Evolving Support

For the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to provide awesome support. While there are many aspects to that question I believe at the most basic level is to ensure you are there. Make it so your users can reach you easily and in a timely manner.

The concept itself is fairly simple, but despite that there is a whole industry which has been constructed around work force and scheduling. In the past I haven’t seen the specialized software and people involved be able to properly cover support without having either a lot of down time or a queue of users waiting to contact support. This could very well be related to the companies I worked with, or call centers in general. I think the answer to the problem is much more straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Businesses are always changing, your users may change and their expectations will undoubtably change. What worked before isn’t always going to keep working. Support needs to stay flexible and be able to adapt in order to provide the best support. The same applies to scheduling.

At Automattic we’re pretty well known for having very flexible schedules. In The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun the inside cover of the book mentions “There are no schedules, few meetings, and fewer rules.” That was likely the case when the company was smaller, but not 100% accurate today, especially in support. This quote from the book is more true though when it comes to schedules, “About a third of the company had children, and working remotely helped them manage the logistical challenges of raising children. Much like college students, they could be free to arrange their work schedules to fit their lives rather than constantly struggling with the pull of one against another.”

While we Happiness Engineers still get to choose our schedule to fit our lives, the reality in providing 24 hour support for our users dictates there is now a need for us to be flexible in when we choose to schedule ourselves. Even if it might not be our first choice for hours, if there is time which is under scheduled, we need to bend and fill in that area. Our job is to best support our users, so scheduling ourselves for best coverage is part of our jobs. We don’t ask anyone to work crazy hours, that is part of the benefit of having co-workers across the globe. For the most part we have people who are available to work in normal times for them which could be the middle of the night for me.

Our goal is to actually over staff our live chat coverage so that there is no queue and there is always a Happiness Engineer available. This goes along with what I mentioned earlier about call centers. If you overstaff it means there is down time. Luckily for us live chat isn’t the only way users contact us. So if chat is slow through communication and flexibility we can switch gears a little and reply to email tickets or help out in our public support forums.

This isn’t something we’ve perfected yet, but the goal we are working towards. It also isn’t the way things have always been done, but as our business evolves the way we approach and handle support has to move with it.

Tomorrow is the Day

Tomorrow is the first day of school for the year for all our kids. This is also the first year they’ve been split up over three different schools as Caile starts at the middle school.

In my head I know everything will be fine but I’m a little stressed at the logistics of the whole thing. Getting kids to and from school, parent teacher nights, and school concerts, there could be a lot of overlapping.

Getting kids to school isn’t going to be too bad, but pick ups I can see being a pain. They all get out at different times and there is an hour in the difference between the earliest and the latest.

It looks like most days it’s going to involve multiple trips towards the schools. It gets more interesting when extracurricular a get scheduled shortly after school gets out for some because it will make it tight picking some up, dropping one off here, going back to pick up another.

It’s a good thing Jen is so organized and I have the flexibility in my schedule that I do or this would be a lot tougher to manage than it’s already going to be 🙂

Things Not Working? Change It Up!

Last week was the first week at Automattic that I was starting to feel stressed and a little burnt out. This weekend I took sometime to try to figure out why, because nothing had changed.

Reflecting back it seems like it was a combination of things. Luckily all the things are in my own control to resolve. The first thing that I changed was that I was obsessing a bit about my stats. Trying to push myself to do better and be more efficient, the funny thing is that this pressure was all coming from me. We all set goals for our selves, I take them very seriously. I try to set reasonable goals but because of that if I don’t hit them it’s disappointing and frustrating.

One of the great things about this position is that I get to make my own schedule. One of the downsides to this position is that I’m responsible for making my own schedule. That sounds dumb but having all those options can make it difficult to find what works best and there is no one else to pass it too, it’s you’re responsibility to make it work. So I really looked at how I was typically spending my day and how I can make it work better for my personable life and be more efficient at work.

In the afternoon my day can be broken up due to picking up kids from school and getting them to where they need to go. So this morning I started with a new approach. I moved my tasks that are better suited for uninterrupted time to the part of the day that is less broken. Today, felt much better again and it flowed really well. Previously I felt like I was working a lot of hours to meet my goals. Where today I met and exceeded my goals and worked a much better portion of my day.

I’ll keep trying this schedule for a bit and hopefully now that it is better organized I can work at just getting more efficient.

Another change I’m working on is becoming a more efficient typist. All of my communication with users and colleagues is done in text, so any improvements I make in this area will have longterm benefits. So I’ve been teaching myself to use the Dvorak keyboard layout. Right now my speed is much slower than it is with QWERTY, but from what I’ve seen the speed will come and my fingers seem to move a lot less. That can only be a good thing my fingers and wrists. Right now I’m only using it during personable time as I’m way to slow to use it at work.