Luis Hernandez is a Customer Success Manager at Geckoboard, a real-time dashboard that gives you instant access to your most important metrics.
We managed to catch up with Luis and chat with him about life at Geckoboard and customer support.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. How big is Geckoboard’s support team?
5 team members (including me)
And where are you guys based?
Geckoboard is based in Shoreditch, right in the middle of London’s tech hub. However, our Customer Success team also operates from Christchurch (New Zealand), Kilauea (Hawaii) and Mumbai (India). We also have a few other colleagues working remotely; a designer in Scotland, a data analyst in Hungary and an engineer in France.
How many queries do you get each day? An average number will do.
What channels do you support?
We currently support email, Twitter and Facebook. We’re also excited to have webinars and onboard support (via meeting rooms) in the pipeline.
The Customer Success Team (minus Luis)
Tell us how your career in customer support came to be.
Nearly 9 years ago, I decided to look for a position that brought me closer to end users. I came across a job offer as part of the technical support team in Fon Technology (back then a small startup). They were looking for someone who was fluent in English and had basic networking knowledge to provide support for their own router (Fonera). It was a bit of a career change for me, actually (my background is Computer Science and Telco Management). But as it turns out, I really enjoyed it and I wasn’t half bad at it. A couple of years after that, I found myself building and growing Fon’s support team – a real challenge as we supported several languages and diversified quite a bit.
And you never looked back. So, what’s a typical day like for the Customer Success Manager of Geckoboard?
I normally wake up around 5:30 AM; I like to start the day with a one hour workout.
By 8:40 AM, though, I’m in the office going through my emails with a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. I like getting to work early as there’s normally a lot to catch up on when your team works nearly 24 hours a day.
At 9:45 AM, we have our daily standup meeting with the integration engineers and product team. The rest of my day, as you can imagine, includes a lot of interacting with customers, but also a lot of planning. I joined Geckoboard only 5 months ago and I’m currently re-designing the customer support strategy to make it more proactive.
I love talking to customers but I also know they probably have more important things to do.
We want to make sure using Geckoboard is an intuitive and seamless experience, and that requires a lot of planning and analysis.
I stop for lunch at around 12:30 PM (we normally have lunch together – well, those in London of course). I leave the office at around 5:45 PM and sometimes, reconnect later on to catch up with team members on different latitudes.
Phew! Sounds exhausting. How do you keep yourself (and your team) motivated day in and day out?
I like trying new things, it keeps me entertained and motivated. It also keeps me up-to-date with trends.
As for the team, I think listening is key. Taking their ideas and suggestions into account. I also like making sure that they have everything they need for their daily activities and most importantly, that they feel happy.
What are the pros and cons of working as a remote team? How do you manage to get work done when you’re spread across timezones?
Only two team members are based in London: my colleague Javier and me. The rest are thousands and thousands of miles away.
This is old news of course, but ensuring all customer concerns are answered in a timely manner is paramount. Hence, if your customers are spread across timezones, I find that having a remote team makes a lot of sense. Not only because it improves response times, but also because they sometimes know the market that they support better.
– People with diverse backgrounds make a balanced team that can approach problems holistically, from different perspectives.
– People in different timezones can easily support customers who are in turn in different timezones too (without having to work shifts).
– It can make it hard for you people to touch base, especially when the time difference is 13 hours! It also makes it harder to do some of those extra, fun things like going for a cheeky drink after work.
The Geckoboard office, Shoreditch, London
Taking time off must be tough. How do you manage?
My wife. She loves planning holidays so in a way she makes sure I take time off, otherwise I probably wouldn’t stop. A few years ago, while still working at Fon and before meeting my wife, I went a whole year without having a single day off (mind you, Spain has a generous amount of public bank holidays).
As for proper backup, the answer is having a coercive team of talented individuals.
A team that you trust and that you know will hold the fort just as eagerly as you would.
How does Geckoboard manage to scale support while keeping the culture intact? What’s the secret?
In my 5 months with Geckoboard, we have gone from a team of two to a team of five so it’s still very fresh in my mind how challenging this is.
For me, the secret is in the hiring process.
Hiring people that share goals, sentiments, values and culture in general makes all the difference. Also, I find that spacing the hirings (if you can afford it) is beneficial. We hired the first Customer Success Champion back in December and spaced every new hire a month. I guess it’s like painting, you don’t put another coat on until the previous one is dry. 🙂
Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, is the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?
I guess it depends on your industry.
For SaaS, I’d say churn is the most important metric.
Reducing churn and improving customer retention is certainly up there. There are other important metrics such as response times, resolution times and customer satisfaction, but if you don’t succeed at tackling churn as a support representative and as a support team, those other metrics are meaningless.
But what about customer happiness? You don’t think it’s the right metric?
We use a customer satisfaction survey which is sent once a support ticket has been solved. Whilst that gives us valuable insight, it might not be a representative sample. It covers customers taking the survey from those customers who reached out to us, but what about those who visited our Help Center, developer documentation or other self-service channels instead, or those who haven’t needed support at all?
Personally, I’m still looking for the right metric, although I believe that in the end, happiness is reflected in conversion and churn rates.
Are you pro-transparency? Would you be open to showing your customer feedback to the world or do you think there are some things that are better off kept a secret?
I’m convinced that transparency leads to trust and trust leads to loyalty. In other words, I’m all for transparency. Being straightforward is one of the best ways I know to keep customers on board.
How do you keep the Geckoboard community interesting and engaging for people around the world?
I can’t take all the credit here. Keeping Geckoboard’s community engaged isn’t just my team’s effort. The growth and sales teams do a fantastic job at engaging with customers and Geckoboard users all around the globe. As Sofia Quintero (our Head of Growth) suggests in her article, our trick is talking to customers, and more to the point, listening to customers.
The founders of Geckoboard; Rob Hudson and Paul Joyce
What’s your most memorable user interaction?
I have so many stories, I wouldn’t know where to start, but one that is up there is this: During my first or second month in Fon, our logistics provider was experiencing some issues and there was a bit of a backlog with orders. I remember this customer who had been waiting for his router for a while (I don’t remember exactly how long) who I noticed was living in Madrid and not too far from my place. The next day, after work, I packed a router from the office and went to deliver it in person together with some stickers . He was very happy with the outcome. I even helped him install it.
That’s definitely going into our Customer Service Hall of Fame. What, in your opinion, is the best thing about working for Geckoboard?
I feel like I can “do” things. Geckoboard is a growing company so I feel like I can make a difference. I guess that can be said of startups in general, but even for startup standards I find it to be incredibly laid-back and flexible yet very professional. In other words, I think Geckoboard has a fantastic culture.
Tell us about your toughest day at work.
That’s a tough question. There are a few that come to mind. Any day involving issues that are not in your control for instance, but the toughest days for me were those when I had to let people go.
How do you unwind after a long day of support?
Nice dinner at home and a good TV show. I also prefer switching my mind to another activity i.e. doing some DIY around the house. 🙂
The Geckoboard team takes anniversaries very seriously
I’m going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d handle them.
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 deal with these requests?
I normally inform customers that we’re working on it, but I never commit to a specific date.
I personally find it frustrating when someone tells me a date, the date comes and there’s still nothing.
Informing customers that we’re working on a feature they requested is something very positive so I think committing to a date (if there isn’t one) can only diminish that positivity. Instead, I like to offer to reach out to them as soon as the feature is implemented so that they don’t have to keep coming back to ask, hence improving their experience.
b) What if it’s a feature that you’re never going to implement?
If we’re never going to implement the feature, I first thank them for their feedback, then I set their expectations by explaining that it’s unlikely we’ll implement the feature and then try to end on a positive note.
For example, if the product I provided support for was an indestructible umbrella capable of resisting any weather conditions without breaking and a customer suggested a tweak so that it could be used as a parachute, I’d say something along these lines:
c) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue the refund or do you rope in a sales person to try to woo them back one last time?
In our line of business, refunds come hand in and hand with cancellations i.e. customers that forgot to cancel the service last month and got reminded by a new invoice. In these cases we process the refund, but most importantly, we do our best to get some insight as to why they’re leaving.
d) A customer requests a feature that’s not on his plan but he’s willing to pay extra. He doesn’t want to upgrade though. How do you deal with these requests? Do you make some exceptions or do you deny them categorically?
We obviously try to upsell and depending on the type of plan they’re on, it might be our sales team that follows up on these requests. In general, we do our best to understand the customer’s need for the feature(s) and advise accordingly.
The VP of Barketing, Mr. White, can be quite the slave driver
How do you deal with unreasonable, frustrated customers? Is there a tone guide that you consult?
Luckily it hasn’t come to that during my time at Geckoboard, but I’ve had a ‘Managing abuse’ guideline in other jobs. Using the right tone is definitely important in these cases, as is response time.
What is the biggest surprise you’ve received as a support agent?
About seven years ago when the use of Twitter wasn’t as widely extended, especially not for support purposes, I implemented @FonCare to deal with (Fon) support related tweets, it surprised me back then how easy it was to turn unsatisfied customers into satisfied customers. Twitter was still a novelty as I said, so expectations were probably low. Having a response, particularly a quick one, took more than one customer by surprise. The positive reactions took me by surprise too 🙂
Give us some dope on your hiring policy. What do you look for in your support reps?
I look for positive attitude, self-motivation and reliability.
Not sure you can build a team with remote reps who work halfway across the world if they are missing any of these qualities. On top of that, when building my team at Geckoboard, I naturally looked for people who love technology as much as they love helping people.
What has your time at Geckoboard taught you?
I am still relatively new (5 months), but I have already learned a lot. For starters, I’ve learned about a whole bunch of charts I had never heard of before in my life i.e. box plots and RAGs. I have also discovered new SaaS companies through our native integrations, some of which I didn’t know existed. But more importantly, I’ve learned the importance of working as a team and I don’t mean individual teams i.e. Customer Success, but the whole company working as a team to achieve our goals.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
I assume the question is about online companies or big companies, so my answer might be slightly out of place, but alas here it is: I think my barber in Harringay Green Lanes has fantastic customer service. It succeeds at making you feel special. You aren’t just yet another trim (one of hundreds in one day I’d presume).
You are treated like you are the only thing that matters.
They greet you when you step through the door, they offer you a complimentary drink whilst waiting, they take their time cutting your hair, they turn an otherwise boring visit into such a nice experience. I can’t think of any other company online or offline that thrives at putting customers first as they do. Certainly not bad for a small local barber shop.
Name a rep you’d like to see featured in this series.
I think Rackspace has a fantastic customer service strategy, so I’d like to hear from Rackspace’s Head of Customer Service.
One last question, Luis. What’s your favorite GIF?
There are so many that I like, so I’m not 100% sure about it. I came across this particular one the other day. One of my colleagues found it and said, ‘Dying for an excuse to deploy this gif.’ To honour his enthusiasm about it, I’d like to share it here.
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.