The Support Automation Show: Episode 1

Stacy Justino from Wistia

We’ve launched a new weekly podcast called The Support Automation Show, hosted by Justin Schmidt, VP of Marketing at Capacity. We host conversations with leaders in customer or employee support who are using technology to answer questions, automate processes, and build innovative solutions to any business challenge. Tune into this episode to hear from Stacy Justino, Director of Customer Happiness at Wistia.

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Justin Schmidt: Welcome to The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity. Join us for conversations with leaders and customer or employee support who are using technology to answer questions, automate processes, and build innovative solutions to any business challenge. I’m your host, Justin Schmidt. Hello, Stacy. Good afternoon. Where does this podcast find you?

Stacy Justino: I am in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Justin: Awesome, so you are with Wistia. Tell us a little bit about Wistia and your role there.

Stacy: Wistia is a video hosting platform that helps B2B businesses market their videos and podcasts. I am the director of customer happiness at Wistia, so that means I lead our support team, just under 20 people, which includes our 12 customer champions for our frontline reps, three senior support specialists, and two managers.

Justin: Oh, very cool. Paint a picture for us on when and why you first got into the support career path and what drew you to it?

Stacy: After spending two years teaching English in Seoul, South Korea after I graduated college, I returned to Seattle to look for a job. My original career aspiration was to work in user research or market research at a video game company.

I was excited to land a position as a customer support rep at Big Fish Games in Seattle in 2008. I ended up moving into a team lead role after about a year. I quickly realized that it combined the most rewarding aspects of teaching with the opportunity to regularly tackle new interesting problems, which is one of the things that I found made me realize I didn’t necessarily want to be a teacher for my whole career because teaching the same subjects over and over again in two years, I was like, ” I don’t know if I’m cut out for that.” I got to do the most rewarding parts of that job in a little bit more fast-paced environment.

Justin: It’s always fascinating to me when people start down one path realize that there are transferable skills, I guess is the official name for it, but there are pieces of that path that you pick up and that really hold value to you and you can pivot and use those elsewhere in really accelerated, very interesting ways.

I have found, anyway, over my career that a surprising number of customer-facing and revenue-producing people come from an education background. Marketing effectively is education in a lot of ways and customer support also is. It’s interesting to hear you say that. Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s that uncommon of a path, but very cool.

We are here to talk about support automation and thinking about how that concept is something that I think a lot of the world when they hear, it could be everything from the automated support line you call your cable company, all the way to something more invisible to the customer but a lot of backend process automation type things. When you hear the phrase support automation, what does that mean to you?

Stacy: It means a lot of things, to your point, there’s a whole spectrum. For me, it’s thinking of ways we can leverage technology, data that’s at our disposal to make, essentially, a better customer experience. I think that that should be the goal. That this is to create a better customer experience, whether that’s to automate some processes that don’t have to be done manually by humans. Or automate processes where, when it’s done by people, there’s a lot of room for error which can cause customer-facing issues or degradation of the reporting. That’s what I think of.

Justin: It’s interesting because, to your point, even if it’s not a directly customer-facing issue, it can still manifest itself to the customer. A distracted team could lead to a frustrated customer. Getting all the processes in place such that you minimize those interruptions and disruptions as much as possible is paramount.

When we were going back and forth a little bit before the show, one thing that you said in the little conversation starter we sent over that I thought was really interesting and I’d love to hear you double-click on this, is that some people may find the word automation scary. We’d love it if you could maybe double-click on that and dive into it a little bit more.

Stacy: Sure. I think there are a couple of different facets that when people think support automation, they find it scary. I think one is they associate it with a lack of personalization, which I don’t think is true. I think, especially a lot of good support leaders want to have a good personal customer experience. Support automation can, a lot of times, come with this assumption that it means that, “Oh, there’s a lack of humanity or lack of personalization.” I think that that is one element where it’s scary.

I think another element that’s kind of scary is, oftentimes, when you might go to a website for a product that is around some form of automation, a lot of times the volume that you need to pass through to take full effects of said automation can be scary. We don’t have 30,000 tickets a month [unintelligible 00:05:53] data points going through every month, so how can we take advantage of this? I think that’s another aspect that makes it a little scary.

I also think that a little bit related to the personalization front, people have this assumption that it’s going to take away the need for a support rep. Also, that’s not entirely true. Nobody really likes writing into support for those sorts of things that could be handled by automation. Most support reps would rather spend their time working on chunkier, more interesting problems to solve.

Justin: It’s interesting that you describe chunkier and interesting problems. There is a certain level of deep work that is required of good support teams for some of the most high-value stuff they do. Whether that’s supporting a key client or even, think of an HR team inside of an organization. They’re also B2E support, as it sometimes is known. It’s something that you get a lot of gains to actually have that focused block of time and really have your best people working on their best problems. What is the approach to adopting automation that you guys at Wistia have taken?

Stacy: I think our approach that we actually were put to the task when the pandemic hit because a lot of businesses who were using some video started using lots or all video and then more bandwidth being consumed.

In one week to the next in April, we had a 50% increase in tickets. We didn’t suddenly have 50% more people, so we had to really ramp up some of our use of automation.

We had the autoresponder, but we hadn’t tailored the autoresponder based on keywords or subject lines or the reply-to email address. We turned on some specific autoresponders for our product, Soapbox because more and more people were using Soapbox than before because a lot of teachers were starting to use Soapbox because it enabled them to record their webcam but also record their screen. A lot of them were delivering virtual lessons via Soapbox.

Overnight, we had a bunch more Soapbox tickets, so we created a specific autoresponder to tickets that mentioned the word Soapbox, which were sent to soapbox@wistia.com. We were able to first increase our first contact resolution or not even have to touch those tickets because a lot of them were able to be answered by the specific autoresponders.

That is not something we had really leveraged. We did the same thing with billing emails, and we did the same thing with one of our uploading and encoding tickets because those are a very specific subset of troubleshooting steps we can provide. We were able to handle the volume, get into a new normal. That’s one of the big uses. We also leveraged software even before this to auto-tag our conversations. That was super helpful.

It was just a nice twofold because the tickets were getting tagged as soon as they came in, not when the rep answered them. We could pull some reporting on what was the make-up of all the tickets currently in the inbox, not just doing reporting looking into the past, so we could get a snapshot of, “Okay, what are all the tags for the conversations currently in the inbox?” Which we couldn’t really do before we were using software to tag the tickets as they were coming in.

Justin: Yes, what you’re describing here is an additional need for automation, and maybe even some– I don’t want to call it pain or inconvenience, but there’s an impetus to adopt these technologies. It was driven by a very good thing, which is a rapid increase in the amount of growth and usage you guys had around these specific products, which is awesome.

A follow-up to that that came to mind was, as a leader, do you think it was easier or harder to rally your team around adopting these practices, given that the reason they were occurring wasn’t because of some failure, but because you guys hit this perfect product market, like once in a generation product-market fit opportunity and we’re there to capture it. It’s a champagne problem, right?

Stacy: I think they knew that we had a real problem that we needed to solve pretty quickly. We were very transparent with the team as to why we’re doing this, gave them as much detail as possible as to how it was going to work. I think that because we weren’t just closing out tickets and we weren’t just saying, “We’re not going to help you,” and I think because they understood the intention, “Hey, we have a backlog. If we’re going to provide them maybe 20%, 30% of the folks who write us with an answer right off the bat, they don’t have to wait. They get their problem solved.”

It’s a good customer experience. Even the folks who may still need our help, we’ve given them a little more context and maybe they can try something, tell us they’ve tried it, write back, and say, “Hey, I tried that, it doesn’t work.” That’s still more information than we had. I think it felt good for our customer champions because they had the context for why we were doing this. They understood why it was a good customer experience for the situation. We had already used a bit of automation for tagging tickets already. It wasn’t completely brand new to introduce automation. We already had some workflows too that had some automated elements to them. It wasn’t completely brand new.

Justin: That leads me to, and you touched on it a little bit there, if you could give advice to another support leader facing a similar opportunity that you did with the increase in volume here, if you could give him one piece of advice on getting buy-in from the team on adopting some automation, what would it be?

Stacy: I think it’s the same advice I would maybe give for a lot of situations. I think it’s transparency. It’s very clear the why and the benefit, both to the customer and to our team, and the business. I think that’s how you get buy-in.

Also, giving a feedback loop, especially if it’s new, like, “Hey, we’re putting in this automation, it’s new for us.” If you are getting feedback from customers that it’s not working how we think it is, or maybe there’s some unintended side effect that we didn’t consider, making sure that the folks on your team have a way to give the feedback on what might not be working. Letting them know that a lot of times it might take some adjustment. Being open, making sure the team knows that we’re open to making adjustments, and being adaptable

Justin: Unrelated to support automation, we’ll go off my script just a little bit here because I’m really interested in, the people on your team, you’re the director of customer happiness, you have customer champions. These are very strong words to describe the people in charge of maintaining customer relationships, which implies Wistia is a very customer-focused organization. Total disclosure, in a prior life, I was a customer of Wistia’s at an old gig. Is that intentional, the org chart having these types of roles on it?

Stacy: Yes, the team being called customer happiness and the individuals on our team being customer champions, that is something that Chris and Brendan, our founders came up with. It has been from day one, and it is very intentional. Our job is to help our customers be successful at their jobs as video marketers or marketers.

I think it is. We are very intentional in calling our team that and our customer champions that because our job is to help these folks be the best they can be at their job.

Justin: That’s awesome. Switching gears here a little bit. If you were to think about the future of customer support and what the future of automation within customer support looks like, what excites you the most about it?

Stacy: I think what excites me the most is that there is room for automation using machine learning across, basically, all facets of the sport. Whether it’s conversation quality, there’s some elements there, improving the accuracy of your reporting because you’re tracking sentiment or tagging tickets more accurately, using automation software that helps you build reporting that’s easy to use and easy to customize, and easy to iterate on.

I just think there’s so many opportunities. I really geek out about support software. I am really excited by how many more players there are coming into the space because I think competition is good. Every day– not every day, but fairly often, there’s a new tool that I’m made aware of that I’m like, “Oh, wow. Somebody made something that does this. Oh, this would have been really awesome 10 years ago when I started managing support teams, but I’m really glad it’s here now.”

Justin: Right. It’s also interesting too, how, in my role in marketing, a lot of similar stuff is happening. Where you have everything from single tools that accomplish a specific thing to help unclog a process somewhere. Then you have broader platforms, your HubSpots and Marketos and the like, adopting more and more stuff to build a better overall experience.

I find, anyway, in my job that our customer success team and when the reporting and the data is flowing freely through there, I can look at that as well and think of, “Clearly, these campaigns, messages, et cetera, are resonating more than the others. This is what people really like. We should lean into this. Maybe we should try to address something over here.” You really get that symbiotic relationship between pre-sales and post-sales operations when you have good data and good processes. Automation really helps that, to what we were talking about earlier.

Looking ahead, and while we’re still in this future-forward way of thinking here, what do you think is the big challenge that support leaders such as yourself are going to face as automation finds its way further into what we’re doing?

Stacy: That is a good question. I think what’s going to happen is, it will no longer be this thing that forward-looking thing leaders are doing. Everybody’s going to be using either software or figuring out ways to automate because there’s not going to really be an option not to. I think that, to me, will be challenges that you have to get on board because the train is going.

The other thing, like I said, there are a lot of competitors or players in the space, so really figuring out, “Okay, what do I need for my team, for our company, our product?” That is the challenge today, and it will be because as there’s more players in the space, they have different use cases. Just like today, there’s different support platforms. You have Zendesk, Dixa, Customer, Freshdesk.

A lot of them have similar features, some of them are very different. You just have to decide which is best for your organization, not just for today, but for like two, three years down the road. So, hopefully, you don’t have to make that big switch. I think that if you’re not really familiar with the space or what you need out of an automation tool or platform, then I think that’s going to be a major challenge for leaders.

Justin: I’m going to piggyback off that. When you were talking, one thing that came to mind, just recently, I had escalated issue with my internet provider at home. It was esoteric issue as only you can have with your cable company, but eventually, I had to call them and got to talk to an agent. While she was doing other things, we were just making small talk.

I had a wonderful conversation with this person. We shared stories of the last year being stuck in the house. It was a real nice moment of connection. While I really appreciated that, it would also have been nice to get the issue resolved before I had to call.

It’s funny, because as a consumer myself, while you’re talking, I was like, “Wow, I wonder if there will be a point eventually where those random interactions with a pleasant support rep on the phone don’t happen quite as much because more of these problems are getting solved via AI upfront or whatever it is.”

The other thing you touched on that I thought was really interesting and I wanted to have you expand on it if you could was, when you were talking about looking at the different platforms and the different tools out there. If you could give one piece of advice to a support leader who’s shopping for some piece of technology somewhere in their support stack, what would it be?

Stacy: That’s a really good question. I think it’s like a two-parter. If it’s going from some tool you’re already using and considering making a change, there’s a huge cost to making that change. Not monetarily, although there is, but organizationally to either getting it wrong or making a change and it doesn’t actually deliver to the extent.

The thing you’re going to move to, is it going to be enough of a shift or improvement so that the costs or the perceived costs of making that change overshadows or diminishes the actual gains you got from making the change? I think that that’s if you’re moving from something you’re already using to something different.

If it’s something new, I think getting– It’s related. It’s still about getting value, but I think taking on new software also is a different kind of cost. You have to admin it. You have to make sure it integrates with all the systems you use. I think long-term thinking is pretty important when you’re making these. That’s the one piece of advice is like, “Yesterday, this is the thing that makes the most sense for us, but is it going to be the thing that makes the most sense for us in one, or two, really, or three years?”

It doesn’t have to be like the product day one has to do those things, but you have to have confidence that it’s going to grow with you because I think that that is the biggest problem, is like, “Okay, today this is a really good product for us, but if we feel like our support team is moving in this direction, is that product also moving in the same direction with us?” I think that, to me, is the biggest thing because if those paths are divergent, the delta in between where you’re going and where they’re going, it’s going to continue to get wider and wider and wider until you’re working with a product that no longer serves you.

Justin: Yes, exactly. It’s interesting, in business, we make some of the same mistakes that we make as everyday consumers, where you get distracted by– Not distracted, but you get enamored with whatever the new hot thing is. You buy it, use it for a week, whatever it is, then it just becomes like sass waste inside the organization just like an app you download on your phone or a kitchen gadget, I guess is the ultimate example. Reminds me, I have a pressure cooker in my cabinet that I got for my wedding 11 years ago that I don’t think has left the box.

Stacy, this has been a great conversation, and quite frankly, I could chitchat with you all day. Next time we do a big business travel again, if we’re at a trade show, we should see each other out and chat a little bit more. To close out the show today, I want to do a quickfire round. I’ve got four questions. We’ll call them the famous four, the fabulous four. I’ll have to work on the branding of this, but what’s the book you most often recommend to people? It can be fiction or nonfiction.

Stacy: Probably Crucial Conversations.

Justin: That’s a good one. What is the single best productivity tip or hack that you have ever used?

Stacy: I think writing down my accomplishments, that might seem weird, but updating your resume [chuckles] [unintelligible 00:24:19] take a lot of trouble. Not only for a resume but for reviews. Every company you work for has reviews and your personal evaluation takes so much time or even your employee evaluation. Keeping track of those success, the things you did so you don’t have to spend– Let’s not label how many hours, going back through your Slack or your emails to try to figure it all out. I think that it’s something that’s going to happen at every single job you’re in. There’s multiple use cases like performance reviews, updating your resume, being interviewed for a podcast.

Justin: [laughs] I’m going to give a shout out to a SAS tool that we use here, Capacity let us. We use them for performance reviews and all that kind of stuff. It is very nice to go, when it comes time for year-end reviews or 360 reviews or whatever your organization calls them, to just have all your documentation there and being corralled into keeping all that along the way. That’s a very good one.

If you could recommend one site, newsletter, Slack community, LinkedIn group, whatever it is for a support leader to get better at what they do, what would it be?

Stacy: I think the support-driven Slack community hands down.

Justin: Awesome one. That’s a very, very good one. As a person who is on the other side of the support conversation, as a marketer and selling into that group, they are incredible. As you just look at the conversation inside of it, it’s really good too. I agree 100%, they’re easy to recommend. If you could go meet for coffee or lunch, or maybe a happy hour with one person in the world of support, who would it be?

Stacy: It would be Camille Acey. She is the global head of customer experience at Humio.

Justin: Why is that? What is Humio doing that you find so interesting?

Stacy: It’s a global support or they have folks in various different locations, but she, as a support leader, is someone I greatly admire. She is not afraid to tackle hard subjects when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. She tries to elevate folks and shares her knowledge. I think that that’s one of the reasons why something like support-driven or the folks who I’ve met in the support community are really good about sharing what they know and learning from other people. I think that she is an exemplary person when it comes to that.

Justin: That’s awesome. You can’t work in a field with the word support in it if you’re not going to support others in the field. Hats off to everybody who pays it forward in this business because the Lord knows we need it. Stacy, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your insight. I encourage anyone listening who wants to expand their use of video in their marketing or get into video with their marketing to look up Wistia. It’s a fantastic platform. If you’re ever to have an issue with the platform, you’re going to be working with a world-class team. Again, Stacy, thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll catch up soon.

Stacy: Thanks for having me.

Justin: Absolutely. The Support Automation Show is brought to you by Capacity. Visit capacity.com to find everything you need for automating support and business processes in one powerful platform. You can find the show by searching for Support Automation in your favorite podcast app. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Capacity, thanks for listening.