Since we launched the Secret Sauce series last September, we’ve interviewed some great companies from across the world – Basecamp to Product Hunt, Trello to Philz Coffee and everyone in between. Six months on, and two dozen interviews later, we thought it’d be a good idea to interview someone from our own office to give you some behind-the-scenes about how things work in the Freshdesk support team.
Anna (Annapoorna, actually) is a Customer Happiness Specialist who’s been with us for almost 3 years. She manages our major accounts in addition to being responsible for our social and community support. She started out in marketing but later shifted to support. An eccentric shopaholic, Anna likes to binge watch movies and TV shows in her free time.
We managed to catch up with her and talk about customer support and life at Freshdesk.
How many products do we support?
We have two products, Freshdesk and Freshservice.
And what channels do we support?
Email, Twitter, Facebook, phone, community forums and live chat.
What tools do you use to support customers?
Freshdesk. Skype. GotoMeeting. SumoLogic. Join.me.
How many queries does Freshdesk get each day? An average number will do.
The Freshdesk Support Team on vacation
What does a typical day look like for Anna?
The first thing I do when I get into the office is check on the tickets that have come in overnight. I dig through them to bring myself up-to-speed on everything that happened and to make sure that we haven’t accidentally missed out on a high priority issue. Then, I check on all of our pending and open tickets (mine as well). Are we on track to finding a solution/have we found a solution? Have we kept a customer waiting for too long?
I fire off some emails, arrange some calls and then, I take a look at my team’s tickets. If there are escalations, I handle them. If someone’s given a bad rating, I follow up to find out how I can help.
You manage a team of 4 now, if I’m not mistaken. What’s that like?
It’s… different. I manage a team of new reps, so a fair amount of time goes into looking over their tickets, sitting in and listening to their calls so that I can give them feedback.
How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
Well, when I get overwhelmed at times or distracted, I shut myself up in a conference room, put on my headphones and go into Beast Mode (I got it from the amazing folks at Buffer). It really really helps when you just want to get away and get some work done.
As for the team, the leaderboard is our main motivator. It’s madness. Everyone wants to be Customer Wow Champion of the month.
Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, is the most important metric for a support rep?
First response time. I think the first response time is linked to customer happiness.
If a customer sends you a support request and you reply quickly, he knows you’re listening.
Even if you don’t have a concrete answer just yet, he knows you’re looking into it. If a happiness meter hung over his head, it’d be 30% or 40% full already by the time he gets the first response. And then when you solve the issue, he’s happy. ‘Fast responses and she solved my issue!’
But if you take a long time to respond, even if you’ve solved the issue at the end of the day, he’s not going to be super happy.
So, yes. First response time and satisfaction ratings. At Freshdesk, we look at first response time and satisfaction ratings, and we’re really motivated to move up the leaderboard to win the ‘Customer Wow Champion’ badge.
The Clubhouse, Freshdesk office, Chennai
Tell us about a tough call and how you handled it.
Off the top of my head, I don’t have a tough call but… I do have a tough customer who is always abrupt.
The first time I talked to him, I’d just started on support and I felt bad. I managed to solve his issue but I was still upset about the experience. It was only after the call that my manager explained to me that’s how he always is.
You could say my skin sort of toughened up after a few calls with him. Nothing can faze me now. But the real test was learning to keep my cool in all situations.
What do you do when you’ve had a rough customer call like that? How do you get back into your happy place?
I take a break and talk to friends. If no one’s around, I go to the cafeteria. I get something to eat, I watch whatever’s on TV. When I feel better, I head back to work.
What do you think are essential qualities that every support rep should possess?
- Basic technical knowledge.
- Good writing skills. We’re not looking for Shakespearean prose but just something simple that clearly conveys what the rep means.
Technical knowledge can be learned but empathy… it’s isn’t something most people get right. I think it’s really important.
How do you test for a quality like empathy?
We test writing skills by asking them to write emails during the interview.
Two emails, to be precise. One from the point of view of a frustrated customer and the other from the point of view of the agent replying to said customer. We ask them to write from the customer’s perspective first which is really easy for them because hey, who hasn’t been in that position? So, they really go all in as a frustrated customer.
It’s only when they’re writing the agent’s response that they realize it’s super tricky; they have to write a response that they (the customer) would be satisfied with.
A quality like empathy can be spotted from the way he writes to the customer.
What’s your stance on transparency? Are you pro-transparency or do you think some things like satisfaction ratings are better left in the closet?
Definitely pro-transparency. Satisfaction ratings should be public. People should know the general state of a company’s customer support and what they can expect going in.
Some people make the argument that you shouldn’t display your satisfaction ratings because it’ll work against you during an outage or a slew of bugs. But that’s not always true.
People don’t rate answers. They rate the experience. There have been interactions where I’ve had to let the customer down but he ended up giving me a positive rating.
It’s all about how you handle it.
What’s your most memorable customer interaction?
Hard to narrow it down to just one. Okay, I have one.
There was this one customer who’d raised some bugs that we were having some difficulty solving. And I was really worried about how the customer was taking all of this because it had been quite a bit of time since he’d raised the issues. But it all turned out okay in the end.
I’m paraphrasing here but he told me to calm down and proceeded to tell me about how I was a great support agent. And then to prove that he wasn’t blowing smoke (his words), he offered me a job. By the end of the conversation, I was flattered and happy.
Another thing that I’m really happy and proud of is my Customer Success Hero award. I didn’t see the video until recently but apparently, I had the highest number of votes. That always cheers me up.
Yes, that is a real, brand new bike.
We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you usually deal with them.
a) How do you deal with requests for features that you know are in the works, but might take a long time? What if it’s a feature you’re never going to build? Mind jotting down your reply?
Not setting the right expectations leads to disappointment.
Customers are rational people, just like you and me. And they really do understand if you really can’t give them an ETA or tell them ‘no’ for a feature especially if you give them a proper explanation.
I have had situations where customers have walked away happily even when I have told them it is not possible to give what they are asking for. It all depends on how you handle the situation.
b) A customer requests a feature but it’s not on the plan they’re subscribed to. Do you categorically let them down or do you make exceptions?
We always try to do our best in accommodating the customer’s requirements. Depending on the feature they ask for and if it’s possible for us to provide it as an add-on, we do it.
c) One of your support reps makes a mistake that greatly frustrates a customer. They’re trying to turn things around but the customer only seems to be getting more and more frustrated. Do you let the rep handle it themselves or do you step in and smooth things over?
Firstly, I apologize to the customer. I take ownership for whatever has gone wrong. I do everything that I can to get the customer happy again. Once things have been handled, I talk to the agent and make them see how things could have been handled in a better way.
Support is the kind of job where you are always learning something new as each situation or interaction is different. So mistakes happen much more often.
d) How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers?
Listening is key to any situation. The tone you maintain is really important. Instead of being defensive, if you really listen and care for them, you can definitely turn things around.
This way, you also end up winning their trust. They’ll start listening to you.
Always show them you’re on their side and that you will do what is best for them.
The Support Team went all out for Christmas, 2014.
What is the key thing that makes your customer support great? Like you told us before, there are customers who go ‘I might not have gotten the answer but Anna was great!’ What kind of magic do you work to get results like that?
Generally, there’s this notion that customer support is a call center job (don’t worry, I’ll get to the point). Like you just pick up calls and recite instructions. But anyone who’s actually been on support… they know the truth. An agent who gives out scripted answers is no different from a solution article. It’s not the answers that matter, it’s the experience you create for customers that matters. This is something I tell my team an awful lot.
Anyone can provide answers. The customer can probably find them in a solution article. Support is all about personalizing the conversation.
When I’m on a call with a customer, I treat them like a person and talk to them. We talk about the weather, I ask them how their day’s been so far. When you break the ice and try to start up a conversation, you set them at ease. They become more friendly and understanding.
Conversation. That’s the secret, I think, to great support.
And those great ratings, they give you a real high. That’s what motivates me, I guess. The urge to make all of our customers happy.
What’s the best thing about working at Freshdesk?
There are a lot of things to love about Freshdesk. I have great colleagues, we get great food and we now have giant flat screens in the cafeteria that make sure that even if we’re at work, we can still keep an eye on the things we love, like cricket. And those are just the materialistic perks. The absolute best thing though is the freedom I enjoy. I can do whatever’s needed to make a customer happy and that’s amazing.
What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for Freshdesk’s support team?
We’re growing rapidly. And as we grow and hire new people, we need to make sure we maintain our culture. And that we continue to provide the same quality of support.
What have you learned from your time at Freshdesk?
I’ve learned to actively ask for things and own things. I was never very assertive in college. There aren’t a lot of things you can own and call your own when you’re in college. But since I’ve started working here, I’ve learnt to ask for things. To say, I want to do this. I’m gonna take responsibility for that. If you wanna get ahead, you have to actually go for it. It’s better for the company and it’s better for you. You make room for you to grow.
I’ve also become more patient since I started working here. At least, ten times more.
Some interactions might really frustrate you but the only thing you can do is push it all down and put up with it.
And this is a quality that’s helped me a lot in my personal life as well.
And of course, I’m learning how to manage people and lead them now. That’s like the biggest challenge in front of me right now.
Tell us about the support reps that you admire and would like to see featured in this series.
I haven’t been around long enough, in this space, to have particular favorites but here goes:
Sunny Harmon, SendGrid:
Sunny used to be our TAM (Technical Account Manager) at SendGrid. Sunny’s kind of the reason I have warm, fuzzy feelings for SendGrid’s support. She was always really helpful; if there was a ticket from Freshdesk, she did everything she could to make sure that our issue is resolved. Even when she was on vacation, Sunny was still checking in to make sure that we were happy. That’s dedication.
Chase Clemons, Basecamp (well, he’s already been featured):
I love his Brief Guide to Better Email. I read it every now and then to motivate myself. I recommend it to every newbie I know. To emulate and not copy, as per his guidelines.
I’m also really inspired by Buffer’s support. They’re awesome.
One last question, Anna. If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?
Well, I would have to choose a mix of two characters – The Bride from Kill Bill because I admire her grit and determination. And I equally adore Daenerys Targaryen.
If I could master Five-Point-Palm Exploding-Heart-Technique, have three dragons by my side and speak slick high Valyrian, woah! what more could I possibly ask for? 😀
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 email@example.com with your suggestions.