Four Million to Two: The Secret Sauce to Trello's Support

Written by on October 23, 2014

Brian Cervino is a Support Specialist at Trello. A beer brewer and food lover, Brian also specializes in writing original music for television, commercials and film.

Trello makes it easy to organize anything with anyone. Whether you’re managing a team of freelancers, writing an epic screenplay, or just making a list of stuff to get done, Trello makes sure you’re organized and on top of it all.

Brian Cervino, Trello

Brian is well-known in the support world because of his brilliant article, “Four Million to One“, in which he talks about how he singlehandedly runs the Support show at Trello. We managed to catch up with him and get his insights about work at Trello.

How big is your team, Brian?

2 now and growing!

Where do you guys operate out of?

New York City and Atlanta.

And how many products do you guys support?

1. Trello.

What channels do you guys offer support in?

Email, help documentation, social and within Trello.

How many queries do you guys get everyday? Give us a ballpark figure.

60-70

Trello's office in New York

So, Brian, tell us about how your career in customer support came about to be.

I previously worked in public libraries which is a public facing job and really not that much different than support in the ways that count.  At the end of the day a lot of the same interpersonal skills are important in both jobs, so I had a bit of practice beforehand.

So, what does a typical day look like for Trello’s Support Specialist?

A typical day starts with a fresh cup of coffee. Then, I check out the internal Trello board to see what has shipped over the past day and check notifications (if any).

Luckily, we don’t use much email at work so I don’t have to spend much time checking that.

After I feel caught up with what’s going on with the team and the office I go through the support queries queue, keep up with our social media feeds and respond to questions from the Trello boards for our mobile apps.  At the end of the day I spend any additional time working on help documentation, social media campaigns or blog posts.

We’ve read your ‘Four Million to One’ post and it’s amazing how you manage to accomplish so much as a single-person support team. How do you avoid burnout, and how often do you take time off? What do you do when you need a break? How do you motivate yourself to go on everyday?

Thanks! I am glad to hear that you enjoyed the post.  Luckily when I took over for Ben McCormack he stayed around as someone that I could always reach out to when the ticket queue got really long on one of the aforementioned “tough days.” This has been crucial in preventing burnout but this luckily doesn’t happen too often.

We have realized though that with our growing user base there is way too much work for one person to do alone and now, Ben is coming back to the team and we are hiring more folks (for more info). Vacation and breaks have never been a problem because if I take time off, Ben will always step in to help and if Ben is busy, then our awesome product manager is always eager to get in to the ticket queue and get his hands dirty as well!

Knowing that I am doing something to improve the lives of others that are reaching out is enough to motivate me on day to day basis.

It helps that when you do a good job in support, your day tends to end with an inbox full of thank-yous for a job well done.

That always makes me excited for the next day of work to come.

And we thought we loved coffee

And we thought we loved coffee…

The post also talks about how you use Trello for in-app support on mobile but not on the web. Is there a specific reason why you don’t support customers using Trello on the web?

The in-app support, which is a Trello board that works as a help and updates resource was more or less an experiment and seemed easiest in the mobile apps because people are already in the apps and we thought the board would cause less friction for those needing help.

Right now this is essentially a board where questions can be asked and I aim to answer the questions within 24-hours. There is also some self service information for common questions and release notes.  It’s been a good experiment so far, but definitely something that is an idea in progress.

Tell me about your toughest day at work.

Bad bugs and downtime are always the worst, but luckily I work with such an amazing team (and I mean everyone at Trello) that the tough days are few and far between.

Let’s get down to business. What’s the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?

I think the most important metric that a support rep should aim for is to make sure that, when the time comes to close a ticket, the customer is happy with your service.

At this point, they should also ensure the customer understands the information presented to them.

And how do you measure customer happiness?

We do not have any specific metrics that we use to measure customer happiness aside from our own gauging of customer sentiment and satisfaction when a ticket is closed.

I am not really convinced on the value of a lot of the tools and surveys used to measure customer happiness after support transactions.

I believe that the best thing to do is hire a strong team that is empowered to go the extra mile to make a customer as happy as possible as often as possible.

Taco, Trello's spokeshusky

Taco is Trello’s spokeshusky.

That’s an interesting perspective, Brian. Now, I’m going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d generally handle them at Trello.

a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated. What do you do? And what if it’s a feature you’re never going to build?

I deal with with all kinds of feature requests in the same way – with honesty.

I like to ask for their use case so that I can better understand their workflow and how the feature would benefit them, but never make any promises that the feature would be implemented. I also document popular feature requests and use cases so that I can bubble up the information to the rest of the team to keep them informed about what are our users are asking for.

b) Tell me about your refund policy. Do you plug in a sales rep sometime down the line to try to woo them back?

We have a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee for both Trello’s Business Class and Gold subscriptions. If you find that what you are paying for doesn’t work for you we are happy to refund your money.

Being empowered to make refunds if necessary makes my job much easier.

c) A support rep makes a tiny mistake and gives the customer outdated information. It’s a tiny mistake but it seems to be getting out of hand. What do you do? Do you step in and try to smooth things over?

If I provided the wrong information to a customer then I would make sure to apologize for my mistake, blame it on probably needing more coffee (because otherwise I am not sure how a mistake could possibly happen 😉 ) make sure to get them the correct information and then follow-up with them.

At Trello, everyone gets their own, private office.

At Trello, everyone gets their own, private office.

What was the biggest surprise you received as a support agent?

I was surprised to find out that there is such an awesome and empowering community of support agents out there! Luckily, this was a very welcome surprise and one that has enhanced my growth and passion in the field.

In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?

I have been really impressed with the support that I’ve received from Sprout Social agents.  They’re always super responsive and friendly.

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

Always a fan of the team at Buffer, they provide great insights! (Editor: We’ve already interviewed them)

Just one more question, Brian. What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

I would probably flee to my private island and invite the rest of the support community that hasn’t been zombified. It seems like the right kind of crew to start a zombie free utopia with.

Trello Office Picture Credits: Rob Tannenbaum.
Picture Credits for Brian’s photograph: Lauren Moon.

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.

Subscribe for blog updates