Digital Nomad-ism. I’m going remote for 3 months.

I celebrated my 1 year anniversary with Athos in February and around that time, I worked up the courage to ask for something I’ve been dreaming of, a break from the Silicon Valley bubble. I set a date in my calendar to pitch a “work from home” arrangement. I tried to make excuses when the date approached, shutting myself down before even attempting, but in the end, I promised myself TO JUST ASK.  pabloI came with a simple proposal and plan:

Responsibilities: My goal is still to meet all of my current responsibilities on the Customer Advocacy team. Most of my work (~85%) is easily done over email like Zendesk tickets, live chat, and social media replies.

What I will need from my team

– Getting dialed into meetings & calls.
– “Onsite buddy” to loop me into relevant meetings.

• Full availability on Slack, email, and the usual channels to get in touch during the work day. Happy to stick to PST or whatever you all prefer.
• Strong wifi for Zendesk, phone calls, Google Hangouts, etc.
• I have also found a nearby co-working space (if I need a quite place for calls), and a local Crossfit box to stay on top of testing the app regularly.
• Will continue regular reporting.

Besides being hit by the wanderlust bug, there is a big personal piece to this. I want to spend some quality time with my dad, who I haven’t gotten to see more than a few days at a time for a major portion of my life. My mom is a huge part of my identity, and I’d like to have that same bond with my dad as I grow older. Face-to-face is a big part of this for me and I don’t want to let the chance pass me by.

I’m happy to say, asking for what I wanted paid off and I’m leaving for Medellín, Colombia this Memorial Day weekend. I’ll be sticking to the same ol’ 9-5, so it’s no vacation, but I’m excited to explore a new area for a nice chunk of time. Slow traveling appeals to me as moving city-to-city is not only a lot of hard work, but it doesn’t give you a chance to make deep connections nor get too immersed in day-to-day life of the region. I have my eyes set on joining a local Crossfit box, eating like the locals do, and traveling to the sights on weekends.

See you in September, California. I can’t wait to document my Medellín living!

Talk to the team closest to the “customer experience”

The other week, I ran into this Medium post about how all those sucky startup customer service jobs are moving out of Silicon Valley. You can read it for yourself, but to summarize, companies like Lyft and Yelp are moving their customer service teams to cheaper places. I have been on this boat before– promised this cool startup gig was a great career stepping stone, to find out it was naiive at best, and a total lie at worst. The idea that some jobs can suck (startup or not) is 100% valid. One line specifically struck me though:

Why can't support can't be forever thing!?
Why can’t support can’t be forever thing!?

That simple statement got me riled up. I do support. I see it as a career. What am I missing? Am I not a valuable asset? The thing is… we’re still in the dark ages, seeing support a cost center, rather than an opportunity to know our customer and even add value via increased loyalty and retention:

This can be true if you work in an organization that just doesn’t “get” or respect customer service and the massive value it can provide — insights on what product should be building, data (ideas, kuddos, improvements), and mainly relationship building. They are the front line reps shaping what your customers think of your brand as a whole, and people will be loyal to a company who treats them nicely, no b.s. scripts but refreshing transparency.

You can make support a forever thing when you stop seeing it as a “ticket center” or “call center” and start thinking of it as a customer advocacy department, customer champion center. Whatever you call it, the agents need to be empowered and they must have a seat at the table. They should be deeply immersed in the product feedback cycle. That is the difference between a “nowhere” gig where you are overworked on little pay, and a place you want to grow with. If you are isolated, lack autonomy, or are treated like a “lesser” part of the team, start looking for the companies that understand that support has far evolved. They are few but they exist.

I see it as a permanent thing. I deliberately moved into support and find it rewarding, mostly because most people do it badly. I have a shot at being the best of the best, and my company “gets” it.

 After writing this, I have spent more time thinking about the exciting direction our industry is going. While the #1 trait I look for in a customer service hire is still empathy, I have only recently realized how important it is to push, push, push and be an agent of change.

By nature, support people are generally nice and they enjoy getting to know the person on the other side of the screen, phone, or live chat. But the exciting direction we are going has to do more with “voice of the customer,” surfacing bugs, feature requests, kudos, and the hard, not-so-nice constructive feedback too.

It takes someone willing to walk over to as many people as they need to until they see action being taken. Sometimes, this means being stern and maybe even feeling like you are “pestering,” and you have to be okay with it.

The product team can always prioritize and keep customer service in check too, but we need to speak up for the customer. If the front line people don’t, no one will, and this data is valuable stuff!

Your customer service team knows why people aren’t using your app, they get mad (for the customer) when the experience isn’t up to their high standards. Just remember, you all want the same thing (a happy customer and a product people love). If you are on the front lines, stop seeing your job as just reactive. Think about what you can do to make things better and don’t settle.

If you are NOT on the support team and you are having meetings about your product roadmap, tests you can run on the website to increase sales, etc., now you know why you should invite your customer service team. Times are changing and this team knows your customer experience intimately.

Waiting in line: Make waits better for your customers.

No one likes the thought of waiting in line, but some waits are more frustrating than others. My heart and adrenaline soar through the roof when someone cuts me in line. I vividly remember waiting in line, to clear immigrations, when I landed in the U.S. after my 2-week vacation in Vietnam. Why? Because the line was god-awful long and I waited over an hour. Finally, the time came; I was next! Then some jerk decided to skip over everyone and cut. I was not going to let that happen. I aggressively put myself right back in front of him.


Why did I get so mad? It would have been a few extra minutes of my life at worst. Well, for one thing, I would never “cut” anyone intentionally. That’s just rude. Second, lines should be fair, first-in-first-out. Otherwise, it feels infuriating.

Last year, working the front lines of customer service, I spent a lot of time answering “when is my gear shipping” type emails. In a sense, all of these pre-order customers were waiting in a giant line.

Now, when a pre-order company emails you, telling you the wait has been extended, what’s the difference between getting really upset, and thinking, “no worries; that’s cool, thanks for the update”?

I quite enjoy citing academic research whenever I need to prove a point. In this case, I wanted to make a case for being proactive and honest about why we were behind, rather than hoping customers would just forget or leave us alone.

Queue the findings from The Psychology of Waiting Lines (Maister, 2005). Long story short: researchers examined how different people perceived wait times; not all waits are created equal. There are actually some research-backed tips for improving the customer waiting experience, whether you are late on your pre-order date, or working on any aspect of the service industry:

Occupied Time Feels Shorter Than Unoccupied Time:

This makes sense. Waiting in the lady’s line at a bar is terrible. Waiting in the lady’s line at the bar, surrounded by old newspaper clippings….not so bad! When I take cab/Lyft/Uber, I normally can’t wait to get from Point A to Point B. That one time I had a driver with Mortal Combat, the video game, in the back seat, I was basically kicked out because I was distracted and having fun before I realized I arrived. Try to add some entertainment or a distraction so time passes more quickly.

People Want to Get Started:

To prove this point, researchers specifically call out the hostess at a restaurant. Even though your table might not be ready right away, when someone greets you at the door and even hands you a menu to browse at, there is a sense that you are noticed and officially kicking off your dining experience. Even a simple greeting or email “we got your order” helps!

Anxiety Makes Waits Seem Longer:

We touched on the fact that customers worry about being forgotten. This brings me back to the many office appointments I have had when no one checked me in immediately. I worried….

Do they know I am here? Should I ring the bell AGAIN?


Apart from the fear of being forgotten, other things can creep in too. Ever hear of Erma
Bombeck’s Law? It’s the reason why you always pick the wrong line at the grocery store. That lady came 5 minutes after you and she’s already at the register!!

Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and preemptively address issues that might be causing unnecessary stress. It may be small, but during the holiday times, we took about 2-3 days to reply to support tickets. At the same time, questions were rolling in about sales that were just a day long or shorter.

I added a quick little blurb to our auto-reply, saying we’d honor any support requests as if they were attended to immediately and it really helped with the “OMG, I need my discounts to work now” meltdowns.

Uncertain Waits Are Longer than Known, Finite Waits:

People will tend to wait patiently until their scheduled appointment time, and then they snap. Scheduling is a bit of a mixed bag because appointments provide a finite time (which is awesome; people want this), but you better stick to it. As the researchers state, “an appointment defines an expectation that must be met;” even the slightest delay will be met with increasing annoyance. And please, don’t be that person always saying, “it will just be a few more minutes.” Just be real.

Unexplained Waits Are Longer than Explained Waits:

Good news for all your customer support pros out here, you were right all along! People appreciate your honesty and authenticity. If you explain what went wrong, people will listen and most reasonable folks will understand. They may even commend you for the refreshing approach.

Unfair Waits Are Longer than Equitable Waits

This is why people swooping in front of you in line makes you mad. This is why you are so mad at that couple who got seated before you at brunch. YOU GOT THERE FIRST!! First-in-first-out seems fair to you, and when you don’t feel the wait is equitable, the wait feels even longer.

The More Valuable the Service, the Longer the Customer Will Wait

Last week, I attended a conference and we got a free ticket to a food truck. I waited for about 10 minutes before I hit the sandwich shop down the block. I thought about what I value my time at, and a free sandwich did not seem worth a line down the block. This makes total sense. I might wait longer for a revolutionary item, or to see a band I like.

Solo Waits Feel Longer than Group Waits

This final one is fascinating because it doesn’t necessarily mean waiting with friends. You can be waiting with complete strangers and it just doesn’t seem like a big deal, because there is a whole “community” around this wait. Ever get pissed off waiting in line at Disneyland? I’d hope not, it’s part of the experience, and what kind of a person gets mad at the Happiest Place on Earth?

This one leaves a lot of room for creativity. Can you think of anything that might create a group sense of waiting? Maybe make a special room for it, or a “community wait table” if you are in dining :)?

Outstanding service has far evolved from replying to customer questions and complaints. You can actually get ahead of the game and be ready to address issues before the customer even knows about them. While other companies put this last, you have the power to uniquely differentiate yourself with these superpowers.

The Customer Service Feedback Loop – Outlook Mobile’s 1st year

I went to The City today to check out the MORE Summit, put on by HelpShift. It was a bright, sunny day and it made me miss city life!

My favorite talk had to be the opener, “The State of Mobile” by Kevin Henrikson. He was co-founder at Acompli, which was eventually acquired by Outlook. He manages Outlook for iOS and Android– that is, they are striving to create something people on love on “non-Microsoft” mobile devices.

In the mobile world, you have complete control over what apps you download and use. With the desktop, your IT department might force you to use the Microsoft Suite, but that’s not the case when it comes to apps. The consumer has a choice, so it’s up to the team to create a product experience that sticks. Kevin shared one of the original Acompli tenants…. I didn’t take a photo or write it down verbatim, so I may be butchering it a bit!…

“Create a product that users love and IT departments trust”

While the IT department may pay the bills, he emphasized the importance of the general consumer side of things. Their happiness is key because if you can nail that side, the IT part is easy-peasy. The business requirements are given to you on a list:

  • Add XYZ requirement
  • Add other corporate feature here
  • We need to meet ABC security protocol

While these things may take time and effort, you know exactly what you need to build. It’s not so for the general consumer side; if we all knew how to build killer experiences, we’d have an app store full of glowing 5-star ratings 🙂

Despite the Mobile Outlook team being a small organization inside of a giant corporation, they operate much like a startup:

  • Goal is a 5-start app rating in the app store, on both iOS and Android
  • Ship on a tight 7-day release cycle. Sometimes they ship more!

    Outlook Mobile (iOS and Android team) weekly sprints
    Outlook Mobile (iOS and Android team) weekly sprints
  • Tag all support tickets by issue type for  better reporting.
  • Provide a constant feedback loop. Normalize trends by usage.

    The feedback loop. How all sorts of user feedback makes it into the product planning.
  • Tier 1, 2, and 3 support manage customer support tickets but they have engineers (what you might think of as a Tier 4 agents) answer tickets too. The volume at this level is tiny (maybe a few a week) but it allows engineering to directly feel the pain of the customer. They are also the same people that can get it fixed!
  • Take in customer ideas/ feature requests via a dedicated channel. It looks like they are using UserVoice for this and it makes customers feel like a part of the development process. It also deflects support tickets– win, win!
  • Offer a mobile support experience with a tool like Help Shift (who put on this event) or Intercom. Make it super easy for customers to start a conversation in-app. Also, provide in-app self-service content. Not only does it reduce friction but it keeps them in the app. If your content is good, they may not even have to create a ticket.

I loved seeing an actual model of what product development looks like in another organization. Getting support a “seat at the table” when it comes to the product development cycle is always a challenge and I never pass up an opportunity to learn about how others make it work.

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