Eating our own dogfood: Building a support tool we use daily
A powerful thing happens when you use your own product.
It gets better. Quickly.
The phrase "eating your own dogfood", and the verb "dogfooding" is an old one, rooting back to the 80’s when a Microsoft exec emailed a colleague and said "We are going to have to eat our own dogfood and test the product ourselves."
With Buffer Reply, we don’t just test the product but use it daily as our primary support tool. It’s also used across all of our products here at Buffer.
Creating a product we’d use
Alongside email, Twitter has always served as one of the key channels for customer service at Buffer. Twitter is a quick, easy way for our fans, customers and soon-to-bes to reach out to us.
Just a few immediate benefits we’ve found offering support through Twitter include:
- It’s easy to reach out: Folks can quickly shoot us a tweet without any barriers; no spam filters, no web forms or are-you-a-robot Captchas – just a quick @mention.
- Less time per-conversation: With Twitter’s 140 character limit, most conversations tend to be to-the-point that our team can tackle quickly, allowing us to get back to even more people.
- It’s universal: When you’re on Twitter, you know what to expect. For customers, replies and DMs with you show up right alongside their other interactions with friends and fans without any surprises.
After acquiring Respondly last year, we were essentially acquiring a tool we’d be using daily; Something we knew we could work to improve, because it was something we needed ourselves. We were (and still are) the ideal customer.
Pro Tip: It turns out quicker replies not only makes for happier customers, it can significantly improve revenue potential as well. This makes Twitter an ideal channel for customer support and engagement.
Not all issues are alike
Testing is a great thing, clicking each button to ensure it works as expected and fixing what doesn’t. Some issues, though, show up only when you’re using the product or dogfooding it yourself. Joel Spolsky, co-founder of the wildly popular Trello and Fog Creek Software blogged about this way back in 2001:
"I had forgotten how well [eating your own dog food] worked, until a month ago, I took home a build of CityDesk (thinking it was about 3 weeks from shipping) and tried to build a site with it.
Phew! There were a few bugs that literally made it impossible for me to proceed, so I had to fix those before I could even continue. All the testing we did, meticulously pulling down every menu and seeing if it worked right, didn’t uncover the showstoppers that made it impossible to do what the product was intended to allow. Trying to use the product, as a customer would, found these showstoppers in a minute."
Trying to use the product, as a customer would, found these showstoppers in a minute. -Joel Spolsky, co-founder of the wildly popular Trello
One example of this is with our follow-up button in Buffer Reply. It works great right now in regards to functionality; nothing’s broken and everything’s working as expected. The thing is, it takes two clicks to set a follow-up reminder and then archive it.
When you’re actually using the product, and replying to lots of customers daily, you realize those clicks add up — fast. Using our own product daily made it clear we needed a button to do both in just one click (which we’re working on implementing as we speak).
It’s a team effort
We currently have all our Buffer teams using Reply. For us, it’s the dream scenario being lucky enough to have such a direct channel of feedback.
When the Pablo team was first getting started with Buffer Reply, Roy, one of the Pablo team members, recorded his entire signup experience. Oh boy did we learn a ton from this. Seeing first hand all of the pain points, hearing the "uh, what next" comments, and watching the awkward clicking around as he tried to get his job done. This sort of direct, unfiltered feedback is priceless.
“Having the proximity to assist in crafting the tool into something that enhances our ability to support our customers most efficiently has been invaluable." — Darcy, Buffer’s Twitter Happiness Lead
Some our biggest learnings right now come from the Buffer Twitter team. With nearly 10,000 conversations flowing through the Buffer Reply inbox each month, and the load-intensive #BufferChat Twitter chat flowing in each week, it’s really put to the test.
Always striving to do more
Admittedly, it’s hard to get everyone to participate in customer support each day but we’ve recently made a big push on Whole Company Support at Buffer.
Anything that gets our whole team into support is huge for us, more specifically, anything that’ll get our team into the product. That’s why one experiment we’ve been trying was to remove the option to email us directly from the app — instead, the contact button creates a new tweet with @GetRespond already pre-filled.
Over to you
We’d love to learn how you eat your dogfood and strategies you and your team take to get the team using it.
Let us know on Twitter @GetRespond — We’ll be replying from Buffer!