Animoto’s Secret Sauce to Customer Success: Being Authentic

Written by on November 29, 2017

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, their 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.

Animoto makes it easy for people to produce great videos by putting together photos, video clips, and music. Animoto is based in New York City with an office in San Francisco.

Brittany Bishop is senior customer success manager at Animoto and heads a team of 10 people. While she works out of New York, half of the customer success team is in the San Francisco office. Animoto receives about 5,000 tickets a month.

The Animoto entry sign

In this interview, we’re talking about how her customer success team is different from a typical support team, how they come together remotely to make life awesome for their customers and what their secret sauce is!

Can you tell us a bit about how your customer success team is structured?

I manage eight of the nine people. Most of the team are advisors who focus on responding to all the support questions, but we just built a second tier of career opportunity for the team. We have two specialists that focus about 25% of their time on support and the rest either managing others, working closely with our product team, doing user experience research, or working on projects that create more proactive support opportunities.

Two are specialists, seven are advisors and then there is me overseeing the whole shebang.

How often do customers reach out to you?

We get about 200 tickets a day. In an average month, we usually have about 5,000 tickets under our belts.

What channels do you recommend your customers use to reach out to you?

Just email! We used to have chat as well, but with a small number of agents we were having a hard time keeping response time goals on either channel. Now we put all of our energy into making our email support the star of the show.

Is there a reason why you provide help just over email?

With phone support, I think we face two challenges.

Our office plan is really open, so there aren’t many private spaces to move to when you are on the phone. That means you are either really self conscious or the people around you are uncomfortable. That can affect whether you give great customer service or not. Until we have a good comfortable space to make calls (and the people to focus on this!) it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us.

Phone support takes a fair amount of time. With 5,000 conversations happening every month, we have to think wisely about where our time is going.

You get a lot of questions from customers in a month, Brittany. How do you manage to answer all the questions, with a relatively small team?

Haha yeah, it’s a little crazy sometimes, but it can also be very exciting. Helping people make videos is really rewarding since there is an end product you actually get to see after you’ve helped out.

We have the advisor team split into two support focuses – product and account/billing. Those focuses help our agents have a little deeper knowledge of the area they are working in, which means they can usually handle all of the tickets coming in about one particular topic. Since we are small we don’t have a tier system yet, so those knowledge focuses are crucial.

How does a typical day look like for a member of the customer success team at Animoto?

My team is really in love with food, so the day always starts there.

In NYC, the advisors meet in the kitchen and make breakfast together and then head back to their computers.

We usually start by clearing out as many new customer tickets that we can (we have a 24 hour first reply time goal that we’re very serious about) after that the advisors will split their time between working on open tickets and working on side projects.

A few Animoto employees working on creating a video about bagels

We have a really open office both in SF and NYC so we all take advantage of sprawling all over the place to get our work done.

Comfort is key when you are staring at your computer all day. Click To Tweet

Woah! The customer success advisors cook breakfast themselves? That is very cool, Brittany! Nothing better than bonding over work.

Totally! Usually just avocado toast or making a bowl of cereal, but it’s a team habit that is really lovely.

We’re very serious about team support and bonding.

With a remote team it’s extra important that we know and trust each other. Click To Tweet

Curious. Why do you call yourself a customer success team? How is your team different from a typical customer support team?

That is an excellent question! When I got started at Animoto about a year ago the team had just rebranded to the Customer Success Team. Since Animoto is fairly small all the way around (we’re only about 150 people total) we try to cover all the bases with the people that we have.

While support is our main focus, we do offer “success” type features to our customers. Click To Tweet

Anyone on our Business plan gets to schedule a phone consultation when they first sign up, we have a whole lifecycle “success” email series that we send to our customers that was actually written by our team, and we’re experimenting now with an on-boarding program for new customers. Adding the specialist layer to our team has helped us carve out the time to focus on the “success” part of our name.

How do you teach brands to get started with making videos using Animoto? Do you have a specific team that guides them through Animoto’s features and what it can help achieve?

We’re very lucky to have an amazing content team that churns out really awesome videos, blogs, webinars, etc. We use that content so much when we are working with customers to make sure they are getting education and inspiration that is especially relevant to them as they get started.

A shot of our Chief Video Officer Jason

We’re also right in the middle of piloting this on-boarding program. It consists of a scheduled phone call every month, special personalized onboarding emails, and VIP CS support with the same person every time.

It’s a really big test, but I’m excited to see what we learn and what that ends up turning into.

As a remote team, how do you align everyone on the same page and how do you stay on top of what everyone is up to?

I’m always on Slack! Haha. In honesty, just like any other semi-remote team, that is a pretty challenging part of keeping this team going. We do use Slack to communicate most of the time. Off of Slack, I host an online team meeting once a week, so no matter where we are all we have that time to see each others faces. We post work “updates” in our Slack channel once a week, and I spend a lot of time checking in with each person on the team.

Do you have a culture code in your team or a set of values you train or look in your new hires? How did you go about identifying and codifying these values?

You bet! We have both. When I’m hiring, I’m looking for candidates that are kind, have a gut instinct for customer focus, and have a sense of adventure. Writing skills also come in handy since most of our support is done via email.

The Animoto company values

For the culture code, we train off this. After every interaction our customers understand that Animoto Customer Success Advisors are:

  • Knowledgeable
  • Personable
  • Solutions-oriented
  • Transparent
  • Speedy and succinct
  • Crazy-cool

This list was cultivated by asking the team what we wanted to be known for.

We also combined all of our good and bad CSAT comments to see what the most popular words were to arrive at the culture code.

A lot matched up, so those were the ones we focused on.

Because your focus is on support strategy at Animoto, how do you train and coach your own staff and how do you identify what they need help with?

I do usually about a day of support training with new agents that is all about our customer success vision and how we talk to customers, etc.

We’ve found that the sooner someone can start writing to customers the better. Click To Tweet

So, by day two, new advisors are writing emails but usually with the training wheels of another agent sitting with them going over what they have written and helping find ways to make it even better.

Just like any team we have so much going on that we don’t always spend as much time on the vision as we would like. We have an all in person team offsite twice a year, so this year we’re spending an hour on each of those points from the vision to make sure we’re revisiting why each of those are important to us.

The whole Animoto crew at our last mid-year all together event

Do you work with your engineering and product teams to give them visibility on what your customers are saying about Animoto?

Sure! We have a CS specialist that spends most of her time working with our product team. We have three mains ways of working with them:

The success specialist creates a product report every month that deep dives into the CS we have received and any topics we know they will find interesting.

We sit in on product roadmap meetings to make sure that CS needs are addressed and that we have timeline information for our customers.

We have just started doing post launch product audits. Our product team does a lot of research upfront before they release something, but once it’s released we’ll do a full story audit to understand how customers are actually interacting with the new feature. Then we meet with product and make suggestions for V2 releases.

What is the biggest challenge you see for Animoto and specifically for your team in the next six months and how are you planning to tackle it?

As a company we’re taking a close look at the customers that we are serving and where our product fits in for their needs.

We’ve got some big ideas and exciting things up our sleeves, but as always that means having to leave some great product ideas that aren’t necessarily in line with our mission on the table. From a support perspective those conversations are some of the most difficult to have.

Letting customers know that we hear them and understand why something is important to them while also telling them that the thing they are requesting is not on the roadmap is incredibly delicate. We already talk about empathy a lot on our team, but we’re going to do some extra empathy training in the next few months to prepare for those conversations.

A group of Animoto employees working on a project together

What is the toughest customer interaction you’ve had?

Ugh.

Billing tickets are hands down the hardest customer service tickets, especially because money is involved.

By the time those tickets get escalated to me, the person is usually very frustrated.

Can you tell us how you would communicate to a customer, about a feature request that you are not going to build, without losing them?

Yeah, I actually just wrote one of those emails, let me grab it.

Here’s an excerpt:

I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us and letting us know why the newly enforced 20 minute time limit on Animoto videos impacts your business and your customers. I completely understand where you were coming from when you wrote your email! Change sucks, especially when you have had no problem with the way things were working before. I’m hoping my email will give you some perspective on why we set the 20 minute limit and the bugs we’ve fixed by locking video creation to that length, but I totally understand if Animoto simply doesn’t cover your workflow needs anymore.

With these kinds of emails I firmly believe that a spoonful of understanding and a load of transparency are the best way to come at them.

Very cool. Can I ask if that particular customer continued their membership?

He is still around and making videos. I’m hoping some of the things we’re releasing in the next year will also fit a few of his other needs to help soften the blow a little bit.

So overall, what do you think is the secret sauce to Animoto’s customer success?

Ah! I think authenticity is the secret sauce to customer success.

Customers can see right through excuses or half attempts to solve a problem. Click To Tweet

I usually tell my agents, Be real. Be human. Have emotions and be comfortable with our customers having them too. We don’t have to sound professional all the time (because our company is a little silly) we can have fun and let our customers know we love our jobs. That authenticity is what makes us, us!

Would you like to see someone featured in the Secret Sauce series?

I do think Ben from SmugMug is awesome and he has such an interesting support journey.

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

Oh man, so many! I keep a pretty close eye on Squarespace. And I LOVE Wistia! The way they make their customers feel like friends even though they have a pretty big customer happiness team is awesome. I also really love SmugMug and Typeform.

Editor’s note: Want to know what’s Wistia’s secret sauce to customer support?

A friend of mine also just started working at ManCrate and I’ve really enjoyed seeing some CS from them as well. They have such a distinct voice and that seems to translate into their CS too, which is always great to see.

What’s your all-time favourite book and what are you reading right now?

I’m a Great Gatsby nerd, Elevator Repair Service did a theater piece where they read the whole book over 6 hours. I’ve been fairly obsessed ever since I saw that show.  I just picked up Midnight on the Orient Express after watching the movie. I’m excited to get into it.

One last question. What’s your favorite GIF?

At Animoto, we have an event every year called YETI NYC (Year End Together-ness in NYC) so I find myself using this one a lot.

Brittany Bishop’s favorite GIF

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, their 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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