RWL176: Harnessing Human Connection in Digital Customer Service with Olark’s Ben Congleton

From the archives:

On today’s episode I’m revisiting an interview recorded during the remote work life summit (2019) in which I share the secrets of blending human touch with technology in customer service with Ben Congleton, CEO and founder of Olark. 

Our conversation peels back the layers of how Olark revolutionized live chat communications, marrying real-time interaction with the convenience of digital platforms. Learn how they’ve upheld the human-centric philosophy since 2009, ensuring that their growth never eclipsed the company’s mission to enhance efficiency and satisfaction for customer service representatives. Ben also reveals how they’ve navigated the waters of remote work, transforming challenges into opportunities for a flexible, yet deeply connected workforce.

Navigating the complexities of a human-centric business, we unravel the threads of Olark’s journey, from a shared vision among friends to a leader in empathetic customer service. Ben Congleton shares the significance of embedding a caring company culture into the fabric of their operations. He also illustrates how the company’s approach has guided other businesses toward more remote-friendly and compassionate practices, thereby shaping the future of work. Our fascinating dialogue uncovers the intricate balance of technology and the irreplaceable human element in the service industry.

Wrapping up with actionable advice, Ben provides a treasure trove of tips for standing out in job applications and acing the hiring process. He underscores the importance of aligning with a company’s values and culture, as well as the power of effective communication skills. We also examine the critical nature of onboarding in remote work settings, ensuring that new hires are woven seamlessly into the organizational tapestry. Thank you, Ben, for sharing your invaluable insights, as we spotlight the heart of customer service and the art of human connection in a digital world.

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Alex Wilson-Campbell:

So, hello everybody, another edition of the remote work life summit and today, yet another wonderful guest I've got Ben Congleton of and Ben, I've been following Ben. I mean, I tend to follow quite a lot of people online, but there's a certain criteria of people who I want to get online and really interview them to find out more about their business. is a wonderful software application, I guess you could say it helps to build relationships, it helps businesses to grow and, you know, obviously in keeping with the whole idea of remote work and distributed teams, ben is a founder and a CEO of one of those. So and a very successful one, I might add as well. So, as I said, I wanted to get him on here to find out more about and to find out more about him. Ben, thank you for joining me.

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, Alex, glad to be here Excellent.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And Ben, as I said, I mean I know a bit about but there's going to be one or two people out there who may not know about . So could you tell us a bit more about and how you got to where you are?

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, yeah, yeah for sure. So if you visit a website recently, you've probably noticed it. In the bottom right-hand corner there's often a little button that says like click here to chat. We're one of the first companies to do that. We got that thing started back in 2009. And so a lot of the websites that you visit today have on them. A lot of them have our white label, a lot of them are, you know, competitors, but more or less we got that whole craze started. We were the first company that sided like hey, chat should be on page. It shouldn't be in a pop-up window and there should be a person there, not a robot, not like someone in a call center that doesn't understand the business. It should be like someone that works at your company helping to sell the product, because people have questions before they buy and it turns out that if you talk to them when they have these questions quickly and instantly, they're more likely to buy. And so we have over 12,000 businesses using us today. Wow, we help companies like Bonobos, grow Microsoft as a customer, and even really, really small customers like little plumbing groups or real estate management companies. If you have a website and you have traffic on that website. You need chat on it. You don't have to be there 24-7. You could be there just a couple hours of the day, but you will capture more leads and you will be able to get more value out of your website by just being there to answer questions from the people that are on your site.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And there's massive value in that.

Ben Congleton:

Like you said, I saw a statistic the day that the drop-off rate or the bounce rate for a website is something like 80 or 90% for a first-time visitor, so I guess you're solving a massive problem for Well, I think the issue is that a lot of people aren't going to pick up the phone when they have a question, and a lot of people leave without getting the questions answered, and so chat is a place somewhere between leaving and making a phone call. So we just try to lower that barrier to communicate, and it turns out that this benefits basically any business that sells online. So we have just sort of such a wide range of customers. But if your listeners haven't tried out chat, I mean we have both a free edition and a free trial edition. So my belief is basically, if you're in the business of trying to grow or help your customers, communicating with them is very important. So chat is sort of how, while we get started in 2009, I've been really kind of pushing on that, trying to build a really easy, affordable way of adding that communication channel to your website.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

It's massive value and, like I said, we only have the best on this, on the remote work life summit, and that's, as I said, that's why I invited Ben and one of the pioneers in this whole game, so I mean, there's so many of them out now, out there now, aren't there Ben? There's so many. Chat seems to be a buzzword right now, and sort of AI and all that sort of thing, and you, yeah.

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, I mean it is very interesting. I think right now we're seeing this big revolution where a lot of people think they can replace all the people that work in their organizations and customer service with some sort of AI. I personally don't believe that's actually a great idea. I think that it has a lot of bad consequences to try to just replace customer service with a bot. You know, nlp is natural language. Processing is not that great right now. So I think right now a lot of people just have this idea in their head that you can just magically make customer service automated and not have to pay or employ all these people. But for me at O-Lark, our philosophy is much more on like, hey, you have people working your company, you have people working customer service. How can we, with technology, make those people 10 times as efficient or help those people feel 10 times as good about doing their job every day, going to work every day, and so you know, the interesting thing about remote work is it's very easy to do customer service remotely and that if you have the right software in place, you can do that work from your house, on your couch, you know, after you take your kids to school, before they come back Like it's a job that really lends itself to remote work, and it's also a job where I think the human element actually adds quite a bit of value. So, you know, if I'm trying to buy a product and I'm trying to buy a product from a bot versus a human being if I'm talking to a bot, I know I'm talking to a bot. I'm not creating a relationship with this bot. If I'm talking to a human, though, like I think you have the opportunity to build a deeper relationship and create a relationship between that person at your company and that shopper. That adds brand value, it boosts word of mouth, referral, it brings insight into your organization, because people are now like communicating with customers, not just, you know, a robot trying to deflect them from talking to a human. So, from my standpoint, I'm pro-humans. I think whenever we're shopping, whenever we're buying something, we want someone who understands what it's like to be a human and has a range of expertise and is not just sort of a fixed script that can answer like a couple different questions.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Yeah, and I think you know, I think we joke about it and we laugh about it, but I think even well, I'll say even customers who visit websites these days, the lay person who doesn't know anything about AI, they know, don't they? They know it's a robot when an automated sequence is sort of put before them, they already know that, don't they?

Ben Congleton:

I mean whether they know it or not, like if they don't know it it might even be worse, because they just think the person they're dealing with is an idiot Like you know like. if they don't like, either there's two outcomes. Right, the outcome is they know it's a bot, which means that they know that the company on the other end doesn't necessarily care about them enough to put a person there to talk to them, or they're fooled into thinking they're talking to a human being, and then that human being reaches a point where there's an exception in that such that, like you know, the script can't handle the questions they're asking, and then the person you know, the lay person is just freaking confused because they were having this conversation with this great person bot thing, it's called robot, yeah, and all of a sudden like it just doesn't compute and it's broken. And I think you know if for any of you who have had to try to have like an actual conversation with Siri or Google Now are these like basically the best AIs out there, you will know that there's still a lot of problems in that technology and it's not ready to say replace people. The best implemented bots I've seen are just asking people a couple of questions that are in trying to qualify them before sending them to a salesperson. I think there is a role for that sort of tool, but I would put those tools more on the side of like, hey, I have more customers reaching out to me than I can possibly handle post-sale, Pre-sale. I think you really want to put the opportunity and the time into building those relationships and creating that brand connection For sale. I can understand if you just want to like drive your cost down, but ultimately I think there's a lot that you get from having those customer service teams that are like things that are a little bit hard to attach value to. For example, if you have a you know a customer service person on your team answering questions, that person actually is gaining quite a bit of customer empathy and there's someone that can be promoted into other roles within your organization, move that person, replace them with a bot and try to hire like junior people that you want to bring into your organization and grow into more roles. And you know you may not have other entry-level positions that are going to cause them to have such a high-level customer empathy. So I think there's just a lot. There's not kind of like a wrapped up in this bot thing. I don't need to spend the whole interview talking about it, but my general philosophy is like, hey, if you're a small business, you're probably the way that you compete in this industry is through the relationships, through your personality and the better job you can do putting your personality out there. So the people that are engaging with you on your website or meeting you on your website like fill that human connection like the better off you're going to be. Because you can't, you're not going to be able to compete with the Amazons and the Googles and the Facebooks of the world by out-automating them. I can guarantee you that You're going to have to out-care them and out-human them, and you know, that's sort of where Olaq sits in our philosophy, as we sort of think about like the chatbot revolution, for me Just like a huge opportunity for small businesses to lose or to try to save money in a way that causes them to lose. What is special about them for their customers?

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Absolutely, and I think, well, there's probably a bit of an over-emphasis on the whole aspect of AI and its value from that standpoint. Even when I speak to, I speak to Derek Anderson of Startup Grind and he was literally the same thing as you. That it's all about, you know, building those relationships, communication that's human and is relevant and, you know, is meaningful. That's what's going to grow a business. That's what's going to, you know, that insight that you get from those conversations Great, and I'm not going to go into thoseест. I mean, you got to a point where this has been your big thing O-Lark is your big thing. How did you get to the point of knowing that O-Lark was the direction that you wanted to take your career?

Ben Congleton:

That's a really good question. I love that question. You know I think I've done a lot of interviews on this so I don't need to go into a ton of detail. But if you look at, I don't know, there's a good Mixer G interview where I kind of go into a lot of detail. There's a I think Groove HQ has a pretty good interview with me talking about sort of some of the decisions there. I think I'll give you like the really short answer because I don't want to like spend the whole interview on that Well, stuff that will help our audience out.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

you know, yeah, yeah sure.

Ben Congleton:

I mean, I think, like for me, I am not someone who like sits down and says I'm going to, you know, I'm going to put a man on the moon, or something like that. I don't like build these like really long term plans. I think the way that I ended up sort of running O-Lark and it ended up being something that was really important to me is just sort of a general philosophy about how, like, I want to start a business and like, right when I started this thing, like kind of before, it was like we might have gotten into Y Com, in or maybe a little bit before Y Com, and I wrote this post and it was basically a blog post about how what I really wanted to do was to build a company where I could hang out with my friends, building something amazing and helping people. Like that was that sort of core to, I think, who I am as a person and like, and I think that prior to O-Lark, I had another company like there was a web hosting company, slash consulting firm and I was kind of getting a little bit of that need fulfilled. But then when we started O-Lark and it was, you know, just like three or four of us yeah, it was just like couple friends hanging out trying to like make this thing into reality. And as we scaled and grown it, I think that dream has really stayed alive. I think building this really great team with this really great culture and tackling challenges that are important to the world and important to our customers is a really easy way to kind of stay energized and want to come to work every day. And I think, like for me anyway, there's this idea of live chat, like O-Lark live chat, and to me that is just a piece, that is a very small piece of like the total set of problems that we're interested in. It turned out that, like at the beginning, there was this big opportunity to build and kind of invent the way that chat worked on websites right. So like we sort of invented the way that people have grown to engage with websites and that's awesome. It's awesome to like kind of invent something and see it taken far further than you can even take it. And I think like that's sort of what we've seen recently with all the new companies spawning up and their new takes on this and their new approaches. I think that our approach of being a very human centric, like kind of focusing on the agent and growing them is gonna work for like a lot of businesses, but it's not gonna work for everyone. Like if you're trying to drive costs all the way down, like you're gonna put some automation there and you'll figure it out, but we'll focus on the guys who want sort of the higher value from their customers, like the more valuable customers. But, that said, I think what I've realized over the years is really the thing that makes me very excited is this idea of making business humans. So both the idea of sort of helping businesses connect with each other as people, as humans, and then also building software that kind of emphasizes what people do really well. So you know, there's a lot of technologists who build software because they love technology and they love to just like build this cool tech. I think at OLAARC we've really like the thing that we're excited about is like helping people, and so like the cool tech is just like a way in which we can help people. And you know, if you think about the org we've built and our set of values, that's sort of what I'm excited about. I'm like excited about sort of giving value systems to more businesses so they can build cultures that really care about their employees or giving value systems to make remote work easier for other people to adopt, like if we can hand you a handbook and you can take remote work and you can make it work. And you can make it work the way we did, cause I think that our team feels very empowered, our team feels like cares a ton about where they work and I feel absolutely trusted. And I think that maybe OLAARC isn't ourselves as a business is not going to scale to employ every remote worker, but, heck, if we can give some guidance to those other companies employing remote workers, I think that'd be a really great way to make impact and to make more businesses more human and more caring. So, yeah, there's a. It's, I guess, like your original question of how did I arrive here? I started off just wanting a place where I could hang off my friends building cool stuff and then I realized that I sort of wanted to figure out how you could scale that and bring that to more people who weren't just working at OLAARC. And our lever is we're pretty good at building products and we're pretty good at kind of thinking big and empowering teams, and as long as I can keep doing that I'm having a good time.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Sounds good to me. Sounds good to me. And well, I love making notes, by the way, as you're talking, so I'm remembering all these questions I've got. The more you're talking, the more questions that are coming to my mind. So, but you talk about the software being just a part of the actual grand scheme of things. But you mentioned remote work. Was remote work something that was, or putting together remote teams, something deliberate part of that whole plan of yours?

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, it's funny, right, Because we're known as this remote company. Like we get like so many job applicants for positions. It's like amazing. But like at the beginning, in the early days of this thing, I had run a remote company prior. So my web hosting company that ran prior to this was remote and for a while we were thinking about trying something different. We're going to build a non remote company and that worked basically up until we tried to hire our first employee and we had no money and so we were in Silicon Valley. We didn't raise any money we couldn't afford to get. I guess we did have one guy working for us for a bit but then he left because people were paying way better than we could, even though he loved us. But we just like literally couldn't afford to pay people what they needed to make in that area. And so we hired a college friend of mine as employee number one who was living in a much cheaper area and I knew he was solid, I knew he'd be a great teammate and so we took away. He had like an hour commute, like maybe a two hour commute every day. We took that off. He got to work from home, changed his life and even then even then we weren't ready to go remote. We're still like, oh well, you know, we'll make acceptance here and there, but like we really just don't want to be remote. So we built out kind of a customer service team in house, like in California, and then we tried to hire marketing. We're like, oh, we can't find anyone for marketing, oh, there's this guy in Toronto, we'll hire him. We're like, oh no, but we're still remote. We're still not remote and we were like, keep kind of like. And then one co-founder moved to Ann Arbor Michigan and we're like, okay, we'll have two offices, We'll have one office in California, we'll have one office in Ann Arbor Michigan and we'll have these a couple of exceptions kicking around their worker mode, but for the most part we're gonna be old school.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Bricks and mortar.

Ben Congleton:

Bricks and mortar company. And then we were trying to hire for DevOps and we were having the hardest and we're like we want DevOps in an East Coast time zone so that they'll be close to Europe, and we want them in Ann Arbor because that's where it would make sense, based on where we are, where everyone's located, and we try to hire for this position. And by this point we had a couple of people in our Ann Arbor office, couple of people in San Francisco I think we may have only had. We probably had two, maybe two remote employees at that time. And at that point I looked forever trying to hire someone for DevOps in Michigan and we found this guy in Brooklyn and he was like oh yeah, I'm thinking about moving somewhere. Maybe, maybe I could move to Michigan or, yeah, I was good enough, we'll hire this guy. And after that hiring process we were just like screw it, like we're gonna hire a remote, we can get really good people remote, we're not gonna care about where they're located. We spent like way too long trying to make that hire and I think that was the real moment for me where remote had gone from like, oh, this is kind of like a bonus, like if we find really good people and they don't want to move, we can hire them remote. It's like, no, we're just gonna focus remote from here on out and we may find people in offices or not, but we're not going to like put that restriction on where they are. Now, for the most part, that's true. I think there was one position where we were hiring it and we wanted it to be like in San Francisco, because it was a design position and the person who was gonna work with it really wanted to collaborate in person. That was a co-founder of mine, but he's no longer with the company. So like that was the last position we posted that actually had a location on it and that was a couple of years ago. And from there on out, like we're pure remote. Actually, this year this year we still have a lease on an empty office in Michigan.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Oh my gosh.

Ben Congleton:

If anyone, if anyone's in empty office in Michigan, we totally got your office and huge discount on a rent. Excellent. So that's the year that lease runs out I think in March. But we're basically we'll have no physical locations at the end of by March of next year.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

So as of March next year, it would be a 100% remote company with no we've already well, I mean in the sense like you've already been 100%.

Ben Congleton:

So we're still this lease, we're paying for an office and no one went to. But so that's been happening for a while. I mean we've been I would argue we've probably been 100% remote for many years. We just like, rented some empty office space that people would occasionally show up to.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And you mentioned your team. You were talking about your team, ben DevOps, customer service. What's the what's the breakdown? Are there more elements to your team? I'm sure there are.

Ben Congleton:

Well, I mean, you know it's a standard software company, right? So you have marketing. We never really built out sales because our price point was more turnkey. You know just from really big customer service team. We invested very strongly in customer service. I think our belief is a customer service sort of does sales, sort of does customer success, and generally these are the people that kind of live and breathe the passion of your company all the time. So finding really good people there is excellent. And then you know engineering product team. This normal gets PMs designers. I don't think there's anything abnormal, by the way, or construction.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

No, but yeah, I suppose you'd expect that customer service would be an important part of your company.

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, I think part of that is interesting. I think part reason we went so hard on customer service at the beginning is that when I'd ran the web hosting company prior, we had under invested in customer service and it had caused problems and what basically happened is like the owners were doing all the customer service. Then we hired staff to Do customer service for us, which is just, you know, like some college buddies looking for like part-time jobs, and those guys just really didn't do as good of a job as as as we had done and Didn't care as much as we did. And so I thought, think that, well, actually In early days of like, we all did customer service. So we did a rotation where every person on the team would do customer service Like one day a week or a couple hours a week or whatever. And then eventually, when we decided, even when we hired a customer service team, we still kept doing that, where everyone the team would go around do it, and it wasn't tell a couple years in that we decided operationally we needed to sort of take all-hand support, which was operationally, which meant everyone on the team was doing customer service. We had to. We wanted that to no longer be a requirement. We wanted to be so that, so that we could have the customer service team could handle all the customer service load and it was a bonus if other people when did their all-hands support shifts. So that transition happened over you know, a couple of years, probably, just sort of going from having everyone do customer service as part of their job, like where it was needed for them to do it, to where everyone did customer service Optionally, just because, like we had built this culture where everyone did customer service, they could hop on and, like you know Dog, through the new release they made, or just see how customers were reacting to something by hopping on to chat and I'll just doing a support show, mm-hmm.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And you mentioned earlier that you get lots of applications right. What for you? Not for that? Sorry, Okay, yeah that's alright, I was just. You're saying that you get lots of applications and well, yeah, that doesn't really surprise me. What with all, with that being bomb, you know, with you being bombarded applications, what, what really stands out for you? Or what? How can somebody really stand out if they are applying to you either to a job that is Posted or a speculative application?

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, that's a really good question. So I Used to run hiring for a while, but we hired someone who is so much, so much better than I am at it that it's fantastic. So Mandy is probably the person you could best answer that question, okay, but, I could try to like give you a sense for it, right. So, to get in the door, you have to understand that it's a pretty competitive process. So, you know, whatever position you're applying for, just assume that we're gonna get a lot of applicants for it. So, put in the time, you know, polish your resume. We normally ask pre-screening questions at the beginning. Put in the time, like, don't just like go to our website and just see these pre-screening questions and just kind of like knock out answers really quick, take, take the time to take this pre-screening questions, put them in a Google doc, write good answers to them. You know, get some, get your friends, give you feedback. I mean, you could even probably email us and ask for feedback on some of those pre-screening questions. Like, I bet, I bet Mandy would probably give you a little bit of time, probably if you sent something. So, like, you know, take the time. You know we have chat on our website. You can stop by, you can ask questions there. I think, generally speaking, to get an interview right, to just get past a resume screen like one, you got to have a resume and A set of answers to our screening questions. Yeah, makes sense, right, like, even if you're the most passionate person in the world. You're probably like we have enough applicants. There's lots of passionate people. That applicant pool, I bet like we can't we can't let one One passionate person who's done like all this extra work, who's not qualified, is probably not going to make it through. I mean, every once while will log cart someone. So if you went out and did something crazy, like Built something cool with our API or like create a video, or just kind of went so like kind of over the top, other, over other applicants, you probably would stand out and like you probably get interview. Like basically, our hiring process is kind of like standard and it will walk our people every once in a while just to get them into the, into the funnel, because sometimes those people can be amazing. But generally speaking, you know, having resume and the answer to our screening questions, it's the way to do it. If you want to, you know, if you can wow us some way that we haven't seen before, you'll probably get an interview. But like during that interview, if you're not qualified to do the job, like you can spend outside doing something awesome and then just like bomb the interviews you get found out. But like you know, like that might help you in the future when you're applying for another job that you are qualified for, because you know will remember that being wild that one time. So, so, anyway, yeah, so that's that's how you get, that's how you get a phone call and then, once you get the phone call, uh, you know, mandy would probably screen to make sure that, like you were, like I said, like you know, generally qualified for position, you understand what it was and you know, could communicate clearly with us. And and then, uh, for most of our positions we have homework that we give. You will like say like hey, go, like do this work for us, and we'll generally give you like an amazon gift card or something like that in exchange, because we know this stuff takes time. Um, so, after someone does the homework, we'll read over every single homework that comes in and you know, if you get to homework stage, it means like you got a shot getting the job. Basically, like we don't give basically at every phase we're cutting people out. Like we only want to basically be looking at people who could Potentially be hired, like there's no. Like there's no like. Oh, like we're feeling nice, we're just gonna like, no, we don't do that at all. It's. It's all like very, very scientific, like if you're doing work for us, you get a shot of getting it, and so, um, we turn people down as early in the process as we think, uh, as we can, just so no one was wasting any other time. Uh, and, you know, do the homework. We'll evaluate the homework and generally have sort of a like, a. We call them technical interviews, but they're basically like reviewing the homework Plus like kind of diving into sort of the technical skills required for the job, and then after that we do a culture interview, which is where, uh, you know, assuming at that point, we assume basically, you can do the job, you pass the technical interview, you can do the job. The culture interview, um, is where we talk about our values, because, oh, like is a very values driven company. I love that, yeah, we want. We don't, we're not like looking for people that look that fit any individual mold, but, uh, generally speaking, the people that get hard or are engaged on some level with our values, uh, like, they can't sort of view company values as sort of like bullshit. Uh, and and that would come across in the in the cultural, the cultural interviews like, you have to kind of be bought into what we're trying to do at the company. Uh, and then you know, we'll give you an opportunity to talk about the value that you feel like, uh, you look, uh, we'll be the best exemplifying the value you think you'd be the worst exemplifying and have like kind of a real, real conversation. And if that goes, that goes well, uh, we'll take the like the best couple of people from that round and we'll bring them in and have them work remotely for us For a day and we'll pay them for the whole day consulting rate and, you know, basically give you a day in the life working at olark and if you you ace that, you get a job.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Bingo. Is it easy as that? Yeah, no problem. No, it's, it's good, it's great. I mean, there's quite a lot there. I mean I'd, I'd love to. Can you give us any clues as to what's in the homework at all?

Ben Congleton:

I mean it's good, it's specifically a job role, I mean just a mat, like if you're like a director of marketing, what you've recently been hiring like your homework looked like. Here's a bunch of data that's not necessarily exactly olarks data but it's like close enough to give you a sense for what the job will be like. Give us your like 90 day plan and your 180 day plan and uh state any assumptions that you need. Any questions you need answered like a pretty, like thoughtful Kind of assignment. But that's for a more of a higher level for a cs person. Actually, I'm not sure what the homework looks like there. My guess is that if it's been iterated on a long time since I worked on the hiring process, but probably in the early days, what we would do is give you a couple of example customer situations and have you sort of write the emails that you would write back to them and maybe that type of thing.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And you talked about the culture element of the interview. How do you because it's really it's quite difficult, I think, to actually convey culture or to kind of express it so it doesn't sound contrived how do you do that?

Ben Congleton:

Well, I think in our case yeah, you raise a good point I think that a lot of people like there was this old term or culture fits like oh, like if someone was in the office on Friday, you'd go grab a beer with them or something like that, and I think that that is actually a pretty dumb like pretty stupid way of looking at culture. I think that that's a good way of determining if someone should be in your frat, maybe, or if they want, or if this person might be your friend. But you're not trying to hire for friends necessarily, right, like, yeah, I mean, ideally you can get along with most people, so anyone can be your friend, but you're not trying to optimize for this as the most likely to be my friend kind of person. So it all like our culture and views have evolved over time. In the early days we cared a lot about conflict styles because when you're working remotely, it's harder to assess whether you're doing all right. If you are not prone to conflict, Like if you're a conflict avoider, it's easier for you to have conflict and not talk about it and not deal with it. So in some of our earlier interviews we would ask, kind of like, some conflict related questions and try to understand how people would deal with conflict. Like you know, like looking at like unresolved conflict was always a red flag. I don't think that's in our current batch of. We probably do that in a more indirect way now and I think I kind of eluded this a bit. Like we give people the opportunity to review our values. There's a lot written about them on our website and you can read. You know, just search the internet all our values, stuff that comes up all over the place and we want people to kind of take the time to understand what we're about. And most of most job candidates at that stage understand what we're about. And the way that we look at culture fit is we have our champs, core values right, chill, help each other, assume good faith, make it happen, practice empathy and speak your mind, and so we look for people that who want, who value those same attributes and so on the culture interview, we look at how you communicate about those values and you know the things that you say and how the questions you ask us, how you engage, and that's generally like. Generally, I'd say most people like do really like. It's not. It's not that hard of an interview to pass, but you'd be surprised at how many people like it turns out. It's just not a good fit Because you know you're interviewing each other right and you know our company is not for everyone and it's you know it's a chance for you know those people that are considering working all like to like ask questions of the people that they're working with a lot of people and see how it feels, you know. So I mean you can think of it as kind of like a thoughtful discussion about our values is a way of looking at our at the culture interviews and expecting some self reflection from the candidate.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

I think a lot of people struggle with that. Actually, ben, in terms of that, you mentioned that it's a conversation that interviews a conversation, a two way flow of information. I think a lot of people believe that you know, or struggling in some way to actually ask a question in return to something that you might have asked them. You see what I mean. They think that they need to leave all the questions to the end and it's you know. It's kind of an old school way of looking at it.

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, I mean I think that is just a challenge, right, because interviews are socially constructed and people kind of have a way in which they expect them to work and I mean I think that's okay. I mean, in our interviews we probably have some prompts for them to ask us questions. So, like it's not like we're, it's like a conversation where we're giving you the floor right To go to talk, and then those questions at the end, you know, I mean you mentioned like a lot of people say about questions. Then well, certainly those questions at the end are super freaking important in hiring. So I mean, if you are a candidate right, like make sure you have some good questions. You can go make, like make a list of questions before you walk into the interview, like honestly, because, like you know who you're meeting with, you can look them up on LinkedIn. You are about like you're trying to work at this place for at least a couple of years. You better have like this is a thoughtful process and you better have some thoughtful questions to bring into this, like even if you already know the answers, like just confirm you actually know the answer, because sometimes people don't give you the answer you're expecting.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And I think as, on top of that, well, a lot of people, it's not just as far as the interview process, but even when it comes to applying you get. Obviously I'm sure you've seen this a lot of people are just really spraying and praying and sort of sending out their resume here and hoping that one of them will stick, and not necessarily reading what's on the website, the values, and connecting their values in the application or their interview with with yours in many ways, so they're clearly not sort of read and understood everything.

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, it's hard. I think it's definitely hard as a candidate to find the right place. I mean, I think you know, just looking at our candidate pool right, like there's probably many, many people that could do the job, when you know, like 300 people apply and our processes isn't perfect. You know, like we're, we're not necessarily trying to get the best person out of the process because, like, to get the best person, you might need a process that takes longer than is business feasible. What you're trying to get is a candidate in the top 5% or so, and so, like you have to imagine that hiring processes are designed both for the candidate and for the company. The company needs to fill the position at some speed, or else they wouldn't have posted the position, and so everyone's trying to come up with the optimal way of getting, like sort of the best result they can in a fixed amount of time and a fixed amount of effort. And from a job candidate perspective, I think the strad, the spray and pay pray strategy is probably not an optimal strategy for what you're trying to do Now. There's a lot of factors at play and what the optimal strategy might be for you. I mean, if you are, you know if you have a killer resume, for example, then probably you can just pick a couple of companies and reach out to them and talk to them and they'll more or less interview you and you can interview them. If you don't have a killer resume, then you're in a tougher situation and you have to. You know, I think one thing that good hiring managers will do is when you reach out to a company and just figure out who their HR recruiter people are just set up and they're called informational interviews. Just talk to those people and understand what they're looking for and you know if your set of skills is not great or not perfect for that job and that's you know in your mind, this is like the perfect job for you. I think a good thing to do is to ask that hiring manager like hey, like you know, I know I eventually want to end up here, but like, what do you think I should be doing at this point in my career? That's going to help me get here, get there in the future, and I think that if you can build that plan a few steps out, it makes it more tractable to, you know, end up at those places that you're really excited to end up at, rather than just like, oh I'm going to spray and pluray and I'm just going to end up like wherever I can right now. I think if you had a little bit more intentionality around it, you could be like you know what I should be doing right now. I should be going back to school because, like I need to have like X and a Y or I need to go find like a company that has a really good training program or something like that, so that I can add that to my resume, so that when I show up for the next interview, like I will have really great answers for those four questions that I'm you know, just literally. I just didn't know those things.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And do you tend Ben to hire more experienced candidates or do you like to nurture? Or is it just a mixture of?

Ben Congleton:

It's such a it's. I like hiring for aptitude, I like smart people, I like people who show that they can learn, and we basically do our best to ignore resume after you pass resume screen. So, like we tend to not show people people's resume later in the process because, from our standpoint, once you pass resume screen, you've passed resume screen, so we feel like you can do the job. Once you pass technical interview, you pass, like you know, your technical skills are good enough and now it's just how you perform during the interviews. Like that's the way that we sort of do it. Like I said, we try to narrow that down as you go through the process because, like we don't, we don't want like a lot of people hanging out in the process and limbo who couldn't, who wouldn't get the job if they didn't like excel at the next step, and so, yeah, we have a lot of like really. I mean, we're a relatively small company or a, but we have you know, there's an engineer who works at Olar, who has a master's degree in social work. We have a lot of people who either don't have, like who have non standard college degrees Some people didn't graduate from college Like we try to you know other other experiences substitute for schooling. Like we we're. We have a lot of smart people. We have some smart people who have really frigging good resumes. We have some smart people who have horrible resumes and you know, I mean, after you add a lot on there, the resume is fantastic. You know, like when hired their resume might not have looked that great for some of the positions we were going. So, at least for us, we're always, always willing to look a little bit past, like what school you went to, or you know what degree your college was in, or if you went to college and stuff like that. So I love that. And on the position basis, I mean it just depends on the position. I mean if we're hiring for a senior position, it's more or more likely to look at experience. Or, like you know, if you're have less experience when you're applying for a junior position, you're gonna have to work harder to prove to us that you have the expertise. But you're gonna be asked, because you're gonna be asked the exact same question as a person who has more experience.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Do you have? Like I mean, obviously the core of your business is communication and you know, like I said before, like you said before, building relationships. How do you, I don't know. Obviously the interview will give you a good, a good steer as to sort of how, how the person listens, et cetera, and that sort of thing. But are there any other indicators to you of somebody who could be really good in your customer service team, for example?

Ben Congleton:

Well, I think the interesting thing about the interview right is remote communication, like, for example, homework is written, the application is written, the communication with Mandy who runs hiring is all written. So we're evaluating your communication as well as, like throughout the interview right, like it's a mix of written and verbal communication throughout the whole process, and so that does tell us stuff, especially like when we do a day in the life, working day, like we'll understand how people kind of are gonna engage with their coworkers and their communication styles. And you know, the interesting thing is we have a mix of extroverts and introverts at OLA. I would think more people are probably more introverted, a little bit more quiet on average, and you know, some of these situations are hard for those people, or in it can be hard for those people, and we try to do our best to build like a pretty inclusive process. I mean, you know, for any position right, the modern day society requires kind of this face-to-face interview as part of the hiring process, like I don't. I mean wordpress, I think, has a chat back and forth hiring process, more or less. That sounds pretty awesome, but it's not something we've tried ourselves, because we do end up doing a lot of like verbal communication at OLA. So like, when we're having an interview like this, it's not just for fun, it's because, like, we need verbal communication as an important skill at OLA, given the way that our companies are organized, and so I guess yeah, I mean, I don't really have any great advice for how to stand out during that process. I think that probably taking a little bit of extra time to polish written communication is always a good step, just because the like I think typically it's easier. Like you can polish written communication, you can't really polish verbal communication. You can take a few more seconds, you know, to think about your thoughts, but you just have the opportunity to spend a little bit more time making sure you're communicating clearly when it's written.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

And any particular peak periods when you're hiring? Is there any particular times a year when you hire most and yeah, that's a good question.

Ben Congleton:

I don't think there's a particular period of time when we hire the most. I mean generally when we have a position, we post it, we promote it, and you know a small business, we're like roughly 30 people. So like we're not gonna be able to hire like tons and tons of people. I mean that would be, and we are bootstrapped. So one thing that would be kind of cool for raising money is you could go hire lots of people, but that's not really like our RMO. Yeah, I don't. Generally speaking, like our quarters are a little bit, they're a little offset. So like our Q1 starts in February and so like you can just kind of follow that calendar around the year and kind of assume that most hiring decisions are gonna be made before the start of a quarter, before you post a job. So like you can think like okay, well, it's probably more likely that we're gonna post a job and say March than post a job in January, because January is the end of the quarter and March is the beginning, or you know, like the first month, or you know February is like the beginning of the quarter, so much more likely that the jobs are gonna be posted at the beginning of the quarter beginning of an old art quarter than the end of an old art quarter. Just because you know unless, yeah, that's generally speaking the pacing, but probably if you go look at our historical job what's things that could be interesting to know how well that matches up.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

It varies. All right, okay. So somebody's got through the interview process. They you know you've got an onboarding process you put. You pull that into place as well and tool that you use as well.

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, I mean we put just as much work in the. I mean interviewing is just the beginning of the process, right, you bring your brain remote people you need to be, feel like they're part of the team and our onboarding process takes for most, most positions, at least two weeks of just what very, very onboarding focus work. So you know, meeting your team, understand the tools, understanding how to work at all our kind of work remotely, uh. But you know, in a way we're always, we're all always onboarding, right, you're always like kind of learning and growing and upping your game and so that that doesn't really Stop okay, and for you, I we're coming close to the end now.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

We are now you've given us a lot of time. Thank you, ben. What do you? What do you see? What's the future for? For our luck, and you know how do you see? Yeah, what's the? Where's your future lie?

Ben Congleton:

Yeah, sure, well, I think, uh, you know, at the beginning of this call I kind of talk about this a little bit. I think, if you look at olaq's mission, our mission is to make business human, and we have this live chat product right now that exists in a world where a lot of Competition, I think, is very focused on automation and AI, and so I think what you'll see is olaq really, really championing the automation side that really helps humans perform better. I think, like where? Where we're trying to focus is, you know, how do we help you Bring your full self to work every day? How do we make sure that you are, you know, in a position where you can grow, so you're incentivized to do a good job every day, right? So we're we're going to be the the live chat company that sort of takes some of the values we've built internally and encode them into our product in a way that makes our product quite a bit different from what some other Competitors are building. So that's sort of the future of the live chat product. At the same time, we have this broader mission and we see our mission is sort of this this championing this idea of business humanity. So you'll see us launch a couple of new products that are designed to kind of help people, sort of be the best that they can be, so, like you know, really looking at things that people do well and help them do it even better. So an example this is a product that we're about to launch, probably in in January. It's called dino insights and it's a product that helps you Pull insight out of interviews. So, for example, a lot of product managers, journalists, podcasters, do interviews like constantly as part of their job, and a lot of people inside product organizations and software companies actually avoid doing interviews all the time because they're Feel like it's too much work or they don't know how to get value out of it. And so our, our thinking is that more people should be doing interviews and that, uh, in doing interviews, that most people could get more insight and learn more from those interviews if they had tools that help them, uh, structure their thinking. And so, uh, the first product here is just a product that helps you conduct verbal, remote interviews and pull insights out of it and store those insights for later consumption to share within your org, because another thing that often happens with interviews is that, uh, they get lost or they exist like just in a user researchers, like local computer or like spread out around google drive, and they're just, they're messy and you might end up with a report here and there, but it's really hard to go back to the source materials. So a lot of Uh. So, again, one product helping people do better interviews, to get better insight, to build better products, to just sort of generally learn faster, and uh, I think it's one product that will be launched in january. And then another product that we're working on is taking a lot of our philosophy around customer service and turning it into, uh, a set of courses that people can use to uh sort of learn and think about customer service. The way that we think about customer service in the way it's sort of helped us build the successful company, and, uh, we think this is great for a couple reasons, like. One reason is, uh, I mean quite honestly, a lot of customer service training out there is crap and it is. It's just not modernized, for, uh, you know what it means to be kind of an enlightened customer service person, like if you think about just call center jobs. They're basically set up for, you know, you handle rote stuff. If you're really good, maybe you get promoted to manage a bunch of other people handling rote stuff. And we want to help people reframe that role of customer service and it's something that really helps produce insight. It helps produce, you know, employees that can move up and grow within that organization, who really understand that company's customer, and In many ways, customer service can be a profit center, and I think a lot of times it's framed as a cost center. So it's it's sort of courses that help Refrain the philosophy of customer service and not just like, yeah, here's how you deal with that unhappy customer or whatever. You know there are there elements of like how do you, how do you take care of yourself as someone who's, you know, main job is, uh, expressing empathy all the time, like uh. So so we've we've launched that course, kind of internally done a Uh, a beta with a couple of other companies, and they've found it to be really good. So that'll be Cleaned up a little bit and relaunched Probably in 2019. So that'll be. That'll be really cool too. So so I think you can think of olark and the way that I like to think about olark is if Fod Creek was sort of this developer centric incubator for all these great ideas. They helped spun out trello. That's when I stock stack overflow. Yeah many people have never heard of fog creek and, uh, I want olark to sort of be like the fog creek of human centered business, focusing on, like the problems, the areas where humans are really good at and helping humans doing those, doing those jobs even better. And so I think where we're trying to go is to be able to take that core business of olark, live chat, grow it, but also spin out these really interesting solutions to other problems and hopefully inspire more entrepreneurs to. You know, take ai and figure out how it can make humans like a ton better rather than just replace humans, because I feel like One is a lot more fun for all of us.

Alex Wilson-Campbell:

Well, ben, you're inspiring me. You've inspired me to even be on this call with you today. I just wanted to say Thank you so much for your time. You've given so much yourself today. Thank you, and yeah, we will be keeping a lookout for, for dinar insight and um you're, you're the product.

Ben Congleton:

Um, yeah, yeah as well. So thank you for joining Alex, it's been fun.

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