Automattic and Customer Service (and an interview)

Quite frankly, Automattic is a cool company.

They run, which hosts over 500,000 WordPress blogs and are largely responsbility (along with thousands of contributors) for WordPress, the popular blogging platform (which I use at Service Untitled). In addition to WordPress, they have a lot to do with bbPress, which is a bulletin board program as well as the popular spam filtering program for blogs called Akismet (which I also use at Service Untitled).

I’ve actually talked about Automattic before (mainly here) and how well they handled a wide scale outage with Akismet. I’ve heard good things about them from just reading the major blogs as well as from friends who use WordPress and Akismet on a wide scale.

I recently had a very good experience with the company. For some resaon, the Akismet on my blog just stopped working. As usual, I assumed the problem was my fault. I tried troubleshooting it, but spam kept going through.

I went over to Akismet’s site and submitted a support ticket. I didn’t expect to recieve a response, but I was wrong – within about 24 hours I recieved a response from Matt Mullenweg (who is the founding developer of WordPress) telling me there was a problem with the key I was using, that it had been fixed, and to contact him if the problem kept on happening. Boom, it was fixed. Not one spam has gotten through to my comments since. Impressive, eh?

To add to this post I have an interview with Toni Schneider, who is the CEO of Automattic. A former executive at Yahoo, he joined Automattic earlier this year (January 2006) and provided some great answers to my questions.

Question 1: How do you think blogging has affected customer service?
Answer: Blogs provide a great new way for companies to connect with their customers. Blogs are used to announce new features and upgrades, gather and respond to feedback, and generally create a better and more direct connection between companies and customers. All of those things help a great deal in improving customer service.

Question 2: Automattic provides support to more than 500,000 users. What challenges do you guys regularly encounter and how do you deal with them?
Answer: We’re lucky to have a tremendous primary support person with great backup from the entire Automattic team. We personally respond to everyone who needs help. The challenge is to keep doing that and to make sure the entire team stays involved in the support process. Support is a great way to stay in close touch with our customers’ needs, so it’s key that the whole team be part of it.

Question 3: What about the support that Automattic provides to enterprise users for Akismet and through your Support Network? How is that different than support to the average user? How is it similar?
Answer: Enterprise support is more technical with questions about scaling or developing plugins. Consumer support is more about the general usage of the product, how to personalize your blog or add photos, etc.

Question 4: Automattic seems to monitor the blogosphere and be very responsive to bloggers. Any tips for companies on how best to do these two things?
Answer: Two things: First is to publish a blog and be part of the conversation, that’s how you keep your finger on the pulse. Second is to have alerts and RSS feeds setup for mentions of your products and company and empower everyone on your team to respond when things come up.

Question 5: WordPress has a huge community. What suggestions do you have for companies wishing to use a community to their advantage when providing customer service?
Answer: I’d say treat your customers not as users of your product, but as collaborators in creating and supporting your product. Also, take your time and be thoughtful and respectful when building a community.

Question 6: Your company seems to be very laid back, what effect do you think this has had on the customer service you provide?
Answer: We try to keep things simple and strip away a lot of the trappings of bigger companies. When it comes to customer service this manifests itself in a few ways. For example, we try and stay away from impersonal support systems and canned or automated responses. Instead, we personally talk to our users. And we don’t think of customer service as something that should be outsourced to some other team. The people who are building a product should be in direct touch with their customers, instead of having some anonymous product manager making decisions while leaving the actual customer support and interaction to someone else.


2 Responses to “Automattic and Customer Service (and an interview)”

  1. Aaron Brazell said:

    Dec 08, 06 at 12:34 pm

    Great interview with a great guy. I’ve been pretty happy with Automattic myself.

  2. Lloyd Budd said:

    Dec 18, 06 at 7:51 pm

    As usual, I assumed the problem was my fault.

    You are a rare person, and this likely reflects your knowledge and experience of customer service.