What does a career in support look like?

I work at a customer support centered company. My official work title is Woo Happiness Engineer. We help customers to make the most of our products, and I am proud of the work I do – making entrepreneurs’ life easier. Unfortunately, customer support seems to have a bad rap in many countries and the idea of choosing support path is relatively new.

Fortunatelly Automattic is not the only company who values it’s Happiness Squat. I was lucky to listen to an interview with Chase Clemons from Basecamp, who share his view on the concept of support as a career choice.

That is, not only choosing support as a career, but also developing a career in support.

These two concepts are rarely used together: customer support and career – in many companies support  is the lowest level on the company career ladder. A career is supposed to take you out of those depths and remove you as far as possible from the customer.

This increasing distance to customers when advancing in a career is an odd proposition if you accept the premise that the customer ultimately is the one paying for each and every salary in a company. Working directly with the customer should be one of the most important jobs – after all it is the raison d’être of the entire construction.

Support thrives where it’s not just a stepping stone

I enjoy working in support. I love helping our customers to make the best out of WooCommerce, to generate the setup they need, to find and solve the bugs they encounter on the way and make sure their life is easier after their support interaction with us. And yet, I prefer to avoid the topic in conversation with friends and family whose customer support experience is marked by an underpaid call center agent in Costa Rica trying to upsell yet another cell phone data plan.

What I most loved about the interview is the obvious passion that Chase has for support. He started in support at Basecamp and then made a conscious decision to stay in that field instead of “progressing” into product management or any other area of the company. Obviously, Basecamp values support as does Automattic. Still, that doesn’t seem to be the norm out there.

So when asked, what he does, Chase explains the mission of his company, which turns out to be his mission (which kind of makes sense, at least in those cases where the companies mission is aligned with their customers interest – instead of their shareholders short term interests). And it turns out this is similar to what I do as well – kind of dodging the question.

  • “What do you do for a living?”
  • “I work for WooCommerce, the ecommerce division of WordPress helping companies to take full advantage of our enterprise level add-ons that allow them to sell subscriptions, hotel bookings, courses etc.”

My mom says I’m a programmer. My husband says I am an ecommerce consultant.

Both tell me that “customer support” sounds too low-level, too poor, too simple, too salesy, too [fill in your most frustrating experience with… your cable company].

So, what are the career options in support?

The big question here is, what does career mean? Let’s check the definition:

The progress and actions taken by a person throughout a lifetime, especially those related to that person’s occupations. A career is often composed of the jobs held, titles earned and work accomplished over a long period of time, rather than just referring to one position. (Business Dictionary)

Note that nowhere here does it talk about “a career means you climb the corporate ladder”. The focus here is on progress and actions. Progress as in learning new things, tackling new challenges, growing both professionally and hopefully as well personally. Automattic’s creed starts with “I will never stop learning.” That’s a career proposition for every single Automattician right there.

That’s said, I think there are different realms where and how you can offer support – and I consciously avoid calling them levels, as this seems to always include some qualitative evaluation of those levels. Moving between these realms allows me to grow, to improve and to find new challenges – while staying true to helping customers in real life.

customer support matrix.png
Note that “later” in tickets might mean 6-48 hours, while for docs it can be month.

Asynchronous 1 on 1 work

This includes tickets, emails and forum answers – everything where one user has a question and gets an answer to that question. It’s what I currently do at Woo, helping individual customers to set up their individual store to meet their individual business needs. In case of forum interactions, other’s might learn from the answers as an added bonus.

Unique development opportunities:

  • written expression and manners as you adjusting your tone and message to the level of frustration or enthusiasm (ALL CAPS ANYONE), knowledge and needs of the customer  in question
  • product knowledge
  • use cases
  • a direct access to the wonderful world of entrepreneur creativity
  • bug report creation and technical knowledge if and when you decide to take a technical challenge onto yourself.

Real time 1 on 1 work

Mostly live chat and telephone support, two options that are not yet available at Woo. I experimented with live chat during my trial period at WordPress though.

Unique development opportunities:

  • quick adjustment to the users communication style (long and elaborate, short and succint, with or without personal anecdotes)
  • step-by-step guidance
  • on-the-spot troubleshooting
  • multitasking (as in asking for help or searching frenetically for the answer while trying to maintain the user engaged)

Asyncronous support for many

Forum answers partly fall under this type of support, as they can be useful for more people than just the original requestor. Plugin documentation, popular use cases, FAQs and user guides certainly are part of this realm.

Unique development opportunities:

  • finding the right topics
  • balance between too much information and too little information
  • collaboration with others to create the content
  • maintenance and continous improvements

Real time support for many

The support career interview with Chase is a good example (though I then consumed the video almost a week later, turning the real time education into a asynchronous form of support. Other forms are twitter discussions, facebook broadcasts or life streaming opportunities.

Unique development opportunities:

  • finding the right topics
  • balance between too much information and too little information
  • immediate response to group feedback
  • maintaining the balance between individual questions and the group intentions

A career in support means to find new challenges, to experiment with new approaches, to grow with your users and with your market without leaving new users behind.

A career in support means I never stop learning. And I never stop teaching either.

And if I get bored, or unmotivated, or feel stuck I can explore the next quadrant, making sure I never stop learning.

My office Setup

My office Setup

Working from home means you can set up your office environment as eccentric or normal as you wish. You decide how when and where to work and nobody will interfere with your office design (but your family).

I’ve opened my laptop in many different places. Finding the perfect work setup is an ongoing experiment looking for the perfect mix between inspiration, focus and good posture.

This is my current setup, dividing the room into a work area and a storage area. What you don’t see: I am taking the photos from the kids changing table which is also in the same room… including pampers, baby clothing and poo wipes.

The work area allows to focus on what I am doing at that very moment, without distraction. The storage area at arm-length allows to quickly pick up pen and paper if needed (or if I have time to write a post card in between).

The work area: focus and body flexibility

To avoid becoming a sedentary case study for a doctor, I have included frequent changes in position into my very setup: the VariDesk allows to change position ever so often – and when seated the Pilates ball does the rest.

[VDO] area de trabajo

These are the details:

The Storage Area: everything I need at arms-length

Behind my working area there is an old IKEA storage rack. Two of those shelves contain everything you’d expect to see in an office: paperwork and office supplies. Oh, and my cacti collection.

Everything else is occupied by books, board games and boxes (with tea). And down below… space for the kids to nap.

[VDO] area de almacenaje

 

Our personalized AuPair Contract

Our personalized AuPair Contract

Yay! Today we signed the contract with our new AuPair who will be joining us in late August for six month. This time we’ll be hosting a German girl in our spare bedroom (see photo).

We contacted her via AuPairWorld.com, which means no agency was involved. We had to take care about the contract ourselves. AuPairWorld pointed us towards the official “recommended contract” from the European Union, which can be found here.

However, the text is extremely cumbersome, not very friendly and doesn’t really set the tone that we were looking for when contracting our AuPair. Thus, we took the content, rephrased everything and added additional details – both for our and our AuPairs peace of mind.

Feel free to copy / adjust the text for your own situation:

AGREEMENT
relating to an au pair placement
subject to the European Agreement
on Au Pair Placement of 24 November 1969

This agreement relating to an au pair placement is concluded between :

[Name and address of host family]

hereinafter referred to as “the host family” and
[name of AuPair], hereinafter referred to as “the au pair”, born on [date of birth] in [country of birth], of German nationality, with address

[Home country Adress of AuPair]

I. GENERAL CONDITIONS

The au pair shall be received by the host family for a period of 6 months under the conditions laid down hereinafter. During this period, the au pair shall be given the opportunity to improve her/his education, in particular with regard to the Spanish language, and to increase her general cultural development.

The agreement shall take effect from August 24th, 2016

II. DUTIES OF THE HOST

II. 1. We, the host family are happy to receive you, the au pair into the family and help you to be part of our daily family live. In this connection, we would like to make the following declaration for you to take note of:

  • The family consists of four, the parents being [insert name of parents] with [insert number and age of children].
  • We live in a flat consisting of [describe flat]. Shops, educational institutions are in walking distances.
  • [Share parents job and work conditions].
  • The language normally spoken in the household is Spanish and German (with the children).

II. 2. We will provide board and lodging for you. You will have your own room and share a bathroom with Valentina.

II. 3. We agree on paying you pair pocket money amounting to 80 € weekly. The money will be paid in person every Sunday night (unless you specify that you prefer a weekly or monthly bank transfer).

II. 4. Your au pair schedule shall be organised in such a way as to allow you to follow courses, and to improve your general cultural development and knowledge of the language (see below)

II. 5. You shall have two free day(s) per week (Saturday and Sunday) and shall have full opportunity to take part in religious worship. Once a month you will have the opportunity to attend the German Lutheran church in Barcelona should you choose to do so.

II. 6. You are responsible to organise the European Health Insurance Card which covers health insurance in European countries (Europäische Krankenversicherungskarte). We will help you to register for residency in Spain and obtaining the NIE (National Identity Number for Foreigners) within the first month of her stay.

II. 7. In the event of the au pair’s falling ill, we will continue to provide board and lodging and shall give all appropriate care until such time as necessary arrangements have been made.

III. DUTIES OF THE AU PAIR

III. 1. You will be required to work for approximately six hours per day. In addition 1 or 2 nights per month babysitting may be required and plenty of notice will be given if necessary. You will have every weekend and bank holiday off unless agreed otherwise in advance.

We like to go on 2-3 day holidays about once per month. In many occasions you will have the opportunity to join us on these trips. While we may ask you to help us with the kids on these trips, we will pay for all travel expenses (hotel room, flights, train, food…)

Your main duty is the due care of our two children. You will be required to finish their breakfast, prepare lunch and snack as required, go to the park or local playground, read and sing to them as well as anything else that may be necessary for their amusement and wellbeing. You will be required to clean up after their meals and keep the kitchen in good order.

As we have a cleaning lady, other household tasks are limited to emptying the dishwasher or hanging the laundry on rare occasions.

You may also be required to walk the two dogs, always within your normal working schedule.

Working hours are from Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm and 3pm to 5 pm. These hours may change depending on Valentina’s work schedule. Due notice will always be given and your social activities will always take precedence (language classes, sports etc).

III. 2. The au pair agrees to comply with any formality necessary on her part to enable the host to fulfil her/his obligations under paragraph II 6 of this agreement.

IV. MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

IV. 1. The official end date of the agreement is February 24th, 2017, unless we decide to prolong the agreement for another six month.

Both parties can agreeIn the event of serious misconduct by one of the parties, the other party may immediately terminate the agreement. Either of the parties may also terminate the agreement with immediate effect if serious circumstances make such instant termination necessary.

In the event of a need for disciplinary action, the procedure will be 1) a verbal warning, 2) a written warning 3) dismissal without need for further notice.

Reasons which could give rise to disciplinary measures are as follows: Causing a disruptive influence in the household, Job incompetence, Conduct during or outside working hours prejudicial to our interests, Unreliability in timekeeping or attendance, Failure to comply with our reasonable instructions or procedures

Reasons for immediate dismissal without further notice would be: Theft or other dishonest offences, Drunkenness, Illegal drug taking, Child abuse or neglect.

We expect that none of the above stated will arise.

IV. 2. The parties also agree on the following:

Travel opportunities: We, the host family like to explore Spain and Europe on the weekends. As we both have flexible work environments, these short trips (usually around 2-3 days) may be on weekends or during the week. You may choose to accompany us on those trips. We will pay for lodging, food, transport and possible entry fees (in case of museums, parks etc), unless discussed otherwise before booking the trip. In those occasions where we need to travel alone, we might ask you to take care of the dogs while we are away.

Special duty weeks: 3-4 times a year Valentina will be away for 7-10 days for business travel. During these periods, your schedule will vary depending on the availability of other family members to help out. You are aware that this will be the case from September 14th to September 22nd and from October 27th to November 5th, 2016. During these weeks your working hours might occasionally exceed your normal schedule.

Visiting babies: on rare occasions friends will ask us to take in one of their (similar aged) babies and/or pick them up from the kinder garden. If this happens with in your work hours, you might sometimes be in charge of three children during that period of time. If outside your working hours, you will receive an extra payment of 10€/hour if you are happy to babysit outside of your schedule.

Christmas holiday: You will have two weeks paid vacation after six month of work. However, you will be getting 7 days off from Thursday, December 22nd to Wednesday December 27th (both included). This will be paid leave and we would like this to be part of your 2 weeks paid leave for your first 6 month work.

Language classes: As there are no group classes in Spanish language available in Mataro, we will provide a Spanish teacher for four private hours per week.

e look forward to having you with us and are sure that you’ll have a great time in Spain. Please sign a copy of this letter as acceptance of its terms and conditions.

Mataro, June 28th, 2016
Signature of host family              Signature of AuPair

Birthday Reminder Shenanigans

Birthday Reminder Shenanigans

Or: How to never forget a birthday again

I love postcards, the real ones. Those colourful pieces of paper with hand written messages  are little burst of joy and humanity in the midst of automated email campaigns and invoices.

Receiving a postcard is a trigger of happiness for many people, and for me writing them is a source of joy in itself. If only I could remember everybody’s birthday ahead of time!

Continue reading “Birthday Reminder Shenanigans”

How to reduce stress in the long run

Very often we get trapped between urgent tasks and looming dead lines, without being able to concentrate duly on one task only. And with so much stress, creativity and motivation are the first to die. However, there is a simple trick how you can get out of this daily rat race, by remembering Parkinson’s Law, which says

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This means that the task you planned 1 hour for will take you 1 hour. And if you have a day for it, you will only finish it by the end of the day. In order to solve this situation, there is a very simple trick:

Each morning, before opening your email, dedicate one hour of the day to solve one important, but not-urgent task.

If it makes you nervous not to check your inbox at first, do so, but make sure that you switch back to your not-urgent task after scanning through the emails. Don’t do anything urgent before solving this first task of the day. Why does this reduce your stress level?

  • Those other urgent tasks can be resolved just as well in 7 hours than in 8 hours. So you are basically gaining one hour in highly qualitative work.
  • The very important, but not urgent task you have solved won’t be able to stress you out on another day when it would become urgent. Because it is done already.
  • If you do one important thing every day, there will be less stressful moments left, because you are reducing those potential deadlines.
  • The rest of the day is much more relaxes, if you got something crucial done already. Don’t underestimate the psychological effect of work done with peace and high quality results.

I personally leave a post-it note on my computer before leaving work, stating one or two important tasks to be solved the next day. The first thing in the morning is dedicated to those tasks, and only one hour later I actually open my email. This helps me to actually starting to work right away instead of having to decide in the morning which non-urgent task will be done today. Because with decisions it is the same principle: they can be taken within 5 min if you are about to leave work, but they will need 50 min of careful pondering if you just arrived.

Monthly goals April

How come that the time flies by quicker and quicker? Perhaps because I am becoming busier and busier, and because I have cut TV from my daily routine to accomplish more things.

So here goes the March recap, which included a gorgeous Wedding anniversary in Rome.

  • Keep the desk tidy and to do lists up to date. Yes, and even more. I threw away at least 10 tons (I am not that good at weights, you see) of old paper; i donated lots of books to friends and the local library and now I have sooo muuuch space in my study. Which makes my thoughts flow like water (so tired today I am becoming a poet).
  • 3 posts a week, 1 English, 2 Spanish. The Spanish ones need to be clearly for implementation in work life. Seems like I did it. I’ll keep the routine, because more seems to be impossible for now.
  • Research on a suitable ecological food options in Barcelona (those that bring fresh ecological fruits and vegetables to your home every other week) and start to make weekly plans for dinner. This should take lots of stress out of the daily “so what is it for dinner today?”. Done!!! I am getting 5 kg of fresh fruits and vegetables to the office every day and I am LOVING it. Furthermore our local food guy went out of business so now I am cooking ecological food for my entire team at work, which in exchange finances my Cello lessons. Good for moral and the Cello.
  • Do regular exercises for my Catalan language course instead of stressing out the night before the next class. Epic fail. As I missed two lessons due to traveling, I really have to start going this weekend. Next saturday I have an oral examination and I am so NOT ready for it yet.
  • Cultivate a positive attitude especially when faced with difficult situations at work (especially difficult people at work). Check. Reading “The Prince” by Macchiavelli again helped to see the world with a little bit less sarcasm.

So, next station: April coming. April is one of my favorite months, a mix between can’t-wait-for-summer-to-start, happiness-about-the-first- warm-sunrays, and longer days because of the summer schedule. So just like the trees around Barcelona I am bursting with energy. Never had so little problems getting up at 5:30 together with the husband.

  • Finish the translation of “The Art of Being Minimalist” from Everett Bogue at  Far Beyond The Stars into Spanish, including the adaptation of links and numbers for the Spanish reality. A good friend is doing the copy editor part so hopefully we can launch the version in the next two to three weeks.
  • Start working on my first own book on how to organize your studies efficiently to still be able to enjoy life, even after Bologna (Note for the not-European readers: the Bologna process restructured higher education in most European countries by making courses shorter but with the same content: which means more hours in class, more projects to accomplish, and less encouragement to just explore your own interests.) I already have the outline so this month I want to write at least 2 chapters per week.
  • Go through all kitchen cupboards and donate everything that I haven’t used since I stored it away last year when we moved in.
  • Get the dog to his hairdresser for summer cut.
  • Take the annual “handsome couple” picture for our wedding album (we have 53 pages for the next 50 years to put in a photo of the two of us every year). We are already 2 weeks late, so we can’t leave it for much longer.
  • And then there is the personal quest I have with the husband: one month without spending money on anything which is not absolutely necessary (so this excludes food and meeting for tapas with friends. Because without the latter we would renounce our social live).

Rereading it I feel I am getting a little bit too ambitious… but that’s spring time kicking in!

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How it works:
Post a list of your career/life related goals for the current month, along with your checked off goals from the previous month if you’d like, on your own blog.

Visit the Goal Meet-Up post at Brazen Careerist and leave a link to your post in the comments (*If you don’t have your own blog, feel free to share your list of goals in the comments section of the post to join in!)

Then, check out everyone else’s lists as they leave comments – click their links, visit their blogs, say hello, meet, greet and support each other because that’s what it’s all about!

Going minimalist

I am not particularly religious even though I have been raised by highly religious parents. However, this year I am doing my own version of “7 weeks without xxx” which many Christians do between carnival and Easter Sunday. Basically you pick one thing you think you can’t live without and stop it during this time to use the time for other things. In religious context praying or meditating. In my world for more efficient and effective activities.

We started late on this, but we are in full speed and will not stop with Easter but add the missing weeks after Easter. So, the challenge is the following:

  • Stop watching TV just for the sake of it. Allowed is selected series which have been decide upon the night before. But no zapping just to be on the sofa. Instead, my writing activity has increased (at least for Spain… and not only on the blog).
  • No money spent apart from food and the house-related bills. Eating out only with friends for social reasons, but not for laziness of cooking😉 No cinema, no “oh-I-like-this-I-might-need-it-purchases. And guess what! I took out my sewing machine to put together a nice wallet for my ebook reader. Instead of buying it. We have no special plans for the money saved (well, putting it into the mortgage), but we want to see the difference at the end of the month.
  • Go through all our things (all cupboards, all book shelves) to ruthlessly give away/sell/donate/throw out things we have not used in more than a year. I started with the wardrobe, got in a frenzy, and now my book shelves are half empty. It feels breathable😉 Many parts of the house are still missing, but we will do it bit by bit during the next weekends to actually remember what we have. After all: what does it help me to have cool kitchen gadgets if I never use them because they are so difficult to be cleaned. Or because they are at the far end of the highest cupboard so I forget about them?

So I am on a minimalist journey. Let’s see where it takes me. Or us. Husband is in it with his usual “I told you to thin out out your books waaaay back when we first moved in together” (truth be told: he carried them from one flat to the next).

Things I am still in doubt: what to do with my 25 (twenty-five! really!) diaries I wrote between age 16 and 18? Which are incredibly boring. Donate to an “analyzing diaries” study group? But they are half in German and half in Spanish. Nobody will understand the mix😉

Oh, my inspiration was Everett’s book at farbeyondthestars.com. I will certainly not go as extreme as he has, but he has been a total inspiration to start the declutter journey. Which by the way marries very well with my perfectionism when it comes to efficiency. But that will be another post.

PS: Any hints on what to do with old diaries depicting your first “real boyfriend” and the daily diet in Quito/Ecuador are appreciated.