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Plan Your Next Event with PBworks

29 Apr

Mashable has a great little piece on how to plan and promote your next event with social media.  I particularly liked this paragraph:

PBworks: The wiki is an ideal platform for planning events – it’s easy to add notes, edit information, and organize content. Both mediawiki (the software that runs Wikipedia) and PBworks (formerly PBwiki) are good choices, but PBworks has been a favorite of organizers because of its business features, better document-sharing features, and RSS notifications.”

If you have an upcoming event, don’t forget to make PBworks part of it!

Asking the Right Questions

4 Dec

Asking the right questions is a key component of being a successful support guru at PBwiki. The PBwiki Support Team answers questions from users with all sorts of experiences with wikis – from first time users to top-ten editors on Wikipedia. It’s imperative that no matter what the skill-level of a user, the support guru can quickly assess their situation and find resolution for them. But how does a support team know how to dig into a user’s question? Let’s take a look at how librarians, masters of question-answering, train to answer their patrons.

When I was in grad school working on my library science degree, my classmates and I spent one snowy night role-playing online reference. I learned about PBwiki from my grad school professor, and on this night we were hosting class online, using the Yaplet plugin on our classroom wiki to hold a pratice online reference session. The main component of hosting reference questions in a library setting (both physical and virtual) is the reference interview. A reference interview is a technique librarians use with library patrons to discover their needs and find resolutions to those needs.

The typical reference interview consists of 5 parts:

  1. Welcoming
  2. Gathering information with open questions
  3. Confirming the exact question
  4. Giving the answer
  5. Following up

“Thanks for contacting Happy Valley Public Library Reference! How can I help you?” I typed. My colleague Jessi responded, “What is the state muffin?” I quickly opened another window, and Googled (yes, librarians do use Google) “State Muffin Minnesota”. I typed back, “The state muffin of Minnesota is blueberry.” After a short pause with no response from the user, my professor prompted me to ask the follow up question – “Does this completely answer your question?” And surprisingly, it didn’t. I had made a basic assumption that the question she was asking related to Minnesota – where we were currently living. By not confirming the exact question, I delayed the delivery of the answer. I was able to go back and forth with her a bit more to get to the true root of her question and get her answer.

The same concept applies to customer support. At PBwiki, we welcome all users to email support and gather their information through an open email form. For example, we often hear from a user that they want to delete their wiki. If we take the time to engage with the customer and confirm why they want to delete, it is usually something we can do to help them and keep them on as PBwiki users. By addressing the frustration, deletion is no longer an option and they are ready to get back to their wiki. A key part of the support interaction at PBwiki is the follow up. If we don’t hear back from you that our solution is what you were looking for, we’ll check in on you in a few days. We also make it very easy for you to reconnect with the same Support Guru, the person who is familiar with your case, so that you can develop relationships with individual members of our team.

The most recent addition to the support team is Alison. Alison is a librarian in New York and I felt strongly pulled to hire Alison after reading her application questionnaire. In this questionnaire, I saw that Alison applied her skills from the library field – being very clear about restating the question, give a concise answer, and then making sure to leave room for follow up. While Alison most likely won’t be answering questions about the state muffin of Minnesota, she can apply her reference interview skills towards understanding and answering questions about how to reset a wiki password or how to insert a calendar on a wiki. Making sure the user is welcomed, their question is understood, and they have room to ask more questions are the skills I value in my support team members, and I’m sure are skills valued by the users contacting support.

Hiring the Right Support Team

20 Nov

In my last blog post (read it here),  I mentioned that the PBwiki Support Team has changed drastically in the way we handle our tickets and the way we measure ourselves. Another way we’ve changed is in the way we hire.

In the beginning, PBwiki was used by a lot of early adopters of technology – people who were tolerant of some bugs, who enjoyed hacking around in the product, and people who would rather discover and learn for themselves than contact support. To answer the questions that did come through, we hired out of that same pool of users – we pulled 4 support gurus right out of the forums and they became the first PBwiki Support Team.

As our business grew, we discovered two things:

Different users have different support expectations
Our first support team was a group of people who worked for PBwiki between classes, on weekends, and after their normal day jobs. And now, as we grow, we attract more people that require faster response times. Our goal to respond in a set frame of time meant hiring support gurus that can work exclusively for PBwiki. Here, for example, is one of the questions we use to screen the hundreds of applicants we get each month:

Continuing training is important
The second thing we learned is that technical expertise can be taught. The talent and depth of knowledge of our first set of support gurus is invaluable and irreplaceable. As we looked at hiring more support agents, we found that PBwiki experience was not a necessity, what we needed to focus on was hiring for some core values: professionalism, accuracy, speed, and personality. The technical experience can always be taught and learned (in fact, each support guru is encouraged to spend time each day exploring their own wikis).

When we launched our new Pages and Files release, each member of our Support and Sales team was given an opportunity to learn about the feature- and earn some extra cash. We posted a test on oDesk and gave a $25 bonus to any team member that passed with 90%. Here’s an example of a test question – it doesn’t need to be anything hard, just give your teams a chance to be familiar with the new releases:

Case Study: Support Guru Angie
One of our support gurus, Angie, is a great example of our hiring story. Angie applied to work with PBwiki having never used PBwiki. However, Angie possessed other skills that made her a great hire – her communication and responses to hiring emails were instantaneous and her personality shined right through. Angie also possessed another key quality- patience. As a stay-at-home mom to five children, Angie has lots of experience balancing multiple tasks and answering questions. Angie has been with PBwiki for just three months and has picked up all the technical ability to answer most PBwiki questions.

When Angie started with us, she was answering basic questions like how to log into a wiki or how to add an image – questions that could be easily answered by pointing to a section on the user manual, or sending step-by-step instructions. We saw that Angie was responding to people quickly and professionally, and we she asked for more hours at PBwiki, we were happy to give them to her! Before long, we saw Angie answering questions about custom CSS and advanced features. Angie had a personal wiki where replicated different scenarios to learn, fully understand questions, and build her skills.

The key takeaway is that PBwiki isn’t just offering its services to early adopters of technology. We’re offering our services to teachers, children, business people, and everyone in between. In order to connect with all these different users, our support gurus need to be able to understand their needs, their frustrations, and their situation before getting to the technical meat of the question. Our support team is a mix of these skills, and it’s been amazing to watch the support team members advance their skills and knowledge of our product.

Moving PBwiki Support from Gmail to Salesforce

12 Nov

One of the things we’re focusing in on at PBwiki is how we can become a better support team. When PBwiki launched back in 2005, we had no formalized support, just a forum that our users chatted on. We found a few amazing people on the forums and invited them to join our PBwiki team as Support Gurus. I started working for PBwiki in mid-January 2008. At that time, we handled all support requests through a Gmail email account. As different support agents came to work, we would answer emails from our users. If a ticket needed attention by someone else, it would get starred. We had labels, tags, and a bolding/unbolding system to indicate different status levels. As PBwiki grew, we knew that we couldn’t continue using this system any longer. It was too easy to forget about someone’s case, we weren’t measuring anything, and we had no real accountability to our users.

Welcome Mr. Metrics
Then Paul Singh joined PBwiki as Director of Support. Paul likes to call himself “Mr. Metrics” because of his love of measuring, analyzing, and breaking down data for consumption.  One of his first moves was to take the support team away from Gmail and introduce us to Salesforce. As a newer PBwiki employee, I loved Salesforce. However, it was a difficult transition for some of our support team, who had been used to the easy, but limited in functionality, Gmail support account. Moving to Salesforce was hard, especially as we figured out its limitations and adjusted our workflows.

The Problem with Gmail as Support
While using a Gmail account for support was simple and easy, it lacked in accountability and measurables for the support team. Now that we use Salesforce, Support has a more complex system, but we’re better able to measure and gauge the work we do. We can now pull data on every aspect of the support experience, from what the ticket is about, response times, and satisfaction rates.

What Our Support Team Measures

When we looked at what to measure, we had to focus on what we valued as an organization. We decided to focus on two areas:

1) Response Times: PBwiki aims to respond to all users in a set amount of time. Each of our support team members is measured on how quickly the respond to tickets. Our average initial response time has dropped from nearly seventy hours (January 2008) to two hours (October 2008). That’s twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

2) Satisfaction Rate: Answering emails isn’t the whole of what we do in PBwiki Support. We get to know you, get involved in your projects, and help you each step of the way. That’s why we enforce the idea of quality over quantity. A great response time means nothing if users are unhappy. It is up to our support team to make your day and make sure you walk away saying that your experience with PBwiki Support was the best customer support experience you’ve ever had.

We now have a tables, charts, graphs, numbers, and statistics that help support communicate the voice of the user to the rest of the company. Now the support team is taking these metrics to help us respond quickly, efficiently, and effectively to your support inquiries. We’ve come a long way from the user forums.

Do wikis make a difference in the way students collaborate?

13 May

As more universities adopt web 2.0 technology, administrators want to know exactly how students are using these tool and what benefits they bring. Campus Technology addressed this question in their latest article “Wikis, Blogs, & More, Oh My!’

Here are two different ways Universities are using wikis, and their results:

Professor Kane at Boston University encourages students to submit their own exam questions via his Exam Question Workspace wiki. In a year, students submitted a whopping 600 questions overall.

At SUNY-Delhi, CIO Patrick Masson uses wikis to assist in policy decision-making. Masson says user response to this approach has been overwhelming. Over the course of one month, the school’s president made 73 edits, the coordinator of online learning made 58, the chair of budget and planning made 31, and the vice president of student housing made 29.

Here are three more suggestions from PBwiki educators: Continue reading

Is your customer service team doing enough?

24 Mar

 I was reading an interesting article today that got me thinking about customer service:

An industry rule of thumb is that a bug which costs $1 to fix on the programmer’s desktop costs $100 to fix once it is incorporated into a build, and thousands of dollars if it is identified only after the software has been deployed in the field.

How true – sometimes just a little extra effort on the customer service end can alleviate a ton of pain down the road (both for you and your customers). With the rise of sites like Consumerist, the world’s becoming a smaller place – just today, a certain BMW dealer in the Mid-West got slammed for some poor handling of an Ebay transaction. What could have been a relatively easy sale turned into a 3 day long online bashing with over 200,000 page views.

The lesson: make sure you’re consistently trying to “WOW” your customers – they’ll thank you in return.

Key Challenge facing Customer Service Executives

3 Mar

Organizations of all sizes share one common problem: cohesiveness

The decision making has become highly fragmented – from marketing, to sales, to engineering, to services and so on.

This makes sense from an internal perspective because we need to measure individual efficiency and productivity – we’ve been running this way since the first assembly line was produced. Of course, there are some benefits to this approach:

  • Payrolls are down
  • Efficiency is high
  • Profits are good

The problem is that the improvements are inwards focused and don’t lend themselves to creating metrics around the customer experience. Customer service managers have a hard time getting customer service improvements prioritized properly – database upgrades, infrastructure, security, etc – these things eat up 99% of the customer service budget.

So how do we solve this?

Find ways to enhance customer service capabilities without scrambling for capital expenditure approvals and without bugging IT. This benefits the customer and the IT manager – SaaS is perfect for this. More appropriately, PBwiki is perfect for this.

We know most customer service related deployments take time. Integration and system change take time – with complex customer service systems, it can take months and even years to get things running properly. Instead, use PBwiki to centralize your product information, best practices or other proprietary knowledge so that your workforce is empowered.

The Company-Customer Pact

26 Feb

A few weeks ago, we attended a summit put together by our friends over at Get Satisfaction and they launched something they call the Company-Customer Pact. As they put it:

This pact is a call for shared responsibility between companies & customers — one that promises that both sides will hold up their end of the bargain to change the game. The document provides a way to opt into a set of shared values. It’s a balanced statement of responsibilities for companies and customers.

You might wonder why we need this, as it seems like common sense. But if common sense were enough more people would be employing these principles now. We’ve been trained by the bad habits of corporate culture to turn away from the anger of alienated customers reacting to an environment where it’s common place for companies to hide behind phone trees, avoid fault, and employ anonymous and in-human call centers that makes them hard if not impossible to reach. Or by engaging in practices like price-gauging and issuing confusing bills and policies.

We’ve signed the pact and we’d love to encourage you to do the same – head over to today and get involved! You can also read Get Satisfaction’s full post here.

Company-Customer Pact

Customer Expectations: Best Approaches

21 Feb

All businesses know that the degree of customer service excellence is relative – it’s based on customer expectations. Many profitable companies do poorly on customer service and they thrive – which begs the question: is it smart to invest in customer service?

This is why it is absolutely critical to measure customer experience at the beginning.

Key Questions:

  • What are the customer’s expectations?
  • Is it different across industries, market segments or channels?
  • How is the experience within a particular industry, segment or channel helping or hurting?

The last thing we want to do is overspend on customer service, but without an understanding of the components of the experience and a measurement of the success of the experience – it’s difficult to pinpoint areas of improvement and create appropriate initiatives to deliver on those.

Discovering the gaps between the customer’s expectations and your brand’s promise is the most important work that your customer service organization can do.

Shaping the customer service experience

11 Feb

Improved customer service experience can be approached from two angles – business process changes or technology choices (or some combination of the two). I’d like to share some key trends shaping the business processes related to customer service today:

  • Take an “outside-in” approach: a growing number of businesses are realizing the importance of having a greater explicit customer interaction when designing new service processes. Service executives need to be asking themselves: “What is the customer’s experience as they consume the service?”
  • Traditional customer service tools have been “field based” or even “task based” – service executives need to move to more “intent driven” systems for customer service agents to use. Agents need to be empowered with a system that shows them a customer’s real context – their last interaction with your company, overall background, current sales deals, customer satisfaction. Give your agents a 360 degree view of the customer and things will inevitably improve.
  • Home service workers are a great way to improve response times, attain localized support teams for your global products or services and reduce operating costs. Although this does raise some unique challenges, it is definitely worth exploring.
  • Fear of taking responsibility: for customers, for change, for measurements. Few organizations want to empower a single person to change processes – especially with so many other variables in play. On the other hand, few service executives want to “stick their neck out” for fear of getting it cut off by upper management. Customer service executives need to take responsibility and ensure that their customer’s expectations are fully met.

Don’t forget: the customer’s experience needs to match your brand’s promise. If you’re in a competitive market (aren’t we all), customer service can be the differentiator between you and your competition.