After six hours of sleep, I woke up early enough to grab coffee at Starbucks before heading over to the offices of Atlassian, the host of the conference. I was actually here in Austin for work. My company paid for me to attend the conference, Elevate Summit, which is dedicated to the customer support community. Attendees were people who work in customer support or whose businesses are customer-support tools; their roles varied from customer service representative all the way to CEOs of customer-support businesses (for example, O’Lark) .

People came from all sorts of companies: Google, Microsoft, BuzzFeed, ZenDesk, RunKeeper, Idealist.org and a number of other companies I had never heard of. The talks were all about support: pitfalls, managing it, scaling it, how to survive. 

It was my first time in attendance, and I was excited. One of the things that has long bothered me about being in customer support was feeling like there were few professional development opportunities and not knowing of how one could grow professionally in that type of role. I was excited about being able to meet people who work in and care about support as well as hearing ideas and learning from others’ experience. It was an opportunity to see and feel hope – that light at the end of what can often feel like a long, never-ending, thankless dark tunnel.

Whiskers for President
Nothing gives greater inspiration and captivates your audience than images of cats.

Although the number of speakers being lined up was intense (there were not multiple panels), I felt like I got a lot of it. There were twenty-two speakers, and while all the speakers weren’t equally engaging or interesting for me, I appreciated every moment of it. It was truly fascinating. Also, there were plenty of cats. I’d say at least half of the talks featured slides with cats.

Even if the topic itself wasn’t something I could connect to, it still helped me understand the different ways someone in support can grow into other roles within a company. There’s also some comfort in knowing that people so much higher up the ladder in a company can share a genuine interest in having great support and valuing what great support means; seeing such higher-level folks in attendance and having the opportunity to speak with them (how down to earth they were!) also gave me more respect for their company and felt inspiring.

I hadn’t brought a notebook with me to take notes–I completely forgot it back at the hotel even though I had returned to grab my business cards after getting my coffee. For a while, I tried taking notes on my phone. I would have been able to do so for the whole conference if the battery hadn’t been quickly dying with Google Docs. As the battery percentage dipped lower and lower, I switched to ultra-power mode and started using Memo, but the quality of my notes dropped as that app is far less kind and forgiving than Google Docs. Despite the switching, I still managed to take about 5 pages of notes on my phone.

Highlights (and often repeated themes) of the presentations:

  • Great support needs to be proactive instead of reactive.
  • Product and Support should be BFFs (AKA have a solid feedback loop and support needs a seat at the table in early stages of design & implementation).
  • Don’t assume anything (and we received a great example of why it’s bad to make assumptions about your users).
  • When looking at data, make sure you’re asking the right questions (e.g. not how many people use this thing but how many people benefit from this thing (passive-engagement)).

My brain became overloaded with information after a while. In truth, everyone’s brains became overloaded. At the end, just before happy hour, the MC mentioned they would break it up into two days next time because it had become so overwhelming. Even though we had a few 10-minute breaks and an hour break for lunch (Texas BBQ!), it was still listening to talks from 10am to about 5pm. Some talks I skipped taking notes entirely; others I jotted down one quote or a brief thought I had on something we might try at our company based on what the speaker had just said.

I am hoping to take back some ideas, suggestions, and experiments for my own team (and company) to try. For now, though, my brain is still trying to process it all; it was so much to digest!

I had a lot of fun though, and I forced my introverted self to stay for the happy hour that followed. I’m looking forward to the next one, particularly because they announced it would be in Portland. I’ve always wanted to visit Portland, and I’d love to cross that trip off my bucket list.

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