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SARDisms 05 - Chase Clemons


Chase Clemons has been a Support Pro at Basecamp for the past 14 years and leads their customer support team. He’s always held some form of customer service role, but at Basecamp, has found the perfect place to share his support expertise with the wider world.

Episode summary

Join us in hearing Chase’s personal thoughts on how great customer service should shape an organisation internally and the positive impact it will have on the way you support your own clients.
Great customer service is at the forefront of everything we do at SARD and we've taken much of our inspiration from Basecamp's ethos.


Mariah [00:00:02]
Welcome to SARDJV's podcast, SARDisms, I'm Mariah Young, and today I'm joined by Kevin Monk, managing director of SARD. We both love great technology coupled with great customer service. The main aim of SARD is to help improve the NHS, England's public health service. Healthcare and IT are ever changing and we are interested in the ways that we could help it evolve with the growing population.

Mariah [00:00:22]
In this episode, we're chatting with Chase Clemons, who is a support pro at Basecamp, the project management programme that we actually use here at SARD JV. Chase has been in customer support for many moons and knows the ins and outs to making his customers happy. We've all experienced not so great customer service and know how it feels when things aren't resolved aptly. Chase is trying to tackle those unfortunate experiences and show the world it doesn't have to be that way. Welcome, Chase.

Mariah [00:00:43]
I think a good place to start is to learn a little bit more about you, Chase, and your experiences and how you've come to where you are today.

Chase [00:00:51]
Yeah, thanks. So started with Basecamp back in 2011, so been there almost a decade now, right. Before that, I'll tell you, all the way back in college, my end goal was I wanted to be a high school social studies teacher.

Mariah [00:01:05]

Chase [00:01:05]
Right. So like my college degree is in nothing customer-related, it's political science, history and education. I mean, I guess you could say kids are customers and parents like, you could run that rabbit hole if you wanted to. But when I graduated, we, in the US, were going into a pretty deep recession at that point. So there wasn't a lot of companies hiring, a lot of school systems hiring.

Chase [00:01:27]
So it was literally like, where can I get a job? Because I just got married, my wife was still in college at the time, and I was like, if nothing else, I need health insurance. Right?

Mariah [00:01:37]

Chase [00:01:38]
So I fell back on the restaurant world. My, my parents had owned restaurants when I was growing up, it was a world I was familiar with, so I got hired on at a restaurant. I worked there for a couple of years out of college, until I saw this, just passing, blog post over at Basecamp for a customer support rep. And for me it was like, 'well, this is Basecamp, they're probably going to get thousands of applications. There's no way I'm going to get this job but, why not, like, let's give it a shot! Let's see what happens, you know'?

Mariah [00:02:12]
Great, love that!

Chase [00:02:12]
So, I sent in my application and Jason called me a couple of days later as I was leaving the restaurant on the way home, and we had a good conversation, and then long story short, I got hired there. This was 2011. So like I said, I've been there for a decade now. And, man, support then looks a lot different than it does now. It's been a really fun kind of journey as not only I got better at supporting our customers, but our team did and even our company did, which is really cool.

Kevin [00:02:42]
How did it change?

Chase [00:02:43]
I think the biggest part was, so when, we'll take training for instance, right, onboarding a new support person can be really intimidating, really challenging. When I got hired, it was this kind of, we're going to throw you in the deep end and see what happens. Which I loved, right, because I was, I was answering customer emails the first day, when I started. Which was really cool. So you got to see this, like, immediate impact. Looking back on that, there was a lot of, like just, I'll put it this way, it was not a calm way to onboard somebody. A subtle reference there to our latest, you know, book, on how, how ‘It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work’.

Chase [00:03:21]
So it wasn't a calm onboarding experience. So since then, we've got much better at that. We've kind of set up more of a structured onboarding where it's like, 'no, we're going to, like, we're going to talk about the history of the company today. We're going to talk about how Basecamp works on this day. We're going to talk about how our billing system works on this day. And we're going to, like, lead you through this more structured onboarding to get you up to speed'. That kind of thing.

Chase [00:03:45]
So we've changed a little bit there. Also, our, kind of, view on supporting customers has changed a little. Yet you go back to 2011, you know, outside of, like, some wild, crazy times around the launches of Basecamp Two and Basecamp Three. We were very much a, 'we want to get you, the customer, a reply as quick as humanly possible'. So everything that we that was basically the mindset and everything was built out from that. So we went to twenty four seven support because we wanted to cut down on those reply time. We hired out the team and did so across the world because we wanted to cut down those the supply times and we got damn fast.

Chase [00:04:25]
We, I mean we were, you know, you send us an email and you're going to have a reply in a minute, maybe two minutes. And we made a big deal out of that. It was kind of like Amazon's... The analogy we used was Amazon's two-day shipping. Right? Like everyone loved that. You cannot get something too fast. It turns out you can! Maybe not, like, shipping from, you know, wherever you're ordering from, but what we found was, even though our answers might have been technically correct, when you get them in a less than a minute, it feels off. It feels weird. It feels like it's a robotic reply.

Mariah [00:05:01]
Exactly yeah.

Chase [00:05:02]
It doesn't feel like a human reply. Even if it does feel like a human reply, because, you know, we pepper it with emojis and fun things like all of that, right. Even if it does feel human, it feels like that other person didn't take the time to read what you really needed, right?

Kevin [00:05:17]

Chase [00:05:17]
We had spent years to get to that point of, you're going to get a reply less than a minute or two. Right. And once we realised that, we started having to go back and go, 'all right, is it really that bad if a customer has to wait like an hour'? No, not really. You know, 30 minutes. No, not really. So, giving ourselves that kind of, like, let's fall back on the time focus and really dive in more on the, like, just the overall great experience you can have. That was a big shift for us too.

Kevin [00:05:46]
The, the quick response time is a little bit antithetical to the, it doesn't have to be crazy at work work, and that concept of calm as well.

Chase [00:05:54]
Yeah, it can at times. When you're, when you're on the golden path and everything's working right, you know, like when everyone on the team is in, when everyone's focussed on what they should be doing, when nothing breaks, when nothing's going weird, when you're not living in a pandemic.. You know, that you can do quick replies and it still feel calm. But when anything gets out just a little bit, it's that snowball effect. And then all of a sudden it's, you're trying to chase inbox zero when one, you really don't need to, and two, it's just causing more stress to try to chase it. So, yeah, why? Like, why do that?

Kevin [00:06:33]
We had a strange dilemma on our eRostering system, so we've got a constraint solver that solves it, and you see the AI working out where to put doctors in shifts. We updated the engine running that constraint solver and it increased it by about one hundred fold, but left us with this weird dilemma that it was so fast, you couldn't see the AI working out where to place the doctors.

Kevin [00:06:55]
And the same thing, almost like the uncanny valet of people were like, 'it's not real. It's not. It's not thinking. It can't be thinking. It was too quick'. And so, it gave us this weird dilemma whether to slow it down so that people could see that it was thinking about how to roster the doctors rather than just come up with an instant reply.

Chase [00:07:18]
Yeah, sometimes a little delay is a good thing.

Kevin [00:07:20]
Yeah. And we also, we've got a system and one of the big barriers we have is convincing our users isn't a robot.

Chase [00:07:29]

Mariah [00:07:30]

Kevin [00:07:30]
Because it's such an expectation for all users, all chat systems, to be some sort of AI assisted chat bot thing and have this workflow and they're, 'are you real'? I'm like.. Yeah. I'm real. I'm a real human.

Chase [00:07:46]
It went from this weird, like, you know, chat, I don't know, five, six years ago was kind of, I won't say like bleeding edge tech or anything like that, but you were seeing it appear in more places. On Web apps, Basecamp, and it was kind of more loose, it was more informal. Like there was never a question about 'is this a bot on the other side'? And something shifted in the last couple of years where it is very much like it's almost like just a chat version of a phone tree now, you know. You got to say the right words in the right way, and then somehow that bot on the other side is going to get you into the place where you need to be. And it's just, it's this weird... Like once you've had that experience, anywhere, with a chat, it's hard not to bring that mentality into other places as well.

Kevin [00:08:34]
Yeah. We really rally against and struggle with convincing people that it's not, that's not the case. It's so hard. We put in our chat system about ten years ago, well, pretty much from day one when we switched the system on, partly because I had this feeling that I shouldn't open the doors to our business and not be there to greet people. It felt like a politeness thing. You know, the, the Walmart greeter sort of, you know, if someone comes in, there's no one to look after you. And we put it in there.

Kevin [00:09:08]
And, yeah, it's been one of the best things that we ever did for our customer service. It's been fantastic for us. I'm a bit surprised more, more companies don't do it. And I don't want to sound like I'm challenging you guys... But why isn't there chat on Basecamp?

Chase [00:09:27]
Yeah, so the fun story is, there is when we want there to be. And this is about that calm experience again, right. So with emails, doesn't matter how many are coming in, like you can't just shut off the spigot for them. Right. So that, that kind of forces you into our first primary focus needs to be emails. Has to be, right? With chat, you can toggle that on and off. And that's, so we use a great customer support tool called Help Scout and that's what they allow us to do.

Chase [00:09:55]
It's when we're not staffed to the point where we can do chat or we're running behind on helping other customers, so we can't really do chat well, we just toggle that chat off and you're good to go.

Kevin [00:10:08]

Chase [00:10:08]
A year ago it was, you would see chat about really US working hours was pretty much all the time, because we were staffed right, the email control was under control like everything was fine. You would get that chat experience right away. Now, with the launch of Hey and all the whirlwind that that has brought into the company, we're just not at a point where we can offer chat as a great quick option for us. So that's literally if you went to Basecamp today, it's toggled off, you see our form ‘send us an email’ and we're going to get back to you within an hour.

Chase [00:10:42]
Yeah, you know, down the road, once things settle out from Hey and things kind of get back to normal across the board, yeah, when we can, we're gonna offer that chat. It all comes back to like what, what, what things can you control? Right? And what levers do you have where you can pull and say, 'look, we're going to make this working environment as calm as possible first for our support team', because it's, it's, it's kind of like the safety videos with aeroplanes, right, like put your oxygen mask on first. Like, take care of yourself first. Take care of your team first, and then build out from there.

Chase [00:11:15]
Because if you've got chat on but that's running your team ragged, like, congratulations, you're not going to have a great support experience at that point. But just having an on off lever that we can pull with chat, that lets us kind of bail out of that one channel and focus elsewhere we need to, it while at the same time taking care of our team. Way back in the day before we even did chat, we had the same option for phones. You could, if it was toggled on, you could go to base camp support page and you would see like, hey, do you want to do an email or do you want to put your name in for a phone call-back?

Chase [00:11:47]
So no like weird phone trees, no sitting on hold or anything like that. It was you put your name in for a phone call-back and then we call you back as quick as we could and it was usually five to ten minutes, that kind of thing. But just like with chat, if you're not on that golden path where everything's working normally, it can be really tough to live up to that promise. We're going to call you back real quick. So you toggle it off, you focus on emails while you can, and then when you get to the place where you offer that option with phones, again, you do. It's, it's all about you being in control of the support experience, to make sure that your customers aren't left with a bad experience.

Mariah [00:12:22]
How do you manage the expectations from your customers, though? If one day they came on and there was a chat and then the next day there wasn't? Is that an issue?

Chase [00:12:30]
Yeah. It's really just not an issue.

Mariah [00:12:32]
That's good.

Chase [00:12:33]
Most people don't even notice, you know, even where we were running chat, you know, more frequently than we were, it's no big deal because I think at the end of the day, customers just want to get their questions answered. And if you pop up and say, like, all right, here's the box, we're going to get your question answered, you've got two options. Which one do you want to do? Like that's a secondary decision for them. The first, is 'I need to get the question answered', and then they go, 'alright, well, I'm here, chat's here, like, let's do that'. And they pick. If you take away that chat option, the first box is still there. They still need to get the question answered. So most folks just don't even, like, it, it's not even really a thing.

Chase [00:13:11]
Usually when I get emails from people asking like, hey, wasn't there a chat box the other day? You dig in a little bit and they're like running customer support somewhere else too and you're like, oh...

Mariah [00:13:20]
You're on it.

Kevin [00:13:21]
Yeah, that's it. Well you become a customer support nerd. We always say that when you work at SARD you, basically it ruins customer support for you pretty much everywhere else you go.

Chase [00:13:33]
And that's the same way like across the board, because I used to work in restaurants, I notice all sorts of little things and I go out now. It took a long time before my wife would be like, it's OK. Like, don't worry. Just enjoy the experience. And I'm sitting here going, 'but but but..'.

Mariah [00:13:47]
Yeah, I'm the same way. I was a server for years and years and years and oh my goodness. Yeah. You just can't enjoy it the same way. But you're also really patient as well. Like you're, 'oh they must be having an off night or..' You have excuses for them as well because you understand how hard it is.

Chase [00:14:03]
Yeah. That empathy is really there, which is, you know, when you see other support apps or companies go down, you're like, 'oh, I feel ya'. Like anytime on the rare occasion that we see Help Scout go down, you know, we're all real nice about just dropping an email, being like, 'hey, it's OK. Like you've got this. Don't worry'. I forget which company it was, but they were having some pretty rough downtime last year and I think we ended up sending them like some doughnuts or something like that just to be like, 'look, it's like, we, we get it. We know what you, what you're going through because we've been there'.

Kevin [00:14:36]
You know that there's some good people trying to get that thing back on..

Mariah [00:14:40]

Kevin [00:14:41]
Back online. We were talking about the Test and Trace app that's been built in the UK for coronavirus, and there's so much mud-flinging because it's such a political issue, especially here where you've got a national NHS service, and it's been put front and centre and there's all, you know, one side, throwing muck this way and the other, and it's crap and it should use the Google API and it should use the Apple API and oh we'll build something in the house. And it's like just people fighting. Then you just know that this is people fighting and underneath there's these UX engineers and project managers and, and software developers all working really hard to just create something good.

Kevin [00:15:29]
And they got it released the other day and I was just like, you know, thumbs up to them because they had this whole battle going on over their head and I bet you they were good, good people behind that, just trying to create something that worked nicely. No it's pretty good, well done guys, well done the NHS Test and Trace.

Mariah [00:15:49]
Basecamp are essentially our customer service role models at SARD. And so who are your role models? Who do you guys think are doing great customer service and why?

Chase [00:15:58]
So when I'm sitting here trying to figure out a problem and it's like, I, I need to look at how another company has done it, a couple of ones, in the kind of like SAS App environment, Help Scout is just fantastic. This is the third time I've talked about them, I'm not getting paid too or anything like that, they literally are just one of the best, not only best products out there, for doing customer service and doing it right, the company itself is just great Nick, and all of them over there are fantastic. You know, it's one of the few places where they hired one of our support team members. And I was like, 'you know, I'm OK with that. I'm not going to blackball you for that. Totally understandable!'

Chase [00:16:41]
So they are just whip smart. I love working with them. And the way they think about support. Outside of that, you know, I start looking in unconventional places because if I look at other companies that are doing things the Basecamp way, it's OK, that's cool, you know, glad you're doing it. But it's not, like, good ideas are found in places of friction. Right. So you're looking for other companies that have run into the problem that you're dealing with and maybe they're not exactly like you, but you can take something from them. It's like one of the other ones I always love is there's a, it's kind of a bank, it's kind of a credit union thing here in the US called USAA. It's a fantastic company. It's literally one of the few places that I enjoy putting my money out, which is just weird.

Mariah [00:17:30]
That's weird. So weird.

Chase [00:17:31]
Yeah. You don't think about banks being like, 'oh, I had a great experience with them'. The thing with USAA is that it's such a wide variety of cases that they have to cover because it has a world of banking. They do everything from checking and savings accounts to home insurance to car insurance, like they run the gambit.

Chase [00:17:47]
When we were looking at ways of dealing with ownership with Hey and with Basecamp, who determines ownership transitions of financial accounts, is a really good place to look, because the way that they handle those, you've got so many big security concerns around it, and not- that plus monetary concerns- like you can pull some good ideas from how they handle it. So literally, one day I just called up USAA and was like, hey, I just like, in theory, if if something happens to me, right, like, how do you handle that process next for whoever is trying to figure out what to do with my accounts? And they were really great about walking through, like this is how you would handle it, you know, this is..

Kevin [00:18:29]
They must have been so suspicious.

Mariah [00:18:31]
What's gonna happen-.

Kevin [00:18:33]
What's going on here? What's going to happen to you?

Chase [00:18:38]
But it was really cool to see the kind of plan that they have in place for dealing with stuff like that. And we were able to bring some of those good ideas back to Basecamp ownership transfers, and Hey account transfers and that kind of thing. So I think, again, like USAA is a really great example of doing that support experience right. Like, it's not an easy task moving your money from one bank to another and setting all that up, but it's easier than most people think. So having that edge and great support is one thing that keeps me with them. And I mean, hell, if I pay a couple of extra dollars a month on insurance for my car, like, I don't care, I'm getting my money's worth out of their support.

Mariah [00:19:15]
We had that conversation earlier, didn't we Kevin?

Kevin [00:19:18]
We did. Yeah. I was looking at the best customer service and the worst. We found the anti-christ of customer service, which is Ryanair.

Chase [00:19:28]

Kevin [00:19:29]
Being that side of the pond, I don't know, do you know about Ryanair?

Chase [00:19:33]
So we don't get to use them a lot, but I have heard horror stories. Like absolute horror stories.. Here in the US we have a couple of other, like, cheap budget airlines like that where it's, you know, we're going to charge you one hundred and fifty bucks for checking your baggage. And yeah, I don't know if they're quite as bad as Ryanair, like at this point, they're like a new plan where they're like, you know what, we're not going to have seats on our planes, we're going to like, strap you in standing up, I'd be like, yeah, I could see you trying to do that!

Mariah [00:20:00]
I see that yeah.

Kevin [00:20:01]
Yeah, we were literally talking about this in fact we were pulling up quotes from Michael O'Leary it's, it's almost like Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. You know, it's so bad. It's kind of funny. You know what he said on passengers who forget to print their boarding passes, 'we think they should pay 60 euros for being so stupid'. And was the... 'Germans will crawl naked over broken glass to get lower fares'.

Mariah [00:20:27]
That's terrible.

Chase [00:20:31]
That's that's one theory, right? Like running your company with service, with customer service and support as a, like, expense account kind of thing, that's one way you can go about it, you know. But it's also one of those things that your customers are going to think about. So the next time you've gotta book a flight like you're not going with Ryanair, you don't want to deal with that. So it's, it's a, it's an ambitious bet. Like maybe they can make it work. I wouldn't want to be in that situation.

Kevin [00:20:58]
I'm not sure the bad customer service is bad business, and I'm not sure that good customer service is good business. Like it is possible that people doing bad things come out tops? The like, you know, people say crime doesn't pay. Well, I'm not sure. I think it does pay. That's not the reason you shouldn't do something, because it doesn't... Because it doesn't work. It may well work, you just shouldn't do it because you shouldn't do it.

Chase [00:21:29]
It's if you can get away with it.

Kevin [00:21:30]
Yeah. I still use Ryanair. I, I kind of like him as a bad... I always like people who are a bit bad in a way and like, you know, they come in almost comically villainous. But I'll still use them because they've got dirt cheap fares. And he said there's, there's a sort of honesty about Michael O'Leary. He's like, all they care about is cheap flights. That's all they care about. They don't care, they know, they know that they chucked your granny off of a flight. They know that they did the most horrendous things. But they also know that you don't care when you go and buy that ticket. That's why they carry on behaving like that. And in some industries that really matters. Like you wouldn't expect to see really bad service in a restaurant or a hotel or something where, where the service is the product.

Kevin [00:22:22]
But in something that's very transactional, certainly over here, utilities, cable companies, banks, you know, gas, electric, phone, cable, whatever it is, in those industries, I kind of feel like maybe it doesn't matter if they give you bad, bad service. And so those companies who are doing it right, are doing it, doing good customer service, aren't doing it because they think it's a good business model, they're doing it just because they think it's the right thing.

Kevin [00:22:55]
And I'm a big fan boy of DHH and Jason Fried, but they clearly run an ethical show and I get the impression that they wouldn't have employed you. And I get the impression from you that the ethics of business matters is, is that what pushes people into good customer service? And if, if crime does pay, if being bad isn't a bad business model, what can we do to improve, improve that?

Chase [00:23:26]
I think comes back to again, what can you get away with? Right. If you're the only airline in the game, then doesn't matter what anybody thinks, if I need to get from point A to point B and you're my only option, they had be like, shut up, take my money and, like, let's go, right. So I live in southern Tennessee, it's a pretty rural area around here. You don't have a lot of options for Internet providers. You just don't. I've got two. One of them being a pretty big conglomeration and one of them being my local utility service. That's it. Over at my parents place, they have one. It's Comcast. It's a big conglomeration. You don't have any choice there. So when you don't have choice, you can get away with a lot of things, because people just, it's the monopoly effect, right?

Chase [00:24:09]
You're just locked in. It's just how it is. When you do have choice, things get different because then you, sometimes you can get away with things and sometimes you can't. Ryanair can get away with lots of things because at the end of the day, their customer base just wants cheap flights. That's it. They don't care about the other stuff. Here in the US, there was a similar company that got its start over in Texas, Southwest Airlines. Their whole thing, in the very beginning, was 'we want cheap rock-bottom flights and we want to keep things as simple as we can to get those cheap flights'. So one of their big business decisions was, we're not going to have a complex fleet of aircraft, we're only going to fly a Boeing 737, all of our pilots are going to be trained on that one model, that way if we need to move planes around, or if we need to move pilots around, or if we need to move flight attendants around, everybody is working on the same, the same plane. That's no problem, right?

Chase [00:25:05]
So that was one of the ways they were able to get just real cheap dirt service. And as that airline grew, and we saw airlines get consolidated here in the US, they then had to start competing on other things, too. It was no longer price because they're, they're at the bottom, but so is Delta and so is American Airlines, so is the rest of them. What else can we do when we can't get away with just price? Well, Southwest said, you know what, we're gonna do, you know, free baggage checks. That was really popular. And they were able to do that. Delta went different ways. Delta said, you know what, like we're going to sometimes offer free baggage Check-In, but we're going to pride ourself on having the absolute best service possible. And they both are doing really, really well today. So it's again, it's what can you get away with.

Chase [00:25:52]
With Basecamp, like, again, it's not like super easy for a company that has used us for a long time to move away. But it is pretty easy. It's not complex. It's, you know, a couple of days worth of work. It's not months and months. So if we provide a really crappy experience to one of our customers, they'll just get up and leave. Like we can't get away with that. There's just too many other project management apps out there, so, yeah, it all comes back to, like, what can you get away with? Like Ryanair can get away with a lot of things.

Chase [00:26:27]
Here in the US, like, I'd make the argument that they're equivalent airline, is it spirit airline or something like that, just is not doing well. We've seen those kind of like rock bottom airlines try it and it just doesn't work. So, yeah, what, what can you get away with? If you can get away with robbing the bank, then cool, easy way to make some money! But if you can't then... you know.

Kevin [00:26:53]
Yeah. Yeah I, I just feel like there are some industries where you can get away with it, all the time. It's just sort of endemic in that industry that people don't care about, about those things. And to me it's just good customer service. It's just politeness. Like I, we struggled to.. When we were trying to find someone to be a guest for this podcast episode to focus in on customer service, we sent out a thing to our friends and just said, 'give us an example of a time you've had good customer service'. And it was so hard to find anyone who said, 'yeah, I had great...', you know, this company, not, not individuals serving you, but this, this company is, is brilliant.

Kevin [00:27:41]
And, it's so sad to me that that would be the case. Because if you asked me when was the last time you had a really positive interaction with somebody, I could tell you it was half an hour ago when I was buying coffee, the guy in the coffee shop was just lovely. He was chatting to me about my dog, you know, it was just such a pleasurable, polite, friendly, positive experience in my life. It wasn't about money. It wasn't about anything else. It was just two people joined together on this planet and having a nice experience. And I want that with companies as well. And it just seems like it's just way too rare that they treat you well, or just seem to care enough about their customers in a polite enough way to do good business with you, whether, whether it's right or wrong, like in a business sense.

Chase [00:28:33]
It's how do you see that, how is your, how does your company, how does your leadership see customer service and support. Right. If they see it as a cost centre, then the goal there is going to be to minimise the amount of money that they spend on it. Right. So they want to make sure that there's not a single bug in the product anywhere because a bug has X amount of dollars when it comes to tying up a programmer or support engineer, whoever. Right. The goal there is to limit the interactions that customers actually have to have with any real human people on your side, which, look, if you're AT&T, if you're Comcast, if you're the big company, if you're Facebook right, like that, that's what you want. That's how you end up with massive help knowledgebase basis.

Chase [00:29:16]
That's how you end up with we need to block and head off any customer that's looking to talk to us. That's one way to do it. And when you're a massive company, like, OK, like, nobody's going to stop using Twitter just because they can't talk to somebody, right? When you're down on our scale, when you're Basecamp dealing with mom and pop businesses that are just getting growing and they're starting to hire, like, that's an entirely different setup because we can't afford to treat that experience as a cost centre. We have to treat it as a feature of the product. It has to get as much attention as us adding in the next widget, or gizmo, or whatever, to Basecamp itself. So it's a different mindset at that point. Like, we want you to talk to us. We want you to have conversations with us. That's why you go to the support page, like, that big support box to get your question answered as first and foremost, like we want you to hit there versus going over to a knowledge base. Right.

Chase [00:30:15]
And it's when you do it that way, you get to establish relationships and people start having good experiences with you. We've got customers that we talk to on a regular basis, just not only offering advice on how Basecamp works, but also how it ties into their business. And if their business is looking at like this specific situation, how they might want to think about it. And it just kind of breeds out from there. So it's just, it's just a different way of, kind of, where that focus is. That's why, you know, we're going to write books like Rework, and it doesn't have to be crazy at work. You're not going to see AT&T do that. But you go over and you talk about like Southwest Airlines again, like their CEOs have written books on the customer experience, great books. And it's because they look at it as part of what sets them apart from, from the others. Yeah. You're not going to see, I keep bashing on AT&T, sorry!

Mariah [00:31:09]
Everyone does though.

Chase [00:31:10]
Yeah. They're not going to do something like that. So...

Kevin [00:31:13]
Yeah. I just, I'd like to see one of those big utilities, in fact, you know, to give props to one that has done it well, there's a company called Bulb that do lots of, sort of, environmental electricity and gas, so environmentally minded, but they also got really good customer service. And we just switched to them from British Gas, which is like the big monster company with a reputation for terrible customer service that used to be the old nationalised industry here. And we switched them, they weren't the cheapest, but we'd heard such good feedback, and that was really refreshing because it wasn't like a mom and pop business, it was a big monster utility company with good customer service. Well done Bulb. I'd like to see more, more, more of those big companies with that sort of level of customer service.

Mariah [00:32:05]
You touched on it's a leadership thing, isn't it? It's all about, and I'm really curious to know how people who actually work at Ryanair, how they feel about their CEO, was saying these horrible things. Like, do they feel that way about working there? And that it's an internal communications issue and leadership is not about customer service and it just trickles down from there. And whereas the opposite is true as well.

Chase [00:32:27]
Yeah, it really is. It's one of those where, when you have big companies that, that big companies that treat that customer experience as a cost centre. Right. That's when you hire people that are going to follow the policy, follow it to a T, only do that, like you want, it sounds so bad, but Seth Godin had this, this analogy of it's a cog in the machine. Right? Like you can replace that cog at any given point. It's not a big deal. So people cycle in, they cycle out, and that's just the way that that business runs. When you come over to Basecamp, you know, Jason and David have a very clear idea of what a customer relationship should be like with us, which means when we go to hire people, we need to hire people that are capable of doing that. We're not, like, we don't have big policies in place. We don't have big rule books. We don't have big scripts.

Chase [00:33:14]
It's literally, when we hire you, we trust you to talk with our customers and to make the best decisions for them. You don't have to run that decision up a chain or anything like that. So a good example, when I was first hired, you know, we had some customers that were on, you know, kind of our bigger annual plans, three thousand dollars a year. When they cancel, they want a refund, a normal place, you'd have to, like, run that up the chain. Right? That's a big amount of money that's going back out. So, like, you want to know why they're doing it, can you persuade them not to do that? Can you keep their money somehow? Is there something in the terms of service or the refund policy, like, can we stop that money from leaving somehow?

Chase [00:33:57]
With Basecamp it was OK, cool, like you found something else that works better. Great. Here's your money back. No questions asked. We're here if you need us. There wasn't anybody else to check in with, it was, 'alright, they cancelled. I made the call to refund. We're good to go'. And when you, when you approach the relationship that way, you've got to hire really well, you've got to train really well, and you've got to have people that actually care and have that empathy with the other customer to the point where we want people who would be uncomfortable being a cog somewhere else. Right. That's just not who they are. They couldn't work in a system like that.

Mariah [00:34:33]
Right. That's it, it speaks volumes about the company. If you have, you instil that trust and that, I mean, as an employee, you just be like, 'oh, my gosh, they trust me'. Like, you feel part of it like that, which is great.

Chase [00:34:46]
It's just it's a different mindset. It really is. At the end of the day. And yeah, it brings all sorts of weird edge cases too, like when I tell people like that's kind of how we approach hiring and training and all the rest of it, it's well, don't you worry, like somebody is going to abuse that or do the wrong thing. Or, like when I tell folks when we go to, to buy things like for our home office or our travel or whatever else, like, we don't run that up the chain anywhere, we, we just have a company credit card and we just put it on there. Right? So like when you talk to people that, well, what if somebody goes out and buys like a four thousand dollar computer when they didn't really need one? OK, fine. Like we talked to them afterwards.

Mariah [00:35:26]
Exactly. Yeah.

Chase [00:35:27]
That's, there's no big, like, lengthy purchasing process in place or anything. It's just, if you see somebody make a decision that doesn't really vibe with us as a company, then you just talk to him and you keep going. You don't need to put like this big policy framework in place to prevent things like that. It's just, yeah, it's different.

Kevin [00:35:46]
We've got a very similar culture here and I'd love to take credit for it but I think it was mostly copy and paste from Jason and David... Seriously, like user manuals, old books, pretty strict about work life balance and yeah so that really resonates. And I'd like to pretend it was me, but it wasn't.

Chase [00:36:07]
Thanks, guys.

Mariah [00:36:08]
No really, thank you.

Chase [00:36:09]
It's also a lot of, you know, you recognising those great ideas and then making, making the intentional decision to put those in practice. Right? Because you can read a book all day long or you can read or whatever, or listen to a podcast or watch or whatever, you can get that idea from somewhere. But if you're not intentional about making sure that percolates down through the entire company, into the culture itself... OK, it's just not going to work. So you walk in, you know, if you don't really have the intention of saying we are going to be a calm company, that we're going to be, you know, we're going to guard our time and we're going to, you know, make sure that everyone isn't working crazy hours and all that.

Chase [00:36:53]
Like if you don't have the one, the authority to do to put that in place and two, the buy-in and the intention to do it, that doesn't matter. You're going to find somebody working Saturday morning just to get something shipped out the door. So, kudos to you all for actually like being, not only this is the idea that we want to put in place, but to just putting it in place. That's a lot of hard work.

Kevin [00:37:14]
Yeah. Oh, thanks. Yeah we do some things right! Actually our customer service ethos, I would say that that stemmed from the US more generally, and I kind of got a question about that... I went to Georgia, so my friend from the UK was marrying a southern belle, proper southern wedding, grits..

Mariah [00:37:38]
Shrimp and grits.

Kevin [00:37:39]
And we went, Yeah, oh, I loved it. It was really great fun and beautiful state as well. I didn't realise how green and lush and wonderful it was. But I was saying to Mariah that the British customer service culture, we are literally an Atlantic Ocean away from the states and when we went there, this was about 10 years ago, about the time that we were setting up, so and... I was just like, God they really have got it down. Like there is a US customer service culture that's really strong.

Kevin [00:38:21]
And when I was a kid, in the 90s in the UK, 1980's, 1990's, it was kind of like a running joke about how to OTT customer service was, like it was a joke. It was like, 'have a nice day man', we were like, 'these guys! what they, what are they talking about. Why are you telling people to have a nice day!' Was such a weird thing to do. And um, and I think we've, you know, an invention of the Internet and things that we probably assimilated a bit more. But, you know, Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers is not just a joke, I think you could have gone to a UK hotel somewhere, you know, a restaurant or hotel where you would expect good customer service and you would get a misanthrope who just generally doesn't like people and would poke you in the eyes and insult your nation, running that hotel.

Kevin [00:39:13]
And when we went to Georgia, my wife and I came back, so my wife runs a company with me, she one of the co-founders, and we, we came back and we were like, you know what? We should grab some of that real US customer service attitude and bring it back to Britain and, and try to change things here and put it in place. And actually, I had a sort of question for Mariah, which is because you've had a foot in both worlds, are you.. Do you notice the difference?

Mariah [00:39:45]
Yes. When I, because I moved over here ten years ago, when I first came, I remember being like, 'why is everyone so mean'? It was really, really hard for me to adjust because, like, you know, I'm used to walking into Target and Walmart, and you know, ' oh hi, do you need any help finding anything', you know, really friendly. And I just didn't get anything like that. And restaurants. Oh, my gosh. You know, asking for, you know, do you mind if that's on the side? They're like, 'oh', just like so angry. I find that really, really, really, really difficult. But I'll say, in my ten years being here, it's definitely gotten a bit better or I've gotten used to it. So..

Chase [00:40:21]
Just need more sunshine. That's all.

Mariah [00:40:22]
Yeah. And I'm from Florida, so definitely need some more sunshine and I need to wear flip flops more often.

Kevin [00:40:28]
I just wonder what it is about U.S. culture that promotes that. I wonder why there is that thing there, because I think is a particularly uniquely American thing.

Chase [00:40:39]
Yeah. I don't know if there is an easy answer there. I know, so growing up in the South, so I'm a fifth generation Tennessee and this is, I literally am living ten, fifteen minutes away from where I grew up, went to school, all that kind of thing, right. Around here, it was always, there was this sense of community, because folks had been through hard times together and I mean like growing up, like we had people that had lived through the wars and the depression and all that, that were kind of the leaders and mentors in the community. And so, you know, there was always this talk of, like, looking out for each other and making sure everyone had what they needed. And, oh, like maybe if you had a better, you know, if your corn harvested a little bit better than Bob's down the road, like, give some to him like that, just that like looking out for each other.

Chase [00:41:30]
And when you're in smaller communities like I'm in, like that percolates through the businesses. So, you know, one of my favourite shops in town, like they sponsor the Little League down here. Right. So like, you know who they are. And when you go into Walmart, you see the greeter there, like, there's a good chance you, like, go to church with them or something. Right? So that sense of familiarity is all there and that just kind of extends out from there.

Chase [00:41:59]
I like to joke, like, my grandmother has never met a friend she didn't know. So you could be a complete stranger, a couple of minutes after talking to her you're her new best friend. And it's just, you know, it's just like that, that just percolates out starting from the community and percolates out into the companies and the, the culture at large. So that's kind of like my best guess and gut feel of how it happened here. It's hard to, like, extrapolate that out too far because you get into, you know our HQ, Basecamp HQ, used to be in Chicago. There's some restaurants that you go into that the rudeness is a feature. Right?

Mariah [00:42:41]
Yes. Yes.

Chase [00:42:42]
You go in and you order a sandwich and if you don't order it the right way, they like glare at you and force you to the back of the line. Until you get it right. You know? So it's like that, that's a feature, not a bug there. So it's just...

Kevin [00:42:53]

Chase [00:42:53]
It's just weird.

Mariah [00:42:55]
I think it's fair, though, to find restaurants like that. There is, there's one it's called Dicks, it's.. Have you ever been there? But they specifically..they specifically are rude to you. You go there to be like just completely thrown under the bus. And it is the weirdest place you've ever been to because you're just like.. Like they just throw the silverware at you. They go, what do you want? Like and they make dunce caps for you to wear. It's really bizarre. Is, it's like.. No, no. But it's like they have to have places like that because I think typically restaurants are full of really cheerfulness and good customers.

Kevin [00:43:37]
That's like a British theme bar... In America. 'Come here for some British customer service'.

Chase [00:43:46]
It is always.. So, you know, we've hired a couple of folks from the UK, from Germany and the EU in general and all. And that's always like one of the things we have to train out, is the it's OK to be you. It's OK to, to use language like you would normally. It's OK to, to kind of be a real person versus in their previous jobs it was very much a regimented kind of setup, basically. I mean, and that's not just a, really you know, it's not necessarily just a UK thing because we've hired people from other big corporations, Apple, Microsoft, that kind of thing. And it's the same. You have to, like, train out that regimented service framework and get them to loosen up a little bit and to just act like themselves. So, yeah, it's, it's weird. It's good to know that, you know, it's becoming less prevalent over in the UK.

Kevin [00:44:41]
Yeah, I shouldn't beat up on it. I mean, I love my country. It's, it's a good place. We're just a funny bunch. We just don't do this....Yeah. I felt like there's actually, in British culture, there's like a really high threshold, like you saying, your mom, where everyone's like a friend, and there's quite a high threshold. It's like, if you are willing to cross this bar of social interaction, then you really are my friend, like we're, we're swearing at each other. We're, we're, we're taking the piss out of each other, we're being nasty to each other. And then we're friends. It's like, it's like... Yeah, you just keep on at people. Once, once you're arguing with them, then, you know, they are your friend. The threshold of friendship is really, really high. Whereas my experience of going to places like Ireland is and, you know, like everyone's, everyone's your mate from the moment you meet them. Which is lovely, but also like, I didn't work for this. You shouldn't.. I shouldn't be your friend. You've just met me.

Chase [00:45:44]
Some of it's on the customer, too. I mean, so I remember when my wife and I went to Dublin a couple of years ago, we found this little bar downtown that we went into, sat down at the bar and it was the first time we had been... So I'm a big whisky fan. Bourbon and Southern whisky's, that kind of thing. Had not gotten into Irish whisky yet, but when we sat down at the bar, we told the bartender, like, look, we're in town, we want to, like, what's your go-to Irish whisky that you always drink? Can we try those? And, oh, by the way, can we have some food and everything else?

Chase [00:46:15]
And right off the bat, like, we had established a good relationship with that bartender, and you could see him interact with some of the other American tourists that were in the bar who were treating him more cold-ish and aloof-ish and everything else. He had a different vibe with them than he did with us. So I think a lot of times it's, not all the time, of course, but a lot of times you can run into like when you're talking with a company that, for whatever reason, like that initial great, that initial customer interaction wasn't great. How you feed back into that ongoing interaction can affect how they do as well. So that, that's something else just to keep in mind.

Kevin [00:46:53]
Yeah. Be a good client.

Chase [00:46:53]
You win more flies with honey than vinegar. Right? Or something like that.

Mariah [00:46:58]
Yes, yeah, like it. If there's one thing that our listeners should know, what, what, what is that, what is that one thing?

Chase [00:47:06]
You come first. That's the big thing to remember when you're doing any kind of customer support, service, experience, whatever you want to call it. If you are not in a good place, then you can't be expected to give good experiences to others. So just like we talked about with the airline, I guess airlines are a thing now, on this! Put on your mask first, right? Don't go trying to help other people if you're just completely drained and don't have anything left to give at that point. Because it's only going to make your situation worse. It's not going to result in the best experience for them. And that's one of those things where it's that, that hero mentality that a lot of companies have.

Chase [00:47:45]
You've got to, like, train that out of people. You've got to give people space and permission almost to say, hey, this is not my day. Like, I've got to stop. I've got to go away for a little while. I've got to go take a walk. I've got to go, like, watch Netflix to turn my brain off, like, whatever they have to do, to get out of whatever funk they might be in, before they come back and start helping customers. Like that's the big thing. So it's my very, my very first rule that I always tell people working with customers, you come first. You've got to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.

Kevin [00:48:21]
I love that. What a lovely sentiment.

Mariah [00:48:23]
It is so nice.

Kevin [00:48:25]
And our customer support team will be like yeah, yeah, don't burn me out.

Mariah [00:48:32]
Thank you. Is there anything you wanted to talk about Chase? I don't wanna...

Chase [00:48:35]
We have covered a lot! Everyone listening to this, it was a lot of ground covered. And I would just say, you know, for, for the folks that are listening to the podcast, you know, if, if they do have questions, you can reach out to me any time you want. I'm Chase at More than happy to help out. Like I said, I geek out over this customer support and getting the experience right. Like, this is what I've lived, eat and breathed for so long. And that's one of the things that I want to see other people get right, not only in the tech world, right? But if you run a gas station, call me. Right? If you're like whatever, whatever area you're trying to get that customer experience right, let me know, because there's, more often than not, I'm going to end up learning something, too, which is really cool. So, yeah, if you're listening to this and you got questions, Chase at hit me up.

Kevin [00:49:24]
Is there, out of interest, is there anywhere that is a kind of resource for us customer service champions that are really trying to, trying to improve on this? Like a resource for...

Chase [00:49:38]
Yeah, if you want to go deep dive on everything I know, I used to run a podcast with a couple of friends called Support Ops, so There is about one hundred and fifty some odd episodes in that collection that we literally covered the range of everything that we could possibly think about, before, that, that show ran for a couple of years before we wrapped it up. So is really great. There's some great conferences out there, support driven puts on a great conference, userconf puts on a great conference, you know with those, sometimes just being in the, it's so hard in the pandemic world now, I was going to say like being in the room, like, can help. Being in the Zoom can help with this! also has a really great support community for folks that think about the customer experience like we do. So they're a great resource. Yeah, those are my go-to... Oh Help Scout of course...

Kevin [00:50:33]
Help Scout.

Mariah [00:50:33]
I was going to say.. you need sponsorship for sure.

Chase [00:50:39]
Right. They are not only are they a great platform, they are also, like, the content that they have available for support teams is just phenomenal. So go check them out too.

Mariah [00:50:49]
Thank you very much for joining us, Chase. Really, really nice talking to you.

Chase [00:50:53]
Yeah, my pleasure, and like I said, if anything I can help out with, you've got my email, just let me know.

Mariah [00:50:58]
Amazing. That's great.

Mariah [00:51:00]
Thank you to all our listeners who tuned in to today's episode of SARDisms. We hope you've perhaps learnt a few things or two about customer service and how Chase and Basecamp are paving the way to the importance of great support. You can find out more about SARD by visiting SARDJV.CO.UK, or send us a tweet on Twitter @SARDJV and use hashtag #SARDisms. Until next time, have a great week.