3D Robotics is an American company headquartered at Berkeley, that designs and manufactures recreational unmanned aerial vehicles. What started out as a project that delivered products in pizza boxes, 3D Robotics has revolutionized the field of consumer robotics. With several products such as the Pixhawk 1, IRIS and Aero, their 84 member support team invariably finds ways to keep themselves busy. Then again, when you’re designing and shipping complex electronic equipments, the thousands of customer queries rolling in everyday should not come as a surprise!
We got a chance to talk to Vu Tran, the Vice President of Support about life in the support circuit. Here’s what he had to say
So Vu, tell us the story of 3D Robotics.
3D Robotics was founded by Chris Anderson and Jordi Munoz about 6 years ago.
Chris worked as the editor-in-chief at Wired magazine and was a best-selling author for NY Times when he got his hands on a fun pet project with Lego Mindstorms. While his kids quickly got over the euphoria, Chris went deeper and set up the DIYDrones website forum, where he met Jordi.
In 2007, Jordi was just a 19-year old kid mesmerized by the world of electronics. He built a fully-functioning autopilot unit using circuitry from a Nintendo Wii remote. 3D Robotics took shape when Chris invested $500 into hacking and manufacturing consumer UAV’s, with Jordi.
The 3D Robotics Support crew
And then they lived happily ever after…now, tell us about you. How did customer support become your career of choice?
I ended up in support by starting in support. I like to think I’m a natural problem solver because you can show me a good fire fight and I will instinctively dive right in!
Right out of college, I used to work on managing critical situations for IBM. I was the guy who they’d send on-site. But not to fix the problem, but human collateral (A hostage if you will). I stayed onsite, reporting and coordinating until the issue was resolved.
This showed me how to view things from a customer’s perspective and taught me a lot about what they go through during a crisis or an issue.
So what does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me starts at 4:30am. I usually get up early and spend some time working out before spending about 30 minutes sorting through my priorities for the day. I just list out the top 3-5 things I really need to get done.
After that, I scour through forums and social media to scan for field issues and just see what’s happening with the online 3DR world. I then schedule a meet with my managers for 20 minutes to go over the day’s happenings and general trends.
By the time I’m done with all this, it’s 8am and I start the usual work circuit. Meetings, planning, strategizing and all the good biz-stuff throughout the day!
That’s quite the packed schedule! How do you manage! What kind of optimizing strategies do you have up your sleeve?
My biggest time saving trick is to spend 15 minutes at the beginning of each day to center myself and get focused. With a clear mind and heart, you’ll get more done quicker because you don’t have to deal with all these conflicts or negative emotions that get in the way of getting things done.
How do you recharge? How do you take time off from work?
That’s simple. I don’t.
Support is in my nature. If I see someone who needs help with their grocery bags at the store, I’m there. I’ll open doors, let the elder take my seat and just generally connect with people… because I genuinely love to do so.
Support gives you a very close connection with a person and you’ll learn how you can instantly form a bond by helping them out with their problems.
I’m just going to come out and ask it. What kind of support requests do you get?
We get all kinds of requests about drones. Everything from basic doubts like, “How can you ensure my privacy isn’t being invaded” to the rather unconventional questions like “Where do you see drones in 5 years” or the occasional “Can I have a job?”
People are genuinely really excited about drones and can you blame them? I’ve never been in such an invigorating industry.
I understand the 3D Robotics team is remote. Does a distributed team make support more refreshing and personalized? What are the pros and cons? How do you think this has impacted your support?
I work in San Diego but my contact center is in Tijuana, Mexico. I travel to the contact center several times a week. I really like TJ because, not only did we find fluent English speakers but they all had perfect scores with their tone, grammar and style! A lot of times, our customers have no idea that they’re talking to people in another country because our agents make them feel that comfortable. So, yes; it’s impacted our support in a great way because, our customers feel at ease when they talk to us.
How do you motivate your team day in and day out? A distributed team makes daily pep talks a little difficult.
I keep reiterating the importance of state management. I believe that your public perception is a function of how you feel on the inside.
I like to tell my team to start out with gratitude and spiral out from there. I keep reminding them how lucky we are to be working in such an exciting industry, with a company that treasures their customer support.
We also have this concept of an Appreciation Skype chat. Every time, we get positive feedback, we post it on the chat. Everyone gets to see how much people appreciate our service. It’s much more effective than reporting a CSAT rating. There are days when that chat scrolls up non-stop like the ticker symbols on CNN. Those are the days we know we’re killing it!
Batman and Robin, amongst other heroes at 3D Robotics celebrating Haloween
The quality of your customer support depends on your agents. How do you look for the perfect 3D Robotics fit? And how do you test for those traits?
For our customer support advocates, we look (and test) for empathy. Beyond the robotic “I’m sorry for your troubles blah blah blah”, we see if they can really convey their sincerity over the phone. If they can read the customer over the phone/email and are strong decision makers, they’re a pass!
We have 3 rounds of testing, with the last round being on the phone with me. I usually have them solve a problem with my phone or tell me about their favorite sport/politic/subject. I listen and look for all the traits above. They need to be clear, be able to think on their feet, make a decision, and stand by it.
For my technical support team, they are all mechanical and electrical engineers. We don’t just put anyone on the phone. These folks are accredited engineers so when you talk to us, you can trust that we know what we’re talking about.
After all, we are almost literally dealing with rocket science here!
True that. Mind telling us a bit about the kind of training you provide your customers?
We have a dedicated team of trainers who constantly update the training materials. We train on everything from ‘how-to-do-your-job’ to happiness and state management. I also have a special leadership class for my managers and supervisors where I teach leadership skills.
That’s amazing. How do you scale customer support at 3D Robotics, while keeping the culture and core values intact AND making sure customers end up happy?
I know what it’s like to come to work and be punched in the face every day. Everyone who joins 3DR knows that one of the pillars of 3DR is great customer support and they know they have a lot to live up to.
Not only do we provide technical feedback and open up internal problem tickets to the product team, but we also provide feedback to operations, sales, marketing, and even Finance. The company knows that our feedback is directly from our customers and we’re fanatically focused on customers.
Drones are really cool. People who buy our products love them, 3DR makes people happy with the products they make, and customer support gets to keep them happy when problems arise. It’s so different from doing support for say, an ISP or a mobile phone carrier.
As for keeping our customers happy, we live by our 3 values
- Lifelong Relationships – When you know you’ll be dealing with a person for life, you treat people differently.
- Grow Experts – Drones are complicated and new. We take the time to teach (if the customer is interested) anything they want to know about drones. We’ve spent 2 hours on the phone with customers before. The more comfortable they are with our products, the more they can recommend them.
- Serve everywhere – We go where our customers are. Forums, FB, Twitter, email, chat, voice, app, wherever.
Happiness is an emotion that cannot be quantified. How does 3D Robotics measure customer happiness? And what’s the most important metric you think your support rep should aim for?
Besides the normal tools, (NPS, CSAT scores, etc) we look at social media. We have set up keyword monitoring so that we know what people say when they’re talking about customer support. Ignoring the trolls online, we see how many new stories of customer service come out every day. Sure, there are always some legendary acts of service, but how many new stories come out?
When there are many of these new stories of customer satisfaction coming out, it shows that we’re continually delighting our customers.
As for the most important metric, we borrow Zappo’s WOW metric. If we WOW a customer, we win. It’s as simple as that.
Tell us a bit about your CSAT scores. Are they public?
They’re not. Because we want to share stories, and not a number. You always get more information about a company through stories as opposed to an arbitrary number.
I’m sure you’ve helped out a LOT of customers but what’s your most memorable customer interaction?
My most memorable customer interaction was when we first launched IRIS+. A customer, who bought the product at a retailer, had problems with his device and faced issues with returning it. He was so livid that he came all the way to our executive headquarters in Berkeley to demand that our technicians look at his system. Unfortunately, my technicians are located only in Tijuana and San Diego so we couldn’t help him. He smashed it on the ground and posted his story all over Facebook.
Unaware of all that, I was already making arrangements to ship him a new unit so that, when he’d wake up the next day, a brand new unit would be at his doorstep. He went and flew it and on the maiden flight, he crashed it. The IRIS+ was in pieces. When I heard this, I shipped him ANOTHER one because I didn’t want that to be his only experience with us. I did not tell him I was doing it and when it arrived on the next day, he was in tears and he wrote an amazing post about how rash he had acted and how it was the best experience of care ever shown to him by any company.
That’s an incredibly story, Vu. Tell us about one such tough call that still sticks in your memory.
That’s a tough question because, being in support, you have to have the ability to not let your state be infected by the situation. In the end, it’s really only about one thing– Fear.
At the core of all the emotions is fear. We address the fear and then resolve the emotional issue. Once the emotional issue is resolved, we can talk about how to make the customer happy.
What do you do when you’ve had a rough customer call? How do you get back into your happy place?
I don’t get that many rough calls, to be honest. It takes a lot for something to alter my state, but in the event that happens, the first thing I do is, change my physical state.
I get up, shake it off or take a short walk. Connecting with other employees, helping someone else and making their day better usually gets me centered.
What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced in providing great support?
It’s always a challenge to think about how we should raise the bar and continually outdo ourselves. I want to create an environment that is a constant source of inspiration for my employees so that they can pass that happiness on to our customers.
Is there something you wish customers would understand about support so that you can raise the bar continuously?
Nothing. Customers shouldn’t fit in a box that I define.
We should fit in whatever way they want to be supported. Any company that does that is the company that will win.
Touche. But what do you think is the key thing that makes your customer support great?
My team has a good sense of humor. You have to be able to find the joy in things and be able to convey that joy. This joy allows you to be open, honest, and makes people want to connect with you.
If you were advising someone who’s building a new custserv team, what would you tell them?
Maniacally focus on the customer. Don’t worry about the metrics too much, worry about the customer. Make them happy first, look at the clock later.
What’s the best thing about working for 3D Robotics?
People fall in love with the things we make, and we make some really cool stuff! 3DR is dead serious about customer support and it’s great to know that everyone appreciates the work we do.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
Zappos. Just like everyone else…
As a learning exercise, I actually buy things from Zappos and try to make things really hard for the agent. There hasn’t been one occasion that I’ve been able to get them. I always leave happy.
What is one superpower you would want to have?
POP. Power of Persuasion. I’d tell everyone that they’re happy and the world would be a better place.
Let’s look at the bigger picture here. What do you feel about sentient robots taking over the world and enslaving all of mankind?
It’s coming and 3DR will be on the forefront! HA!
What would you say was your Secret Sauce to Customer Happiness?
Gratitude and appreciation.
It doesn’t matter what culture, what language, what company or what product. You drive that into your team and your team will shine, not only at work, but in life. Gratitude is the beginning, it is the words. Appreciation is the completion of gratitude, it is the actions. You start that with your team, and they will pay it forward to your customers.
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.