SDX Session (Manager): Adding Humanity by Removing Numbers

Kristin Aardsma, Basecamp

When a perfect storm of turnover and busy season hit Basecamp's support team in 2016, we began building bad habits based mostly on numbers and statistics that threatened to destroy our morale. Using methodical and subtle cultural shifts centered around eliminating stats, we were able to fix some of the bad habits we created for ourselves. One of the essential changes was creating dedicated time away from customer contact, which we dubbed Research & Innovation (R&I for short). In order to make folks feel comfortable stepping away from the queue to spend their R&I time reading/writing about support, working on side projects, or learning a new skill, we first had to eliminate the obsession we had with numbers: Inbox Zero, % of last 50 customer ratings per employee, response time (in minutes), number of emails sent, number of new conversations touched, etc. It wasn't easy.

With Justin Seymour, Head of Customer Support at Help Scout, I discussed how both our teams struggle with leaving the queue to take a break, something we talked about as integrity creating unintended consequences: both teams consist of very smart, very loyal, very empathic hard-workers who are dedicated to their company and customers. When people have such a high level of integrity, it's hard for them to pry themselves away from the customers who need help. Combine that with an obsession with numbers and you have a stressed-out team that hasn't taken care of itself. If you need to hire to alleviate that stress, be careful not to introduce that stress to your new hires --- some serpents eat their tails. By slowly removing some innocuous-seeming yet truly dangerous metrics and shifting the focus from the email queue to the single customer in front of you, we were able to make folks comfortable enough to loosen their self-imposed leashes and work on research and innovation. A day's work was no longer boiled down to a series of numbers, but to conversation comprehension: with customers, each other, and other support teams.