Since it launched in 2010, the photo sharing website and visual bookmarking tool known as Pinterest has grown to dominate the social media scene — not as a social network, but as “a catalog of ideas” where people can share and create inspiration through visual media.
It didn’t take long for this creative online catalog to find its feet. A year after its launch, Pinterest was listed as one of Time Magazine’s “50 Best Websites of 2011” and “Best New Startup of 2011” by TechCrunch. Pinterest is bolstered by CEO Ben Silbermann’s words, "go out and do that thing,” encouraging pinners to find photos that move them, then follow their creative inspiration.
Over the past six years, Pinterest has kept their users, or “pinners,” top of mind, continually updating their app with better features for an improved user experience. Pinterest’s head of support, Maggie Armato, has been tasked with maintaining that user experience throughout their growth.
After Pinterest launched an updated online contact form last year, unprecedented volumes of customer questions came flooding in. Soon, Armato’s team of five was dealing with 28,000 tickets a month, and struggling to respond in a timely manner and deliver consistent customer satisfaction. Although they were already using an autoresponder, it generated only about 25-40% customer satisfaction (CSAT). Armato knew she needed a better solution.
“Our goal was to make support as automated as possible without losing our personal touch,” Armato says.
Here, we look at Armato’s pioneering best practices when it comes to modernizing customer support.
Take the time to leverage current tools while seeking out new ones
Right away, Armato set measurable CSAT goals (above 40%) and automation goals (above 50%), hoping to reduce the overall number of low-level tickets her agents were responding to. Then, she looked at her current tools and decided that there must be better ways to leverage them.
“The first step is just looking to see what your current processes are,” Armato says. “Not a lot of people sit down and look at what tools can they use. People need to learn to leverage tools they have, look for more tools, and experiment with them.”
Armato did just this, although she acknowledges that taking time away from answering tickets can feel like the wrong path. “It’s hard to step away from thousands of tickets instead of just answering them,” she says. “Even though, in an hour, I could have answered 60-100 tickets, I knew that if I took that hour to figure out ways to make the process easier, it could have an effect on tickets down the line.”
Armato took the time to explore the options and incorporate new technologies a little at a time. “[Bring in new technology] for one particular category to start,” she suggests. “You can always turn it on, and then turn it back off again if it’s not working.”
Know there’s not one magic solution
After researching several options, Armato began to realize that multiple solutions could be applied simultaneously to achieve Pinterest’s support goals. That was how she began to develop the Pinterest support technology stack — the group of technologies she leveraged in order to improve the customer service experience.
Instead of seeking one single solution, Armato found several robust tools could work in concert to meet her goals. In addition to Pinterest’s customer-facing help desk software and their own in-house autoresponder, Armato implemented a crowd-sourced solution wherein experienced pinners help answer incoming questions from other pinners. She even brought on an automated, crowdsourced translation tool, increasing the automated response capabilities at Pinterest’s Dublin office.
As she says, there’s not a single, all-encompassing answer. “There’s no magic solution,” Armato says. “It’s a matter of learning all you can about the tools available to you, and taking the risk. You have very little to lose and so much to gain.”
Empower support team to influence product development
It’s not unusual for support teams to push back against automation out of fear that it may eclipse the value of their own jobs. That’s why Armato’s is such a distinctive case. She sees the value of augmenting and empowering her support team with human-assisted automation tools to guide them toward better answers more quickly.
Furthermore, Armato discovered that these tools not only made her agents’ jobs easier, but equipped them to get to know their products more fully, even advising other departments on best practices.
“People are realizing that the support agent knows more about the product, holistically, than an engineer does,” Armato says. “We know the user, the product, and how the interactions will go. We can get insights from support that are different from research alone.”
One of Armato’s ongoing goals is to collect data-driven insights and share them with the company, even as her team continues to automate their support processes.
“Support teams want to be useful beyond the call center,” she says. “They want to prove their worth and have more impact.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Armato found that this type of employee empowerment and innovation tends to travel outside the walls of her support team, as other departments have begun luring her talented staff toward other company opportunities. While this type of professional development can be exciting for staff, it’s challenging for leaders like Armato who rely on employee retention.
For that reason, throughout Armato’s decision to incorporate greater automation technology, she’s never lost sight of the value of her support team. With better automation tools and crowd-sourced efforts in play, Armato encourages her agents to spend their time on critical problem-solving efforts and process improvement — helping to create more rewarding work and exciting outcomes among her team.
Stay tuned to metrics and make agile adjustments
Since implementing her stack of support tools, Armato has noticed dramatic improvements across the board. Automation rates are up and CSAT scores continue to climb — even with less and less one-on-one agent attention.
Armato even noticed improvements to her staff onboarding process. “Before, it was two months of training and constant Q-and-A-ing in group sessions,” she says. “Now, I no longer need to wait two months to put them in action. I ask them to look at our tools and figure it out, and they do. Now, they’re ready in two weeks.”
Furthermore, improvements in automation allowed the Pinterest support team to spend more time untangling complex customer service issues rather than answering the simple, redundant tickets they’d spent time on before. Knowing that low-level issues were taken care of with accurate, automated responses helped give them time and peace of mind to focus their efforts where they were needed most.
Part of Armato’s modern best practices reflect the pioneering spirit at Pinterest. After all, that motto of “go out and do that thing,” resonates within the employee culture, and that includes support. Indeed, Pinterest’s story reflects a successful 21st-century approach to customer service, one where leveraging your current tools, taking risks, and augmenting the power of your staff can do wonders — even if there is no magic solution.
Learn more about how to incorporate these best practices into your own support environment by downloading our full Pinterest case study.