Support Your Product Like a Customer

The housekeeper asks for confirmation, “You promise you won’t tell my boss?

“I will not tell your boss,” the occupational psychologist nods in agreement.

Jonathan Korman shares a story about policy violations. Korman details the dialogue between an occupational psychologist and a hotel housekeeper.

What do you think is the last thing a hotel housekeeper does before leaving a cleaned room?

The housekeeper admits, “The last thing I do is lie on the bed.”

The hotel obviously does not want housekeepers to lie on the bed before a customer enters the room. There’s even a policy against it.

So why would the housekeeper do it?

Over the last month, I’ve been training with a new support team. This means learning a new product and getting acclimated to a new group of customers.

Highrise has been a successful product for almost a decade. Built by Basecamp (formerly 37signals), the product is used by thousands and thousands of people. And it’s in the midst of a transition.

A new CEO, Nathan Kontny, took over in August. Nate is responsible for assembling a new team and bringing momentum to a product thirsty for love and attention.

After speaking with Nate about joining to support customers, his advice was simple.

“Sign-up for an account and start using the product. Use it to keep in touch with friends or to remind you when your next dentist appointment is scheduled. Just start using it.”

So I did. I used Highrise to organize emails with Alyssa, who manages this blog, about scheduling my next guest post. And I used it to remind me to send a congratulatory email to my friend who just announced he and his wife were having a child.

I started to see how Highrise could help me. And I became a customer.

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs built the first Apple computer. They could have gone out and bought an IBM computer instead. But they didn’t.


Jobs explains why in his 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.

Every good product I’ve seen in this industry is because a group of people cared deeply about making something wonderful that they and their friends wanted. You know? They wanted to use it themselves. That’s how the Apple I came about, the Apple II, the Macintosh – that’s how everything I know that’s good has come about.

If Woz and I could of went down and plunked $2,000 bucks and bought an Apple II, why would we have built one?

Steve Jobs quote

Wozniak and Jobs were the first customers of Apple.

There’s a lot of advice about how to train new employees.

You might recommend that they review policies and procedures to learn how the team gets things done. Or you might suggest a new employee read a book related to the industry. Maybe there is a training program that all new team members go through.

One of the challenges of training for me was working remotely. I haven’t had a chance to shake hands with the new Highrise team or Basecamp crew. It meant over-communication was not a choice, but a necessity.

So when it came down to training, there was one common thread amongst all the advice I received from the stellar Basecamp support team.

Use the product.

The Basecamp team would send me customer questions and leave me hints on how to respond. Next, I would draft a response and send it back to the team member before replying to the customer.

The hints directed me to a help article or suggested a text snippet that saved me some time. But above all, the main piece of advice was simple.

Why don’t you give this a try using your own Highrise account?

I could review help docs, watch videos, ask a million questions to other team members, and it would help me learn over time.

Or I could use the product.

So I started using Highrise more and more. And I was able to see and feel its rough edges. I put myself in similar situations that a customer would find themselves in.

I felt what is was like to not be able to set a recurring task. Or to try and map custom fields when importing contacts. And to search for duplicates in my account.

I became a customer, and it’s helping me so much.

There are still a lot of customers out there that know Highrise better than I do. After all, there is no substitute for experience. Some customers have been using it for years. I’m just a few months in.

But that’s ok. Because I know by using the product, I’ll learn what it feels like to be a customer.

I can’t think of any better advice for a new employee.

“If I don’t, I cannot be sure that the room is clean,” the housekeeper confessed.

As Korman continued to describe, the housekeeper knew lying on the bed would allow her to see things she couldn’t see from any other position in the room. And after all,  lying on the bed is usually one of the first things a customer will do upon entering a hotel room.

The housekeeper was able to see things from the customer’s perspective by lying on the bed.

She could feel what it was like to be a customer.

Special thanks to the Basecamp support team, the new Highrise team, and Jonathan Korman for sharing this blog post.

Learn more about Snappy Customer Support.

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