Emily Philips is a Support and Community Lead at Blinkist, a tool that offers summaries of great non-fiction books’ key insights in a made for mobile format. An avid reader, Emily’s all-time favourite book is Jane Eyre.
We managed to catch up with Emily and chat with her about life and customer support at Blinkist.
How big is Blinkist’s support team, Emily?
1 (me) and two others who help with the troubleshooting.
And how many products do you support?
The Blinkist app is available on iOS, Android and Web. We have Premium, Plus and Free subscription customers who contact us in English and German.
Where do you guys work out of?
What channels do you offer support in?
Email, Twitter, Facebook
How many questions do you get each day? An average number will do.
Tell us about your role at Blinkist.
When startups are at a younger stage (Blinkist has 15 full-time employees), the responsibilities for a community manager-type position often are a catch-all for both reactive (support) and proactive (outreach) communications. Customer support is super important (we want happy customers, obviously, and can also learn a great deal from the types of requests that come in) but it’s only one part of a larger customer experience/customer relationship management team of which I play a part. I love the fact that I have my hands (and feet) in many different areas of the company – product and content, communications, and support.
What does a typical day look like for the Community and Support lead at Blinkist?
Roll into the office on my chariot (in truth, a rather rickety bicycle) somewhat sweaty. Make a coffee, eat some muesli, check my email inbox and the volume of support requests. Second coffee. Check in on Twitter. Mondays are spent mostly catching up on the backlog of support from the weekend. Mondays are also known as ‘Salad Mondays’ at Blinkist, where one colleague will go grocery shopping and make a huge-ass salad for all of us to share. The other days of the week, I’ll work on larger projects in the a.m. and usually approach support first in the late afternoon. To get in the groove, I plug into my Spotify “Burn” mix (at the moment chiefly Ellie Goulding, Beyonce and Robyn – yes, it is so hard core) and just dig in. Otherwise, the whole day goes by and all I’ve done is answer one email after another.
How do you motivate yourself (and your team) every day? How do you keep your mojo at optimum levels?
Blinkist is lucky – it’s a product that appeals to a lot of people and mostly makes people happy and feel good about themselves.
I feel motivated by the positivity that flows in from our community because of our product.
Sounds cheesy, but it is true!
What’s your most memorable user interaction?
Well, this isn’t really a support request.
I occasionally interview some of our users to help inform product direction and connect the team to our customers.
A few weeks ago I Skyped with a customer based in Peshawar, Pakistan. He’s a 70-something retired government official, Cambridge educated, voracious reader, amateur photographer, and heads a non-profit for local development and peace. A really cool guy! After speaking with him, I immediately messaged a Pakistani-American friend of mine from university who is based there now and told her, “Oh I just spoke to this very erudite Pakistani dude and thought of you, because, well…Pakistan?!” She wrote back right away: “Oh! He’s married to my mother’s cousin!” It’s a small world…!
Blinkist HQ, Germany.
Tiny, almost. Tell us about your toughest day at work.
Returning from a holiday is always difficult. Recently we had the Easter holiday weekend, and in Germany, both Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays. You want to be able to enjoy those days off, but then when you return to the office on Tuesday…the volume of pending requests feels insurmountable. I guess on those days I just tell myself, “One thing at a time, Emily, one thing at a time!” And again, my trusty Spotify mix.
Taking time off must be tough. How do you manage?
Communication is key, not only with your colleagues who might take on some of your responsibilities, but also with customers in order to manage their expectations.
For example, we send out an automated reply to support requests, reminding customers that we’re closed over the weekend and I stick to that. Essentially, we’re a one-woman team and this woman can’t be on 24/7.
How do you unwind after a long day of support?
I like to read – right now, it’s Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Loving it. Otherwise sharing a meal with friends is always good, or, what’s more likely, binging on some silly TV show (latest was The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt…meh) Now that the weather is lovely, my bike ride home also helps me to take my mind off of work.
A customer requests a feature that’s in the works but it’s complicated and you don’t have an ETA. What would you do? Mind jotting down your reply? What if it’s a feature you have no intention of building?
I am honest, and might try to tamper bad news with some other tidbit of information that will help the customer.
Like, “Thanks for taking the time to reach out. I’m afraid that we don’t have plans to develop an app for Windows Phone in the foreseeable future. I’m sorry that I can’t help you further, but have you tried the app for the web? Reading on the website is mobile-format friendly. What did you think? Here’s two weeks of free access to give it another try: voucher_link.”
How do you keep the Blinkist community interesting and engaging for people around the world?
This is an interesting question – our communications tend to be quite Western Europe/USA specific (i.e. we use cultural references from this part of the world) although our customers are all over the place. We’re still building the community, really – one important tool right now that we’re experimenting with is our weekly newsletter.
How do you measure customer happiness?
Do we hear from customers that they are doing the marketing for us with word-of-mouth recommendations? Are people sharing their referral links? Do we have a general sense of contented, satisfied customers (based on the tone of our support requests)? Etc.
The founders of Blinkist
A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue it or do you try to rope in a sales rep to woo them back one last time?
We’re pretty generous and we’d rather have happy customers or former customers. In addition, we also have a 30-day moneyback guarantee (every time I write that I feel like a used car salesperson). I usually offer a partial refund or a free upgrade first and see if they take the bait!
Are you pro or anti-transparency? Do you think companies should tell all or do you think some things are better off in the closet?
Blinkist prides itself on being very transparent – this is manifest in our style of management and includes our approach to customer communication.
There isn’t much that we won’t reveal.
How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide you consult?
I use the age-old idiom that I learned as a teenage waitress: “Kill ’em with kindness.”
But sometimes that gets difficult, especially since people can be unreasonable assholes – I guess the anonymity of email “allows” them to act this way. There are days when it’s hard not to take it personally and get emotional.
What’s the protocol when a customer reports a bug during the weekend?
If it is a very drastic bug and we get wind of it (I check in to Twitter over the weekends, and if it is big enough, it will end up there) I can contact my colleagues by email. If it is small, I’ll reply with some kind of action that the user can take in order to get the troubleshooting process started.
What’s the best thing about working at Blinkist?
The team! It is so rewarding to spend time with my colleagues who are so smart and kind. And quirky, too.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
Oh golly it sounds awful, but I have had excellent customer service from Amazon! (Groans.)
What has your time at Blinkist taught you?
Savvy, experimental marketing and advertising strategies can bring great results. Trust your teammates to give their best – and don’t forget to value that culture of trust and flexibility.
One last question, Emily. If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose to be?
Anne of Green Gables. She’s so smart and fearless and spunky.
Every week, we attempt to find out what makes our favourite customer service reps tick, in the Secret Sauce series. 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.