In this episode of ZenFounder, Rob interviews Anna Jacobsen, head of customer success at Drip about how to deal with other people’s negativity. Anna shares her approach and insight on the matter when having to deal with dissatisfied customers.

Episode Transcript:

Anna:My name is Anna Jacobson and I’m head of customer success at Drip. I talk to a lot of people every day, for hours at a time, and there are varying situations that I’m walking people through. Oftentimes being a sales call, where they’re identifying if Drip’s a good fit for them, or maybe it’s an advanced support situation where someone is really digging into a use case and needs help with an integration or a workflow or some logic in their automation. There’s also some aspects where it comes down to, how do we best document how to use the platform or offer educational resources. So there’s a lot of things that go into it.

 

Rob:And sometimes you talk to people that are angry.

 

Anna:Yeah. When someone invests a lot of time into a platform like Drip, there are a lot of moving parts and sometimes things don’t go as they expect. And sometimes people need someone to blame or vent to or someone to understand that they’re having a problem and say, “I’m sorry that happened.” And that doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but it does happen on occasion.

 

 So there are a lot of founders that listen to Zen Founder and I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the emotions. Not only our own emotions, but the emotions of people around us. I know I’m going to speak for myself, but I think this will resonate with folks listening to this. If I’m being the empathetic, sympathetic person doing a demo or helping someone learn to use a software product, or supporting them after maybe something has gone wrong unexpectedly where they thought there would be one result, and there was a different result, sometimes people get frustrated. They get angry. And I tend to get sucked into that vortex of their anger, right? I’m not good at fire walling myself away from other people. But you have an uncanny ability. I’ve noticed it many, many times. I say many, many. What have there been half a dozen, maybe?

 

Anna:Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Rob:In the year we worked together, maybe less than that. But it’s, every time you seem to be able to hear someone and be empathetic and work with them, and then, but not be devastated by it. It feels like a unique adaptation. I’m wondering how you do it.

 

Anna:It’s interesting that you use the word firewall because that just called to mind the fact that many times, when I’m talking to people who are frustrated or even pretty heated or angry, it’s because of something specific to, something that didn’t work for them with the platform. And maybe it’s a way that they have their automation set up or some piece that wasn’t working right. And there’s usually a solution we can achieve.

 

 But I think that one of the reasons why it’s not, their frustration, I don’t take it on as immediately is I see that the problem is not with me. It’s with a specific situation that didn’t go right. And I do know that if it were a personal issue, if they were coming at me and saying, “Hey, you did this wrong. You failed me.” I would react differently. But I wonder if maybe the fact that I’m not the founder, I am in some ways a little bit more removed from the product and the genesis of it than you have been, that it allows me to buffer myself and see that their frustration, it’s not a personal one. It’s a situational one that I can probably solve.

 

Rob:That’s an interesting observation you bring up about how not being the founder, in essence, could be an advantage to your ability to deal well with this. I’ve noticed that I can do email support, and I did email support for the first 90 days of Hit Tail when I owned it and when we launched Drip I did the first 90 days. And then at a certain point, I wind up passing it on because I have to move on to other things. And I often find that other people do it better than I do. Not because they know the product better, or they know the direction, or they know the answers, but because they’re able to not take things personally. And it’s interesting to think about how a founder is probably more likely to feel like the app is an extension of themselves, whereas someone who’s a little more separated from it isn’t so caught up in that.

 

Anna:Yeah, and that’s not to say that I don’t care deeply about the app and I feel very much invested. But it isn’t the same as something that you might feel, where you were there from the very genesis and put in the midnight hours, seeing things grow. I think when I hear some frustration, I don’t think that it affects me the way, like you said, it would affect you. And that being sad, if it were a personal thing where I had failed someone, or if someone had a personal beef with me, I think that there would be a much different reaction.

 

Rob:Yeah, have you run into something like that, where you have made a mistake? Whether it’s importing a customer’s list or just some basic thing where it really was your fault, and they weren’t understanding. Because I know that we’ve made mistakes, each of us, in support or in helping someone out. But we’ve tended to get pretty warm receptions to that, right? We apologize and then they understand what’s going on. But has someone come at you with a personal thing that you haven’t been able to guard yourself against?

 

Anna:Yeah, once or twice there have been a few things where I was caught off guard by some aggression. And I think it was a combination of yes, there was some fault on my part, but on the other end of the line, there was a fairly unreasonable person. And it was kind of a perfect storm where I was unprepared for that. And I was prepared to take responsibility for maybe things that I hadn’t explained clearly or something that I maybe had goofed up on. But there was also the added challenge of dealing with someone who naturally tended to escalate things more than they should have been escalated.

 

Rob:Right, it was more-

 

Anna:If that makes sense.

 

Rob:It does, yeah. It was more of a misunderstanding. It wasn’t like you just clicked the A button instead of the B button. It was more like there was a misunderstanding and you would hope for the benefit of the doubt, given the amount of time that you had spent working with somebody.

 

Anna:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. And in those cases, it has taken me some time that I’ve had to walk away and catch my breath and maybe even take a walk around the building. And come back to it later. There was actually one time when someone had screwed up one of their own imports and then found a way to blame me for it.

 

Rob:I remember that one.

 

Anna:And yeah, and that was probably the one that affected me the most, because I didn’t have any patience for it. It was very hard for me to put myself in their shoes, where they needed someone to blame and I just was not willing to take the blame for that.

 

Rob:Right.

 

Anna:Well, I think that they probably needed someone to say, “Hey, I know this sucks. What can we do to fix it?” Because they were blaming me, it was harder for me to put myself in the position to be the fixer.

 

Rob:Right. And that’s interesting because this is the educase, when you’re really getting blamed for it. That’s happened even fewer times than just someone being frustrated or aggressive or kind of coming on strong. So I think the more common thing founders are gonna see is this kind of other case, of you’re not at fault, there hasn’t been a misunderstanding, but someone is just kind of angry, or they’re frustrated, or even during a demo, they might be gruff or something like that. And you do a really good job of separating yourself from that. So what you mentioned is, since they’re not coming at you personally, maybe they say something about the app. Because there’s certain calls we’ll get on and someone just gives you constant feedback about the app, about how it should do this or this name. Even this, it should look like this. And you’re kind of like, well, I don’t know why you’re telling me that, right? It’s like, I’m not going to sit here and recode this thing to look like that.

 

 But you said that you’re able to separate yourself from it. Are you actively thinking that while you’re on the call? Or I guess, I’m trying to dig into this, do you feel like it’s a natural ability, or like a founder listening to this can develop it by flexing a muscle, essentially, or learning a skill?

 

Anna:I think this is a point where empathy, whether it’s natural or developed, comes in. Because regardless of whether you feel very close to the situation or if you can put some distance between yourself and the situation, a measure of empathy will always come in handy. And I feel fortunate that for some reason it’s easier for me to identify what someone else might be feeling, and to in many cases feel compassion for that. I don’t think that’s natural to everyone, and so I’m of the belief that it can be cultivated. And there are times when I have actually had to willfully try to do that, because the person was so unreasonable or so abrasive that I had to check myself and say, “Remember where this person is coming from.” There are so many unknowns on my part of things that they’re probably dealing with today. How can I remember that and temper my reaction in light of that?

 

 And so to your question, regardless of whether someone feels really close to the situation or not, whether they have that buffer or not, I think that there are some tools that you can use. And I think that the thought process of, “What is this person currently dealing with?” can be one of the strongest tools.

 

Rob:So it’s like turning it away from, because there’s the emotion part that makes the hair stand up on your neck, maybe makes you tingle or makes you shake, which is what happens to, I’m describing how it happens to me if someone yells at me on the phone, right? And there’s turning it into almost a series of questions, it sounds like.

 

Anna:Yeah. And the truth of the matter is, those questions sometimes are not things that I consciously think about. I think that sometimes for me it comes naturally, and I don’t have to go through that process. But there are other times when it is a conscious thought process, where I’m thinking through, this person sounds like they’re really riled up. What have they gone through today that’s gotten them to this point? And sometimes that can even be a touchpoint for the conversation, where it’s like, “Hey, you know what? It sounds like things are really going poorly for you. Do you want to talk about that?” And occasionally, I think that can open up a dialogue where you de-escalate a little bit.

 

Rob:Yeah, and we’ve had the emails that come across angry, frustrated, and stuff, and you’ve replied and apologized and helped them out, and then the person responds and says, “Wow, I didn’t mean to sound like such a jerk in that initial email.” They’re like, I re-read my email and I sounded like a real jerk. And it’s just like, oh, that’s a perfect example of what you’re talking about here. You know, someone just feeling something in the moment and then saying things or writing something that they didn’t necessarily, it wasn’t necessarily a long-held belief. It was really just a moment of frustration.

 

Anna:For sure. And one of the things that I try to keep in mind is, regardless of how right or wrong someone is, I want the vibe that they get from their interaction with me, and therefore their interaction with Drip, to be compassionate and someone who is willing to understand what they’re going through, and be able to fix their problem better because of that.

 

Rob:Yeah, and I mean I think we’re talking about super edge case here. Like, if you haven’t done a thousand phone calls since you’ve started working at Drip, I would bet it’s close to that. And so, and we’re talking about literally single digits or very, very low double digits where people are getting riled up and angry. And so this is not something that you’re going to deal with every day. Of course, it depends on your role and what company you work for and a lot of things. But I think just in general, this isn’t even about being in customer success or customer support. I think that as a founder, you’re going to run into other people. You’re going to run into co-founders, you’re going to run into sometimes it’s customers, sometimes it’s partners, sometimes it’s, I don’t even know what else. But it can be any role. You’re dealing with so many different people in so many intense situations, that I think learning to firewall yourself or separate yourself a little bit from the emotions that go on around you can be valuable.

 

 Because it’s hard enough to be launching an app and trying to grow it and you have your own emotions around that. But then dealing with people who can potentially derail you in the middle of having a good day, in essence. It could be someone on Twitter. It could be, you know, whatever. I think it’s a good practice to have that first question of like you said, “What is this person going through today. Is this a temporary thing? Do I know this person?”

 

 And actually, there’s another question that I kind of ask myself that Sherry taught me to ask. She would ask it to me, and I’ve asked it myself enough times. The next question I ask is, “Do I want to give this person the power over me to ruin my day?” basically. And this is more for troll-ish behavior. And now we’re switching over from support to basically saying, someone on Twitter or someone who’s posting maybe perhaps a rude or aggressive comment on a blog post, or someone else who just doesn’t necessarily have buy-in and you don’t necessarily have to work close with or support them. But this question of, who should you allow in your life? Like there are certain people – your spouse, maybe your parents, depending on your relationship – where you should allow them to have some type of major impact on you. But then there are other people that it’s easy to let have impact on you that probably shouldn’t.

 

Anna:You know as we were talking, I was thinking about what you said about, just the impact people have, and I realized that even if you are asking those questions, and even if you are separating yourself in some way, if your emotional reservoirs are already depleted, it’s gonna be that much harder to respond in a gracious understanding way, and, so, there are certainly days when there may other things that I’m distracted by, or I’m more stressed out than I normally would be, if there’s some project that I’m working on that’s demanding a lot of my attention…

 

 And I may not take as much time to fully understand what someone’s going through, and I may not ask those questions, and I may just speed toward the solution without really considering the situation they might be in, and there’ve been cases where those folks that were on those days, there have been situations where someone may get more aggressive. And I know that my emotional reservoirs, that changes my tone. And I can be more gracious if I have taken time for myself, and taken time to, to recognize in the moment. And that doesn’t always happen, but when it does I think it’s a better outcome.

 

Rob:Yeah. I find that sleep is a big thing for me.

 

Anna:(Laughs) Yeah, for sure.

 

Rob:The more sleep I get (Laughs), the better off I … the better I am able to deal with it, and also, I think, you know, I’ve been doing these short, I mean, literally three minute or five minute kind of meditations in the morning before I come into work, and this ties back in to a book called The Productivity Project. And I interviewed the author on … think it was on start of Christmas where I interviewed him …and he talks about …and meditation is even a strong word for it. It’s kind of just sitting there, and being aware of your breath and just centering, and then it really is this calm, sort of centering thing.

 

 And I find that those two things, like having enough sleep and then just being calm in the morning, allows me to enter the day with, like you said, “a more filled reservoir.”

 

Anna:Mm-hmm. Same for me. If I’m not sleeping well, I can’t focus, my emotions are much more hair-triggered, and I don’t have as much compassion for people, so there have been times when I’ve just gotten off a call and it’s just been a great big sigh of relief that I don’t have to talk to that person anymore. And a lot of times that’ll either be somebody who’s pretty aggressive, or I’m having a day where it, my emotions are a little bit more strung out.

 

Rob:Yeah, and something we talked about a little before the call is this phrase, “optimism”, or, “eternal optimism”. And I think … Derek and I were just talking today, and, kind of laughing, saying, “Anna is the eternal optimist!”

 

 And I think that ties in with your…you have like a natural ability to deal with people, because you’re looking at the positive side of things.

 

 So, would you agree that you’re more of an optimist than a pessimist?

 

Anna:I think that there’s two sides to this coin. Because yes, there is the optimism. I think that’s tied heavily to me assuming the best in all cases, and that can be a liability at some times, because people will take advantage of that. And so, I think that stems from the like, I was saying, it’s an assumption that someone is coming at you with the best intentions, and I’m not really sure where the optimism comes from. I don’t really know how you would cultivate that. It just, for some reason is, and I don’t know if that’s super valuable for this right now, you know?

 

Rob:Yeah. No, that makes sense. So it’s like, it’s just the way you think, like do you think you were raised that way? Or, I mean, is the rest of your family optimistic?

 

Anna:They are. And when people who know me meet my family, they say, “Oh. I get it now.” You know?

 

Rob:(Laughs) Got it.

 

Anna:And, I think that the way we were raised was to be, if you didn’t have something nice to say you don’t say it. And, for me, that led to me not thinking poorly of people on a pretty regular basis. Because that was [inaudible 00:16:13] people.

 

Rob:Yeah.

 

Anna:But I do know that one thing that drags me down is negativity. I’m not immune to it, and especially if I’m around folks who are gossipy, or are undermining other people, that does affect me, you know? And it does, you’re looking at emotion reservoirs, and there’s optimism reservoirs I think too, that can chip away at the way you see people, and the cynicism can creep in, and so, I think that surrounding myself with people who are also seeking the best in others is helpful. I’ve been in situations where, it’s an office environment maybe, and I’m surrounded by colleagues-not currently, obviously, who may be really gossipy. And that’s, like, half of their conversation at work is talking about people negatively.And, I remember getting pulled into that, and walking away from it and thinking, ‘man, that does not feel good!’

 

 So, it’s not just a choice for optimism because you want to treat the other person right, I think it’s also a choice for optimism because it makes you feel better about yourself too.

 

Rob:Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You’ve probably heard, there’s kind of a…well I won’t call it a trope, but it’s kind of a, this thought or this quote someone threw out and says that you’re the average of the five people that you surround yourself with, right? And this is very much [inaudible 00:17:18] on the entrepreneurial circles of like, if you wanna be a better founder, surround yourself with better founders…

 

 But I’ve taken it not even to mean that, but to mean something more like, if you wanna be a positive person who’s helping others and who’s involved in other people’s lives in a positive way, and not gossiping around people, then don’t surround yourself with people like that.

 

Anna:Mm.

 

Rob:And, I think that it’s easy to fall into that, and I think that a lot of us, maybe at different phases of life, let’s say high school or college, your first job…like you said, it’s easy to do it at work…

 

 It’s easier to find people who do wanna talk about those kinds of things, you know, and who do wanna kinda spin everything in a negative light, or either find a reason to complain or talk about other people. It’s easier to find those than it is to find the people who are gonna be, I dunno, genuine? It’s not even looking at the bright side of things, ‘cuz I’m not am optimist, like I have no qualms about that. I’m either a pessimist or a realist of the three, and yet, I really don’t like talking negatively about people, I don’t like the gossip and that kinda stuff.

 

 And so when I’m around people like that it bothers me. And I think that as a listener to this, if you do find yourself in that situation and you’re surrounded by people who are either saying things that are bothering you, or saying things that aren’t bothering you, but perhaps you realize they should, that can be realization of like, huh. I might need to change things, whether it’s transferring to a different department, finding a different company, firing the one toxic employee, ‘cuz one person can really do damage. I’ve seen it happen at companies where it kind of spreads, and hiring the wrong person and having them in the organization, even if they’re really good technically, or really good in a certain way, they can definitely, you know negative things like this spread.

 

 I think there’s the unfortunate part of the negativity is it spreads quickly. But I also believe that like, the positivity if you hire the right people spreads quickly.

 

Anna:Yeah, and it’s, I think it can be beyond just the immediate folks in your office. It can be those negative voices on Twitter, or in support channels that if you linger on them it can pollute you as well. It is contagious. And so, I think that a bit of a reset after absorbing those can be really helpful.

 

Rob:At certain points in your life you’ve a really tough time controlling who you’re around. Right? When you’re a child, you’re around your family. And when you’re in school, you can kinda pick your friends, but sometimes you can’t.

 

 But we’re in an age now where you really have a better choice and a better chance of choosing who you’re going to associate with. I mean especially in this age of working for different companies, my dad worked for the same company for 42 years, so he didn’t necessarily have the choice that we do. I think we are much more employable and able to bounce around other tech companies.

 

 I think it’s up to us. Like I think we, as this kind of Technorati or the digerati, it’s like, up to you to change your situation. If you find yourself in a situation where it is a drag on your kind of mental space, or it is a drag on your emotional kind of processing, whether that’s co-workers, or just who you’re dealing with, its job, I think that your productivity, and your focus, and just your overall wellbeing can be helped by surrounding yourself with really cool, positive people who are trying to get interesting things done.

 

 And that’s something that you and I have talked about, not to promote Drip here or anything, but you and I have talked multiple times about how happy we are to be working at Drip, it’s like, for me personally it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Like, it’s the best group of people I’ve ever worked with, and I look forward to going in, because we don’t go in and sit there and gossip about people. We talk about interesting things, and about challenges, and about trying to help each other out, and we get things done in an environment that feels like it’s like everybody trying to lift each other up and help each other out.

 

Anna:[inaudible 00:21:02] I agree so much with that. And you’re saying I bring it up a lot. I, have not been happier at a job than this one. And, part of what you said also is really key. We are so focused on productive, impactful work, that even if there were negativity in the office, there’s no time for it, you know? We’re just very focused in, on execution, and making it excellent, and when there’s not that level of intensity and commitment and focus and kind of joy in what you’re doing, I think it can’t be easier to be more negative.

 

 But because there is that focus, it really keeps us, it keeps us honed in on what we’re doing, and there’s really no time for the negativity. You have to keep that energy up.

 

Rob:Well I hope this episode hasn’t been too much of a downer for folks. I feel like we ended on, on an up, know what I mean? There’s always this, you know the challenge of balancing this. It’s like you’re gonna have some positivity in your journey, and you’re gonna have some negativity that naturally happens if there’s failure, or if there’s, sometimes it’s due to other people, and sometimes it’s due to yourself, and sometimes it’s due just to the circumstances, and so, hope today’s episode has given folks some ideas or some insight into how to firewall themselves against the bad things that come along. And keep a positive eye on things.

 

 So folks wanna keep up with you on the inter webs. Where would they do that?

 

Anna:You can find me on Twitter, my handle is AnnaJeanJacobson, and I would love to chat with you there! You can also reach me via email at anna@getdrip.com

 

Speaker 3:Thanks for listening to this episode of Zen Founder. Our theme song is, A New Beginning, by Bensound.com. Use under creative comments.

 

 

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