Rachel McRoberts is an Excellence Wrangler at Automattic. She promotes excellence throughout the product cycle with customer-focused planning, meticulous testing and troubleshooting, and constant feedback.
Recently I took the CliftonStrengths assessment — about 170 questions designed to identify your top strengths so you can use them to be more effective. I had first heard about it in a conversation about community organizing, in terms of knowing what you bring to the table when getting involved with a new organization. But it had also come up at work, and I decided it would be at least interesting to see what I might learn from this assessment.
I worried a little about inadvertently gaming the system. I’m a good test-taker and, for example, I can’t take the MBTI anymore without knowing exactly what personality traits I’m indicating with each answer. (I’m solidly INFJ, by the way.) So I didn’t look too much at the possible strengths or how the assessment worked; I just sat down and for about 30 minutes answered each question as honestly (not aspirationally) as I could.
In the end I was given 5 strengths: Achiever, Responsibility, Intellection, Input, and Relator. At first glance, the first three seemed spot on and the last two seemed a bit iffy. I’m a Relator, as introverted as I am? But as I read their explanations all five made sense to me:
I also have a report with even more detail, and advice about how to make these strengths work even better for me. This is great timing, because I have been especially conscious lately of my first two strengths (and the challenges they bring) — traits that mean I work hard, strive to be the best, hold myself to high standards, and have trouble saying no or letting things be less-than-excellent once I feel ownership of them. I’m still thinking about what these strengths mean for me going forward, but I’m interested in challenging myself to make use of them in work, in volunteering, and throughout my life.
How about you? Do you have experience with CliftonStrengths or other similar assessments? I always try to maintain a healthy skepticism about letting classifications like this determine how I see myself and the world, so I’m curious how others make use of them.
For the past 4+ years, I worked as a Happiness Engineer supporting WordPress.com and the WordPress apps. I spent roughly the first two years working in the WordPress.com Support Forums, and I found that I loved providing public support and troubleshooting the incredible range of issues that arose there. I spent the past two years supporting the WordPress apps, and over time I got more and more involved in testing them as well.
As I spent time developing on my own manual testing approach, working with beta testing communities, exploring the support/development feedback loop, and encouraging my coworkers’ troubleshooting skills, I also kept an eye on a team being formed at Automattic around automated testing and bug prioritization. I worked with and learned from them as more discussions arose around testing and quality within our fast-paced, distributed environment. And although I enjoyed helping people use WordPress, I discovered that my favorite work was helping development teams understand our customers’ needs and identify what issues most needed their attention.
That work and study paid off, and today I started my first day as an Excellence Wrangler. I’ll be automating tests, doing manual testing, triaging bugs reports, and generally helping our support and development teams communicate and prioritize to create the best experience possible for our customers.
And if that excitement wasn’t enough, I also had a delivery that I’ve been waiting on since I hit my four-year anniversary at Automattic — a new laptop with the WordPress logo:
Do a threat assessment. While you may not be defusing a literal bomb, a customer in distress can make you feel like you are. Don’t panic. Assess the customer’s problem and try to think of a similar problem you have handled in the past. This makes the problem less intimidating and gives you a place to start troubleshooting or resolving it.
Emphasize the positive and what you can control. Is the customer facing a bug? Did they experience a serious problem with your product? Focus on positive aspects of the situation and actions you have the power to take for the customer. That could mean providing workarounds that you know about, making small fixes you know will help, or even bigger solutions like proactively offering the customer a refund if something went really wrong.
Focus on the next step. Don’t try to solve the entire problem in one shot. Focus instead on just the next step you need to take. Did you just uncover a giant bug in the product? Set that aside for a moment and focus on this one customer and how to help them first. Not sure what went wrong or how to help the customer? Focus on talking through the problem so you understand it fully. In other words, think about just that one thing you need to do next, to avoid getting overwhelmed.
These general guidelines have helped me handle any number of stressful situations with apparent ease, including the pressure of being on the front lines of customer support. I hope they serve you well!
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that within a century, economic growth would mean that we would be working no more than 15 hours per week – whereupon humanity would face its greatest challenge: that of figuring out how to use all those empty hours. Economists still argue about exactly why things turned out so differently, but the simplest answer is “capitalism”. Keynes seems to have assumed that we would naturally throttle down on work once our essential needs, plus a few extra desires, were satisfied. Instead, we just keep finding new things to need.