Scheduling WOW Factors

Essay published on March 14, 2013

I want to brag on my co-founder, Denny Swindle. We've been working together for over eight years now, so we're work married (same goes for Jared). What makes him a brilliant engineer in my view is his empathy for customers. He arguably cares more about making customers happy than anyone I know. It's because of Denny that we get messages like this from customers all the time:


Denny deserves all the credit for this comment, because he makes time for WOW-factors. In a given week, I'd estimate he spends up to 25% of his time fixing bugs, improving features or adding new functionality to Help Scout that wasn't planned for that week. They aren't on any roadmap, but a customer asks and Denny will turn it around in hours.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it defies conventional wisdom for most software companies. We have this thing called a roadmap, which prioritizes all the things we want to build, improve or fix. People that make the roadmap (ahem, like me) want everyone to follow it ... item by item with intense focus, avoiding interruption so we can move as fast as possible.

Thankfully, Denny doesn't care much for what I think he should work on. At least 2-3 times per week, he'll get distracted by a customer request and drop everything, going out of his way to WOW the customer. Commence eye roll from me, but I've finally realized that he's absolutely right.

Does this mean it takes more time to get through our roadmap tasks? Absolutely. Does this mean we're not always working on what we consider to be most important? Yep. Is scheduling time for WOW-factors like this still the best way to make customers happy? 100% yes. Has it also made Help Scout a better product? No question.

I don't think there's a single more powerful driver of customer loyalty in our business than implementing a customer's request. I see it every week at Help Scout. Denny's attitude is contagious, as other engineers follow suit and even I let myself get interrupted more often, so I can make time to do WOW-factors as well. It's become part of our culture.

Sometimes productivity is overrated. I challenge you to leave up to 25% of your week unscheduled. Block it off so that you can consciously spend that time doing little things that will put a smile on your customer's face. You'll be amazed at the impact it can have.

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