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Website giant Automattic pioneers distributed workforce CX

Automattic was ahead of the curve in creating an effective remote work environment for its global team of support agents (aka "happiness engineers"). Consolidating communication in the Zendesk system improved visibility for employees and gave Automattic the confidence to support its decentralized workforce.

“Zendesk is a robust tool that allows us to bring order to Automattic’s processes and workflows. It gives us a place to manage customer conversations, and serves as a centralized hub for our decentralized team.”

Kristina Nikolova

director of support operations at Automattic


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Customer since


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Avg CSAT across channels

When more than 75 million websites around the world rely on your products and services day in and day out, incredible customer service isn’t just important, it’s mission critical.

Open source software company Automattic has become one of the most ubiquitous companies on the web by delivering powerful, easy-to-use online publishing solutions, and backing them up with exceptional customer support. In addition to making significant contributions to the open source platform WordPress—which powers roughly 34% of the Internet—Automattic offers a suite of content management, ecommerce, and security tools, which include, WooCommerce, and Jetpack.

The company has emerged as one of the largest online platforms in the world by making web publishing tools accessible to everyone, from the smallest microblog to the largest media companies manage their online presence. It’s a shared purpose that unites the company.

“What initially drew me to Automattic was its mission to democratize publishing and give a voice to people and social groups all over the world,” said Kristina Nikolova, director of support operations at Automattic. “We want to make the Internet a better place. And that starts with giving our customers a great experience.”

Another powerful way that Automattic fulfills this mission is with its unique corporate structure. The company operates almost entirely virtually, with no office locations anywhere in the world other than those that belong to Tumblr, which it acquired in August 2019. With the exception of Tumblr’s team, all employees work from home. This allows Automattic to have a truly global workforce that spans more than 70 countries around the world.

“Our user base is incredibly diverse, encompassing literally anyone from around the world who wants to create a website,” Nikolova said. “By operating the company virtually, we’re able to make our team actually reflect the same diversity as our users, which allows us to serve them much better—and it enables us to deliver 24/7 support without requiring anyone to work at night. When I’m ready to stop working for the day, the team in Australia is just coming online for their nine-to-five.”

This virtual approach to running the company also lets Automattic empower its team by giving them the flexibility to pursue a great work life balance, no matter how individual employees may define it.

“We have people with disabilities or chronic diseases who can’t make it in to an office five times a week. If they weren’t able to do remote work, they couldn’t work at all,” said Ines van Essen, happiness engineer at Automattic. “I’m a mom with three kids between eight months and 11 years old. I’m able to construct my day so I have a full time job while still being a stay-at-home mom. The benefits of the virtual environment are endless.”

The company believes that when employees are empowered to do work on their own terms, they pass along that along that spirit to their customers with impassioned support.

Customer service is deeply ingrained in Automattic’s DNA. Of the company’s global team of 950 employees, more than 350 are on the support team, which is affectionately referred to as the “Happiness Team.” Support agents are known as “happiness engineers,” and every employee at the company, no matter their position, spends the first two weeks after being hired working directly with customers in this role.

Automattic offers customers three tiers of support based on their specific use case. Hobbyists and other individuals who enjoy the free tier of the company’s services have access to a robust set of online forums that are constantly updated by happiness engineers. Customers who use paid versions of Automattic solutions receive email support, while premium members can also contact the company via live chat. Enterprise customers have the added benefit of Zoom video chat with the Happiness Team.

In order to provide consistent service across the globe and provide a shared workspace to connect their distributed team, Automattic has been using Zendesk Support to manage its workflow since 2011. In fact, Zendesk has helped the company consistently maintain CSAT scores between 85 and 95 percent, despite offering limited channel support for free-tier customers.

Zendesk is also used as part of the company’s unique onboarding and hiring process, which helps the company evaluate whether a candidate will be successful in its distributed team model. Candidates are brought on board for a paid month-long project, where they work alongside happiness engineers using Zendesk. It’s a powerful way to understand how the potential employee will perform in the virtual team structure.

“It only takes candidates about three days to get trained on Zendesk and their role as a happiness engineer. After that, they’re ready to start working with customers,” said van Essen. “It’s in our creed that communication is like oxygen, so we need to know people are capable of communicating and thriving in our virtual organization.”

Another way that Automattic fosters a culture of constant communication is through Zendesk QA (formerly Klaus), a quality management and conversation review solution. Zendesk QA gives happiness engineers the ability to review and score interactions from other agents, providing the broader team insight into what individual agents are working on, while helping each other improve through constant feedback. Zendesk QA also helps reduce the friction of onboarding new agents who can learn from the highest rated responses and interactions.

“Peer reviews with Zendesk QA help make sure you don’t end up being in your own little bubble,” van Essen said. “Each agent is responsible for peer reviewing 10 tickets every week. Since everyone in the company is remote, you never hear other people talking. So by reviewing what other people do in Zendesk QA, you learn about how you can change your own answers to help everyone level up with each other. It’s incredibly helpful.”

The company also brings this quality-first mentality to the KPIs it uses to measure the impact of the Happiness Team, focusing on speed to resolution, and looking at CSAT as a holistic measurement.

“We’re not obsessed with timed first response. We want to optimize for the end time conversation,” Nikolova said. “Unlike other companies, we don’t look at CSAT on an individual basis. For us it’s a metric that we track as an indicator of our overall success as a service organization.”

And while Automattic is constantly looking for new tools and solutions to empower its team of happiness engineers, they never lose sight of what their customers value most: a great relationship with the company based on trust.

“Despite how technology changes, customer expectations will always be revolving around good and honest communication, fast and effective responses, and reliable solutions,” Nikolova said. “This is what customer happiness is all about.”