As a leader in customer care, over the years I have developed a few sayings that I believe have held me in good stead.
Camille’s Top Three Customer Care Sayings
#1: No Special Snowflakes
This means that –as much as possible — we want to avoid having to support custom features, special builds, weird bespoke SLAs, and anything else that is going to be hard to track and resolve. Specialness is frustrating to handle and an impediment to scale. If we are running a tiny neighborhood cupcake shop, fine, I am happy to handcraft cupcakes. If we are trying to build a mega cupcake conglomerate, it needs to come off the conveyor belt the same as the others. I tend to say this to sales people and occasionally to overzealous engineers.
#2: Keep Receipts
In your career and in your day to day work, a lot of information goes flying back and forth and it can be hard to track across public Slack channels, private Slack channels, DMs, emails, Google Docs, Zoom calls and so and so forth. When in doubt (and you should mostly just STAY in doubt), write things down, have other people write them down to you, record things, screenshot things. You will forget. People will forget. People will pretend they forgot. People will try to reinvent the wheel. People will try to rewrite history based on their faulty memories or wishful thinking. Keep receipts to remind them (and yourself!) of the good things, the bad things, the mistakes, and the almost-forgotten strokes of genius.
#3: Reduce information asymmetry
I wrote about this here and it is a brief read, but the tl;dr isI this:
If you know something that the customer should know, tell them right away. It will give them some information to gather OR help them set expectations on their side OR prompt them to fashion a workaround. They might not be happy about what you tell them, but at least they won’t be sitting idle wondering if you forgot about them and their problem.
What about you? What are some of your favorite sayings or rules of thumb?
I feel like everywhere I turn people are talking about time. Here are a few recent references
This documentary was so gorgeous. It opened with the saying,
“Eshu threw a stone today that hit a bird yesterday.”
Emma Dabiri – Don’t Touch My Hair
The weaving that occurs in the braided hairstyles, the aspects of their temporality, their consistency as well as their adaptibility, share many similarities with the oriki (Yoruba oral tradition) genre. What is this something else that oriki performances aim at? Simply posing this question highlights a profound difference between a Eurocentric concept of history and Afrocentric engagements with time.
I found my way to the land closest to nowhere after Google Maps said there was no road to follow. My eyes told me different and I kept going. To get there that first night, especially alone after dark, I was far more reliant on strangers’ knowledges of well travelled roads than any formal map or its timings. Nowhere is an invention. Real or not, it enables navigation, not on land but at sea:
Latitude 0° Longitude 0° Altitude 0°
Nowhere is the centre of the surface of the world. It is on the longitude line that links Britain and Ghana. Nowhere sets its clocks to Greenwich Mean Time. This nowhere is the nowhere because the British were best at sea. The land closest to nowhere is a cape jutting out into the Atlantic, not to one point, but three: nowhere is never somewhere you get to one way.
In “A Non-Euclidean View,” Le Guin cited a writer and folklorist who described a saying among some members of the Cree people:
Usà puyew usu wapiw! (“He goes backward, looks forward.”)
The phrase is used to describe “the thinking of a porcupine as he backs into a rock crevice.” The author in question, Howard A. Norman, wrote that “the porcupine consciously goes backward in order to speculate safely on the future, allowing him to look out at his enemy or the new day. To the Cree, it’s an instructive act of self-preservation.”
As a customer care person, you are placed at an important vantage point between the company and the customer. You (should) have visibility into the product and people in your company beyond what your customers currently knows/can see. You are there to solve problems for the customer using both information that may already be publicly available to the customer as well as information that is not.
If you know something that the customer should know, tell them. Tell them as soon as you know. If time is running down on an SLA and you are still waiting on an answer from Engineering, find a nice way to tell them that (the phrase “I have escalated this matter to our Engineering team” works). If you are investigating something specific, tell the customer what you think might be the issue. If you need them to provide you with more information from their end, ask them right away so they know the ball is in their court.
I can’t count how many times I have seen a support ticket with numerous back-and-forth internal notes in it and no response to the customer. Things are obviously happening. Ideas are being shared. Surely there is something there we can tell the customer.
If it is a question between providing what you think is a perfect answer and speed, choose speed. If it is a question between providing what you think is a perfect answer and providing context, choose context. If it is a question between assuming something or asking the customer, ask the customer.
You are the customers’ eyes in the company, let them see. You are the customers’ ears in the company, let them hear. You are the customers’ voices in the company, speak up for them….. and to them.
Well, I have reached the point in my career where people reach out to me rather frequently to “pick my brain” about various things, particularly business or product ideas. After griping about this a bit on LinkedIn, I got brilliant pieces of wisdom from two brilliant people in particular (Liz Fong-Jones and Nikki Yeager):
Liz shared that she schedules a set amount of time per week for brain pickers so that she doesn’t give away more than she can manage.
Nikki shared this great blog post which has some great ideas for how to deflect meetings and/or filter out people who aren’t focused.
I have decided that I will try to cap brain picking at 5 hours a month and I will use this blogpost to track how it goes this year. Wish me luck!
What counts as brain picking? Any stranger or person I don’t know very well reaching out to ask me for my opinion or input on an idea. It can also include friends or family if the primary purpose of wanting to chat is to get my opinion or input on an idea. It does not include work people, because I am obliged by money to let them pick my brain.
Will you share details about the content of the brain picking sessions here? Unless the person explicitly requests that I do, no I will just share the date and time expended.
Why five hours? It is a totally arbitrary number.
Can I pick your brain? Maaaybe… First answer the following: [ ] Do you have specific questions? [ ] Do you know what your specific questions are? [ ] Is it less than 3 questions? [ ] Do my answers need to be delivered synchronously? If your answers to everything above was YES, contact me and we’ll see.
Wow, have I really not done a gratitude post in almost a year? Shame on me. My mother was right all along! I am ungrateful. Just kidding! Despite All Of This, I’ve had plenty things to be grateful for. Here are a few of the latest:
Brittany Howard of The Alabama Shakes is so dope. Last year she put out a solo album, Jaime. I listened to it a lot in the winter and am now revisiting it because it is good for singing along to. I recently discovered that she did an NPR Tiny Desk last year so I have been rotating that a lot these days too. Especially recommended for people who like Prince or Mavis Staples.
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Mensah
Ever since this whole pandemic went global, I have had some challenges focusing. Riding on the subway to and from work was my reading time. So I’ve been reading snips of this and that, but nothing grabbed me, especially not fiction until this book fell in my lap. As a girl of Ewe descent this book grabbed me from the first page. Weird cultural things that characterize our culture in this modern age were turned up to absurdity level 11, and I couldn’t put it down. I hope this gets a film treatment!
Cillian Murphy on BBC….yes, again
Cillian is back on BBC 6 Music! This time coming live from…his basement! It is always super good and I love his weird little stories and segways. Just listen!
Taking singing lessons has been on my bucket list for years, and in January I decided this would be the year. I booked my lessons and was excited to start when the lockdown hit NYC. Undeterred, my amazing new singing teacher moved the whole operation online. So for the past 8 months I have been taking singing lessons. I am a natural soprano! Who woulda thunk? What a year to find my voice!
How to Live In Denmark
Another unexpected thing this year is that I changed jobs/companies, and I now work with a bunch of brilliant Danes (and other people from other countries but it’s mostly Danish people day to day). Shifting to this new location and cultural orientation has been quite a shift, so I was grateful when my boss introduced me to Kay Xander Mellish and her How To Live/Work in Denmark series. I am learning so many new things and better able to understand/contextualize and affect what is happening around me.
I recently started a new job where I am working from home with a team spread across Europe and the US. Some of the team is working from home because they always do, others are working from home due to the pandemic, but yet others are actually working as per normal from our company’s headquarters.
With a team spread across so many geos as well as work configurations, I prefer the term geographically-distributed to remote, since that better describes what we are. And while we definitely use the typical collaboration tools (e.g. Slack, Zoom) to connect us, there are a few others I also really like when working this way.
Clubhouse is a great project management tool in the sweet spot between Jira and Trello. (Full disclosure: I used to work at Clubhouse and am still a shareholder. But, seriously, if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t mention it. ) When my company was mostly just team members colocated at the HQ, they would track their tasks on a physical whiteboard. In fact when I started here a few weeks ago, I remember someone in the office taking a picture of the board and dropping it into a Slack channel so those working from home could see it. However, with all this uncertainty and people working in and out of offices, that simply can’t do anymore.
So several teams have been using GitHub Issues, while my team and several others have started using Clubhouse. I have introduced Clubhouse at every startup I’ve worked at since I left Clubhouse and it has been a hit with the teams. We can communicate in the comments and threads, create filtered views for specific teams or efforts, and the ability to have cross-team views and higher levels of abstraction beyond tasks is such a win.
My favorite thing, however, is the daily summary notification email.
At a glance, I can see everything that got touched, created, completed. It is nice to wake up every morning and get a full situation report. The more people in the company are using it, the clearer that image becomes. It is a great time saver.
Clubhouse also has a handy app and a great Slack integration.
With a team this spread out, a lot of important things can happen long before some teammates even wake up. In order to keep people on the same page since we aren’t all in the same timezone, we use this handy Slack app.
With two simple questions (that the Geekbot is programmed to ask at the *end* of the person’s workday), we can share a lot of details and easily pass the baton” from east to west without having to do a boring daily standup either late or night or before we’ve gotten out of our jammies!
Long before the pandemic, I shared my hesitation about working from home (click to read if you missed that one). One of the things I most miss about working together with people in a colocated office (aside from free lunches, coffees, and team singalongs LOL) is being able to just look over someone’s shoulder at their screen as they explained something to you.
In order to approximate this, I’ve been using Loom a lot. It is an easy way to show someone something without being in the same place or having to set up a Zoom call. Because we all surely have extreme Zoom fatigue. When you wanna try and avoid a Zoom, try a Loom!
Ms. Kaba is an organizer against criminalization. June 12, 2020
Congressional Democrats want to make it easier to identify and prosecute police misconduct; Joe Biden wants to give police departments $300 million. But efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms like these have failed for nearly a century.
Enough. We can’t reform the police. The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police.
There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.
So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.
Now two weeks of nationwide protests have led some to call for defunding the police, while others argue that doing so would make us less safe.
The first thing to point out is that police officers don’t do what you think they do. They spend most of their time responding to noise complaints, issuing parking and traffic citations, and dealing with other noncriminal issues. We’ve been taught to think they “catch the bad guys; they chase the bank robbers; they find the serial killers,” said Alex Vitale, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, in an interview with Jacobin. But this is “a big myth,” he said. “The vast majority of police officers make one felony arrest a year. If they make two, they’re cop of the month.”
We can’t simply change their job descriptions to focus on the worst of the worst criminals. That’s not what they are set up to do.
Second, a “safe” world is not one in which the police keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence and death.
I’ve been advocating the abolition of the police for years. Regardless of your view on police power — whether you want to get rid of the police or simply to make them less violent — here’s an immediate demand we can all make: Cut the number of police in half and cut their budget in half. Fewer police officers equals fewer opportunities for them to brutalize and kill people. The idea is gaining traction in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles and other cities.
History is instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.
The Lexow Committee undertook the first major investigation into police misconduct in New York City in 1894. At the time, the most common complaint against the police was about “clubbing” — “the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks,” as the historian Marilynn Johnson has written.
After the 1967 urban uprisings, the Kerner Commission found that “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.” Its report listed a now-familiar set of recommendations, like working to build “community support for law enforcement” and reviewing police operations “in the ghetto, to ensure proper conduct by police officers.”
These commissions didn’t stop the violence; they just served as a kind of counterinsurgent function each time police violence led to protests. Calls for similar reforms were trotted out in response to the brutal police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the rebellion that followed, and again after the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The final report of the Obama administration’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing resulted in procedural tweaks like implicit-bias training, police-community listening sessions, slight alterations of use-of-force policies and systems to identify potentially problematic officers early on.
But even a member of the task force, Tracey Meares, noted in 2017, “policing as we know it must be abolished before it can be transformed.”
The philosophy undergirding these reforms is that more rules will mean less violence. But police officers break rules all the time. Look what has happened over the past few weeks — police officers slashing tires, shoving old men on camera, and arresting and injuring journalists and protesters. These officers are not worried about repercussions any more than Daniel Pantaleo, the former New York City police officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death; he waved to a camera filming the incident. He knew that the police union would back him up and he was right. He stayed on the job for five more years.
Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.
But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.
We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.
We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.
What about rape? The current approach hasn’t ended it. In fact most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. Two-thirds of people who experience sexual violence never report it to anyone. Those who file police reports are often dissatisfied with the response. Additionally, police officers themselves commit sexual assault alarmingly often. A study in 2010 found that sexual misconduct was the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct. In 2015, The Buffalo News found that an officer was caught for sexual misconduct every five days.
When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm.
People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.
When the streets calm and people suggest once again that we hire more black police officers or create more civilian review boards, I hope that we remember all the times those efforts have failed.
In case you missed it, here is everything I said in my Lead Dev AMA the other day
I had a few questions that would be great to get your thoughts on. You mentioned that ‘Some hands support’ can work well at big and small organisations. Are there any specific use cases where you’ve seen it work particularly well?
Well a lot has changed since I gave that talk and I now work in a much more sophisticated support organization. When I was at Clubhouse, the support staff were decidedly less technical (I hate the term “nontechnical”) and we were fairly reliant on engineering for doing deep investigation into issues and pushing fixes.
“Some hands” then meant being particular about which engineers we pulled into customer issues. We wanted to make sure we were bringing the right engineers who had enough familiarity with the components and code base to diagnose and (hopefully) resolve the issue. Cycling through the entire engineering team might have just caused more trouble than it solved.
Here at Nylas, everyone on our support team is a support engineer. They all need to have some ability to read and write code and work with the same APIs and SDKs that our customer use every day. With that strong foundation, we’ve worked with our engineering team to institute an escalations process which ensures that we are only passing a small percentage of issues to Eng and that ALL the communication with customers goes through the support team.
Could you share a little more about how you get buy-in from engineering team members for a support rotation?
Nylas had cycled through a few rounds of “firefighter” Eng teams by the time I got here (the last incarnation was called “Hot Shots”) and it was clear to everyone that it simply was not working for us. Engineers did not like spending all day fixing other engineers’ bugs and they often ended up getting pulled off bug fixing to do feature work. So when I proposed that we do away with the Hot Shots team, I think there was a collective sigh of relief.
Instituting escalations required three (fairly) major efforts:
Getting all our bugs into one place rather than scattered between Trello, Phab, Jira, and Slack (we chose Clubhouse, natch!)
Devising a priority system and prioritizing our bugs
Setting up a regular cadence to meet about status
In your experience, what does Day 1 look like for an engineer on support?
At both Clubhouse and Nylas, the initial touchpoint is ALWAYS with the support person. Support should own the conversation from start to finish. When we bring an engineer in to the conversation, we should always be standing by to make sure the discussion stays on target to resolving the customer’s problem.
Right now at Nylas, most urgent escalations go to the Eng on-call so that person is already at the ready to be interrupted. Otherwise, assignments happen round robin at a weekly meeting so people know they are responsible for a particular scope of work and all the information about who in support to reach out to with questions is on the Clubhouse Story. When in doubt, people ping Alexis our AMAZING Escalations Lead.
Oh yeah, that is another thing. You need someone to coordinate!
Our Escalations Lead is responsible for tactical comms between Product, Engineering, and CS. I own strategic comms (as a member of the leadership team). I am also, of course, an escalation point and can flag up something as ON FIRE when Eng (occasionally) pushes back.
Managing Escalations is a tough job, so you should definitely get someone really sharp and persistent to handle it. Oftentimes, she has to roll her sleeves and pair with the engineer to move the issue forward since she is frequently more knowledgeable about how the system works (or errr should work )
Thanks so much, Camille. It’s really interesting to hear about the different support approaches between Clubhouse and Nylas. Are there any core learnings from the approach at Nylas that you’d recommend for organisations that might not have support engineers?
Well a few things:
Let the customers team own the customer conversation all the way through even if an engineer is stepping in to help out. The Eng team may know the code but the customer support person knows the comms. Let them do what they are good at!
Keep educating your support team. One reason I hate the term “nontechnical” is that once devs brand people as such they oftentimes start dumbing things down in their communication with the people they’ve branded as such.
If you hire support people with high aptitude and keep educating them, you may be amazed at what they are capable of. You don’t need a CS degree to parse or write code. There are tons of great online resources and people can learn a LOT on the job if you are empowered.
CRUCIAL POINT 2a. Make sure your support team is enabled on every feature and product that they are expected to support.
Give them time with and access to the builders so they can continue to understand how the pieces fit together so they can provide better/faster service to the customers and continuous feedback to Product and Eng during development.
Since the lockdown/”PAUSE” order was issued here in so-called New York nearly a month ago, a group of friends and I have come together to discuss the current collapse/failure of the state and what we radicals might make in and of it. For our first session, we discussed technologist Vinay Gupta‘s concept of resilience maps (video below) and were lucky enough to be joined in discussion by Vinay Gupta himself. In one of the many fortuitious moments that have been sparked by the global pandemic, my friend tweeted at him and he just happened to be awake, quarantined at his home across the pond, and happy to walk us through the finer points of his SCIM threat modelling framework.
I quickly noted that this model could likely be spiffed up and fashioned as a response to (or furthering of — to be less of a shadethrower here) the current mostly-grassroots and largely apolitical disaster charity efforts that have been posing as “mutual aid”. By creating groups of actual mutuals and doing regular wellness checkins, maybe we could identify gaps and quickly help each other address them. Rather than wasting tons of food when what people might actually need is medicine or masks or bandages, maybe we could take the time to talk through needs and identify if there even were any for that particular day.
The basic ideas that I have boiled it down to are twofold.
A daily checkin with 6 discreet questions:
– Is anyone in your home too cold?
– Is anyone in your home too hot?
– Is anyone in your home hungry?
– Is anyone in your home thirsty/needing water?
– Is anyone in your home injured?
– Is anyone in your home ill?
A regular cadence to do more extensive mapping and addressing of threats beyond the domestic sphere (infrastructure challenges, transportation and logistics, security)
We discussed this all for several weeks, and came up with many questions and few answers to how or if we wanted to proceed. So I figured a logical next step would be just to “open source” the thinking via this blog and see whether it would gain any traction. I will also share a few more resources unearthed during our brainstorming.
Are these the right questions?
Is computerized technology an appropriate way to address this?
Should this be an app or an SMS bot or something else?
Where should the data live?
How should the data be shared? (For my part, I liked the idea of anonymized time series data)
Who should be able to join?
Should it be a community of folks that know each other or just a geofenced open community?
What about privacy?
If privacy was coupled with anonymity, how do we meet needs? A centralized drop off point? A dating app-like mutual reveal and chat?
Are frameworks developed for state purposes appropriate for autonomous mutual aid?