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Bee gorging itself on dogfood (bowl says BARKLEBEE)

Sorry to spoil the suspense with the title there. (Unless you don’t know the term “dogfood” but we’ve blogged about dogfooding so much that probably you do.) We recently took a poll of daily and weekly beemail subscribers and (tied for) most popular was hearing more from Support Czar Nicky on how we’re so preternaturally good at support. So Nicky’s arm has been twisted and here we have it, from the horse’s mouth!

I’m going to tell you a secret about doing Beeminder’s support for 3+ years, and why I am good at what I do. (No false modesty here — I can always be better than I am right now, but right now I’m pretty good.)

It’s not having a preternaturally good memory for names and situations. I do have that, and it certainly helps, because it speeds things up, and I have the information I need right at my fingertips. Say a user’s name and if I’ve handled emails with them more than twice in the last six months, I probably know who you’re talking about. But that’s not critical: software can help you do that, because you can just make notes or search back in the archives to see what you’ve said to a user before.

It’s not about being infallible, because I’m definitely not. And it’s not even knowing how to handle it when you do fail, though learning to fail with grace really did help me along the way.

It’s not about reading all the bug reports filed and the commits merged, though I do keep a pretty good handle on that. It really helps keep you hooked into what might go wrong. But if it’s going to take me more than a couple of minutes to figure things out, it’s probably time for me to pass it on to someone more technical anyway.

It’s not —

Okay, I’ll stop telling you what it’s not and start telling you what it is. The number one thing that makes me good at doing support for Beeminder is the fact that I use Beeminder. Not just a little bit: at the time of writing, I have 66 goals. I use Beeminder to track my studying, eating habits, remembering to moisturise my hands, the books I’m reading… I’m regularly creating goals, deleting goals, archiving goals, derailing goals, playing around with my graphs, changing the settings… and I have no better access to my own goals than anyone else. I use Beeminder like any other user, and I can’t do special admin workarounds to get past things that are annoying or weird.

(Like seriously, this goes all the way. I have to write into support@beeminder.com when I need help. If I try to call not legit and it sounds a bit weaselly, the other workerbees will call me on it. When I derail, I pay up and see the money going out of my personal bank account. In every aspect, I have to use the service the same as anyone else.)

And of course, because of that I run into problems like any other user. Sometimes I’ll be the first user to run into a bug, which is definitely handy. I’m very well motivated to make a thorough bug report so we can get it fixed, and don’t mind being asked a barrage of questions about what I did until we can pin down exactly how to reproduce a bug!

The most important superpower this gives me, though, is that I know how everything works from the user’s point of view. I’ve changed that setting you need to ask me about for myself; I’ve used that integration; I’ve seen that error message that you only half-remember, and I remember the rest of it. Most of the time, I don’t need to load up the site and check — and if I do, I know exactly where I need to go. I’ve set up some really weird goals over time, so I have ideas about how to make things work… and I use Beeminder for such a wide range of things that inevitably I also run into ways in which Beeminder is frustrating.

Basically, I understand exactly what users are going through. And that is what makes me great at support. If you’re doing support, you need to understand your software not on the nuts-and-bolts end, as a developer, but as a user. I have no technical qualifications whatsoever, but I’m rarely stumped when it comes to Beeminder itself.

When the whole team do this, you get even more benefits, because different people need to use things differently, and they break things in different ways. Even though I use Beeminder so much, if there was something weird about high pledges I’d never know from my own experience, because my own motivation point is pretty low. But all workerbees use Beeminder in their own way, so we get all kinds of perspectives on user experience just from within our own team.

So my number one tip for any team is: use your own service. All of you. Devs, support, social media managers, testers, everyone. No special access, no extra privileges, maybe even no discounts or special pricing.

If you don’t use your own service, as a user, you’re missing half the picture.


Related reading: Upside-Down Support and Beehind The Curtain.

Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves