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Signal v. Noise: Support

Our Most Recent Posts on Support

When empathy becomes insulting

David wrote this on 38 comments

Most corporate customer service departments seem to have been reduced to call scripts of apologies with no power whatsoever to actually address the problems they encounter. That’s the conclusion I’m left with after dealing with three business bureaucracies this year: Comcast, Verizon, and American Airlines.

All train their front line people to glaze the interaction with the plastic empathy that’s supposed to make you feel like they care, even when they demonstrably do not. It’s the customer service equivalent of empty calories, but worse, it’s also infuriating.

There’s simply nothing worse than someone telling you how sorry they are when you can hear they don’t give a damn. Nothing worse than someone telling you that they’re doing all they can, when they’re aren’t lifting a finger.

The emotional chain reaction is completely predictable: At first, you’re comforted that someone appears to care even if the tone is off (humans are remarkable at sussing out insincerity). Then you realize that their only job is to get you off the line, not solve the problem. Then follows the feelings of being powerless and betrayed. And then follows the anger.

That’s a vicious cycle and it must be almost as bad on the other side. Imagine having to field calls from customers every day who you want to help, knowing that the only thing you’re allowed to do is feign that “we apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced”.

What’s so sad too is how little it would often take to resolve the situations. You bend a policy here, you expedite an order there, you bubble an issue up to a manager. A natural, caring organization designed to create passionate customers stretches and bends. A rigid business bureaucracy looks to nail every T on policies, procedures, and practices—customers be damned.

(This post was brought on by my recent experience in American Airlines earned an enemy)

Basecamp Delivered is Headed to Atlanta

Chase wrote this on 5 comments

Getting support online is great, but wouldn’t it be nice if you had an expert right beside you? A few of us will be in Atlanta and would love to meet you and your team!
We’ll be at Roam in Alpharetta on Friday, April 19th, at your service. We’ve got 30-minute sessions throughout the day to fit your schedule. Registering for one 30-minute session will cover you and up to five others on your team.
We’ll be there to answer all of your Basecamp questions and to help turn you into a Basecamp pro. We can also show you some best practices to help you and your team get the most out of Basecamp. You’ll just want to bring your own laptop so we’ll be able to do all this inside your Basecamp account.
Space is limited. Make sure to register and save your spot.

To our awesome customers: a shout-out

Emily Triplett Lentz
Emily Triplett Lentz wrote this on 2 comments

Our customers can be unexpectedly, hilariously great sometimes. It’s not at all uncommon for one of us on the support team to post something a customer said in Campfire, because “this lady just made my day!” or “this guy was so funny and nice!”

Now, we’re empowered to do right by our customers, so that’s part of it—we can all take care of billing issues or ID merges or whatever our users need without going to a manager. (Psst: there is no manager.) When we’re able to fix a problem within a few minutes or we prove to be real people rather than robots, that tends to pleasantly surprise people, and they react accordingly. Awesomeness begets awesomeness.

Super speedy, plain and clear communication – didn’t feel like a call-centre experience – was quite obvious that Jim knew what he was talking about rather than just reading from a script. Got the exact answers and actions that I needed. Not used to this level of service – feel a bit dazed ;-)

But we don’t deserve all the credit. Our customers just tend to be savvy, and kind, and they consistently disprove the popular consensus that people on the Internet suck.

No problem. Machines don’t mess up near as often as often as people. So odds are I just didn’t save it correctly. Thank you again for your time and trying to help.
Chase answered my question quickly and completely. He also threw in “have an awesome Tuesday” which is a mildly absurd thing thing to wish someone as it is usually weekends which are “awesome”. I’m gonna run with it though and try to make this day “awesome”. I already high-fived my dog. He seemed confused.

A surprising number of folks write back just to say thank you. They don’t have to—it’s our job to help. But it’s still nice to hear and gives us warm fuzzies.

You know what Kristin, you just made my day … and restored my faith (a bit) in our species.

Sometimes they go beyond that, even. Out of gratitude or wackiness or whatever, they send us photos and videos of their pets, or links to memes.

Thank you. I attached a flying unicorn to show my appreciation.

Some of our San Francisco customers know Merissa is a huge Giants fan, and a few submitted support tickets to tell her they were excited for her during the 2012 World Series. People will sometimes write in just to say they love Basecamp, or to wish us happy holidays.

Just want to say Merry Christmas guys … we’ve been using Basecamp for many years and continue to love the service. Keep up the good work and hope to be on your service for years to come. Here’s a big thank you. Thanks to the web-based nature of work I can stay in touch while getting some awesome snow on holiday in Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan!

Those of us in support are here because we genuinely enjoy helping—but you folks make it easy. Thanks!

Teaching the Support team how to fish

Mig Reyes
Mig Reyes wrote this on 25 comments

Since its launch, the all new Basecamp hadn’t had a dedicated Help site that was actually, well… helpful. Last month, the Support team and I changed all of that.

The previous, crusty excuse of a Help page we had for Basecamp was:

  • A list of answers to questions no one was asking
  • A dead end that didn’t encourage discovery
  • A mystery to our Support team because they couldn’t update it
Previous version that didn’t answer real questions

It needed an upgrade. It needed a rewrite and redesign. It needed to put power back in the Support team’s hands.


Welcome, Natalie!

Joan wrote this on 10 comments

Remember when I said we hired Chris after advertising for a GMT position a few months ago? That was a bit of a fib. We were actually blown away by two applications during that go-round and decided to hire both of the candidates we liked. Natalie Keshlear joins us from the venerable community team at SoundCloud. She’ll be working with us from Berlin, Germany.

Natalie is originally from Southern California, but moved to Berlin about 2 years ago to work for SoundCloud. She loves it there, but decided she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to stay in a place she loved and work with we happy-makers. While we were originally looking for only one more European support team member, we decided to treat Chris and Natalie like Pokémon and caught ‘em all.

If you’re playing along at home, you’ll have counted 10 Supportketeers, but this isn’t entirely accurate. You may have noticed a picture of Michael’s new working environment a few months ago. We recently integrated QA testing into our development process, with Michael taking the lead. His effort has prevented potential problems and bugs in every new feature in Basecamp. Look for more details about this in the future.

Please join us in welcoming our 35th Signal, Natalie Keshlear and congratulating Michael on his new role.

Seeing the world, on the clock

Emily Triplett Lentz
Emily Triplett Lentz wrote this on 13 comments

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.

The British are coming!

Joan wrote this on 5 comments

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!

Basecamp Delivered

Chase wrote this on 15 comments

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. 

Watch on Vimeo.

We’re hitting the road again for other cities soon. You can help bring Basecamp Delivered to your city by letting us know where you are.