Roger Wolgemuth is the Head of Support at RescueTime, a personal analytics tool that helps improve online productivity. He is the one man army behind RescueTime’s email and phone support, fielding around 30-40 queries every day. Headquartered at Seattle, RescueTime is spread over Atlanta, Nashville, Miami and Lancaster.
We managed to get in touch with Roger to see how he keeps RescueTime’s support ticking.
Head of RescueTime Support, Roger Wolgemuth
So, how did you get started in customer support?
It’s a long story actually. I started out as a programmer and then moved on to pursuing my Ph.D. in philosophy. 10 years in, I realized my career wasn’t going in the direction I wanted. I decided to get back into the technical field but seemed to have forgotten everything I knew about computers. I saw an opening for the post of a support rep at RescueTime and I took it up as an opportunity to explore newer avenues.
From Philosophy to Customer Support. That’s impressive! What kind of training helped you get started?
My training will always be an ongoing process. Initially, I spent a few days going through the standard types of support requests we get. Over time, our developers introduced me to the different parts of the system so that I’d have a basic technical understanding of the product. That way I could answer questions without running to the developers every time!
That’s pretty cool. What happens on a typical day at RescueTime?
I start by using Mention to check any social media questions we might have received overnight and respond to them first. I work through support tickets in chronological order via email, phone support and sometimes, Skype. In addition to a “support” queue, we also have a “suggestions” queue, where people make suggestions for improvements. My job is to monitor both of these queues.
I understand that the RescueTime support team is remote. How do you manage communication when you’re spread across time zones? What are the pros and cons of such an approach?
Yes, we are about as remote it can get. We currently have 9 employees in 5 different locations! We use HipChat and Google Hangouts to communicate with each other constantly, but pretty much, end up working independently. Our team members are highly motivated and proficient in organizing their own work structure, so this arrangement works out fine for us.
Having the luxury to choose when and where we work is definitely a big plus. Anyone traveling 15 miles to work rigid schedules would understand how awesome this is! The only drawback is that we do not get to spend enough time together as a team, except for the occasional get-togethers in Seattle.
Their video calls tend to get a little overwhelming..
How do you motivate yourself day in and day out?
The motivation for me comes mainly from two sources – empathy for the user’s experience and enthusiasm about our company.
Seeing as you’re a one-man army, how do you manage to take time off support?
Since we always have tickets coming in, I am almost always on call. We have a policy of getting back to the customer within 24 hours, so I usually take Saturdays off to get a break. Whenever I really need time off, for a vacation perhaps, I know I can count on people to cover for me.
What’s your most memorable customer interaction?
Most memorable interactions tend to be negative because that’s when a customer has the most to say. I, very distinctly remember this one time when we were dealing with an international customer. His team account had been charged with a large amount for a service he thought he had cancelled. I came back to find around 10 angry messages on my phone before we could get stuff sorted out. That experience makes me shudder every time I see messages on my phone, in fear of it being something like that!
Ouch. What do you do when you’ve had a rough customer call like that? How do you get back into your happy place?
Rough customer calls can usually mess with my mood. I try to clear my head and go for a walk or take a coffee break.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned at RescueTime?
I’ve realized that support is more varied and challenging than I would have thought it to be. This definitely has something to do with how things are at RescueTime.
Challenging? Sure seems like it! What are your biggest challenges in providing great support then?
A lot of people seem to think that they can only get adequate support responses by coming across as angry and aggressive.
Dealing with that negativity on a regular basis and trying to turn it around is challenging.
As we continue to grow, support will eventually need more than one person and, as a very small team, team positions are at a premium!
The Team at RescueTime
Let’s talk numbers. What do you think is the most important metric a support rep should aim for?
I would say two things – timeliness of response and efficiency in getting the problem solved.
So, we’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d react to them.
a) A customer requests a feature that’s in the works, but you don’t have an ETA. What if it’s a feature you’re never going to build? Mind jotting down a rough draft of your reply?
In the first case, I say something like – “This is something that other users have requested and our developers are working to meet the user demand. We have limited resources and a number of ongoing projects, so I can’t give a definite release date at this time, but we hope to have the feature available in the near future.”
As for the second situation, I would say – “I can understand how this could be a useful feature for you. Due to limited resources and the number of other projects currently underway, we do not have a plan for working on this feature at this time. I will pass along the idea to our developers as a feature request.”
b) What if a customer requests for a feature that is not on the plan they’re subscribed to, but they say they desperately need?
I’d give them a free trial of the subscription plan to show them how helpful it could be to them. This way, if they like it, they can upgrade to that plan.
Looks like your customers can rarely ever complain! Tell us about a customer interaction that you’re very proud of.
I feel really good when I know that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life. I remember this one family who had trouble setting up their account with our product. Once we got the account up and running, the parents felt that they were getting the required feedback about their children’s internet usage, and the kids were able to show that they understood the boundaries. They were pleasant and grateful throughout our conversation and said that RescueTime had helped them communicate better as a family!
Wow. Any advice you would give to someone building a customer support team?
Always look for people who can understand the customer-support team relationship and what is appropriate and required while communicating.
I don’t think any other specific background is required, as long as team members can do this.
What do you find most rewarding about being a customer support agent?
Contributing to an exciting company in its initial stages is very rewarding.
Also, seeing the product develop and hearing about how it’s helping our customers automatically paints a huge smile on my face.
So what, according to you, is the secret sauce to RescueTime’s great support?
I know it sounds corny but, we always put the customer first! We have a no-questions-asked satisfaction policy which helps us respond appropriately to customers, irrespective of their demands.
Over the years, I’ve also learned to deal with angry customers with calmness and empathy.
I think that would be the secret sauce to great customer support.
Serious questions now, Roger. If you could travel back in time to any certain era or event, when/where would you pick and why?
I’m actually enthralled by ancient history. I would probably choose Athens in the 5th century B.C.E. I’d probably check out the cultural scene there and hobnob with some smart and talented folks.
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.