How to Be Bad with Mike from Trello

Sarah speaks with Mike from Trello about having difficult conversations with customers. The two chat about the fine line between customer advocacy and company loyalty. Mike provides insight on dealing with pushback, building up trust with customers and your team, and understanding the importance of team policies, especially with larger teams.


Speaker 1 (00:09)
This is one of those things, again, where it's like a lot of people are afraid that their managers or CEOs or marketing people are looking over their shoulder or queuing all these emails and you're running people off. Well, it's like we also have to protect our our teams. Hi friends. Welcome back to the Assembled podcast where we are diving into all of the things related to building out your customer support team. Some of that means hiring, some of it means firing, and some of it means having difficult conversations even with our customers. So today I'm really excited to talk to my friend Mike from Trello, as he's well known in the CX industry, works at Atlassian. He's been on the Trello team for a long time, and he's kind of become an expert in having those difficult conversations. Maybe it's pushback from a customer about policy. Maybe it's figuring out how to diffuse a very angry, abusive customer in his time. In fact, he's seen and done it all. So today in our conversation, you're going to learn from Mike how he got to a point where he's comfortable having these difficult conversations with customers or maybe dealing with that difficult pushback.

Speaker 1 (01:11)
But I do want to stress the set up here is really important because he wasn't just thrown into a customer support inbox and said, deal with it however you want. Mike has spent a long time working with the same team, for the same company, building out a culture of trust among his team members. And remember, they're all remote. They were remote before we had to be remote. So they've really figured out there's a lot of things we have to do as a team to stay connected, to understand each other's language styles and work habits, to understand ethically how we work together and enforce a company policy. So while some of this might sound a little easy, I would tell you first off the bat, think about where you are with your team. Is your team on the same page about how to handle conflict with customers? Is your policy transparent enough and empowering enough for your team that they can run with it if there's not a manager to directly escalate something to? And secondly, do you have anything written out or documented for your team that says, if you ever deal with this situation, here's what to say, because those are other ways that you empower your team.

Speaker 1 (02:11)
And they're very important for managers to make sure that they're thinking about down the line. All of us are going to deal with abusive, angry, rageful, unhappy customers in our lifetime and customer experience. It's just an inevitable it's going to happen. So the best way to allow that to happen is to be prepared for it, right? Hopefully, this conversation with Mike gives you some ideas for how you can empower yourself and your own team to deal with these down the line. And if you have any other tips and tricks, please feel free to send them our way, pop them in our Slack channel, or send them to us over email. I'd love to hear how you also handle difficult conversations and interactions with customers. And if you haven't already, don't forget to go to It's the best place for you if you're growing your support team. This tool is phenomenal, so check it out. Enjoy the episode. It's Mike from Trello. Mike from Trello is how you are ubiquitously known, I think, across the spectrum of customer experience professionals. But I don't think that's, like your formal name. I don't think it's on your birth certificate.

Speaker 1 (03:17)
Mike from Trello, why don't I let you introduce yourself and tell people a little bit about what you do, where you work and what your role is there?

Speaker 2 (03:25)
Yeah, absolutely. My name is Michael Lebrech. Yes. And Mike, I usually go by and yeah, I'm a senior support engineer at Trello, which has for four years been part of Atlassian. And we used to be a really small support team supporting a relatively large product. And we've been growing both as a product and then also as a team. So now we are much more spread out from Australia to the US and to Europe, trying to build up those numbers and have a real global support team that can power all global customers.

Speaker 1 (04:00)
How many people do you have on your team now?

Speaker 2 (04:03)
We have upwards of twelve, but we're going to be about doubling that soon.

Speaker 1 (04:10)
That's a big thing. I like we both understand the enormity of that.

Speaker 2 (04:20)
It's a big change. It's a big change. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (04:23)
Well, usually growing a team is a good thing. It means that you're getting great customer reach and you're not getting as much churn and you're getting some good acquisition there. So are you excited about that kind of change or is it as with every change, just sort of daunting?

Speaker 2 (04:38)
I think it's fair to say it's a little bit of both. Right. I mean, I definitely excited. I think it's such a huge opportunity to solve so many of the problems that we've had in the past when we were a really small team, volume was very different. And then as that has just gotten more and more and more, of course, you have to grow the team and without doing that, sometimes response time starts to slip and things like that. So we're certainly excited to be able to solve a lot of those problems. But any change starts to make people nervous for sure.

Speaker 1 (05:11)
Now, you've been with Charlotte for a long time, like six years. Has it been more than that? Five years. So you started when you were still an independent software company, and then six or seven months into you working there in what was really officially like your first solid technical support job in the SAS company, in the SAS world, Charlotte was sold to Atlassian, was wired by absorbed by. So we had a great conversation about this with Lance, who was in almost a very similar position. He was at Postmates. He got his dream job. He was able to build the parameters of his role and really sink his teeth into something. And then before you know it, all of a sudden now they're going through this gigantic transition to Uber. So it's been a long time for you. You've had a lot of time to reflect and adjust and see how things have changed. What's your feeling about going from being a smallish company to now part of this massive worldwide enterprise software behemoth you really get a good benefit for the pluses and the minuses you mention.

Speaker 2 (06:23)
You're totally right that this was my first real job in the SAS world. Before that, I was working at a College It help desk. And so I really had this build up of a foundation of what support looks like, less importantly, the technical details of what I was supporting. But I think I had a really solid foundation. Then coming into the SAS world, it was such a change of like, oh, I only have to support this one single thing. That's cool. But then when Trello was still an independent company, you felt all of the freedoms of a start up, along with all of the limitations of resources, are not infinite.

Speaker 1 (07:03)
Sure. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (07:05)
And I think then what happened was after the acquisition, it was sort of like opening a faucet. Okay. So now I suddenly have a lot more available to me, although all of it is surrounded in bureaucratic red tape. So it's one step forward, two steps back about almost everything.

Speaker 1 (07:26)
I think, for support teams especially, all of a sudden you go into this world, it's like Willy Wonka. You have support engineers and you have road maps and resources and people who can do pager duty with you. Right. And that's such a feeling of great relief that comes with that kind of structure. But then you're right. There is also you twinge a little at the corporate structure of what that is. Right.

Speaker 2 (07:52)
Our team was very famously flat. Every support person was a support specialist, and that was the end of that story. And then with Atlassian, we have microbans and we have different levels of support engineer and microbiome. Yeah. And all of a sudden there is a process that defines promotions.

Speaker 1 (08:13)

Speaker 2 (08:14)
And part of that feels monstrously overwhelming. But then also, part of it says, So this is the one thing that I don't have a good enough score on. Score. Right. That I can work on this. And that's what I need to get to the next level, both good and bad at the same time.

Speaker 1 (08:33)
It gives you a serious sense of transparency about what is my path forward here. Is there a future there? Can I be happy here comfortably for the next 1015 years climbing this ladder? Because that is what it is. And you also have to think like, I'm not saying all corporations are inherently evil and terrible and manipulative. Many are. But some of these structures exist for legal reasons. Right. We have to have checks and balances. There's 3000 people working here who all have their own individual career ambitions. Right. So you understand, I think it's easy to kind of wrap your head around. Ok. Well, this is why this stuff isn't checked. Whereas in a start up, you happen to be there for more than eight months and you can be managing a team of three without any prior experience. Right. So there's good and bad to that as well. I wonder now, what is the structure like on your team? You're going into having a much larger team. It's a whole other podcast episode about flat arrangements and team structure. But what is it like now? Do you have managers? What is your role and what is your day to day life like?

Speaker 2 (09:41)
Yeah, we used to all be under one manager, and then it sort of slowly actually didn't happen. That slowly happened very quickly. We introduced several more layers. Just as that news comes in of how many more seats are being given, the team really needs to split into insert your favorite word here, feedback. I like pod. I like pod. We have to find our own little subteams.

Speaker 1 (10:06)
Right. That's a good word for a subteam. I don't like the word cohort. I hate that word. When we're talking about I don't mind like specialties, I don't mind departments. But yeah, pods is a hard one, because then you get pod, a pod, B, and all that. And then it's just it devalues everything we're trying to aim for. But you have to have this sort of team within a team.

Speaker 2 (10:28)
Yeah, exactly. We have to split somewhere. And so we'll probably have like an APAC team and a US East and west and a Europe team, and eventually probably an India team, things like that, that will each have their own manager, I'm sure, or some combination thereof. And that introduces more layers of complexity when it comes to any kind of team decision making. But ultimately it's going to be a really good thing, I think, for round the clock support, which is something. Right, exactly.

Speaker 1 (10:59)
Well, I set up this whole conversation by asking you a lot of questions about your team structure to give people context, because I have questions for you specifically where you are and Atlassian as a company, I wanted to talk a little bit about the remote distribution of your team. Right. Trello was a fully remote company, a fully remote team, very proudly. That was part of the corporate identity. When you were absorbed or taken over or acquired by Atlassian, things changed a little bit, but not so much. Right. And now we've seen that the whole world has changed a lot about how we talk about remote work and what that means and what it looks like. Has anything changed on your side of things when it comes to the big corporate oversight of how you do your job?

Speaker 2 (11:47)
Well, yeah. I mean, somewhat, at least in terms of the remote friendliness, just for clarity's sake, Trello was never fully remote. Our team was almost entirely remote. Trello, as a company was extremely remote friendly, but still, I think it was at most it was 70% remote. So there are still people in the New York office, which was the time it was the only office. But it was like from a policy perspective, remote was treated equally.

Speaker 1 (12:20)
And it wasn't treated as like a burden. No, you didn't have to request to do it. It was just under.

Speaker 2 (12:26)
Exactly. It was fine. It was fine. One of my favorite things that I learned in my first week there was that if you were having a meeting and any single person was remote, then every attendee joined from their laptop. You could go to a meeting room, you could go to an individual, one of the phone booth things you could say at your desktop, whatever you want. Everybody would join from Zoom so that every single attendee is on the same plane and there isn't like one person on the TV, on the wall and things like that. But when we joined it last year, that was a major culture shock, that if you ever had a meeting with other people, that was not the norm, that wasn't expected. And so there were a lot of little challenges like that. But that has for sure changed with the pandemic. And as more people have shifted to remote working, that has for sure become a lot more of the standards, the expectation. And I think now moving forward at last and is also really embracing that idea, is becoming more comfortable with the idea of remote working in general. So I think there's definitely a lot of changes there that we're all seeing.

Speaker 1 (13:32)
Well, how do you as a team, what is your structure for handling things like meetings and global coverage? Who is responsible for making sure that everybody's on the same page? Since you are now becoming this even bigger global team.

Speaker 2 (13:45)
We have one manager level that is overseeing all of the other sub managers, I must say, regional managers. But that has a fairly negative connotation, doesn't it?

Speaker 1 (13:56)

Speaker 2 (14:00)
Exactly. So we definitely have the one global role that's meant to be covering that kind of a thing. And that person's role is to be monitoring everything that's global. So making sure that all of the schedules are covered and making sure that we're dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's. I think also at a lower level, it's something that as a team, we've four years taking great pride in the fact that we tend to cover those needs ourselves. That's something that's changing as the team grows, right. That there's just too much to keep up with, but from things like when any one person is out, we proactively take over those things that that person is doing for the week and managing some of those schedules without somebody needing to do it for us.

Speaker 1 (14:52)
Yeah, I like that. I think it's more of, like your team culture is engraved in the idea that we all have a very similar role. We're all here to kind of support each other. How do you keep your morale up on your team? Are you guys chatting in slack? Wait, you're not allowed to use slack, are you?

Speaker 2 (15:10)
We do. We do.

Speaker 1 (15:12)
Okay, that's an old rule, never mind a precovid rule. So tell me how you keep your camaraderie kind of close and keep people engaged, because I know Trello as a company and then, of course, at last name as a company and the Trello team within that you previously did these amazing retreats and people got together all the time. You would travel to conferences together and have extra team time. So how has it been not being able to do that? What are you doing to keep your team close?

Speaker 2 (15:43)
Yeah. I mean, I'm not going to pretend it hasn't been a challenge.

Speaker 1 (15:47)
Yes, it's a challenge for sure.

Speaker 2 (15:49)
And that's true for everyone that things are different and we must be able to see the people that we care about. I think we've become a lot more reliant on we call them office hours. And what it turned into was just quiet working time together. I thought it was really funny as so many people, especially now that life is starting slowly to get back to normal. Everyone's like, I can stop going being on Zoom calls all day long. And I find that our team, we do more Zoom calls, and it's a good thing we have more time built into the calendar where we just sit in a Zoom. And if we don't talk, that's okay. We're just kind of hanging out and doing our work.

Speaker 1 (16:32)
You know what? You're the second person I have heard that this is a fascinating concept to me because I've never done this before. But I have heard from two teams now where they will have this sort of like open office time through Zoom, and they have themselves on mute, but they have their videos on. And obviously they're people who are comfortable having a camera pointed at them all day long, but it acts as a sort of break room for them. A water cooler a bit, right?

Speaker 2 (17:01)

Speaker 1 (17:01)
For this team in particular that I was talking about before, they used it as a way of that's how they train their new employees. It's kind of get used to feeling like we're in the same room together even if we're not. And they even said, you can turn your camera off or you can do whatever. And maybe just like, if you need something, just pop on and say, hey, I've got a question. I think it's brilliant. I think innovating on these spaces is what we have to do at this point to survive, because I think, you know, as much as I do, the idea of the shift in morale, the shift in culture was very significant for people like us who are working in highly emotional jobs and very high touch jobs with people all over the world asking demanding stuff of us all day long. And that is at the end of the day, really what this job is about is that meeting people's needs various personalities, various requests, different levels of urgency all day long. And when you're going through the kind of collective trauma that we went through globally, I just think that people who are in any kind of service related roles really took a deep hit.

Speaker 2 (18:11)

Speaker 1 (18:13)
What was it for your team?

Speaker 2 (18:15)
It's an interesting thing, I think, for our team and many others who were remote before as well, where on one level, our day to day job, nothing particularly changed. I come to work the same way I did a year ago. More than that, you know what I mean? I think so much didn't change. What you said is really accurate to me that support is such an emotional job and that's part of what you're hired for your skills and emotional empathy and being able to read people and be able to help in that kind of a constructive empathetic manner. But that makes us extra susceptible to life's stresses, and it's harder and harder to deal with that. So I think while our day to day job maybe didn't change, there's so much more external stimulus every day that's causing more I feel very lucky that I wouldn't say that anybody in our team has burned out, but you feel a lot more of the I just need to go step. I need to go run this errand now, and I'll be back in a few hours.

Speaker 1 (19:26)
That's exactly what it is. It's such a great example, this idea that we have had far more of the needing to step away mono. Right. And support is hard for people who are naturally empathetic, naturally sensitive. And if you're going to manage people on a support team or be a part of a giant growth stage, you have to be really aware of, like you said, the external pressures, because all those things press in on us. Right. Less empathetic. I think if anything, it makes you a little bit more hyper sensitive to things. So when you do get something critical or a demanding customer, it stains a little bit more.

Speaker 2 (20:07)
Exactly. Yes. I definitely agree with you on that, but it makes it more difficult to deal with sometimes. But one thing that our team does, we did this before the pandemic hit, but it's a Friday morning tradition now. It's on the calendar and it's called anything but work. And the whole purpose is to not do work. And so what we do during that time is sort of up to us. And sometimes we've just ended up talking about whatever's going on this weekend or whatever. But more often than that, we end up playing Geogessor. Or do you remember Sparkle Quizzes? Wow. Yeah, we'll do that. We'll do like archeic, like drawing games. And it's just the best. It helps us kind of recenter ourselves a little bit on our team and remind ourselves of what we have together as a group and just blow off the steam from the week.

Speaker 1 (20:56)
I think that's really important. There's a lot of people who still think that having social times is cheesy or not everyone can do it. Or maybe there's people who are like, they really cling to their introversion and they don't want to participate, which is fine. But at the end of the day, really strong, really stable teams have to have some sort of social mechanism to them. Right. Because that's how you learn people's work style. That's how you learn about how people are in failure. That's how you learn how people are, how people relate to certain social aggravations as well, which is so important for team building. And one of the things that I really value about you and when you've talked about your career and you've talked about what happens at Trello, you always talk that your team is extremely empowered to make really great decisions on behalf of customers. Right. There's not a lot of distrust, I would say, or micromanagement that goes on. And some of the stuff that you've talked about in the past and you've written about in the past is like having hard conversations with customers, dealing with difficult customers. And what is the process behind that?

Speaker 1 (22:09)
What is your team ethos behind that? Very proudly, your team ethos is we don't take crap from customers. And it's okay that we don't take crap from customers. So I built up a lot of this. Like, let's talk about your culture. Let's talk about your team. Let's talk about your work date, because those things build up to this topic, which is diffusing escalation dealing with difficult customers and how is the appropriate and right way to do it. You have a lot of expertise and practice in this area, right?

Speaker 2 (22:42)
I'd like to think so.

Speaker 1 (22:44)
But I will tell you, you have that expertise in that experience because you've been given this whole other platform to have it. You have a stable team that trusts each other. You have pretty loose oversight and micromanaging because everybody else self manages and works together as a team. You have transparent policies that you all stick to and that you have really good conversations about related to protecting each other and each other's mental health and wellbeing. So let's talk about this. You get a customer super rude, super mean, somewhat abusive. And what's your first response to him? And let's remind everybody what Charlotte is it's for to do lists.

Speaker 2 (23:23)
Yeah. It's generally described as collaboration software because it's more than to do list. And I'm not trying to give you just like here. Right.

Speaker 1 (23:32)

Speaker 2 (23:34)
But that also is part of the challenge that we always hit, because it can be to do list if you wanted to. It can be managing global newsrooms, too. It can be almost anything.

Speaker 1 (23:46)
There is a possibility that this is somebody's entire life in this.

Speaker 2 (23:51)
Yeah. Somebody abusive. What's the first thing we do? I mean, generally my very first instinct is to try to realign on. We need to kind of work together. And I think I stole that line from Ben McCormick, if I remember correctly.

Speaker 1 (24:06)
That'S a very Ben McCormick thing to say.

Speaker 2 (24:08)
Yeah, right. But I'll usually try to pick out the thing they're most frustrated about and show those empathy skills about why. I know that this is super frustrating and not the ideal circumstance, but I need your help in order to come around and solve this, because most of the time, the problems that we run into are people who don't want to provide the troubleshooting steps that we need them to. They don't want to go to the like, just delete my account for me. Here are the security reasons that we don't do that. And here's why you need to go through these steps to prove that you are authorized to complete that action. And I can't just do it because somebody with your email address asked me. And that tends to lead to a lot of these more difficult conversations. But most people respond reasonably well to I think it's about level setting. Right. Like, I'm going out of my way to be blunt and honest with you. So I usually talk about it as sugar coating. Like, I'm not making something up here. I'm not trying to dress up a story or I'm not trying to make this sound better than it really is.

Speaker 2 (25:18)
I'm going to tell you this isn't great, and here's why. That's the way it is. And in order to get to your ultimate resolution, we just need to work together a little bit.

Speaker 1 (25:30)
And what happens? What is the threshold if someone comes back and they're like, I hate people who have hyphenated last names, and I don't want to deal with you. And all I want is someone to help me because that happens and it's been happening more and more and more as we've dealt with the pressures of the last 18 months, for gosh sakes. Right. People are using outlets with especially customer support people. And somewhat benign interactions can turn into these moments of just, like, ragefilled kind of venting for people. So what is your next step? And do you have special language that you use? Do you have any saved scripts that you kind of are like, this is my go to as far as laying the boundary.

Speaker 2 (26:13)
I don't for that kind of thing. Only because I think there's such a fine line with saved replies that either they just sound like a saved reply or actually there's no or I think there's very fine line until they sound like a safe reply. And so when you get those particular people, I think you're doing a disservice by trying to take a shortcut. The only way to, I think, adequately get out of that conversation is to pay them the attention that they're asking for. And that requires I'm going to sit down and I'm going to spend a half an hour, I'm going to write you a letter. Let's call it right. I am going to write you a custom message. So depending on what the circumstance is, there might be saved language that we're using. But generally, if a person is that upset, I want to spend some time with them, which is super hard, because often you're the one who is being attacked, so to speak. And I mean, I've been threatened before, right. Like, these are the things that make our day jobs more difficult. So how hard is it that I'm suggesting? Yeah, well, lean into that and talk to the person more.

Speaker 2 (27:24)
But I think that's what they need. Most of the angry people I deal with are the ones who feel like they're not being heard at all, that their concerns aren't actually being addressed. And so as difficult as it is, I try to spend a significant amount of time on those tickets addressing point by point. And I think that it's difficult. But I don't think that you can actually get to anything resembling a resolution if you're taking a shortcut around, giving them the time they're asking for.

Speaker 1 (27:51)
I agree. And I've been in situations where I've been trying to quickly reply to someone thinking that that will help because they're getting a response from me. But I'm not being thorough or thoughtful in my replies. And it ends up just being this Ping pong match because they're so riled up. The minute they see your response, they're just going to respond right back. And I love that you almost used the time to be really thoughtful in your messaging is like a cooling off period, right?

Speaker 2 (28:22)

Speaker 1 (28:23)
It helps to naturally organically just use a situation when there's a little bit more time spent. Have you ever gotten into a situation where you had a person who was just legitimately angry about something and you just could not help them? I don't know if that sigh is your answer, if I'm like dredging up some of the worst interactions you've had in your career. But we've all been there. I've been to a place where I'm like managing people, teaching people how to do customer support. And I've been like, I can't I don't know.

Speaker 2 (28:58)
Yeah, I think you are right. I think we've all been there. I was just trying to think back to which was the most severe, and I'm not sure. But yeah, of course, I've had that kind of interaction. And most of the time it's a person who has a reasonable request. Right. I mean, I mentioned before, deleting an account, we're not out to make this hard.

Speaker 1 (29:19)
Right. It's not our intention to make us more miserable than it is that you already have to contact us for help, and now we're trying to make we're not letting you jump through Hoops because it entertains us.

Speaker 2 (29:30)
No, but also, I used to work with somebody who said, I'm willing to do 98% of the work in this interaction. But I just need you to give me the 2% that's missing. Right. You don't have to do much. I just need you to help me a little tiny bit. And I think the interactions that I have that are the most frustrating are when the customer just refuses to look at something from anything but their own perspective. Right. Being unwilling to understand or even consider the possibility that emails can be spoofed. No, I can't just delete this account because you say, so. You got to do something for me to prove that. And that can just go into a whole spiral of like, well, then why don't I send you an ID? That doesn't mean anything to me. I don't know what that is. What am I supposed to do with this? But yes, I hate to say, like lost customers, but people who have maybe mismatched expectations around what Trello is or how they can be expected to use it, that's always been a challenge. People who just have expectations of what support will be able to do.

Speaker 2 (30:41)
And we have limitations. And sometimes you hit a brick wall.

Speaker 1 (30:45)
Right. And when you do hit that brick wall, do you feel still that you have, like, the support of whoever is overseeing your team, that you are making the best decisions and you're just saying, I'm sorry, I can't help these people anymore. I can't help this person. We've done every single thing we possibly can. I think for a lot of people in support, that's a hard Avenue, because they feel like that this one failure points in their career is going to be this block that will follow them around forever, right?

Speaker 2 (31:18)
Yeah, I think that there are limitations because, of course, when it comes to your most highest paying enterprise customers, you can't just say, no. That's how it works. You can't do that. Right. But basically, for everybody else, I think that you have to have a built in understanding that at the end of the day, your product might not be the right fit for that person. And you may just be discovering that as they're talking about what they want to do. So I have that conversation with a lot of people. I want to run my whole CRM in Trello, and I want to store my passwords there. Okay, well, you can. And here are some thoughts about how you could do that. However, I might advise you not to do that because you're going to hit a lot of roadblocks, you're going to have problems, and you're going to have to compromise on a number of things that the products are not built for that. And I'm not going to raise a feature request to add a QR code scanner because it doesn't belong in the product.


Speaker 2 (32:27)
And I think I said a few minutes ago, you're not doing yourself any favors. You're not doing the customer any favors. I don't think you're helping by pretending that this isn't true. If you get the sense that this just isn't going to work for you. Right. The thing you want to do. Do I give you a really lame workaround that's going to be infuriating for you, or do I tell you this probably isn't a good fit? What's better for the customer?

Speaker 1 (32:56)
You tell me it's not a good fit. That's the thing. And this is one of those things, again, where it's like a lot of people are afraid that their managers or CEOs or marketing people are looking over their shoulder or queueing all these emails. And like, you're running people off. Well, it's like I get five feature requests a month from this guy, and it's never going to be the thing that he wants. And then he's upset that we can't do X and whatever. And not only that, but you can tell when people contact support their vibe in general about the product. Right. You can kind of tell, are they invested? You can tell, do they want to use it more? Are they just confused about feature set, or are they trying to square pegs something that is only going to lead to just building a frustration around their investment? So that's very hard. But I think that's an area where support needs to be empowered to say at some point, this is not something that we're able to do an offer and I can't go in there and hand code it for you. I can't be responsible for you sending me stuff to import every month because you don't want to do it.

Speaker 1 (34:01)
This is all stuff that we have experienced on some level that people want a lot more from teams and we have to set boundaries for them. We have to protect the nature of our relationship with customers, but we also have to protect our team from an overabundance of just output for certain people for those trouble tickets. And when it comes down to, like, difficult customers and having those difficult conversations, you don't want a team that is going to meekly apologize, apologize, apologize when somebody else is angry about something and lashing out at them.


Speaker 1 (34:34)
You still need to have a sense of like you're saying, like, I'm here to help you, I'm going to do the work. I know you're upset and I get why, but we are on the same team. We're on the same side. And I have said that to customers before. I have said to customers like, I am on your side, we're on the same team. We've got the same goal in mind here.

Speaker 2 (34:57)
I love that term. I love telling them that I'm on your side or we are on the same team. I think it helps diffuse those kinds of situations because you have to stand up for yourself as well, right. Just as it's part of our job to be helping them and solving their problems, I don't think it's productive to let the customer talk down to you. And that's super difficult if you're not used to having that kind of confrontational conversation or how to approach that. But I very firmly believe that you're beginning the conversation on completely the wrong plane if the customer is talking down to you from the beginning, because how are they ever going to take your advice? Or are they ever going to trust the things that you're telling them if they're not treating you as the expert, that you are in the product, that they're asking you for help on good points.

Speaker 1 (35:45)
I love that point. You've got to have confidence in what you're saying. Confidence in itself is a boundary for people, especially in the written word. It says, I'm telling you the facts, right? I'm here to answer your question. Here's the answer. I am the person who's giving it to you. And that makes me sort of like you said, the expert in this. I think the other thing, too, is teams need to know that it's okay to press back a little with people if they're using language that is just like over the top or abusive. I have trained people for years and years and years to say, I understand you're frustrated. I'm here to help you. I want to get this resolved, but I need you to give me a little patience and respect while I do that. And that is another thing that a lot of people are not used to hearing from people in service positions. They get walked all over, all the time because they don't have agency to stand up for themselves. Like you're saying, I think so many customers, the type of customer you and I are specifically talking about, they've got a lot of baggage from past experiences with Comcast or a utility company or with a phone tree where they're just rage punching zero until someone gets on the line.

Speaker 1 (37:01)
They've been conditioned to think that the more aggressive they are with these sort of low tier workers, the more likely they are to get their way to get a refund, to get a discount, whatever it is. And I'm not saying this is true about every single person who writes support, but we are talking about a very particular personality type.

Speaker 2 (37:21)
I think, and it's certainly not everyone absolutely. But it is certainly common. And I think that you're right. People are trained by lots of other kinds of everyday experiences like Comcast or whoever, where you think that that's the way to get results. And I can't stress enough with the people that get really uppity about refunds and threatening to call, not the attorney general.

Speaker 1 (37:53)
I'm going to report you to the Better Business Bureau, my Yelp review. Sorry.

Speaker 2 (37:58)
All you had to do was ask for the money back and I will give it to you. It's fine. You don't need to treat me this way because it's so disrespectful to my humanity. Yes.

Speaker 1 (38:12)
And it is also like you don't need to come in with this. It's like your app is garbage. I hate it. I can't believe you're still in business. Okay. I don't want your money if you're going to. Right, exactly. Talk to me that way, honestly.

Speaker 2 (38:25)
Right. Your app is so useless. Why are we doing this? Why do you come into this conversation so aggressively?

Speaker 1 (38:35)
So aggressively?

Speaker 2 (38:36)
I once said that if I could give a talk or write an essay to customers in general, I would do it. And I haven't figured out the best way to do that yet.

Speaker 1 (38:47)
Would it be like a spoken word, like, Dear customers, don't do this stuff.

Speaker 2 (38:52)
Don't act like this.

Speaker 1 (38:53)
Like an open letter to all customers. I got to tell you that one of the things that was always very difficult for me to watch or get a notification of or see a headline for was any time during quarantine, during the pandemic, when it was like a service worker was facing some kind of abuse and it was always going to end up with like the idiot screaming at a Pizza Hut is going to be taken away by cops, obviously. But it always made my heart sick for those people having to do with that, because there's nothing else they can do except stand there and take it. And you're right, it is so demoralizing to the other human being who is there to provide a service for you, whether it is at Pizza Hut or whether it is at your enterprise software company. So across the board, I think we're sort of, I hope, recalibrating a little bit how we think about each other and how we think about people in service and how we think about people in support roles. And I hope that what we're also learning from these experiences as managers of people who are doing those jobs, how to empower them to stand up for themselves in ways that don't include flipping a table, because that is what's going to eventually happen if someone deals with abuse and they don't have agency and it happens over and over and over again to the point where they almost expect it from every customer.

Speaker 1 (40:13)
They end up treating every customer like that and that projects and it becomes this cycle. Right. So we have to be protective of ourselves. And I think how we do that as a team is by helping each other with difficult customers helping each other. When you're in a flat company and you don't necessarily always want to escalate to a team lead, just pass it to somebody else, put a new name to the conversation. Right.

Speaker 2 (40:39)
We would do that all the time. Somebody your manager like, okay, hold on. Just send it to somebody else.

Speaker 1 (40:46)
I mean, even if someone doesn't request an escalation, if you're just feeling like you're not vibe with them, it can't click, push it over to someone else, right?

Speaker 2 (40:55)

Speaker 1 (40:55)
When you have team time and when you have team meetings, be very open and say, hey, what would you say if you had an abusive customer or someone who was not going by policy? What are some of the things that you would say? What's the language I can borrow from you, even just putting in Slack or whatever group discussion you're using saying, here's this ticket, what should I do? Those are the building blocks towards creating a really tight, like, culture in your support team. And it also shows everybody, like, everyone's going to get these guys, everyone's going to get these ladies, these Karen's. Everyone's going to have an interesting opportunity in their life where they just can't make it work. And so our part of our responsibilities to each other is figuring out how do we teach each other how to do this, how do we support each other during these difficult conversations? And ultimately, what is our ethos as a team as far as what we're going to take from people? Right. Like, what is the boundary? Where do we set that line?

Speaker 2 (41:53)
We got this idea from I believe it was people at Kickstarter, but that every other week we have kind of like a half hour meeting where a rotating person brings a ticket of their choice, and then we all look at it and turn off our mics for about five minutes. We all write a response to it, and usually it's a ticket that's come and gone. Right. So this isn't a message like nobody is waiting or needing help. This is all just a learning exercise because then we all talk about it and we each read what we wrote and why we made certain choices and why we didn't say certain things or whatever it is. Right. And just one by one, we go over what everybody wrote and try to look for things to highlight things to maybe not criticize. That's pretty mean, but the areas of like, oh, I probably would have said this. That's interesting. I completely didn't pick up on that. I didn't read it that way.

Speaker 1 (42:46)
I love this.

Speaker 2 (42:47)
Yeah. It's a fantastic learning opportunity. And then we also try to have fun with it. So like, some weeks you got to write in song lyrics or whatever, things like that. We do just some silly a little bit more at that scheme thing. But most of the time it's just quite a good response to this person. You just say to this bizarre question.

Speaker 1 (43:07)
It'S really good for your brains too, to think about, to understand other people's perspectives on your team but also be challenged. And I'm a big fan of using certain types of scripts, certain types of saved replies. I agree with you that sometimes they can become a little bit you can get a little too trigger friendly with them. And when I do save replies, I like to even like in help Scout or whatever you're in macro, I like to have big blank spaces and like XS and bold letters. Someone has to go in and actually customize them and add to them. This is a really good framework for saved replies that you can add where in my book, the customer support handbook in the back of the book there's all these sort of little snippets that you can use to help you build these conversations and I think that's a really good exercise for teams too. What is a sentence I can use to defuse a person who's cursing at me? What is a sentence I can use to apologize when we are absolutely in the wrong and someone is mad about it and we need to own up to it?

Speaker 1 (44:06)
What's a sentence I can use when a person is on thin ice with me, right. This is a way that people can kind of be collaborative, be creative and not just have a stock template of five paragraphs that you loaded and send out. So I would encourage people to use those suggestions on your community, not just inside your team but in all of the various support communities that we have out there, even like on Twitter or whatever it is. I think we should start this discussion and be like, how are people handling their most difficult customers? Because it's going to happen to all of us. It's happening at higher frequency. We are a little bit more afraid at the edges than we used to be and we need protection and we need a little bit more of empowerment. So yeah, I'm glad we had this conversation. I think you are an expert at this. I think I'll give you that star.

Speaker 2 (45:00)
Well, thank you.

Speaker 1 (45:01)
Yes. And I think from now on that's what should be in your outgoing email signature with every conversation you have with a customer just so they know, just in case they get rowdy on you, you can say Mike from Trello is an escalation diffusion angry customer expert. Don't try it.

Speaker 2 (45:17)
Yeah, I like it. I like it. I can always point to that. Yeah, don't get uppity here. No.