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5 Takeaways from UserConf SF

By Micah Bennett · October 25, 2013
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This past week brought me out to the San Francisco Zoo for UserConf SF, and as with my trip for UserConf NY, it was a fantastic day of engaging speakers and great conversations with attendees. Plus, zoo animals! Here are the big themes I took away from a busy day at Userconf:

1. There are no magic bullets in support

Jeff Vincent from Wistia led off with a great talk on "Lifting The Heavy Ass Weights of Support." One of the (many) takeaways from his talk was that there isn't just one thing to do to help scale support. The Wistia team added video guides, put on webinars, even added a welcome video to their registration email. This iterative process enabled them to handle tremendous growth without hiring a legion of support staff.

UserConf was also a great reminder that one size does not fit all. Shervin Talieh of Drumbi presented on the virtues of phone support, complete with convincing survey data on the customer demand for phone support. As a counterpoint, UserVoice's Ted Choper presented on why phone support is no longer necessary in many cases. Ted brought up not only the scalability of electronic communication as an alternative, but also the enhanced customer experience from being able to "show" users solutions instead of making them a puppet, regurgitating commands from the voice on the other line.

2. Let data be your guide

Multiple speakers stressed the importance of using objective data to guide decisions, none more so than Moz's Aaron Wheeler in his video game themed talk. The Moz team sets measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that give them tangible goals to strive for on a weekly and monthly basis. Those metrics also made cross-department decisions a more painless experience. Having the numbers to back up their viewpoint helped them in several instances where they wanted to improve the user experience, including adding live chat support.

Jeff from Wistia also featured hard data in his talk. By using their own product, they were able to measure the engagement in their help videos. This gave them direction on how and where to create future resources, as well as an indicator of how much support overhead they were saving by having those resources on their help site.

3. Make it easy to deploy the best humans

Several speakers touched on team-building and support. As the only full-time member of support, James Rogers of Causes.com developed processes to make it as easy as possible for various teammates to pitch in. Some could commit to more than others, but by planning around those limitations, Causes was able to see great improvement in the effectiveness and sustainability of the support they gave users.

Andrew Spittle of Automattic talked at length about their support team, distributed around the globe. Their remote arrangement not only allows them to hire the best people possible, but that those people also are able to work most productively from their home environment, and without schedules! As a result, users get a great experience as the Automattic support workday continues around the clock.

4. Humanity is required

The most repeated sentiment from speakers was on humanizing interactions with users and even their experiences with the product. John Kim of Simple talked at length on stories, specifically using those stories users give us and using them to build out features that speak directly to them. The most novel to me was Simple adding the ability for the user to block their debit card in the interface if they lose it. Such a simple feature but such an enormous relief for the user to be able to do so without making a phone call.

John was not alone on this front either. Both Shervin from Drumbi and Richard White of UserVoice alluded to customers and their inherent distrust of the traditional "automated" support experience. Users need help, but they're smart enough to sense when they're being treated as a number and not a person. Jeff from Wistia made customer relationships the culminating point of his talk. They use static resources to scale and then spend more time making the user's interaction with the product and the Wistia team as great as possible.

5. UserConf is not about the speakers

Most of all though, this trip confirmed to me that UserConf is not about listening to (great) talks. It's about engaging with the larger support community. I had dozens of conversations with different people from all sorts of companies over the course of the day, and learned as much (if not more) from those conversations as I did the speakers. I've left both the UserConfs I've attended feeling renewed, full of ideas to implement, and excited to get right back to work. If you haven't attended thus far, I whole-heartedly recommend the UserConf experience. I've already got my ticket for next year, and I hear they'll go fast!

Any other UserConf attendees have big takeaways from last week or fun stories to share? Let's hear them in the comments!

Credits: Photo courtesy UserVoice on Facebook

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