When did you realize you were starting to go underwater with all the support requests?
You know, I can’t remember. I think I was too naive to know I was underwater. When I came on, everyone was sharing support. I think that’s a really, really good practice in the early days because you learn so much from those early users. Someone who’s working on the product might have some insight on a customer’s comment that someone who’s working in my role wouldn’t. It was really important to share the role, but part of my goal was to take over support and basically start kicking people out of there. Things added up pretty quickly between the combination of user growth and taking support away from other people.
We had decided very early on at the company that support was going to be one of the most important things that you can do at Wistia. Taking care of our current customers was always going to mean more to us than just acquiring new customers. It was certainly a challenge that had been laid out as I entered this arena where I knew I was not going to be able to provide the same level of support to everybody as we grew. I started brainstorming ways that we could make support better. I’m very driven by efficiency, and I saw pretty early on we had some conversations that were very inefficient, meaning we shouldn’t have had that conversation in the first place. Or places where the customer wasn’t getting responses in the most timely manner and that they would have preferred another option.
The first huge leap we took was taking our phone number off our web site. We used to have a 800 number on the Wistia home page. We begged people to call us. We were so convinced that if they would call us and just talk to us, if they got to know us, they would totally buy our product. We still believe that but we do that in a more scalable way with video. Back then every customer was a reason for a party, and it still is to a certain extent. When the phone would rang, there was a fist fight, there was an arm wrestling match to get to the phone because you wanted to talk to the person. You wanted to convert them. The problem is when you pick up the phone, you have no control over the conversation you’re about to get into. It started to get to the point where 50 emails would come in day and if I spent 2 or 3 hours on the phone, then I was leaving 40 or 50 emails unanswered for hours.
What we do now is when someone calls in it’s pretty rare they get someone on the phone. Instead, what we do is ask them to leave a message with their questions and we listen to the message immediately. We treat it like any other email coming in but sometimes we might get back to them by email, sometimes we set up a screen sharing session and sometimes we call them back.
How did the other guys feel about dropping phone support?
Change is very scary. There was a time at Wistia when we could have put up all sorts of personal information on our website and nobody would have ever seen it. Months and months could have gone by without anyone inquiring about our services. I think there’s a lot of emotional baggage from that, kind of like technical debt, that you can’t make this change. What happens if they stop calling? What happens if this dries up? Are we going to be completely screwed?
Like if people stop signing up?
Right, exactly. That was definitely what we were wondering. I remember sitting there with our VP of Sales and our CEO, Chris. I was like, “You know what? I think we should take the phone number off the web site.” It was like a record scratch. “Is Jeff about to torpedo this company because no one is going to sign up if they don’t talk to us by phone?” Maybe I was too naive to know it was that risky. In my mind, we totally needed to do it. I think everybody just sat there for a second and I was like “Oh man, I am screwed.” Adam, who also spent a ton of his time on the phone was getting increasingly frustrated by the phone conversations and once he was on board I knew it was going to be okay.
We watched it very carefully, to be honest. It was not a light “Let’s make this decision” and everyone was confident. We were ready to add that phone number back at a moment’s notice if we needed to. But almost immediately, we started breaking sales records.
Emails would come in with questions and we would be able to dive in and fix the underlying problems to those questions, then that email would never come in again. Rather than spending an hour on the phone and at the end I wouldn’t be able to tell you everything we talked about because we covered so many things.
Very quickly I was able to prove that by not spending time on the phone I was getting to more emails. I could go into the documentation and make a two sentence change and the question would disappear. So our email volume dropped and I was able to participate in more company meetings, which meant the customer’s feedback was making it into product reviews. That meant that features we were building were better accepted. It was wonderful and I got unbelievably lucky and I know it, but that’s how I knew this was something we could keep doing.
What kind of things did you try?
We tried a lot of things. The thing I can remember the most are the changes to the layout of the documentation and updates to our documentation. You can make all the resources you want but if customers don’t look at them, it’s like a tree falling in the forest and nobody is there to hear it. You really need to make sure the assets you are creating are easy and intuitive to navigate so customers know where to find them.
How did you know it was something you needed to improve?
If our customers are asking the same question a lot, like 10 times in a day then I would give them the link to the documentation that has the answer and ask them “Can you tell me how you went about trying to find an answer?” I would find out from them if they looked for an answer, where they looked and whether they did a search or not. If they did a search and it turned up the right result then I knew I was doing something wrong. It’s not about the way I organize it, it’s about the way they try to find it.
How did you find the time to do these things? You were already getting slammed with a lot of requests.
This is probably part of the show if my girlfriend was in earshot, she would come over and yell about how much of a busy jerk I was back then. At that point I was trying to live a life and a half. I was trying to do support 9 to 5 and then all the other hats that an early stage startup person wears from about 5 to about 10. Once the requests started to peter out at about 5:30 or 6, I would work on side projects to improve some of our resources. We would write scripts of some basic videos we wanted to try out or participate in some product reviews or something like that.
That sounds pretty intense.
Well, you know it was a lot of fun and there are certainly times that I miss it. Luckily, the smart people we brought on have exposed how dumb some of the decisions I made back then were and improved on them. It was a lot of fun and really busy and I learned a lot. I’m happy to be where we are now.
How do you do webinars?
We’ve been very interested in webinars for a long time. A lot of customers come in and they’re used to a sales rep process where they sign up and get an email saying “Hey, let’s talk, give me half an hour and I’ll walk you through the product.” We don’t have the resources to do that. It’s not our plan to build a team that does just that.
We would like to help people out that are saying, “I just need a walk through. I’ve been tasked with doing this and I don’t know where to get started.” So we made a set of start up videos which is our Wistia walk through. It goes from signing up for a brand new account, to uploading your first video, and all the way to understanding analytics. But the webinars are meant as a supplement even to that. It’s for the people that are saying, “You didn’t cover my questions in those videos, I would actually like to talk to somebody.” So the webinar is on the landing page, when you first sign up for a Wistia account. We also send you emails inviting you to join the webinar. We want them to come in and ask questions.
We invite them to a webinar and the idea is to walk through some of the early workflows that you might be trying to do with your Wistia account. Then we open it for questions. Ask us anything and it doesn’t have to be beginner stuff. If you’re an advanced user and you’re all super technical and have a question about using our API or something like that, go for it. We’ll do our best to answer it. One of the side benefits is when a customer comes in with no questions. They might hear a question from another customer that prompts them to ask questions or they might hear about an interesting work flow. By taking a bunch of people that we’d have to do a one on one 35 minute call, we save time but there’s a lot of benefits to it in terms of the fun they have and the questions they get to hear answered. If people are confused by something, we go back and look at the video and the documentation we put together and try to make it better for next time.
How does in app help work and how did it come about?
It’s the difference between just in case learning and just in time learning. Just in case learning is a lot of what you do at school – you go and people just talk about topics. You take notes. Maybe you have a test at some point. For the most part, you pretty much forget everything you learned. Just in time learning is “I need to upload this video right now. How the hell do I go about uploading a video?” So you go and watch a video or go read some documentation on it.
You have hundreds of videos or you plan on making hundreds of videos, so you know you’re going to be going through this workflow hundreds of times. One of the reasons we have in app help is to help you do the thing you need to do. We want to have something that says, “Are you looking to learn more about your stats?”. If you say yes, we give you a video that can help you with that. It becomes a part of the way you use the app and the way you learn about the app.
Was it easy to talk the developers into doing it?
Everybody is on board with the idea that the optimum support experience is one where the customers never need support. The question is how to get there. The goal right now is that users should not need any support for our basic work flows. The developers built a platform for in app tool tips so if we’re getting a lot of questions around something, we can update the tool tip on that page to cover that question. It’s really easy for me to jump in and do it. The developers see the benefits so it hasn’t been a problem to get them on board.
One of the things that you do at Wistia is make a lot of videos. You guys are really good at it, but it’s kind of scary for a lot of companies that aren’t in the video business to even think about making videos. Do you have any kind of tips on it?
The number one tip in my talk was don’t be afraid to be scrappy and I think that I probably could have stopped right there. Being scrappy is the most important thing to me. My recommendation is to turn your computer around so that if you’ve got a webcam built, in like I do, it’s pointed at your face and just go for it. You start in 3 minute increments just talking about what you’re working on, talking about your vision, about where your company to go and people will jump on board because they believe in you.
When we started years ago, our homepage video was a screen cast video with our CEO’s voice over. It was very serious and very dry and just showing off the product and a few things you could do with the product. That video was not the best thing that we created, but we learned a lot of things about making engaging videos since then. We drove our first couple hundred customers using that video. We’re not the Dropbox story, they had a video that drove millions of press releases or whatever, but what I’m getting at is a video is better than no video.
The way I look at it is that text is great for transferring facts. It’s great for getting across things that are definitely true or definitely not true. Then a picture is great for showing off faces and it kind of puts you in the environment where you can imagine yourself in that environment. Then there’s audio, when you listen to someone’s voice you can tell whether they really care. With a video, you can actually see the person that’s talking. As humans, we’re trained to pick up on those kinds of things. Things like “Do they really care? Is this person fun? Is this someone I can go in and see myself going to have a coffe with? Having a beer with?”, something like that. Increasingly, products are all the same. When people are making decisions about what they want to buy, they do it based on a gut feeling more than anything.
We have lots of customers that have chosen us when, in terms of what they need, we have exactly the same thing as everybody else. Some customers choose us for a specific reason but many choose us because they trust us. They know when they need help, we’re going to be here. Part of the reason they know that is because they can see our faces in so many places and hear our voices. They get a window into the Wistia environment.
How do you use video in a support context?
Everybody learns differently and one of the goals for us in terms of Wistia support is that people learn, not just do. I don’t want people to say “I just need to do this thing. Let me just go and read through the steps.” I want them to actually learn why those steps work that way, why that’s important because then they won’t need to look it up again next time.
I don’t want you to be intimidated by the length of the documentation. Video can be a supplement to the documentation. If you’re looking at the documentation and thinking “I don’t know what any of this means and I just wanted to get started”, I want you to watch this video and I promise to make the video fun so it’s something that you actually want to watch.
What’s inbox inventory and where did it come from?
One of the challenges for us is we want to do team updates so everybody in the company knows what everybody else is working on. We want to avoid parallel work where two people are working on the same thing and they don’t know it. Marketing comes to the team update with new ads, events, partnerships and then you have support coming to the table and we’re like,”We sent a lot of emails last week” and that’s very hard for people in the company to grasp.
So we looked at the awesome Help Scout analytics and thought about how can we use those to better with everybody at the company? How can we make it so the development team can be proactive with issues. Rather than a support person saying, “Hey, this customer’s hair is on fire. We really need to fix this.” all the time. That sucks for everyone, so we send out the inbox inventory every week and it includes a bunch of stats from Help Scout. We put in projects that we worked on that week. We also put in big open questions – issues that we’ve been having that we haven’t been able to find a good solution to. Those tend to be proactively attacked by people all over the company including myself. If I haven’t seen that issue myself but then I read about it in the inbox inventory that Mercer puts together and realize how a big of a deal it is, I’ll spend time next week trying to come up with a permanent solution for that problem.
How much time do people on your team spend on creating or improving resources?
We’re trying to get to a place where people have an hour or two every day where the inbox is not a pressing issue. Inbox guilt is a very real thing for support people and I want them to have time work on resources. When you’re dealing with an issue that needs to get fixed, you need to do something with that information. So you add the card to the Trello board and you’re free of that obligation because you know it’s going to get worked on at some point. I go through the board a couple of times a week and I make sure we’re being specific about the issues that we put in there. If we’re going too broad, they’ll never get done. If I see something that requires my help or a developer’s help then I’ll assign it to specific people to make sure it gets done right. Everyone’s energy level varies throughout the day, the week, the month and so everyone decides what they want to work on and that’s fine.
Do you have any tips for somebody looking to get out of the inbox for a bit? Where should they start? How should they start?
Our customers experience a lot of problems – big problems and small problems. The urge tends to be to tackle the really, really big problems. The problem is, as a support group, we don’t have a clean slate of time to devote to really huge problems. Early on, I got feedback from the team about which projects were a good thing for me to tackle. If it was too big, they would tell me. For me, it was changing the language of our tool tips so they made sense, or rewording the call to actions. I think the best way to get started is to start with the small stuff.
In terms of fighting for time and resources, that’s really tough. I was doing my full time job as a support person while trying to do this other stuff on the side. I wanted to prove the value of making those changes to get more resources for it. What I would recommend now is doing a great job of tracking the questions you get. Then ask people, “Why wasn’t this question asked earlier? Why do I have to keep getting asked this question?”. There’s an urge to put the priority on helping people in the inbox but the problem is that so many problems in the inbox could have and should have been solved before they ended up there.
Think of it as positive and negative points. We get positive points every time they achieve something they’re trying to do without trouble. We get negative points every time they have to tread into support. If you reach a certain amount of positive points, they end up using that credit to buy your proudct. So putting a priority on finding that questions that should have been answered earlier is huge.
I think you can use that to get buy-in for your team then you can feed them by finding some of your lowest hanging fruit. Some of the fruit could just be wording changes or tiny changes that a person who’s been working on the product for a long time would never have seen. So you go in there and make a change and that question suddenly disappears. It’s a beautiful thing.
Were there any things that you tried that didn’t work out?
Very early on, a lot of the questions that came in were like, “What is Wistia? I don’t know what you guys do.” So Ben decided we should that we should take out a google ad and it would take them to a video chat room where we would be sitting there ready to answer their questions. So we got all dressed up and we had a help desk sign. People would come in and they could see us but we couldn’t see them. We were very excited about it but it didn’t drive the results that we wanted. I think we talked to 5 or 6 people and we spooked 100% of them. We scared them pretty badly. When your goal is to connect to users and educate them, I think you have a lot of options with how to do it. We tried a whole bunch and some of them we’ve been really lucky and they worked, but that particular one stands out as one that we totally failed on.
Are there new things that you’re looking to try now?
Yes, definitely there are new things, there are always new things. We’re trying to do a lot more screen sharing right now, for people who want more than email support. They need you to show them what’s going on. We now have screen sharing accounts for everyone on the team. If we get really good feedback from those, we want to find a public calendar tool for people to sign up for 15 minute slots. We’re also getting more into user testing. So we’re doing more sit down with people and having them walk through the new user flow. We’re also looking at content that would sit inbetween our current user learning center and our documentation content. Content that would help our newest customers and some of our veteran customers to get the most out of their accounts. We’ve got a lot of projects going on and we’re really excited about it.