The Secret Sauce to Basecamp

I'm Chase Clemons and this is how we roll at Basecamp

Written by on September 4, 2014

Chase Clemons is a Support Pro at Basecamp. A self-proclaimed bourbon connoisseur, Chase also shares awesome customer service insights over at SupportOps in his spare time. Basecamp, a project management app that everybody loves, was used by more than 285,000 companies last year to manage and track over two million projects.

Here lies a picture of Chase Clemons

We managed to catch up with Chase and ask him about life at Basecamp.

How big is your support team and where is it based?

12 people spread across the world.

And how many products do you guys support?

Four. Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, and Backpack.

What channels do you offer support in?

Email, Twitter, Phone.

Give us an idea of the number of queries you get per day.

Around 500.

Tools you use in customer support:

A help desk for email support. An internal app for Twitter and phone support.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you land a job in customer support?

Before Basecamp, I was working in a restaurant. It was fun but the 50 – 60 hour weeks get old after a while. Basecamp had an open spot at the same time I was looking for a new job. I put together a website application and then after a few calls with Jason, hopped onboard.

Basecamp Office

You have millions of users spread across the globe, and, on an average, I know you get about 500 queries per day. What does a typical day look like?

My day usually starts at 8am Central time. That’s when I login and catch up on everything that happened overnight. That means reading through Basecamp posts and Campfire chats to get up to speed.

After that, I start on helping customers. The majority of that is through email so I’ll send a lot of emails over the day. Twice a week, I also have a shift on Twitter so I’ll keep an eye out for tweets directed our way. We’re also experimenting with phone support so when a customer requests a callback, I give them a ring. We also run two online classes each week that I help with.

All that will carry me through to 5pm Central when I call it quits for the day. And then we do it all again the next day!

Phew! That sounds exhausting. How do you motivate yourself (and your team) to get yourselves through each day?

Your day needs a good music playlist to start. The right music can really carry you through the day.

We also share fun stories, links, and (most importantly) GIFs throughout the day inside our Campfire chat room.

It’s amazing how much a funny GIF will brighten up your day.

Sometimes, I step away from my desk and go for a walk around the block. There’s also an ice cream place right up the block from me that’s a great place to go when I have an angry customer. Everything’s a whole lot better when you have homemade ice cream on hand.

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Haha, we agree. But this kind of a packed schedule makes taking a break very difficult, doesn’t it?

I just take time off. We have enough coverage on the team that one person being out for the day doesn’t hurt anything.

That’s nice. Tell me about your toughest day at work.

The day we launched the latest version of Basecamp. We launched with a pretty slim FAQ page. We wanted to see what questions customers really had before trying to guess. That first week as we were figuring that out, everyone in the company was helping with support emails. We’d go through two thousand emails a day and still have two thousand waiting for us to answer. That made for some tough days.

What keeps you going as you wade through 2,000 emails on a day like this?

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I do like the little surprises I find in our customer comments each day.

After every email, customers get to share with us how they think we did on that email interaction. I always feel surprised and happy whenever I see a customer leave a comment like “Buy this person a cookie and give them a raise the next time you do pay reviews” and “It was just… so… just… so amazing. Just… really. Chase is… something else. TALENT”. By the way, those are actual comments from customers I worked with today.

Let’s talk numbers. What’s the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for – resolution time, tickets resolved or something else? And why?

Are your customers happy? That’s the only thing you should be constantly worrying about.

Now, which metrics you pick to find that out is key. There’s no one measurement that you can focus on for this – just looking at one won’t tell you much. Really, just talk with your customers. Ask your support team how the customers they’re helping today are doing. You’ll be able to get a good feel for customer happiness without focusing on just a single metric.

But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say the number of replies and response time. If either are those are high, customers are likely to be frustrated.

Desk at the Basecamp Office

So, I’m going to throw some situations at you. Tell me how you’d react to them.

a) A customer wants a feature that’s not a part of their plan. But they’re willing to pay extra for the feature. How do you handle it?

Usually there’s an integration that can help out. If there’s not, then I’ll try to find an app that does have that feature. Then I’ll help them move over to it.

It’s all about finding the best fit for the customer. If it’s with us, that’s great. If it’s with another product, that’s great too.

b) What do you do when customers request features that are in the works but might take a while because of some complications?

We don’t talk about any features we’re working on because you never really know how that feature will turn out in the end. A good example of this is our Google Docs integration.

c) When it’s a feature that you’re never going to build, how do you say no?

We let customers know it’s a feature we probably won’t add to Basecamp. They deserve to know that so they can pick the best product for their team.

d) One of your support reps makes a mistake. It’s a tiny mistake but the customer is super annoyed and getting more frustrated by the minute. What do you do?

I let the customer know right away that the rep made a mistake. Then, I apologize and make sure they have the right info. Everyone makes mistakes.

Customers are usually understanding.

e) What’s your policy on refund requests? Do you give them a refund immediately or do you plug in the sales guys to try one last pitch?

We just give them a refund. There’s no reason to make it a painful experience.

Give us some dope on your hiring strategy. What do you look for in your support hires?

A great personality is a good start. You want someone who’s upbeat, charming and cheerful. Someone who smiles a lot. You need to be all of that to win over angry customers. I also look for people who are able to communicate clearly and concisely.

Teaching grammar skills is the school’s job, not yours.

Since we’re remote, they also need to be self-motivated. You want someone driven, someone able to work on their own. You’ve got customers to help—you don’t want to have to babysit one of your team members at the same time.

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What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

I’ve got a pretty nice family farm that I’d retreat to. It’s got lots of fences to keep those zombies out. Then, I’d hunker down and plan a strategy.

As far as customer service is concerned, which company do you admire the most?

Another one that’s hard to pick just one! Automattic, Buffer, and Wistia are the ones I look to the most. They’re all amazing at giving people a great experience.

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

Carolyn – Chief Happiness Officer over at Buffer.
(Editor’s note: We took his advice; here’s our interview with Carolyn from Buffer.)

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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