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Carolyn has a passion for the human side of business.

She currently looks after the customer experience at Buffer, serving as Chief Customer Officer.

Carolyn believes that empathy, compassion, and a bit of mischief can create magic in the lives of individuals and businesses.

Ask her about: radical transparency, customer service, and remote work.

Invite her for: tea, tennis, or travel.

  • RS

    Rodrigo Severo Matos

    11 months ago #

    Hi Carolyn,

    Super thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

    Regarding new customer engagement strategies, what do you think are some of the best actions to take to make sure you have your new customers fully aboard and seeing value in your platform?

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      Such a great question, Rodrigo! When it comes to onboarding, we rely heavily on experiments, and data. We might think that one thing means a customer is engaged and seeing value, but then we might notice that customers are churning when we didn't expect them to. So, our data team and product team work together to identify the common actions taken by people who churn at a lower rate, thus demonstrating that they're finding value in the product! So, try a bunch of things, and make sure that you have tracking in place! One examples for us: creating a browser extension in order to make composing a post easier and faster, and encouraging new customers to install it through various information campaigns. Another way we check in with customers, especially with a product or feature is new, is to reach out to customers directly and ask them about their experience, as well as monitoring closely any support tickets that come in about that topic. :)

      One of our growth-minded PMs shares a lot about experimentation, so feel free to follow him! Max on Twitter. (He's on vacation at the moment though, so hold off on any work-tweets for about 10 days. ;))

  • MK

    Mariana Klober

    11 months ago #

    Hi Carolyn!

    Excited to have you on! Thanks for doing this :)

    I'm a big fan of remote work as I seem to feel much more productive working from a quiet space and reaching out to the team through slack when needed than working from the office. But after a few days away from the office, I often start missing something -- and as soon as I'm back in the office and get to see everybody's happy faces again I feel much more connected to our purpose and cause. I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way and my questions are:

    1. Is it possible to create an optimal remote work environment in which you really don't feel like you're missing out on the human connection?
    2. What are the main tools/methodologies/platforms you guys use to help the team work seamlessly, remain focused on their objectives and still feel like they belong somewhere and can personally trust their team and colleagues?
    3. What has been the coolest culture ritual you've adopted for your remote team? (I hope you have some success cases to share!)
    4. What do you believe to be the biggest challenge mixed teams face and what solutions would you suggest for it?
    5. How do you envision the future of work? (Really broad question, I know! Excited to jump in your vision and get to see that future as well!)

    Thanks again for sharing your experience with the GrowthHackers community!

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      Thanks so much for having me, I'm so excited to be here!

      Yeah, I really feel you on the "in person connection" thing. There truly is nothing like seeing friends and coworkers in real life, although video programs like Zoom make up a LOT of the difference. These are great questions, let's get into it!

      1. I’d say 90%. There is so much you can do to make remote work a great experience and personalize it for each personality and situation, but I think there’s a certain subset of people who don’t enjoy it no matter what, and end up going back to an on-site office. But yes, we have a wide variety of people and personalities and situations and all have made remote work amazing for them. One of the most valuable tools toward this, other than video calls with teammates, is providing teammates with resources ($) to become a member at a coworking space, or regularly visit coffee shops for that "I need to see people" feeling. :)

      2 Share
    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      2. Tools for cohesion and communication: Slack, office vibe, culture amp, hey taco, etc. :) A cornerstone is also: regular and consistent 1:1s with a manager for goal setting, feedback and human connection. (Also, video standups with teammates!)

      Methodologies: I think there are two that are central here. The key one would be transparency; this helps a lot with trust and respect, and also cuts down on a lot of communication work. The second, I think, is doing the hard work to create a culture of kindness, where it's normal and expected to spend the time giving teammates the benefit of the doubt, and approaching disagreements with a focus on listening and understanding. Also, regular in-person meet ups (roughly 2x per year at minimum) helps a ton with this, too!

      2 Share
    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      3. Some things we do that are fairly tried-and-true with all remote teams are regular meet ups (“retreats”), slack channels for casual chatter, “impromptu hours” where teammates optionally gather in Zoom to discuss something light, and random pairings of teammates each week to have occasion to meet and hang out for 20 minutes, which _always_ results in connection and friendship, and _sometimes_ results in serendipitous work discussions (a la bumping into someone in the office kitchen!). We use a slack integration called Donut for this. (I think those are all fairly standard.)

      One thing we do that’s unique to Buffer, that I think is really powerful, is facilitating self-expression, self-improvement, and discussion by giving *unlimited free kindle books* to all Buffer teammates, as well as their partners. This helps create a strong culture of positivity, self-betterment and creates opportunities for smaller spinoff discussions to happen and cohesive groups to form. That's probably my favorite unique success story! (Retreats are also a huge hit, but that's not quite as unique. :))

      • MK

        Mariana Klober

        11 months ago #

        I love the kindle idea! Is there anything else of this kind that you're looking to implement in the near future? :)

      • CK

        Carolyn Kopprasch

        11 months ago #

        Oh, great question. Not exactly the same vein, but this is the first year we're really leaning into "mini-retreats" (also called "onsites," since our default is "off-site" 😆 #remotepuns). This doesn't have the same expense of the full, team-wide retreat, but it invites each individual team to gather, work together, and bond. These have proven to be very fruitful toward the goal of helping teammates feel connected, in order to help the _other_ 48 weeks stay productive and joyful.

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      5. I love this question! Future of work: I foresee teams leveraging technologies but still being intensely human. I see a future in which more companies lean into transparency with communication. (Buffer has transparent email, and we also use a tool called Discourse to transparent communication. I think this is similar to how Automattic has P2s.)

      I think we're going to need very human leadership (where leaders give honest feedback, admit their own faults and mistakes openly, and prioritize relationships).

      And of course, I can't imagine we're not going to continue to see the trend of companies adopting a strong remote element. Remote allows for teammates in a much wider variety of locations, as well as a much wider variety of personal situations (folks with certain physical disabilities, caregivers, etc) to work for companies that need them but who otherwise wouldn’t be able to join that company or do that role.

      And lastly, I imagine more companies moving to internal pay transparency, because it kicks unconscious bias in the butt. ;)

      2 Share
      • MK

        Mariana Klober

        11 months ago #

        Awesome! I just Googled 'Transparent Email' and found a buffer blog post on the topic. From the description in the blog post (this one: https://open.buffer.com/buffer-transparent-email) I understood that it's still necessary to be in a specific list to be able to access the email threads that are being sent. So it's not like you could simply dive in everyone inboxes and read through whatever you feel like, right?

      • CK

        Carolyn Kopprasch

        11 months ago #

        That's exactly correct Mariana; every team's internal group is available for any teammate to view. Individual private inboxes can not be accessed. :)

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      4. Sorry, what do you mean by "mixed?"

      • MK

        Mariana Klober

        11 months ago #

        I mean with people working both in the office and remotely :)

      • CK

        Carolyn Kopprasch

        11 months ago #

        Oh! Thanks. Yeah, I think this takes *even more work* than a fully remote team. The key thing to watch out for is making sure that remote folks don't feel like second class citizens. We had an office in San Francisco for a while, and it was tough to avoid having conversations out loud that should have been had in slack, or hanging up a video call and then walking to lunch and continuing the conversation. In my opinion, the whole team has to be fully bought in on remote-first, even if there is an office or certain pockets of folks in cities who work regularly together. Maybe even try having empty chairs in a meeting for all folks who are calling in remotely, to remind everyone to speak toward the phone and to avoid cross-talk. And, whenever possible, encourage conversations to move into slack even if you are sitting across from that person. Do things like type "hahaha" if you laughed out loud! It sounds kitchy but things like that are necessary to respect and honor the remote-first mindset. Otherwise, spend the money to regularly have the remote folks visit the office, and/or trick out their workspaces with great AV tools.

        1 Share
  • TO

    Tiago Otani

    11 months ago #

    Hi Carolyn, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    Social media channels are always changing, creating new features, new forms of engagement and opening up different possibilities for marketers and growth professionals. How do you guys keep track of such dynamic environment and how do you try to stay ahead of future developments?

    Congrats for your tool, it's amazing!

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      Thank you Tiago!! That is for sure; social media changes quickly! This is a challenge we're always working on; sometimes we feel great about the seamless connection between our tool and the individual networks, and then sometimes we get surprised by an API change and have to scramble a bit. :) Overall, we try to identify the key needs that our customers have with social media and digital marketing in general, and then build features toward those needs, as opposed to trying to "keep up" with the networks themselves. We greatly value simplicity in our product, so we strive to respond to the larger changes in the digital market space, but not chase every short term feature request. We do this well, IMO, but of course we occasionally make mistakes, but we always learn from them. We've had to "sunset" (remove) a feature or two after realizing that, even though customers requested it, it didn't serve our longer-term goal of helping customers build their businesses on social media by providing a great way to identify and share high quality content. (One example of this was when we removed the "suggestions" feature.) That's one example of a way that we tried to keep up in a dynamic environment and missed the mark. Closing Down Buffer’s Suggestions Feature: Here’s Why and What’s Next However, of course, we have many other examples of listening to customers, doing our research, and creating a product that helps our individual customers and contributes in a positive way to the digital marketing space. :)

      For more specifics, check out this blog post about customer research at Buffer. We have a full-time customer researcher, who works with our (very talented) PMs and our (product-minded) CEO. Those groups, along with our Product Designers and me, form the Product Team. Our Marketing team and Customer Service team also weigh in regularly to share what they're hearing from customers and potential customers. TL;DR: We are constantly discussing that very question. As you can probably imagine, we don't rest on it for very long. If you blink in social media these days, you miss something!

      2 Share
  • TK

    Teena K

    11 months ago #

    Hello Carolyn,

    I'm excited to watch your webinar. I am a Buffer fan-atic.!

    I was sad to watch a webinar this AM on the new changes at Facebook and Instagram. The leader said not to use Buffer and other Social Media Management Platforms because Facebook narrows your reach if you do.

    Is that your understanding as well?

    Thanks,
    Teena

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      Thanks for asking about this Teena; it’s a great one to discuss. My understanding is that this is a commonly held worry, but several rounds of studies have proven it to be unfounded, so don’t worry too much about it! Algorithms respond much more to high quality content and engaged audiences than whatever tools you use to get there. Here are a few resources on this:

      Blog post from 2016

      Blog post from 2018

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    11 months ago #

    Hi Carolyn,

    So awesome to have you on for an AMA!

    I love that Buffer decided to make their shareholder buyout public last week. I'm curious what that looked like in your position.

    Also, I know empathy is a hot topic when it comes to growth. I'm curious if you have any recommendations for improving team empathy towards customers and other team members. If you were starting at a new company, what would be the first 3 things you would do to ensure this empathy is built?

    Looking forward to learning from you!

    Best,
    Dani

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      2. On Empathy, this is such a good one. For many years, everyone at Buffer did some customer support. Speaking directly to customers is the best way to truly internalize the reliance they have on your tool and the joy they feel when it works. (As well as, of course, the pain and stress when it doesn't!) That's a key shortcut to empathy because seeing a stat like "17 people emailed in about this issue" pales in comparison to personally replying to one emotional customer email. That's probably the first thing I would recommend!

      Another key thing is to use the product yourself. We're both B2B and B2C, so it has been pretty reasonable to ask teammates to be customers, also. In companies where that's harder to do because of the nature of the product, investing in qualitative research, up to and including on-site visits, is another way to deeply understand your customers' needs, challenges, "jobs to be done" and shortcuts they use. (This not only helps with empathy but helps unveil great product improvements, too. Win win!) Our customer researcher Roy is a great person to reach out to if you have any questions on setting up or supporting customer research on your team!

      So, 1. All hands support, at least for the first few years. There's unbelievable amounts of knowledge tucked into those brains. 2. Teammates should use the product personally. 3. Do qualitative research yourself as you grow, especially founders and anyone on the product team.

      3 Share
    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      1. Yes, it has been an exciting time! Are you asking specifically about how the buyout experience was for me, or the making public of it? :)

      Overall this has been an amazing learning experience for me and for us… both the buyout and the process of telling the story publicly. I've been a part of Buffer for 6 years, and it's been an amazing experience to watch us unpeel ourselves from the assumed "unicorn" model of startups. We raised money, moved to San Francisco, and focused a lot on our growth rate... and then we went fully remote, focused a lot on existing customers and their experience, and now have taken a big step toward buying out our investors. It's a really common thing for companies to decide not to go the unicorn model, but it's just not the type of story you read about very often in techcrunch. :) Check out the movement of companies and founders who are pushing back on this model, called "zebras."

      Now we're focused on sustainable growth, and profitability, and we're thrilled to have investors who are aligned with this path.

      2 Share
  • BW

    Bruno Winck

    11 months ago #

    How did you come to know about @Buffer and how did the idea to join them came to you?

    Sorry if this overlap an existing question

    • CK

      Carolyn Kopprasch

      11 months ago #

      Funny story, I know exactly when I learned about Buffer! It was this article:

      https://techcrunch.com/2011/12/20/sharing-scheduler-app-buffer-raises-400000-gets-kicked-out-of-us/

      I was a customer, follower, and fan for about 8 months before I saw a tweet about them needing some customer service help during US hours. I reached out, and after a few emails and one interview, I started helping out with support questions during my nights and weekends. After about a month of that, I quit my job and moved to Buffer fully. :)

      • BW

        Bruno Winck

        11 months ago #

        Sweet. I read Joel's side in his tweets a couple of days ago. I could very well empathize with the picture he drew. Now I know the other side.

        Makes me think that in B2C your next hire could very well be your customer.

        Do you think there is a link between customer satisfaction (in SAAS meaning) relates with employer satisfaction. That boths could be treated with the same approach. This was an idea of a friend and I have now the occasion to tap in your experience.

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