In addition to doing three weeks of support during our start at Automattic, every employee does an annual support rotation, putting aside their regular jobs for a few hours over the course of the year to join our Happiness Engineers in helping Automattic’s customers.
I had the opportunity to do my support rotation at this year’s Grand Meetup, where I answered tickets about everything from domain configuration to CSS changes. It was an intense and sometimes overwhelming few days; an exercise in remembering what I’ve learned from previous years while trying to catch up with what’s new.
With help from my very patient colleagues, I got the hang of working on tickets for the sixth time in my Automattic career. Each time I go through this process, I am reminded of the following things:
- The support rotation is a glimpse into the world of the customer; a world where WordPress is not a familiar home, but a new and confusing place. Often I’ll find myself trying to help someone, feeling frustrated because I can’t find the documentation for a feature, or a tool isn’t working properly, or I can’t figure out how to set up a theme (yes, it happens). This mirrors the customer’s frustration as they climb the steep learning curve and learn how to navigate our product. If it’s overwhelming for me, as a long-time WordPress user, how much more frustrating must it be for them?
- I always come away from this rotation with renewed respect for Happiness; providing quality customer service requires patience and skill. It’s not easy. Sometimes you save the day, sometimes you’re the bearer of bad news, and sometimes you don’t have the answers. Part of my job as a Theme Wrangler is making sure our Happiness Engineers have to do the latter two as infrequently as possible.
- On a more general level, it’s easy to get frustrated and take it out on support, but on the other end of the email or phone or live chat is a human being who probably wants to go home, watch some TV, and relax with their family at the end of the day. Being a kinder person means making that distinction between frustration with the product or the company and frustration with the support staff, and acting accordingly.
The support rotation is an annual reminder that empathy is needed in all parts of our product, in all parts of the development process, from start to finish. Without our support staff, our product lacks humanity, and without customers, we have no product. As frustrating as it is to change gears and don a new and uncomfortable hat, it’s an essential part of looking beyond the design, looking beyond the code, and remembering who we’re building for.