Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace. The Foo Fighters album’s name defines my cat, Hunter, and the ways she has helped me to become a better Happiness Engineer.
I adopted Hunter in March of 2011. She was pretty small, full of fleas, and very sick. Her former owner had traumatized her. She was and still is a terrified cat. But she is healthy and happy, grumpy and demanding, loving and dear, and my best medication for bad times.
During the first two days after the adoption, she slept inside my pillow and wouldn’t even drink water. I was pretty worried, but then she started to eat chicken and sleep in my lap or on the TV (it was warm there), and with time, she opened up and accepted this crazy human.
I started working with WordPress Customer Support in 2014 when she was 3 years old. Since then, she has always slept at my side during my shifts. And these are the lessons I have learned from her:
Echoes from her past. Everything that traumatized her could compromise our relationship. Hunter is still afraid of loud noises, people on the street, the ringing phone, or people at our door.
Likewise, every customer we assist has likely had a bad experience with customer support in the past, creating their own echos.
And how do I handle customers’ Echoes? With Silence, Patience, and Grace.
Hunter is a pretty quiet cat, but when she wants something, like water, food, or affection, she knows how to express herself and ask for it.
And our users are sometimes so loud that even they do not understand the problem with their site, account, or frustration at that moment.
That is why our silence is essential. We need to stop talking and instead listen. Listen to understand.
Earning a customer’s trust begins with good communication and delivering quality support. Trust is the foundation of a long-term relationship, and I believe listening to the user is the first step to accomplish it.
When I adopted Hunter, it took me several days just to get her closer to me. But it took me years to gain her trust, get her to sleep with me, or travel on a plane without making a single meow.
Sometimes customers are stubborn. Sometimes, they have bad behavior due to their past experiences (echoes again). But sometimes, they are just afraid and confused and need our patience and understanding to figure out what they really need.
Most of the time, the exercise of patience must come from our side first, calming the user and taking some time to understand their need and the best way to help them.
Like trying to communicate with a cat… you never know what they really want, but you can always figure it out with patience.
It is not a matter of being polite or an expert at the subject. The tone you use when you write your responses, the way you feel when working on a ticket, is noted by the customer when they receive your response to their inquiry. Hunter always notices when I am sad or in a bad mood, and she does whatever she can to make me feel better. If my spirit is perceived by her, it makes sense that it can be noticed by the customer as well.
So, even if I am having a bad day, I try to do my best to project a positive attitude.
I believe it is important not to transfer my mood to the customer that I am assisting. The communication must be focused on understanding the customer’s issue and providing a solution while also delivering a positive experience.
This one is a bonus lesson.
I learned from Hunter how to relax, even if the world is falling down around me. No personality trait in a cat is more remarkable than its ability to relax. If a cat feels safe, it will curl itself into a ball and sleep.
I can confess that I allowed myself to learn how to relax after a couple of months of working at Automattic. Working yourself to the point of burnout will not help you get tasks done faster, but it will affect the quality of your work
Just like Hunter and her feline ancestors, we should learn to appreciate what we have and take some rest sometimes.