Interview with Kate Mueller, Support Sorceress and Cheesemonger at KnowledgeOwl
Catherine Heath | November 15, 2018
Kate Mueller is our very talented new Support Sorceress and Cheesemonger.
She was previously Director of Product Development at DevResults, but took six months in between jobs to hike the Appalachian trail. Kate is now back at her desk, and working hard with us here at KnowledgeOwl in her new role focusing on support and documentation.
We interviewed Kate to find out more about her current job and what it’s like, as well as her personal tips for support folks to take away.
“I’m originally from rural northern Illinois. Since then, I’ve moved all over but I currently live in mid-coast Maine – and I love it,” says Kate.
“In my spare time, I’m an avid hiker, triathlete and baker. I walk a lot, and work out a lot. I also eat a lot and I especially love cheese.
Kate’s job title at KnowledgeOwl aptly reflects her passion for cheese. “I’ve had a bunch of people comment on my signature already. A couple of folks have made jokes about coming to me the next time they need cheese recommendations.
“It’s a great talking point, since who doesn’t love food?”
Working in customer support
Kate’s last role was Director of Product Development for the DevResults team. She then took six months off from work to hike the Appalachian Trail, and appeared on the Backpacker Radio podcast documenting her journey.
“Most of my tech experience has been on the support side in some way. I did public-facing tech support at a call centre for radio stations across the country. Then I moved more into internal support.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was a conscious decision to stay in support, except that when I was in middle management positions I didn’t do much hands-on work. This made me feel cut off and unproductive at work, since I couldn’t measure or see the contribution I was making.
“The beautiful thing about doing support is that you have a very distinct sense that when you show up, it matters.”
Transitioning from literature to data
Kate’s current role involves working with KnowledgeOwl customers to help them get the most out of our knowledge base software. This job involves a unique skillset. Customer service, empathy, creativity, and technical proficiency are just a few essential skills that Kate needs to use every day.
“People often ask me how I got into this field. I have a bachelor’s and master’s in English. I used to teach college-level writing, and then I got a job at a call center managing data in Excel.
“I ended up teaching myself Microsoft Access to make that data easier to manage, which was kind of the beginning of the end. I got really into database architecture and design, and ended up going back to school.
“My interest in data analysis and architecture led to my becoming VP of data architecture at a large financial services firm. After a while, I got tired of the corporate world. So I went to work at DevResults (which was a much smaller team) as a Data Scientist, where I ended up managing product.
“Our data scientists did a lot of customer support as it was our primary job. We used KnowledgeOwl there for our help documentation. That’s actually how I knew KnowledgeOwl existed and ended up getting the job here.”
This combination of creative and technical skills comes in very handy in Kate’s job doing support and documentation.
The KnowledgeOwl platform
Interestingly, Kate was a KnowledgeOwl customer before she came to work with us. It was then that Kate first became interested in joining the team.
“I loved the KnowledgeOwl platform when I used it as a customer.
“Before KnowledgeOwl, we had a totally different knowledge base provider. Their support was awful, and I didn’t find the interface at all intuitive or especially user-friendly.
“KnowledgeOwl was like a breath of fresh air when we switched to it. It’s very usable, clean and easy to customize in exactly the way that we needed it.
“Once of the things I loved about KnowledgeOwl when I was a customer was how responsive and enthusiastic the support was. At that point I knew it was the kind of place I philosophically identified with.
“I joked with Marybeth about working here, but it wasn’t until after I hiked the trail that we had a proper conversation about it.”
Putting customers at the heart of support
Although customer support is, by its nature, a customer-focused discipline, support folks can often come to feel alienated to the customer.
“There are so many companies who treat support like it’s the least desirable task that you might want to do. And yet keeping customers is the most important thing for most businesses.
“I love that we treat all of our KnowledgeOwl customers as real people with real problems. We focus on helping them, and having a good time while we do it. That can be kind of a rarity in the tech industry.
“I feel excited to do support here and I don’t know if I would have said that at every job I’ve worked at. I was sometimes a bit of punching bag for whatever axe people had to grind.
“At KnowledgeOwl, that’s not the case. Our folks are so excited to have help, and most people are very conscientiously trying to do good Knowledge Management work. It’s exciting to answer their questions and solve problems for them.”
Kate told us about more of what her day-to-day job helping customers entails.
“Right now because I am so new, the majority of what I do is answering support tickets. Every time someone contacts us either through email or the help widget, Marybeth and I try to cycle through the help ticket queue as quickly as possible.
“Most of my day consists of not knowing how to answer people, and then figuring out how to answer them.
“I’m also working on how to round out our internal and public-facing knowledge bases. We want to formalize (or better document) our internal processes to make future onboarding faster, and a little bit more fun.
“Support tickets for me might be answering a question about how the platform works, how to do something with it, or fixing a bug about something that’s not displaying properly. I might handle some custom CSS or custom HTML, or help folks copy, migrate or bulk-update their site.”
KnowledgeOwl allows customers to customize their knowledge base with HTML and CSS to any extent they wish. Helping with these customizations is part of our support package.
“From a support perspective, all those customizations can get a little tricky. When someone reports a problem, I have to dig through all the customizations they’ve done to see what’s going wrong. On the other hand, it also keeps the job really interesting because I see something different every day. That’s really fun.
“The customers we have are from every industry imaginable and you get to learn something new from all the knowledge bases you’re working on.”
Having fun with customers
It’s not just all about problems. KnowledgeOwl customers are often very passionate about creating the knowledge base of their dreams.
“I get to work with customers who are very enthusiastic about the product, and excited to solve whatever their problem is.
“In past industries I worked with a lot of folks who were pretty jaded about their jobs in terms of customers. I love working in a place where people share my ideas about how support should be done, and who are also fun to work with.
“Knowledge Management is generally not the primary focus of most people’s jobs, but it’s cool to see how excited people get about making their knowledge base look the right way.
“What I like most is how much respect Marybeth (our CEO) gives everyone – customers and employees alike. Her general good faith in humanity makes me feel so much more positive about the work I’m doing. That attitude pervades everything here.”
Status quo stagnation
Kate shares some of the challenges she encountered working in previous roles before she came to KnowledgeOwl.
“In the past, some of the biggest challenges I’ve had involved overcoming that status quo stagnation in some of the larger companies. It’s always very hard to get work done in those places, since everything is somebody else’s problem. You have to have eight thousand meetings and five mid-level managers have to sign off on it,” Kate jokes, with more than a little seriousness.
“Everybody’s so worried about getting in trouble for doing the wrong thing instead of getting excited to solve problems. I come to work because I’m interested in doing the work, not just earn a paycheck. I like solving problems.
“At times, it also sucked having too few hours and resources to solve the problems I want to solve. I had a job description so vague that I ended up doing four jobs at the same time, and none of them very well.”
Tips for flourishing in support
Working in support can be tricky when you deal with customers day-in, day-out. It can become emotionally draining. Kate gave us some tips for the mindset you need to cultivate in order to flourish this field.
“It’s really good to have a sense of humour about your day. When a customer comes to you upset or struggling, that isn’t about you. It’s about a problem they’re having, but you always have the option to help them feel better about the interaction.
“Some people lose their compassion for other people when they work support for a long time, and sometimes support people can end up viewing every request for help as a sort of personal demand. This makes them feel very stressed out.
“But it’s our job to help people. You can either choose to be impatient or act with kindness and a sense of humour.
“I know I can’t change the fact that someone has an unsupportive manager, which makes them feel jaded and frustrated, but I can give them a support interaction where I respect you as a human being. I make them laugh, and we solve a problem that’s really been bugging them.
“Always put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and give the kind of support that you want to receive.”
Thoughts on KnowledgeOwl
Kate told us a bit more about why she joined the KnowledgeOwl team.
“I joined KnowledgeOwl because everyone I’ve interacted with is amazing. Every support interaction I had as a customer made me feel like it was a fun environment. I felt that it was a place that really valued input and feedback, and I loved how responsive it was.
“I already really firmly believed in the culture and product, which makes it way easier to be excited to work somewhere. I love that I get to work remotely with flexible hours. I have a boss who cares about my personal life. The level of trust there between Marybeth and everybody else is pretty amazing.
“I don’t have to check my personality at the door. I get to be a whole human being and not just be a cog in the machine.
“The core values of the team nicely aligned with my own core values. Where else do I get to have a job title that included Cheesemonger in it, for example? I’ve always wanted to have that in my job title, and it’s completely okay here.
“I’m a lot happier at work when I really believe in the product or service that the company is providing. I know firsthand how useful KnowledgeOwl can be for people in their jobs, whether that’s public-facing help sites or internal knowledge bases.”
KnowledgeOwl is our knowledge base software that enables you to provide amazing support. Contact us to see if we can help you design your dream knowledge base.