The Secret Sauce to Zapier

I'm Micah Bennett and this is how we support at Zapier!

Written by on December 4, 2014

Micah Bennett is the Support Lead at Zapier, a tool that connects the web apps you use so you can easily move data between them and automate tedious tasks. A Cubs and Tigers enthusiast, Micah is wildly passionate about efficiency, and is ever searching for ways to improve his workflow.

Micah Bennett, Zapier

We managed to catch up with Micah and ask him a few questions about life at Zapier.

How big is your support team, Micah?

Everyone at Zapier does support in some fashion, but only five of us are full-time support folks.

And where is Zapier based?

We’re a completely distributed team, so we help users from over a dozen US cities plus a few international destinations as well, including the UK and Thailand.

How many products do you support?

Officially just one. But supporting Zapier often involves knowing many other apps so some days, it feels like more than 350. 🙂

And what channels you offer support in?

Primarily email, but we do some phone support as well.

How many queries do you get everyday? An average number will do.

175

Micah Bennett, Zapier

Zapier works as a completely remote team. Micah is in Chicago.

So, how did you land a job in customer support?

I worked in some customer-facing roles in the past, but my introduction to the support world began when I started moderating an online forum I frequent.  There’s a lot of parallels to SaaS support, especially when it comes to using language to your advantage and being able to empathize with people. The next thing I know, here I am at Zapier.

Tell us about a day in the life of Micah Bennett.

The average day revolves around helping our users. Our help desk is the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I take a look at before signing off at night. Once a week, the team meets to discuss the objectives for the week; at this point, we also ensure that we’re making progress with improving our proactive support (documentation, for example) and not just spending all our time reacting to our users.

How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?

Personally, I’m motivated by the nature of the role support plays and the ability we have as a team to fulfill that role.  Each day, we are the face of Zapier to our users, which is both a huge responsibility and a great privilege. Support is also a function where you have to prove your value every day.

The user that gets a crummy experience doesn’t care that you did better with the previous 50 users, what matters is that we let them down and so our reputation is moot.

In that sense support is an awesome opportunity, because when you earn your reputation every day, it’s not something that can be imitated or replicated without someone else putting in the same effort.

Taking time off must be a struggle. How do you guys manage?

As part of our weekly meeting, we discuss any time off that’s anticipated, everything from vacations to trips to the doctor’s office. This helps us better manage around our schedule as a team, so everyone knows the days/times when fewer people will be around and plans their work accordingly.

Tell us about your toughest day at work.

Several years ago, we made a change to our pricing and plans that didn’t go as well as anticipated. We did a lot of things wrong that day, from timing, to messaging, to technical issues, and it made for a very frustrating time. But, it was a great learning experience.

Zapier's origins

How it all began…

Let’s talk numbers. What do you think is the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?

I’m a numbers guy at heart, but I don’t think there’s a silver bullet for support metrics.  Things like support volume, user happiness scores, and response time data are useful and we track them at Zapier.

But we don’t lie awake at night worrying about getting that extra percentage point of any metric.

We’re a competitive group and it’s always uplifting to see positive progress as a motivator, but it’s also important to distinguish between changes in metrics that motivate you to ‘do better next time’, and changes in metrics that spur real changes to how you do things.

How do you measure customer happiness?

At the end of every email we send is a question asking simply “How did I do?” with a link to chose “Yay”, “OK”, or “Boo”.

We keep this as lightweight and vague as we can because we want to get as many responses as possible, and to get the visceral reaction the user has to our replies. If we’re giving someone correct info but it’s not bringing them to a more positive emotional state, that’s something we want to note, even if we technically did everything ‘right’ in the interaction.

We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d deal with them.

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 it?

With features that are coming but not right away, we do our best to set expectations for the time frame and also provide a call to action.  In our case, our updates blog serves as a place where they can get the info they need when it does become available.

b) What if it’s a feature that you’re never going to build?

I don’t like using the word ‘never’, but it’s important to set the expectations right. Phrases like “Zapier won’t be able to be a solution for that workflow” or “that would be a long term goal at best” help to relay that this isn’t something to expect from us in the short term.  We have to be careful to acknowledge the validity of the request though; we need users to understand that we get their needs even if we can’t fulfill them.

c) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue it to them or do you rope in a sales rep down the line to try to woo the customer back one last time?

We’re very willing to refund users.

Our philosophy is that the goodwill generated by doing right by the customer far outweighs keeping a few bucks that we might technically be entitled to.

d) A customer requests a feature that is not on the plan that he’s subscribed to. He’s willing to pay extra but he doesn’t want to upgrade. What do you do?

We do our best to fairly reflect the value Zapier provides with our pricing and plans, but inevitably that’s a situation that comes up.  It’s those conversations that tells us best where our pricing falls short, so defaulting to asking questions about the user’s workflow and situation can set the stage for a compassionate, well-informed answer (even if that answer is ‘no’).

e) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake that really frustrates a customer. They’re trying to contain it but the customer just seems to get more frustrated with time? What do you do? Do you step in and take over or let the rep handle it themselves?

We all make mistakes. Typos happen, things get misinterpreted, apps break; it’s a condition of the job. Mistakes can end up as a great opportunity, though, as most users are conditioned to expect insincere non-apologies and behavior that papers over mistakes rather than addressing them.

By genuinely apologizing and acknowledging mistakes when they happen, you can often make greater fans of your product than if you hadn’t screwed up at all.

f) A developer’s threatening to exploit a security vulnerability in your app unless you pay him a ransom. Has this ever happened? How did you guys handle it?

That’s a tricky one, and an instance where it’s very important to relate to the person submitting that request.  It’s very possible that what we perceive as ‘ransom’ is a result of them being burned by other companies in the past when they were entitled to payment. Zapier has a bug bounty program that helps to serve as a transparent guide that we can reference as well.

g) When things get ugly: A frustrated customer not only threatens to leave you but he also says he’s going to take the conversation public and paint you in an ugly light. How would you handle this?

In our experience, most user frustration comes not from your product’s functionality (or lack thereof), but rather that they don’t feel like they’re being heard or cared for when they ask for help.

If you’re able to send timely replies that truly communicate that you understand their pain, and genuinely apologize when you’ve fallen short, you can head off most frustrated users from venting their frustration publicly.

The Zapier team goes on a retreat to bond every 4-6 months

The team goes on a retreat every 4-6 months. This one was near Mt. Rainier, Olympia, Washington.

Tell us about your stance on transparency. Are you pro-transparency or anti-transparency?

We like transparency at Zapier.

We’ve learned a ton from others which wouldn’t be possible without their transparency, and we try to return the favor.

We publish an annual report , we’ve shared our processes on hiring for remote work, and specifically for support we’ve outlined what and how we measure (complete with real data!).

Give us some dope about your hiring policy.

We’ve spent a good bit of time talking about this as a team, since it’s about both our hiring process as well as the identity we want as a support team.

Empathetic – Above all else, we need to be able to communicate with users in a way that makes them feel heard and valued.

Persistent – Zapier Support can be a tough gig, as it’s impossible to know all or even most of its functionality. Having a relentlessly positive attitude is crucial to doing the job day after day.

‘App curiosity’ – We’re constantly working with other apps in order to help users.

Having a 6th sense for how to interact with technology, and web apps in particular, is a huge plus.

Writing ability – Zapier is a remote team that does support primarily through email, so being able to clearly communicate to users and team-mates is vital.

Loves Zapier – We work at Zapier because we love the product itself and what it enables our users to accomplish.  Sharing that enthusiasm for helping people to make a disproportionate impact in their work is a big deal for us.

What is the biggest surprise you’ve received as a support agent?

I’m constantly blown away at how appreciative people are when they get human replies.  Years of uncaring or even hostile support experiences have set the bar low for their expectations that they’ll get genuine answers.

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

I have a lot of respect for how Basecamp handles support. Any company of that size that can get people real answers as fast as they can is worthy of praise.

More generally, I really admire any company that has to do support for physical products and everything that goes along with that, like returns/refunds.

There are far more uncomfortable situations that end up being company v. customer in that world.

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

I’d love to see Bill Bounds from MailChimp answer these questions. He always has terrific insights when I’ve heard him talk support.

Just one more question, Micah. If you could choose any superpower, what would you choose?

That’s a tough one. I think I’d have to take flight. Imagine, no more security lines or flight delays, no traffic jams, just take off and get anywhere you need to go!

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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