My SupConf NYC Experience – Part II

You can read Part I of my SupConf NYC experience here
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So after months of preparation and practice, SupConf arrived!  The day before the conference, we had a speakers and organizers dinner at the venue so we could familiarize ourselves with the space and also get to know each other. Aside from getting to meet so many of the fantastic people I chat and joke with on the Slack, the highlight of that night was insanely delicious cheesecake in a jar. I’d never had that before! It was dangerous! Stuffed and excited I headed home to rest up so I could come back energized fo the conference the next day.

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Day 1 of SupConf was a whirlwind of socializing and listening to wonderful talks. Every one had harrowing tales to tell and sage lessons to share.

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I loved Lance’s talk. We all need this skill in our back pocket.

Some of the people I admire most in the support field were in the room and it was hard not to vibrate from enthusiasm and sheer smitten-ness (is that a word?) as they spoke. I’d actually told Scott, the organizer/founder of Support Driven, a few weeks before that, “There will be so many people that I admire in that room, I wish I had some sort of SupConf yearbook, so I could go around and ask my favorite people to sign it!” And so it was!

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After the first few talks, the organizers came around and passed out the SupConf mini-yearbooks. They featured headshots of every attendee, their name, company, and Slack handle. It was so cool and also exceedingly handy since they didn’t do nametags or lanyards. It also included a headshot page of every speaker alongside a blank page where you could note Key Takeaways for their talk. More conferences should seriously consider doing this!

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Breakout session after Laura Marciano’s excellent talk on troubleshooting your  team

 

A slightly racy “GIF battle” (Support Driven folks LOVE their GIFs) officially closed out a full day of talks and discussion, after which I wandered off to take a little time to myself (and get an impromptu manicure).  That evening, one of the conference sponsors hosted a smaller group of us for lovely drinks and dinner. This was a good opportunity to get to know more folks and also calm my nerves a bit before Day 2, when I had to give my own talk. Shout out to Caitlin and Carin, my new support pals in Bozeman, Montana (the Brooklyn of the Northern Rockies!) and Rex (my UK-based Ghanaian brother from another mother) who gave me a big boost of confidence ahead of my talk. I left that night knowing that when I spoke the next day, I would be amongst friends.

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On Day 2,  I got up early and dressed in the way Lara Hogan prescribes when she says (in Demystifying Public Speaking)

 “Wear whatever makes you feel like a super hero.” 

I was a ball of nerves as I dropped my kid off to school and then rushed over to the venue. I avoided any coffee fearing it would make me too jittery, and I did my best to engage with the other attendees and the other talks. However, as time grew nearer I could feel my stomach knotting up, so I went off into a quiet corner and listened to one of my favorite songs (Akosua by Georgia Anne Muldrow and then did a quick guided meditation). I wasn’t speaking until a bit after lunch and I considered skipping eating so I wouldn’t have anything weird in my teeth, but I couldn’t hold out and ending up grabbing a small bite and rushing up front so that the day’s MC (shout out to the amazing Michelle Bearheart from Trello! ) could get me wired up for the mic. I had to go to the bathroom to clip the lav mic pack up under my dress and on to the waist of my tights. I knew this was going to be the deal, but

I was committed to dressing like my own version of a superhero. And that superhero wore a dress, not a skirt or pants.

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That’s me there talking to my seatmates during another breakout session. Wearing red makes it easy to spot yourself in pics later on.

After sitting on the side of the screen through Emily’s great talk on setting career goals, I quickly reached into my dress and clicked the mic pack on. Unfortunately that was a few beats to early and shrieking feedback echo’d throughout the room. I clicked it back off for a second while Michelle announced me and then clicked it back on and walked up to the front. It turns out it was *still* too early to have it on and the first few beats of my talk were feedbacky and weird. I rolled with it and continued on.

I had great time up there, spotting faces I recognized in the crowd, hearing people laugh at funny bits, and watching nods of understanding and agreement.

At one point, I felt my throat dry up and  realized I had no water but I powered through it, mentally noting that I should have that next time (or ask the organizer to provide it/remind me). At another point, I  forgot my next point and had to grab my notes, but even then I felt like everyone was with me cheering me on. When I was done, I got great applause and lots of enthusiastic feedback and tons of high-fives (which I normally hate but relished on that occasion).

Watching the talk now I see where I can improve in the future, but I am genuinely proud of myself.

I think I am an engaging new speaker, and I will definitely grow and improve over time. I thank all the organizers of Support Driven for this incredible opportunity, and I am excited for my future speaking engagements as well as the growth and ongoing success of the truly nurturing SupConf community.

And without further ado, here’s the talk!

SupConf NYC 2016 – Camille Acey Where To Next? Evaluating Opportunities For Growth-HD from Camille Acey on Vimeo.

An Ode to The Mall or Towards A Customer Experience for Humans

My name is Camille and I am the world’s most reluctant online shopper. I am a working wife and mom and time to shop can run short, so I Amazon when I must… and I must much of the time. However, whenever I find myself with more than a few minutes on my hands, I love to steal away and browse in a boutique or better yet walk the floors of a big box store. And though I live in New York and have been deprived of the privilege for many a year, no digital experience will ever in a million years match the pure (OK mostly guilty) pleasure of going to the mall.

Yes, I know that malls can be huge and unsightly corporate behemoths that tend to decimate smaller, local businesses and negatively impact the environment with their sprawling parking lots and bulky footprints, but on the other hand the modern mall is a pristine palace of convenience and an egalitarian urban bazaar for our times. It has food and clothes and appliances and sometimes even entertainment. The mall is for young and old. The monied and the poor. The left and the right. Yes, there is truly something — at least one thing — for everyone at the mall! Oh shopping mall, why do I love thee? Let me count the reasons!

Discoverability

How many times have you gone into a mall or big box store for one thing and come out with multiple bags? Sale signs beckon from the window, you need shoes to go with that skirt you just bought, you just want to peek in and check one other little thing….and you’re hooked. Even the best online shops with the fancy schmanciest algorithms cannot do that. While suggestions are fun, they don’t come close to stumbling upon something amazing and being able to get it now.

Instant gratification

If I see something I like at the mall, I can take it and buy it today. No waiting around for some delivery person or dealing with piles of cardboard boxes. The thing you want is in your hand moments after you decided you wanted it. While large online retailers have the benefit of being able to hold a lot more stock than a brick and mortar store, they also have to deal with processing returns because the tiny 350 X 350 image of those jeans didn’t accurately represent what they looked like in person or searching for missing items OR something was lost or damaged in shipping.

Accessibility

A ramp in a mall in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

For better or worse, the mall is for everybody. Unlike fancy Manhattan boutiques where shop assistants size you up for purchasing power the moment you walk in the door, mall shops invite. If you have the ability to move your body across the threshold, then you are their ideal shopper. Malls are also in many cases shiny new buildings that are required to adhere to accessibility guidelines. While malls are equipped with ramps and lifts, many online retailers still fail to meet even basic levels of site accessibility like clear text and headers.

Localisation

A recent display in the Flatbush Avenue — Brooklyn College Target store

If you visit your local mall you are certain to be served by a clerk who speaks the local language and dialect and is familiar with the area. While the hugest of the online retailers can certainly provide language localised sites, many smaller web shops struggle to offer their shops in more than one language and can rarely provide customer support in every customer’s timezone. If we don’t speak the languages that the site is offered in, we can see the merchandise and likely even purchase but we are uninformed and underserved, 2nd class shoppers.

A clerk in a mall shop can not only welcome you, chat with you, guide you in and through the store, but can also help you locate other local goods and services. They know the area and can refer you to related shops.

In addition, one branch of an international store has the unique opportunity to provide location specific items. At a recent visit to a Brooklyn Target, I found a large display of New York specific swag. Special limited edition and geographically significant merchandise can be a draw to an otherwise subpar shop or restaurant.

Concessions

Big greasy pretzels, gooey cinnamon buns that beckon to me from the parking lot, and hot dogs….on sticks! Boy, do you know how to treat a lady, shopping mall. You understand that all that deal hunting means that I am probably going to get a little peckish and want food that isn’t entirely fit for human consumption.

While I don’t (necessarily) believe that online retailers should offer fast food, understanding shoppers as humans is so important. So many times, I’ve been multitasking and online shopping and had a transaction time out because I wandered off or had to go to the restroom. Most mall shops will hold things for you until you get back. Heck, many big box stores even have a layaway policy so you can put an item to the side and come back when you get your money right. A quick Google revealed that even Amazon didn’t have a layaway program.

I understand there are myriad security and business concerns with how long we let sessions run and actually holding physical items for users, but retailers will only benefit by figuring it out. Shopping in the real world is not a straight line, and retailers win when online shopping encourages the same sort of access, speed, courtesy, and service that physical shopping engenders.

So with all that physical shops have going for themselves, what’s an online retailer to do? Just give up and shut down? Of course not, we need them too. However, I would suggest the following:

  • Embrace/ create accessible online shops and platforms
    If you are a smaller online retailer, look into what it will take to make your website more accessible and localised. More on web accessibility standards here (http://www.chainstoreage.com/article/web-accessibility-why-it-matters-all-retailers). If you cannot afford the investment, look into sellers’ platforms that can do the work for you but let you maintain your branding. If you are a platform builder, offer accessible platforms that allow sellers to offer unique and localised experiences to potential customers.
  • Build (better) retail into places where people are already browsing
    I spend far too much of my time on Pinterest pinning clothes that and outfits that I like but the path from finding something I want to actually trying to get it has been thus far unsuccessful. Social platforms are certainly trying to hack retail as it is crucial to their revenue strategy, but for some reason they can’t get it right. Liketoknow.it tries to implement this for Instagram but it is too confusing and high friction.
  • Do brick and mortar whenever you can (but call in the experts!)
    I recently read that Amazon will be opening a few physical locations soon; even the web’s Everything Store has realized that there is value in meeting shoppers where they are. As a retailer, whenever possible, try to position your merchandise where people can touch, try, and buy it. Keep a list of physical retailers on your site and up to date. Do pop-ups until you can afford a physical location. And have excellent customer service and unique offerings that make the in-person experience something truly special and worth seeking out.

So We Quit Blue Apron (Again)

Image from here

My journey with Blue Apron started like that of so many other people: with a free box of food from friends. We liked it immediately for many reasons:

  1. The recipes were creative and introduced us to techniques and dishes we’d never prepared before.
  2. The ingredients were very fresh and interesting. While we live in a city with many exotic options, our neighborhood has exceedingly slim pickings in the grocery stores outside of basics and ingredients to make Caribbean food.
    I unpacked my freekeh and scallops and black rice with utter glee.
  3. Less time spent shopping.
  4. Less emotional labour spent trying to figure out what in the world to cook. We don’t ever order food in and very rarely go to restaurants so every day requires that we cook something or have something cooked that we can warm up. When I first started with Blue Apron, I was a fairly new mom and so I was pretty exhausted with work and baby care, so being able to have everything I needed to make a meal was a real convenience.

Why We Quit The First Time

The first time I cancelled with Blue Apron, I didn’t really want to quit. My family had a change in our financial situation and Blue Apron felt a luxury we could no longer afford. It was with a heavy heart that I pressed the Cancel button and said goodbye to those handy little boxes. However, when our tides began to rise again I quickly and excitedly resumed our service, but things were not to be the same….

Why We Quit The Second Time

A lot seemed to have changed from my first excursion on the SS Blue Apron. The recipes started to feel repetitive and not worth the price. The packaging seemed to have ballooned (I don’t need a two sheeter about the history of lemons! Nor do I need a letter from the company every week or even a physical recipe printout. Just email it!) with so much of it being so incredibly not recyclable (despite their claims to the contrary). Meat packages arrived leaking blood all through the box and ingredients were curiously mislabelled or missing. My kitchen was scattered an increasingly overwhelming amount of tiny portions of basic ingredients that I actually already had on stock (vinegars, onions, garlic, soy sauce). But the worst part was that it seemed impossible to figure out how to give feedback on any of this.

Whereas in the past, I’d emailed customer service and received cheery answers, now I could not quite figure out how to reach anyone at all. I tweeted at them a few times and received no response. So I figured it was time to call it a day. But even canceling proved to be an ordeal. I had to click a button and then….WAIT for this.

I had sincerely hoped that I’d receive an email from someone on their customer success team asking me to give them another try or see if there was any issue I could resolve. Instead I received this ugly, generic email basically saying “Bye, Felicia”, as though I hadn’t spent thousands of dollars and referred countless friends to them. If there is a lesson in how NOT to treat customers, Blue Apron has aptly taught it to me. As a Customer Success Lead, I can at least be grateful to them for that.

I’m never going back.

Gonna miss that freekeh though.

More Will Be Revealed OR Thoughts On Engaging the Less-Engaging Customer

More Will Be Revealed OR Thoughts On Engaging the Less-Engaging Customer

From this XKCD comic

I recently received a very blunt and critical email from a customer. He was unhappy about a marketing email we sent out and critical of the company in general. Now, as Customer Success Lead, I work at the intersection of customer support, user experience, and customer development with some sales and marketing responsibilities rolled up there too (because hey we’re a startup!), but despite my many hats, I’ve become much more accustomed to dealing with feature requests and suggestions (thoughts on that here ) and not as adept at taking outright criticism. Fortunately, I’m familiar enough with customer development methodology at this point to know that there is often more beneath the surface of a simple user comment or request. So in this case, I responded to the customer by:

1) Showing appreciation for the feedback
2) Revealing the assumptions that were at play internally when we created the marketing email (e.g. People hate receiving “salesy” marketing emails and would prefer informative ones instead)
3) Conveying what response we’d hoped to receive with the email (e.g. We were looking to start a larger a dialogue about the business/process of software development)
4) Asking what sort of emails/communication the user *does* like to receive from a company like ours.

Much to my surprise, the user responded rather quickly and with a markedly changed tone, offering considerably more constructive feedback. Despite the fact that he claimed to hate the email, I ultimately got the dialogue I was looking for!

As I settle into my position, I am experiencing ever more of these sorts of exchanges — ones with biting and “off the cuff” beginnings that eventually finish as thoughtful conversations, full of great and useful ideas. While certain customers can come off as blunt, cynical, or entitled upon first contact, those same customers can also (with further engagement) prove to be highly intelligent, creative, and thoughtful. Even after several years of working alongside software developers, project managers, and tech leads, I am still learning valuable lessons about how to engage and turn an unpleasant exchange if not into something pleasant than at least into something productive. Recent lessons include:

Meet Users Where They Are
Whenever possible, it is useful to thank the person for taking the time out of their day to reach out you. They could have kept their opinion to themselves and honestly many users do. So this could be the viewpoint of scores more who just couldn’t be bothered to write you.

Affirm the person’s opinion. That is what they think and they have a right to think that way. You just want to know, “OK. So, what else?”

Customer Success Not “Happiness”
As I mentioned in a previous post, while we are working to build solutions that serve an ever growing number of users, we don’t need to blindly accommodate or people-please. We will never make all the users happy and that shouldn’t be our goal.

Be Introspective
What is your company doing? Are you accomplishing what you set out to accomplish or is this critique hitting a sore spot and reminding you of something you realize you need to fix/do/be? I find it is crucial to internally be honest about your company and your competitors, especially those who might be doing a better job than you at providing the same sort of product or service. It can also sometimes be beneficial to remind customers that you are aware of your competitors and know that Brand X does this better than we do at the moment.

Customer Success is not just about fixing the brokenness, it’s about learning what is still/already working…even if it is a competitor’s product or service or even a user’s hack.

It’s Not Me, It’s You
Sometimes people are grumpy or don’t know what they want or just want to vent. Listen politely, ask questions as you can, but don’t feel that you need to do or fix anything right away. While you are not there to be anyone’s therapist, if you *can* connect to the person and their frustrations you will gain valuable insight into the work and personal challenges some users may be facing.

Zero Tolerance For Abuse
All this having been said, it is important that your company not tolerate abuse. If a person is being offensive, hurtful, or threatening, you should have every right to walk away. While engaging the less-engaging among your user base can be useful it is not always useful.

Everybody Has One: Dealing With User Feedback

(originally posted on my Blogger blog)

“A mystic isn’t a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of mystic.” — Brother David Stendl-Rast

Look at you. You magnificent thing. You are not just the sum of ears and nose and skin and bones and teeth…. You are an inspired being…at least on your best days. You have things that motivate you at work, at home, in the world. You have a vision for who you want to be to your friends, to your co-workers, to your family, and as a citizen in your physical and digital communities.

Much the same could be said of the work you do and the products you build. The hope for those of us who work in the technology space is that what we make will be more than the sum of a reasonably sturdy database, many lines of code, a handful of API calls, and the latest Javascript framework hanging out front smiling it’s biggest freakiest smile at the world. You hope you’re building something that will matter, that will be used and loved and help people accomplish what they couldn’t accomplish before… or as quickly…or as elegantly. As creators, we, of, course need to get past the ugly MVP phase and we want to be responsive to feedback from our users so we can continue to course correct all throughout the product cycle. For that reason, how we take in that feedback is no trivial matter. In fact, if done without care and process it can have monstrous consequences.

So I wanted to share a few tips on how to receive and respond to Product feedback.

First Of All, If It’s Broken Fix It
So they found a bug. Yes, these things happen to the best of us. This should go without saying but if something doesn’t work. Just fix it. The speed at which you fix it is up to you and your team but if something isn’t working the way you intended it to, then you should probably just fix it.

Beware of “People Said” or “Our Users Said”
How many people does it take to turn a feature request into a product requirement? 2? 50? 100? 1 if it the person is a really powerful and monied customer? It’s important to figure out that number and how you will weight and respond to feedback as well as the value of the feature. Implementing a feature or letting one really squeaky wheel get all the grease can make the whole effort run off the rails.Which people said what and when? How big of a deal is it really?

Have (And Continue To Iterate on) A Roadmap
What is the vision for your org? Your product? How and where is it articulated for your employees. Do your devs know what and where it is? Nevermind whether they care.

This vision for where you are trying to go and/or who (you hope) you are being and what (you hope) you are doing is hopefully clearly typed out somewhere and is given legs through your roadmap, which should be a living breathing document that all the team can access and have some input on.

While not set in stone (see: bug fixes, market forces, new! hotness!) that document should be your guide. Our intrepid devs should be allowed and even encouraged to tinker, but it is helpful to reiterate priorities. How does this align with what we’ve said we really want to do/ be doing? Revisiting that question is crucial, because you really don’t want to get hung up implementing something that you don’t wanna do but then feel you *have to* do because someone spent all weekend hacking on it and now it’s built and it looks like it works. Is this something you *really* want or need or is it just something that can exist in a feature branch and visited at a later date?

Your Backlog Is Not Your Roadmap

Oh, the backlog! Depending on how well your backlog is managed, it can either be Easy Street or a Boulevard of Broken Dreams. A jumble of half-formed ideas and rambling fever dreams. I can’t stress enough that your roadmap needs to be more than a shoving together of Stuff We Didn’t Do Yet but rather a cleared out path of Where We Want To Go. Your roadmap can certainly be stored in your project management tool but it is not just an export of The Undone.

Don’t Just Say Thank You
So you know better now. You aren’t going to just let your product be a plastic bag blowing in the wind of customer whims. You have a vision and you’re going to stand up for it! So how *do* you respond to product feedback/feature requests then? Do you dash them off with a one sentence email and a thank you? Well, I certainly hope not. In her excellent book, Lean Customer Development, Cindy Alvarez suggests asking users:

“ If you had (requested feature) today, how would that make your life better?”

I also like “Can you tell me more about how (highlighted issue) is a blocker for you?” as well as “How are you working around the lack of (requested feature)?” Product feedback and feature requests give us awareness of a potential issue. Asking a question like one of the above gives us understanding. Only after we have awareness and understanding should we feel equipped to chart a course of action. Springing into a flurry of whiteboarding and keytapping can be perilous without stepping back and truly finding out what the user is trying to accomplish and why.

Get Customer Success
Feel like you don’t have the time or bandwidth to tackle the growing pile of feedback and feature requests? Well then I highly suggest you engage your customer success manager/ team! Don’t have a customer success person/team? Well then I highly recommend checking out this post from the excellent Support Driven blog to get your awareness and understanding of this crucial role at the intersection of product development, customer support, account management, and user experience.

Together we can keep these visions alive!!