Open Source Customer Service | A thank you to the Mycroft Community

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In my career, I have always talked about how customer service is important. And from a base level, I think most people would agree. But around 2010, with a previous company, I was faced with a major recall where I learned the full power of service.

I had just started with this company, and we were seeing some amazing growth. We were shipping 1000% more product that we ever had, with PO’s in-house to double that again for 2011. Then I got a call. Hardware failure. Then another call. Then a few more. Fall was changing to winter and our product was used outdoors. It was clear to me that we had a temperature threshold issue. This was early enough in the season that we could only see about a 1% failure rate. Probably not the RED ALERT that draws most executives to the table, but in my company, it was.

Service to us was way more than a contract stating SLA’s – it was the pride of our product. Even one failure caused challenges for our partners. We knew we had a responsibility to rectify this, and with the least amount of involvement from our partners. I actually worked with Mycroft’s CTO at the time. He quickly found a solution, but the solution involved changing out hardware. We mobilized the team, contacted all partners, and went out into the cold to fix the issues. Even the executives went on the road to make this happen.

What did I learn from this experience? Well, it was terrible on paper. The costs were outrageous, the time spent on fixes was extreme. But the partners loved it. They knew that the company they had just given hundreds of thousands – some even millions – of dollars to knew what it meant to be a partner. Some of our clients brought us heaters when there was a blizzard. Others gave us space to do some of the modifications indoors. Ultimately, they knew more about the product that helped us get better in the long run. Another huge metric we saw the following year was that our return business made up over 60% of our total revenue.

Open Source Customer Service

So how does Open Source compare in service to the private sector? Actually, this was a big concern of mine before starting Mycroft. I won’t say I was an Open Source guru, or even a regular since I’m not a developer. But in my experience, the customer service was about what you would expect from a DMV. For all of you non-US based readers, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is where you get your driver’s license. Wait times are typically measured in hours or days. I have been in a line for multiple hours when they told everyone to go home because they decided to close the department an hour early to avoid overtime.

So how is Mycroft different? Well first, let me state, we can always be better. Putting in more and more process to streamline support, working on documentation, and hiring more people are always on my mind. What I do think we do well is an urgency to help. We don’t send you a quick note saying we are working on it, and let it stay there for a week or two. Mycroft’s team quickly and directly addresses every ticket and many posts in the forum and chat to help. It’s a cultural thing, not a forced thing with us. If you actually looked at the metrics of our whole team, and the amount of time they spend on support, you would be shocked we actually progress with our tech. But that is just part of the puzzle….

A Supporting Community

A few weeks ago, Kathy Reid - Director of Developer Relations, was taken off all support to help push a project forward with the Mycroft Translate suite. (Thanks again, Kathy!) Before going dark, she posted in a few places that she needed to retreat to a cave with internet, and only concentrate on Languages. During this period, Darren and I did our best to look at the forums and Mattermost chat to see where we could help out.

What I found was, the Community had stepped up instead. Almost every forum post was answered before we got to it. In Mattermost, which is usually very well supported by the Community, everyone seemed to be even more helpful. I was amazed – the culture of the company was shared by the Community. Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise to me, but it was one of those things that made me pause for a minute. I knew I needed to publicly say THANK YOU to you all. So thank you for taking your time not only to further the skills, the core technology, and other pieces of the project; but to see that the more people we have at your level of understanding of Mycroft benefit us all. It is truly a great thing to see.

My Philosophy

Before leaving here, I want to add this last bit. My philosophy is that support has as big of an impact in a business as the “product”. This isn’t a new concept, but it certainly isn’t universal. Just this week, I have dealt with multiple companies that just don’t think this way. My initial thought is always that these are the wrong companies to do business with.

One of my favorite books is Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. If you have ever read this you will know it is an odd book, but bottom line they got it right IMHO. What people want to know is that the company and the customer have a shared value system where you are exchanging money for value. The value Ken and Sheldon highlight is the service.

I grew up in the restaurant industry, and know all too well how service can be your biggest asset or your biggest failure. Next time you go out to eat and the restaurant manager comes by to ask, “How is everything today?”, think about what your response will be. The only answer the manager should take without corrective action is, “It was amazing. The food and service were amazing.” Most people respond with a variation of “fine”. Fine means it wasn’t that good of an experience, and I either won’t tell anyone about this place, or I will tell them it wasn’t worth the price I paid.

Thank you again for your help during that time and everything thing you guys do. This is all of our project and it comes through in everything you do.

What are we doing to improve?

At Mycroft, we won’t settle for “fine.” We want raving fans and we constantly work towards that goal. One thing we're doing is expanding our support team with a Community Success Specialist. If you have a strong combination of technical and personal skills, apply today! If you know someone who fits that bill, send them the link!

That role’s key goal is to listen to and support our Community, but we’re not waiting until they’re hired to listen. If you tell the world they should be using Mycroft, or maybe don’t yet, we want to know why and what we can do better. Help us help you by filling out the survey below.

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