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Start with our Best Hits on Support
- ⋆ The end of 9-to-5: Faster support with Euro-hours and late shifts
- ⋆ Link: How To Turn Disaster Into Gold
- ⋆ Quote: [Sitting next to Craig Newmark while waiting…
- ⋆ Lessons from T-Mobile's support
- ⋆ On Writing: Managing disaster at Freshbooks, Dreamhost, Dancing Trees
- ⋆ And the winner for best support email ever is...(see image)
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I left my newspaper job in 2007, in part because I wanted to go on a three-week trip.
There was no way to accommodate my being out of the office that long — working remotely was so completely out of the question that the possibility was never even mentioned — so I gave my notice, and the paper lost a valued (I think!) employee.
This year, when I told my boss I was thinking about going to Europe for the summer, his response was something to the effect of “oh, cool. Have fun.”
When you’re already an offsite employee (my house is about 1,000 miles from the Chicago office), for a company that extols the benefits of a remote team, it doesn’t much matter where you’re working from. I took advantage of that flexibility and spent my summer working from Scotland, England, France, and Ireland.
For 37signals, the main advantage of a remote workforce is the ability to attract and hire the best people, no matter where they live. But for me, remote work is a major employment benefit. More than a 401k, more than a health care plan — the fact I no longer have to save up vacation time to take one or two short trips a year is huge. I don’t have to wait until someone gets married or dies before I can go see my family — I can just go see them, and work while I’m there. If my girlfriends are going to Mexico for a week but we’re slammed in customer support, I don’t have to choose between letting down my pals or letting down my team. Gone are the days of spending precious PTO on obligatory holiday travel, resenting how I’ve still never seen Vietnam.
I mostly stayed with AirBnB hosts, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks at a time. Since all I need for my work is my computer and a reliable Internet connection, I just made sure before I booked each place that I’d be able to get online.
Sure, there were snags. If I did it again, I’d want to be more on top of the schedule, more available by phone, and more certain of an always-reliable Internet connection. I felt guilty toward my team and our customers whenever issues along those lines arose. My next computer will likely be an Air — the MacBook Pro is great, but probably packs more oomph than I need, and it’s a bit of a beast to lug around. And I’ll likely be more mentally prepared to work different hours from the rest of my team. Euro hours are quieter and I could get a lot done, but they’re also kind of lonely when you’re used to hanging out in Campfire with your work buddies all day. Of course, now that we’ve hired a few folks overseas, that may be a moot point.
Overall, though, I found my work was highly portable. I could always get what I needed, and my team and my company were super-supportive. I had an amazing time, and felt beyond lucky to work for a company that lets me — encourages me, even — to live a life like this.
To help expand support hours and keep an eye on Will, we hired a few fellows from Manchester, UK to join the support team at 37signals. They’re not invading, but they do work whilst the US-based team slumbers.
You might have already noticed Jim Mackenzie’s picture on Smiley, because he joined us this past July, when we first advertised for a GMT-based support position. He impressed us with his application and has been an excellent addition to the team. He’s been a great help to us as we’ve been expanding our support hours.
Jim gave us such a favorable impression of Manchester that we had no qualms about picking another Mancunian when we went looking for a second European support teamer. Chris Joyce started a few weeks ago, and he’s been a great fit. He has a similar background to Jim and sent us a super application and writing samples. Chris has spent the past two weeks training in Chicago with the team and is already doing a cracking job.
Please help us welcome Jim Mackenzie and Chris Joyce to the team!
Find more opportunities at We Work Remotely.
I love when good ideas start small and organically. One day, a customer visited our office and had a question about Basecamp. Kristin, one of our support team members, pulled up their Basecamp account. They were able to sit together and figure out what needed to be done. Our customers absolutely loved seeing the answer right away. So an idea was born.
We call it Basecamp Delivered.
Take a tour to see why others use Basecamp every day.
My little cousin decided to dress up as Woody from Toy Story for Halloween this year. After finding the perfect version of that costume from the Disney Store, his mom had it shipped to the office since we didn’t know exactly what time it would arrive in the day. When it got here, the words “Love – Andy” was written in marker on the outside by someone from the Disney Store team.
If you haven’t seen Toy Story yet, first – go see it. It’s a great Pixar movie. After you’ve seen it, you’ll know that Andy is the kid from the movie and Woody is one of his toys.
It’s great to see when a team goes out of its way for the little things. It only took that person a few seconds to sign the box. Now I can’t wait to see how excited my cousin is to see that his costume was from Andy himself.
Don’t forget the little things that you can do with your customers to brighten their day. It might just be signing a name to you. It’ll be a whole new experience to them.
They make every step easy: I can manage my orders online through their killer site, deliveries come right to my door, and everything is guaranteed. (My teammate Merissa uses Greenling too, and once live-chatted with a rep after receiving some apples that had gone soft—they apologized, refunded the charge on the spot and gave her 10 percent off her next order.) When I first became a customer, they checked in with me to make sure everything was going well. My delivery guy is always cheerful and asks whether there’s anything else they can do.
Greenling claims “We believe good relationships are the foundation for every successful service and we build them to last.” And they mean it! I’m housesitting for my friend Andy, and agreed to show his place to a couple potential tenants, Kristen and Jeff. They were really nice, and noticed my Greenling box in the kitchen—turned out Jeff works for Greenling, and we launched into a conversation about persimmons. A couple days later, I got this email:
Thanks for taking the time to show Kristen and I Andy’s home the other day! We really appreciate it and are excited about living there!
Since you are such an awesome Greenling customer I wanted to pass along a coupon for you to use as well. The next time you check out use this coupon and you will get 25% off of your next order from us :)
Hope those persimmons were awesome!
Jeff Waltrip, Smoothie Operator
How cool is that? He got my email address from Andy so he could send me a coupon—and it was a killer email, at that. Smoothie Operator for the win!
What’s the last support experience that rocked your world?
Officially, 37signals customer support is only available during standard U.S. business hours — 8 a.m.-5 p.m. CST (14:00-23:00 GMT). In reality, we’re usually open a little longer than that, because some of us are morning people (Merissa!) and some of us are night owls (Joan!). We’ll sometimes pop in on weekends too, especially when it’s busy. Still, that only amounts to about 60 hours of availability in a 168-hour week.
That’s been a bummer for folks in other parts of the world — nearly a fifth of our customers are in Europe, and at least 5 percent work from Asia and Australia. While it’s often easy to get back to our American customers in less than an hour, Europeans could be waiting more than six hours for a response, and our friends down under could wait a whole business day. When you’re unable to log in to your account, or somebody removed your admin permissions, or you can’t find that file you know you uploaded yesterday, well … that sucks!
It sucked even worse after we launched the new Basecamp and suddenly had hundreds more cases per day with the same tiny team of seven. Cases were piling up to 400, 500, 600 deep. It got so bad that a few times, we straight-up shut down intake, just so we could catch a breath. Not cool.
In June, it was taking us about 110 minutes to reply to emails during business hours, 279 minutes on average overall. Only 41% of customers were getting a reply within an hour when we were on the clock, and a dismal 29% received a response within an hour overall.
We had already decided to bring on some folks across the pond to better serve our customers in different time zones. We added the lovely and talented Monika (Netherlands) and Jim (UK) to the team (more on them soon!), and I’ve been working from Europe this summer as well — so lately, our day has been starting around 3 a.m. CST.
We’ve been experimenting with later shifts, too — Kristin, Ann, and Joan have been taking turns coming in around 11 a.m.-noon and leaving around 8-9 p.m. CST.
What this means is that, at least during the Monday-Friday workweek, we’ve gone from 8-12 hours of availability to about 18. So far, that’s making a world of difference.
Yesterday at 11 a.m., for example, the median time to a first reply during business hours was 24 minutes and 73% of cases were being answered within an hour. (You can always see how quickly we’re getting to things on our “Happiness Report” page.)
In the three and a half weeks before we started European hours and late shifts, our median weekday response time was six hours. Since we spread the hours out (in addition to some awesome deploys and feature improvements, too!), median weekday response time has fallen dramatically, to around 55 minutes. We’ve been reaching “Inbox Zero” at the end of the day — something that hasn’t really happened since we launched Basecamp on March 6. No more 100+ case backlogs to work through and prioritize first thing in the morning, because we’re constantly working through the queue.
Is this perfect? Heck no. We know that commerce is 24-7, and 55 minutes can feel like an eternity when stuff isn’t working. We know people rely on our apps to do their jobs, and when something goes wrong, it can create big problems. We take that super-seriously. We’d like to move toward around-the-clock support, where everyone is getting a reply within an hour. Ideally, no one would wait more than a few minutes to hear back from us.
That’s the direction we’re heading in — this is just a step toward it. But it’s been a major step, and we’ll all breathing a little easier and sleeping a little more soundly!
Thanks to Noah for his help with the numbers here.
When we were building the new Basecamp, we wanted the foundation to be built on clean, modern underpinnings to take advantage of all the new wonderful features of HTML5. That meant we have to drop support for older browsers, like IE8, that have little or poor support for the HTML5 technology we are using to make Basecamp awesome for everyone.
But, have no fear! We realize that a lot of people are stuck with IE8 (sometimes even IE7 or, yikes, 6), so we made sure that Chrome Frame works with Basecamp. Chrome Frame is available for IE 6-9 on Windows machines and can usually be installed without admin access.
We’re seven members strong now and we’re able to add a lot of things our customers have been seeking. The bigger team also lets each of us work on support projects other than answering emails lightning fast. Since our sysops, developers and designers have been rightly bragging about the great things they’re doing, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about what our amazing team has been doing to improve customer happiness.
The mere whisper of the word ‘webinar’ used to make my blood run cold. The library and academic worlds (my old stomping grounds) are lousy with them. I found them to be time sinks where people who didn’t have a full grasp of a topic held their attendees virtually hostage as we endured technical difficulties and dry Powerpoint presentations. My bias came with me when I got to 37signals, so I was surprised to see the number of customers who really wanted a webinar.
After a bit of research in the Fall, Merissa and Chase started a “Basecamp 101” online class that now runs almost every week. I have to say, it’s really terrific. If other webinars had butts, Chase and Merissa’s would be kicking them. Their class is fun and it gives space for potential customers to ask questions of Merissa, Chase and Michael at the end.
It’s exciting tell our customers that we can offer them a demonstration of setting up a project before they even sign up for Basecamp. If you want to check it out sometime, the next one is always listed on our Help page.
There’s plenty of research demonstrating different learning styles, and the support team can definitely attest to the fact that not everyone learns best by reading help documentation. We have some pretty great help pages, but sometimes words and screenshots can’t do justice to some of the features and functions of Basecamp or Highrise. Chase made it his mission to create some really great screencasts for many of our frequently asked questions. You can see the ones he’s created for Basecamp and Highrise. They’ve been a great asset for the support team and have helped our customers in a big way.
Through the Summer and Fall of 2011, we ran live help chat (thanks to our pals at Olark) on highrisehq.com to assist potential customers who had a few questions before signing up for a plan. The whole support team spent a few hours on live chat each day and we noticed that a lot of current customers were using the service to get help. We decided to give it a shot in Basecamp accounts as a premium support feature. If you’re an admin on a Max Basecamp plan or any Suite, you’ll see this friendly little box at the bottom of your Basecamp dashboard:
Of course, we did endure some “Who the heck is this?”s and “Are you a robot?”s the first few weeks, but we’re almost two months into offering the feature and it’s been a great experience. The team can answer questions faster and it’s a true pleasure to interact with our customers in a new way.
Faster Common Requests
Resident support whiz kid Ann is not just great at helping us answer support questions, she’s also quite handy with the console as well. Every day we see some common requests that involve some On Call programmer work and Ann’s been taking on a lot of the common tasks that we used to send to the programming team, including things like:
- Un-sticking Highrise exports/imports
- Finding out who deleted/moved something or changed permissions in an app (known in the support team as an “Ooooh, girl, who…” question )
- Creating file archives
It’s been a huge load off our On Call team and it helps us take care of our customers much faster than they expect.
These are all things we’ve been able to add to support in the past five months, and Basecamp Next isn’t even out yet. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see what the rest of 2012 holds.
The great thing about keeping score is that you can track your progress. We started asking customers who contacted support what they thought about the interaction in 2010. We were thrilled to end that year with just seven out of a hundred being unhappy with the service (and 84% being happy, 9% being OK).
But I’m really proud to announce that we’ve dramatically raised our game in 2011. We’ve gotten the frown ratio down to just three out of a hundred (90% being happy, 7% being OK). That’s less than half of what it was just the year before!
(If you look at just the last six months of 2011, it went even better still: 92% happy, 5% OK, 3% frowns).
Part of this is hiring a bigger team so the average number of emails each person has to answer is less. We’ve gone from needing each person to answer about 80 emails per day to just around 40 (again, on average—there were and are significant swings at times). That of course means that we can spend more time on each response and making more customers happier is the result.
Gains have also come from analyzing the data. Finding out what made people unhappy and trying to do better. We also now follow up with more frowns and try hard to “flip ‘em” by doing what we can to make a bad experience great.
I’m so proud of our support team for what they’ve accomplished this year. Thank you Ann, Chase, Emily, Joan, Kristin, Merissa, and Michael.