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We now have close to 300 non-support employees at Automattic. Yet, each year most one of them (even Matt, our CEO) helps out in support. It’s a practice commonly known as “All Hands Support” (also referred to as Support Weeks at Automattic).

I’ve been helping to wrangle Support Weeks at Automattic for a bit over two years now. As our company continues to grow, it can certainly get a bit complicated at times, but we think it provides great value to the company. Here’s a bit more about why we believe Support Weeks are important and how we go about implementing them across a 400+ person company.

Full disclosure, this is the process in place at the moment, but it’s bound to change and evolve as time goes on. Also, if you find yourself reading this and wanting to know more, join the Support Driven Slack group and ping me (@duvall).

Why do all hands support in the first place?

There’s always more work to be done. Why should everyone in the company take time to help out Support at least once a year?

1. Automatticians get a sense for common pain points our users face on a daily basis.

Our teams are often heads down building the next set of features for all of our products. Sure, they touch base with support teams when collecting data around a feature or launching something new. However, getting feedback second-hand from a support professional is much different than hearing those same frustrations directly from a user.

With Support Weeks, Automatticians get to interact with users that directly touch our products every single day. When a team dives into Support for a week together, they often come out with a list of new insights gleaned from talking directly with users. Those insights can inform decisions down the road and make our product better overall.

(Follow-up read from Help Scout—Why The Queue is a Treasure Trove of Customer Insight.)

2. Automatticians can see how customer support continues to evolve.

Roughly two years ago, we moved from email-based support to live chat. When we had Support Weeks come through, they dove right into chat as well learning the ins and outs of the new medium. Moving forward, these non-support teams had more context when we discussed our goal of increasing live chat coverage for our users.

3. Our support teams learn a ton from Support Weeks.

When you look at a queue day after day, certain issues can become commonplace. “Oh that issue? It’s been around awhile. Here’s a workaround.”

Support Weeks come through with a fresh set of eyes and highlight any efficiencies and quick wins that Support may become numb to on a daily basis. Many developers leave their week in Support with a list of items to fix, and we’re left with learning points about our systems and processes.

How Support Weeks work at Automattic

Let’s dig down into the nuts and bolts of how Support Weeks are actually scheduled across a 400+ person company. Again, keep in mind this process will continue to evolve.

Schedule by team

Teams range in size from 3-20 Automatticians all focused on a similar area. Support Weeks are scheduled by team rather than on an individual level. This allows the team to coordinate around development cycles, vacations, etc. Larger teams might opt to split into smaller groups of 5-6 and rotate through several weeks in a row.

If you’re curious, this is all tracked in a massive Google spreadsheet. It’s not perfect, but it works!

Align team with relevant queue

As mentioned above, teams can get a great deal of insight around common pain points from working in Support. It makes sense for developers and designers to support users on products they’re building on a daily basis. We pair Support Week rotations with the applicable product or queue. If they’re on a Jetpack-oriented team, they’ll hop into our Jetpack queue. If they’re building WooCommerce, they’ll support WooCommerce.

We’ve also tried to have teams rotate through Support right after launching a new product or feature. This way, they could get a first-hand look at issues that might pop up. It’s not an approach we take every time, but when the stars align, it’s a great option.

Buddy up

Every Support Weeker is paired up with a Happiness Engineer. The buddy’s job is to answer any questions about our tools or processes, checkin on a daily basis, and spotcheck a handful of interactions each day to make sure tone and answers are all on point. We have public channels in Slack where Support Weekers can ask for assistance but having a direct contact gives a sense of comfort.

Happiness Engineers signup for buddy slots on a volunteer basis. During a given week, they might even be buddying more than one Automattician. The buddy pairs are based around timezone so there’s at least a bit of overlap during a given day where both the buddy and Support Weeker are online.

Prepare resources

Every Automattician completes a three week rotation through Support when they’re first hired. When their Support Week comes around, tools, queues, etc aren’t completely foreign, but they likely haven’t worked in Support for six to seven months or longer.

For the initial three week Support rotation, we do individual trainings to help Automatticians get setup. For the Support Weeks, we don’t do individual trainings. Instead, we have an internal page that lists out all of our resources and links to various pages and training videos that we keep up to date. We encourage Support Weekers to spend the first hour or so going over these resources and pinging their buddy with any questions.

Take notes

Support Weeks are encouraged to take notes on their experience. What kinds of recurring issues did they notice in live chat? What were customers struggling with? How could we improve our support tools?

After most Support Weeks, we’ll have an internal blog post (called a p2) summarizing their experience with a list of issues they ran into. These issues will then be translated to GitHub/Trac or addressed when appropriate.

Say “Thank you”

Asking an Automattician to put their work aside for a week and help out in Support is not a small ask. Everyone has pressing deadlines they need to hit. Saying “Thank you” sounds like common sense. It’s a small gesture, but it goes a long way.

After a Support Week is over, I ping every individual that came through with a short note and a link to their “green robots” (feedback from satisfied customers). Hopefully, these comments put a smile on their face!

***

If you do all hands support at your company, I would love to hear from you! Join the Support Driven Slack group and ping me (@duvall). Let’s trade best practices!

Photo credit: Company photo from 2015 Grand Meetup in Park City, Utah.

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