Steve Klein is a co-founder of StatusPage.io, the best way to create a status page for your app or website.
Based in Denver and San Francisco, StatusPage.io’s approach to customer support is the All Hands on Deck approach i.e., the entire team of seven, count customer support as a part of their job. While it would have been great to talk to the whole team about their experience with support, we caught up with Steve first to chat with him about life and customer support.
Tell us about your role at StatusPage.io.
I do a mix of design, front-end development and marketing things mostly. We rotate through on a weekly basis as the person who takes the lead on customer support — during those weeks I spend about half of my time doing support. My career in customer support was kind of birthed out of necessity.
We think it’s important for everyone at the company to do support in order to stay close to customers.
As one of the co-founders, part of the job is doing support.
What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of such an approach? I imagine handovers are hard?
Doing all hands support helps us build a better product. Two qualities of “better product” are they a) solving a problem that is actually painful to people and b) doing a good job removing that pain.
All hands support helps us know our customers better and have more empathy for them.
This enables us to build features that actually address their pain points — without it, we would be taking a stab in the dark as what we should build next.
It also helps us do a better job addressing the points we know to be painful.
As a product person, our natural tendency is often to just build more things. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that the thing that will make our product better is to refine an existing feature rather than build new features.
One of our goals when onboarding new developers is to makes sure they have an intimate knowledge of the product and all of its features. Having them do a week’s worth of support is they get to help people set up or debug a lot different parts of the product which helps them to better understand how it all works. Consistently talking to customers ensures that the usability issues and feature tweaks are constantly surfaced to the developers who are ultimately the ones to fix these problems.
For example, we have a whole slew of improvements we plan on making to our Scheduled Maintenance feature in the near-future…the majority of which has come directly from customer feedback. It’s a ton of small items that a support team would probably respond with “it’s not on our roadmap but I’ll talk to the team about it”. But talking to people about these issues first hand has helped me to see an opportunity to really fine tune an important feature that I might not have otherwise recognized.
Editor’s note: Incidentally, Steve’s written a very eloquent post detailing why founders should do customer support for as long as possible.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me, when I’m on support, involves waking up and doing things like clearing out email or support tickets assigned specifically to me. We do an all hands standup around mid-morning.
After standup I’ll dive right in to whatever thing I plan on working on for that day. For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a project we just launched called Better Error Pages. Once or twice in the afternoon I’ll take a break to answer any tickets that have been assigned to me.
Keeping yourself going day in and day out must be difficult. How do you manage?
Maybe it’s because I’m one of the co-founders, but I find staying motivated easy enough. StatusPage.io is like my baby and I really want it to succeed.
Motivating the team is a mix of sharing in our successes and publicly praising them for the work they do that advances our company.
One of the criteria for us to hire someone is they have to pass the Sunday Test (borrowed from Stripe). As a result, we have a team who genuinely likes and respects everyone else. When you have a team that’s as close as we are, it creates a greater sense that we’re all working together toward a common goal. That can be very motivating.
I understand that the StatusPage.io team used to work remotely but now you’re all relocating to the same office. How did you manage to get things done when everyone’s spread across the globe?
I actually, recently, wrote a blog post about it. The gist is we used to be in three locations (Raleigh, Denver, and San Francisco) and were open to hiring people in other cities.
There are pros – bigger hiring pool, higher productivity, lesser overhead – but there are also cons – communication is harder, ties between employees are weaker and work-life balance is harder to achieve.
After a few years of trying to stick it out with a remote team, we decided to close up shop in Raleigh (I’m moving to Denver in June) and that we wouldn’t be hiring anyone outside of Denver or San Francisco.
How much training do you provide for the team before they’re thrown into the deep end? What does it entail?
We have a very hands-on onboarding process. New hires are usually joined at the hip with a team member for their first few weeks. They also definitely spend their first few weeks as the dedicated support person. This ensures that they get a ton of exposure to customers and the product right at the beginning of their time with us.
A remote team makes scaling while keeping values intact rather difficult. How did you manage?
The single most important thing we’ve done to make sure we’re providing quality support is “leading by example”.
The founders are in the customer support rotation just like everyone else on the team. A side effect of this is, the rest of the team sees how we handle support and talk to customers, and that rubs off on them.
Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, is a metric that everyone on support should keep an eye on?
I think the most important metric support teams should consider is “remarkable support moments”.
Providing accurate help in a timely manner is table stakes.
The only way for support teams to really make a positive impact for the company is to give customers an experience so incredible that they tweet about, tell their friends, become customer evangelists. To do this, they need to do things that actually truly remarkable in the literal sense of the word. This means doing things like going as far as helping your customers write custom code to integrate with your product, or even fixing their bugs in real-time.
And how do you measure “remarkable support moments”? How do you measure customer happiness?
We actually don’t really measure them in any formal way right now. We’re actually doing a pretty bad job of doing this in a quantitative manner.
How do you keep the StatusPage.io community interesting and engaging for people around the world?
We haven’t done the best job of this lately but we try to share our experiences as much as possible on the blog. We talk about things we’ve learned about customer support, startups, design, marketing, web development, and pretty much any other topic where think we can provide some valuable insights for people.
What are the biggest challenges ahead for StatusPage.io’s support?
The customer support rotation model has been working really well for us. At some point we might have to have two people on support duty but until then, our current system is actually working just fine. Our biggest challenge in the near future is going to be creating all of the self-help tools and articles necessary to keep support tickets low.
Tell us about a tough call and how you handled it.
There was one month where we had a string of outages. I was having a check-in call with a customer and they brought up the fact that we had been down several times in the past month — one of which occurred when they too were down. As the host of their status page, you can see why us being down at the same time is a problem. They expressed their concern with our recent uptime, and that if the problem continued they would have to switch to another solution.
Luckily, we had a dedicated ops person starting the following week who had a ton of experience wrangling servers. I told the customer that this was something we take very seriously and are working hard on fixing the issue — we even have someone starting soon who’s role will be ensuring things like this don’t become the norm.
What do you do when you’ve had a rough call? How do you bounce back?
I think the important thing to remember whenever you talk to an unhappy customer is to not take it personally.
It’s best to check your emotions at the door and remember that the person you’re talking to is frustrated and just wants to be heard.
Acknowledging their point-of-view and moving on quickly is usually the best approach. I’ve talked to people who are confused about a feature or think something in the interface is “dumb” but I’ve never actually talked to someone who was so mad that it put me into a funk.
If you have to talk to someone that’s mad enough that you get riled up, get back in the groove by taking a walk. Remember that there will always be some bad eggs out there who just want to make life hard for other people.
What do you find most rewarding about being on support? What makes everything worth it?
I think the most rewarding thing about doing customer support is getting to have those moments where you help someone out who’s really in a pinch and you can just feel the weight lifted off their shoulders.
I think humans are kind of programmed to feel good about helping other people and that’s what the job is all about.
We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d handle them.
a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you don’t have an ETA. How would you handle this?
We’re usually just really honest with them. A specific one that comes up for us is people want their status page to be in a different language. We really want to provide multi-language support at some point but it’s probably at least a year out for us. We have a Google doc with a list of features we plan on building an the email addresses of people who have requested it.
b) What if it’s a feature you’re never planning on building?
I usually just tell people that I’ll keep an ear out for more people requesting the same thing. If it turns out that there actually are a ton of people interested in us building some feature that we don’t currently plan on building, we’ll reevaluate.
c) One of your team mates makes a tiny mistake that greatly frustrates a customer. Do you step in and smooth things over or do you let them handle it themselves?
At that point, I’d probably drop what I was doing to make sure I get the issue fixed up for them. If they’re truly upset, the goal would be to make sure you salvage the relationship and that the person doesn’t become a detractor.
How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?
To be honest, I don’t have a good answer here — it’s really rare for us. We’re a B2B company so our customers are generally educated, well-mannered people. We’ll occasionally have customers make feature requests in a tone that makes it seem like we should have obviously built the requested feature by this point and we’re dumb for not having done so. In those cases I’ll try to remove my emotions from the situation and just thank them for the suggestion.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The customer is always right. Just kidding. I don’t know where I heard it but I’m sure the idea of doing “all hands” support wasn’t mine.
I think it’s incredibly important for everyone to do support…even if it’s just 5% or 10% of the time. There’s no better way to stay close to your customers.
What’s your biggest time saving trick?
Learn keyboard shortcuts for the things you use. I made it a point one week to research and learn a bunch of useful ones for apps I use and it’s pretty neat.
What’s your most memorable customer interaction?
One really cool thing that happened was around the time that the US Goverment “shut down” for a few days. A guy that works at Harvest had the idea that it would be funny to create a status page for the US Goverment. We saw that he had created a free account for it, so we comped an account for him so that he could take advantage of all of the features on the higher plans.
It was actually really funny — the page ended up getting shared on Twitter over 1000 times.
Haha. That’s awesome! Tell us about a customer that always makes your day.
Hands down, our number one customer is none other than Mr @ewdurbin. He’s our number one fan and we’re his number one fan.
What advice would you give someone who’s just getting started with support?
Do all hands support! Use a live chat tool and start building out a wiki answers to common questions.
Remember that the people you are talking to are paying your salary. So do not think of them as a burden.
What’s the best thing about working at StatusPage.io?
To me, the best part about working at StatusPage.io is the people. We all genuinely just like working with each other. This kind of goes back to that “Sunday rule” being a criterion in the hiring process. At times we’ve had to pass on great engineers (which is tough to do!) because we didn’t think they’d be the perfect culture fit and that has made all the difference. Oh by the way, we’re hiring!
What do you think is the secret sauce to great customer support?
Step one is making them feel like they personally know/like you. Step zero is having a product that actually solves a problem for them and is easy to use.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
Segment.io has always been really helpful to us. Whenever we have a question they provide a really in depth answer pretty quickly. The questions are usually pretty technical too so it’s nice to have that kind of support.
One last question, Steve. What’s your favourite kind of breakfast food?
3 sides of hashbrowns from IHOP. I’m realizing my metabolism has slowed dramatically since I was a teenager so I haven’t had it in years but damn they’re good.
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.