#Exceptions 4: Help Scout: Defining, Defending, & Challenging an Entire Industry

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This is a podcast episode titled, #Exceptions 4: Help Scout: Defining, Defending, & Challenging an Entire Industry. The summary for this episode is: Customer support professionals remove the obstacles and clear the way for your customers to appreciate your product or service. They are the front lines of your business, representing your name day in, day out. Often time, customers service pros may be the only face or voice of a company someone can connect to the business. Yet, these individuals, the ones bearing the flag for an entire organization, are typically overworked, underpaid, and underserved. Meet Help Scout. Help Scout hasn’t just built a kick-ass SaaS product that enables CSRs and others to perform faster and better. They’ve created a culture where these professionals on the frontlines are valued, heard, and understood. Their clients love the product and the company, because both are built around them. From Help Scout’s customers, to their employees, to their CEO, to even those unhappy with how Help Scout’s changing the industry, I heard one thing in common with every stakeholder: Help Scout is ruthless about customer-centricity. They are an #Exception. The Seeking Wisdom Official Facebook Group is live! One place, finally, for all of us to hang out, get updates on the podcast, and share what we’re learning (plus some exclusives). Just search for the Seeking Wisdom Official group on Facebook. On Twitter: @jayacunzo and @seekingwisdomio

Jay Acunzo: Okay. I have to confess something. I've only told a handful of people, the same thing before, but it's time I came clean. But first to understand this story, you have to understand a little bit about where I worked right out of college. I worked at Google in their Boston office on the Google AdWords team, and to train their salespeople back then Google would put you on customer support. Like quite literally," Thank you for calling Google AdWords. How can I help you?" Phones chat sometimes two at once. That was my steep, but quick learning curve to understand both the product and more importantly, the customer. And that would have been fine by me if we didn't get stuck. What was supposed to be three months turned into four, five, and then six and nine months later, we were still manning the phones and chat systems even though we were supposed to be advising brands. We were hired to be digital media strategists, but due to the economy at the time Google had stopped hiring to backfill and worse they laid off some people, just like many companies around then. And so there we were getting numb and others frustrated. I remember one woman, I worked with yelling at a customer on the phones. I went to Harvard. These jobs are really hard to get. Another handful of us kept getting the same woman calling to set up her internet service." Uh, ma'am Google is not the internet." And then there was one employee on the team who found a clever way to game the software system that Google used. See there were two different modes that your account could be logged into during your phone shift, available and after call which technically meant you were still logged into your shift, but you were taking a break from receiving calls because maybe you were recording notes from your last one or catching a quick breath before going back into the queue where you would fall to the end of the line for the next call. Our goal was to average, no more than 30 seconds in after- call following each interaction throughout a given shift. The idea being that you want to maximize your time available. And that one guy, he ran a few experiments until he found a loophole in that system. Okay, fine so that guy was me. Overtime I figured out that you could jump back and forth between after- call and available. And so long as the time spent in after call averaged 30 seconds, by the end, you were good. So I would jump into after- call for 60 seconds. Then jump back in, available for one, then jump back to after- call for 60 and so on. And so eventually I figured out the right pattern of logging in, logging out, being available and being in after- call to average 30 seconds per shift. At first, I only did this for a few minutes at a time, but then I saw my reports coming out looking great. And I would do this for most of my phone shifts, as I got more and more jaded. I spent more time figuring out to game that system, then doing the actual work because it was totally clear that the actual work was undervalued and overlooked by the company. It was an afterthought. Despite our team being literally the front lines talking to customers every day, the company didn't seem to care. Our department was called the Online Sales Operations team or OSO and Google would give OSO little projects almost to try and appease us or keep us entertained. Like the time they created a project called Oh, So Big, which meant turning customer support interactions into sales interactions, Oh, So Big. Meanwhile, I kept running my experiment, which I then dubbed Oh, So Small. Am I proud of that stuff? No. Okay, fine, kind of. I'm kind of proud of that stuff. But long after I left the company, Google tipped their hand. They eliminated the entire department. In fact, they moved everybody from Boston and Mountain View, expensive areas with expensive talent and they set up shop somewhere else in the U. S. I think I heard Arizona, but they moved out of a major city and they hired cheaper talent to continue running their call center. And I bring all of this up to highlight one very important point, regardless of how great the company or progressive the industry customer support is chronically underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated. They don't feel respected or feel heard. Compounding that frustration, the tools built for those teams are often designed for managers to pull reports, not for users. They're for handling tickets, not serving customers. These are systems just begging to be gamed. Today, we hear from a company that's hellbent on solving all of that. This is Exceptions, the show about why building a brand matters more than ever in B2B. In this series, we go inside some of the world's best B2B companies to understand why they're proactively building brands to stand out from all the commodity junk of their space. These are the exceptions. I'm your host, Jay Acunzo author of the book Break the Wheel. And I'm partnering with Drift to bring you this series, because Drift is all about putting the human experience back into B2B marketing and sales. And speaking of human experience, even though it's a terrible experience to see your team go away all of my colleagues at Google eventually went on to find great jobs. Many of whom are still at the same company. I left Google about two years after running phone and chat support. I'd left behind my Oh, So Small experiment after nine months to do sales at the company, but it just wasn't for me. So I joined a startup, switched into content marketing, and I fell in love with it. I've never looked back. Nothing against Google, it's a great brand with a great culture and great people. It just wasn't for me. It promised to be a great job and it almost was, but it wasn't. It came oh, so close. Okay. So today we go inside Help Scout, which creates customer service software used by companies ranging from Base Camp and Trello to Blue Bottle Coffee and Grub Hub. Help Scout emphasizes a shift away from all the cold transactional ideas like tickets, portals, and robo emails, and has put the people back at the center of customer support. This is a company beloved by their users, but not everybody around those users. In fact, some people, including some executives at a few of their customer companies aren't too happy with what some of the marketing initiatives from Help Scout are saying. Help Scouts CEO will later explain what they're doing and why they see it not just as an advantage, but as a responsibility to say these things. Help Scout is a fully remote team with employees in over 60 cities around the world. And since their launch in 2011, they've grown to serve over 8, 000 support teams in over 140 countries. Now, obviously I scan their website to get that information. And while I was there, I tripped into one of my favorite little touches on the Help Scout site, their team page. Every single employee has the same title, customer champion. While that is unique, there are lots of very positive things that every brand we profile has in common including Help Scout and chief among them is that they're customer centric. So naturally that is exactly where we should begin every episode in this series with the voice of an actual customer.

Mercer Smith-Looper: Hi, my name is Mercer Smith- Looper, and I am head of support at Appcues.

Jay Acunzo: Appcues makes tools to help companies improve both their user onboarding and feature adoption in their products, all without using any additional code.

Mercer Smith-Looper: I am the head of support at Appcues so I run and lead our support team, which includes implementation engineers and support specialists.

Jay Acunzo: So you're basically in charge of making sure people start using the product well, and then if they have any issues, do they come to you?

Mercer Smith-Looper: Yes, that's correct.

Jay Acunzo: Mercer first encountered Help Scout in 2013 when working at Wistia, which of course was our second episode in Exceptions. And she immediately fell in love with how the company has built its product for users, customer support agents, not simply managers or executives.

Mercer Smith-Looper: I think the best example of this is when you clear out your inbox, like a little disco ball will show up and be like, you're finished now, go through some glitter on it.

Jay Acunzo: Seems so simple, right? But that's been a huge lesson across all of these episodes. The things that customers love about these B2B brands, aren't big and flashy, inexpensive initiatives, they're small, but they all convey that they truly understand what the customer is going through. For customer support teams, they go through, well, a lot of tough stuff, but Help Scout responds swiftly to fix those users problems. Mercer recalled the time that she was on the receiving end of one of those great experiences.

Mercer Smith-Looper: So back at Wistia, we implemented something called all hands support. So we had engineers in the support queue helping out with tickets and responding to customers, or at least responding to us so that we could respond to customers. And during this time we were running into a lot of issues where engineers, instead of writing a note back to us would just respond directly to the customer, which was obviously not great in that sometimes they don't have the best tone or aren't writing with the customer audience in mind. And so I reached out to Help Scout about this and I was like," Listen, we're having a really hard time with this. Our customers are getting really bad responses from our engineers that aren't meant to be customer facing. Our engineers don't realize they're writing notes instead of tickets, what can we do?" And within like a couple of days, they implemented a highlighting feature so that notes would come up as yellow and tickets would just look like regular tickets. And that was so impactful for our day to day. Also, because there'd be like a little warning for the engineer that's like," Hey, this was a note. Do you want to respond in the note or do you want to respond to the ticket?" And it sounds really small, but that kind of signaling made a huge impact on our customer experience and on our team's flow.

Jay Acunzo: Was that surprising that they did that or did you almost come to expect that level of service?

Mercer Smith-Looper: I mean, their service is really good. Their team is always really responsive and they always go above and beyond, but that was far beyond what I had ever expected.

Jay Acunzo: How does something like that make you feel?

Mercer Smith-Looper: It made me feel really cared about and really valued. And that they were listening to something that's like small and minute and seems like something that was probably only affecting us really deeply and chose to see it as valid and valuable and push it through so that everyone had it as an option.

Jay Acunzo: I asked Mercer if Help Scouts brand was an actual person in her life, who would they be?

Mercer Smith-Looper: Help Scout would probably be a professor at like Evergreen University or like one of those colleges that doesn't have a set curriculum. Like the 22 year old professor who like did all of this crazy grad school and like his PhD program before he hit like 21 because he's a little genius, but he'd probably be wearing like a really comfy start- up t- shirt and probably some Chuck Taylor's. I feel like a lot of the Help Scouters wear Chuck Taylor's for some reason. Hyper intelligent, but very down to earth and probably just like a very personable and funny personality. I'd say like maybe a little bit self- deprecating in the humor. I don't know. That's oddly specific. So sorry about that.

Jay Acunzo: That may seem oddly specific, but it is nothing compared to how specific Help Scouts CEO will get later in the episode. Just wait for that. In the meantime, let's get to our big idea for this episode. Today you simply can't build a great company without proactively and strategically thinking about brand. In a world of infinite supply and choice where the B2B buyer has all the power people choose to spend time and money on the best experience. So let's ensure we all improve our companies by highlighting a big idea we can actually use. Today's big idea is don't just relate advocate. Last time in our episode about envision, we talked about the theme of being a platform. This is about lifting up your customer's entire careers. To do that these companies are building content and even community around way more than their solutions to customer problems, they're calling out things that are broken. But once you start to do that, inevitably forces around your customer will present some roadblocks. That could be their bosses, their own customers, the precedent or inertia of their industry, and tons more things. So once you act like a platform, once you can relate to your audience, you have to turn relevancy into advocacy because there will be times you'll need to proactively advocate for change on behalf of your customer and this has real benefits to your business too. By the way, when you advocate for change that doesn't always sit well with people who benefit from the status quo. And as we'll hear Help Scout is challenging the status quo. And as you heard from my story, and Mercer's already customer support agents often suffer from that status quo. They feel underserved, overlooked, and underappreciated, both by vendors providing tools and their own companies. They're viewed as a cost center or worse, a necessary evil. And as a result, Help scout is focused on much more than just providing solutions or relating to their audience. They are advocating for change to the people around their customers. We're going to hear about one rather brave project that sums this up in just a bit. Here's the deal though. Just like when Help Scout build its support software, we all have to acknowledge the same truth, customers aren't tickets. They're not nameless, faceless numbers to be transactioned or marked as closed. Customers aren't tickets. They're also not leads, prospects, MQL's, sales, or data points. We need more empathy. Customers aren't even customers, they're people. People who have a whole collection of problems in their lives and their work. Imagine if your company not only sold them a tool to solve a problem, but removed the friction standing in their way even when they aren't using your products. What if you helped your customer sell in their ideas around the company because maybe that's what they're struggling with? Maybe then they would buy your product once they can execute on those ideas. What if you helped your customer's bosses or maybe their teams understand that there's a better way to treat those people or have them execute and you became a champion of that better way, standing shoulder to shoulder with your customer? What if you challenged way more than just your own competitors, but instead focused on the biggest issues facing the people you aim to serve? Don't just relate advocate. So now let's meet one of the biggest advocates for Help Scouts customers, the company's co- founder and CEO, Nick Francis.

Nick Francis: We talked about Help Scout years ago as we're the world's first invisible help desk because the customer doesn't actually interact with Help Scout. It looks like a normal email from a real person whenever they get something back. So there's no ticket numbers, there's no robotic looking emails, or templates or anything it just looks like a normal email that you would get from a friend.

Jay Acunzo: I like that because it implies something almost bigger, which is customers aren't commodities, customers aren't these amorphous faceless entities. Like when we talk about leads in marketing or tickets in customer support, or prospects in sales these are people we're talking about. And I feel like the language of B2B almost like dehumanizes, how we view that. And I think that changes our behavior or historically has any way in B2B. And you very specifically said, we don't want people to feel like a ticket, like walk me through why that's an important issue.

Nick Francis: A hundred percent. I mean, we looked at the" help desk space, customer service space", seven years ago, and we didn't get into it because there wasn't any competition. There was a lot of different companies that make this kind of software. The problem was I felt like help desks themselves were born in the enterprise and they were built around creating some transactional relationship where you're really optimizing for agent productivity. Like all you want to do is be able to get through that queue as fast as you can. And as customer experience has become more important over the years, I think we've all realized as businesses, especially if you're in SAS or your business model sort of depends on your company's reputation and your company's ability to wow customers, that treating them in a more human way actually makes a really big difference. And so that was really the thesis behind creating the product. I feel like everybody that's in the help desk space made products for enterprises. I'm not an enterprise, I want to treat my customers like humans so I'm going to design a help desk that's built for the customer experience first and then work my way back into some of the other things.

Jay Acunzo: This idea of reverse engineering the Help Scout product was really born out of Nick's first moments researching the competition. He said he was trying to buy help desk software to get into the same flow as a potential customer when something shocked him.

Nick Francis: I was shocked at how much the providers of this software put their branding on everything. It was all about whatever brand, powered by this brand, the subdomain is this brand, the email is this brand. They were really spraying their brand all over your customers messages and I just didn't feel like that was right. When you're trying to build a relationship with a customer as a business, I don't think you want the software you're using to get in the way. And one way that we tried to differentiate was to truly make Help Scout invisible. So there's, there's never really been any branding on the emails that are sent using our product or it's like a simple switch to turn off any branding in our knowledge- based tool. I just think that's a really great way to tell our customers that we're about them. We're about them first, and we want you to get the credit for a great customer experience and not us.

Jay Acunzo: And another way they want them to get the credit for a great customer experience is in advocating for how much customer support agents get paid. In an ideal world, great work demands great pay. Of course, as we've already heard a few times here, customer support is far from an ideal world. Nick knows that and he's willing to put his company's reputation on the line as a result. Each year for the past few Help Scout has partnered with Support Driven, an event and community in customer support and customer success and they conduct an anonymous survey among support professionals. The survey aims to understand the same things every year. What are people earning in relation to their gender, local cost of living, industry, company size, seniority, skills, and experience? In other words, what are these people really getting paid?

Nick Francis: We want to say, hey, our people are the professionals, our people are the customer service pros, we're not going to build products for suits like me. We're not going to build products for the people that are always making the buying decisions necessarily. I want to build products for the people that are on the ground, talking to customers every day, using our product as their professional job. If I have to choose, I'm going to advocate for them. Those are my people.

Jay Acunzo: Most recently, they found that the average salary is just over$ 57,000 with software as a service offering the highest salary to support agents of any niche at about 63K.

Nick Francis: We think people in this role are categorically underpaid.

Jay Acunzo: As you can imagine, creating big, widely shared report about what people are paid plus a corresponding salary calculator for support professionals to see where they fall that rubbed some executives the wrong way. Help Scout is basically saying hey, the status quo is broken, pay these people more. And not everybody agrees.

Nick Francis: Basically some of our customers weren't happy that somebody was asking for a raise thanks to our salary calculator. They did like... And I think they were missing the point, right. The point is that your people deserve to be paid more because they're really critical to your business's success. It's kind of new age that we have to measure the ROI of everything that we're doing as a brand. I mean, there's a lot of things that aren't measurable. Is the customer service interaction measurable? Absolutely not. But as marketers, I think now that we can measure a lot of things, we've overcorrected to the extent that if it's not measurable and I can't see linear ROI, I'm not going to do it. And it makes no sense to me. And in the end, honestly, it's just not as fun. I mean, all the fun brand exercises, all of the most creative, most innovative marketing happens in a way that is typically not measured at least not linearly. And so on our team, one thing I love about being in a crowded space is that to build a brand of value you have to do things that you can't write a check for. I mean, most people listening to this show will know that we're surrounded in a space with Salesforce and Zendesk and all these multi- billion dollar companies that have infinitely larger resources than us and it always will be that way. We're always going to be surrounded by companies with more resources. And so we've bet the whole company on things that you can't write a check for. Maybe that is our content marketing strategy and how much we care deeply about that. It could be our advocacy for customer service professionals and it could be the way that we decide to craft our product and the care that we put into it, which really can't be measured I just think it matters. So everything that's worked for our brand as a strategy is something that you can't necessarily write a check for. You really have to care deeply about it. It has to be part of your core values as a company. And you have to have people that are deeply passionate about making those things happen.

Jay Acunzo: Every part of that answer spoke to my soul and I just decided that we're now best friends. So let's just move on before it gets too weird.

Nick Francis: Awesome.

Jay Acunzo: So, all right. So one of the examples of a project where... Like you mentioned before, can't write a check or you mentioned you're doing these things that are fun and that do have an impact on customer experience. And eventually the bottom line, just not in a linear way is actually recruiting video, which is the plant video that you guys released recently. What was that project all about? And can you just describe it a little bit?

Nick Francis: This is an amazing project that makes me so happy. We have some really great team members. One of which her name is Merrill. She spent several years at Wistia on the creative team. And basically what we said was look, the way people perceive our brand isn't really who we are as people. Like we want to have a little bit more fun, to be honest. Like if we could change our perception in the market, if we really want to stand out and seem different than we should be having a lot more fun. So the goal was that we want to create 26 projects over the next year that are completely focused on changing the perception of our brand and just making people smile. So we're not optimizing for anything but smiles, not conversions, not anything like we just want to make people smile and say," Hey, these are my people. This is pretty awesome." So one thing that we came up with was this plant video. So typically the normal about video for or careers video for any startup or company usually has interviews of all sorts of different people in the company talking about how great the company is, benefits are great, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we wanted to put a little fun spin on that especially since we have a remote team, we have to get creative. And so we kind of went in mockumentary style and instead of interviewing people on the team, we interviewed the plants of people on the team. And so basically you would just film a plant with some movement in the background and the plant is talking.

Audio: I've never felt so alive. There's all this activity around me all the time. We've got folks from all over the world and I've had the pleasure of watching it all grow. Every six months we get together for retreat. It's just amazing as far as jobs go. I used to be in database systems, but my florist said," I need you to get some more direct sunlight." Now that I'm remote I can kind of work from wherever I want. Because they have flexible calendar.

Nick Francis: By the way, this next plant's name is Ira Grass. Ira Grass.

Audio: They can walk whenever they choose. Every now and when my owner comes back, I can smell ice cream on her breath. I know where she's been. Oh, Jesus. inaudible. It's all the pollen. I like being in the place that crosstalk. I think you look great. I'm trying out a new thing. Right. I'm letting inaudible go and I feel like I can really do that at Help Scout. It's all about that work- life balance.

Nick Francis: So you can just go really far with it, but we had a lot of fun and people have responded in a great way. And I think that's one perfect example of the kind of branding that we're doing, that you can't write a check for.

Jay Acunzo: I asked Nick that same question that I asked their customer Mercer earlier in this episode. If their brand was a person who would they be? Remember how specific Mercer got talking about a young, brilliant teacher, even describing their clothes? Yeah. Well, Nick got even more specific when I asked who their brand would be as a person.

Nick Francis: It's really funny that you ask that because we actually have that.

Jay Acunzo: Oh, no way.

Nick Francis: As part of our, what we call a brand book and all of our positioning and stuff like that we actually have that. And the person is Abigail. It's the woman that runs our support organization at Help Scout. She's phenomenal. She's really excellent at her craft. And when we went through this positioning exercise, not even that long ago and started thinking about if our brand was a person who would it be? We kept coming back to Abigail. She's knowledgeable, empathetic, funny, again doesn't take herself too seriously, but possesses a level of empathy that is admirable and really critical to our business's success. And so she possesses all of those characteristics.

Jay Acunzo: I'm like lighting up over here. I wish you could see my face because first of all, I've asked that question to everybody else and they describe it well, but never do they say," Well, we have that." And second of all, I've been in marketing in some capacity since'08 and learned about personas a decade ago and people have personas for who they're for, who they're not for. People have personas for who influences the customer that they're trying to serve and who they're for. I have never heard of somebody saying," Yeah, we have this perception of who a person is real or otherwise that represents our brand." How did you come up with that?

Nick Francis: I can't really take credit for it. It was just a positioning exercise that we went through recently that was facilitated by an outside organization. And we just kind of got to the point where it would really help to kind of leverage the brand as a person, like who would that be? And the facilitator was actually against us using a real person. She didn't like that we were using a member of our team. But if you knew Abigail, which everybody on our team does, that's writing copy or doing things that are customer facing then you instantly connect with why that is and why we say Abigail is our brand. And we want to model our brand after kind of who she is for other people.

Jay Acunzo: So now let's actually meet Abigail.

Abigail Phillips: I'm Abigail Phillips. I'm head of the customer's team at Help Scout.

Jay Acunzo: Let's start with the thing Nick said. So I asked him the same question I ask every customer, I ask every CEO I talked to, which is if the brand somehow became a person in the customer's life, who would that person be? And most people are like, it'd be a neighbor who's kind of quirky, but helpful. It'd be a professor who likes to teach and has a lot of answers. It would be the friend you can kick back and have a beer with, but in a smart way. And Nick was the first person who said an actual person at the company. And he said," I think it'd actually be Abigail."

Abigail Phillips: No pressure.

Jay Acunzo: So first of all, how does that make you feel to hear that?

Abigail Phillips: I'm blushing very hard right now, I feel very humbled. And also like it's a tall order because I love Help Scout. And I think the values that Nick helped establish and the other co- founders helped establish, when I joined the company I just really, really believed in it and what they were trying to do. So the fact that's his impression, it's a job right there are rough days so it means a lot to hear that's his impression.

Jay Acunzo: I mean, part of this interview is I'm trying to introduce hundreds of thousands of people to the brand that is Help Scout. I should have just introduced them to you.

Abigail Phillips: Again. No pressure.

Jay Acunzo: So aside from the way you feel about that, what is it about the way you work that you feel like does represent the brand well? Like how are you trying to carry that flag? The things that like Nick and the co- founding team built day to day, what does it actually look like for you?

Abigail Phillips: Hmm. I think I just feel really driven to practice what we preach. We have a ton of blog resources out there. We are supporting support folks, so they care about good support, right. So we have a lot of beacons for us to kind of guide our way in terms of what kind of support we want to give, what qualities we want to embody. And it's just, yeah, helpfulness, excellence, giving a human response. And we fortunately have a lot of constant reminders of that, just with how our company operates day- to- day, how we treat our employees. So I think it just translates really naturally to how we talk to our customers.

Jay Acunzo: You guys are like champions of customer support teams and leaders.

Abigail Phillips: Yeah. We're really fortunate in that way, because it means we get to support support people, and they tend to be very friendly, very understanding. They send you a great emails when something is going wrong, because they know exactly what details you need. So it makes life a pretty nice for us as well.

Jay Acunzo: Do you have any advice for companies who might be listening and they're trying to empower their customer support reps? And specifically like the lens of this show is how building a brand proactively can positively impact everybody at the company, certainly the customers, but everybody at the company serving those customers. And few people in the corporate world are serving customers, therefore representing the brand quite like customer support. But I feel like marketers and then maybe sales seems to like carry the banner of brand in most people's minds. But I actually think customer support is like, they're the real front lines. So like how does Help Scout think about it with your support team? Do you have any advice for other teams? Like when you have a brand you're building, how do you then empower customer support reps to be good representatives of that brand?

Abigail Phillips: Yeah, that's a great question. For me, it really is about trusting your people, which I know is hard to do at scale. But I think like being really clear on your values, like what you stand for, what your brand is and looking for that in people when you're interviewing them. If you really care about helpfulness and people who are able to think for themselves, like make sure that you are looking for that in the interview process so that once they are a part of your team you can really trust them to do what is best for the customer. Obviously there's always going to be rules and guidelines about certain things with payments or refunds or dah, dah, dah, but ideally you trust your team to do what's right and what's in line with your company. I'm always interested when people write into us asking for a ton of user restrictions around what people are doing. Because it seems like you're creating a team where there's just fundamentally this level of distrust, you don't trust your people to do what they're supposed to do. And so I think one of the thing that Help Scout does is we hire good people, we pay them well, and we trust them to do their job well.

Jay Acunzo: I asked Abigail if she could share an example of how Help Scout actually vets its new support hires in order to then trust that individual. She told me that they mainly focus on projects and tasks during their interview process and spend way less time on the Q and A portion. For example, they have candidates log into a fake inbox and field real support tickets they've gotten in the past all about Help Scout. Here's just one of her favorite examples of someone handling that well.

Mercer Smith-Looper: One of my teammates, Christie specifically in the queue project... We set up the questions so that there's some easy ones, there's some complicated ones. We don't expect everyone to know everything about Help Scout coming into this, right. So we're more looking for kind of tone, quality of response, like what do they test out. And I just remember with Christie, there was just such a high attention to detail. And this is 30 minute, stopwatch. We throw them in the queue, they've never seen it before, they have 30 minutes to write all these answers so you're moving rapidly. And Christie just had such a high attention to detail, like even just the formatting she was using, what kind of greeting she was using, she matched the customer's tone, right. When a customer was really friendly and inaudible she matched that and when a customer was very short and to the point she matched that. So I think being able to be really mindful and treat customers as individuals, even when you are in a situation where you're moving very quickly, that's really impressive to me. Because customer support isn't about saying yes to the customer every time, right. You're never going to be able to do that, but it is about treating people as individuals. And I think even if you have to say no to someone or give them rough news on a bug or a feature request if you come to them with respect and treating them as an individual it just makes all the difference.

Jay Acunzo: Here's Nick Francis to bring this home.

Nick Francis: It's kind of like selling religion at some point you're just going to get it. I mean, if you talk with your customers and if you pay attention to the work that your customer support team is doing on a daily basis you're not going to need to see the numbers. You're going to see the impact that they have on a daily basis. I want to tell them that the problem is that you're trying to measure ROI in a place where it's just not linearly measurable, but it's most likely more effective than a lot of the things that are measurable. So if you can't come around to that, I'm not just going to try to give you some number that justifies their existence in the organization. It's bigger than that. So I actually don't want to give people a shortcut and give people some sort of number that sort of falsifies the impact of customer service in an organization. You just got to come around. You got to get more woke about this stuff.

Jay Acunzo: So now as we wind down, I'd like to offer up three questions pulled out from today's episode that we can all use to build better brands. Question number one, what is blocking your customers success? In order to be a true advocate for your customer, we need to start by understanding what's standing in the way of their success. We may not work in customer support, but in today's world real customer relationships are built by all kinds of teams. Those can be useful sources of insight about the problems customers face, sure, but we have to dig deeper. We have to really understand what's preventing them from solving those problems right now. In the case of support professionals, Nick Francis identified very early on that the talent is simply underpaid and overlooked. Worse, the profession is often viewed as a cost center. Why? Precedent, misconceptions, or as Nick called them suits just like him. If companies are going to buy Help Scout's product and more importantly succeed with it, they need to execute in a way that's conducive to success on the platform. So sure we should care about staffing support teams to lead buyers through various features and ensure they're successful with our product, customer success. But customer success goes well beyond product usage. Ask yourself what is blocking your customers success? Address that, remove that, and become a true advocate. Question number two, are you vetting new employees to immediately trust them? The quicker you build trust with your talent on your team, the quicker everybody can get back to doing the real work of serving customers rather than playing political games or earning the right to do their work on inaudible. Help Scout and Abigail go through a rigorous process of vetting talent as a result, not simply by reviewing their career path or interviewing them, but by assigning a ton of projects. Look, there's no one right way to interview and vet talent, but if you want my advice based on Help Scout ditch the clever brain teasers, shorten the Q and A portion if you're the one asking those questions, and instead see what they can actually do. Use tests, projects, and actual work. Me personally, I love assigning an actual written project and I will pay writers that I hire for their work, but I want to see that they can do the job because that's how you earn trust. If you do that, if you earn trust early during the interview process, that sets you up to immediately trust your employees moving forward. And if they're the frontline individuals, especially in support, they are carrying your brand's flag so you need to trust them. Ask yourself, are you vetting new employees to immediately do so? Question number three, this one is actually from Help Scout directly. Do you believe that customer support is a cost center or the front lines of your brand? Customer centricity has become a bit of a buzz word, but that doesn't mean it isn't crucial. I hope you've listened to at least a few of the episodes in this series so far, because if you have you'll realize putting the customer at the center can be fostered and encouraged. It's not something that just happens by accident. As a result, customer support becomes the epicenter of success both for those who buy your products and services and for your whole company. Ask yourself, do you treat customer support as a cost center or as it really should be, the new marketing, the frontline flag bearers of your brand? In B2B today, we all have a responsibility not just to drive growth and results, but to do our work with integrity, to treat others as we'd want to be treated, which isn't mutually exclusive to growth. In fact, I'd argue that in today's market where great experiences are great for business, treating others as you'd want to be treated is growth. That's what unlocks all those results we so crave. Now there are those in B2B who would disagree, but that is what makes you different and better. That is what makes you a great leader. And that is what helps you build a great brand because in the end that understanding is what makes you one of the exceptions. This episode was written and produced by me, Jay Acunzo, and brought to you by Drift, which provides chat bots and other tools to help you treat your customers the way they want to be treated as soon as they arrive on your website. Drift is the world's first and only conversational marketing platform. Visit drift. com or check out their other shows in their Seeking Wisdom podcast, feed that's Seeking Wisdom in your podcast player of choice if you're not already there. You can also check out my brand new book Break the Wheel, which is about questioning conventional thinking to think for yourself. Chapter two is the story of Drift and it goes really deep into Drift CEO, David Cancel's backstory at a crucial moment facing the company. Right now signed copies of the book are available in the presale in the U. S. only and the book goes live October 16th. Go to jayacunzo. com/ book. If you like this show and you want to tell others about it, leave a rating and review. The good folks over at Drift say they only accept six stars so if anyone listening can hook me up with a product manager at Apple or Spotify, I got to set them straight, six stars only. Anyway, I am Jay Acunzo and on behalf of the team at Drift, I just want to say thank you for listening to this series. I'll talk to you in the next episode of Exceptions. See ya.


Customer support professionals remove the obstacles and clear the way for your customers to appreciate your product or service. They are the front lines of your business, representing your name day in, day out. Often time, customers service pros may be the only face or voice of a company someone can connect to the business. Yet, these individuals, the ones bearing the flag for an entire organization, are typically overworked, underpaid, and underserved. Meet Help Scout. Help Scout hasn’t just built a kick-ass SaaS product that enables CSRs and others to perform faster and better. They’ve created a culture where these professionals on the frontlines are valued, heard, and understood. Their clients love the product and the company, because both are built around them. From Help Scout’s customers, to their employees, to their CEO, to even those unhappy with how Help Scout’s changing the industry, I heard one thing in common with every stakeholder: Help Scout is ruthless about customer-centricity. They are an #Exception. The Seeking Wisdom Official Facebook Group is live! One place, finally, for all of us to hang out, get updates on the podcast, and share what we’re learning (plus some exclusives). Just search for the Seeking Wisdom Official group on Facebook. On Twitter: @jayacunzo and @seekingwisdomio