Liz McDonald is the Training and Onboarding Lead at Shopify, everything you need to build an online store. Travel junkie, cat lover and Liz Lemon fan, Liz likes to blog about her travels here.
We managed to catch up with Liz and chat about life at Shopify and customer support.
How big is Shopify’s support team, Liz?
And where is Shopify based?
Our headquarters are in Ottawa, and we have offices in Toronto, Montreal and Waterloo. We also have Remote Gurus that are located across Canada.
What channels do you offer support in?
Email, Phone, Chat. We also have our Gurus host webinars and attend Retail tours/trade shows and other events.
How many queries do you get everyday? An average number will do.
Approximately 3500 human conversations per day.
Most of the Shopify Guru Team
So, how did your career in Shopify come about to be, Liz?
What attracted me to the Guru job was that it wasn’t just about support. It was about helping people make their entrepreneurial dreams come true and supporting them in their journey.
I should probably thank the people who initially took a chance and hired me! Back then, our Guru team was 4 people, and we paved the way for the way we do support today.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Liz McDonald, Training and Onboarding Lead – Support Operations.
Every day is a little bit different because the training team lives in somewhat of a two-week cycle! We onboard a new group of Gurus (our support agents) and these groups are typically around ten people. Hence, the 2 weeks. An average day in week 1 with new Gurus includes a lot of training sessions, courses in our online learning tool, and learning from each other in our internal chat rooms (Slack).
Outside the onboarding, as trainers, we are constantly updating and creating content, working on best practices and supporting each other’s learning as well as new team members.
Sounds exciting! Give us some dope on your hiring process. What do you look for in Gurus?
People who can talk to others, love to learn and aren’t afraid of a challenge.
This job will challenge you every day, whether it’s a complex issue a merchant is facing, a new feature you need to learn or a change in our tools. You then add in the necessity for our Gurus to have artful, human conversations and it gets even tougher.
“The only customer we don’t mind giving explosive poop of joy to.”
How do you keep the team motivated and full of energy? Even the most enthusiastic of reps get worn down, eventually.
Our team is really great at motivating each other. Whether it’s sharing something you have learned with the team, having Gurus run training sessions for newer Gurus to help pay it forward, or even through awesome GIFs to make each other laugh.
From what I understand, Shopify has over 150,000 customers and 200+ strong support team. How did you scale customer support at Shopify, while keeping the culture and core values intact and making customers happy?
Making customers happy is part of our culture. We make sure to have as many human conversations as possible with our teams throughout the on boarding process. This reminds everyone how important it is to have human conversations with our merchants, not just each other. This fosters our love of teaching and helping others, all while supporting our merchants to become successful. We hire some pretty incredible people to begin with, so that helps a lot!
How do you manage taking time off work?
You just have to do it. Trust that your team has your back and will take care of things, just like you will when they take time off. Taking time off for yourself is really important. I’ve definitely had a few panicky moments the night before going away where I wanted to cancel my vacation. I pause, look at my luggage and remember that margaritas on the beach are waiting, and that everything is going to be fine. Anytime I feel this way, I think of this poem one of my leads shared with me by Saxon N. White Kessinger called There is no indispensable man (or woman)! 😉
The moral of this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.
Most of Team Shopify at an Annual Volleyball day. While the rest of the team got their game on, Support and Sales supported on.
That’s such an inspiring poem, Liz. Thank you! Tell us about your most memorable customer interaction.
I have a bunch of really great ones!
This one time, a merchant asked me to remove a bar on their website. At the time we were a really small team, and I was still considered pretty new. They were a local merchant, so I wanted to really impress them. So, I said “Of course, I could remove it for them!” I remember pressing send on that email and thinking, “I have no idea how to do that!?” I searched our docs, and I found out how to find that line of code in the theme HTML/CSS and deleted it! Let me tell you, I was pretty proud of myself! I contacted the merchant, they were happy and I went on my merry way.
Then a few days later that merchant contacted me back, asking me to put that bar back on their website. I kind of panicked. Since I didn’t know how to remove the bar in the first place, I sure didn’t know how to put it back! I decided I had to get help. I went to my colleague and asked him to help me put it back. Thankfully after some back and forth with the merchant, we were able to put everything in place. I also learnt how to comment things out that day. That’s come in really handy over the last 4 years!
While this merchant wasn’t overly mad, they did not have the most pleasant experience.
I learnt a very valuable lesson in setting expectations. I discovered that it’s ok, to not know the answer and ask for help. But most of all, to be resourceful.
Ask questions and take chances, but most of all, learn from your mistakes.
What, in your opinion, is the most important metric a support rep should keep in mind?
I love the Smiley rating. It’s really simple, the merchant rates their experience with us with 3 options. A green Smiley, a yellow Straight face, or a red frowny. They have the option to leave a comment, but it isn’t mandatory. It’s not all telling, but it is a fantastic way to measure if someone was happy with their experience with us. You can check it out here: https://smiley.shopify.com/ – we make it public for the world to see. It holds us accountable and encourages us to be the best we can be! We default to open and we’ve always been that way. There isn’t much point in hiding metrics within a team.
It’s my favourite because along with the obvious “thanks that was helpful”, it can say a lot about the service you’re providing. Not everyone will click on that provide feedback, so it’s important we leave a lasting impression. Someone will leave us a Smiley when they’ve been delighted and that could mean we answered their questions in a timely manner all while leaving a lasting impression.
A pop-up retail store that’s a part of Shopify’s retail pop-up experience, Popify.
How do you unwind after a long day of supporting?
Stop staring at a screen! It’s so easy in our world to be connected and plugged in all the time. I’m one to talk though, I feel anxious if my cell phone is more than 2 feet away from me!
I have to consciously disconnect every day, but it’s really important to do so.
We’re going to throw some situations at you. Tell us how you’d handle them at Shopify.
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 letting them down? What if it’s a feature that you’re never going to build?
Depending on the situation and the feature, I tailor my answer accordingly. But for the most part, we are able to add things to our internal feature request list. My response usually is something along the lines of: “What I’ve done is I’ve added this as a feature request for our dev team. I’ve added your email address as well, to be notified of any updates.” If we happen to know it’s a feature that isn’t likely to happen, we encourage people to post these requests in our Forums, and talk to our Experts as someone may be able to build a custom app for it. Or the App Developer might want to build this as a public app for our App store.
b) A customer requests a refund. Do you just issue it or do you try to loop in a sales rep to woo them back one last time?
It’s easy to get flustered! Especially when you know the answer is no. We stand our ground, and keep with our no refunds policy, but always try to support the merchant in what they are doing.
There are ways of saying no, and keeping things positive.
And when needed, we do refer to our Terms of Service. But if we can find a solution that works, we get it done!
c) One of your support reps makes a tiny mistake that greatly frustrates a customer. The rep’s trying to set things right but the customer only seems to be getting more and more frustrated with time. Do you step in and try to smooth things over? Or do you let the rep handle it? How does this translate into feedback for the team?
First and foremost, we remind them that it’s ok to make a mistake. We are human, and it’s going to happen from time to time. Depending on the mistake, it’s a great learning opportunity for us (as trainers) and for the rep. We find out where they got the info, is it for lack of training or is it just a one off? Did they misinterpret the info they have available to them, or do we need to work on something specific? Our Support Gurus have to know a lot about Shopify, Business and the Internet, we know that we can’t know everything by heart! We want our Gurus to own their wins and fails.
If we scare people off by not allowing them to fail and learn, then we aren’t doing our job.
d) A customer requests a feature that’s not on the plan they’re subscribed to. They’re willing to pay extra but they don’t want to upgrade. Do you just categorically deny these requests or do you make some exceptions?
As I mentioned before, we encourage them to talk to an Expert. This is where magic can happen for a merchant’s shop. We also remind people that while they need the app, it doesn’t mean everyone does, and sometimes a custom app can make all the difference for one merchant to take their business to the next level!
A bunch of Shopify employees organized a charity gaming event, PwnforPresents, which ended up raising over $1300.
What has your time at Shopify taught you?
Hard work can be fun. To get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And, to fail gracefully. It’s ok to mess up, it’s all about what you do to fix, learn from it and how you own that situation.
In terms of customer service, which brands do you admire a lot?
I’ve been a long time fan of hotels when it comes to customer service. Hotels have a chance to make you feel at home even if you’re miles away. Pleasing all types of people is difficult, but hotels have a way of doing it. Fairmont and The Ritz Carlton are a couple of the brands where I’ve experienced some of the best customer service. And I remember how that made me feel, and that is why I keep going back!
What’s the best thing about working at Shopify?
The people! Every single person you meet here is unique and awesome!
One last question, Liz. What’s your favourite GIF?
It’s actually really hard to just choose one… but one of my favourites is:
– PG: Liz Lemon Self Five (Everyone calls me Liz Lemon, so it’s appropriate for a lot of reasons)
– R: Yeah Fuck Yeah (I’m a potty mouth, so I try to show that off in my GIF use)
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.