Basecamp is looking for two Support Representatives to join our team in providing the best customer support around. About the Job You’ll be responsible for providing tremendous customer service and support via email for all versions of Basecamp and our other apps. You’ll help us answer questions via Twitter, make some customer calls, create and edit help documentation, run personalized demos, and teach some online classes. You’ll also have ample opportunities to carve out your own passion projects related to supporting our customers.
Deep technical knowledge of computer programming is not a prerequisite, however you should be well-versed in basic troubleshooting techniques to solve issues caused by most Internet Gremlins. The ability to think beyond clearing cache and cookies in order to troubleshoot the specific issue that’s reported is essential.
During training, you’ll be expected to be proactive in your process and learn quickly. Once fully up-to-speed (2-3 months), you’ll write about 100 emails per day. This is a significant volume, so be sure that you’re ready and able to deal with that kind of daily load — you’ll get all the support and guidance you need along the way! About You We’re looking for some great writers who love helping people, so you should enjoy making complicated situations simple and painless. This means being a great problem-solver with the ability to process and resolve issues quickly. You should be a stellar communicator, even when you have to communicate less-than-stellar news. You should have highly tuned senses of compassion and empathy and a drive to constantly help others.
We have a rhythm to our work and a low turnover rate — more than half of the team has been at Basecamp for over five years. But, your voice matters to us. We make change from fresh perspectives and appreciate new viewpoints, so you should feel comfortable speaking up about your values.
You love supporting people. This isn’t a springboard into another area at Basecamp. You want to be part of our support team for a while, and you’re excited to contribute to making Basecamp the best product for our customers.
A big part of the role itself is supporting each other, so you should understand the value in prioritizing relationships with your colleagues.
We strongly encourage candidates of all different backgrounds and identities to apply. Each new hire is an opportunity for us to bring in a different perspective, and we are always eager to further diversify our company. Basecamp is committed to building an inclusive, supportive place for you to do the best and most rewarding work of your career.
Our benefits are all aimed at supporting a life well lived away from work. None are about trapping people at the office or cajoling them into endless overtime. Just the opposite. We’re all about reasonable working hours, ample vacation time, summer hours, fitness, wellness, food, education, and charity. See the full list.
If you want to join Ashley, Chase, Chris, Elizabeth, Jabari, James, Jayne, Jim, Joan, Kristin, Lexi, Merissa, Shanae, Sylvia, and Tony in making our customers happy, please apply! How to Apply Introduce yourself to us as a colleague. Show us your future here! We value great writers, so be yourself, be creative, and take your time with the application. There’s no prize for being the first to submit! Stock cover letters won’t do. Tell us why you want this job. Tell us about:
why you want to work in customer support.
why you want to work at Basecamp and not somewhere else.
a description of a great customer service/support experience you had recently, and what made it great.
a time you taught yourself a new skill to complete a job or project.
a guide to making your favorite meal.
Then, pick three of the customer questions below and answer them like you would if you worked here (hint: at this point, we value tone and style over correctness):
Does Basecamp 3 offer time tracking?
Can I create recurring events in the Basecamp calendar? What about recurring todo items?
Do you offer 2fa for signing in?
How do I work with clients in Basecamp 3?
Click here to apply. We’re accepting applications for this position until July 5. We’ll let you know that we’ve received your application. After that, you probably shouldn’t expect to hear back from us until after the application deadline has passed. We want to give everyone a fair chance to apply and be evaluated.
We’re seeking fluent English speakers/writers to work with us to answer customer inquiries via email and phone during these hours:
Monday through Friday 9am-6pm CST
Tuesday-Saturday 10am-7pm CST
We’re a remote company, so your location isn’t as important as your fit to the role. That said, we do prefer that your daytime hours coincide with your working hours so as to avoid night shift burnout. Don’t forget to tell us where you’re located!
Good help is hard to find. I dread calling the credit card company, the phone company, any service provider, including and maybe especially SaaS companies. I anticipate talking to someone who is poorly trained, under-paid, powerless, and miserable. I anticipate their frustration rubbing off on me. I anticipate arguing to get my needs met. And that’s if I can even get a real human to talk to me. The people standing in the way of good help aren’t the customer support representatives themselves, though. Corporate culture, the bottom line, and rotten support for service roles has ruined how folks get the help they need.
I’m not alone in this. I’m not the only consumer who approaches support defensively, with their hackles up. Before we dig in, I want to tell you about a customer of ours — let’s call her Nancy — who, like me, had low expectations. She wrote to us asking for a lower price (which we didn’t have).
One of our reps, who has been at Basecamp for almost five years, wrote her back to politely tell her that we don’t have any lower plans to offer her.
Here’s what they wrote to Nancy:
Her response back was a little bewildering:
Three words! A sentence fragment! End of transmission. I saw this and recognized something interesting. Nancy was replying as if she were on hold with an automated service: Say ‘Account and billing’ for our accounting department. Say ‘Technical support’ for our technical department. I’ve been greeted by too many of those automated services and have more than once simply repeated the word “Human” until a person got on the phone with me. I swear, it works more quickly! Anyway, I recognized this in Nancy, so I jumped on a call with her. She immediately confirmed my suspicions and told me that she thought that the person who originally responded to her was a robot — and she then read the whole email to me in a robot voice to further her point. She also told me that because she thought she was speaking with a robot, that her three-word response was an attempt to get the robot to understand her. In short, she was speaking the robot’s language. To her, Basecamp was nothing more than beeps, algorithms, and machinery. We were no longer a group of humans with families and hobbies and struggles — we were machines that didn’t deserve even a full thought.
So how did we get here, to this point where our customers assume we are not even human? This was Nancy’s first interaction with us, so she had no context or history with us that would have lead her down this inhuman path — something else, outside of Basecamp, made her believe robots are the general first responders. We all know that capitalism has made the bottom line more important than the people. We need to reject these late capitalist temptations in order to protect our customers, our people. The people are why we’re here, the people pay our salaries, the people use our products. Don’t be fooled into thinking that anything other than people can support your customers.
Nancy, like myself and so many of you, drew from her previous experiences with customer support. So many companies put up some automation, a chatbot, some AI that ends up standing in the way of customer service and support. Nancy, by the time she emailed us, was already fed up with this culture, this treatment. Frankly, I’m fed up with it too. I never want to sit on hold listening to shitty music, pressing menu buttons, entering my account ID. Like Nancy, I want to talk to a human. I want us to get to a place in our industry where I know that when I contact a company, I’ll speak with a well-trained, cared-for human.
Because I live by the Golden Rule, to treat others as I want to be treated, I need to formalize how I want to be treated in order to better help our customers. What do I want? I want to talk to a well-trained, compassionate, and intelligent person when I have an issue. I have never in my life wanted to work out a problem with an ill-informed person. I never want our customers to feel that way about us: either that they cannot get a human to speak with them or that the humans who are speaking to them are simply unhelpful. Place yourself in a compassionate position — how do you want to be treated when you need to contact a company with an issue? What’s your ideal scenario? Start compiling your values so that you know what’s important to you.
Once you’ve figured out how you want a company to treat you, it’s time to look in the mirror. Are you treating your customers the way you want to be treated? Would your friends and family receive decent help from a decent human? Would you rest assured knowing your neighbor would be treated compassionately and timely if they needed help from your company? To put it shortly, are you proud of how your customers are treated? Does your company stand up to your own expectations?
If not, that’s ok. I want to help.
Now that you’re coming to grips with your own values and expectations, it’s time to open up a direct line of communication with your customers. Not an answering service, not an auto-reply, not an automated recording or menu, no bots, no AI. Figure out what you can manage. Email is the best way to gauge this.
Here’s what our support page looks like. It takes one click to get here from our homepage. We’re not hiding behind a “contact us” link at the very bottom of a page.
If you scroll down, there’s a text box below this that you can fill out to send us an email that goes directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. We also show you roughly how long it’ll take for us to respond to you. On a normal day, we answer 100% of emails within an hour of receiving them. 90% of those, however, are answered within 30 minutes.
That quickness, that attention, didn’t happen overnight. It was an iterative process that took about a year or two. We kept adjusting our methodology, each time failing a little better. When I started at Basecamp, we had four people answering emails. We all lived in the same timezone and worked roughly the same hours. At 8am on a Monday morning in Chicago, we’d have 600+ emails waiting for us. We rarely answered an email on the day it was received. Now, we have fifteen people stationed from West Coast US to East Coast Australia. We answer emails 24/7, save holidays and company meetups, with folks working roughly 9am-5pm five days per week. No one works in a call center. We train and support our own employees. We are connected to each other through Basecamp. Our team is the face of Basecamp.
I’m showing you this so that you can see how easy it is to talk to someone at Basecamp. We’re not hiding behind a device or a bot that’s trying to convince you that we care. We actually do care. We really do care. We know that our customers want to talk to us. They don’t want to wait on hold or have some AI device convince them that their problem is simpler than it really is. They want our expertise, our consult. When I call our customers, they aren’t asking me Yes Or No questions — they are giving me their stories, their narratives. They want me to understand their daily workflows and needs so that I can consult and problem-solve with them. I want to help our customers succeed — hell, it’s in my own best interest that our customers succeed not just at using our product but at their business so that they can continue to pay us to use our product. Part of helping them succeed is hearing their stories. When people can speak their truths aloud, then they are better able to process those truths. That means that when we give our customers the opportunity to speak to us, to tell us their stories, then they understand their workflows better. If you understand your truths and workflows better, then you can do better work. When you employ a bot or use an automated service, you’re sending the message that you’re too good to talk to your customers yourself, that they don’t deserve your time or patience or thoughts. Your customers want to talk to you, and you should want to talk to them.
Let me show you just a glimpse of the feedback we get at Basecamp after we have conversations with our customers.
So, you see that our customers (who aren’t different than yours) want to talk to a real human. A real human! They want to have a real conversation with another person. It’s not just that they are happy that they got to talk to another human — it’s that they are surprised that they did. Like Nancy, they assumed we were robots. Why? Because so many companies have failed them, treated them like a burden so that they learned robots are now being employed to help customers. This happy surprise that our customers get after realizing our humanity isn’t exactly a good thing, it’s not exactly flattering. The bar is so low that all we have to do is be a real human. What we’re doing at Basecamp isn’t ingenious. We’re simply understanding our own capacity for answering emails (60–75 per person per day) and doing that in our own voices. We’re simply allowing a team of people to have human conversations with our customers. It’s sad to me that our fellow humans expect so little from us. We only have ourselves to blame!
Check out this hilarious clip from the latest season of Bojack Horseman, in which one character is struggling through her day and needs help from a customer support rep. Diane is carrying a lot of emotional baggage with her and needs a human touch, someone who can empathize and alleviate some of that burden. She’s instead met with a robot.
It’s funny and we laugh (it’s dystopian but honestly not all that absurd), but this is a daily reality for so many people who simply need a human conversation, someone to guide them through a difficulty (even if that difficulty seems frivolous to us). A harsh reality played out here is that, too often, service providers like this are not trained to actually help a person in need.
It’s not just that a human conversation is what our customers want and deserve. Our relationship to our customers should be more symbiotic — we need just as much from them as they need from us. Sure, our needs are different, but think about how we know to grow our product, where the holes are. At Basecamp, we talk to our customers. We interview them. We listen to their feature requests, their rants, their raves. We don’t simply look at data and clicks (we do that, too!), but we also have real conversations with real people. Real humans!
It may seem cheaper to employ chatbots and automation, and that’s because it is. It’s not a good thing when cheap is synonymous with flimsy. You’re sacrificing intel, product knowledge, connection, and culture. It’s not worth the sacrifice. Your human support team connects daily with your customers, your customers who not only carry with them the money you need to stay in business but also the knowledge of how to improve your product.
So if customers want to talk to humans and if customers have product knowledge to glean, why are we seeing so many companies employ these automations and bots? One of the reasons is simply that we’re a society that’s obsessed with technology and profit and the intersections therein. Maybe we should all reread Frankenstein?! But I also think that a more compelling reason is that support teams, in general, are not treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. That creates a culture of apathy and causes high turnover rates. Turnover frustrates managers and hiring committees: Why won’t people stay? This job is too draining. Let’s get bots who don’t complain and can’t leave. Apathy frustrates your customers who will find another service provider who can support them genuinely. I can tell you from experience that it’s not the work itself that makes people leave; it’s not the work itself that creates apathy — it’s the culture.
I’ve been supporting Basecamp customers for over seven years. Three others on my team have been supporting Basecamp customers for over seven years. Several others have been doing this for nearly five years. Collectively, our team has been supporting Basecamp customers for 64 years. It’s rare when someone leaves. So, I’ll repeat myself: it’s not the work itself that creates high churn and apathy in support positions; it’s how the employees are treated.
We all need to start placing higher value on the team that works directly with our customers. That means finding people who are preternatural helpers, first and foremost. What are preternatural helpers? People who enjoy problem solving with others. People who want to cull all sorts of knowledge for themselves and others. People who run to a problem instead of away from it.
Our team is made up of librarians, educators, personal assistants, fraud specialists, and IT professionals. All of these kinds of helpers, in order to succeed in this field, must be strong writers. You need a team of people who can communicate effectively in any form — that means that their written word must be passionate and strong. You need to hire people who can devise a way to gently say no, to kindly show a user how to accomplish a simple task without making them feel stupid. You need to hire people who are capable of handling difficult conversations with grace and candor. You need to hire people who can translate customer conversations into new product features or even new products themselves. Writers can do this because they can conjure these tones and emotions in strangers. Writers can identify, organize, and synthesize information for your customers to understand easily.
It’s a red flag to me when I receive bad support. The red flag is always for the company itself. It’s rarely the fault of the person trying to help me. Rather, these situations show me that the management, the company at-large abandoned this person. It’s a systemic failure, not a personal one, due to poor training, poor wages, no stake in the company (cultural or financial), no trust or autonomy. It’s honestly so easy to remedy.
Once you find the right folks (those polymath writers haha), you need to write and maintain effective and thoughtful training documentation that sets your new hires up for success. You need to constantly support your team. That looks different for each person you hire, so you need to get to know each person individually. Employees deserve regular reviews, regular feedback, opportunity to share their feedback, 1–1s, team chats. You need to listen to your team to know where you’ve failed so that you can atone and reconfigure. Let them guide you as much as you guide them. Your support team deserves competitive wages that can support them in a career — support work is not a stepping stone to another career; it’s its own career. They deserve retirement security, paid time off, childcare, healthcare. I could go on. If you want to treat your customers well, then you have to start treating your support staff well. If you value your customers, then you better value the folks who talk to your customers. Otherwise, you’re setting your customers up to fail and waving that red flag.
Once your team is comfortable and confident, you need to start giving them time away from the queue to process all the information customers gave them, to maintain documentation, to teach and interview customers, to learn new processes, to advance their skills.
Each support representative should have their own project for which they are responsible. On our team, each person spends one full day each week on working on Research & Innovation, a kind of Personal Development. They write help documentation, programming documentation, teach classes, interview customers, write blog posts, do social media engagement, learn programming, etc. I don’t decide what each person works on — I help them come to their own decision. This management style gives them a sense of ownership and dedication, a stake in a team so that there would be a true gap, perhaps even a systemic failure, if they left. Your support staff should not feel expendable. Help them feel essential by trusting them with their own passion project. Let your team show you better methodologies, better processes. Let them suggest protocol. Give them ownership in their work.
Try to remember that you started this process. You shifted the culture. You hired the right people, you trained them effectively. Now trust them. If you don’t trust them, then you took a wrong turn. People will soar when given the freedom. They will be grateful and hard-working, dedicated and loyal. They will challenge your company and make it a better place to work. I can’t say the same for robots.
When I’m at work, I’m my best self. I’m positive, patient, helpful, curious and considerate. I tap seemingly bottomless reserves of empathy, and drip, drip, drip kindness out to customers and colleagues. I’m resourceful and flexible, bending over backwards to solve people’s problems. I take pride in exceeding their expectations. I listen to criticism, but try not to take it to heart, and I show up ready to make a difference to someone’s life, day after day after day.
But when I close my laptop, something changes. By the time I’m done working, I’ve usually had enough of other people. The last thing I want is to be around other humans, listening to their problems, responding to their requests. I forget to call my mum. I miss my friends’ events. I complain about going to buy ice cream for my wife — something I actually love to do — because I don’t want to be asked for. One. More. Thing. I open Twitter and get into fights with trolls, then turn around and troll others. In my downtime, I’m antisocial and cynical; I’m lazy, sloppy and thoughtless.
What if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if the me who makes customers happy all day could continue to spread cheer through his private life? If switching off from work didn’t have to mean switching off the parts of my personality I’m tired of exercising — all the nice parts. What are the things I practise in customer support that could make me better at supporting humans in general, and myself in particular?
I have a plan for being my best self, even when I’m not being paid to do so, when I’m not being monitored and given feedback. You know, when I’m “just” living my life. Here’s what I’m going to practise — and what I’m going to listen to, to get me in the mood:
Just do it
If a customer writes me an email, I respond in a matter of minutes. If they want to talk on the phone, I’ll call them as soon as I can. My goal is to resolve their problem as quickly as possible, with the bare minimum of back-and-forth. But if someone calls my personal phone, there’s little chance I’ll pick up; zero chance if I don’t recognise the number. I hardly ever listen to my voice messages, let alone return those calls. I don’t pick up my mail, and it’s returned to sender. In my office there’s a patch of wallpaper I’ve been waiting for months to strip. Well no more. Whatever needs to be done, I’m going to… just do it.
You’re gonna wake up and work hard at it You’re gonna wake up and stop giving up You’re gonna wake up and just do it
It’s easy to forget that, on the other side of that phone call, email or tweet, is another person, made up of flesh and blood, and faults and feelings. Good support pros keep in mind, and occasionally remind their customers, that we’re all human here, doing the best we can in sometimes frustrating situations. I’m going to try to speak to people online with the same courtesy and respect that I would if we were face-to-face. Even if I disagree with them, no one deserves to be disrespected, demonised or dehumanised. We’re all human, after all.
I’m only human, I do what I can I’m just a man, I do what I can Don’t put your blame on me
My team practices something called noncomplementary behaviour. That’s a Psych 101 term (beautifully illustrated by this Invisibilia podcast) for meeting anger and frustration with politeness and positivity, leading the conversation in a more constructive direction. Don’t feed the trolls; have a cup of coffee with them. Some people can’t be helped, but others will benefit from a little listening, understanding and empathy. I’m going to be the disarming, charming(!) person Basecamp expects me to be, and make life more bearable for everyone, myself included.
The killer in me is the killer in you My love I send this smile over to you
Let it go
In life, especially online, it pays to pick your battles. We waste so much time and energy fighting with people whose beliefs we have no hope of changing — and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. While supporting customers, I’m empowered to help them and address their concerns, but there is a fair amount of frustration and criticism I let wash over me. Outside of work, I’m practically powerless, and vulnerable to stronger and more personal attacks. I’m going to stop taking it personally, make a positive difference wherever I can, and let everything else go.
Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don’t care what they’re going to say Let the storm rage on The cold never bothered me anyway
At Basecamp, we take self-care very seriously. We’ve invested in health benefits for employees; we’ve created a Basecamp for that. Over the years, I’ve become better at caring for myself, and worse at caring for others. With all the terrible things happening in the world, it’s easy to feel hopeless, and my way of coping has been to detach, and exist in a state of blissful ignorance. But part of my job is to empathise with people, to care about what they care about, and by doing so, help make their lives a little better. I’m going to invest myself more in others, in their passion and their pain, and see if I can inject a tiny bit more love into the world.
I know you’ve been hurt by someone else I can tell by the way you carry yourself But if you let me, here’s what I’ll do I’ll take care of you
I’m going to try and break down the (otherwise healthy) separation between my work and my life, and let the good habits filter through. I’ll hold onto that positive attitude past 6pm, and see what else I can apply it to. It’s going to take work and thought, practice and commitment. But it’s going to help me live my best life. Why not join me, and let me know how it works out?
If you’ve read this and thought, “I do that anyway”, then you might be perfect for Basecamp’s support team. We’re hiring someone in the US to help care for our customers, and resolve their problems with a considered response and a smile😀. If this sounds like you, then apply to join one of the world’s best customer support teams here.
All-hands support can be a touchy subject for customer support professionals. When you ask designers and programmers to reply directly to customers’ questions, doesn’t that imply that anyone can do our job?
At Basecamp, we learned the hard way that you shouldn’t expect other people to be able to do the work of your support team. The good news, which I shared at the Support Driven Expo Europe 2019, is that we’ve found new ways to leverage people’s existing skills into valuable work which helps improve things for our customers, our team, and the company as a whole.
If you’d like to learn more, watch my talk, “Everybody helps: the evolution of all-hands support”:
There used to be a panicked feeling that would set in when we’d have any sort of outage or issue in Basecamp past — that stomach-dropping, heart-palpitating, sweaty-palmed feeling. But on November 8th when I awoke to a 6am text spelling out Basecamp’s downtime, I wasn’t worried. Before I finished reading the full text, I remember thinking, “Oh, they’ll have it sorted out before I can finish making coffee.” But as I continued reading and began to understand the estimated downtime to be at least two hours, my adrenaline hit.
The first thing I wanted to do was check on the support team. Were they in panic-mode? How sweaty were their palms? How many customers had they talked to already today? How close to capacity were they?
And by the time I received the alert and logged on (coffee brewing while I said Good Morning, thank glob for remote work), Basecamp had been in read-only for about 30 minutes, three times my prediction. Despite the stress of a lengthy downtime, knowing that we’d have a few hours of this status allowed us to settle in and accept our predicament. We had time to get into a flow and trust ourselves to talk our customers through this.
Really, what I realized when I logged on was that everything was absolutely under control on the support team. And of course it was: for the past two years, our team has been conducting crisis drills with each other. Once a month, we rotate responsibility for these drills and each person is responsible for coming up with their own style of drill. They’ve become quite the gif-filled, fun time! We work from a playbook (hosted on GitHub in case Basecamp is down) that acts as a living document we can update as-needed. We’re currently in the process of using our experience from the read-only outage to revamp and reassess the playbook to make it even more accessible, comprehensive, and succinct — no small task, mind you!
At Basecamp, we’ve been running an initiative called Everyone on Support for nearly five years now. Each person in the company, whether a designer, developer or podcast producer, spends a day every eight weeks or so responding to customer emails. As Emily wrote a few months in, EOS quickly proved its worth: Direct contact with customers gave people a new perspective on our products, first-hand experience of the problems users were facing, and a reminder of what we were all working towards together. Lessons were learned, bugs fixed, and cross-team relationships were strengthened.
And then we got busy. With customer requests climbing, the support team lost some important people, and those that remained developed an unhealthy obsession with “inbox zero”. Our stress was infectious: Folk would turn up to their EOS shifts eager to help and leave deflated because they’d barely made a dent in the email queue. Each of them had a dedicated support team buddy to ask for help, but rather than “bug us” with questions, they’d spend hours down help-page rabbit holes. And on the rare occasions that things were quiet, they got bored because we weren’t leaving them with anything to do.
Something was very wrong, but the support team was too busy to notice. We didn’t have time to check in with each other, much less the people who were joining us for the day. We’d started Everyone on Support with the best intentions of not turning our coworkers into part-time firefighters, but that’s exactly what they became. Month after month, people would show up, grab the kind of requests they’d seen before, respond to as many as they could before their eyes started to swim, and clock off feeling bad because they hadn’t kept pace with the pros.
We hired some wonderful people, and reset our expectations for the support queue. While we took the time to train our new members, we paused EOS for a few months. That meant that we could put our whole focus on training, and take some time to think about how to do all-hands support right. As part of fixing our unhealthy behaviours, we carved out some time for “research and innovation”. I spent that time working out how we could invite our colleagues into the new, healthier space we’d created for ourselves. Here’s what we did, and what we learned.
Clear expectations are everything
Right from the start, we wanted to be clear about what Everyone on Support is. We put together a guide to outline what we expect from our guests and from their buddies on Team OMG (our pet name for the customer support team at Basecamp). A doc called What is EOS? What is EOS NOT? reaffirms our original goals for the scheme and how we’re going to achieve them together. It also reassures folk that they aren’t fodder to paper over cracks in coverage. We’ll work together to ensure their shift will be interesting, useful and fun.
As a bad manager in a previous work life, my initial impulse was to impose a solid structure onto EOS. On their first support shift, each person would respond to X number of login emails, then level up to billing issues, before starting to look at feature requests, and so on. I drew up a detailed syllabus, and asked for help fine-tuning it. Jim pinged me, and we had a great conversation, including the following question:
What does the loosest implementation of this look like? The company as a whole has been moving towards a more structured way of working for a while, but a lot of Getting Real and Rework are about doing less. How can we capture that spirit in EOS? What’s the smallest amount of work we can do to give the most support to the folks doing EOS?
I decided to scrap the syllabus. Using metrics risked the kind of anxiety around speed people had experienced in the past. Being too prescriptive would suggest that there’s only one way to succeed in support. And neither of those things got us closer to our goals for EOS.
I turned my gaze to the work we’d done to onboard the new members of the support team. OMG had done a great job of building a loose framework to support the learning of the newbies, and that felt like a better fit for what we were looking to do with Everyone on Support. I salvaged some bits from the abandoned syllabus, and repurposed them. When EOS would start back up again, everyone would have a collection of resources and some advice on handling common cases.
Basecamp is a company which values independence. The best approach was to give everyone everything they need to succeed, and then get out of their way.
Communication is key
Basecamp’s support team are thoughtful, kind humans. Instead of telling them how to manage their charges, I encouraged them to talk it out, and discover the way that person works best.
I suggested that each EOS day start with a discussion about what our guest supporter wanted to do, and end with a catch-up about how it went:
Your job is to help ensure that your buddy has fun, learns something new and feels good about their shift. Creating the experience that best works for them is going to come down to good communication.
A two-way street
Team OMG is full of good listeners (it’s our job!), and we’re as interested in learning from our coworkers as we are in teaching them. When updating our buddies list, I tried to pair people along shared lines of interest. Time zones made this tricky, but I’ve managed to connect support folk interested in research and product development with specialists in data and design, and the two-way insights have started to flow.
One size does not fit all
When training new OMG team members, we recognise that everyone learns and works in their own way. That’s something we’ve built into our approach to Everyone on Support: for some people, we pick emails that will be of interest and provide hints as to the answers; for others, we leave them to it, and stand by in case they have any questions.
Once someone’s comfortable with email support, it’s up to them how they spend their time with us. If something fits in a single day, and is going to benefit our customers, then it’s a good use of a support shift. People on EOS have squashed bugs, launched customer research projects, improved our internal tooling, leveled-up our external documentation… and that’s just the start!
Everyone on Support is a work in progress, but it feels like we’re going in the right direction. For six months now, we’ve been running a much more chill, cheerful — and constructive — version of EOS. I’m going to keep steering it with a light touch, and check in with people, to see how they feel about where we’re headed. Basecamp’s approach to all-hands support aligns with our values and how we choose to work as a company — so you may not be able to apply everything here to your own initiatives. We didn’t get it right on our first try, and we’ll make more mistakes in the future. It’s worth it.
Do you offer all-hands support? How does your approach differ to ours? Or are you thinking about rolling out something similar in your organisation? And what concerns or challenges are holding you back?
When I joined the Highrise team in May of 2016, the support team wasn’t a team at all: it was a single person. Chris did everything, from answering emails, to maintaining our help site, to recording how-to videos. Just the emotional output from being “on” empathetically all day every day can be exhausting, so I came along to help.
After a few months of me getting up to speed we realized that while there were certain times that it made sense for both of us to be helping users, like first thing in the morning, for a portion of the day one of us answering emails was sufficient. So we started asking ourselves, what was the best way for us to not only help our users and teammates, but to take care of ourselves as well?
As we started brainstorming the best way to accomplish that, we began by going through all of the other areas of Highrise we wanted to help contribute. The help site and all of it’s written and video content was always our responsibility, but we realized there were other ways we could help with the “extra” bandwidth we found ourselves with.
Chris and I spent some time going through different ways we could divide our time. We settled on a time frame that would help us not only recuperate emotionally from being on, but enough “off” time to really dig into other projects and interests we have.
Any project that you really need to dig in and complete needs more than just a 3 hour chunk of your week.
What did we decide to do? A week on support, and a week off.
The week you are on the support inbox, that is your #1 priority. The expectation we set for users is that we’ll be here from 8am-5pm CST, so when you’re on the inbox, that’s what you cover. There’s still time to sneak other little things in there, but we pride ourselves on giving replying to customers as soon as we possibly can, so when you’re on, you’re on.
When you’re off the inbox, that’s the time to take care of bigger projects. It’s amazing to be able to write and tackle other things without having to constantly go back and check the inbox.
I personally use the time to take care of myself a little bit more too. It’s a great time to catch up on reading and learning, meeting up with users or colleagues to chat over coffee, even just taking a walk in the middle of the day to let the brain relax and think.
This system has worked incredibly well for us. Both Chris and I approach the job refreshed after a week “off”, and can give customers the best version of ourselves, which they wholeheartedly deserve.
We also get to scratch the other professional itches we have, while simultaneously helping our other teammates out as well.
Some may say that their inbox has a perpetual backlog, and they need all hands on deck at all times. Which is understandable, I personally have experienced that on many occasions. But even if your support team is 10+ people, finding room to start on a “small” version of this plan could pay off huge dividends.
If I knew I had every Wednesday afternoon off from the inbox to recharge my empathy batteries and tackle some other passion projects of mine, it completely shifts my mindset, and can very easily stave off burnout.
Will we always work this way? Maybe not. We’re already exploring other options for seasonality, and things may change when a third person joins our team at some point in the future.
You may be hard pressed to find two people who care more about helping users than we do. However, to take care of others, we know we have to take care of ourselves first.
I graduated from the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana). Marc Andreessen was an alum. That’s where he created the Mosaic web browser which in turn led to creating Netscape. As you can imagine, I had a loyalty to Netscape coming out of school.
But everyone knows how that story turns out. Microsoft won. We were stuck with IE.
IE just got worse and worse. And work was bad about keeping us updated with laptops with enough horsepower, so I was constantly trying to keep my machine running lean.
I remember when a friend showed me something called the Phoenix web browser. I loved it. It was fast. It didn’t make my computer crawl. I was a convert. I used it all day long.
Today Phoenix is called Firefox. And I never open the thing up anymore.
Phoenix/Firefox just got more and more things, and it got slower and slower. It started eating up a ton of memory. All things I was trying to avoid when I first fell in love with Phoenix.
We’ve been doing a series of Jobs to be Done interviews over here at Highrise. After hearing from customers, my brain immediately went into: “We should add this. Jim would want us to build that. Zoe would love it if we made that even better.”
Ryan Singer who was the lead of doing this research for us made a great point (I’ll paraphrase): “You’ve already won these customers. They’re thrilled. You’ve already solved their biggest problems. They aren’t going back to something else. If you keep trying to make it even better, you run the risk of doing just the opposite.”
One of the things that hit us over the head doing these customer interviews is how happy these customers already are.
Many teams create a product that solves a problem well. And they just keep adding more to it. And more. And more. Until it becomes so complicated and bloated the people who were happy to begin with start looking for something that returns to the basics.
Ryan drew this fantastic graph that nails our world.
Highrise already sits in a nice place on this graph. Our tool is obvious, and has a small footprint. It means setup is instant, onboarding new people takes seconds, it’s the fastest thing you can get a team on to start tracking leads and follow-ups.
That solves a few very specific jobs for our customers perfectly:
1) A single sales person inundated with leads whose current system stopped working because of the influx and doesn’t have time to set up something new.
2) Someone who is self-employed and knows they need to grow their business doing sales, but they aren’t sales people. They’re artists, lawyers, party planners. They don’t have time to learn a sales tool.
3) A manager or business owner who needs a system in place immediately for a group of salespeople and staff to handle leads. They have many hats to wear, and learning a sales tool isn’t one of them.
Each one of these jobs came from our customer interviews, and they all mean people need instant solutions that don’t require even a glance at a manual.
Some people need more things from Highrise. No doubt. But if we add many of them, we’d find ourselves in a place with hundreds and hundreds of other competitors.
And the people who were already happiest with us become alienated.
That is so much clearer now that we’ve gotten done with these customer interviews. Our best and happiest customers are already happy. If we keep adding more stuff just to make folks even happier, we run the risk of becoming less obvious and more bloated.
What does that mean for us? Well it doesn’t mean we stop improving the product. But it does help me see how we should focus. We need to keep our eyes set on the basics we already do well and polish any rough edges that still stick out.
For example we already have a great import system. You can import an Excel file, CSV file, vCards. That pretty much means everything. The import system can handle mapping any column to existing or new fields. It’s slick. One problem: it doesn’t support “.xlsx” file types. Which became the default Excel filetype in 2007. There’s a workaround of course to save your spreadsheet as “.xls”. But what a pain. You get to our import screen and many people try to just upload the .xlsx file that’s handy. Only to hit an error screen and realize (or not realize!) they need to go back to Excel to do some more monkeying around. Instead of adding bloat, we can make our imports faster and cognitively leaner.
the first version of Phoenix (later renamed to Firefox) was also released by Mozilla community members that year with the goal of providing the best possible browsing experience to the widest possible set of people.
On the surface that doesn’t sound like a bad goal: make the “widest possible set of people” happy. Who doesn’t want to make the most people happy.
But in reality, you can’t pull it off. Firefox lost me and many of their happiest users because they thought they didn’t do enough for enough people.
At Highrise, that strategy would be our doom.
(I pick on Firefox of old here, but all browsers have been guilty of this, so much so that it might be time to open up Firefox again. I keep searching.)
P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking that ❤ below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should give Highrise a look.
Customer support is a double-edged sword and can be both rewarding and draining. Helping people feels good, but constantly empathizing with strangers can get exhausting. We all hope that the good outweighs the bad, but that’s not always the case. When the scales are imbalanced and there’s stress at and about work, it’s easy to forget that work doesn’t have to be stressful.
Our team answers (mostly) emails and (some) phone calls seven days a week across four continents. Each person works 40 hours a week in Autumn, Winter, and Spring and 32 hours a week in Summer. But, 40 hours a week of nonstop emailing doesn’t allow folks to synthesize the data they just internalized to help guide Basecamp in an interesting direction. How can we analyze feature requests if our energy is zapped at the end of the day, the end of the week? How can we help shape tech support culture at-large if we don’t have time to benchmark or conduct research? Our team is comprised of fourteen badass thinkers with diverse backgrounds, so why aren’t we giving them space to think and collaborate? Finally, how can we introduce more calm into a stressed team?
Over the summer, I convinced Jason and David to let support stray from the 37signals mantra to “hire when it hurts,” which allowed us to hire two people when we thought we were looking for one. Part of my proposal included a schedule that set aside one or two hours per day for each person to work on something other than contacting customers, to be decided by self-selection. When Jayne, relatively new at the time, and I discussed what she could work on during her time off from contacting customers, I encouraged her to use her background as a research assistant to help guide her. That’s how we came up with the name Research and Innovation, or R&I for short.
There’s an element of trust in this type of structure that is essential if your team wants to try this out. Don’t micromanage people’s projects, but do offer suggestions and guidance when asked. I know that each person on the team will spend their time wisely and at their own pace. Ideas aren’t born from ether; they are born from consideration and formulation, research and comparison, all of which require time and space. If someone spends a day formulating an idea, then it was a day well-spent. It’s important not to question that judgment. (If you’re questioning someone’s judgment, then you should also be questioning their position at the company.)
When the time came to execute the concept, we decided to piggyback off our four-week summers: each support rep’s “summer day” during the rest of the year is now their Research & Innovation day. That allows for easier scheduling, gives us an idea of how the summer will look, and provides a full eight-hour shift of uninterrupted focus.
It’s been about a month since we introduced this structure to the team. Some folks do lengthier demos, teaching users. Some create industry-specific accounts to share with users. Some track and analyze feature requests. Some benchmark with other support teams. Some create content for our help documentation. For the record, these were all things we were doing before we introduced R&I. The difference is that instead of squeezing a quick pitch or a fast demo into a ten-minute slot between emails, we can now take our time to do our best work.
Beyond doing our best work, we’ve also noticed a shift in tone and attitude. The team is more involved in the goings-on at Basecamp. We’re happier, more relaxed, with better morale.
We’re looking for a support programmer to work with us as we build a safer, faster, better Basecamp. As well as working on Basecamp and our other apps, you’ll be an important part of our work on Basecamp, the company. You’ll be joining our existing support programmer (me!) and working as part of our Security, Infrastructure and Performance team in a fun and varied role that will help you to develop personally and professionally.
We want strong, diverse teams built from different backgrounds, experiences and identities. We’re ready for the ongoing work that goes into building an inclusive, supportive place for you to do the best work of your career. That starts with regularly working no more than 40 hours a week, and hopefully getting 8+ hours sleep a night. Our benefits are designed to support a sustainable, healthy relationship with your work.
Currently our team works from 32 different cities, spread across 6 countries. You can work from anywhere in the world, but your normal working day should have 4 hours or more overlap with Central Time (CST).
Do you have questions? Do you like finding answers? Does helping people make your heart sing? Can you approach problems calmly and compassionately? Do you think clearly, and can you express yourself in English and in code?
About the job
Here are some examples of the kind of work you’ll be doing. You might not know how to do everything below, but you do know how to start looking and learning. Every single day, you’ll get to work across teams to support three major areas:
Making our customers happy.
You’ll be helping our customers to perform tasks they can’t do easily in Basecamp itself. We refer to these as concierge-style requests. They often involve writing small snippets of Ruby and working in a console
You’ll make it easier for companies to trust us by answering security and compliance questions
Every day you’ll be supporting our wonderful support team, to help them to ask better questions and find better answers for our customers
Developers who are working with our APIs sometimes need some help too, and you’ll be on hand to offer the right documentation, and suggestions on the best way to approach things
Working on our legacy
In the pursuit of answers, you’ll go delving into the codebase for all of our apps (including the very first Rails app!) to discover how things work. You’ll be comfortable looking at code, exceptions and logs, identifying problems and suggesting fixes.
As well as spelunking through our apps, you’ll work with people across Basecamp every day:
Working with our ops team to track down mail delivery issues, or networking problems or SSL certificate fun
Working with programmers to triage bugs, suggest fixes, and write code
Exploring issues with our Android or iOS apps, and working with our mobile teams
Support our QA team as they lead our feature retrospectives
Helping us find ways to be better
Triaging security reports & identifying fixes
Looking at reports of slowness in our apps and searching for the cause
Researching & planning improvements across teams, like ending support for RC4, or taking part in PrivacyShield certification
Looking at exceptions in our apps, and identifying fixes
Providing thoughtful commentary on product pitches, ideas and suggested fixes based on what you have seen
Investigating common cases, and coming up with ideas on how to reduce them
You’ll get support and trust every step of the way, and the freedom to make decisions to make things simpler, clearer, easier and more honest.
If this sounds like the kind of work you’d love to do, please apply. We’re especially interested in applications from folks in the early stages of their programming careers. If you know someone who would be perfect, tell them to apply! We’re accepting applications until February 3rd, 2017. Your cover letter is your chance to shine, so take it!