Bryce Adams is a Support Ninja at WooThemes, a leading WordPress theme and plugin provider.
When he’s not developing WordPress plugins (he’s a self-professed WordPress addict) or helping customers, Bryce likes to take his motorbike out for a spin. He’s currently making the transition from Support Ninja to WooThemes developer.
We managed to catch up with Bryce and chat about customer support and life at WooThemes.
How big is WooThemes’ support team?
Approx 15 (we have a lot of new people and older support people moving to new positions).
And how many products do you support?
Over 300+ extensions for WooCommerce, our product Sensei, as well as several themes we also sell.
Phew! Where are you guys based?
We operate from over 20 countries in the world, as we’re a distributed company, and support customers from pretty much every country in the world.
What channels do you offer support in?
Email / Tickets
How many questions do you get each day?
The WooThemes team. Hiro, their mascot, is floating high up in the sky.
So, how did you end up in customer support?
I saw a tweet from WooThemes saying they needed people to help with WooCommerce support. I’d been using WooCommerce for several projects so, I felt like I could do the job. Plus, I always thought if I’d work for any company, it’d be WooThemes, having followed them online for several years beforehand.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Bryce Adams.
That depends where I am in the world!
Recently, I was in Bangkok so most mornings, I’d go out and buy a Thai breakfast. Then, I’d go back home and do some work quickly before heading to a local cafe. Before leaving the cafe for lunch, I’d try to get some more work done. Lunch was most likely at a local Thai restaurant as well. Then, I’d head back home and finish up for the day.
Of course, this is just a broad pattern. Every day was different. Some days, I’d be travelling up North so I’d start working only in the night or early morning.
So, Woothemes is a completely distributed team? How do you guys work together cohesively when you’re spread across timezones?
We are and we are very proud of it!
Support is a great job to do remotely.
Customers always need help, so the only timezone that really matters is that of your customer.
If our team was all in the same timezone, it’d be great as we’d get to chat with everyone everyday, but our customers would suffer. As we’re remote, our customers can receive a reply at any time of the day, as we have support staff in every single timezone.
The pros are very clear: Freedom to work from wherever we want, be it a cafe in San Francisco or an airplane flying over South East Asia. We also get to choose our own office hours, which is a huge bonus. However, it can get a bit lonely at times, but everyone is just a message or email away, so it’s not that bad!
How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
Remembering how lucky we are that we get to work wherever we are in the world, have complete freedom and the chance to work with some of the best. It’s being grateful for these things that keep us all going, through the bad (and worst) customer support experiences.
We also have the opportunity to travel a lot as a team and have meetups at events and conferences, so those chances to share a coffee (or beer) with a fellow team member really motivates you to keep putting in the extra effort.
Taking time off must be tough…
I’d suggest support reps take time off several days at a time. We get a generous 20+ days of annual leave, so it’s easy to allocate 5 days in a row to take off. But if I was taking off one day here and another day there, I wouldn’t really feel ‘relaxed’ or like I was having time off, rather just taking a break.
Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?
Satisfaction/happiness rating. Quality over quantity.
There’s no point doing 100 tickets in a day if you only satisfy 5% of your customers.
I’d rather do 10 tickets and have every single customer happy.
How do you measure customer happiness though?
We send out a survey several days after a ticket is solved. It gives the customer the chance to think about the support they received and give us an honest, helpful rating.
I bet that you get a lot of similar questions. When do you decide to turn an answer for a customer support question into a Kbase article?
If it gets asked more than once.
Nothing should be asked twice without a KB article for the topic existing.
It’s our responsibility to pro-actively support customers, not just wait for them to come to us with problems. Support reps should aim to preempt problems and solve them in advance, which can reduce first-response times to 0.
Tell us about your social media strategy. Do you have one person who takes care of just the questions that come in through Facebook and Twitter?
We used to have a dedicated Twitter account for support questions. We recently retired it and for good reason too. The WordPress community and our users responded well to it as it was clear we could hardly support our products in 140 characters or less.
Now we respond to users asking for support over Facebook / Twitter by politely asking them to open up a ticket through our dedicated support channels. I believe our customers understand that it’s only because we want to provide them the best possible customer support experience and we value their privacy too.
That makes a lot of sense, Bryce. Kudos! WooThemes has a good reputation for customer support. How do you keep the WooThemes community interesting and engaging for people around the world?
We put a lot of effort into our social presence. Our social media manager, Marina, keeps all of our users happy and she also produces some incredible content for our blog. She makes sure it’s not just another company blog but rather a space for us to share valuable content and success stories with our users. This combined with the efforts of our marketing team in their frequent mailers go a long way in building our customers’ trust and respect for us.
At WooConf; Woo’s first conference dedicated to all things WooCommerce
How did you scale customer support at WooThemes, while keeping the culture and core values intact AND making sure your customers are happy?
We’re always pivoting and trying new things. Before I used to work at WooThemes, support was done through a community forum. Since then, we’ve tried several different platforms and methods, every time with the same goal in place: Improve the customer experience.
Of course, as our customer base grows, so does our support team. We have a very thorough interview process to ensure we only get the best of the best. And we give new team members several weeks to learn about our products, our culture and our customers, before throwing them in the deep end.
Give us some dope on your hiring process. What do you look for in your support reps?
People that can be trusted. Our entire team is remote and we need to know that we can trust them to get the job done. Even more importantly, we need to know that they can manage themselves. Even if they don’t interact with another team member for 5 hours because of their timezone or location, we need to know that they’re still getting the work done.
Another important quality is the willingness to learn. Most of us have had the opportunity to grow into other positions while at WooThemes. When I started 8 months ago, I wasn’t the best developer / coder, but I was always given the chance to learn more and explore areas of the company that interested me. And I’m now getting the chance to do that work full time. That wouldn’t be possible in most companies.
Which way do you lean on transparency? Are you pro-transparency or do you think there are some things (like customer satisfaction ratings, etc.) that are better off kept a secret?
I’m a huge advocate for transparency, both internally (company-wide) and externally (to customers).
Transparency is one of our core values at Woo, so we really try to incorporate it into everything we do.
It’s also really important, internally, to have individual support rep satisfaction ratings transparent to whole team. I say that for a couple reasons:
– So we can see where the gaps are and then try repair them, by helping out team members who have bad ratings and trying to teach them techniques/methods for improving it.
– To motivate others. If you’re sitting on a 60% customer satisfaction rating and see your co-worker with 90%, I believe it pushes you to do better.
Tell us about your most memorable customer interaction.
There are countless memorable moments, so it’s hard to pinpoint an exact one.
Okay, I got one. Back in November last year (2014), we put on WooConf, a 2-day event for users and developers who are involved with our flagship product, WooCommerce. At the event, we had a ‘help desk’, for customers to come up directly to us and ask questions. That was a unique experience.
We had physical interactions with customers we typically only talk to over email. There were several that came up to me and said “Oh, I remember you from your profile picture!”. It was fun to be recognized!
Customer satisfaction ratings are great too. Especially around Christmas, where several of us stayed around to help customers, it’s really nice to receive a message a week later saying that we “saved the day” or “made their Christmas”. We were just doing our job, but being appreciated is always nice.
How do you unwind after a long day of support?
Movie, some Thai food and a beer!
Fun at the WooThemes HQ, Cape Town
Bryce, I’m going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d handle them at WooThemes.
a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you don’t have an ETA. How do you handle these requests? What if it’s a feature that you don’t intend on building?
We use an ‘Ideas board’ to allow our customers to suggest and vote on ideas. We encourage them to use it, as our WooCommerce product manager, Patrick, spends a lot of time there trying to determine what features should come first. He actually follows through to make sure they’re built.
If it’s a smaller issue, I’ll often just do it myself to reduce the workload on the development team.
b) A customer reports a bug during a long weekend. What’s the protocol?
Fix it asap! Our main product, WooCommerce, is actually completely open source and hosted on GitHub so, we encourage them to report it there and then even fix it (if they’d like). But often, we’ll address it within a day and then release an update, so no other customers have to suffer.
c) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake which greatly annoys a customer. They’re trying to turn it around but the customer only seems to be getting more and more annoyed. Do you let the rep handle it? Or do you step in and try to smooth things over?
Try to take a step back and figure out what went wrong and why, and then fix it.
Everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes (I definitely have made a few!), so it’s just a matter of trying to improve and make those mistakes happen less often.
d) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue a refund or do you rope in a sales rep to try to woo them back one last time?
We definitely don’t want unhappy customers, so we offer a 30 day ‘no questions asked’ refund policy. However, we do want to improve ourselves and our products, so we’ll often ask if we can change their mind (or fix their problem), and if not, ask them a few questions about what we could have done better.
e) A customer wants a feature that’s not on the plan he’s on. He’s willing to pay extra but he doesn’t want to upgrade. Do you categorically deny such requests or do you make some exemptions?
Send them to the Ideas board or give them a couple contacts that could complete it for them. We can’t do everything, but at least pointing them in the right direction / putting them in touch with someone that can is a good start.
How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?
Again, just being human. Saying sorry and meaning it. Offering to help and actually helping. I just try to pretend that the customer is right in front of me, physically, and think what I’d say to them then. We’re both human. We both have responsibilities and jobs that need to be done.
There’s always a solution – we (customer and support rep) just need to find it, together.
Tell us about your toughest day at work.
The first few days after our annual ‘WooTrips’ (company retreats) are always tough, as our response time tends to drop while we all fly back home. It’s never easy dealing with a customer who has been waiting 24-48 hours, but normally, an explanation helps them understand that we did not intentionally leave them waiting.
What’s the best thing about working for WooThemes?
– Getting to work from anywhere in the world.
– Getting to work whenever I feel like it.
– Annual company trips, along with several ‘minitrips’ throughout the year (a few of us were just in Mumbai for several days).
– Opportunity to learn and grow.
– Working with some of the best.
The Polaroid wall, WooThemes HQ, Cape Town
What’s the biggest surprise of your support career?
I have a few products that I’ve built in my own spare time (both free and paid). This is before I joined WooThemes and it’s always nice to see customers using them and even praising them. Sometimes, I’ll be doing a ticket and see my name on their site (as the author of one of their products) and just think “Who made this product they’re using? Bryce Ada.. oh, that’s me! Cool!”.
Haha. That IS cool. What has your time at WooThemes taught you?
There’s always someone smarter than you. Don’t let that stop you.
Rather, learn from them and try to improve yourself!
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
My experience with Slack has always been awesome. GitHub comes to mind too. I find a lot of the newer tech companies / startups are often quite good too, as you’ll normally get help directly from the CEO. That’s a great feeling, even if you don’t get the help you need, as at least you feel like someone cares.
Name another rep you’re a big fan of, and would like to see featured in this series.
Wasn’t sure about this one – another support rep? I’m not sure to be honest 🙂 There are some great people at Automattic (makers of WordPress.com) that you could chat with. A friend of mine, Mahangu Weerasinghe just did an excellent talk at WordCamp Mumbai about doing WordPress.com support.
What do you think is the secret sauce to customer support?
Being human. Don’t treat customers like they’re ‘just another ticket’. Remember that there’s someone just like you on the other side, with just a few years (or decades) less experience.
One last question, Bryce. If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose to be?
Our team mascot, Hiro!
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.