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Help.com Interview With Buffer

Written by Kayla Brehm | Oct 15, 2014 11:24:20 AM

Recently Help.com sat down with Buffer Happiness Hero Åsa Nyström to discuss Buffer's excellent customer service. (Listen to the full audio of the interview here: Åsa Nyström)

For those unfamiliar, Buffer helps people manage and schedule social media, as well as providing high level analytics and team packages. Buffer is known for incredible customer service and enthusiastic employees. We got to talk to Åsa about how that reputation has been developed and why it's so important to Buffer.


Interview with Åsa Nyström, Buffer Happiness Hero: 

Graham: I really appreciate you being on with us today. We've really been looking forward to talking to Buffer (and of course you) about how Buffer goes about creating such an awesome customer experience.

For people who aren’t familiar with Buffer, can you give them a quick synopsis of what buffer does and what you do?

Åsa: Buffer is a social media sharing tool. We help customers schedule posts across all of the different platforms. We also offer analytics.

I work in the analytics team as a Senior Happiness Hero so I work with our customers every day and help them with tech support such as email and live chat.

Graham: Talking about that, why is it that Buffer cares so much about customer service? You’re renowned for it but it seems like an odd thing for a company that does social media management to care so much about.

Åsa: Ever since I started a year and a half ago, customer service has been one of the main focuses of the company. In fact, it has been since Joel started Buffer. Joel started Buffer for customers and to help customers with social media.

For us, it’s definitely a large focus to offer speedy and helpful support across all of the various tools that we use. It’s part of our vision, and not just Happiness Heroes spend time on it.

It certainly helps us on the product side to continue to improve and meet customer needs. We get so much amazing insight from being in communication with customers every day.

Graham: That’s a good answer. You mentioned being there for a year and a half. What attracted you to Buffer from the standpoint of coming in as a Happiness Hero? What made Buffer stand out?

Åsa: When I applied I wasn’t really  job hunting. It was more the fact that I used the product, I loved the product, and it helped me so much. I was reading Joel and Leo’s blogs already and the values that Buffer has made it feel like a match when they tweeted about it.

It was a lot smaller back then and I felt incredibly lucky to start when I did. It really was, and is, all about the company for me. 

Graham: Since you started a year and a half ago, Buffer has grown a lot. Would you say that there’s a common theme that you see with the Happiness team at Buffer? Any traits that exists across the board?

Åsa: Yeah, we focus so much on culture across the entire Buffer team not just the Happiness team. In terms of the Happiness team, I feel like we’re very much twin souls.

We’re people with a lot of empathy, super humble, in every situation we’re very eager to listen and to learn, we’re very transparent. We have similar interests, and very similar values I’d say, which makes it such an awesome experience to be part of both Buffer and the Happiness team.

Graham: We use Buffer at Help, and we love it. I’m sure a lot of people would love to hear about some of the shared interests at Buffer. What does the Happiness team and the community as a whole do together that makes it so great?

It seems like everyone at Buffer, on top of being big on customer service, has a lot of fun. Clearly Buffer is full of people who are really passionate about the project.

Åsa: Do you mean what we do when we’re not working on the project? What we do as a team when we meet up?

Graham: You mentioned a common series of interests. Twin souls is I think what you said. What does that translate to? I think people love hearing about that.

Åsa: Yeah, the entire team loves to travel. That ties in with the value of being wherever we are the happiest, and working smarter and so on. We love to travel, love being outdoors. When we go away together we’re on boats, and hikes, and all of that. We love eating.

We also love to explore and we love reading. We have this program where we get free Kindles and free Kindle books so we all love reading. That’s tied together with being a quite tech obsessed team as well.

Graham: Sounds like a great place. You referenced this with traveling, how would you say the experience of being remote impacts customer service at Buffer?

Åsa: The entire team being globally distributed came with an understanding that we’d always be able to help customers faster. Not just Happiness Heroes, but also engineers. It’s amazing to see the UK come on at a different time because if someone has been emailing them from Europe, or Australia (I’ve been working form Australia), for us it works so well to improve response times and happiness levels.

When I was in Sydney on a Monday, it was still Sunday in the USA. And now we have weekend Happiness Heroes. We try to cover as many hours of the week as possible so we can always get back to customers super fast.

Graham: The team works remotely from around the world which I can certainly see making it easier to respond more quickly to customers.

Do you feel like being so spread out affects the ability for teams to collaborate? I know customer service is very much a community experience at a many companies. People sit down to talk about best practices and what’s working and what’s not and so on. What has your experience with that been in Buffer's remote environment?

Åsa: We sync a lot. We work a lot with Hackpads. We have scheduled syncs. We also work on different tools together, we have Hipchat where we talk constantly. We have Sqwiggle going so we can just ping someone if we have a questions.We sync with the engineers regarding different areas of the business.

For us it hasn’t really affected anything. We use Trello which is super helpful. I don’t feel like being remote holds us back at all. We love to talk, and help each other, and talk about situations, snippets, or any other things that are tricky to get sorted. We often put our heads together when people are having a lot of trouble to try to figure out how to best help them. I would say it hasn’t held us back at all.

Graham: It’s definitely a really unique take on customer service. You mentioned a few tools earlier with Hipchat, Sqwiggle, and Trello.

What tools do you find the most helpful when you’re working with customers and what tools does Buffer use in their customer service to provide such a great experience?

Åsa: We use Help Scout for emails, Olark for live chat, and Sparkcentral for tweets. Those are our three main tools right now. We’re on Facebook as well but I’d say those are the three channels where we do customer support. We don’t have a central phone number. We’re exploring calls, but we’re still a small team so it’s very much case by case.

In terms of which one is my favorite, I love the immediate response and being able to help someone instantly with live chat. That’s our focus - we want to take our support more into conversations than emails.

The feeling of being able to immediately help someone is amazing. Even though I'm focused on email, that being my sort of tool in terms of service, I have to say live chat is still my favorite and where I see support going.

Graham: You see support going more towards live chat? Why is that?

Åsa: It’s my personal opinion but I feel like being able to help someone instantly like that is amazing. I don’t think all support will be live chat. I understand that customers have different preferences. Someone may be at the office and not able to go on live chat and they may want to email.

I’m very much an email person when I need help with support, but I feel like everything now is a bit more instant and customers want that. I also see live chat being where things are going in terms of apps that I use myself.

We’re definitely very much conversation focused at Buffer. We’re on Twitter, even with emails we try to make it a conversation rather than corporate sounding. We try to keep it conversational. Does that answer your question?

Graham: Yeah absolutely. It’s interesting to talk to people in the industry. I feel like it’s very easy to read all of the research on what customers are doing, but talking to someone who lives it on a day to day basis is great.

What would you say the effect has been for Buffer's business from being so customer focused? How is that measured?

Åsa: How it’s measured in terms of revenue and stuff I can’t really answer. But we measure response rates, resolution times, we tag things, we measure customer sentiment (happy, satisfied, not satisfied). From that we can see where the customer confusions lie, we can work on improving our product, and happy customers mean better business.

A better company, a better product, and in that sense it feels like customer service is a great way to improve your product in the way that customers want it. That leads to returning customers and paying customers.

Graham: I think companies that make that pivot - Zappos is the one every seems to default to - have seen some amazing business results and I'm curious about whether or not Buffer has any sense of what that’s been for them.

Åsa: Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that. I can try to find it out, see if we have any exact data or numbers. For us, it’s always been a focus so we haven’t gone from one end of the spectrum to another. Given that, we haven’t seen an increase business wise from being so customer focused. For us, it’s very much part of our roots. Otherwise I think would be easier to see the direct impact.

Graham: It’s built into your DNA so it makes sense that it’s more difficult to quantify. From the standpoint of someone in the customer service industry like you are, is there something you would like to see that would make your job easier? An innovation of some sort?

Åsa: There’s definitely one we feel like we’ve missed. I’m a big fan of Skype - I use it both personally and for customer calls. That means that a customer, if you want to share a screen with them, needs to have a Skype account and the same goes for similar tools.

What we’ve been missing is a tool that would be super smooth to do a call like this, where we can share screens and the customer can just jump on without an account or logging in somewhere.

Something super smooth to jump on video calls would be awesome. We’ve been looking for one of those for a while and tried to build our own for a little bit.

Graham: I see how that can be useful, especially in your position where you deal with people having issues that need immediate resolution.

Åsa: Exactly. It’s so great when you can see their screen and see immediately what’s happening. When you do share screen calls, it’s awesome but it feels not right to ask customers to sign up for something they’re not using and we never do. But if you want to share a screen, you need a tool so something like that would be amazing.

Graham: Yeah I see how that would be great. In terms of metrics, what does Buffer measure for their customer service team? I know it differs from company to company.

Åsa:  We have our own happiness dashboard that our Happiness Engineer Colin built for us. We look at a lot of things in there: response time, happiness index, overview of volumes, levels of tweets, emails, tags. We do that for Help Scout, Olark, and Twitter too.

We also have goals that we work towards.

Graham: It sounds like you have a pretty comprehensive view on what’s going on with the customer and how they’re feeling at any given moment which is great.

Åsa: Yeah, it’s definitely our biggest focus, to make sure that we have happy customers and good response times. That’s definitely key for customer happiness to us, to be able to respond quickly

Graham: You mentioned earlier that you use email in your day to day job, but you really like live chat. What do you see customers gravitating towards the most?

Åsa: Our biggest touch point is our email or Help Scout. We are working on increasing the amount of live chats that we do each day but I’d say that our customers gravitate towards emails because it’s always available.

Twitter is popular as well but that’s very different depending on what type of customer you are and what sort of query you have. Emails are our biggest touch point. It’s hard to say what customers would go for if we had the same coverage with live chat. It would be really cool to test that one day when we have enough Heroes onboard but right now email is our biggest touch point.

Graham: How many Happiness Heroes does Buffer have currently?

Åsa: We have one community champion - she does tweets and Facebook and all of that. Carolyn is the chief, and then we have Daniel and Mary, Octavio, Dave, so I think we’re nine in our team.

I may need to double check that though. Even in our team, we grow so fast that it’s not always easy to keep track of our team size. We tend to think about people so I don’t often stop to think of what our exact number is.

Graham: It’s great that you guys are growing. Generally, if you don’t know the number, it means you’re growing quickly.

Åsa: We’re ten with Nicole. So the Happiness team is ten, and eleven with Colin who is our Happiness Engineer.

Graham: I know you have to go right at the top of the hour, so let’s end with an easy question.

Your career is customer happiness oriented. You deal exclusively with customer happiness on a day-to-day basis. What are one or two businesses that have earned your business because of their customer support?

Åsa: Like a lot of people in customer service, I’m not American. Still, I would say, just by being super impressive, Zappos would get my vote. I haven't spent any money with them yet though. *laughs*

In terms of places that get my money, Airbnb. They’ve grown very fast, but they still have been able to help me when I’ve had issues. I use them a lot and whenever I’ve had a few troubles there they’ve been very kind. They use the phone, email, and are very nice.

I also love Cloud app which is what you do screen shots with and they’ve got great customer service that I’ve both used and pay for.

There are too many. Help Scout has such great customer service, Sparkcentral also has awesome support.

Stripe is another one, and we use them too. Those are my favorites.

Graham: *laughs* I'm gathering that companies with great customer service tend to cluster together and use each other.

Åsa: Yeah, it makes sense.

Graham: Åsa, thank you so much for coming on. I’m going to let you run. I want to be conscious of your time.

Åsa: Thank you for talking to me it’s been really cool to chat to you today.

Graham: Yeah it’s been awesome to hear about the behind the scenes at Buffer. We use them every day and they save probably an hour of my day.

Åsa: Oh wow, that’s so cool to hear. Let me know if you ever have any questions.

Graham: Yeah. I absolutely will. For anyone who didn’t hear it at the beginning of the interview, we are speaking with Åsa Nyström, I hope I got that right.

Åsa: Yes you did.

Graham: Good. She is a Senior Happiness Hero at Buffer. Thank you so much for coming on Åsa.

Åsa: Thank you so much for having me.

This interview has been modified for clarity and brevity.

Thoughts or questions on the interview? Let us know in the comments below or @helpdotcom.