Our Goal is Great Customer Service

Make Fools Happy!

Make Fools Happy!By Laurie Street
Member Services Fool

Take a moment to consider an all-too-typical customer service experience. Perhaps you’ve been kept on hold with an automated recording, waiting for a representative that’s headquartered in a large – and very busy – call center. What’s worse is discovering that this electronic guide is actually your only contact, and no live human is even available. Whether it’s a cable company, credit card service, or your phone provider, I feel confident that you’ve been on the losing end of a frustrating customer service experience.

The Fool aims to make its customer service experience far, far better than what people have (sadly) gotten used to. Our hard-working Member Services team is comprised of approximately ten in-house employees, as well as a few contractors who work remotely via email. We are not recordings, but instead real, live voices that are willing and able to assist with any issue that’s presented.  Our phones receive anywhere from 100 to 500 calls per day! We take pride in our ability to connect with Fool members on a personal level, while still handling the matters at hand both quickly and efficiently.

Available to help from 9AM-5PM ET Monday through Friday, our group isn’t always able to ride around the office on scooters, attend in-house speaker series, or join a local afternoon brewery tour. While our daily schedules are somewhat constricted, this department strives to enjoy its own Foolish culture. We take the company’s core value “Motley” and make it our own.  During our busiest periods, we collaborate to implement strategies that keep our momentum high and stress levels low. We’ve organized pot luck lunches, as well as morning treats for the team – be it a box of donuts, the freshest loaf of pumpkin bread, or Starbucks coffee for all. Our wireless headphones allow for mobility to make one more plate of food or, on a more serious note, take a brief walk for stretching. And speaking of walks, the nearby game room is a nice distraction, as well as a place to spark healthy competition between coworkers on quieter days.

If you’re a Fool in need of some assistance, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at cs@fool.com! We’re happy to help make your Foolish experience the best it can be.

Core Value #4 : Fun – Revel in Your Work

Fun

FunThe Fool is a fun place to work. We believe that life and work cannot be separated, and rather than balancing, we try to integrate them.  We want all Fools to think about how they can add fun to their day and how they can love their work.  Everyone is encouraged to take time out of their day to socialize, play, exercise, create, or relax.

It’s important to create friendships within the company.  Understanding, and maybe even liking, each other is going to make us a better, more productive, and happier company. We ask about friends in our employee engagement survey twice a year.

The number one way that we encourage fun is to ensure that each Fool is actually in a job they love.  It’s fun to take a break but we also want people to love what they do.  If you ever talk to our Chief Investing Officer, Andy Cross, you will know that he loves investing and it’s fun for him every single day.  The same is true of many Fools.  Laura, a member of our business intelligence team, loves data – LOVES IT!  I’m serious! Just ask her a question about Excel and her excitement could launch the space shuttle.

It thrills us when someone will describe themselves as an investing nerd or a tech geek or marketing dweeb – all a little self-effacing, sure, but it shows that they have a lot of themselves wrapped up in their jobs and have maybe more fun with it than socially acceptable.

Fun also has a very direct business purpose.  It decreases burnout, increases collaboration, and improves employee retention – WIN!

1)      Do we hire for this value?

Yes.  We try through both our application process and in the interview to learn more about you and see your personality.  This one is easily misinterpreted by many candidates (please don’t tell me a beer pong story).  We do want to know what makes your eyes light up inside and outside of work.  I don’t judge what you do for fun – I just want to see that you don’t take yourself too seriously.

 2)      Will we fire for this value? 

This is the value where I get the most questions on our monthly culture tour.  I explain at the beginning of the tour that values are ONLY really values if you will hire and fire for them.  Everyone nods as we discuss Collaborative, Innovative, Honest and Competitive.  Then we get to FUN!  It’s easy for our visitors to see that this is a fun atmosphere and to understand why fun could be a desirable value, but I almost always get a sideways glance and either concerned whisper or snarky comment here – “You fire for fun?”  It seems unbelievable in a business context – sure you value honesty like that, but fun?  Really?

Yes, really.  You don’t need to be the person leading the conga line (that’s my job) – but if you are cancerous to the culture and are making your coworkers miserable, our paths will soon diverge.

3)      Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?

Yes, fun is probably the easiest value to see as you walk through the office.  We have our game room, massage room, and nap room, but it really lives everywhere. From my desk right now I can see 1) large inflatable pool toys (swan, orca, shark, walrus, turtle) 2) a Nerf gun battle 3) several art pieces created by Fools at a happy hour 4) Five board games 5) wizard’s chess, wands and broomsticks (Firebolt and Nimbus) 6) a dozen jester hats.

The other part is just the feeling.  As I’m writing the post I hear laughter coming from the tech team sitting next to me – and yes, they are talking about code.  Behind me Lee is laughing about an upcoming event that he’s planning. It’s hard to sit here for more than five minutes without hearing fun.  I think fun is reason that we are consistently voted one of Washington DC’s best places to work.

4)      Is the value referenced frequently?  When was the last time?

It’s certainly referenced through the constant laughter and passion of Fools every day, but the purpose of this question is more systemic.  How do we ensure that Fun is constant?  One of my favorite Culture Club rules is “If you have to make it mandatory, you have failed to make it compelling.” It’s also frequently used as a tie breaker.  When there is a decision to make about anything from strategy to time management the kicker question is frequently “Which one is more fun for you?  Do that one!”

Please note that our values are not actually rank-ordered.  I call this #4 to help blog readers keep track.  See the full list of values at Core Values to Live By.

Match Office Perks to Your Culture

Cool Office

Cool OfficeRecently I’ve noticed a few articles popping up claiming that cool offices and no vacation policy are somehow a myth, a scam, a sneaky way for The Man to keep you down.  Here was the first line of one recent article: “Don’t be fooled by the perks at all those Silicon Valley (and Alley) offices — it’s all just part of a subtle plot to control employee behavior.”  At The Motley Fool we have one of those cool offices and we chose not to enact a vacation policy 20 years ago, so my first reaction is to mail out some peanut butter to go with the author’s jealousy.

The focus of these negative articles is often on the game table, the casual dress, or the non-policy.  Those are the outcome of what a cool office is actually about – trust and autonomy.  None of the fun of a cool office can be provided without the right culture around it.

At The Fool we put a lot of time and energy in to recruiting the best employees.  We are quite picky, we take our time with the hiring process, and we dislike increasing the employee headcount without good reason.  When new hires arrive, we trust them to do what they were hired to do.  We find that when we get out of the way, people choose their own path and create their own way of getting their work done.  They tell us how they like to work and what they need. The fun toys, the desks on wheels, and the flexible hours are all what employees have asked us for.  We aren’t scheming to invent ways to control employees, we’re giving them what they want to work effectively and be happy. If your study is finding that people at a company are taking fewer vacations or working longer hours, it isn’t because of the policy.  The reason is you haven’t built a culture of trust.

I am reminded of a great line I once heard from Libby Sartain, former Southwest Culture guru, “Every Office has a culture.  Every culture isn’t for everyone.  Find the culture that fits you.”

At The Motley Fool, we know who we are, we work hard to find people that will add to our culture, and we look for every opportunity to support our team members.  We do this because it works.  It shows up in all our numbers no matter how you slice them.  For instance, we have the highest employee engagement score by far that I’ve ever seen using the Gallup methodology.

We aren’t The Man plotting to keep our team down and take advantage of them.  We are Fools working for our employees and doing everything we can to unleash them to do their best work how they’d like to do it.

Core Value #3: Honesty – Make us Proud

Honesty

HonestyHonesty has a beautiful simplicity.  This straightforward value gives us a framework for making decisions companywide.  In a company built on intellectual capital, with the stated purpose of helping the world invest better, honesty is essential.

We chose our words here carefully: Make. Us. Proud.  Not “Don’t break the law” or “Tell the truth” or “Call ‘em like you see ‘em.” For us, honesty has to go beyond what is legally defensible.

Honesty also emphasizes the difference between core values and a code of ethics.  Our core values serve as fundamental beliefs that we can turn to when making decisions.  They should be easy to explain, embrace, and employ as decision-making tools. A code of ethics – although closely related — is generally a more formalized list of do’s and don’ts.  It’s almost a *gulp* “policy.”

Now – as promised in my first post, here are the answers to our values questions.

Do we hire for this value?

Yes.  How?  Certainly, it would be great to have Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, but I’ll admit that the one I ordered from Amazon needs batteries or something.  And the last interviewee I used it on wasn’t amused.  Maybe he had something to hide…

Instead, I ask prospective employees: Tell me something you’re proud of. A time that you had to be honest when it wasn’t easy. A time that there was a difference between what was right and what was legal.

I also love to hear “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” answers in an interview.  It’s virtually impossible to know all of the answers. Be honest about it.   I also see red flags sometimes when we ask someone to demonstrate knowledge.  Certainly, we don’t try to trick people with these questions, but it’s surprising to me how frequently this happens:

Q: “Are you an investor?”

A: “Yes!”

Q: “Great, tell me about the last stock you bought and why?”

A: “Ummm, well…”

Will we fire for this value? 

Yes.

Can you see and feel this value in our office?

Many of the same ways we encourage collaboration also foster honesty.  Everyone’s desk occupies the same open office, and our conference rooms have glass walls and doors.  We also build honesty into our services, displaying our returns since recommendation on the front page of our web site.  Some are up, some are down — but we don’t cherry-pick the winners.  We also display returns for specific recommendations throughout the office, and change the returns as the stock price moves.  Some months those are higher; some months, lower.

How often do we talk about this value?  When was the last time we did so?

Similar to Innovation, I actually hear “make us proud” more frequently than “core value honesty.” But our CEO has recently taken this value to the next level by hosting a monthly Honest Tea. At this session, which follows our monthly all-company meeting, everyone is encouraged to come and dissent. We want to ensure that we have not only a desire to be honest, but also an outlet for those thoughts.

Please note that our values are not actually rank-ordered.  I call this #3 to help blog readers keep track.  See the full list of values at Core Values to Live By.

Get to Know The Fool and Our Founders

Tom and David Gardner, along with some other incredible Fools, talk about our approach to teaching our members about investing. Get to know our founders and our office in this video. Did you know that most Fools are individual investors who follow The Fool’s own advice?

Core Value #2 — Innovative: Search For a Better Solution. Then Top It.

Innovative

InnovativeThe term innovation drums up images of world-changing ideas or inventions.  Certainly we at The Fool want to change the world, but innovation is more about making everything better every day and embracing change.  It’s constantly searching for ways to “Top It!”

We want Fools to relentlessly search for better solutions and try new things.  Fools should make small, thoughtful changes and double down on the winner and learn from the losers. One of our favorite books is Little Bets by Peter Sims. It reinforces our “test and learn” mentality, and I highly recommend it.

Big innovation comes in big steps and small steps, and we always want to be walking forward.

Even our vocabulary and cultural habits embrace and push an innovative spirit.  I hear these phrases almost every day: “test and learn,” “fail fast,” “try stuff,” “top it,” ”small bet,” “minimum viable product.”  I have heard or said each of these terms in the past 48 hours.

We want Fools to be bold and, most of all, to focus on solving the real problems. “Top It!” is a phrase that is a constant reminder to build a better solution.  It’s easy to criticize an idea and lose sight of the problem you are trying to solve.  In an instant any Fool can reframe the conversation with that two-word term – TOP IT – and we are back on track to focus on the problem we’re trying to solve.

Here are my honest answers to questions I referenced in my first post about core values:

1)        Do we hire for this value?

Yes.  We are looking for people that want to make those small bets and top it with us.  In an interview we want to hear about a time that you saw a problem and just made it better.  We want to hear your ideas for our company or the job you seek.  You don’t have to have solved world hunger, but show us that you like to test and learn and are open to change.

 2)      Will we fire for this value?

I credit Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh with putting this question in my head and pushing the idea that core values are ONLY real if they actually drive action in your organization.  You demonstrate their importance if you are willing to take action to increase their presence and also to eliminate blockers to their success.  If an employee is a blocker to innovation and change, it just doesn’t work. 

3)      Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?

Yes.  We are constantly innovating in our physical space, too.  If you come to our Intergalactic HQ in Alexandria, VA for a culture tour you’ll see that our 5th floor is completely mobile.  All of our desks are on wheels and if you come two months in a row it will look different the second time.  Things change pretty quickly around here.

4)      Is the value referenced frequently?  When was the last time?

I actually received an email from our Chief Performance Officer while I was writing this blog post.  It’s important to note that innovation as a core value is for everyone.  It’s not something that is expected of just the marketing, investing, product, or culture team.  Everyone is expected to innovate within their role and top it.  This is note was about our bonus payouts and innovation in accounting and employee ownership:

“I’d like to tell you about an experimental opportunity for your bonus payout that’s new this year. Like everything at The Fool, seeking innovation is a constant in our culture.  Heck, it’s a core value.  And, for the first time ever, we’re putting the power of choice in your hands in an innovative way…”

Also pretty cool that we’re encouraging employee ownership – I think.

Now – I encourage you to TOP IT!  How do you drive innovation in your company? Give me some ideas in the comments.

Core Value #1: Collaborative — Do Great Things Together

Collaborative

CollaborativeWe give Culture Tours on the first Friday of each month. They begin with our core values and collaborative is always the first.

Why is it a core value: The Motley Fool was founded in community.  We are better investors because we work with our members.  They have experiences and knowledge that we don’t.

This translates to our working environment as well.  Union gives strength. Our decisions are better when we work together.  Fools are more productive and satisfied when they know each other. We gain energy when we are all working together to achieve the same goals.

We take this seriously.  In fact, we have a Chief Collaboration Officer. Long time Fool Todd Etter works full time to help us get to know each other and work together in creative ways.

Here are my honest answers to questions I referenced in my first post about core values:

1)      Do we hire for this value?

Yes!  We want to see it in the candidate we are interviewing and demonstrate its importance to them.  Interviews at The Fool usually involve 4-8 interviewers and they all have a say in the hiring process.  We also have a special part of the interview conducted by the “Foolish Ambassador.”  This is a Fool from another department who wouldn’t be working closely with the candidate who gets hired.  This Fool assesses Foolish Fit and core values.  A software developer might interview a stock analyst or an accountant might interview an editor.

 2)      Will we fire for this value?

This is an important question, but it will be hard to answer for all of my posts.  I don’t like to think about times when people haven’t been able to embrace our core values, but, alas, sometimes it happens.  Collaboration is such an integral part of who we are as a business that, ultimately, people who don’t embrace it just won’t work out.  Here is a hypothetical example of how this plays out here:  Morton is a brilliant designer.  He has a lot of excellent experience and keeps up to date on the latest trends.  He also thinks he has all the right answers (after all, what does the scrum master know about design?).  He works with his head down for weeks at a time to produce “the perfect” project that he unveils with a big “TA DA!”  By the time he’s done, he has strong sense of ownership and reluctance to accept constructive feedback.  But instead of applause, his fellow Fools are confused and frustrated.  While he was heads down, the project evolved and the design no longer addressed the needs of the project.  Even worse, he’s not willing to listen and make the needed adjustments.  He is frustrated with the team and they are not impressed with his lack of collaboration.  Great Fools don’t “TA DA.”  They seek input early, often, and from a variety of sources.

3)      Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?

It’s almost impossible not to see collaboration when you walk through the office.   We have no private offices and most of our desks are on wheels, so teams can easily push their desks together to work on a project.  Frequently you’ll see several Fools playing pool or sharing stories from their recent vacation.  There are also a lot of white boards with people huddled around them, discussing what they’re working on that day.

4)      Is the value referenced frequently?  When was the last time?

In fact, so frequently that it’s just part of daily Foolish vocabulary.   I promised to answer this one honestly (also a core value), so the last time I saw a reference was today on our intranet – probably not the best example but it is the most recent:

Mark K:  Hey Fools: if there’s an empty dishwasher right next to the sink, why are there always dirty dishes in said sink? A conundrum, wouldn’t you agree?

Peter V: I commented on this to Anthony just a few days ago! It just doesn’t seem Foolish to expect someone else to clean up after you, does it?

Tom:  OTOH, collaborative is a core value.

Let’s be collaborative on this blog post.  I certainly don’t have all the answers.  How do you collaborate in your office?  How can we top it?