Going Remote: Customer Support
Going Remote is a series of bonus episodes where different Basecampers answer questions about how they do their work remotely. In this episode, Merissa Dawson and Chase Clemons answer questions about providing customer support, including how they talk to angry customers and how they onboard new team members. The full version of their Q&A, including a visual walkthrough of the support team’s Basecamp account, can be found on YouTube.
- Design lead Jonas Downey's Going Remote episode - 00:18
- Basecamp's customer support team - 00:26
- Going Remote playlist on YouTube | Full version of Merissa and Chase's session - 00:39
- Question 1: How do you talk to customers who are really angry or not nice? - 00:54
- Chase talks more about his experience managing a deli in this Rework episode - 2:41
- Question 2: Who hops on the calls with customers, someone from Support or from the Product team? - 4:26
- Question 3: It's tough right now. What's something you could tell a support specialist from around the world? - 6:18
- Question 4: Any tips or tricks for helping onboard new people in customer support, especially when remote? - 8:54
- More detail about the Support team's onboarding process is in this Rework episode - 9:42
- Basecamp on Twitter - 13:32
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:00:01] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.
Wailin: [00:00:06] And I’m Wailin Wong. We’re doing a series of bonus episodes called Going Remote, which are adapted from live Q&A sessions where folks at Basecamp talk about how they work remotely. Last week, design team lead Jonas Downey talked about how his team organizes their work.
[00:00:22] Today we have Merissa Dawson and Chase Clemons, two veteran members of Basecamp’s customer support team.
Shaun: [00:00:28] There are a lot more questions we couldn’t fit here, including a visual walk-through of the support team’s Basecamp account. You can find the full video replay for this Q&A on the Basecamp YouTube channel at YouTube.com/Basecamp.
[00:00:41] And now, here’s Chase and Merissa, along with Basecamp’s head of marketing, Andy Didorosi, who you’ll hear asking the questions from the audience.
[00:00:49] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Andy: [00:00:51] I got one that I really like from Alex. “How do you deal with customers who are contacting you and are really angry or not nice?” This is, I think, a perennial support challenge.
Merissa: [00:01:01] These are honestly my favorite type of customers mainly because I love proving them wrong and showing them that they’re not going to have a bad support experience with us. They might be coming into the email knowing that they, or thinking that they have to act a certain way to get what they want. And that’s not really even the case. If we’re talking about today’s world and people being angry and upset, obviously there’s a lot going on. Definitely when I read upset customers right now, I definitely know that it’s them, it’s not me. But I handle them just the way I would talking to somebody right now, somebody who was angry.
[00:01:39] I just want to talk to you like you’re a human. Basically, just treat somebody with respect. And I have had to say that to a customer before who was really irate, I just kind of typed back to them, hey, you know, we’re both human, let’s treat each other with respect and I want to be an advocate for you so let’s walk through this together, let’s talk through this together.
[00:01:58] Typically that works. If it doesn’t, our team is amazing. We’re always happy to, perhaps, receive a text or a ping or something inside of Basecamp if we need to take over a customer for somebody. Maybe the customer needs another voice. Maybe the customer needs a phone call so we’ll pick up the phone and call. There’s all different types of ways that we manage that, but mainly just staying calm is the number one thing in the email. Not letting what they’re saying really get to you because it’s likely something that they’re dealing with and they’re having a rough time. So, turning a frown upside down is something that I love to do.
Chase: [00:02:34] Yeah, the story I like to tell all our new hires, so a decade ago, right, when I first joined Basecamp, my previous job was with a deli in Nashville, Tennessee. And we were kind of uniquely situated between three or four of the major hospitals there in Nashville. So when you have somebody coming into the deli, you never know what they’re going through or what their day has been like, or what their story is.
[00:02:58] So you might interact with people who are getting food to go and they get really mad at something being left out because they’re trying to hurry back to the ICU. And I think that’s the thing that sits at the back of my head whenever I’m talking to customers. We literally have no idea what their situation is at that moment. Like Merissa mentioned, especially in this kind of situation we’re all in with the pandemic and all, you have no idea what that other person is going through. So we’ve got to give a little bit of space for folks that are angry and realize that they might have a lot of stuff going on and we don’t need to—we need to make sure that we don’t give that back whenever we talk to them.
Merissa: [00:03:37] Yeah, and I think it’s just important—it’s okay to ask for help from your teammates. If you haven’t even contacted this customer yet but something just kind of hits you the wrong way when you’re reading it. Just ask if someone else can handle it for you. I think that that’s just a good thing to remember. It’s okay to ask for help. They hit something with you, just pass them along and go to the next person. But I think showing grace to everyone right now is really important. And to yourself.
Andy: [00:04:03] One I want to pop up is not even a question. It’s Alex who says, “In all honesty, the best customer support experience I’ve ever had was Basecamp.” I just.
Chase: [00:04:12] Yes!
Andy: [00:04:13] In a time of global pandemic, some compliments are not bad.
Chase: [00:04:17] That’s awesome. Alex, you’re the best, thank you.
Andy: [00:04:18] High five. You’re on Twitch, too, which we have a new Twitch channel, so it’s feeling good.
Merissa: [00:04:23] [inaudible] that.
Andy: [00:04:24] Here’s a good one. “Who hops on the call with the customer? Is it someone from the initial customer support team or someone on the product team?”
Merissa: [00:04:32] Typically that’s usually Chase and myself if the customer’s okay with it, we’ll record the call so that we have all of the reference points that we need there and so Ryan, who, again, is on the product team can listen in if he wants to take a crack at that, too. Sometimes we all do them together. Sometimes it might be a two on one.
[00:04:48] Somebody who, on the support team, who might be interested with the user path, like Chase and I are on, we might invite them to sit on a call with us with the customer as well. But for those specific feedback and feature requests where we’re interested in knowing more, it’s typically myself, Chase, and Ryan. Or any combination of the three.
Chase: [00:05:09] Yeah, it’s a little bit like, we call it being a support detective. Just in the real world where you might have detectives that are really good at that kind of job but not might be good at other jobs within the department, same thing here. So some people are going to be really good and really interested in learning how these support feature request phone calls, how they go, how they work. The best way to pull information out of people. And then some people just don’t have an interest in it, and that’s totally cool.
[00:05:35] One of the good things that our team has, we’re like, what, Merissa, 15, 16 people? 17 people? Something like that? Merissa: [00:05:41] 17 total, yeah.
Chase: [00:05:43] 17 total. There’s enough variety of interest with all of us that some of us, like Merissa and myself can focus on talking with customers with these feedbacks and feature requests, whereas somebody like Jabari or Chris, or whatnot might be more interested in the more technical side of support. Fixing the bugs, the on call stuff that goes around it, that kind of thing.
[00:06:04] So yeah, it’s open to everybody that wants to do this kind of stuff but practically speaking, we find a couple of people that end up being interested in it and we let them take the lead on it.
Andy: [00:06:13] Cool. Here’s a kind of open-ended one. “It’s tough right now, life is hard. What’s something you could tell a support specialist around the world?”
Chase: [00:06:24] Yeah, I think we were talking earlier about grace and space. So, making sure that you, when you’re talking with your customers, that you’ve got just a little bit more flexibility than usually. If you’re like us the last couple of weeks we’ve heard from a lots of small business owners who, predominantly, use the app. That they’re running into problems with cash flow or their revenues are down for the next couple of months and they’re kind of scrambling to figure out what to do now. All that comes across in the email and we want to make sure that when we’re talking with them that we’ve got just the flexibility and understanding. That empathy to work with them as best as we can.
[00:07:04] And we talk about that grace and space, you’ve got to give it to yourself, too. Because one of the things, you know, if you’re reading email after email after email like that, if you’re talking to just customer after customer like that. We are an empathetic bunch. You tend to be pretty empathetic if you get hired on with our Basecamp support team, and so it’s easy to take on all of that. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re making that space and taking that grace for yourself, too. Just being able to step aside for a little bit. Realizing that the rest of our team has your back.
[00:07:31] That’s the biggest thing I would tell a support specialist right now is give your customers that grace and space, give yourself the same thing, and realize that it’s just not going to be normal for a little bit. And that’s okay, that’s just part of being flexible in all of this.
Merissa: [00:07:47] Yeah, I think you can just give your best and do your best each day and it doesn’t matter if that changes. Your best one day might be totally different than another day. Take it a day at a time, do the best that you can. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to say that you need to take a break. Maybe you need to take, do some jumping jacks, or something in another room. Maybe you need to say hi to a dog and go pet a sleeping dog over there. Try to remember to do little things for yourself. It’s kind of, Chase mentioned, grace and space. But it’s also the whole airplane thing. You can’t give oxygen to the people around you unless you put the mask on your face first. So, be good to yourself. Hydrate. That’s also very key.
[00:08:30] And remember that it’s okay to go slower right now if you need to go slower. If you’re not at your normal pace and your normal speed and feeling like you can do all that, that’s totally okay. So, yeah, show yourself grace and just be kind to one another.
Andy: [00:08:44] I think we should all absorb that even if we’re not on support. Even if maybe we’re on marketing.
Merissa: [00:08:50] That’s right.
Andy: [00:08:52] Ooh, here’s a good one. “Any tips or tricks for helping on board new folks into customer support? One thing that’s kind of tricky is scaling product knowledge out to new people, especially since we’re remote.”
Chase: [00:09:03] Yeah, Merissa is the queen of hiring and training so I’m going to let her.
Merissa: [00:09:03] I’m really good at interviewing. I usually play a part in that process, but over the last nine years, this question I mean to answer has vastly changed. When I started at Basecamp it was just, here’s your computer, and here’s the tools that we use at this time, and just try to start answering these emails from customers and we’ll let you know if you’re right. If you’re not, fix it and kind of move on. So as you can imagine the sink or swim that we originally used has changed nine years later, thank goodness.
[00:09:39] So we’ve had folks on our support team actually create some really great documentation for that. I realize doing that right now might be difficult if you have a higher support load but when you do have down time, or time to do that, you might start creating some project templates. Which is where we house a new hire template that has all of these different guides and manuals that explain each one of our tools that we use, like help scout. There’s probably a short video or some gifs in there that show exactly what we do. We have some docs, we use Basecamp Docs. Again, everything that Chase mentioned is in Basecamp for this person, but we have different docs that maybe explain our company culture and our team’s culture and all kinds of things.
[00:10:21] Everything that we use we’ve kind of set up into mini guides that live inside of a template so when somebody joins we can create a project that’s like, Welcome, Merissa. And everything lives in there. And so their first few weeks, couple weeks, they spend time going through those manuals and those guides to learn the different tools that our team uses.
[00:10:45] And I do agree, it is difficult scaling that type of knowledge out to new people. We often forget folks that have been here for a while, like Chase and I have, that we know something that somebody might not, and that might not actually be anywhere inside of Basecamp, it’s just we might tell somebody that and everyone’s like, oh, wow, I never knew that.
[00:11:01] So we try to share knowledge whenever we have it in our Campfire, as well. That way, because in Basecamp, they can search, maybe you want to search about a certain thing that you weren’t sure of, like, a customer had a question like, is there time tracking? Maybe you can’t find that answer somewhere so you could search time tracking, and maybe that comes up right in our Campfire where we talked about it a month ago. But maybe that person wasn’t there.
[00:11:25] So kind of keeping everything in one central place is great and then when you have time, just start creating those manuals, that knowledge base that you’ll be able to use eventually.
[00:11:36] If not, and you don’t have time for that, find out what works best for your customer support person. Do they learn better visually? Do they learn better just reading? Is it better if you hop on a video call to explain something and share their screen, things like that. That’s what I would say. Chase?
Chase: [00:11:52] This is the power, Jason and David talk about it a lot. The power of asynchronous. The power of having it written down so that if your entire support team happens to be on an airplane with no WIFI, that if somebody runs into a problem with a customer on the ground then they’re cool. They have a resource available for them. Document everything. Write everything down. Put it in that one place that everyone can get to because this is going to be a big resource for the new folks that you hire.
Merissa: [00:12:21] And know that even if you are busy right now with support emails that this is just as important. So even if you can schedule one person to maybe start working on that, it’s going to be very valuable for you because it’s going to help your new folks in the future.
Andy: [00:12:37] Cool. I think that’s it. I really appreciate you all joining the stream. Thanks Chase and Merissa.
Chase: [00:12:42] Of course, that’s what we’re here for.
Merissa: [00:12:43] Thank you for all for having us. And also I appreciate you. I think that’s something else that we call say to each other. I appreciate you. To Chase and Andy, I appreciate you. I appreciate everyone that joined us today and asked questions.
[00:12:55] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:12:59] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Music for the show is by Clip Art.
Wailin: [00:13:05] As we mentioned at the top of the episode, Chase and Merissa’s full Q&A was much longer and includes some neat visuals. The full video is at YouTube.com/Basecamp where we have a playlist of all our Going Remote sessions.
[00:13:18] If you have a question for our support team or anyone else at Basecamp, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. These livestreamed Q&A sessions are ongoing and you can find out when new ones are happening via the Basecamp Twitter feed. That’s @Basecamp.
[00:13:33] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.