dog food

Eating Fresh Dog food – why we took a hiatus from our blog

Written by on November 21, 2013

We aren’t really known to write calm and placid stories here in the Freshdesk Blogs. In fact, we pride ourselves on our ability to ruffle a few customer service feathers every once in a while. But after our last post on community forums, we got some roars and thunder from a couple of customers that gave us a knee jerk.

We wrote a post debunking some myths of community forums, and offered a few workarounds and best practices. So when a customer pointed out some big holes in our own community the next day, it left us reeling like we’d been punched right in the solar plexus…

But, hey – there’s always something awesome to learn and teach. So we decided to take a few weeks off our blog, and get gung ho about our forums. We’ve been filling our breakfast bowls and lunch plates with our own dog food and while it hasn’t been easy to digest, it certainly has made us wiser.

Here’s a few stats of what we’ve accomplished so far, and some things we’ve learnt along the way:

dogfood-infographic

Here’s how we did it:

1) Getting all aboard the night train! (or how we got our whole team to start working on the community)

It used to be that Support was the only team involved in managing community forums. Sure, the rest of us would jump in occasionally but Support was usually the first on the scene, wrapping up things at a speed that left the rest of us dizzy. But leaving Support to be the sole bouncer at the party doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If our community is our brand, then Support shouldn’t be the only team mucking around in there. The guys at Marketing, Products and Dev should be at the reins too…

So, that’s how we did it. We got everyone, all the way from Product Managers to Marketing, involved in Operation Dogfood. And the hackers were squashing bugs faster than they rose up on the community.

2) Ownership, ownership, ownership.

Even though, we got everyone on board easily enough, there was still a problem that we had to contend with. Everything was still Someone Else’s Problem. So, we decided to take a feather from our own caps and created a group of community owners across teams. Simply put, it was their rear ends on the line if a thread on our community went unanswered. And it worked like a charm. Turning up the heat really helped speed things along.

3) Never ever ever guarantee ETA’s(even if there’s a gun to your head).

This one’s real important. In fact, it’s become the golden rule of our community forums*. Something that should have been in Support 101. Never ever ever guarantee an ETA.

If we’ve learned one thing over the last month, it’s the mirage of feature deployment. Engineering is all kinds of complicated, given that bugs leave no calling cards. Which means even the devs building the feature can’t predict an ETA. Plus, when you start worrying about how a feature impacts all the other wonders in the product, sticking to ETAs becomes a promise that you can’t even hope to keep. So, there again, we decided to steer clear of ETAs – the babies will be delivered when the babies are ready. After all, our customers aren’t chomping at the bit for an exact ETA; they just want a solution to their problem.

*Actually the Golden Rule is “Don’t sign your name at the end of a comment. This is a thread, not a letter”. But the ETA one comes a close second!

4) Under promise, over deliver.

The biggest hurdle in our yellow brick road to happiness was our feature requests forums. Not only had we over-promised on the ETAs, but, in the heat of the conversation, we’d gone overboard and said yes to nearly every feature request in sight. Almost 98% of requested features “are on our roadmap”. And they kind of are. Except, we aren’t really working on them right now, and we have no idea when we will either.

What we’d really meant when we said ‘on our roadmap’ is that ‘this is something that we might consider “thinking about” thinking about putting into the product’. But inevitably, it always came out as a ‘Yes’(Because saying ‘No’ more than once to something makes us feel like we’re clubbing seals.). And inevitably, we end up in hot water about our long to-do list.

Our strategy? “My word is oak.”

Unless our engineers have written at least 3 lines of code, it’s always going to be a “No” or “the feature is in ideation”.

5) Include customers at every point.

There’s no fun in hosting community forums if the conversation makes sense only to the two of you. We did our best, from problem to solution, to keep the conversation flowing so that the next guy coming along was also able to know exactly how we got to the answer or better yet, contribute to it.

6) Keep things transparent – even when you can’t.

There are some things that we just can’t bring up. Some features that we’re not ready to talk about just yet. Some things (like our live chat application) that are not ready to take on a thousand plus users just yet. But playing with our cards close to our chests is only going to take us so far. At one point, our customers are going to get so frustrated with our reticence that they’re going to leave. Maybe, we aren’t ready to lie down on a black leather couch and reveal all of our deepest, darkest secrets. But we’re open about the fact that we play some cards closer to the chest.

7) The right answer is more valuable than the “almost right” one.

During our month long stint at our community forums, we realised that, while we could easily shoot out answers for feature questions and product intricacies, the same wasn’t true for complex use cases and bug reports. It would have been easy enough to give a theoretically-right this-should-work answer and move on but hey, where’s the fun in that? Every bug report saw us perched on a dev’s desk, examining the bug to within an inch of it’s life until we’d found a fix. Good enough just isn’t an option.

8) First fix, then process-ize.

As expected, dog food tasted like… dog food. Dry and mealy, we found it exceptionally hard to keep chomping through. But we made it to the light at the end of the tunnel and our community is better than ever. In fact, by the end, we were actually, kind of, enjoying it. And once we’d managed to figure out the ropes, it was easy enough to come up with a proper response structure that ensured that this wouldn’t happen again anytime soon. Soon being the keyword.

Because let’s face it. Things are calm now, but of course, eventually there’ll be another storm. There will be unanswered questions, backlogs, false positives and broken promises. But the difference is, next time, we’ll be better prepared to handle it.

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  • Elijah Parker

    This is excellent! Thank you for the transparent and truly education post! I unfortunately can relate very closely to many of the [negative] things discussed…now to put this into practice!

  • BritanniaRulestheWaves

    Hope you had lots of tasty fresh waster to wash down those mealy treats 😉

  • Jolyon Favreau

    had a quick scan through this and it looks a good read so ill be google print to file for later….thanx 😉

  • Jimm Burton

    Well done!

  • Erik

    Looking through your forums, it’s more the feature requests you should be getting a handle on than any bugs!

  • Ziko Rajabali

    Inspiring.

  • Hello,

    The content of the article is great, though we would trade sentiments on some topics. I haven’t reviewed the forum, though I no longer use Freshdesk. When I did use the platform, I found it better than Zendesk. Since Freshdesk is a support-only platform then I would possibly agree with the article’s content; however, if the platform were to extend to full Customer Relationship Management (CRM) those tips would change! Those changes would still occur if the platform became Team and Case oriented; a much closer aspect to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), project operations management and executive sponsorship.

    The platform only works according to how it’s programmed (not including operational failure,) but most of the article’s content targets customer service or the lack of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). If only support is planned then that’s fine, but going beyond that means addressing concerns and not shunting them off. This is basically performing human services and it’s how a company grows and matures through participation in community relations and society, as an effective partner instead hosting the platform waiting for a buy-in. By itself what action does the platform perform?

    This platform, as most require human interaction and where the organization (Freshdesk) will still lose on performance. There are many problems upon this world, which of those does this platform absolve?

    Freshdesk is looking for customers, still believing that sales is the key to a successful business when it’s not. In fact there’s no key to a successful business, but more contracts appear when there’s more interaction through participation in community relations and society, as an effective partner (of course…right.) Here’s a hint and where government, community and international relations meet. Pick one or all of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service IRC 501(c)(3) industries and determine if the organization (Freshdesk) or its platform absolves either of those issues through participation while under the United States Federal Government explanation of a budget (program) without fully relying on sales or customers. If Freshdesk can do that then mission completed, otherwise Freshdesk as an organizational body is fooling itself. It’s the same journey for any SMB / SME / Inc, but the journey is closely guarded by perception which makes or breaks the SMB / SME / Inc.

    Thank you.

    • Glenn

      You had me until your last paragraph, which is a complete non sequitur. Surely you aren’t comparing government to a business. Government doesn’t rely on customers, efficiency or anything of the sort, but instead takes it’s money by force. There similarities are woefully lacking.

      • How about keeping immature opinions at Facebook or at least until they reflect enough comprehension to remain on topic.

        • Glenn

          I would hardly call my opinion immature or off-topic. Your comment, on the other hand, could easily be described as both.

  • bala

    so nice

  • Myfoodie Pet

    I definitely agree with your post ideas. The importance of picking up fresh and healthy dog food we should know. It is good for our dogs to eat and have a long life as humans.