The Support Automation Show: Episode 29

In this episode of The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity, Justin Schmidt is joined by Jason Yun, Co-founder at Relay, where they discuss automation’s role in building trust between internal and external customers.

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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. Jason Yun, welcome to the Support Automation Show.

Jason Yun: Love it. Thanks, Justin. Thanks for inviting me over.

Justin: Absolutely. Where does this podcast find you?

Jason: From very sunny and warm Seattle, Washington.

Justin: Ah, I’m in very snowy, dreary St. Louis, Missouri right now. We’re like halfway through what should be a 12-inch dump of snow. Got a nice winter vibe here.

Jason: It’s funny. My Instacart days, like just because you guys get so used to all the various marts across the country. When I hear crazy winter storm, I’m like, great. Then I’m thinking internally, “Okay, How many orders is that? What are they doing? What’s the impact?” Just because it’s so ingrained into me.

Justin: You’ve got an interesting background and recently founded a startup of your own, Relay. Just to get us started, share some of your background and what led to a) your career in support community operations, and then how that ties into Relay, the mission of Relay, and what you all are trying to do.

Jason: It’s funny when anyone actually looks at my LinkedIn and they’re like, “What is your background because it doesn’t make any sense? I’m like, “I know.” I was always surprised that I’m doing what I’m doing now. I didn’t want to do this. If you talk to me about saying, “Hey Jason, you’re going to do customer support, you’re going to be working and creating all these customer experiences,” I would’ve just laughed at you just because I was so focused on being that stereotypical doctor. I was a biochemist, I was a clinical and bedside researcher.

I discovered that here I am, doing some really amazing things, getting published, and learning about a lot of amazing things about how the body works and I’m the only one smiling in the research buildings. I’m the only one smiling in my clinic. I’m the only one who’s just really happy about the social interactions. I got to the point where I was like, “Wait a minute? Do I really want to spend decades of my life trying to make things better because medicine is so slow, health is slow?”

The answer was no, I really want something that actually was moving all the time and that actually transitioned me into support. I think the connection to both of them is about that innate need to want to help, but I think we go away from health and go towards support, just like the body as complications, well, so does a check stack, so do processes and cross-functional things.

I got really lucky going into support and what my focus there was about was how do I make people feel really comfortable and really trust these brand new products they’ve never heard about before? Now, I will talk about Instacart. Yes, I used it last week, I can talk about Lyft, and like, “Yeah, let’s get to work,” but 10 years ago, that was something where people were like, “That is scary. I don’t want to go into a car with a stranger. I don’t want someone to touch my groceries.”

I actually spent some time at Cruise Automation. My job was to figure out how do I make you comfortable going to a self-driving car for ride-sharing, and then also took a small break as an executive to actually work on an on-demand healthcare company as well. Really, all these pieces built to that part for customer experience. Now, under this support umbrella, what do I do to make sure that you can trust me, trust my team, trust this product, to make sure that you’re a part of this community?

Going through all those challenges, I got to the point in my careerand I always think about scalability. What makes me happy is actually helping people at scale. Being in a single company is great, but I want to make a bigger impact. That’s actually what inspired me to want to do support in the sense of what can I do, a SAS-product level to really make sure that I can help companies in scale really improve on both their team engagement and productivity.

That’s just the beauty of Relay. Our focus is actually helping teams improve their workflows by automating how they communicate to their teams and employees about what’s going on. Just because I think right now, we have these amazing, fast products that are so consumer facing, great for customers, but when we start looking behind the curtain and being like, “What about your support teams?” The answer is, “We don’t have anything.” It’s like sticks and rocks. I think for both Relay and Capacity, our goals, I think, are really to make sure it’s such a seamless experience to make sure that our teams are fully supported about what’s going on.

Justin: Yes. You said a bunch of things in there that I want to double click on. It’s usually right around this time in the show that I just give up on my show notes and just start talking to people. Literally, as you were talking, I just closed that tab. I’m like, “We’re just going to have a conversation here.” You touched on a few things I thought were really interesting.

One, I love the analogy of understanding the interconnected systems of the body and in a lot of ways, medicine is supported. It’s a different type than when you get into more traditionally defined type support roles, but that understanding of the interconnectedness of things and the systematic, or systemic rather, way that the different functions of the body work together is the exact same way the different functions of business work together.

You’re exactly right about internal teams and our work lives compared to our consumer lives. The example I always like to use is just a miracle of UX and interconnectedness. Everything works together properly. I can do everything from this device and all of the apps, whether it’s native to iOS or something made by someone else, they are meticulously designed to be good user experiences.

Then I go to work and shout out to Salesforce. I hate using that product. Very few HRIs systems are pleasurable to use. Slack is constant noise and I don’t have the same ease and ability to just manage everything that I have as in my work life as I do at home and that problem is an N times N issue when you’ve got teams.

If you’ve got a big team of people that have to use shitty technology to then do their job, it really becomes clear that there’s a need to introduce something into the tech stack to help make that cohesive, make that possible. We say Capacity helps teams do their best work and that’s exactly what you’re hitting on with Relay too.

It’s good to meet someone who sees the same forest through the trees and to talk through that stuff. In terms of the concept of automation and support and all that, I’m going to ask you the same question I ask everybody near the beginning of a new interview, which is when you hear the phrase support automation, what does that mean to you?

Jason: Immediately, it’s so mischaracterized. I think people are away from us or away from support operations, leadership. I think they think it’s unnecessary. You can figure out a workaround, you should be fine, you should be happy with what you have, but I think realistically, it’s actually critical to our ecosystem. I know you just mentioned talking about your phone. I feel like all of our favorite applications, it’s so easy as a consumer to be like, “I’m going to place an order, I’m going to go ahead and buy this thing.” Why can’t it be so easy for our users and our support teams to have that same level of engagement?

The way I think about it, if you are a company who does not embrace support automation, then you’re not thinking about customer support engagement within minutes. You’re totally okay with days and weeks. If that is what your brand is all about, awesome, but the rest of us who are actually realizing, no, we need to be on the same old intensity and speed, we know that we need to take every single advantage to make our life.

Justin: Interesting. With Relay and what you’re doing there, you guys have started to see a lot of business. You get a little peek behind the curtain and see how these things are working and how these things are run. Obviously, there are operational and just job and process design challenges that organizations face that technology like Relay can help with. There’s also just fundamental job design that has to maybe get tweaked a little bit or just business process management to use it as an MBA term. What are some common things that you see go wrong most often when you have the symptoms of the disease you guys are aiming to cure? What’s some common signposts?

Jason: I think there’s a good chunk of them. I think, first, on a leadership side, I think there’s that sense of you don’t realize that you’re drowning. You don’t realize that you have become comfortable in not knowing if your team’s prepared for a partner launching and pushing up a critical buck. You’re actually okay accepting those negative CSATs, you’re okay with dealing with customer and also user aggression and frustration about getting incorrect information, I think we see a lot of issues with engage and morale, people just being like, why am I not surprised that we didn’t know about this or I didn’t know about this?

I think another thing that we also see is just a lot of like who do we give the blame to? Is it our vendor partners’ fault because they didn’t send this email about something else going on? Oh, is it the operations manager for our vendor partners for saying, “Hey, we sent it out but we couldn’t figure out who didn’t see it or not?” All those layers of excuses, instead of saying, “Hey, what can we just actually solve?”

I think another piece is symptomatically people just saying, “Hey, it’s okay that I have Slack as my primary tool where I’m pinning things and just repeating things and just blasting things through email and saying, “That is just sufficient as a communication strategy,” when the reality is that’s not a strategy. Strategy actually requires you to track things, figure out the engagement, figure out how can make things better as opposed to it’s just a hobby, it’s just a habit that you’re just going through without really willing to challenge yourself and take risks and make things better.

Justin: Yes. It is an interesting conundrum that I think managers especially face in that you as a manager and I always– I literally had this conversation with someone on my team today, that is my job is to make you succeed. Everything I do needs to be done under the auspices of you achieving the goals that you’ve set, that we’ve set for you, that you’ve set for yourself and your career in life and to advance. Anything I do to create inefficiencies or not address issues or not be able to respond to coachable moments or not let you experience success in your job, if it’s a marketing person, maybe it’s a successful campaign, if it’s a support agent, it’s a certain deflection or not a deflection by a certain survey score or whatever it is.

It’s really hard in a modern workforce to be able to have the bandwidth, to have the deeper conversations with your direct reports, because all the little stuff that gets in the way. This is a perfect type of problem for computers and automation software to solve. I love the idea of using technology to augment and enhance human behaviors versus straight up trying to replace them.

It’s refreshing to hear another founder and business leaders really understand that at a fundamental level, to the point where you’re launching a product of it. I’m curious, let’s go back a little bit and I would love to get some of your perspective in the early days of Lyft, early days of Instacart, as those things are really starting to scale and take off like you guys, in both those businesses, you dealt with the classic buildup or airplane in the air experience.

What are some of the big lessons you learned from then on enabling and making sure that the CS teams and the community teams and the customer facing teams were set up for success during that growth?

Jason: Oh, yes. Number one, I feel like I deserve a pilot’s license for free. I feel like I have done this way too many times where I’m like, I deserve something for going through all these crazy experiences. I’m actually going to talk about Instacart on this one. I think it’s a fun way to think about– I think for any type of on demand product, especially when they’re going to marketplace, I think what people never realize that everything is so manual post (something?) I genuinely cannot figure out what’s being said! I listened about 15 times

For instance, you want a car, you want a grocery order, there’s probably somebody who actually went there and had to click there and be like, “Cool. Who’s available and how can I get it to you? Oh, hey, I think this person’s about to be finished. I’m going to go ahead and assign this to you.” There’s so much of the logistical components that can exist that a lot of times falls into support.

Then I think the other piece is how much manual labor it takes when there is an issue that happens. We talked about the weather. I think when my first hit Instacart coming as ahead of customer happiness I was literally welcome to a crazy storm in Chicago. I was told to contact all the customers who had orders to be like, “Hey, your order’s going to be four to five hours delayed.”

Imagine just going and order after order, customer after customer just being like, “Hey, I’m really sorry to call you but here’s what’s going on,” and having to go that emotional roller-coaster being like, “How can I help you? Can I reschedule it? Do you want a refund? I love to give you some credits, and then try to convince them what we’re trying to do, but I’m also just like, ” I’m not a weatherman. I couldn’t predict this, but it doesn’t matter because my job’s to help you.

After going through so many rounds of that, it got to the point where I was like, “We can’t do this.” This is skill. We make it so easy for customers to place orders, we make it really easy for our shoppers to get those orders and do them really well. What happens when things don’t go. I think for a lot of these hyper situations, the reality is that with growth, typically comes quality issues. That’s not a bad thing. That’s not a scary thing. It’s a very natural thing.

As the market matures, we’re trying to figure things out, but it doesn’t mean that support isn’t here to really take all of that. Automation was so critical at Instacart, I will say that, but at Instacart was so important because if you think in the beginning of the customer experience, we’d go ahead and prompt you and say, “Hey, give us a rating.” Then, “Let us know if there’s anything that we should know about.”

That’s a lot of manual work to figure out what’s happening, seeing what we can do. Thinking about the fact that orders were emails reviewed, let’s really manage to reach out to customers. The two biggest things are really big CS links to really grow as the company was going through hyper growth. One was figuring out a way of how we mass communicate with our customers if we have to cancel.

How do we make sure that they’re aware as fast as possible so then they can figure out their actions and know what’s going on, but build that in with auto achievements? How can I make sure that I’m giving the right type of credits and free deliveries? What can I do to make sure that I care about you and it’s going to be okay? Then texting customers, email customers will be blasting across all the channels, and then making sure that they wanted our help.

They want to talk to one of our agents about a phone call, email first. I think on a customer experience, it’s not great to be told that you can’t get something because it’s shut down, there’s snow and there’s a flood. These are all the things that we’d be dealing with on a national scale, but it was important for us to make sure that our customers and shoppers knew what was going on in real time, as fast as possible, as opposed to someone just being like, “What’s happening to my order?

I haven’t heard from you guys for six hours,” and we didn’t get to them because we’re still calling other customers. That was a huge win because that allowed us to make sure that we’re being proactive about anything coming out of direction. To be honest, things come in that direction all the time. Then on the rating side, it was trying to be really proactive about not playing the whole dance of, “Hey, I leave three stars. Hey, I’m really sorry to hear it was a three star order. What happened?”

You want to learn more. “My eggs were broken. I’m really sorry about the eggs. Can I offer worth of credit or we deliver,” this entire dance of what do you need and how can I help, we changed it all by actually going through our structure, figured, okay, if we can empower customers to self-identify what went wrong, what can we do about it, and then really build this beautiful backend logic spreadsheet of what can we give them, what can we do, how does it work, we actually decreased our run 60%.

We also made it really easy for our agents to be like, “Cool, I know your problem. I know what you need. I can give you instant satisfaction so that I can help you with what you want.” It really made the experience much easier on both sides.

Justin: That enablement ties into– I was reading through some of the content Relay’s published over the last year or so. I liked this conversation you all had with the folks over at Talentfrop about the concept of why people hate I don’t know, at least within the work context, where you never want to tell your boss you don’t know, but in any agent, customer relationship, and in some instances, a lot of the dynamics of an agent, customer relationship are very similar when it’s employee and manager or peer to peer, depending on just the type of conversation in a hand, like a lot of the characteristics are the same.

When you have the information you need going into that interaction, it’s smoother– for those of you just on audio and making scare quotes here, it’s smoother for the agent, and it’s also smoother for the customer because of the facilitation of that knowledge and of that information.

Jason: You’re exactly right.

Justin: When you can, as you’re processing the requests, proactively collect what you need so that it’s not a fresh interaction with the agent every single time, it’s specific when the eggs are broken. It was the order I’ll have later, whatever, there’s a playbook and responses and outcomes already teed up for that. My question to you is internally, when we’re trying to make our teammates their best, and we’re trying to be the most productive, the most everyone’s hitting their KPIs, but everyone’s feels fulfilled and not overworked or undervalue, the great capitalist machine is humming, so to speak, internally, what are some of the things that you’ve seen that teams can do?

What’s one or two or maybe three small handful of first things you should look at to ensure that knowledge is shared properly and that teams have everything they need to be successful?

Jason: For sure. I think the first piece is do you have a source of truth? I know we said that so many times, and I think there’s so much– it’s weird. I think there’s a lot of SAS product shaming where it’s if you’re not using Confluence or Notion, how dare you. The reality is this, I think as long as you have one location where you’re team members and also other teams can go to just being like, “Hey, what’s going on?” Is it because I’m getting a OneDrive?

Is it going to be a Google Drive? Is it just a Word Doc that’s going to have outlines for what happened that day? It doesn’t matter what it is, everyone should have some sort of this is where we go to. We know that this should be true. We should know when the last update was. I think that has to exist. If we don’t have that, then people get lost. Of course, people aren’t going to know what they’re going to do.

I think the second piece, and I think this is really what Relay’s been focusing on, is not everything that’s being shown us an update required to stop what they’re doing. I think that seems to be the ways we talked about Slack or email, just because I’m relaying a message or I’m sorry, just because I sending a message out saying, “Hey, here are 10 things that I learned that everyone wants to know about,” it doesn’t mean that everyone should stop what they’re doing, stop their phone calls, stop their emails and read it through.

What we’ve learned is that this type of behavior causes people to miss things, they’re going to forget things, they are just going to passively put an emoji, be like, “Oh, cool, thank you.”

I think as someone on the operations side, we need to make sure people are reading this and understanding it. We need to make sure that they are ready to apply it. Or more importantly, maybe to have questions or ideas or questions to really challenge us to make it better.

With Relay, what we learned is that you have to be a better communicator, meaning if you put a message out there, be explicit, what do you want them to do. Are you saying, “Hey, it’s just good for you to know about? Is it more of saying, “Hey, question their crud out of it and make sure that there’s nothing here that seems a little off but not off loose.” Then also including priorities and deadlines. When do they need to take action? When do they need to know this? Is this something they should prioritize in the beginning of the day or later this week when they do other catch-ups?

The ability for us to give out instructions, I think, is important because you’re no longer telling people to be reactive to some more things that make you more reactive to the point you’re over active. It’s actually saying, “Hey, I want to give you full control about how you can be productive with your day.”

Justin: It’s interesting, because if we think about this from a Slack culture perspective, and I’m not a big Microsoft Teams guy. I assume it’s similar there, too. Shout out to our friends in Redmond.

Jason: I use it for one company. I’ll tell you. I went from Slack to Teams. It was the worst cultural merging experience ever. I was like, “What is this? How am I stuck with these things? How’s that possible?” I agree. Teams have a lot of work to do.

Justin: Shout out to Microsoft for copying innovation and rolling it into a 365. Anyway, that’s a separate podcast, but let’s take a Slack culture example. If the CEO goes into the general channel, and says, “Hey, I want to make sure everyone has their year-in-review completed by close of business Friday.” There’s a gravity to the CEO using the general channel that just will spin people up in a way that is not maybe necessary.

If you imagine if you think about someone and say mid-level individual contributors or something, they might have their manager, the director, the VP, the CMO, and the CEO, all doing some version of barking in a public channel that something needs to be done. The cumulative just context switching wasted time that occurs from that kind of thing is too much. You get to the point where even a certain segment happens to me where you’re not necessarily certain you got the message.

Maybe you subconsciously saw it in a stream of a bunch of other stuff and it just gets lost. Knowledge sharing, knowledge management as a discipline, this is like a classic digitization problem, because I always think about back in the day, the classic image of the person who’s fresh out of college, it’s their first job, and they’re pushing the cart full of papers through the cubicles, and handing Jill in finance her TPS report and Mark in sales, his TPS report.

That’s a much slower, much more human-scale way to disseminate information built that way. Email even isn’t built that way. This is where, especially for internal teams, good knowledge management, and automation practices, and the dissemination of that knowledge is incredibly valuable.

Jason: Absolutely. Especially because we’re so used to that in-person style, that I think we all have to realize in the last few years, we can’t rely on that anymore. We really shouldn’t rely on that, we really need to take risks and figure out how to do things better. I want to add that it’s a really fun study. I feel like people should always read the study, see what’s going on. Her name is Erica Dhawan. She did a study last year where she– A humongous questionnaire with 2,000-plus folks.

She discovered that poor digital communication costs on average the office worker about four hours per week. That’s part of what? Four hours per week per person and about 70% have experienced some form of poor communication at least monthly. Come on, monthly sounds pretty light, right? It’s actually more often because people are always seeking out key information or thoughts on what’s going on. Then the last piece was that over one third of employees were dissatisfied with how the managers communicate.

I think that’s the biggest part because you’re right, the middle folks, we’re the ones who are really trying to make sure that people know what’s going on. If our tactics aren’t effective, I don’t think it’s because we’re bad communicators. Actually, I just think that we just don’t know. That’s why for us, the ability for us to take market campaign strategies of figuring out who’s opening and engaging with their content, right. Internally,  it’s so important. I think the strategy doesn’t have to go for now from “If I blast enough times, I should see it,” it should really be, “Who’s reading this and who isn’t?”

For the folks who aren’t reading it, why? Am I not giving them enough time? Are they just not seeing it? Is there something that we can improve from? That’s actually how you gain efficiency. That’s how you should become a better communicator because you’re figuring out who needs that extra help, and really helping them get there.

Justin: That’s exactly right. You just gum up the gears with things like poor communication, poor knowledge sharing, et cetera, et cetera. One thing I’m curious to ask you about, and we see this to a certain degree. You may see it to a different degree, but there’s always a bit of hesitation when automation is brought into the knowledge worker, some would say white-collar, but the knowledge worker workforce in that what started with Henry Ford putting horse shoemakers out of business, and then robots in the Amazon warehouse maybe putting people out of work, autonomous driving trucks, truckers.

I have things like RPA, and workflow automation tools, and maybe being a threat to Larry in accounting. Sorry, Jill in accounting that we mentioned earlier. There’s sometimes a trepidation when automation is brought into the workforce. What’s your experience been in the hyper-growth and scale that you’ve experienced in the past and some of the customers you’re dealing with Relay when you bring in tools to automate or ensure the dissemination of knowledge or whatever it is?

What are some of the common fears that you’ve seen in ways leaders can abate those fears when they bring these technologies in?

Jason: It’s funny. I always love hearing some of these  responses to that question, which is how do we deal with that fear? What’s going on? People are always like, “Yes.” People just get scared about losing jobs.” We’re literally talking about someone who helped create ridesharing, and then finally went to self-driving rideshare. The biggest thing I actually had a conundrum of was like, “Crap. How do I talk about that?” Should I be like a horrible human being because I’m like, here I am trying to get drivers off the road.

I realized I was like no. Actually, I think I know from my interactions working with drivers, working with the contract workforce, there’s a lot of great skills and challenges that they have to learn and see. I’d rather get people out of the cars and actually help them support the vehicle. There’s a lot of things that happen virtually, on-site. I want to bring them in because we need a workforce there to make sure we can actually have that feature.

That’s the same I think about in terms of support operations internally, which is it is totally okay to be risk-averse. I think when it comes to business, especially support, we’re that last offense. We don’t want to take risks, we don’t want to get a chance because we have a recipe, we don’t want to be innovative. I don’t think we have to think about reinventing the wheel. There are lots of great wheels out there, especially with automation.

I think the biggest piece here is how do you want to uplevel your workforce? How do you want to uplevel your team? Spending resources to make people you know, listen up, you can totally do that, but wouldn’t it be better to figure out hey, how do we help them with these technical issues there? Maybe they’re actually having accessibility challenges. Why don’t we solve that because that’s going to be really fulfilling for both the agents, but also the customers who actually– that’s their bigger challenge.

Justin: It’s similar but different to something I’ve said to people that have worked for me over the years a bunch. We’re just sitting down having a one-on-one or mid-year review cycle, or whatever it is, “Justin, what can I do to move forward?” I say, “One of the best things you could do is try to optimize or automate yourself out of the job you’re currently in.” I remember early on in my career managing– this back when Yahoo had their own paid search program that eventually, they sold to Microsoft.

Now, I don’t know if Yahoo– I haven’t been on Yahoo in forever. I don’t even know what they do anymore. Another story. I remember going through row by row in an Excel sheet, and calculating what the bid should be. I was like, “Wait a minute. Formula, drag it down.” I’m like, “I might have missed a few edges there, but I just did 1,000 rows in 35 seconds.” It was just an eye-opening experience for me that this isn’t bad.

This is actually good because now this is like a success that I can own and leverage and just from a personal growth perspective. That exists in the one-to-one role, but then also the one-to-many situations too. You’re right. As long as you bring it back to the upskilling growth, like we’re here to help you be better, you get past a lot of that stuff. Jason, this has been an incredible conversation and I could talk to you all day about this, but eventually, I do have to land the plane..

To get to the place where I always end these interviews, when you think about the future of support automation, whether that’s on the employee side or the customer side, what excites you

the most?

Jason: I think we’re great about going for questions and answers. I’m really excited about the future. I feel like we’re slowly getting there in relationship building. If I reach out to you about something, the same thing five times in a row, I want you to tell me, “Oh man, this is the fifth time you’re asking,” I really want to make sure I can figure out what’s happening. Let me make sure that you understand that I’m not going to give you the same answer, the same macro, or I’ve had to put in there. It’s not the nesting of that white glove, I know who you are. We know what our interactions have been, and we want to make sure it still feels great, and that we’re able to evolve from there. I’m very excited for that future just cause I feel like that’s what we need to really make sure that we’re getting that fuzzy business that we’re so used to supporting in scale.

Justin: Love it. All right. We’re going to end with the famous Support Automation Show quickfire around. Famous is a relative term. First thing that comes to your head, as I plow through these. What’s the book you most often recommend to people?

Jason: Okay. I know that you actually keep a list and you always add things on there and I apologize because it’s not going to be a standard response but if you haven’t read Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes.

Justin: Year of yes? Okay.

Jason: Year of Yes.

Justin: I’ve not heard this one. The Year of Yes.

Jason: I think the biggest takeaway here is that she was called out for the fact that she would just say no to everybody. I think as support leaders, at least for myself, I realized that I was in a place where I kept saying yes to my cross-functional partners that that equilibrium was creative for me to say then no to everything else. No, I can’t go out. No, I can be a priority because I have these other things at work that I agreed to do.

For her story, it was really about how to take those risks to be comfortable saying yes to what’s important to you, which includes saying yes to say, “No, this is a bad idea. We’re not right to execute this. What can we do better? What can we do to be better prepared?” It really helped me shape as a leader how to be comfortable with that.

Justin: Love it. That’s a new one. The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes.

[laughs]

Jason: It is. I’ll gladly Venmo you, if you’re just like, “Jason, what did you make me read?” I will gladly pay you back for it, but I really do recommend it.

Justin: No, I add every book that people mention onto my Amazon Kindle list, and eventually, I get through them. In terms of managing your time and your productivity and being in that you’re in the business of helping people manage their time and productivity with your work at Relay, when you think about all the different productivity tips or hacks, to use a tired term, or practices that you’ve heard that you’ve folded into your day-to-day workflows, what’s one that stuck with you?

Jason: Here is a completely free tip, which is to make an agenda. I think every meeting that you go into and you’re actually an active participant, meaning that you’re engaging, you’re battling it out, make sure that there is a public agenda that all participants see so they can go ahead and pre-prepare questions, their thoughts, including your own action, your own agenda, and then make sure you have a public-facing action list because not only are you putting yourself accountable where you’re like, “I have everyone here witnessing what I’m going to do by when,” but you also can hold others accountable too.

I feel with productivity, at least for myself, it’s about removing those roadblocks and just making sure that I have accountability for myself and others and just keeping things moving so then nothing gets forgotten. There’s nothing that surprises or everything is there and you have.

Justin: This is one of my favorite topics, is the art of the calendar invite and a former guest on the show, Kristi Faltorusso, just posted something on LinkedIn that I just chuckled ear to ear. As I saw it, she was like, “I delete every meeting that doesn’t have an agenda in the meeting invite.” I was like, “Yes, you should,” and it got me thinking. I got really bored one evening. My kids were in bed, and my wife fell asleep on the couch. I was like, “All right, instead of playing Call of Duty or whatever tonight, I’m going to mess around in Notion.”

I built myself a little Zapier hook to basically, whenever a meeting is added on my calendar, it creates a note and notion with who’s on it, the title, the agenda, description, et cetera, and then when I go into a meeting, I can just click in my notion workbook and boom, I have a meeting notes thing and I have gotten to the point where I get physically bummed out when I open a note to a meeting and there’s no agenda, there’s no, “Here’s what we want when we leave this meeting.”

I’m like, “We’ve got seven people on this. You realize if we work this out to the hourly cost of this meeting, how much money we’re spending, and then the ultimate example of this is, imagine you’re in Cupertino and you want to talk to Tim Cook about something. Apple’s a $3 trillion company. They’ve done more revenue in the time’s taking me to ask this question than the capacity is going to do this here and if you want to get an hour of his time, that better be an awesome hour of his time, right?

The outcome of that hour of his time needs to literally be multi millions of dollars to be of value. Not all of us book meetings with Tim Cook and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos but we book meetings with each other and Tim Cook’s just another person like you and I. He’s got a day that he has to manage just like you. I’m so glad you brought this up because especially in the forced to remote culture that we’ve all gone through– we’re not getting that toothpaste back in the tube.

Distributed work is here to stay. I’m not saying that’s not the case, but we were all forced into it and haven’t really thought through things. I think one of the knee-jerk reactions to this is just, “Book a meeting,” and it’s so easy to add people to meetings and not really think through the value of the meeting. This is supposed to be you asking me, asking you questions, and getting quick answers and I turned it into a soapbox but this is a huge topic.

Jason: Really important. I think this is so important because I think on the support operations side, I think we’re so used to being forced to be reactive and something that I learned within my background is I just know better. You can’t tell me we’re going to go into a new market launch and we’re going to leave it. No, you’re going to tell me your staff capacity. You’re going to tell me what’s your schedule. You’re going to tell me all these questions because at the end of the day, in order for me to prepare my team for everything, I expect everything and if you tell me that you can’t, then why are we wasting my– because for me to do my magic, I need you to do your magic, which means come prepared.

Justin: Exactly. If you could recommend one website, blog, slack, community, LinkedIn group, Facebook group, whatever it is, for people who are in this sort of space, what would it be?

Jason: I think for all support, it feels so isolating sometimes. We can’t talk about our challenges because we’re bound by NDA but I think there are a lot of things that we face. I think it’s not easy for us to be vulnerable because again, that last offense was supposed to that last person to really hold everything. What I’ve learned is hearing stories about other support leaders. There’s actually a podcast series by Charlotte Ward. It’s called Customer Support Leaders and it’s like 200+ folks that she’s interviewed and very casual conversations to kind go–

[crosstalk]

Justin: I have some catching up to do.

Jason: Yes, it’s a long series. It’s a great series but I really recommend it because I think at the end of the day, it’s hard for us to compare ourselves to these grand leaders within our space because who knows if we’re going to get there or not. Sometimes you can’t relate to them, but when you hear 10, 20, 50 voices, all having similar stories, challenges, backgrounds, it feels great to know that you’re not by yourself, and then more importantly, figuring out like what’s their array of kind of seeing something different and using that as a source of inspiration.

Justin: Yes. What was the name of that podcast again?

Jason: It’s called Customer Support Leaders and it’s facilitated by Charlotte Ward.

Justin: Yes. Pretty sure that’s what you said, but I wanted to double-check. Yes, that is a good one. Okay. Last question, and you can take this any way you want. It could be business, life, support, entrepreneurship, just you answer this however you want. If you could take one person out for either coffee or a cocktail, depending on the time of day, who would it be and why?

Jason: Actually, I know I reflected on this for a while because I know this is one of the standard questions that come up and I think the best person that comes to mind is actually the great and late Tony Hsieh from Zappos. There are so many levels here. I think representation matters. I think seeing another Asian-American founder, for me, it’s not that common. Actually, It’s pretty rare, especially those who are successful who are about to stay as CEOs.

I think he was actually the first person that my friends actually recommended when I first started doing support for Lyft. It was trying to understand this new philosophy of how you deliver happiness and what it means. I bought shoes at Ross. I didn’t really have a lot of money to buy these things. I was like, “What is Zappos?” I had no idea what was going on, but reading through his story and philosophy, talking about how do we really build engagement, how do you support your teams, how do you make customer service an actual pillar.

I actually had an opportunity to go to Zappos a few years ago. I thought they were just going to give me the kool-aid. l I was like, “There’s no way this is real,” and then really going to the conversations, it’s totally real. It’s ridiculous. Their average tenure for support agents is five years. I know! I was like can you give me a number of those five years plus. For me, when I hear that, when I see that and see what’s going on, it’s remarkable because I think there are not enough leaders who really value customer support down to that core and I think he really set that tone for that.

Now, with all those there, I would love just to understand how he thought about it? Why was he so persistent about it and what made him want to commute branching away from Zappos to developing downtown Las Vegas? Do you really want to transform these communities and spaces? If anything, all I would want to ask is what else would you– I think we lost some, unfortunately, it just got away, just figuring out what would you want to accomplish when you’re 50 or 70 or Betty White, 99, right? What would you have done because it’s just learned what you’re hoping to do.

Justin: Yes. He’s a fascinating one because I think about this a lot. People, and this has come up in the show a bunch actually, people mention Amazon like this paragon of customer service and support at scale, which is true. That came from Zappos, right? There’s a part of me that feels when Amazon bought Zappos, that’s what they wanted. Jeff Bezos could have sold shoes, but the culture, operations, the way that Tony thought through all those problems, it’s clear that has worked its way into the larger Amazon ecosystem in a lot of ways. That’s a classic example of just a blue flame thinker who viewed the world differently and created something really cool. There famously, though, after your two-week onboarding, or whatever, you’re offered money to either stay or go or whatever. That’s the kind of thing we first hear, like, “Huh.” Then 30 minutes later you’re doing something else and it clicks in your brain what kind of buy-in and culture that was actually created by implementing something like that.

Yes, that’s a good one. That’s a good one. He hasn’t been brought up on the show yet. I’m glad you did because that’s definitely a hole that the world is still trying to fill. You’re right, representation does matter, and he is a great example of that as well.

Jason: One last thing, which is also he was okay to take risks in terms of how do we actually spend more within the customer engagement side of things. How do we take that risk and actually, saying, “Hey, do you want to be here?” These are all the right risks that we want to see leaders, especially automation, because again, it takes out vulnerability, saying, “Hey, I recognize that they can do better and I want to try this.” I think that is so critical and, actually, we can see great things from it as long as you’re open to it.

Justin: Love it. Jason Yun, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I can’t thank you enough for your time. If people want to know more about you, more about Relay, where can they go to find you and Relay?

Jason: You can reach out to us at www.teamrelay.co. We don’t have the m yet, but go ahead and look there. Otherwise, feel free to look for me on LinkedIn. Always happy to chat. I think the biggest part is also, as I mentioned, with support operations can feel really lonely or isolating. If there’s any questions, people want feedback, they want to talk about strategy, please reach out to me. Always happy to have a conversation to help.

Justin: Love it, Jason. Thank you so much for your time and thanks for coming on the Support Automation Show.

Jason: Of course. Thank you so much, Justin. Appreciate it.Justin: 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.

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