Mathew Patterson is the Head of Customer Service at Campaign Monitor, a tool that makes it easy for you to create, send and optimize your email marketing campaigns. When he’s not working, Mathew likes talking about customer service. He also tells a lot of dad jokes.
We managed to catch up with Mathew and ask him about life at Campaign Monitor.
How big is your support team, Mathew?
As of November, there will be 26 people. That’s 18 doing general support, 5 compliance agents, a trainer and one technical writer.
That’s a big team. Where are you guys based?
Our only office is in Sydney, Australia. There are 4 support team members here in Sydney, the rest of the team work from home, co-work or work out of whatever location they like!
And how many products do you guys support?
Officially, just Campaign Monitor, the app, itself and the associated mobile apps. In practice, we also provide a lot of advice and support for issues relating to design and code as rendered in email clients like Gmail and Outlook.
What channels do you guys support?
Primarily email but also live chat, twitter, Facebook, our forums and some phone calls.
How many queries do you get everyday? A ballpark figure will do.
On an average week “day”, we close around 400 tickets over 24 hours, and respond to a bunch more.
Campaign Monitor Headquarters, Sydney, Australia
Tell us about how you ended up in customer support, Mathew.
My very first real job was in tech support, and I lead a small team in that role (at least before they kicked me out of that role! A story you can read here).
After that, I was a web designer. This was back in the 90s, when knowing HTML & CSS was about 90% of the job. I could see that the tools for the code side were going to get much better though, and that I’d need to either get much better at the design side, or find another path.
I was working as a web designer for the zoo here in Sydney when I saw Campaign Monitor was hiring their first support person. I’d always been a fan of the product; I used it with my freelance clients. And the role they were offering needed web design skills but more so great communication skills.
That seemed like a great opportunity to transition, so I jumped on it. That was about 8 years ago now, when Campaign Monitor was just 4 people!
8 years. Wow! That’s quite a journey. You must have had quite a few memorable interactions.
Support is always surprising me…even after 50,000 tickets, I still get an unexpected response ever now and then. Customers are real people with all the attendant complexities and inconsistencies and marvels.
You never know where a support conversation will lead. I once received a spam complaint from my own father-in-law!
Haha. Must have been fun! So, what does a typical day look like for a Campaign Monitor support rep?
My team have a fair degree of flexibility in their day; when we asked this same question internally, we learned all sorts of interesting things about people’s days.
Typically though, my team members jump into Hipchat to say “hi” and see what’s been happening in the region before them. Since it’s a 24 hour team, there’s always people to catch up with and to give you a heads up about anything you need to know about.
Then, they get into the helpdesk to see what our inbox looks like. Our general support team has one big inbox view, and our compliance team have a couple of their own (the compliance team prevents spam, talks to ISPs and email services and works with our customers to make sure we’re only sending permission based email).
In each region (Australia, Europe, North America), the team leader will do the work of organising the queue, changing priorities, spotting issues and directing tickets when needed. The other team members mostly use the help desk’s automated routing which will give them one ticket at a time. That helps avoid the time suck of scanning the inbox over and over again, and build up skills as they receive new types of questions all the time.
My team handles not just customer emails, but also sales questions from potential customers, queries from service providers and integrations and whatever else comes into our inbox. Some team members are always checking Twitter to respond to customers there, others are in Olark for live chats. Outside of direct support, our team also reviews emails to find great examples for our gallery, or works on their “DQ time” projects. Those can be new documentation, design mockups, process improvement suggestions, independent learning or any number of things to improve our team and processes.
Personally my work, these days, involves a lot more management; helping make the whole team more effective, keeping up with product changes and communicating them to the team, planning new support channels, meeting with customers and potential customers.
While the team believes in private offices for all, the design studio is open-plan.
Managing 26 people cannot be easy. How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
I actually don’t think I can motivate anybody; they need to motivate themselves.
What I can do though is create an environment in which they can succeed. That means giving them clear goals to reach, helping them understand what the company is trying to do, and giving them all the tools, training and authority to do what they need to do in reaching those goals.
By no means do we do that perfectly, but as long as we’re moving forward and getting better at that, and you have the right people in place, motivation isn’t usually a problem. Having said that, support work can be draining and staying energetic is honestly quite hard.
Making sure that there are growth opportunities and out-of-queue time is one way we are working on addressing that burnout risk. There’s always more work to do there!
How do you manage taking time off from support?
Support is the job that never ends, that’s for sure!
The psychological weight of knowing there are always tickets to answer can get rough.
It took me a long time to be able to get out of the queue and make some of the changes that would stop the questions coming in.
These days I am not as directly involved in answering tickets day to day. We have enough team members to take care of that most of the time. For my team, we try to give them some non-queue time to work on other things, but it’s tough to feel ok with doing that when you know your teammates are super busy.
That’s a problem we’re still working on today.
So, what do you think is the most important metric that you think a support rep should aim for?
If your support reps are aiming for a metric, then something is probably going wrong.
The metric should never be a goal in itself, it’s just a way of estimating your success at meeting the actual goal. In the ideal situation the support team would only have to worry about helping each customer (or potential customer) to get done whatever the customer is trying to do.
If they can do that effectively then the metrics take care of themselves. I know I’m cheating you on this question though, so I guess what we’re measuring is “did we help this customer kick more ass”, to use Kathy Sierra’s phrase.
Four members of the team rode from Sydney to Wollongong to raise money for people with Multiple Sclerosis.
I’m going to throw some situations at you. Tell me how you guys handle them at Campaign Monitor.
a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated. And you don’t have anything close to an ETA. What do you do?
In short, answering honestly and with respect. People make suggestions and request features because they like your product and they want to use it more.
So we always thank people for taking the time to write in, and then give them as clear and honest an answer as we can. If we know it’s likely to happen, we’ll tell them it’s on the radar, and we’ll make sure to note their details down so that when it happens we can let them know.
If it’s actively being worked on, we’ll often ask them some more questions to understand their needs better, and pass that to the product team as input into the process.
b) What if it’s a feature that you have no intention of working on?
Better to be up front, and to explain why than to give them false hope and make them frustrated forever more.
If it’s a definite no, then we’ll tell them that it’s not the direction the product is heading, or it’s just not high enough priority.
c) A customer demands a refund. What’s your refund policy like? Do you plug in a sales rep somewhere down the process to woo them back?
My team all have the authority and access to the tool to refund anyone as they see fit. So that option is always available to them based on their judgement of the situation, and we do process refunds pretty often.
We do, though, always want to make sure we understand what has happened, why, and whether a refund is the best (or the only) response needed.
Refunding can be the easy option, but it might not address the real issue for the customer.
If they’re misunderstanding something about how the product works, then we need to make sure we address that or it could happen again and frustrate them further.
We also want to capture feedback as to why a refund was given (our tool has a field for that) so that we can spot patterns and fix any underlying issues. So a lot of our conversations start like this: “I can definitely arrange that refund for you, no problem! It would really help us if you could also give a little more detail about…” so that we’re not just wasting the opportunity to talk to an upset customer.
d) A customer requests a feature that’s not on his plan but he’s willing to pay extra just for the feature. Do you give him the feature? Do you bump him up to a higher plan at a discount?
The way Campaign Monitor works, this rarely comes up for us fortunately. If you pay you get pretty much everything. That said, if we have a customer with some track record with us, and they ask for a little extra, we often give it to them as a goodwill gesture.
The Christmas party at the Campaign Monitor office.
What’s the protocol when a customer reports a security vulnerability over the weekend?
Fortunately this doesn’t happen much these days.
We have a pretty simple pager system that anyone in the company can use to call in help from our operations and engineering teams.
It will page and call until someone responds, and then they’ll jump into Hipchat to find out what’s happening. We also have weekend support team members who will communicate to customers as the investigation continues.
Tell us about your toughest day at work.
It’s a while back now but I’d have to go with the day we got hacked. Our company owners were off on a surfing trip and uncontactable, and our little team (at the time) had to make some tough calls. You can read more about it here.
Give us some dope on your hiring strategy. What do you look for when you hire support reps?
What I look for in a potential support rep has changed a lot over the years. Early on, broad technical skills were more important to me, because we didn’t have the time or the materials to train people up. These days, we can provide that training more easily.
I still look for a level of technical aptitude (basic troubleshooting skills are vital) but much more so, I’m looking for someone who has a great attitude, and who can communicate very clearly.
One of the best things I ever did as a team leader was to sit down and work out exactly what a successful support agent should be doing.
It really helped me get better at interviewing, because I could target those attributes and get into detail on them, and be less blinded by previous job experience.
I have a 3 page document now that all new team members receive which sets out the measurable goals of their role.
In addition, it also lists all the soft-skill contributions they are expected to make. It’s much easier to address problems with someone if we’re both looking at the same agreed upon goals.
Which company do you admire a lot? In terms of customer service i.e
I’m really impressed with what Squarespace have done in scaling their support up to much larger levels but keeping standards high. They have a fairly complex product and a very broad audience, and that must present a lot of challenges. But they’ve really committed to making great support an important part of their business.
I love to hear commercials which sell quality support, it’s super encouraging. Plus Squarespace today is almost exactly what I was predicting years ago would inevitably replace my sort of web design skills. So, it’s a nice closed circle for me.
Name another rep you’re a big fan of, and would like to hear from in this series.
Christa Collins built Squarespace support from just her to a much, much larger team with great success, so she’d be a top choice.
Someone I always want to hear more from is Sarah Hatter of CoSupport. She and I connected years ago, and she’s had a huge impact on my working life through UserConf.
One more question, Mathew. What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?
Almost certainly die immediately, and probably in an embarrassing way like falling off a dock while trying to tweet about zombies. I’m not a character you’d be seeing after episode 1. Unless it was one of those “Australia is the only surviving nation” type outbreaks.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.