Christa Collins' Secret Sauce to Customer Support

Meet Christa Collins, the former VP of Customer Care at Squarespace!

Written by on January 29, 2015

Christa Collins is the former VP of Customer Care at Squarespace, the easiest way for anyone (including Jeff Bridges!) to create exceptional websites. She now heads (and is the sole member of) the Customer Support team at ActionSprout, a social engagement tool for Facebook. Mother of four daughters, Christa loves to read and crochet.

Christa Collins, former VP of Customer Care, Squarespace

We managed to catch up with Christa and chat with her about customer support, her work philosophy, and life at Squarespace.

So, Christa, how did you end up in customer support?

Completely by accident, actually. My background was legal secretary work and retail management. One of my friends, online, started doing template work for Squarespace in the early days, and reached out to me to see if I would be interested in doing support. As it turns out, I wasn’t half bad at it.  🙂

Seven years and a Stevie award for Customer Service Executive of the year later, “half-bad” has acquired new meaning 🙂 Tell us about your most memorable customer interaction.

Good or bad? 🙂 I think I have a lot of really great memories of personally connecting with people and having genuine conversations that extended beyond the actual product question at hand. I have also had some pretty hairy tickets, though, and once, someone actually propositioned me in a ticket. That was… interesting 🙂

Haha. More on that later, please. Now, I understand that you singlehandedly built the Customer Service department at Squarespace from scratch. From a one-woman-army to a team of 200: that must have been quite the journey.

It was. In the early days, it all rested on me — if I didn’t take care of it or if it wasn’t on my radar, then it didn’t get done. And I wanted things done a particular way, especially when the team was small.

As I grew the Customer Care team, it became a democracy.

There was an entire group invested in our collective success, and it was easy to let go and have a brilliant team of people helping shape our policy and procedures.

But how did you manage to keep the culture intact as you guys scaled?

The first order of business was to define the culture. We knew we were a little wacky and off-beat, but we had to really nail down what that meant, and what set our customer service apart from other companies. Once that was done, we had to make sure all our decisions hit one (if not more) of our department values.

Christa Collins, former VP of Customer Care at Squarespace

Christa was formerly the VP of Customer Care at Squarespace where she managed a department of 200 people.

What has your time at Squarespace taught you?

So, so much. For one thing, nobody is an island.

Great work is not done by one person working alone in a room.

Collaboration is key.

Hire people smarter than you, then get out of their way and let them shine.

Always go with your gut. If something feels wrong, or bad, then stop, raise a flag, and fix it.

bridge

My time at Squarespace has also taught me that not just anyone can do this work. Those of us in this business are the best kind of crazy-pants people in the world, and we should celebrate that.

Tell us about your toughest day at work.

I think the toughest day was the first time I had to let someone go from the team. It was an emotionally difficult conversation to have. And it doesn’t get any easier the next time. But I’ve learned that the best way to face it is head-on. It’s important to communicate clearly, and often, and to coach people through issues (so much can be resolved that way!), but at the end of the day if something isn’t working out, then, it’s best for everyone to end the relationship.

Give us some dope on your hiring policy.

Hire for culture, always.

You need to make sure that you’re working with super people that you trust and that you’re excited to see every day. It’s also important to look for people with diverse backgrounds since that makes a great, well-rounded team that can approach problems with many types of creative solutions.

What do you think is the best reward mechanism for support reps? How did you motivate your team at Squarespace?

If you want to keep excellent talent, you have to provide them with a development path, challenge them, and compensate them appropriately.

The development path makes sure that they can grow with you and stay with the company for the long haul. And because these are the people talking to your customer base and teaching them how to use your product, you really need to make sure you pay for that talent.

What, in your opinion, is the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?

I think that really, really depends.  Some people would say friendliness, others, speedy replies and customer satisfaction.

But at the end of the day I think no matter what kind of “support” or “service” you’re in, you should 110% know the product you’re supporting.

I don’t know any one metric that can measure that, but I think that should be an ongoing process.

How do you measure customer happiness?

By asking the customer what makes them happy and then doing those things. 🙂

There are approaches that will work to make Customer A happy that will certainly not fly with Customer B.

A customer service rep is there to fix what’s broken, teach the customer how to be successful, get out of their way, be thoughtful, and pay attention to what they’re saying.  If you’re hitting those points, then you’re going to make your customers happy, and they’ll show this through conversion, retention, referrals, social media praise, and high satisfaction ratings.

The ActionSprout team

At ActionSprout, where Christa currently takes care of customer support, if you don’t show up on time for a meeting, you have to wear the Rainbow Squid Hat.

We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d usually handle them.

a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated so you don’t have an ETA. What do you do?

Be honest. It’s better to not give an ETA anyway, as you set an expectation for something that you have no control over. It’s easy to tell someone that you know the development team has this on the roadmap, but unfortunately you don’t have an ETA. It’s best to point them to a blog/Twitter/wherever you post updates so, they can keep an eye out there for when the feature is released (or better yet follow up with them directly once the feature is released).

b) What if it’s a feature that your team has no intention of implementing? Can you jot down a rough draft of your reply?

I think it’s easier if there’s a scenario behind the situation. So, let’s say that I work for a florist, and I get a customer suggestion that we should start doing edible arrangements. We’re not going to implement that suggestion — we’re going to stick to floral arrangements. My reply would look something like:

“Thanks for writing in, that’s an interesting idea!  I can see why you would want an edible arrangement, but to be honest this isn’t a service we’re going to add. We are working at continually improving our floral business, which means that all our resources are dedicated to creating the freshest and most beautiful floral arrangements possible.”

Also, depending on the kind of need the customer has, it’s fine to point them to a third party resource they could use in conjunction with your service, provide them a workaround, or even refer them to another company (like ediblearrangements.com) to help them get what they really want.

c) A customer asks for a feature that’s not on the plan they’re subscribed to. They’re willing to pay extra but they don’t want to upgrade. Your business doesn’t usually entertain these requests. How would you handle this situation?

Well, it depends. With some companies, you can make a one-off exception and work around stuff, but sometimes the systems in place won’t allow you to do this. If that’s the case, the best thing you can do is be honest and transparent. Also, if they’re forced to upgrade in order to take advantage of that one feature then, you should outline all the other benefits that they would get from upgrading. Or, if there’s a third party solution or work-around, then walk them through that instead.

Always try to work with what you have and find a solution for the customer.

d) One of your reps makes a tiny mistake (say, an outdated workaround) which really frustrates a customer. They’re doing everything they can to contain the situation but the customer only seems to be getting more and more frustrated with time. Do you step in and apologize? Or do you let the rep handle it himself? How does this translate into feedback for the team?

The team member doesn’t need anyone to step in and take over unless they ask for it (usually if the customer becomes abusive or asks to speak to a “supervisor.”) People make mistakes. It’s only human. The best thing for the team member is for them to be able to recover from that mistake, and learn from it.

The feedback should be directed at the team member themselves, and only after the interaction is resolved.

The only time it should only be shared with the team (and in that case anonymously) is if there’s fear of a larger issue occurring with the team (for example, a misunderstanding of policy or product). In that case, it’s not a failing of the team, but that of management to provide the proper support so the team operates at 100% with all the information they need to do a stellar job.

What’s your stance on transparency (do you recommend making support ratings public, etc.)?

I’m really on the fence about that one.

As a customer, if I see you have ‘x’ number of really high ratings it doesn’t really mean anything to me — I’m not concerned about how many people you’ve helped, I just care if you help *me.*

I think it depends on the company and whether it’s important to you to display that information publicly.  In my experience, each interaction is a personal conversation, and we track ratings only so that we can learn what we did right and what we can do better.

How do you unwind after a long day?

I’m not going to lie. Most of the time, I like to sit on the couch, crocheting, or knitting, and watching Lost Girl on Netflix. If it’s been a particularly stressful day, I might require lots of cuddles from my kids or some alone time to read some fiction (currently obsessed with the Maze Runner series).

In terms of customer service, which company do you admire the most?

There isn’t just one company, I think there are several companies that have impressed me with aspects of their service (including Amazon, AT&T [yeah, I said it], Threadless, and Alaska Airlines). There are several companies out there that everyone tries to emulate, but I think:

a) all customer service should be tailored to your individual business,

b) there are things to pick and choose from different companies (great messaging, fantastic help docs), and

c) there is no one-size-fits-all model, so there’s no one approach that will work for every business or team.

What customer service rep would you like to see featured on this series?

All of them. No, seriously, I think it’s fantastic to hear from everyone that does customer service because everyone’s business, culture, approach, attitude, etc., are all completely different. No matter how long you’ve been doing this or how much of an expert you think you are, hearing from other people can always give you a fresh perspective and new ideas that can be invaluable take-aways.

We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support representative and we pick their brains. We find out what a typical day is like for these support rockstars, their personal work-philosophy, support process and what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. Know a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here? Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to love@freshdesk.com with your suggestions.

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