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Building a career in support

We need to build our support teams to add value across the company. We’re all expert communicators. We know not just the ins-and-outs of our product but how to convey our expertise in a way that’s relatable to our customers. That’s an immensely valuable skill. Our next step must be communicating back to the company what we learn from customers and from each other.

It’s that next step where we all too often come up short in support. We’re great at communicating with customers but, at times, terrible communicating internally to other teams at our companies. How many times do you hear about a development team not being on the same page with support? Or a sales team that makes promises to customers which support knows they can’t do? Those are real problems. And while they’re hard problems they’re solved with clear, consistent communication across teams. That’s our specialty!

Andrew Spittle — Building a career in support

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Report a Bug — Start a Conversation

Today at Automattic, I gave a presentation called Life Cycle of a Bug Report. Ostensibly, it was about the elements of an effective bug report and what happens to a bug report after it is opened. Ultimately, though, it was about how Happiness Engineers fit in to the rest of Automattic (or, more generally, how a support team fits in to the rest of a company), and how reporting bugs and other feedback can lead to better communication between support and product teams.

Here’s how customer support can sometimes look:

Dev-User-HE-Brokenloop.png

  1. The product team launches a product to the users.
  2. The users use the product, and when they have questions they reach out for support.
  3. Folks in support help users solve their immediate problems.

Ideally, however, there is a complete feedback loop:

Dev-User-HE-Loop.png

  1. The product team launches a product to the users.
  2. The users use the product, and when they have questions they reach out for support.
  3. Folks in support help users solve their immediate problems and communicate bugs, pain points, and other feedback to the product team.

In that complete loop, the people who spend the most time talking with users can advocate for those users and help set priorities for addressing pain points. Support folks also get an opportunity to connect more with the people who spend the most time creating and improving the product, to better understand existing priorities and resources.

When I write a bug report, I’m not just dumping a problem on someone else’s lap or giving someone a hard time for the product they created. I am pointing out a source of pain for the product’s users and starting a conversation about how to address it, in the context of everything else a product team is working on. In the process, I develop stronger relationships with our product teams and, as a result, can provide better, more informed support to our users.

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Embracing Openness

An exciting part of working at Automattic is the open source philosophy. It’s thrilling to help open source projects like Calypso (the new WordPress.com), even in a small way. I spent a chunk of time last year reviewing open bug reports, enhancement requests, and the like before the project was open sourced — it’s fun to see (and help with) new issues that come up as more people work with, get inspired by, and contribute to Calypso.

Open source isn’t just about developers, either — I do a lot of my day-to-day work in the open. I used to mainly provide support out in the open, helping users in the WordPress.com forums. These days I spend most of my time in the WordPress app repos, reporting and testing issues in the open there. (If you’d like to get involved, I also started posting calls for testing the WordPress apps over at Make WordPress Mobile.)

In the spirit of open testing, Automattic also recently released the WordPress.com Automated end-to-end tests into the open. I’m so glad we can share the awesome work that our QA and testing folks are doing. I’d also highly recommend checking out my coworker Alister’s blog WatirMelon for more testing talk.

Openness can really be part of everyone’s work — from open source, to open testing, and open support. Being open helps us learn from each other, inspire each other, and keep us aware of and oriented toward the wider community in which we work.

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Working from Home: Fighting a sedentary lifestyle

As a remote worker, I usually work from home and can be found sitting in front of my computer for hours every day. I use the Awareness app to gently remind me to take a break and get up at least once per hour, but I concentrate really well when I get in the flow and lately I find that I only notice the app’s reminders when it notifies me that I missed a couple of those hourly breaks in a row. I do take a long break at least once per day to be more active, and I use a Fitbit to encourage me to get out and take longer walks, but otherwise I can be practically glued to my desk chair in concentration.

The other day, I was reading an article in the New York Times about how tracking your steps and having a daily step goal isn’t enough to avoid a sedentary lifestyle:

In other words, you can take 5,000 steps in a day or 10,000, meaning that you would cover either about 2.5 or 5 miles. But in both cases, if you concentrate those steps into a single session of exercise and then spend the rest of your waking hours slumped in a desk chair or in front of a television, you will be more sedentary than active.

Such long bouts of sitting are associated with multiple health concerns, including increased risks for weight gain, diabetes, cholesterol problems and premature death, even if you exercise.

Ask Well: Does Taking Fewer Than 5,000 Steps a Day Make You Sedentary?

The article goes on to criticize activity monitors for emphasizing steps but failing to watch out for long periods of inactivity. The Apple watch stand reminder/goal was actually one of the activity features that made me seriously consider getting one (although in the end I decided against it).

So yesterday, as I synced my Fitbit with the app, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it has a new hourly activity goal. The suggested goal (in addition to your other activity/step goals) is to “take 250 steps each hour, which is roughly two to three minutes of walking.” I’m really happy to have more encouragement to get up and move while I’m working, and I just created hourly silent alarms on my Fitbit to support that new hourly activity goal. Here’s to healthier work habits!