At WordPress, Happiness is Automattic

On the first of May, I started a new job at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com. I was hired as a “Code Wrangler,” but to date I have not written a lick of code. This is because for the first three weeks new employees must participate in a customer support rotation. I know what you are thinking: “Let the software engineers communicate directly with customers? I saw Office Space, so I know that’s a bad idea!” or maybe “Bummer, customer service is a thankless soul-sucking quagmire of loathsomeness.” Surprisingly, neither one of these normally valid assumptions is true in this case. So what makes working at Automattic so special that software engineers can enjoy communicating directly with users and customer service ends up being rewarding and fun? Quite a few things actually.

The customer service team is known as the “Happiness Team,” and its members are “Happiness Engineers.” When I first heard this I thought, “Cute, a little silly, but no sillier than my title of Code Wrangler.” Now that I have worked on this team for a while, I have come to realize it is anything but silly or cute; in fact, it’s quite brilliant. The impact of having this title is subtle but powerful. The Happiness Engineers truly do an incredible job helping WordPress users with every problem they report, even ones not related to WordPress. There is an infectious helpfulness that permeates the interaction between team members that can best be described as the exact opposite of the “not my problem” attitude. Your problem is their problem and they want to help resolve it. For my part, it has become a personal challenge to find the most disgruntled user and try to find a way to inject some happiness into their life. When you slide the keyboard back at the end of the day, it’s very satisfying to know you did your best to help people with their problems, even trivial ones.

During my training on how to handle user issues we walked through a few real-life problems and talked about how to approach them. One in particular had two possible responses: one in which we suggested a solution that would also generate a revenue stream for Automattic, and one that did not. I took this opportunity to ask the trainer how important customer retention and revenue generation was to the Happiness Team. His answer was as refreshing as it was surprising. He told me to always judge each case independently and recommend a solution that best matches the user’s needs, no matter what the outcome to our bottom line. This really captures the essence of the Happiness Team’s approach to customer service, and it is reflected in the conversations I have with other engineers every day. To date I have not once heard an employee disrespect or disparage a user, even in private, even when their question is inane and deserving of ridicule. By stripping away the need to follow a script or try to up-sell someone, Automattic has made it possible for its Happiness Team to address users not as customers, but as people. The effect of this is striking, both on the engineers and those seeking assistance.

When you combine the surprisingly powerful psychology of the Happiness Engineer title, the talented personalities on the team, and a culture of courtesy and respect, you end up with something very special. Automattic has done just this, and it really has been an honor to participate. At the time of this writing I have two more days of support rotation left. In all honesty when I started I was not looking forward to these first three weeks. I have a genuine talent for pissing people off, so trying to make people happy has been an interesting learning experience. Turns out I’m having so much fun, I’m going to be a bit sad to move on. Just a bit though. If Automattic can make it such that even I enjoy customer service, who knows what’s around the next bend.

54 thoughts on “At WordPress, Happiness is Automattic

  1. Pingback: At WordPress, Happiness is Automattic | Unencumbered by Facts | turnings :: daniel berlinger

  2. Pingback: Happiness is Automattic | Nick Momrik

  3. “…genuine talent for pissing people off.” Not the Jason I came to know (and love!) over the last 5 years! In fact, I seem to recall how the customers started seeking you out because they knew you’d attack the problem with enthusiasm. (Or was that Roy?) Automattic is lucky to have you, Jason.

  4. I have a great talent for pissing people off too. I guess I am just scary. Maybe I need to sign up for some training.

  5. Pingback: » How Support Should BeDesign Simply

  6. I know Automattic from wordpress, this is indeed a very good environment for learning.
    From what you mention, I think the success was based on the thought leaders – you happier than me because you doing at Automattic.
    Thanks for the experience sharing… you guys are my idols to pursue.

  7. นี่เป็นข้อมูลที่ทำให้ผู้อ่านรู้สึกว่าตัวเองได้รับความใส่ใจและเป็นเพื่อนกันอย่างอบอุ่น มันทำให้คนเราอยากจะสื่อสารในสิ่งที่เรารู้มาให้คนได้สัมผัส ถึงแม้ว่ามันจะไม่ยิ่งใหญ่ในสายตาของใครบางคน แต่มันสำคัญกับ happy team

  8. Pingback: My First Week with Automattic | Nick Bradbury

  9. I hate scripts it seems like the customers are all just one problem the company wants off the phone. Then you ask a question that’s no in the script and they read the same answer. It feels disrespectful

  10. There’s something faintly terrifying about a team called ‘The Happiness Team’ staffed by ‘Happiness Engineers’ Something unblinking and wide-grinned and 1984, I feel like they probably speak in capitals… (“HELLO, THIS IS THE HAPPINESS TEAM.”)

    • As a novice to WordPress I for one am relieved to know that the somebody like me can get answers fairly quickly to questions that at times to the Happiness Team seem common sense.Not used it yet.

  11. I think this is terrific way to approach customer services. I have worked on several crisis hot lines and worked as a customer service rep for FEMA and VERIZON. FEMA was very supportive and gave you specific guidelines to handle difficult calls. Since I had already earned my Bachelors degree in Social Work, I often had the patience to take some pretty rough calls. In most cases, I was actually able to calm down my callers. I did have a few that were beyond help and I had to let it go. Working for Verizon, however, was not as easy. We were expected to keep within a certain call limit of 2 or 3 minutes. We were told to act like owners and then criticized or written up for doing just that.

    I love the Happiness Team outlook. I think I would enjoy going to work everyday in that type of atmosphere. How great to be a Happiness Expert. 80)

  12. Reblogueó esto en gabriel catalanoy comentado:
    The customer service team is known as the “Happiness Team,” and its members are “Happiness Engineers.” When I first heard this I thought, “Cute, a little silly, but no sillier than my title of Code Wrangler.” Now that I have worked on this team for a while, I have come to realize it is anything but silly or cute; in fact, it’s quite brilliant. The impact of having this title is subtle but powerful. The Happiness Engineers truly do an incredible job helping WordPress users with every problem they report, even ones not related to WordPress. There is an infectious helpfulness that permeates the interaction between team members that can best be described as the exact opposite of the “not my problem” attitude.

  13. “Yeah you guys are not American are you?” Along with other context clues- funny date writing, comments made by people that speak/ write another language, but mainly the support given to a company that practices what it preaches, and apparently from the top down. Most companies I am familiar with in my home of Tampa would be met with the utmost dismissal if they had such a culture. Even the few that try this approach do poorly with oversight and enforcement, as long as the bottom line is healthy. But keep up the good work of leading by example. Cheers! (?)

  14. Unlike yourself I have a talent for bringing happiness into customer service. CS is not an easy job, I know, been there done that, and still do that except now, I do it from an accounting perspective. Glad to see you found a new liking for the CS, even if it was only for a short while.

  15. Having spent a good number of years as a volunteer in the WordPress.com forums I’ve seen this attitude of Happiness Engineering in action continuously, and my Happiness Engineer Trial at Automattic/WordPress.com has only reinforced the feeling that they are doing things right, and the great thing is that the entire Automattic team strives to improve on that each and every day.

  16. Too bad that there is no happiness for the volunteers in the forum. They are doing the same work, sometimes better than someone who have to do this as “Happiness Engineer” – but hey they have this cute title, they have to be better … OMG.

    Respect your volunteers Automattic!

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