This is how WordPress.com handles over 2000 support tickets every day

Written by on November 21, 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.

Today, we’re doing a Secret Sauce interview with Andrea Badgley from Automattic. Automattic offers customer support for various products they own – including WordPress.com, JetPack, WooCommerce and other auxiliary products under them. The customer support teams at Automattic are called Happiness teams.

She is officially a WordPress.com Happiness Team Lead at Automattic, but she prefers to be called a Happiness Engineer. WordPress.com receives over 2000 support tickets every day. Her job is to oversee her team members’ work on answering the tickets.

What does a typical day look like for Andrea Badgley?

Now that I lead a relatively large team, my days revolve around supporting my team members and helping drive the WordPress.com Happiness team forward. So a typical day involves several 1:1 conversations, reviewing stats at the team and department level to make decisions about where we can improve and what our next steps should be, writing and reviewing updates for our internal blogs (called P2s), and many, many unplanned pings and discussions throughout each day around various topics like what the best chat transfer methods are, and planning for holiday coverage.

WordPress.com team at work at Playa

The majority of every day I am focused on communicating.

As a distributed company, communication is the most important thing we do. Click To Tweet

That looks like a lot of work! Very impressive because your team is distributed and you manage to do everything. Are your P2 blogs the primary channelsource for team discussion?

Well, that’s a great question. Our primary source for team discussion is Slack. Slack conversations tend to be synchronous, which is ok when everyone is within a couple of time zones of each other. So within our team, we do have most of our discussions on Slack or on our Zoom video chat each week.

However, Slack isn’t easy to search for archival purposes, and it goes by too fast for things like thoughtful discussions where some folks might want to take a day or two to think about something before replying. For that reason, we really try to document as much as possible on P2s.

At the WordPress.com Happiness level (vs. the individual team level), yes, P2 is the primary place for communication. With 120+ people spread across the globe, P2 is the most conducive to giving everyone a voice since it is time zone agnostic.

We really try to document as much as possible on P2s.

I’ll give some examples of P2 post titles at the team level. My team is referred to as ‘Eshu’ so I’ll use the name.

  • Catch me up, Eshu! How was your Nov 6-12 week?
  • Eshu Hangout – November 7th, 2017 Agenda
  • What I learned today: Hugs Page
  • What would a good quality goal look like?

We P2 our team goals and progress as well.

That looks cool. I love how you are using P2 as a micro blogging tool and for team communication. Impressive, really! Go, team Eshu! What do you look for in your support reps? I am all ears for your team-level goals.

When hiring Happiness Engineers, we are looking not just for a specific skill set, but for a willingness and drive to learn. As I mentioned earlier, communication is vital, so we are looking for folks who have excellent written communication skills.

We are looking for folks who will dig and problem-solve when they don’t know answers, and will share what they’ve learned with others.

And we are looking for folks who are adaptable. Automattic is constantly changing. The one thing we can count on not changing is that we are always changing.

Because you say communication is vital (which should be in any customer support team), how do you react when a support rep makes a mistake? Say, communicated something wrong, or has annoyed a customer in some way?

Oh sure, this is something we are continually working on. Anyone in Happiness is empowered and encouraged to reach out to any other Happiness Engineer if they notice a mistake in an interaction with a customer (or with another Automattician). We coach all Happiness Engineers in the importance of giving and receiving feedback, as it is one of the ripest areas for learning, both for the giver and the receiver.

So if someone makes a mistake, another Happiness Engineer or their lead will start a conversation with them about it. As a lead I’m continually reviewing work and providing feedback, both for mistakes and for stellar interactions, so mistakes are a normal part of that feedback process.

In other words, mistakes are not punished. They are opportunities for learning.

What is your most memorable user interaction?

My most memorable user interaction is memorable not just for the interaction itself, but for what I learned from my colleagues when I asked for feedback on my handling of the chat. The situation was that I picked up a chat from a colleague who needed to end their shift. The customer had been on chat for multiple hours trying to resolve an issue, and by the time I picked up the chat, they were using lots of exclamation points and saying things like, “great customer service guys!”

I was rattled by the interaction, as I labeled the customer as angry and aggressive in my mind, and so I put my defenses up. After the chat ended, I published a P2 post on our Learn To Chat P2 and asked my colleagues, “How should we handle angry, aggressive, or abusive users?” I provided a link to the transcript and asked how could I have turned the chat into something more productive.

To my surprise, some of my colleagues pointed out that the customer wasn’t being aggressive or abusive: they were very frustrated, and for good reason. In the thread, my peers were able to give me advice on how to lean into customer frustration, and also how to redirect back to the original issue to get to resolution.

I was very grateful for my colleagues giving me some real talk about mislabeling a customer. Click To Tweet

It has helped me in nearly every subsequent interaction with customers, especially when I feel my defenses go up because I think a customer is being aggressive. In those times I take a step back, lean into their frustration, and then try to refocus the conversation on the end goal so we can come to resolution.

How does the WordPress.com product team and the WordPress.com Happiness team sync up?

We have several different options here.

  1. We have an internal repository of WordPress.com ideas that we post customer requests on. With each new request that comes in, we upvote the item with a link back to the ticket. WordPress.com product teams monitor this site and have added features as a result of it.
  2. Each month we provide a Support Insights post to all of the company. In these posts, we provide the top five topics covered in live chat for the month (collected using chat tags), along with some Business-plan specific metrics from our concierge chats with Business customers.
  3. Happiness Engineers are active on Github and will offer ticket and chat links to essentially +1 different features that have already been requested. Frequency of requests provides insight to the product teams on impact.
  4. Product teams will ask Happiness questions like “What is the most requested feature for X?” where X is themes, Customizer, Media, or some other component of the WordPress.com ecosystem.

Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?

I don’t think there is a single metric. The goal is a balance of quality and quantity. Click To Tweet

That’s where the true professionalism of customer support comes in, isn’t it?

That scale will tip towards one or the other under certain circumstances. Click To Tweet

For example, when the support team is underwater due to volume of support requests, and tickets in the queue are getting old enough that massive numbers of customers are going to have a poor experience due to long response times, we’re going to go into efficiency mode and focus on number of tickets closed. When the queue is under control, and we have breathing room to take a little more time with each customer, quality becomes a focus.

We use CSAT scores more to identify areas for improvement rather than as a metric for success. Click To Tweet

Okay, I am going to throw a few support-related scenarios at you.

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?

For the first scenario, I’d likely say, “Thanks for asking about that! You’re not the only one who’d like that, and thanks to people like you requesting it, it’s on our roadmap and is progress. It’s a complex feature to add, and we don’t have a timeline for when it will be finished, but it is in the works.”

If it’s a feature we don’t intend to build, I’d say something along the lines of “Thank you for that suggestion. It’s outside the scope of what this product is intended to do, and it’s not something we plan to build.

b) A customer reports a bug during a long weekend. What’s the protocol?

We work weekends in support, but our product teams don’t always. Also, it depends on the nature of the bug and how big it is. If it’s massively affecting all of WordPress.com, we’d likely need to pull someone in on the weekend. However, most bugs are not that massive, so I’d probably tell the customer “We’ve reported this bug — thank you for bringing it to us! Due to the long weekend, I just want to let you know that it may be a few days before we have progress on it. As soon as we have new information for you, we will reach out and let you know.”

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 same rep handle it? Or do you step in and try to smooth things over?

I’d say it’s up to the original Happiness Engineer. We don’t escalate tickets or chats to managers. If the Happiness Engineer would really like to turn it around on their own and they’ve corrected their error, I’d look at the interaction and provide coaching if it seems there’s hope to turn it around. If not, I might offer to take it over, and I would provide consistent information as the original Happiness Engineer after the correction in order to express to the customer that the information is now correct and switching reps will not provide a new answer. It’s really hard to say without the specific scenario, but those are the options we’ve used in the past.

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 just issue the refund.

In chat we will ask if they’re comfortable sharing why they’d like to cancel, as there are often things we can help them with that they didn’t realize were possible.

We do not push, though, and if they just want a refund, we give a refund.

Tell us about your Automattic journey. How did you first come to know of the company?

Before working at Automattic, I was a blogger. Not a blogger who made money from being a blogger, but a blogger who loved to write, and who wanted to be a writer, and who had suffered the pain that all writers endure: rejection from publishers. I was WordPress.com’s target user, as I didn’t care about the technical work necessary to build a website. I just wanted to write.

I became a power user of WordPress.com, and some of my blog posts were picked up and featured by the Editorial team. It was only then that I realized, whoa, there are people who work for WordPress.com and get paid? I don’t remember how I finally found the Automattic site — maybe through the domain on the Editorial team email addresses — but once I found it, I knew I had found my tribe.

The thing I remember most from my application is that I submitted a traditional resumé, but I also created a non-traditional resumé using the classic P2 theme. Each section began with a haiku.

It also included Venn diagrams!

Venn diagrams by Andrea Badgley when she applied for a job at Automattic

Tell me about some of the most memorable retreat experiences.

I think my most memorable experience is my first meetup as a team lead. It was the first time I was the one responsible for the meetup planning, execution, and budget, and it was a big responsibility. I wanted to make sure that everyone on the team arrived safely and had a place to stay, that we had a productive meetup, and that everyone on the team had a good time. What I didn’t expect was how much the team jumped on opportunities to help with the planning. Everyone fell into a natural role that they were excited to take care of, whether that was arranging our travel, managing audio/visual while we were there, wrangling post-its during a game-storming session, providing insights during testing of our new Business plan, speaking Spanish with waiters (we were in Mexico), or providing comic relief during karaoke.

The meeting ended up being very productive — we developed a skills tree for Happiness Engineers to use as a tool in career development, we got great cross-product training from Woo and Jetpack, and we tested the new Business plan and reported several bugs and got used to the flow.

The time when WordPress.com team developed the skills tree, at a retreat

On top of that, we really bonded as a team and have shared memories from that that have brought us together.

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

As a customer, I’ve had great experience with Ting customer support. I opened a live chat with them, and got quick, helpful, human support. They were conversational, friendly, and funny rather than robotic and stiff, and they resolved my issue within a few minutes.

Name another rep you’re a big fan of, and would like to see featured in this series.

Sarah Betts from Olark. She gave a great talk at SDX in Portland this past summer.

One last question, Andrea. What do you think is the secret sauce to customer support?

Good people who are empowered to make decisions and use their good judgement. Thoughtful, empathetic, clear-spoken (or clear-written) people who can interpret the underlying issue and translate between technical and lay-terms (and quickly :-D) are key to excellent support.

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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