Brittany Naylor, Manager, Customer Support at Evernote joins us in this episode of Support Ops Simplified.
Sid: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Support Operations Simplified. We have today with us, Brittany Naylor. Welcome, Brittany.
Brittany Naylor: Hey, thank you for having me.
Sid: Brittany is a manager of customer support at Evernote, at the moment, where she’s had a great rich experience getting to this point. Brittany, how about you introduce yourself and lead us to how you got to your current role and some of the things you’ve done in the past?
Brittany: Thank you. Essentially, I have been in customer-support customer-experience for over eight years now. I got my start working at Apple retail just out of college. I was just so inspired and amazed at how much effort Apple puts into their customers and their experience, and learning how, even down to the littlest detail, is so thought through. They time how long it takes a box of a new product to open, to build that anticipation before you see the new product and have it in your hands, to the way that you peel the plastic off, to the look and feel of the store and what the employees are wearing. It was all in the details. That’s really why I have loved Apple for the longest time, to begin with. It was really exciting to get to start my career there.
Prior to that, working all throughout college, I worked at a hotel. I think that’s probably what built my deep, deep love for customers in general, beginning with hospitality. I was at Apple for four years. I started out part-time retail sales, and ended my career after being a genius at the retail store doing technical support. I went into AppleCare and did support over the phone for customers being the second line of support [unintelligible 00:02:18]. That was amazing. It was an incredible experience. It really taught me a lot about what to do and how to do it, and how to teach others how to be good to customers.
An opportunity came to me to move over to a company called Service Direct. They were a small startup. At the time, there were four employees. The president of the company was doing customer support, and by customer support, I mean there was a form on a website that the customer would fill out, but it was essentially an email. There was no tracking, there was no metric because nobody knew.
Sid: It was basically like a “Press here in case of fire” button.
Brittany: Yes, essentially.
There was not an FAQ or help documents. It was all over the place. What Service Direct does is they do online marketing and advertising for local home service businesses. They essentially advertise for plumbers, electricians, that type of thing. The clientele was a lot different than the Apple clientele. [laughs] They loved my experience at Apple and brought me on as employee number five. From there, I just spearheaded support functions. I wore several hats during my time at Service Direct. I handled everything from social media to office management. I really saw a lot of explosive growth at the company, and I built my team up to eight people before I left, and ultimately, my favorite thing was just getting to– It was like opening a brand new little tub of Plato. I got to say whatever I wanted, and everybody was very agreeable. It was an excellent, excellent experience, and a great start to my career.
I recently did move to Evernote. I’ve been here now for three months. I made the switch because I am in awe of what Evernote is doing right now. A lot of people have forgotten about Evernote. It’s not as pertinent of a tool or an app as people used to use anymore, and Evernote has acknowledged that. They’ve spent the last year, all of 2019, they took their foot off the gas pedal, they’ve not had a year of growth, and they were just focusing on rebuilding the foundation of the company. That started with creating committees dedicated to certain projects or aspects of the company like monetization and growth or the different profile aspects of a customer and marketing and things. They put a support leader on every single committee to speak to the voice of the customer. Hearing that really, it was so inspiring to me because that’s what every company should be doing. That’s what brought me here, and that’s what I’m doing now.
Sid: That is such a fascinating story. You’ve gone from working pretty much at every level, starting from Guest Services and Hospitality, to level one-level two tech support, to managing a team, to creating one from the ground up, and now at Evernote. I guess one thing that I’m really interested in is, how was the experience at Apple when you were helping customers with their technical issues on their devices in person versus over the phone? Did you find a huge difference in the way you interacted or how people went about things?
Brittany: Absolutely. I would say that the biggest challenge for me was changing my empathy. If you could see my face right now, I’m a very expressive person. I’m Italian, so I talk with my hands a whole bunch. It was so easy to calm an upset customer in person, just because my demeanor’s very caring and kind. Over the phone, I really had to work through a lot of new processes to be able to emphasize empathy and that care for the customer.
Sid: Because your body language doesn’t come across on the phone, so you have to make up for it.
Brittany: Exactly. That didn’t stop me.
Sid: Well, you still talk with your hands. [unintelligible 00:06:55].
Brittany: [chuckles] The easiest transition was, AppleCare has a really great training program, or back then that it was called here to help. They just really focused on three key things, and once you got really good at that, every phone conversation was easy. It’s called the three A’s. Acknowledge, Align and Assure. You’re acknowledging the customer’s problem, you align with the problem, you humanize the issue, and you ensure them that you’re going to do what you can, everything in your power to fix it.
It’s funny because people in Apple always have this joke that we all fall in love with each other. My husband is also a former Apple employee, and even in arguments that we get in, I can recognize when he does the three A’s on me.
Sid: He’s pulling the book on you.
Brittany: He’s pulling the book on me. Don’t be pulling these three A’s on me.
Sid: That is awesome.
Brittany: It’s an easy way to de-escalate any issue, and really humanize and personalize the customer experience.
Sid: That’s a really good insight. Let’s switch gears. With your stint at Apple, you learned a lot of these things, and then you went about building a team from the ground up at Service Direct. Tell us a little bit about how you went about choosing your tech stack. What were you hiring for? Most importantly, how were you measuring customer experience and success on that front?
Brittany: Sure. It was definitely not without its challenges, especially because I was coming into a company that didn’t have a lot of emphasis on customer experience at first. Most of what I did was just constantly nagging in the [unintelligible 00:09:04] about what they should be doing and what they should change and why. Coming with data was really important, but also hard to come by, so I had to be really scrappy. A lot of it, at the beginning, was just how I would measure customer experience was literally a sticky note with ticks every time I took a phone call or closed an email, to know how much I did that day.
Sid: You had tallies going.
Brittany: I had tallies going. That was the very first mark for me to know. Ultimately, I went through a really interesting process there because they were trying to build a decent customer support interface for their user-admin login, essentially when the customer logged into their portal, there was a [unintelligible 00:09:59]
The first thing I did was I wrote up an FAQ, and the developers published it on that page, which was great. That was very helpful. I definitely think that I did see a decrease in customer inquiries. They were just basic questions people always had. It was easy to identify those. The next step was, they wanted to make this a little bit more robust for us for reporting for data. I was really for that. I thought that was great. The issue with that is that the company was still small at the time. If they were spending dev resources building me tickets and support forums and tagging and internal notes versus public notes.
Sid: Yes, it was coming out of somewhere else.
Brittany: It was coming out of somewhere else. They weren’t iterating and innovating and shipping new product, they were just fixing back in stuff, and that’s essentially what people already did. It was already built by people like Zendesk and Help Scout. Ultimately, what really opened my eyes to tooling, was I went to a customer support conference. If there is anybody out there listening right now that has never been to one, pick one and just go for the first time. It is incredibly enlightening. For me, I felt like I was very green in my career. It was almost overwhelming, the information overload.
I had no idea there were people out there going through what I was going through, or they had already done what I am doing currently and could help me. The beautiful thing about the support and customer experience community, in general, is that everybody wants to share what they’re doing. It’s not like sales, where they’re like–
Sid: They’re holding onto their cards and don’t want to share their secrets.
Brittany: Exactly. There’s so many forums. Now there’s groups all over slack. You can join any slack group to talk about customer support or experience. That’s ultimately where it started. After I left that conference, I started doing a lot of research. I used tools like Capterra and G2 Crowd to hone in on product-specific features that were important to me and user reviews. Then I just started doing demos. I demoed everything under the sun for about six months. I built a little technology evaluation tool to help me understand what my priorities were, so I didn’t lose sight of a really cool tool, but it was missing a critical free feature that I really needed.
Ultimately, that ended up with me choosing Help Scout. Help Scout really met the needs of the business at the price that they needed as well. Implementing that was relatively easy as well. It’s more of an email interface than an actual installed support tool. I joke around that it was the best birthday present I ever got, because it went live on my birthday two years ago, and that was amazing. I saw a huge drastic decrease in ticket volume. We went from– we had been sending out a little Survey Monkey customer satisfaction survey after every ticket, and the team was at like a 20. After the first month of being on Help Scout, we raised that up to 60. Customers were just happy, they had a nicer tool, a better interface, better way to browse and search a knowledge base. It was the perfect solution. It definitely started out scrappy and small and took a lot of time and work to get it to where it is today.
Sid: That’s a really interesting story to me because while we all look back and say, we started off in this really scrappy way, if you think about it, it has all the makings of what you would normally do to put a solution in place to solve a problem. You first do it in a way that’s very manual, not scalable, make sure you get all the pieces right, and then go about finding a way to automate it. I think you did exactly the right things. The scale is what changes from one place to another in terms of how you would go about starting off and where you would end up. Don’t you think?
Sid: Interesting. Let’s switch gears again. Now with Evernote, we know they’re a huge company. What’s the customer experience like over there? The fact that they value the voice of the customer so much that they have a seat on the board, for all practical purposes, on each of these discussions for a voice of the customer person, how do they go about making sure they’re getting the right pieces in? How are they measuring that? What are some of the things you’re learning over here that are opening your eyes to how a bigger organization handles customer experience?
Brittany: Great question. Essentially, I think at the root of it, Evernote had to learn the hard way. They were just iterating on product for product sake. They weren’t acknowledging customer concerns. They weren’t prioritizing IP to bug fixes, like, it’s not that critical. I’m in the middle of building this new product, so I’m going to focus on that. When 2018 really came to a close, Evernote really realized they went too far too fast and forgot where they came from. Part of that was acknowledging, as a company, the CEO, he said it, we’re not listening to our customers. Who talks to the customers the most? Who knows the customers the most? Customer support team, customer experience team, the customer success team, the technical support team. We have a lot of people on staff talking to customers every day. Why aren’t we listening to them?
That’s what really started the initiative Evernote has called fix the basics, and they broke it out into 76 core, what they call, zones or committees. It’s essentially a project manager, a product marketing manager, lead engineer and a lead designer and a customer representative.
Sid: All aspects of the business are represented there.
Brittany: Yes. We meet weekly. A great example right now is Evernote is working on, now that we have fixed the basics, and we’re about to shift the basics at the beginning of the new year, the focus is it’s time to build on the basics, start creating something new again. Part of what my zone, so to speak, is doing is a lot of user testing right now. I am in every user testing group, I am a fly on the wall, I watch and I listen. When the leads meet, I get to be in that meeting, and I get to give my two cents. I have actually been able to make an impactful change already just based on my observation that other people didn’t pick up on. That’s really what Evernote really wanted.
What’s something that’s really cool is, our director of customer experience, [unintelligible 00:18:06], we put together, once a month, a voice of the customer essentially in all-hands. Everybody in the company is invited to speak. The agenda is super, super cool. It is just basically anybody in the company talking about just what’s going on with the customer. We report to the company on our NPS and our CSAT scores. Different zones in their company get to present how they have built what they built based on customer feedback.
Evernote recently started up a very robust customer beta program. If you’re an Evernote user out there and you’re really interested in working through bugs and getting to work closely with Evernote on feedback, that’s something that they’re really passionate about right now.
Sid: They’ll give you an early access kind of thing, right?
Brittany: Yes. It’s so cool. It’s great they’re doing that. That essentially happens once a month, just like an all-hands meeting, which is so cool.
Sid: The data points for those meetings, you mentioned, you’re tracking NPS and CSAT. In the conversations I’ve had with the recent few guests, one of the knocks against NPS is, I know or it tells me whether people where they stand on that scale, but we don’t know the whys. It seems like the why is very important in terms of the customer feedback to Evernote. How are you guys going about collecting that?
Brittany: Why? Really, that just boils down to how we interpret what they need based on the product itself to. Our technical support team, is the one team that manages all of the escalated bugs essentially. Customer support team closes everything out except for escalated actual technical issues.
Sid: Customer support is level one, technical support is level two.
Brittany: Essentially, yes. Technical support works really closely with engineering to report these bugs and these fixes, and work on solutions together. Really, I think that that is where a lot of the behind the scenes stuff starts. They have pretty robust reporting through Zendesk where we can tag and flag problem incidents. We use that feature pretty heavily where customer reports a bug, another customer reports a bug so we can group them together, and when we fix it, you can bulk send the message out to everybody that we’ve fixed it. Those types of things are all of it is handed over to the engineering team to be able to make that use case of what to prioritize and what to fix.
Sid: Okay, interesting. Let’s take another view at this. You’ve done a lot of work, and the company has done a lot of work to turn things around. What is the one thing that you would say is the most recent improvement in customer experience, and how did you go about putting that in place?
Brittany: The best thing that we have done in customer experience at Evernote so far is we hired a support data analyst. Every big company has data teams out there, priorities are everywhere, and their priorities are to the board. They’re looking at all the analytics for the product, and the customer support teams are having to rely on that scrappy data that those scrappy list of information that you can find in this reporting. I think that across the board, no matter who you talk to, they’re always going to have an issue with reporting [unintelligible 00:22:19]
Sid: Of course, reporting is never enough, right?
Brittany: No, there’s always a weird lack of trust in the reporting. I’ve heard a lot of people that use Zendesk, and they’ll log into Explore, and they don’t actually trust the number that it says. That always confuses me. I’m a very positive and optimistic person. I’m like, “I’ll just go with it.” Now we actually have two support data analysts on staff. They are coming through all aspects of customer support, customer success, technical support. They’re gathering data and reporting it to the CX leadership team to be able to know what to do next.
Sid: That’s fantastic.
Brittany: It impacts every aspect of the business. We now know our capacity planning and workforce management because we can truly understand and have real insights into what hour of the day are we the busiest? What time of year are we the busiest? What agents are performing better than others? How can we implement peer to peer coaching? We recently started a really cool retention program, which is tricky for a monthly subscription-based software. I had nothing to do with this. I just said that was cool. Let’s do it.
Our support data analysts built this incredible learning algorithm that reads through all of our chats, looking and picking up chats where customers asked to close their subscription or cancel their subscription, and looking for agents who’ve used specific types of macros to try to save the customer. Then it takes all of that information, and searches for that customer in our big query data lake, and finds and looks to see if that customer actually was saved. Are they still paying us? We now have a report that can go back to every single agent and say, “Hey, you saved 200 customers last quarter, and that totaled up to X amount of dollars.” It’s so motivating. It’s incredible. It’s really powerful to do what we can do and when we know what we’re doing.
Sid: Interesting. The thing that I’m hearing over here is that, everyone has really taken to heart the fact that goldmine of data that they have is coming from their customer support channels, or through the conversations that customers are having with the company. That’s one of the things that we talk to our customers a lot. We’re saying, you have this gold mine that you need to go leverage to be able to figure out what you’re doing with your business and how to transform your business. It seems like that’s exactly what you guys are on track to do.
Brittany: Absolutely, that’s a great way to describe it. It is truly a gold mine.
Sid: Interesting. What does the future hold? Now that you have all of these things in place, what are some of the mid to long term goals that you guys are going after?
Brittany: We’re still planning that out and figuring out what 2020 will look like for Evernote. Like I said, we’re wrapping up fixing the basics, and we’re about to ship in Q1 of next year. It’s a little unchartered territory. We’ve gone about iterating and fixing and building a product, unlike before. We don’t know, is it going to be better or worse? Is it going to have a huge customer impact and support implications, or is our public beta program and our really robust QA team now going to be able to pick out a whole bunch of bugs before the launch. We don’t really see much customer impact. It’s really unclear.
I think that it will be interesting to see how everything plays out, because right now, we’re also using a BPO [unintelligible 00:26:46] right now. We relied pretty heavily on them to cover us and allow us to offer our customers essentially 24/7-ish support. I say ish because there are a couple hours where we actually don’t offer support.
Sid: I hear you. We’ve run call centers in the past, and tech support centers, and it’s always 24/7-ish.
Brittany: There’s always that one person that’s out there listening today that’s like, “It’s not actually 24/7.” You got to put the asterisk there. You also have to think about the product improvements that will be done, will that reduce support? Will we need to reevaluate how we’re outsourcing some of our support right now? We are turning our attention to building out a better business product with Evernote.
Evernote used to have a business support team. We’re looking into potentially bringing that back and reviving that. We’re constantly growing our customer experience enablement team. That’s essentially the team we call that handles all of our systems and data. Our support data analyst is on that team, our content developer, our social media support in forum support team members are all in that area. They work really closely with marketing as well, to love everything just blurs into different departments and customer impact is leaking into every aspect of the company. I expect that that is the direction we will continue to go in and really leverage those folks as well.
Sid: That’s really interesting. In fact, I was talking to someone yesterday, and even the way you guys are going, it’s almost like the challenges morphing into from measuring something that we knew today, which was customer interactions, to measuring something that we won’t have, as in if you were proactive enough, and you did everything right from the get-go, and reduced customer impact, how do you even measure that if that doesn’t even hit your radar? We had a really interesting conversation about that on another podcast that will probably come out one episode before this. There’s a good link going on in the discussions we’re having with leaders across the support channels and how support is morphing in general as people take the plunge and do the future. I just thought that was an interesting comparison.
One last question for you, Brittany. You’ve learned a lot, you’ve done a lot over here, you’ve built things from the ground up, who is the one person, and maybe that’s not fair, maybe it’s not one person, maybe it’s a team, who have you learned the most from? Who’s the one or multiple mentors that you’ve had?
Brittany: Yes, it’s such a deep and wide question for me, because I didn’t get to where I am today as quickly as I did without so much help. Like I said before, the CX community as a whole, everybody is so jazzed to help each other all the time. It’s incredible, such a supportive community to be a part of. I would say that initially, I think that the person that’s made the biggest impact on my life and my career was my manager at my very first Apple Store. He’s the store leader. His name is Jean.
He is hilarious. He’s the only top level management I’ve ever seen on the floor selling like as many iPads on Black Friday as our top salesperson. He was always down in the trenches with everybody, and he really preached servant leadership, and he really walked his talk. I was very lucky to be mentored by him and be able to learn a lot from him throughout my career.
When I was transitioning to Service Direct, they asked for references. Of course I put his name down. I get the job, and my first day of work rolls around and I show up and they’re talking to me. They’re like, “That Jean guy is hilarious.” I was like, “Why? He was like, “We called him to get a reference about you, and he ultimately flipped the conversation into an interview about why Service Direct would be a good place for you to go.” I’m like, “How did he turn a reference call into grilling management of why I should be there?”
Sid: That is brilliant.
Brittany: Not just his personality, that’s how it’s always been. He’s always out there advocating for people, and so really think that anybody on my team will roll their eyes if I say the word advocate because that is my primary goal in life. I think that Jean really instilled that in me. I advocate for my team and their needs. I advocate for the customers and their needs. I think that customer support is customer advocacy. You see that as a lot of people’s job titles now, that’s a very trendy thing to do.
Morphing into the later time in my career, I think that a broader support group for me that really helped me along the way in going from a little bit more of a scrappy type of support focus to a little bit more molded and flushed out and having an understanding of what I’m actually doing, was a slack group called Support Driven. I’ve been really active in that group for three years now. I’ve been to a bunch of their conferences out in Portland and Boston. They do a mentorship group two times a year called Aspire. It’s amazing.
This network is worldwide. They’re bought in every country, every walk of life. There are Chief Customer Officers in there. There are tons of customer support reps in there. It spans everything. I think that that tool itself really helped impact and shape my thinking. I will say one final thing, that I have not been lucky to have a lot of strong women leadership in my career. That was probably 75% of why I moved to Evernotes, was to work for Justina.
She our VP of customer experience. Prior to Evernote, she led customer experience at Legal Zoom for 15 years. She is a powerhouse. She’s incredible. She advocates for the customers and her team at every level. She definitely had a reputation of that, and really that was what drew me to this job in general, was being able to get the opportunity to work and learn from her. Just in the three short months that I’ve been at Evernote, she’s made such an impact on the way that I think, and the way that I approach problems. I’m so grateful to be here and working for her as well. I think that if there is anybody out there looking to grow or better their career, I would definitely start in some of these public groups. Because tons of relationships form out of that, and it’s absolutely amazing and so special to me.
Sid: Absolutely. I think that’s a very well rounded answer in terms of the influences that are meaningful today. Big shout out to support-driven, we’ve been part of them and work with a lot of people over there. It’s a great community. I think one of the communities that really make sure that there is women representation, people are making sure that there’s enough women leaders for others to look up to, because to your point, that’s a challenge in technology we see across the board. That’s something that we need to take steps towards, making sure that we do something about that.
Sid: Great to hear that you’ve learned a lot from so many people. In fact, we’ve learned a lot from you today, Brittany, and appreciate all of your insight and experience and sharing all of this knowledge with us. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, and I’m sure you’ll be doing much more remarkable things, and we’ll follow your journey closely at Evernote and wherever else your future takes you.
Brittany: Awesome. Thank you again so much for having me. This has been so awesome to get to share and talk, and I hope that somebody out there is getting as much from this as I needed a few years ago, so thank you for the opportunity.
Sid: Thank you.
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