egyptian shipping routes, he wrote a book called, ‘The Romance of Commerce’. I feel like he and I are kind of soulmates when it comes to stuff like this because I would read about you know, Egyptian shipping routes. He wants commerce to be under the romantic experience between a merchant and a person who is buying as not romance in like the Master of Conway, I mean that’s for romance but you know, like he wanna to be this like experience that showed we had a relationship together, it wasn’t just I go there I buy something and I leave.

To be a customer to Selfridge he believes that it was to experience any product is a habitual practice. And I think that’s something that we have forgot a lot and we sell software, we forgotten that when I pay you $49 a month, I’m not just paying you $49 a month, I’m logging into your product everyday, I’m checking it, I’m figuring it out how to use it? It’s a habitual practice, if it’s a good product, if it’s a TOMS Shoes or Saddleback Leather or Sonos it becomes part of my daily life, it become something that I just do out of muscle memory that’s the idea of you know, commerce as a romantic movement, it’s something that just becomes a part of you.

The customer experience is more than just transaction

And that’s what we at CoSupport have to constantly retrain people especially CEOs in the software world how to understand? It’s not about the transaction that happens it’s about the entire experience that goes on before and after that transaction occurs when I purchase your software, I purchase your app or I purchase your product.

What can you do right now?

So, we are gonna talk about a couple of things that Selfridge did beyond the Food Courts and the Egyptian merchant ship and all that kind of stuff and we are gonna talk about things that you can do right now to change the way that you present your customer experience in the way the you investing your customer support. The first one and the second one because I’m not only talking about two are going to be really controversial. The first one is gonna be controversial, the second one is gonna is very controversial, sorry.

So, the first thing is Mr. Selfridge hired and trained before he needed to.

When he decided to build his first shop in London which is still there to this day, he started going all around Europe poaching the top talent, all the top shop girls, all the top men’s clothiers, all the top people who were milliners, anyway and he’d offer them 20% more than their salary that they were already making.

And people thought again totally scandalous but the reason they thought, “You are an idiot because you don’t even have a building for them to work in.” And he didn’t care because he wanted to get as much talent as he could before he needed it. The last thing he wanted to do was start open a store and invest all this money in the week before the store opens, find someone to come and work the counters – that’s not the experience that he wanted to have. That was a common experience that was what people would normally doing and he wanted to elevate everything from the merchants to the transactions to the receipts, the receipts were hand written in his stores, I mean everything he wanted to do, he wanted to invest like crazy.

So, the other thing he did is he paid top dollar

He paid tons of money to people way more money than they are probably worthy and he wanted to brand the level of service. So, he had a relationship with his employees that was, “I’m going to invest in you. I’m going to give you a huge opportunity you are gonna make a ton of money but in return you are gonna have to go through my hopes and become and very different employee.” Part of that was branding the support experience in the way that we teach people to brand their support experience. And the time when he comes to me like, “I wanna surprise delight.” There’re ways to do that without you know, doing the normal Zappos stuff, right.

Language training is the key.

So, the very first thing that he did with all of his shop girls and all of his people on the floor was retrain them how to speak to customers and one other thing that they were forbidden to do is saying, “No.” They were never allowed to use the word ‘No’ at all, they were never allowed to say, “No, I can’t. No, that’s not. No, we won’t.” And we still train people to say, “We train on customer support.” You never use the word, ‘No’ instead Selfridges’s employees were taught to say something I can look into for you. And that compared to the word ‘No’ is a very, very, very different experience to have as a customer because automatically I hear this, I hear someone saying this and that means a continual relationship with that person.

Whether or not it’s ever, ever gonna happen that they are gonna ever go find me the thing and let me know and call me up. It’s different because when I’m saying no to a person I close the door. When I say something like this I give them an opportunity to continue to stand in front of me and continue to have their needs met however they need that, right. So, that was something that he did.

I think language training right now, language on the web is one of the very worse things that we are doing especially in the customer support room. It goes like, “Customer Support emails that are scripted are the worse. Phone calls are probably is the worse but the very worse thing that we are doing right now is the way that we speak to customers on social media and the language that we use.” And the reason is that is because we haven’t invested in retraining people how to speak to customers online and we don’t give a shit that’s the other thing.

So, I’m going to tell you where this matters

I’m gonna using an anecdote that just happened to me about two months ago. Some of guys and we did to go and hangout and kind of roughly talked about this one, I’m gonna give you the full context of the story and it starts with me as a customer, it starts with me as a very opinionative customer like I said, it starts with me just sort of like letting this be out there. It’s just very true. There are times when especially as an angry customer I’m a dick and I’m just like I don’t care because I’m so mad.

And it was like two months ago I was stuck, I travel all the time like I’m been on 34 flights since June that’s just my life. And anytime there’s a travel hiccup, it’s the worse thing in the world for me, it’s complete Armageddon, I’m just like you know, thrashing and tearing my clothes and agony about it. It’s just I’m very overdramatic about my travel issues. So, a friend of mine recommends that I use Hotel Tonight, I’d never used it before, I was stuck there I needed a Hotel Tonight. So, I did by myself a hotel room take my cab right over to the hotel that I had booked for tonight. I had been charged, I actually been charged twice which is just completely separate issue and I get there and the hotel is like, “We don’t have a reservation for you. We don’t even know what that product is that you use.”

And I was like, “What are you talking about?” [Laughter] It’s called HotelTonight, you’re a hotel. It’s tonight, what is happening? [Laughter] I was so mad, they are like, “No, we know we heard that people stuck with that but we don’t that.” I’m not really sure how they are selling our rooms? And I just stood there and like, “Are you kidding me?”

And the very first thing that I thought to do is go to Twitter and I said, “Flight cancelled. Booked Hotel Tonight, the hotel doesn’t have paid reservation on file customer support is atrocious, send wine.”[Laughter] I was so mad at this, I was so mad and then there was this whole thing where I had to call and I had to call Hotel Tonight and they are like, “Well, we have to get off the phone with you and we have to fax the hotel your information.” I was like, “What?” Again, I’m enraged at this point, right.

So, when I do this what happens is somebody who’s not the person I talked to the phone sees this on Twitter, I don’t know who this person was and they send me this reply and this is my response, “We apologise for the inconvenience. Now, that you are all checked in please don’t hesitate to call us if we can help with anything else.” And I’m sorry but this looks very normal to people who don’t do my job and don’t consult on customer support but this is the worse thing you could ever say to someone in my position and it starts with, “We apologise for the inconvenience.” This is not an inconvenience, this is you charged me twice and I have no place to sleep tonight and it’s your fault that’s way beyond the idea of being inconvenience, right.

And I told you already like, I’m a dick on Twitter. [Chuckle] I just try not to be and sometimes it happens and sometimes I’m and I replied and I’m not proud of this moment, I’m just putting it out there. I just wanna use myself as a horrible explanation for what I’m talking about. I said, “Apologies for the inconvenience super eew, I try really sorry this happen and try to sound more human.” And I threw my phone across the room, I was so mad at that point.

So, what happened was pretty remarkable because they saw this and they did not reply to me but about two hours later there was a knock on my door and they had sent me a bottle of wine with this note and it says, “So, sorry about the hiccups at check-in but we were relieved to hear that you are in house now and even bigger I’m sorry for how we reacted. There’s a smiley face you can’t really see. We hope you check us next time but regardless of where your next trip takes you, enjoy this bottle with us tonight.” I mean that was…[Laughter] That changed my life, right. [Laughter]

But this is the thing I never shouldn’t get to this point I mean this is how I always in my business trips but it shouldn’t have how to get to that point. I should have to call and complaint on Twitter and then be waiting them on Twitter which I shouldn’t have done and I understand but the fact that they were able to do this is amazing, the fact that this had to happen is still a breakdown on the system, right. It never should have got into this point I should have made my reservation and then should have been a reservation for me as I was just gone into my hotel room. I can leave that as long as we want but…[Laughter] So, anyway this matters because I’m an average customer, I told you before that I’m an ideal customer but I’m an average customer and that’s the problem with this. I’m social media savvy, I’m vocal about negative experiences I have with products. I’ll take to Twitter if I have to and I’ll talk about this and again remember the very first size I said this is an immediate and permanent record for you guys, right.

When it comes to social media I’m gonna steal a quote from my good friend Richard White who runs user voice Twitter as a small claims court of bad support. [Laughter] And he and I, Richard runs a company called ‘User Voice’, he and I produce a conference together called ‘User Conf’ it’s twice a year and it’s just for customer facing roles, it’s basically a school for customer support and he and I are hilarious because we are the people that should be most empathetic to bad support but he is the worst at complaining about the bad support experiences that we have.  He also told me that I could use some of his amazing statistics if I put a sexy picture of him up. So, this is a picture from a couple of weeks ago that we took in a photo booth and that one is Rich- the horse. [Laughter] That was me, horrified by the horse head. So, why do people go social? These are Richard’s stats that he has done a lot of work together, there’re three ways that so he’s seeking actual help with the service issue, they are venting about a bad experience or they’re raving about a good experience that’s it.

This is important because remember when I said that when H. Gordon Selfridge was hiring people from all of the world and building stuff and paying top dollar and putting food courts in his restaurants, they are writing in the paper about what lunatic he was that’s the same exact thing is people going on Twitter and talking about how bad your service is. The brands you in that whatever experience those customers have are branding your product with that experience.

Customer Support Agents were the people that are fielding those complaints. So, the problem we saw with Hotel Tonight was that I interact with the three separate people and none of them who had a cohesive story about my experience. The girl on the phone who told me to fax something, the person on Twitter who said they apologies for the inconvenience and the person who ultimately recovered the experience that’s three people and none of them working as a cohesive team that’s a bad thing.

That’s how what we have seen happened traditionally that customer support is the sort of fringe network of people all on the outskirts and they are all sort of like doing their job and they are very isolated from development and everything else that has to go along. But right now your most valuable assets, what we see when we do hiring for Customer Support agents is that this thing exist. I never heard of it until I started CoSupport. But they are actually as out there for Chief Customer Officers. In 2003, they were 30 of these that we could find like rated on market. Again, this is Richard’s amazing statistics. In this year, there are 730. This is the real role that people are hiring into and realizing and how important this is? Someone who actually is the main person who goes to either customer happiness or customer success or whatever but in this it’s an actual Executive role. Someone who’s not a Product Manager or Product Developer, or Chief Operating Officer, their main goal is just to work with customers, right.

Customer Support cannot continue to be an after thought for you. This is a huge one that we struggle with communicating to people all the time when we go into companies and talk to them about why their support is failing it’s because their support isn’t built into this product, right. Their support is just in afterthought. I used to work for a company that I struggled all the time fighting me against the features that were being built or slow development or lack of fixes to bugs because I was the one answering angry emails, I was the one answering angry tweets, I was the one apologizing and apologizing and apologizing to customers and I didn’t even do anything wrong, I hadn’t even built anything, I wasn’t even a part of that, right.

This is a quote that my old boss told me when I brought to him very emotionally that my job is killing me because hate me and they’re so unhappy because I can’t do anything to make their lives better and I actually like I put that back in because again that was my reaction to this when I was told if anyone complaints we will just do it later. And this is like during huge, huge product revision launch. I cut this out I put it on campfire chat and I cut it out and I taped it to my computer and I just would remember that because that was the only thing I had the power to do. We just remember that okay we’ll just deal with it later. We did do with it later over and over and over again and a lot of support people are dealing with this later because they have zero, zero, zero support on their end, from CEOs or Product Manager or Product Developer who are helping or letting customer support help with product development.

So, let’s get back to Mr. Selfridge, he would bring his staff to the construction site, does anyone know what I mean by this so you get a good visual? It sounds like he would trump his whole staff around through a construction site that’s exactly what he did in the rain, in the muddy West End there would be photographers swallowing him around while he trumped people through a construction site. A year before their store even opened and again people thought he was an absolute lunatic but he knew that the people they are gonna be working in his store are needed to be a part of every aspect of building the store from the ground up, right.

Even shop girls were consulted I have this in big frame because shop girls are the customer support people of today of the web. They were consulted on floor plan design construction departments, inventory, and marketing. He actually had shop girls and managers of specific departments consulting where the bathrooms would be because at the time Selfridge is going to have flush toilets where he knew that people are going to what to come see them and he knew the people were going to come up to shop girl and say, “Where’s the bathroom?” And she would have to direct them. So, if the bathroom in is a complicated area from their department, it’d be too complicated for the shop girl to explain how you get up there, how you get up to the restaurant. Then the person that should be telling construction workers where to put those bathrooms because they are going to be the ones directing people to them for the next or many years.

We don’t do this in design for the web, we call ourselves, we do service design but we don’t bring customer support agents to our construction site and say, “Tell me what you think of this wire frame? Tell me what the support headaches you see if they are potentially gonna arise from this design decision.” We say to those people that we know we’re gonna to answer these horrible angry emails we’ll deal with it later if people complaint.

Shop girls with unhappy customers they deserve a say. This is probably the absolute biggest thing that I can leave you guys with this that support deserves a say. Support deserves a seat at the table when you are making design decision or you are making product decisions when you are choosing which features to add, your customer support people should be there. And that’s what I know is controversial for a lot of people because for a lot of people they’re still hiring interns to do this job or entry level people or if you are CEO you still think that you are doing customer support is the ideal way for this to happen and I don’t need to pay somebody else to do that. I know that for a lot of the tech companies Junior Rails Developers are coming in and they are getting 80 to 90 grand their first job at the college, their first job in their 20s, the average support person’s salary is about 45 grand and the support person is the one who’s working late nights and on the weekends answering angry emails about the things that the Junior Rails Developer broke. [Laughter]

So, this is what we’re gonna end with, we are gonna with a couple of things. Support is important as code and design. We should be investing equally with time, with resources, with attention, with voice, with money all that kind of stuff. We have to start shifting the way that we think about the people doing this job. Language is incredibly important, little changes to language or what make a difference between a terrible support experience on social media or an email and the one that people remember and take pictures of and show at conferences.

People know when you are being a robot. When you say, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience because you feel like that’s a professional way to apologize.” It doesn’t sound professional it sounds robotic and people don’t like it. But beyond that we should be keeping everything about our customer experience friendly and educational, and fun, and we should be thinking of ways to delight customers not just in you know, cool features but in the way that we present the entire experience.

And if there’s everything that I ever want you guys to take away from this if you forget everything except the gifts I’d just ask you to remember the next three things, the next three slides, listen to your customers, listen what they are asking, listen what they are complaining about, listen to what they want, listen to what they like, listen to what they tell their friends about, and then listen more to what they like, what they tell their friends about, what they complaint about, what they are writing in about, what problems that they are having? And then try to figure out ways to listen better to those complaints and do something about it. And that’s gonna mean that you are bringing in people into your product cycle that probably you don’t feel belong there like your customer support people or your team managers but they do and I think if we can just like figure out a way to make the customer experience a little bit more part of our product design we’re gonna find a way to make you know, everything a better place for all of us. So, that’s it. [Applause]

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Sarah Hatter: Do you have questions, any questions? Questions, questions…

Audience: I wanna ask first.

Sarah Hatter: Okay.

Audience: I’d rather hear ‘No’ from customer support then I’m gonna look into it. Yeah, blah bah blah yeah of course you know.

Sarah Hatter: You are gonna look into customer support because of my talk?

Audience: No, I’m saying that if someone who’s…If I’m saying someone on customer support, in the customer support situation.

Sarah Hatter: Yes.

Audience: I want to know if they say, “I’m gonna look into it.” What they are actually gonna into it and how things gonna change?

Sarah Hatter: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Audience: So, I’d rather say no then how…

Sarah Hatter: I know but there’s a way, there’re so many ways of saying no without saying ‘No’. The best thing that we train people, if you come to our workshop tomorrow we are gonna do actually a lot of down and dirty stuff about language, I mean we give people actual phrases that they can use, instead of saying ‘No’…

Audience: Okay, your workshop already that’s fine.

Sarah Hatter: Yeah. [Chuckle]

Sarah Hatter: I mean I could have gone on and on and on and on talking about this stuff obviously but it’s not gonna do anything unless they learn real specifics like you are asking. So, let say this is broken and are you gonna fix it? And instead of saying ‘No’ there’re so many options, we are totally aware of it, we are very sorry that super frustrating, we are working on it, it’s something that’s alluding our team right now but we have all our hands on deck kind of thing. We don’t know when we are gonna be able to fix it? We hope it soon, we have a schedule for this, our next release date is, and all of those, there’re four options instead of saying ‘No’ to a person. I mean honestly it just takes a little bit of creative thinking, creative writing, higher grade writers, when you hire a support people, higher creative writers because they can come up with amazing excuses all day along. [Laughter] Yes?

Audience: Hi, okay, just because I wanna hear you talk about it one of things you always hear for customer support, “Oh, let’s just setup a call center in India and they’ll magically deal with it all.” How would you help let say, senior management says this is what we are gonna do?

Sarah Hatter: I’m gonna tell you get what you pay for. [Laughter] That’s it. You get what you pay for. You can totally go the generic route you can totally do that if you don’t wanna deal with it. But eventually your customers are gonna know that’s how much you value them and they are gonna be, they are gonna hit the road. So, you know, there’s a lot of ways that outsource, we provide outsource service for the launch projects all the time, for three to six months we’ll come in and setup your support, put up together a manual for how to it, hire people in and get out of the way? We are not a call center but there’s a lot people doing stuff like that, that are US based or have a passion for it or whatever? You are gonna pay a little bit more but you are gonna get amazing value and the customer experience is better, right. So, that’s the answer you get what you pay for. Yes?

Audience: Thank you first of all for validating my existence for many days.

Sarah Hatter: Yes, high five. I love you.

Audience: I have been pushing what you just said on my employees for a longtime and it’s nice to hear that so I’m supposed to be doing. My problem is where I find that next employee of that? We have been struggling and fighting for finding someone that’s technical enough but also knows how to speak? We have tried retail people, we have tried technical people, where you finding the best resources to hire for the money?

Sarah Hatter: So, the best two resources, I’m so glad you ask this question, we asked it all the time, you know, I’m an educator, I’m a trainer it’s kind of like what I like to do. So, I believe and you probably are really good at this too that you can train a lot of people how to do a lot of stuff but I train, I hire for personality, I hire for culture, I hire for…- Mikey had the slide up that tells me and explain to me how to do something but I don’t have to do a reason all the time with hiring.

We hire Bartenders, Librarians, Baristas, people who work at bookstores because all of those kinds of jobs are high demand, high question answering, high information answering, they are usually very quick on their feet, sociable, have great communication skills too. I never very, very, very, very, very rarely will, I hire someone who has technical support as a background and I don’t ever hire for CoSupport we have nine employees, I don’t hire anybody who solicits me for work. So, if someone sends their resume to me or they ask me for a job I usually that’s not what I’m looking, I’m looking for people that I can like Selfridge do and I can poach from amazing jobs but not poach like you know, and in a smarmy way but kind of like I think I can give you amazing career if you come and work for me because you got the skills for it, you are just not doing the right thing right now. Yes, yes?

Audience: When you hear earlier when they optimistically talk about the Netflix experience about how they redesign the page and then saw engagement go up if support had been at the table when they made that decision.

Sarah Hatter: Yeah, I wasn’t here during the talk because I was doing a crisis management for one of our customers during a major social media meltdown. [Laughter] But I understand what you are asking. And we get ask this question a lot, it’s sort of like, Here’s the deal, this is the problem. So, it sounds to a lot of people like I’m saying to the CEO of McDonalds, “You should really have the Fry Cook coming and talk to your board of directors about what his ideas are?”

That’s how forward it sounds to people who you know, aren’t used to doing this but from where I’m standing that is the person who’s making this every single day, they are handling the customer problems, and there are other people that they should be observed and communicated with on a daily basis about any changes that are being made. All of us had jobs where some mandate comes down the line that affects our position and our daily work habits, and this person appear as just doing it to test out and see if it’s a good idea, right? So, what is your question along the lines of specifically about the Netflix, I’m sorry you can have a back. [Laughter]

Audience: No, it was earlier, and it goes back to the Optimizely talk where they said, “They redesign the site.” They had a blog post about it. Horrible negative feedback on the blog post, it was miserable, awful, everything but they said, “Engagement went up.” And a guy pointed out earlier, “Well, engagement because it was harder to use and so we will already do what I’d normally do. And I imagine the engagement with their support it just went up as well.” The more people calling for support that seems it will be a good metric to also track when you make a change to look at the benefit and also realize that there’s maybe some cost coming here too as well.

Sarah Hatter: There is and it’s really hard because if the cost is long term, if the cost would support on a new feature or something is long term that’s an issue. If it’s a spike because people don’t like change and they don’t know how to use it that’s something to just watch and I usually tell people and especially new features for an existing product with an existing product with an existing user base, people who are loyal to a product, you wanna watch that for about three weeks and no more because after a month people start to kind of forget their passion about things but two to three markets when people are still really, really, really complaining about that kind of stuff. So, if it’s happening longer than that you have made a big, big mistake and you need to fix it real quick. If it’s about two-three weeks and then it’s sort of like tapers down and people seemed to like be figuring it out then usually that’s a good marker and that’s it’s gonna work out at the end. Yes? Oh, I’m sorry, I have one right here, I have to take him, I’m so sorry I cut him up before, go ahead.

Audience: If the product you sell also, you also sell training services. And often what can happen sometimes is that the support ends up being the defacto of free trainer. How do you manage that kind of…

Sarah Hatter: Better the documentation better view of tutorials, a searchable help section, a help section that’s updated constantly in a way that people can access it before accessing customer support.

Audience: Alright, I guess more of the question is they should actually do the training because we should actually it’s a kind of product where they would really benefit from training.

Sarah Hatter: Yeah, but that should be a very different role than customer support. That should be a trainer role.

Audience: How does a support agent I guess for the words to get them over to talk to training folks?

Sarah Hatter: They should never get to a customer support agent if they need training. They should go to a trainer. So, what happens…

Audience: We got a 1800 number or something and then we…

Sarah Hatter: I mean however you want, whatever you think works best for your customers in the way that they contact you. We are big fans for us, we have lots of documentation, searchable help sections, keywords on everything and if go to your site and I’m trying to write you an email, I forgot my password I want to be stopped and I want to say, “Here’s an article about how to reset your password, did that help?” Now, I can’t get to the customer support person with the stupid easy question, right. And if I don’t know how to do this I need training, they are gonna get a prompt that says, “We have training materials right here, why don’t you contact one of these peoples and watch a video or go to this walkthrough?” It shouldn’t ever be on the customer support side, they are burden to train your customers. Okay, yeah I’m so sorry let’s take that one.

Audience: That’s okay. So, there are two thoughts I have seen that pretty innovative when it comes to customer support, one is the best service is no service. So, Amazon is famous. So, we have root cause honors and we systematically eliminate the defects that causes issues to rise and the second one is the makers should be closer to the customer. So, Kayak for example has their engineers taking care of support calls in the hopes of understanding and getting closer. So, I’m curious is to your experience prospective with kind of those approaches to customer support.

Sarah Hatter: Both of those approaches are high on my list. The only problem that I have with engineers taking rotating our on calls is that they don’t get a long enough experience with customers and usually what happens is they are on call for a week and they say the same thing over and over and over and they pinpoint that to go fix and they are off on call and they don’t think about customers anymore. And the second one is also language, I’m really specific about language training and like obviously like with the way the customers speak and I wanna make sure that’s somebody who’s in a customer facing role interacting directly especially on the phone or on live chat have great language training. So, our roles and we are helping people develop their customer support process is the first one, the Amazon one like they don’t ship bugs if people complaint about something more that three times it’s fixed by the end of the week and that kind of stuff is high, high, high standards and you have to have super scalable, flexible kind of engineering departments to do that kind of work. But the second one is having a customer support that’s working hand-in-hand with the Product Development on the products developer team, who’s bubbling up issues to engineering on a weekly and daily basis. So, at the end of the day they have some sort of automation that’s logging all of the top issues at the end of the week those are calculated and then they have someone who’s actually handling the triage to making sure those things get fixed so they are not repeated at the end of the month. And again, these things are really like you have to commit to them from the beginning of their product development, it’s very hard to back track, it’s very hard to implement that kind of system after you have build something. Yes?

Audience: Can you address the problems of customer support without looking at the culture of the company who’s offering the support itself? So, are you not better in flexing the culture first and then you are gonna get good support independently?

Sarah Hatter: Yeah, I guess your question is sort of like does the culture of a company influence the way that customers are treated?

Audience: That’s right, yes.

Sarah Hatter: And I truly believe that it does but it starts with the way that you treat the people that are treating your customers, right. So, if work for Mark and Mark is a dick. [Laughter] If you are well, I’m not saying you are I’ll thought you are very lovely. If he treats me terribly it’s gonna go one or two ways. I might treat his customers terribly because I don’t give a shit about them because no one is giving a shit about me or I’m gonna have super high empathy for those customers because I’m gonna feel it sort of like coming down hell to them, right. On the other hand if you treat me like I’m a princess like I’m and you treat me and you pay me well and you support me and you give me  training opportunities, and you are invested in my potential as an employee that energy is gonna then resurface when I speak to your customers and when I empower them and use you know, full words I’m gonna talk about the words that were full words versus empty words in a workshop like that I think is gonna come and I know a lot of companies who have very small companies their company culture is amazing, Wistia is one of the champions, one of automatic, the guy from Automatic Spoke at my conference last week about just their distributed office culture. When employees are incredibly happy they treat your customers happy. The CEO of the Container Saw, if any guys saw him on CBS earning warning about five years ago he never even thinks about customers, all he thinks about in his day-to-day role is how to treat his employees well because he feels like if the employees are treated well the customers will be just fine. Yes?

Audience: So, you are talking about the experience you had with Hotel Tonight.

Sarah Hatter: Yeah.

Audience: So, one of the interesting things about you know, customer support is just the way it’s growing up you have these infrastructures that have been build that are all about phone calls and you end up with a marketing department that does Twitter.

Sarah Hatter: Totally social media, right.

Audience: Right. So, they are watching Twitter, they are watching Facebook, they are responding. So, you know, one of the questions that we care a lot is how do we take those two completely independent worlds with different systems you know, different everything on the backend. How do you advice companies that have that you know, schisms between the two to bringing the two together and what are some of the techniques that you use to help bring them together and make it a coherent support?

Sarah Hatter: Yeah. With larger companies and I thank you for that question that you know, one of my first size was about how customer support is part of all of these different departments and that’s all of it’s, everyone should be working on the customer experience if they are selling a product. If there’s money involved between me and you and I’m giving it to you everyone in your company is part of your customer support experience. So, what we typically do with larger companies and have establish teams and we are trying to integrate them into kind of these new fields of customer support is doing and we talked about earlier doing the swap. So, someone from R&D goes and works on support is one for support goes and works in R&D. And usually, we encourage just like one or two week cycles and so they get a really heavy hand, they are really very aware of how this works. There’re a lot of companies Amazon is one of them, Werner Vogles is the CTO of Amazon and he encourages every new executive employee to start in call centers and work their way up to the whole Amazon experience because if you are gonna be there long term you need to know what everyone in the company is doing, right. And I think that if a company like Amazon can do this and in a company 50 people can do it probably as well. Next, yes, who’s in microphone over here?

Audience: Yeah. So, I have been building products for about 30 years. I tend to think I know what customers want because that’s my job. But I’ll just reflect back to you. So, whenever I sit down with support I walk away going I don’t know shit about how my customers will use my product? So, that’s why everyone hear to hear that from the executive point of view that you really you need to do it. So, my real question is have you used Hotel Tonight again?

Sarah Hatter: I did and you know what it was so amazing in a really creepy way. Three people from their support team actually one of them emailed me the guy who send me the wine, he emailed me and through their support people will tweeted at me privately thinking me for reusing their product because I saw on a reservation. So, they are fantastic, they just had a really back hiccup that I hope none of you guys ever have to experience unless you are sending me wine at the end of it. [Laughter]

Audience: So, I think that probably a lot of people using things like User Voice or Zendesk.

Sarah Hatter: Yeah, cool.

Audience: What kind of caveats or problems that we are gonna be blind headed to if we think that something like that’s gonna solve you know, majority of our issues?

Sarah Hatter: Yeah, the thing that I would encourage you like about four years ago I work for this company that is try to do really figure out the way their customers didn’t like them and I mean that was pretty obvious to a lot of people. But they couldn’t figure it out. So, what they did was they started and started these little smiley face, voting buttons that people get in the end of the email and it could be like happy face or new face or a not face, right. And every interaction that I have with the customer they got to keep voting and keep voting, and keep voting, and keep voting, right. And a lot of it was, “I’m mad because I use this product for four months and you charge me and on the four months people didn’t adopt it. So, I don’t like it.” And it was like, “Oh, I can’t really give you a refund, I can give you one month refund mad face, mad face, mad face. Okay, I’ll give you four months refund, happy face, right.” I don’t like that kind of stuff. User Voice is a great way, they are integrating this for you can actually only vote up your experiences with an agent and they worded in a way that’s like, “How do you describe the languages use, the resolution to the problem? Not your emotions, not your happy face or mad face about not getting your way like a spoiled child, right.” So, the more we think about these things are sort of like insularly like, “Oh, if I get enough green faces our support rocks, our support is doing is great job.” Is it really that your support rocks or is that your support has been manipulated into giving people what they want so that they don’t get a bad review, is it because you have deleted all of your bad iTunes reviews or begged the customers to take them down, right? I think it really just have to start with putting blinders on to those little things that we keep adding into the support experience and just use better language, have empathy, be sincere from the beginning and that stuff is what’s really gonna create a great customer experience. It’s not whether or not I can thumps up you or like you. The other thing too is use data correctly Zendesk has the best reporting that you will find for incoming emails. The User Voice has amazing like touch times. Desk has how long it took me to reply to this? Grafts beautiful and all this kind of stuff but that’s on a human experience that’s just the data experience. So, if it’s taking, if you see that someone is taking a longtime to write emails look at the emails that they are writing, are they 15 in a thread? Are they really long? Are they going into the great detail or are they using screenshots to take a longtime to make an ___[52:07], are mostly TOs or CFOs will look at that and be like we are spending too long as you know, too much touched on it’s happening or taking too much time. As a Support Manager I look at it and say, “He’s probably really adding values putting that much time with the customer.” So, just be careful of data, be careful of emotions, and be careful of data and that kind of stuff, next yes?

Audience: My question to you is like so, what is the value in using data like to judge quality of support. Like I mean judge and use that.

Sarah Hatter: So, the only real value that I find is, let say we are just gonna do via email support, let’s choose as an example. The reason that data is important is keeping metrics and new features, how many and let say you add a calendar to your app. How many written about questions about the calendar that’s really interesting to know. I can drill down that and how many complained about it? How many people phrased it? Negative and positives are things that we track all of the time for all our customers, right. If someone writes in, “You can do this, you can do this kind of poling on your own using an API it’s really easy to do, using negative words and positive words.” How many people writing and saying, “Sucks, I hate, I don’t like, Got rid of, and all that kind of stuff?” How many people writing and saying, “I love, you guys are the best, this is great, I use it everyday?” Because those are the things that you wanna really use data force like, “How are people actually interacting with my part and my customer support people?” The other thing is how many customer interactions each support person is handling on their own per day for an eight hour shift and it includes an hour break in the middle on multiple breaks throughout the day, I recommend no more than 45 to 50 per agent. It gives them a good you know, eight to 10 minutes per email back & forth. When I was doing this as my job I was answering something around 260 a day by myself and it destroyed me as a human being. I had zero self esteem at the end of the day, I was exhausted and tired. I would work 12-14 hour a day and that’s another reason you know, this data is important because it monitors the life of your actual agents were doing this. If a Customer Support Agent is even five minutes over the amount of empathy that they can expand that day they’re gonna have a bad experience with the customers better to pull them off then keeping there. So, that’s the only other reason that I’d…And they are also like you know, you wanna gauge, the last thing is really like the less important thing is you wanna gauge when people are writing you in, writing emails to you, when they are actually interacting with their customers and then you can hire for those shifts to their way to you know, more hands on board during your heavy hours. Last one, one more, two more?

Audience: You mentioned about minimizing the user support for things that people can answer for themselves?

Sarah Hatter: Yes, self education.

Audience: Do you ever recommend by some customers to remove that the phone number from the website so that people are forced into?

Sarah Hatter: Yeah, I do, I do if they are using it wrong. People use the phone in the wrong way and they are really bad on the phone and you know, Sharwan, my friend Sharwan who runs this company called ‘Drum Bee’ if you ever wanna have a great amazing customer like a phone relationship with your customer and user products because they are awesome but he does this talk or he talks about the difference between what we are used to having on the phone and what we should be getting on the phone. I call AT&T and they are like, “Thank you for calling AT&T, it’s my pleasure to help you today, what’s your name?” It’s like, “My name is Sarah.” What is your street address, your account number and all the stuff? And this happens if it’s like, this happens all the time to people even if I’m calling a web company, “May I have your first and last name please?” It’s like, “No.” How about you just say, “Hello, how can I help you? What’s going on?” And you have the great conversation with people, right. If you can do that if you can have an amazing conversation with people that’s empathetic and friendly and make someone to call you again, you pick up on the first ring there’s no phone tree, they are not required to wait and hold, there’s no music playing then yes you should have a phone number, if you can do that I wouldn’t even have a phone number, I’d just don’t even get a phone. [Laughter] Okay, that’s it last one, all done, okay thank you guys.

Sarah Hatter: Thanks. Well done!

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Sarah Hatter

Sarah Hatter

Sarah Hatter was once a famous blogger before she became even more famouser working for 37signals.

After 14,000 years running the 37signals support team, she went all Jerry Maguire and started CoSupport, a way for small web and mobile app teams to provide amazing customer support for a small fee.

She dropped in to Business of Software 2013 to explain why you underestimate customer support at your peril and we instantly became enormous, stalker-ish fans.

More From Sarah.

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