Chad Stovern is a Customer Success Engineer at iDoneThis, one of the simplest ways to track personal tasks and sync up with team work online. An aspiring Lisp hacker, Chad likes to explore virtual worlds in his spare time.
We managed to catch up with Chad and chat with him about customer support and life at iDoneThis.
How big is your support team, Chad?
One full time person, one part time person, and the rest of the team does some support as needed.
And where are you guys based?
Wisconsin, New York (HQ), Germany, and Italy.
What channels do you support?
Our primary support channel is our email@example.com email address. The second most used channel is in-app communication. We do have some folks reach out to us via our @idonethis Twitter account. Lastly we have a phone number listed on the site (that goes right to Walter’s cell phone) and get a few takers that leave us a message that way.
And how many queries do you get each day on an average?
Our volume isn’t off the charts, but it keeps our small team busy. From all sources, we get around 30-60 inquires per day, the bulk of those being email.
Walter Chen, co-founder and CEO of iDoneThis, getting down with the office good-luck charm
Tell us how your career in customer support came to be.
My story is a bit odd. I was an IT Manager and I was not looking for a new job. I was using this cool tool called iDoneThis and contributed an integration to their user community. The founders reached out to me and talked me into interviewing for a Software Engineer position, despite my anti-sales pitch explaining my coding skills (novice).
As advertised, I wasn’t ready for that role; but they liked me, my attitude, enthusiasm, and drive. They needed help on the Customer Success front and created this position for me.
I help keep customers happy and also get to learn and work with our engineering team; it’s a great setup I couldn’t pass up.
Sounds almost too good to be true. What does a typical day look like for a Customer Success Engineer at iDoneThis?
My day usually starts with checking for any emergency level support requests and then, jumping right into project work. That could be anything from taking my best crack at solving a bug to working on an on-boarding email campaign, or on occasion some continued learning.
Following that, I’ll break to grab a bite to eat and get in a quick workout. We try to push each other to be active and get plenty of rest, as this makes us more productive throughout the day compared to just working through the entire day without a break.
Early afternoon through mid-afternoon is when the bulk of support work gets done. We aim to reply to all support requests within 24 hours. Doing the bulk of this work in the early afternoon works well to reduce the number of messages that would have to wait overnight for a reply. The other benefit here is having some spread across time zones, we have greater coverage for very urgent issues.
The last part of the day is reserved for answering internal emails, defining new work, catching up on what the rest of the team has accomplished, and then finishing up any project or support work that isn’t completed. Spending time processing what’s in our inboxes and defining new work sounds like meaningless meta work, but it’s really essential to staying organized and not losing track of everything we’re trying to do on a small team.
That sounds exhausting! How do you motivate yourself (and your team) day in and day out?
People are motivated by different things depending on the person and their stage in life.
However our team is largely motivated by wanting to be a part of the iDoneThis team and having a stake in the game.
A couple external motivators we do employ are our monthly improvement reviews and our #thanks initiative.
We form groups of three each month and every employee receives a review from the other two in their group.
This process includes our founders as well. Our head of product and I reviewed our CEO last month, and he did terrible (110% kidding, Walter is a great CEO)!
Haha. Taking time off must be difficult, though, given the number of people on support. How do you guys manage?
The constant flow of coffee prevents silly things like sleep or time off. 😉
The real answer to taking time off is having a good basic support guide for your team.
I recently took a couple weeks off to help with our new baby boy at home. In preparation for that, I finished writing our internal support guide I had been working on and also created a schedule of who would be covering my support times while I was on leave.
Tell us about your toughest day at iDoneThis.
My toughest day was having probably the first time I received actual mean feedback. Our customers rock, but I did experience something like this one day.
This is one of those times you just need to realize there’s nothing you could do better or different, and get over it by chatting with a coworker about it; it really ends up being more funny than upsetting if you do that as well.
Walter shows Chad the ropes
Sorry to hear about that. We’ve all been there, Chad. Onto happier things! What would you call the biggest surprise of your customer support career?
Receiving detailed positive feedback for telling someone, ‘No, we don’t have that feature’. They were impressed that I took the time to explain why we didn’t have that feature, what we were working on, and that I would update them personally if we were able to add that feature in the future.
Let’s talk numbers. What, in your opinion, is the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for?
While we strive for 24 hour or less response times, we value our happiness metrics. Every email that goes out has the opportunity for a customer to — with one click — rate our support as great, ok, or not good. We get a general feel of how we’re doing and it’s very easy for people to give us feedback on how we’re doing with one click, and even leave us a comment to further elaborate.
Regardless of whether someone says we’re awesome, or that our reply was short and unhelpful, we take these as opportunities to review the conversation and chat about how we can improve.
No one is perfect and it’s easy to be a rock star one day and feel rushed the next; feedback is a great way to keep in touch with how we’re doing.
We’re 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 handle these type of requests? What if it’s a feature that iDoneThis will never implement.
We prefer to be honest and try not to give them the answer that no one likes –
“We highly value all feedback and will get back to you when…”. If it’s something we’re not likely to add I’ll usually ask them why it would be useful for their team and how much they think they’d use it. If it’s in the works but not on deck, we’ll still ask that question but also tag the conversation so we know to notify them with a personal message when that feature is ready and let them know we are doing that.
b) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue the refund or do you rope in a sales rep in a last-ditch effort to woo them back?
I usually try to find out if there’s something I can do to help the person asking for the refund to keep them as a customer, whether that’s a free month of service or just listening to their feedback. If it’s clear they’re not interested, I don’t draw out the process. I give them a refund right away.
I still care about customer happiness even when they’re no longer a paying customer.
c) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake that greatly frustrates a customer. The rep’s trying to make things better but the customer’s just getting more and more frustrated. Do you step in and help the rep smooth things over or do you let the rep handle it? How does this translate into feedback for the team?
We really just sit down, read through the support conversation and chat about how we could have done a better job.
If it’s salvageable — and it almost always is — we’ll reach out and try to do a better job helping that customer and perhaps giving them a little perk to show them we really care.
d) A customer requests a feature that’s not on the plan that he’s on. He’s willing to pay extra for the feature but he doesn’t want to upgrade. Do you deny these requests categorically or do you make a few exemptions?
We give a 30-day trial to our team plan, and on some occasions we’ll extend that trial to give the team more time to decide if it’s really a good fit for that team, or we may even have a promotion going that gets them a little better deal.
What’s the protocol when a customer reports a security vulnerability? What if it’s during a weekend?
If there is really an issue that critical we all have each other’s contact information and it’s all hands available on deck. If it’s not an absolute emergency we’ll just make sure the right person gets a message that they’ll see Monday.
Give us some dope on your hiring policy.
I’ll answer this in a list format. The qualities we look for:
– Attention to detail
– Be a human, not a robot. Receive your reply in your head before sending it; how would you feel about it?
– Technical aptitude
You have to be willing to look beyond the surface of a problem and be willing to learn new skills to do so.
In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?
I admire Buffer a lot (Editor’s Note: check out our interview with Carolyn from the team here). They invest a lot in support and don’t keep a bare bones staff. I’ve had the chance to chat with a couple of folks on their team, and they’re great people that really genuinely care a lot about customer happiness.
One last question, Chad. If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who’d you choose? And why?
I’m going to answer slightly differently and take a pass on getting to choose a name like Jesus, or even Bruce Lee. I’ll pick three folks whose work has recently had great impact on my life that I’d love to have lunch with:
1. Merlin Mann
Inbox Zero, musings on GTD principles, OmniFocus tips, and a lot of other related advice from Merlin make up most of the mental duck tape and baling wire that hold much of my life together.
2. Dave Ramsey
I can’t recommend his personal finance material enough. Living on a written monthly budget, eliminating debt, and actually having a plan for the future is truly transformational stuff.
3. Robb Wolf
Debates of the science around a Paleo/Ancestral diet aside, Robb’s material is what really got me to think about taking care of my body. Eating clean, whole, unprocessed foods; getting plenty of sleep; and getting plenty of exercise are things that will greatly improve your life.
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.