Nils Herrmann is a Customer Success Manager at Userlike, a customizable live chat software solution.
Founded in 2011, Userlike is headquartered in Cologne, Germany.
We managed to catch up with Nils and chat about life at Userlike and customer support.
How big is Userlike’s support team, Nils?
Two full-time agents. And eight part-time agents (the rest of the team).
How many products do you support?
Just one, our Live Chat software. We offer support for our products, free or paid. We do have some extended tech support services for customers with a custom plan (such as training, implementation support, consulting), but basic support is for all.
How many channels do you support?
Emails, phone, chat, self-service. We occasionally do personal visits for customers that are in the neighborhood.
How many questions do you get everyday? An average number will do.
If you consider all channels…around 100.
The Userlike team at lunch, Burgerlich
How did your career in Userlike come about to be, Nils?
I’ve been friends with the Userlike founders for a long time now. We used to talk about Userlike so much that I knew the product and the market quite well before I even thought of joining. And right when I was looking for a job, after my studies, the company was looking for more marketing and customer service people. Since I knew the product, and issues, I joined Userlike for a trial period.
My job description was quite broad when I joined. The idea was that I would gain a deep knowledge of the product, help out with the Live Chat service and later on, move to marketing.
However, we quickly noticed the benefit of having people in the team who were fully dedicated to customer service (customer service was a joint responsibility, everyone in the team took a service shift every couple of days). I noticed, as well, that I felt better working together with people and helping them use our product than marketing.
We changed the title from ‘Customer Service/Support’ to ‘Customer Success’, because it’s a more accurate description of what we do.
In our eyes, customer service is an important part of ‘Customer Success’, but customer success is broader and more proactive.
Because we talk to customers a lot, we are in the best position to give feedback about product features and processes to the team. We basically use our experiences with customer service to improve the whole customer journey.
That’s quite the journey, Nils, from marketing to customer support. One of our own has a story like that as well! So what does a typical day look like for Userlike’s Customer Success Team?
We offer realtime support from 9 AM to 6 PM. Everyone generally gets in the office around 8.45 AM. Support is generally there well before 9 AM. Some evening people, on the other hand, start later.
I start the day with a hot cup of coffee. Actually, the coffee runs run throughout the day.
We discuss the unresolved issues from the day before and the requests we got while we were offline. One person does full-time chat, other takes care of the phone and handles emails and tickets. Depending on the time, the one taking care of chat might talk with up to 4 people simultaneously. In idle time, e.g. low traffic hours from 1 – 3 PM, we work on broader ‘Customer Success’ issues, such as improving website communication, improving user onboarding, processing and giving feedback about feature requests.
Around noon, the whole team goes for lunch. Our support is then offline for around 45 minutes. This is a conscious sacrifice for the benefit of having everyone included in our team lunch session
We either go to our favourite burger café, Burgerlich, or we eat home-made sandwiches. On occasion, one of us prepares a group meal. For the sake of variety, the two guys on service switch channels after lunch.
We go home around 6 PM.
That’s a packed schedule. How do you motivate yourself (and your fellow full-timer) to provide exceptional service day in and day out?
I think the key is that we’re not just a ‘complaint department’.
Too many support teams are and it’s dangerous because you get into a negative spiral. You never get positive feedback and you never feel good.
I think it’s actually easier for us in service to stay motivated than the people in tech and marketing, because we talk to our customers, we’re closer to them so we know how much they value our product. Tech and Marketing can become a bit secluded from time to time. That’s why it’s also important for us to pass on the positive vibes every now and then, pass on positive customer quotes for example. This was one of the reasons I wanted to stay in customer success instead of switching to marketing.
It’s very cool to see features that you suggested in the product, and to hear positive feedback from customers that brought the idea(s) to you, directly or indirectly.
I understand that the Userlike team is a distributed team. What tools do you use to get work done? What do you think are the pros and cons of working remotely?
The majority of the company used to work remotely, with 2 in Lisbon, 1 in Amsterdam, 1 in Iceland, and 2 in Germany. But now except for one person, everyone else works out of our Cologne office.
We found that working remotely can work, but it’s hard to manage a growing team due to the new employees. These require a period of intense co-working to get on track, and it’s hard to do this remotely.
We used, and still use, a lot of collaboration tools to get things done: Asana, Slack, Google Hangouts. We’re big fans of Asana and Slack, and think they’re useful both in a remote as in a non-remote working environment. When working remotely, they bring you closer together. When working closely together in one office, they prevent people from bluntly asking someone in person when they have a question, which totally destroys a workflow.
What do you think is the most important metric a support rep should keep in mind?
The most important metric is I believe customer lifetime value, but that’s a very longterm reflection of how good we are doing our work.
I’d say ‘First Response Time’ is super important. That doesn’t mean that the problem is solved, but the customer knows that he is being heard.
So something like “Dear Mr X, we are looking into this issue and will get back to you before tomorrow” is an adequate first response.
A fast response however depends on the channel. This is what we call fast:
during service hours: 3 hours, outside service hours: max 17 hours
within 10 seconds
within 4 rings (but we don’t actually track this one).
But what about customer happiness? How do you measure that?
Customer conversations and Net Promoter Score surveys.
Customer conversations are very insightful because we get a good idea of the issues our customers are having while NPS surveys are more of an overall reflection of how well we’re doing.
Before the Customer Success team, we only did surveys; we sent them out to the customer sometime after he’s been using our product, asking them to rank our product on different points.
Now, we schedule conversations with customers every month. We aim for a certain score per industry. We know that we cannot be on the same level for each industry, that’s why we categorise our scores. Our most important segments are online shops selling technical products and software suppliers, so we attach more value scoring high there than industries less crucial for us.
Nils’ “office buddy”
How do you keep the Userlike community interesting and engaging for people all over the world?
Our marketing guys produce a lot of content around the topics of customer service in eCommerce and we share a lot of best practices out of own experiences. I think the pieces from own experiences are especially interesting for a lot of people, because we get in touch with a lot of companies and see how they do service, so I think we have a broader view on the topic than many others. And it’s cool to see how real people do service, something that the Secret Sauce series is also based on 🙂 The content is generated by the marketing guys, but they often brainstorm with us for ideas.
Tell us about your social media strategy.
We don’t have a real support strategy for social media. We rarely get support requests through social media so, one of our marketing people takes care of being responsive. She answers simple support requests directly through social media, sometimes with the help of one of the support employees. For more complicated issues, she gets the contact info and support takes over.
Are you pro or anti-transparency? Do you think companies should tell all or do you think some things are better left in the closet?
I think businesses don’t have a choice anymore.
Everything is so transparent, that not being transparent appears untrustworthy very fast. A product with a bad review looks more trustworthy than one without any reviews.
And that works the same way within a company. In our team, everyone has access to the service ratings over the chat, we all see who is doing well and who’s not. But that’s fine, because we trust each other and we know that everyone is doing their best. So when something goes wrong and it is reflected in a low score, we can analyse the chat to give tips on solving the issue better.
Tell us about your toughest day at work.
Everybody screws up some time or the other. We always tell each other that we should stay calm at all times, no matter how annoying a customer can be.
But this rule was once spectacularly broken by one of the founders. Like I said, before everyone in the company takes turns handling support. Once there was a customer who just refused to put in any effort himself; everything had to be spelled out. Our colleague lost his temper and said the famous words: “The use of our software requires a certain minimum level of intelligence.” Obviously the customer was not amused. It was up to me to make the peace again. I did, at least to an agreeable level, but it wasn’t easy 🙂
The founders of Userlike
Ouch! I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for you to make peace again. What’s your most memorable customer interaction?
Well, I think that must be the first time I made a ‘big sale’ through my service. I had been working at Userlike for a month or two and was having this long chat with a website visitor. This visitor had many questions as he was going through our software, and I answered all of them patiently and with as much detail as I could. It was a very long chat, but then when the questioning was finally finished he said “Great, I think we’ll start with a package of 50 operator seats :D!”. And he wasn’t joking, and after a few satisfied months, they increased the amount of seats further and they are now one of the largest customers we have.
There are interesting customer interactions every day, but this one is the first that came to my mind 🙂
That’s an incredible story, Nils! Thanks for sharing. Now, 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 do you handle it? What if it’s a feature you’re never going to build? Mind jotting down your reply?
For the first usecase:
Thanks for reaching out to me and thank you for the feature idea. It’s a good idea and it just so happens that it was discussed in a team meeting last week. So it’s on our roadmap, but it will still take some time before we are able to implement it. Due to other development priorities it is now scheduled for [name a month a few months after the actual scheduled time: underpromise, overdeliver]. I noted your contact details down at this feature so we’ll make sure to contact you when there is news about it.
For the second usecase:
Thanks for reaching out to me and thank you for the feature idea. This is a feature that has been on the table before, but we decided against it. We think [name reason for not implementing, e.g. it diverges too much from our focus as a live chat provider]. [If possible, provide alternative solution through already existing feature / software integration].
b) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue the refund or do you rope in a sales rep to woo them back one last time? How would you react?
That depends. When you sign up for Userlike and take on a paid subscription, you will have seen the general conditions twice, so we haven’t been in a situation where we weren’t in our right to refuse a refund. However, we do sometimes do it when the customer can indicate why it was unclear. And to be honest it also depends a lot on the tone of voice of the customer 🙂
c) One of your reps makes a tiny mistake (like he provides an outdated workaround) that greatly annoys a customer. Do you step in and help smooth things over? Or do you let the rep handle it themselves? How does this translate into feedback for the team?
C’mon… Everyone makes mistakes. In this case, I will tell a little story about a failure I have made. Give the support rep advice on how to do it better the next time. And I’d definitely ask them to reach out to the customer with the right answer.
d) A customer requests a feature that’s not on the plan they’re subscribed to. They’re willing to pay extra but not upgrade. Do you categorically deny all these requests or do you make some exceptions?
That’s a hard one, because no pricing scheme is perfect. A general solution we do for smaller companies is to offer a discount for the larger plan. But we only do that when we are convinced that this specific customer is in no need of the higher plan except for that specific feature.
How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?
The tone guide that I refer to is my innerself.
You never know if a customer’s had a rough day or not however it is necessary to give every customer a good experience, whether he is in a bad mood or not.
That doesn’t mean kissing the customer’s feet, so as to say, but staying in polite and helpful mode almost always results in the customer calming down.
How do you cool down after a rough conversation with a customer?
I think we’re lucky to have our office in a very cool neighborhood in the center of Cologne. So, when I take a break, I usually go on a walk outside, either alone or with a colleague. It’s a cliché, but movement and fresh air are the best way to empty your head.
The street that is home to Userlike’s HQ in Cologne, Germany
Give us some dope on your hiring policy. What do you look for in your support reps?
- Genuine interest in people.
- The ability to adapt to the level of the person they talk to
- Precision, tech-savviness, and good communication skills. On occasions, they have to be the bridge between customers and the tech team, translating non-technical talk to tech people and technical talk to non-tech people. That requires specific skills.
How do you unwind after a long day of support?
I go indoor climbing. I read a good book. And there’s always some British TV series I haven’t seen yet.
What has your time at Userlike taught you?
Oh. Where to start? First of all, I learnt a lot about the technical aspects that are necessary to build a fully functional software. It gave me an insight on the complexity of growing a SaaS product.
I learn every day about the issues from customers from all type of industries. That’s a real benefit of working in a B2B company I think.
What’s the biggest surprise of your support career?
Around Christmas time, we received postcards in the office. They were from some customers with whom I’d been in close contact with the previous months. I thought was a very cool surprise.
What’s the best thing about working at Userlike?
We are in close contact with each other; that is a huge advantage of a smaller team like ours. Therefore, it is possible to interact with all departments immediately. Everyone at Userlike can give some input, e.g. if you have a good idea, it’s possible for your idea to be a part of the product.
I think working at Userlike brings out the best in everyone, and I think that’s because everyone is proud of what they do and has end responsibility for something.
Also, I think my position is appreciated more than in the average company because of 2 reasons: Firstly, everyone in the founder’s team did customer support in shifts for a long time, so they know the challenges. Secondly, we are a support software ourselves, so we have it in our culture to be service-oriented.
The Userlike team, after hours
In terms of customer service, which brands do you admire a lot? And why?
It’s not a very original choice, but I do admire how Apple handles customer service in their stores. They have this…helping type of selling approach, which also fits very well with how we do service at Userlike and how service over live chat should be conducted, I think. They realize that service and selling should basically be the same thing. When you’re in their shop, you will never be pushed into buying something, something that occurs in many other shops unfortunately. The thing is, over chat you cannot be ‘pushed’ into doing anything. When you take on this approach, people can very easily close the Chat Window. So, the service delivery must stay enjoyable at all times.
What do you think is the secret sauce to customer support?
That is a tough one and it took me some time to come up with an answer.
I think the secret of great service is to step away from standard procedures and standard service sentences. You have to be yourself and communicate with the customer in a real, human manner.
That’s when it becomes a truly enjoyable experience, an experience where the customer gets the feeling that you are really trying to help, instead of just following a script or procedures. Combining this human type of communication with professional answers does take a lot of practice though, and service agents must be empowered to do so.
Name another rep that you’re a big fan of, someone you’d like to see featured on this series.
Helen Shaw from Unbounce was really supportive when I was in contact with her. It would be really great to hear more from her.
(Editor’s note: We didn’t catch Helen, but we interviewed Ryan from Unbounce.)
One last question, Nils. What’s your most favourite GIF?
This how I feel all the time.
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.