One of the elements people find really quirky when hearing about Automattic is that everyone starts their job at the company with two weeks of doing support.
When you join full-time, you’ll do customer support for WordPress.com for your first two weeks and spend a week in support annually, for evermore, regardless of your position. We believe an early and ongoing connection with the people who use our products is irreplaceable.Automattic, How we work
That’s right: “everyone”. That goes of course for people who do product development, but also for HR roles, and C-suite positions. Everyone.
Why is this? There are two main reasons: it’s one of the best ways to get to know the product, and if you want to be a customer-centric company, you should chat to your customers.
Get to know the product
At Automattic, we build products. We rarely hire people for their existing product knowledge, but for their skills. When you join the company, one of the fastest ways to connect those skills to the product is by doing support. While our support team is not the place with necessarily the deepest product knowledge (we’re not product developers), I’d argue that there are few, if any, places in the company where you can get a comprehensive view of what our product offers as in our support division.
The main reason for this is that our customers use our products in the real world. They need real configurations, face real challenges, explore the breadth of our offer. When I joined Woo in 2014, I was put in the presales and accounts queue before focusing on my role as training and education manager. In a few months, I moved from a novice at Woo to confidently recommending complex setups with multiple different extensions. The knowledge that I gained helped influence my training materials, and it shaped how I supported the people in WooThemes (and later at Automattic). I don’t think I would’ve clicked how complex our support was, and I think my training would’ve zoomed in much more on specific product knowledge than was the case in the end.
In the last year, our new CFO also was able to make some good reflections on how we market and position our products after shadowing some support interactions from our Happiness team. I’m confident he would’ve made these observations eventually, but also that it would’ve taken him more time.
One by-product of this way to getting familiar with our product is that product teams first-hand experience the challenges of our support team, and that this nurtures respect. In support communities, I regularly hear complaints about the challenges between product and support, and this is much less the case at Automattic. If anything, more often than not, our support team will be considered a valuable voice when discussing the direction of our product.
Get to know the customer
Ultimately, we do not build products for the sake of building products. We build them for customers and users. In many, many companies, chatting to customers is not something you’ll do a lot unless you are in a customer-facing role.
You will build better products if you chat to them. By making that the first weeks of our job at Automattic, this seed is planted early. A contextualised chat with a real customer has such a bigger impact than if you’re just looking at data on a page. Knowing that 23% of customers struggle with a new feature is too anonymous, letting one of them talk you through their problems will shed a whole new light on what you’re trying to do.
At Woo, we value this so much that a few months ago, we started every single town hall (a call with everyone in Woo) with a customer sharing their journey with us.
If you have any questions about this, don’t hesitate to reach out!