The Secret Sauce to Buffer Support

I'm Carolyn Kopprasch and this is how we make our customers happy at Buffer!

Written by on September 18, 2014

Carolyn Kopprasch is Buffer’s Chief Happiness Officer. Carolyn helps people use Buffer by answering questions through email, Twitter and Facebook. Besides helping customers, she gets the warm fuzzies from sports (tennis, lacrosse etc) and very hot tea with honey. Buffer makes it incredibly easy to share and schedule content across multiple social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Carolyn Kopprasch, Buffer

We managed to catch up with Carolyn and ask her about life at Buffer.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. How big is your support team?

8 Happiness Heroes, a Community Champion, a Happiness Hacker and me. So, that’s 8 people totally focused on just Support and 11 totally.

Buffer's Happiness Heroes

The Happiness Heroes

And where are you guys based?

Anywhere they’re the happiest! Currently, that’s: San Francisco, Portland, Michigan, Tennessee, Mexico, Sweden, London, and Hawaii.

Wow! That sounds amazing. How many products does your team of 11 support?

One product on multiple platforms – iOS, Android, Mac, Web

Over what channels do you support your customers?

Three main channels: Email, Twitter, and Live Chat. We also schedule video chats whenever it’s appropriate, but mostly those 3.

Give me a ballpark figure of the number of queries your team gets every day.

We send about 250 emails per day and roughly the same number of tweets if you average the whole month (we have two people working on the weekend, so the weekends are relevant as well.) If you factor in live chat, we probably talk to around 500 people per day.

Carolyn Kopprasch, hard at work

So, how did you end up in customer support?

I previously worked at another company that valued customer service, and learned a ton from that team. I was lucky enough to have been following Buffer’s story when they put out a call for a Happiness Hero. Everything just fell into place after.

The last time I checked, Buffer had around 38,000 daily active users (Whoa!). What does a typical day look like for a support team that’s spread all over the world?

A typical day for a Happiness Hero involves spending most of the day in our support tools. We also have “time zone syncs” to “pass the baton” among the team as each timezone wakes up. That means, Europe meets the East Coast, and then a few hours later, the East Coast meets with the West coast, etc. They also have a “pair call” at some point in the day with someone on the Buffer team.

Buffer uses Sqwiggle to stay in touch

The team uses Sqwiggle, a video chat tool, to keep in touch.

How do you guys remain so cheerful and motivated? What’s the secret ingredient?

Oh, good one! I am lucky that I have a super motivated team. The whole company is encouraged to manage our energy, not our time, so Heroes set their own schedules and routines so they can be their best selves for each other and for our customers.

A distributed team must make taking time off difficult. How do you guys manage it?

We didn’t do much of it when we were 2 or 3 people. Now, with a larger team and dedicated weekend warriors, we manage to cover for each other enough that we can really disconnect and take a few days off here and there.

Tell me about your toughest day at work.

Perhaps, the last day of each working retreat that we have every four months. Being all together and working together under the same roof is incredibly rewarding, productive and fun. We use incredible tools to stay in touch, so that makes it easier, but leaving is always a bit bittersweet!

The Buffer Team at Capetown

The team at Cape Town, earlier this year.

Let’s talk metrics. What do you think is the most important metric a support rep should keep track of? And why?

Tough one. We haven’t found a perfect way to accurately measure customer happiness, so we extrapolated a bit that customers who have their question answered faster and more completely are inherently happier.

As a team, we measure speed a lot.

Specifically, how many people heard back from us within an hour? Or six hours? Or a day? Those team goals breaks down nicely into individual goals, because it is easier to set and measure goals for yourself than a whole team. (Otherwise, it can be harder to see direct effects from your efforts.) But we mostly focus on the team goals as that’s more representative of how the customer experience is improving (or not!). We also explicitly ask people, through surveys and the “smiley faces” in emails that they can click to say “great experience” or “not so great.” I think that the customer self-reported happiness levels can be extremely helpful, but they aren’t usually exhaustive, so the other measure is a great supplement for us.

The Buffer Team on a retreat

A retreat isn’t just a vacation for the Buffer team. In fact, they’re some of their most productive weeks of the year.

I’m going to list a few situations. Tell us how you usually handle them.

a) A support rep makes a tiny mistake which greatly annoys a customer. And he just gets more and more frustrated over time. What do you do?

We do make mistakes pretty often; the Heroes are given a ton of autonomy to try to solve any problem themselves, so sometimes it isn’t perfect the first time. We all just try to discuss it and learn from it.

We’re huge fans of the “5 whys” process, so, we try to get to the root of every mistake. Usually a mistake by one support rep represents a greater problem with communication, or process, so changes benefit the rest of the team as well.

b) What do you do when customers request features that you’re not planning to build or will take a long time to come into being?

Try to be super honest with both of these.

We don’t usually give exact timelines because we’re often mistaken with those, but we’d rather have a customer leave us for a key feature and find it elsewhere than stay and suffer unhappily.

This causes the customer pain and can add a burden to our support team as well; if they’re trying to keep a customer happy when Buffer isn’t a great fit.

c) How do you deal with refund requests? Do you plug a sales guy into the process at some point to try to woo the customer back?

We just give them the refund.

d) A customer requests a feature that isn’t a part of his plan but he’s willing to pay extra.

Ah, that’s an interesting one! We don’t blur plan lines really. Even if we could flip certain features on (which is rare), then it’s often not the version that gets supported moving forward, and it can cause a rocky experience. We feel pretty committed to our pricing at the moment, so if the feature is available on a plan, we stick with that. However, nonprofits get a 50% discount, which hopefully helps with those who would benefit from the bigger plans but might not quite be able to pay full price.

e) A customer reports a security vulnerability during the weekend.

Luckily, we have 2 “Weekend Warriors” who work over the weekends and the whole team often will check in. Our developers are amazing at jumping into critical bugs or vulnerabilities if the Heroes call for it.

The Buffer Team on a retreat in New York

Team Buffer on an adventure in New York

Give me some dope about your hiring strategy. How do you hire support reps halfway across the world?

The way we go about hiring for Buffer is to primarily look for culture fit. Another quite important factor is usage and knowledge of Buffer, the product and the company. After that, of course most of the job is written communication with people who are looking to move on with their day.

So, we look for super empathetic people who write clearly and truly crave that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping each individual customer.

Here’s an awesome write up of what we look for in all team members.

Tell me about the biggest surprise of your Buffer support career.

I think the biggest surprise I’ve experienced was after Buffer got hacked.

We expected (and deserved) a lot of anger, frustration, and disappointment. Instead, the community was hugely supportive and some friends and customers even sent cards or treats to the office.

We were amazed at how forgiving our community was, and how kind they were to us as people.

If you could choose any superpower, what would it be and why?

I’ve always wished I could magically know others’ context. For example, what’s going on in someone’s life and how can I best serve and support him/her? (Not necessarily in work context, but any conversation!) Of course, part of the discovery process of a friendship is slowly learning these things, but with most souls you encounter, you don’t get the chance. I would love the ability to know if someone needs a kind smile, or an ear, or simply to be left alone with his thoughts. What a gift that would be.

Name another rep you’re a big fan of, and would like to hear from.

I’ve always been super inspired by Brian Cervino (author of “4 million to 1”). He singlehandedly supports 4 million Trello customers.
(Editor’s note: We took her advice; here’s the interview with Brian from Trello)

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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  • Almost a year later, and this is a brilliant writeup / interview! Thanks Aishwarya! 🙂

    It has answered a lot of the thoughts and queries I had buzzing about in my head, both about Buffer specifically, and distributed support teams in general.