Mike Minnick is the Morale Specialist at Carbonmade, a New York based company that creates online portfolios for their customers. They have two people taking care of their email, phone and social support channels. We had the chance to pick their brains and see what makes their support tick.
Tell us your origins story. What were you up to before Carbonmade and how did you end up becoming Carbonmade’s Morale Specialist?
One of Carbonmade’s founders is my best friend, Dave. We grew up together in Las Vegas; we were in a band called CUAD where he used to do the artwork. Dave’s conquests eventually took him to Chicago where he worked on a lot of products. I moved to Chicago too, after a bit. I had stopped touring with the band and was trying my hand at random jobs, like dog walking. When Dave started working on Carbonmade, he realized they needed someone to handle their support. I stepped up and offered to help out. One thing led to another and now, I’m the main support person for Carbonmade!
That’s quite a jump. How different is customer support from your previous job as a tour manager?
Actually, I think there are a lot of parallels between the two.
Being a morale specialist is basically like being a tour manager for a band that doesn’t travel that much.
I take care of the day to day stuff and help keep things organized around the place. In our band, I used to spend most of my time talking to promoters, other bands or just people I came across in tours. This general skill of being good with people helped a lot when I got into customer support.
That’s impressive! Give us some dope on your hiring process. What do you look for in your support reps?
When I hire someone, I would look for someone who is a great talker and willing to help people. Carbonmade was just Dave and two others when I joined. They used to handle the support themselves so when I took over, they just showed me what to do. So, over time, as I went on to build my own support spells, I would mainly just concentrate on passing on my energy to people and keeping them hyped all the time. It basically comes down to the person and how they choose to deal with people.
When you are good with people, you’ll find a way to figure out how to keep them happy.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Mike Minnick.
I start my day a bit earlier than anyone else here. I come in around 8; I run by the store and buy some things for the office before sitting down and taking care of the tickets that accumulated overnight. I track down any bugs that I need to ask my developers to fix. Tanya (the other person who does support) takes care of the second wave of pending tickets when she comes in with the others, around 11. Around this time, I take care of the other stuff at the office like non-support emails. After catching a coffee with the team and a few more waves of support, I leave office by around 4.30 PM or 5 PM. That’s pretty much a normal day at work.
Keeping yourself going day in and day out must be difficult. How do you manage?
We usually just do that thing where we switch off. I do the early shifts and Tanya does the late ones. So whenever we want to take a break, we go for coffee or lunch with the entire team. Other times, I just put my headphones on and get involved with the music. After you crush 40-50 tickets, you need to get into your zone to go on. And music is the way to get there!
Amen to that! Do you listen to any particular kind of music when doing support?
I prefer to keep my support playlists instrumental because lyrics or podcasts throw me off course. When you’re listening to something with words WHILE typing words, you’re bound to mix them all up and cause a mess. I do have a couple of other playlists as well though. One for each mood so that I don’t get bored. Like for example, I’ve got an electronic one, a heavy metal one, a breezy one, etc. I try to keep it fresh by making one every week!
What would you say is the best thing about working for Carbonmade?
I love the group at Carbonmade. Everyone’s so insanely creative and devoted to building new awesome things while having fun at the same time. It makes me feel like all of us are part of a family. It’s like when I was playing with a band. Whenever we’d jam with other bands, all we would care about was making good music. It never really mattered how much money we made or how famous we’d get. Sure, money and fame are really nice things but, it was mostly about doing what you love and enjoying yourself.
What’s the most fun you guys have had at work?
We’ve done lots of goofy video shoots for event launches. One of the most fun memories I’ve had in office was during a video shoot called Caps Lock. We filmed it with everyone in crazy costumes along with our dogs. These are the little things that take the edge out of working the same circuit everyday.
What do you think is the key thing that makes Carbonmade’s support great?
It’s really just about understanding and empathising with the customer’s needs. It’s not rocket science. My share of bad experiences has taught me to take every scenario into account. There was this guy who used to work under me. He seemed to have an impression that all of us were laid back and thought it was alright to slack at work. But I wasn’t laid back, I was just being nice at work. I’m pretty understanding about taking coffee breaks after a rough round of emails to catch your breath. Now, I’ve resolved that problem and I’ve learned not to give off that vibe to other people joining us henceforth.
What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learnt so far, at Carbonmade?
At Carbonmade, I learned a lot of things. Mainly, about people.
I’ve learned that when someone picks up the phone in a fit of rage, they’re not angry at me or even the product. They just don’t like change.
This is why, I have learned to let them cool down a bit before I try solving their problem. I’ve carried this advice into my personal life too and it’s worked!
Wow. So tell us about your most memorable customer interaction.
I don’t have just one. The first one was with a talented illustrator who used to frequent the community. I wasn’t aware that he had a Carbonmade account when I happened to stumble upon his portfolio. I became a fan immediately; his work blew my mind. A few days later, when we rolled out an update, he dropped us a mail about how he loves using our product and how the update really did it for him. It was an amazing feeling to find out we’re mutual fans. There was another instance when I used to do phone support and the very first call was from Keith, a person I actually know. That was pretty memorable.
Just to balance out how awesome that was, how about you tell us about a tough call you handled?
We get the occasional angry customer call. Let’s face it, some of them get really crazy. When they are visibly frustrated or disappointed, I try my best to calm them down. It’s quite hard when they are being unreasonably angry and get abusive. Last week, there was a guy who kept sending me mails every 30 seconds and kept swearing every time. I sent him a photo of the kid with a bar of soap in his mouth, from Christmas Story. He never replied after that. I understand when people are upset but when they’re rude, it does put me off.
I can see why! What do you do when you have a tough call like that? How do you get back to your happy place?
At first, I’d get really bummed. I used to shake it off by going for a walk and getting coffee.
I get upset when I miss out on details in emails but frankly, it makes me more productive. It gives me time to reflect on what went wrong.
Fortunately, these angry customers have never gotten personal with me.
What is your biggest challenge in providing exceptional customer support?
Making sure everyone happy and staying on top of the bugs. We try our best to keep our customers in the loop at all times. It does get hard because we are such a small team. Some customers will have to wait a bit longer to get their query sorted.
How does this feedback from your customers trickle down to your product in the long run?
I make a list of the most frequent requests we get and then we take a poll to see if it’s actually a good idea.
Like Martin Scorcese puts it, ‘If you love your scene in a movie, but everyone else has a problem with it, you should take it out.’
Likewise, if you introduce something that you love but everyone misses its utility, it’s best to huddle up and rethink. We make it a point to gather consensus from the team before we launch anything.
I’m going to throw a couple of situations at you now. Tell us how you’d deal with it. And what would you do if the customer is unhappy with your answer?
– A customer asks for a feature you’re not planning on adding.
“I’m afraid we don’t currently offer that feature (and don’t have any immediate plans to add it to the roadmap). However, I’ll pass your suggestion along to our developers to keep in mind for a future update.”
– A customer asks for a feature that’s in the works but doesn’t have a fixed ETA.
“We plan to add a feature similar to what you’re requesting in the near future. There’s currently no ETA for it, but we’re working on it now. Stay tuned!”
– A customer asks for a feature that’s in a plan they haven’t subscribed to.
“The feature you’re requesting isn’t available with your current plan. You’ll need to upgrade to enable it” If somebody is unhappy with the product, I try to make them happy but I don’t really beg them to stay. I don’t like to blow up our product into something that it’s not. I’m actually the exact opposite of a car salesman because, if they want to leave, they can. I’d mostly just be like- “Oh. Alright. Thanks for using us. Bye!”
What sort of metrics do you track? Do you use a satisfaction survey to keep track of customer happiness?
We don’t have a customer satisfaction rating system per se. We just base our customer satisfaction off social media threads and the kind of emails we receive. We have this labelling system which tracks who’s doing what with ticket statuses to assign priorities. So, the system would show a bug and we’d look at the feedback or the bug report there to see what we have to fix. I don’t track these numbers though. Our CEO, Jason takes care of all that.
How do you keep the Carbonmade community interesting and engaging for people around the world?
We get our users to do some surveys about features they’d want to see in our product in the future. I like to add all these incoming updates and features at the end of the tickets we receive. Apart from that, we do a lot of follow up mails with questionnaires so that our social media pages look fun.
How would you react to one of your team members making a mistake (Sorry, Tanya!)?
I mainly concentrate on fixing the problem first and then looking at the severity of the mistake. I feel disappointed when I’m unable to help a customer out because I interpreted his demands wrongly. When I miss something like this completely, I let someone else take over. That’s rare though, I’m pretty awesome 😉 There have been instances when people with multiple portfolios would just fire in the emails without mentioning which portfolio they were talking about. It would confuse us and thus increase the chance of making a mistake. Which is why, it is imperative to gather all this information before dealing with a problem.
Is there something you’d want your customers to understand about support?
I’d love to tell my customers that we’re human too!
We make mistakes, we’re sorry, but it really kills our mood when people constantly snap at us. I’d also say that the phrase about customers always being right is pretty flawed. I’ve spoken to a ton of angry customers who randomly snap at me and accuse me of stealing their money when I’m just trying to tell them I’m on their side!
Ouch. All this aside, What is the most rewarding part about being a support agent?
I love the feeling when I make customers happy. Being in support, I’m directly responsible for making their day. Being a part of Carbonmade and making a difference in the product is so rewarding.
Do you have a company that you look up to purely because of their customer service? Why?
Cards against Humanity. It’s a company based out of Chicago where couple of my friends work. They’re awesome and awful at the same time (If you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about). I think they have totally nailed humanizing customer service because I never feel like I’m talking to a robot.
If you had to advise someone who was building their own support team, what would you tell them?
I’d just reiterate what I said earlier. It’s all about finding the right people for the job.
People who don’t cut corners and who can understand the customer’s problem.
When you are generally good with people, a huge chunk of the job is done. Everything else can be improved upon eventually.
If you were to define customer support in one word, what would you say?
I was going to say French bulldog, but that is just obnoxious and makes no sense whatsoever. So I guess I’d say ‘Understanding’.
On a totally unrelated note, if you had any superpower, what would you choose?
I would choose Nightcrawler’s power. To have superhuman agility and to teleport. He’s my favourite X-men character of all time because…well, he’s Catholic but he resembles the devil. I love the dynamics that play out there. The only downside is all the calculations you’ll have to do to avoid teleporting yourself into a wall.
Let’s say both you and Tanya want to take the day off. If you could have one famous person fill in with your customer support for a day, who would you pick?
It would be cool if Arnold Schwarzenegger could do it. But only if he conversed in dialogues from his most famous movies.
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.