Earlier this year, we invited you to the beginning of a community conversation about geocache quality. Past projects such as the Geocache Health Score and introduction of Virtual Rewards were aimed at encouraging and rewarding high cache quality. Before considering new projects, we wanted to hear your feedback and ideas.
In this episode, senior product manager Ben Hewitt gives us the rundown of what’s new in this week’s big Geocaching app update.
A full transcript is available here.
00:13 Chris Ronan: Hey there. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast from Inside Geocaching HQ in Seattle. I am Chris Ronan. My user name is Rock Chalk. I am one of the staff members here at HQ. This week we released a big update to the Geocaching® app. This is what is known as a phased release, meaning that it goes out to around 10% of users to start with and then it ramps up to 100% over the course of a couple of days. Chances are that by the time you hear this, the update will be available to everybody. But if you’re not seeing it just yet, give it a day or so and it will be there in the Apple Store or the Google Store or whatever you use to get your app updates. On this episode, we have Ben Hewitt, who is a senior product manager working with the mobile team. He is here to explain what is new in the app. So let’s get to.
01:12 CR: Okay. So Ben, we have a new app release that came out this week and it’s pretty exciting. The people, what I’ve seen so far, people are pretty happy with what they’re seeing. So for folks that haven’t seen it, or, I know this is what’s called a staged rollout, and it takes a few days for to matriculate through the stores at the Apple and the Google stores, but what are the big headlines of this release?
01:40 Ben Hewitt: The heart and soul of this release is focused on navigation, and that’s not navigation in the app, but the act of using the app to navigate to a geocache. Anybody who’s been around this game for a long time knows that that primarily used to be a task for a handheld GPS for your Garmin, your Magellan. Now of course we’ve got a lot of people who are using the app to go geocaching, and this is one of the core purposes of the app is to say, “You’re standing at point A, the geocache is at point B. What tools do we need to provide in order to get you from A to B?”
02:14 CR: So for those of us that have played the game for a long time, we feel like we’re very experienced, getting to a cache seems like a pretty easy concept. If I’m using the app, I go to the cache and then I go to my compass or whatever. I mean I’ve got my workflow. But you do a lot of testing with people and players of various experience levels and it isn’t necessarily as easy as some of us may think that it is.
02:40 BH: That’s true. We started off with some pretty good data that it was telling us that not as many people were getting to caches as we hoped they would. That was particularly true of people that were just starting off the game, newer players. I think as advanced players, you and I both know that we’re pretty, we’re adaptive to the workflow. We get used to using the tools at hand to make the job work, and I think if you’re kind of like a map geek at heart like I am, then eventually you just kind of orient yourself in the way that you need to. But what we discovered is that a lot of people really were struggling to understand the tools that we’d given them in the app to navigate.
03:21 BH: There was a little black band on the map that would show kind of a rotating compass and we lovingly called that Grandpa’s compass. It’s a nickname that’s been around the office for years. And when we started testing around this to understand better where people were struggling with navigation, one of the really interesting tells that we had from users is they’d fire up the app. They would hit start to start navigating and then they would start rotating their device or they would contort their bodies in weird ways to kind of try and understand where the cache was.
03:55 BH: And we used to do just a really simple test of saying like, “Can you point to where you think the cache is right now?” And a lot of the time, people had no idea. That’s clearly not a good situation for us to be in where we have given them a tool to navigate to the cache and they can’t even point to where they think the cache is. So that was the beginning of an epic journey to say how do we do better at this. And the interesting thing, like you said, is that for people who have been around this for a long time, some of this, a lot of this is kind of solved problems, and some of the things that we ended up implementing are really similar to what some people will recognize from their handheld Garmin or Magellan GPS units that they’ve had around forever. We kind of returned to some standards there in terms of what people expect when they’re advocating to a geocache.
04:48 CR: So we’ve got this new navigation mode which has you orienting based on the direction you’re facing which is different from the past, and then distance from the cache is right there at the top of the screen, a little bit more accessible there. So those are some of the, maybe some of the more major changes people are going to notice.
05:08 BH: Anybody who’s used a handheld GPS for a while will probably know the difference between track up navigation and north up navigation. In case you don’t, track up navigation means that the top of the screen will always be pointing in your direction of travel, and in north up navigation, north is always pointed up kind of like where most of us are used to looking at a map. Both of those were possible in the previous version of the app, but the more we unpacked people’s words and body language and how they were trying to use the app, we realized that really what they were looking for and they didn’t know it, was track up navigation. And so the new navigation mode defaults into track up navigation. It was something that a lot of users over time had asked us for, but it was just kind of hidden in the old workflow. That said, we know that not everybody prefers track up navigation. People have different mental models. And so there is a lot of apps like Google Maps and ways we added a new setting for navigation that says, “Keep map north up.” So if you’re a north up navigator, you can go into the settings screen and flip that over and then you’ll have north up navigation instead.
06:19 BH: Like you said also about the distance, another big theme that came through as a deficiency in the previous navigation tools is that people wanted more map real estate. People wanted to see more of their surroundings as they were navigating to a cache. So over time, we slowly removed more and more and more from the navigation experience. We removed the bottom tab bar on iOS. We removed the cache summary. We even removed some of the map controls. You can still access them from other places, but basically what we did is we stripped it down to just the core information that you needed to navigate to the geocache, which the end result, it means you have a very focused experience and the chance to see a lot of the map as you’re navigating to the geocache.
07:08 CR: Yeah, I like how if a person wants to stay with north up, they can make that choice for themselves and switch back and forth. In your testing, did you get a sense for how… Did you give people the opportunity during testing to decide which one, and did they choose one or the other?
07:26 BH: We tested with several different cohorts of people. We tested with brand new people who had never seen the app or gone geocaching before. We tested with novice geocachers who had a handful of finds, and then we tested with really advanced geocachers. And what we discovered is defaulting to track up was successful for the vast majority of those people. It wasn’t always… People wouldn’t be able to articulate that that was their preference because I think it’s just not something that people, unless you’re a handheld GPS nerd that you really geek out on that language, track up versus north up. But in the way that they behaved and their success of getting from where we started testing to the geocache location, it was really clear that across different experience levels, that was a great starting point.
08:10 BH: And then of course the exception to that rule is that, like you said, some people just don’t prefer it. Some people’s minds don’t wanna see the map moving in that way. And so we definitely knew that we were gonna need to support people who prefer north up navigation too.
08:29 BH: One of the things that is common around both the track up version and the north up version is that we have what we call an autopilot mode. This was also based on feedback. We’d heard from the community for years and they came up in testing. And so when you hit navigate to a geocache, whether you’re in track up or north up, we start you in this autopilot mode which will automatically frame you in the cache on the map and will automatically zoom in or out as you get closer to hopefully, hopefully not further away from the cache.
09:03 CR: If you could further away, if you’re zooming out, that’s a problem, right?
09:07 BH: But it means that you have to do a lot less manual map manipulation as you’re navigating. It’s where we’re trying to take on as much of that as possible ’cause we saw a consistent set of behaviors of people generally wanting to keep their location and the cache location visible on the map and generally wanting to keep zooming in as they got closer and closer. So those things are automatic now. You still have every option to manually adjust that if you want at any time. You can pan the map. You can zoom the map. You can rotate the map however you want, and if you do that, then a little button animates up from the bottom that says, “Center on me.” And if you tap that, then you’re back in what we call autopilot mode.
09:47 CR: I think we’ve talked about this on a previous podcast, but maybe we can just briefly summarize it again. We’ve talked about testing a couple of times. How does that work when you go out and test with… You’re gonna see how they like this feature for instance, navigation. How does that work? Do you just go out? You find some people? You go out to a nearby something here around the office? And then how much do you tell them or not tell them before they start to try to test this thing?
10:17 BH: So that really depends on what we’re trying to accomplish and who the feature is targeted at. We, depending on what goals we’re trying to accomplish with the release, that that will influence who we recruit to do the testing. Generally speaking, what we do nowadays is we build a prototype version of the app. We have awesome developers who will just if we ask them to do A, B, C, and D, they’ll whip out a cool prototype version of it in just a couple days a lot of the time. And so then usually myself and one of our designers will go out and do these interviews with people. We recruit the Facebook ads. We’ve tried a few other things too. Sometimes we recruit on Craigslist or on Google Ads. We try all kinds of things. Generally speaking, Facebook ads have been the most successful for us.
11:08 CR: I saw you holding a sign just down at the corner one day.
11:10 BH: We did.
11:11 CR: That was you?
11:12 BH: Actually, not a joke. It was. [chuckle] Last week in some of our final testing before pushing this release out, Maurice, our designer for the mobile team and I, we went down to a local Starbucks and then we held up a sign that said, “Do you want free coffee? Test this app for us.” And we call it Gorilla Testing. We just were outside on the corner just trying to get people to use it. The free coffee didn’t work so well, so we ended up starting to pay them 25 bucks.
11:41 CR: If you would’ve, a pastry, I would have gone for that. I don’t know if the coffee would have done it for me.
11:45 BH: Yeah.
11:45 CR: But yeah, if I find next time, I’ll keep an eye out.
11:48 BH: But the key component though, the real important ingredients of getting it right are number one, actually watching people use the app. It’s amazing how much you can learn people. If you give the app to somebody and say, “Give us feedback,” that gives you really good feedback, and then you have to try and understand what they really meant. If you stand there and ask them questions and you watch what they’re doing, you learn so much more through body language, through where they tap, all these ways that you can’t see if they just give you written feedback. And then the other thing we’ve gotten a lot better at in the last year especially is testing functional prototypes. We’ll take the store version of the app and just branch the code and build a prototype really quick and dirty on that so that we can actually go on test a working version with working geocache data with people. We were doing wireframe prototypes or prototypes using other prototyping tools before and those just didn’t do as good of a job as building a functional prototype. So that’s been a really good help for us.
12:55 CR: So before we get into maybe going over a couple of the other new things that are part of this release, why is navigation so important? I mean that sounds dumb as I hear myself say it.
13:06 BH: [13:06] That does sound dumb.
13:07 CR: But I think, “Gosh again. I’m dumb. Gosh Chris” It sounds a little, like I said, it sounds so simple, but it, and especially for somebody like me who’s experienced, I think “Why are we spending time on navigation?” And there’s all these other things I wanna see instead, but because I’m here and because I hear you talk a lot about it, I know how important it is. So why has it been such a primary focus over the last several months really working on this?
13:36 BH: I think the… If I told you, “Hey, we’re building a geocaching app from scratch. What does it need to do for you?
13:43 CR: Find the caches for me.
13:45 BH: Find the caches. [chuckle] Just log them all right now? [chuckle] Give me one button.
13:49 CR: There’s no cache that does that, no app that does.
13:51 BH: That’s what I need. If I just tap this button it will slowly just start logging caches for me. [chuckle] That’s a good app. We should do that.
13:58 CR: Okay, so we’ll work on that next, but before, now what we’re working on though…
14:02 BH: The point is, this is a sneaky thing. It’s not a feature that people think about. But if you think about what you need from a Geocaching app, navigating to geocaches, I would argue is perhaps the very top need, maybe not quite the top, but it depends on who you are. Some people are gonna use the app as a companion to a GPS device. If that’s you, you probably don’t need really good navigation tools in the app. And if you’re using the app by itself to go out geocaching, then this is one of the main things that the app needs to accomplish for you is to get you there. And as I mentioned before, what we discovered is that it was a mistake to consider that a solved problem in the app. We did have tools in the app that would help you navigate to geocaches, but following up on data and following up on lots of interviews, it became really clear that the tools we had were not working in the way that we wanted them to. And so to put it differently, one of our core features, get me to the geocache, was broken.
15:05 CR: So other features that we have in this new release, one of them is new cache preview?
15:11 BH: Mm-hmm.
15:12 CR: And tell us about that a little bit.
15:14 BH: Yeah. So that’s a little nugget of goodness that we just had the opportunity to take in at the same time. If you use the app, you know that if you tap on the cache on the map, it pops up a little preview of the cache that gives you the geocache name, how far away it is, favorite points and so on. In the past, you had to tap all the way into the full geocache details to see the difficulty, terrain, and size. And a lot of players understandably said, “Hey, I wanna see more information on that preview so I can decide whether it’s even a cache that’s even interesting to me.” And so on the new cache preview that replaces the old one, we have added that. We’ve added for the first time difficulty, terrain, and size. This is another one that seems perhaps like a no-brainer to advanced people. I know that it’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time as a player. So it’s great to have a little more information in that preview there.
16:13 CR: Yeah, I think one thing we don’t tell people is mostly your preferences are what we work on first, right?
16:18 BH: Of course.
16:20 CR: There’s something that you want and the rest of us kind of get in line.
16:20 BH: Oh yeah.
16:22 CR: So that’s a…
16:23 BH: That’s exactly how this works.
16:23 CR: So how badly did you want new cache details header? That’s another thing that, [chuckle] that’s the next thing on the list.
16:31 BH: So that one actually is another one that is a sneaky “when,” not in the 7.0 release that we just shipped this week, but in the very… I think it’ll either be in 7.1 or 7.2, having that new cache details header. And on iOS, if you’ve been using the app for a while, you know that the cache preview, if you tapped it again, would slide up to open the full cache details. That was a cute animation. But one thing that prevented us from doing, because if you pulled on the cache, it would slide it up and down, it meant that we could never do pull-to-refresh on cache details, and I think everybody who’s used a smartphone for a while is pretty acquainted with this, at this point with pulling down to refresh the data on their screen.
17:19 BH: So another thing we’ve heard, particularly from advanced players over time is, “Hey, I’m looking at this cache in the app, and my corrected coordinates aren’t there,” or, “the trackable inventory is out of date,” or, “the cache owner changed the coordinates and I don’t have the latest data.” The thing that we always wanted to do as the quickest resolution to all of that is just add pull-to-refresh, which is go out to the API, get the newest data and show that. That’s the quickest way to rectify any of those inconsistencies. And so now, finally, because we changed all that, we’re adding, we’ll be adding pull-to-refresh on cache details so that people have just a quick way to always get the latest data about that cache.
18:02 CR: Among the other improvements and changes, is getting close to the geocache, that notification. And that has changed a little bit.
18:11 BH: That’s, if you’ve been using this app for a long time, you’ll remember that we’ve changed that quite a bit over the years. When this app was originally introduced, back when we had two apps, there was a very intrusive close-to-cache notification that you couldn’t turn off, and…
18:29 CR: Yeah, I’m still trying to get that out of my head.
18:32 BH: I know.
18:33 CR: I still have nightmares about it.
18:34 BH: Suffice to say, it was not a favorite for advanced players. There were a lot of players that as we directed more traffic to this app, they were not happy with having that close-to-cache screen which they couldn’t turn off. So over time, we’ve changed that quite a bit. First, we changed it so that you had the opportunity to turn it off. And a lot of people did. We still know, particularly for new players, that there’s a key moment where as you’re learning the game, we need to tell you, “Hey, it’s time to put down the GPS and start looking ’cause this is about as close as you’re gonna get.” But now we’ve switched to doing that in a much more subtle way, which is just to vibrate when you’re close to the geocache, and that’s subject to further changes over time. We may consider giving people more options to have a sound or a visual aid if they want, but for now it’s just we’ve kind of started over and dialed it back to a very subtle close-to-cache which is just the vibration.
19:30 CR: So your team has been working on this release for quite a while and working on these improvements that are in this release. How do you decide what’s next or what features are next and where do I send my list of things that I want you to add?
19:48 BH: Well I see a garbage can in the corner. Those, you can file yours over there.
19:52 CR: Oh, that’s so harsh. Gosh, you could at least made me feel like my feedback was valued, but apparently that’s fine. That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to this.
20:02 BH: Well, well, for everybody, for all of our beloved listeners, here’s the truth. We are constantly listening to feedback from the community. We get that through all kinds of different mechanisms. We get that through these interviews and testing that we do. We get that from the forums, from email, from all the ways that people keep in touch with us. All of that feedback from the community is a big part of what the leadership here uses to create goals each year for the next year. Bryan and the rest of the management team have currently been working on getting the goals for 2019 set. Again, the community feedback is a big input to that, and then the mobile team and other teams will be tasked with making progress against those goals for 2019. So we’re just starting that process right now and that will kick off a whole another round of research and interviews and prototyping and testing and cool new stuff to come in the spring.
21:01 CR: That was Ben Hewitt telling us everything we need to know about the latest version of the Geocaching® app. Visit the Geocaching blog for even more information about the app update. You can find that at blog.geocaching.com. If there’s a geocaching topic you would like to hear more about, tell us about it. Just send us an email to email@example.com. Once again, that is firstname.lastname@example.org. We always appreciate your suggestions. Thanks for listening. From all of us at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.
00:12 Chris Ronan: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast from the HQ offices in Seattle, Washington. I am Chris Ronan. My username is Rock Chalk. I am one of the folks that works here at HQ. And on today’s episode, we are going to talk about customer support. That being the questions that you might write in and ask if your account isn’t working quite right or if the website isn’t working for you. Who are the people that answer those questions when you send them in? With me today, is Martin from the Community Engagement Team. He has been here for a couple of years now, and has a lot of experience with working with folks in the community to get their questions answered. So here is me and Martin talking about community support.
01:05 CR: Okay. Well, Martin, let’s start with how did you end up at Geocaching HQ?
01:10 Martin: Well, I used to work in the games industry, so I have experience with community and customer service for over 20 years, and geocaching was always like a nice hobby. And I thought like, “Well, it might be time to change and do something else after doing the same stuff for so long,” and then I saw the opening. I applied for the job and I got it. And now here I’m happy at Geocaching HQ.
01:33 CR: And what is your title? What are your just basic responsibilities here?
01:40 Martin: Right. My title is community management lead, and I am leading the Community Engagement team here at Geocaching HQ. My team takes care of every customer support request, so whenever a player has an issue not being able to log into their account, or they have gameplay questions, my team is handling that. We also do all of the social media that the company does. So if you see something on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or a blog post, most of the time that is coming from my team. And recently we also took over the Visitor’s Center, so if you guys come and visit us here at HQ, you will also interact with people from my team.
02:21 CR: Now, me being from Kansas, I can always tell somebody’s from Kansas. I don’t think you’re from Kansas?
02:27 Martin: No. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Chris. No, as you can, as probably everybody can tell, I’m originally from Germany. I left Germany in 2006 to first work in the UK and then came to Seattle in, I think, 2009.
02:41 CR: And that’s one thing that we’ll talk about in a little bit, is the multiple languages that are spoken on your team and around your team. Tell me about the Community Engagement team.
02:53 Martin: Yeah. So my team is five people. And as I mentioned, we do all the social media stuff and all the customer support. Like you hinted at, we do everything here in-house, so it’s like a lot of people here. “Hey, it’s a customer support,”so they probably use a call center somewhere outsourced. No, we do everything here so we have direct access to every developer, engineer, and all the teams here at HQ. And because geocaching really is an international game, we try to not just provide customer support in English. So my team is able to provide support in German, French, and English. We would love to cover more languages, but it’s hard to get people that speak more than two languages, so.
03:33 CR: So somebody sends a question in, and it might be about their account, they can’t log in or it might be like you said, gameplay questions, it comes and how do you decide who answers it and all of that kind of thing?
03:47 Martin: Yeah. So everything, every email that somebody writes in ends in what we call it’s a ticketing system. So every single email will be turned into a ticket, and then there’s like a queue, with the oldest ticket at the top. Everybody grabs tickets out of that pool. So usually we work from the top. So, we don’t really have extreme specialists on the team so everybody on my team is knowledgeable with all aspects. Granted, there might be a question that is a little bit an edge case that we haven’t seen before, but then, A; we play the game ourselves pretty heavily. And yeah, like I mentioned, we have access to all the developers and engineers. And there’s also some really savvy geocachers here at HQ, like you, Rock Chalk and other people that have tens of thousands of finds. So we will always find somebody who knows the answer.
04:36 CR: And as you mentioned, your team does geocache, which is extremely valuable. I think people tend to forget how complicated our game can be, especially if you’ve played it for a while. You tend to know all of the acronyms and all of the… Just the little things that are unique to our game and it tends to take some time to learn that, and your team knows that stuff which is really, really helpful for when people write in with such a variety of questions.
05:07 Martin: Yeah, absolutely. Playing the game ourselves is the most valuable thing we can do to know where the pain points are that the community is experiencing, right? Because we play as well, sometimes we get tickets where we’re like, “Oh yeah, right. I ran into exactly the same issue when I was out caching the other day”. So we know the answer just from our own experience. And yes, you’re right, our game can be pretty complicated. So the more we play and the more diverse we play is also important. We have regular outings where we go out as a team and we always try to mix it up so we’re not just always go for like, “Hey. Just go for a traditional”. No, we go like, “Hey let’s do a Wherigo today”, or it’s like, “Well let’s do a multi-cache this time”. So that we experience all the different facets that our game has.
05:52 CR: I think people assume that in this day and age, with customer support, that when you send a question into a company, I know I’ve assumed this when I send one in. It’s either going to not be read by a human being, or the human being will be on another side of the world, maybe doesn’t use the product the way that I do. And I think one of the things that’s really nice about Geocaching HQ is that everybody’s here and working together. And as you alluded to, is aware of… Because you play the game, you’re aware of some of the issues that people are experiencing themselves. But most of all, a human is reading these things and is answering these things, which is kinda rare, almost, in this day and age.
06:42 Martin: Yeah. Definitely. Every single ticket that we get is read by a human being and will be answered by a human being. We use certain, what we call, templates, for some issues that are more common so that we don’t have to type everything so we will be more efficient, but even those will be modified and adjusted by a human being.
07:05 CR: Yeah. I think I’ve seen… ’cause I answer stuff too and sometimes people will say, “Oh, you gave the same answer to somebody else!” It was like, “Well, you asked the same question that somebody else did!” And while you can customize it to some degree, how many questions do you guys get a day? It can be in the hundreds, right?
07:25 Martin: Yeah. It’s a little bit dependent on the season we are in. Like, now is our busy season, which means we can get over 200 requests per day, easily. And as I mentioned, with only four people and in addition to all the customer support, we also do all the social media stuff. So there’s only so much hours in the day. So we need to be helpful and we also need to be efficient. Which means if it is exactly the same problem, yes, you will probably get a verbatim answer that another person got to make us… So we can actually help more people.
07:53 CR: Sure. What are the most common questions that come in to the queue?
08:00 Martin: That’s a good question. Often, especially in the summer, it’s people that haven’t cached for a while and now they wanna get back into the game. So they can’t remember their password, or they can’t remember their username or, for some reason, they have de-validated their accounts so they can’t get in anymore. So we basically help people get back into their account and go caching. It happens more even when we do a promotion, like we do at the moment, so there’s that. Gets more people out and then they realize “Hey, I can’t remember anything.” So that’s a very common thing. Payment related issues is a common thing, when people have problems paying for a premium membership, because somehow, something didn’t work, so we help them figure out what is going on. And apart from that, questions can be all over the place. They can be from, how does your game actually work? So when we get very, very basic questions to very intricate questions that go into the minutiae of statistics, and how certain things impact those… So it’s a wild variety of questions that we get.
09:04 CR: And then sometimes there’s technical stuff, like GPS related questions and app questions and things like that. You guys have track down if there might be a bug that happens with the website or with the apps, you guys are often right in the middle of trying to help the developers and trying to figure out what’s happening and how to fix it.
09:27 Martin: Yeah. That is one of the advantages of having one team doing the social media and doing the customer support. It’s like, we, very fast and very easily, can see a trend if there’s something. If people report the same things over and over again, on social media and then all of a sudden we get a whole bunch of tickets. And then, so we are often the first to notify our developers that, “Hey, we might have an issue here because this is what we’re seeing from the customers.” And then, highly recommended also for everybody listening to this, we also actually use social media to inform people, if there is a problem. So we will use our Twitter account to inform people like, “Hey there, we currently have an outage”. So that people know we’re working on it, that something is going on. And people don’t even need to be on Twitter. They can just go to our page, it’s like a website where they can see our status updates.
10:17 CR: You’ve talked about social media a little bit. So, what all does that entail? That’s what? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter? How many different outlets are you guys addressing everyday?
10:29 Martin: Our primary outlets are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Because those are the three platforms where most of our users are. And also, you don’t wanna spread yourself too thin. If we would expand to even more social media platforms… Every platform is unique so you kinda need to tailor the content you need to do. And then it becomes a question of, how many hours do I have versus what is more important? So that’s why we focus on these three main platforms.
11:01 CR: And there are definitely… Would you say it’s generally the rule that at companies, they have a social media team that is separate from the customer support team? There’s teams that just focus on social media whereas your team is doing a little bit of both. What I like about the way it works here is that, you guys are on Facebook, you’re on Twitter, you’re discussing things back and forth with the community. And so you’re really engaged in what’s going on in the game as opposed to being siloed a little bit if you just had folks working on social and then folks working on tickets. There would be a bit of a divide, I would think.
11:43 Martin: Yeah. That can definitely be an issue. And this team setup is unique. Every other company I worked in, you are right. They normally have a customer support department and then they have a community/social media team. But I think, yeah, one of the biggest advantages of having it combined here is that, like you mentioned, we’re not siloed. It’s like we not only see the problems coming in, but we also see the positive feedback and we actively see discussions between different geocaches, so we get a different take on it. And even sometimes we see somebody talking about a problem and how they fixed it, like with talking to other community members and by us being in that channel, then we also take that feedback back, which we can then bring to the customer support side.
12:24 CR: Sure. And we haven’t talked about yet, the help center that we have that can be really helpful to people, hence the name. But I’ve often found myself directing people there, because as you are able to identify issues, then you can go and sometimes put that information in the help center so that people can find it for themselves, right?
12:44 Martin: Yeah, that’s correct. We often direct people to the help center as well when we answer their tickets, because the information is already written up there in a very precise way, so that with steps, how people can help themselves solve a problem. And what many people don’t know, the help center is in English, but we include it like a Google translation to each and every page. So even if it’s not perfect, but even if your English isn’t that good, you can still try to read it up in your own language. Definitely, a good source for looking up some things about the game and how the app works and other things. So I highly recommend everybody, check out the help center.
13:24 CR: Since I’ve been here almost four years, and since I’ve been here, German and French have… German was… There was somebody here that could answer in German when I started, but it wasn’t as robust as it is now. There are more people on your team that can speak German. And then French was added, which is all awesome, but do you guys get a lot from other languages? And if you do, how do you… How do you try to communicate with somebody, for instance, who might write in, I don’t know, Swedish or some other language like that?
14:00 Martin: We get a lot of requests that are not in English. German is a really big market for geocaching and France is rapidly growing, so that’s why we have those two languages on the team as well. If somebody writes in, in a language that we do not speak we actually have to do a Google translation to figure out what’s going on, but our response will be in English because, as we noticed, a lot of people speak at least a little bit of English, so then we are more on the common ground in explaining. So I don’t think it would help anybody if, let’s say, they write in Czech, and then we Google Translate the problem, then we write our answer and then Google Translate it back. I think we would lose much more in translation there, if we just respond in English.
14:43 CR: Right. So the times when somebody asks a question that is really complicated or there’s not an obvious answer to it, is it often that your team has to try to find the right person at the company that can help answer that question, whether it be somebody, you know one of the engineers or one of the developers or stuff like that?
15:04 Martin: It happens on a regular basis because, as you mentioned before, our game is really complex. So it can have really complex problems. And some of them are really edge cases that we try to reproduce first on our own. And then for some reason, we can’t do this. We can’t do this. But a good thing is we work really close with every other department in the company, so we either use email or Slack to find like, “Hey, does anybody know about this before?” Or if we don’t get a response, then I just literally walk up to somebody’s desk and ask like, “Hey, we currently have this thing, do you know the answer to this?” And even if that person doesn’t know, then that person will direct me to the other person that can give me the answer. So collaboration is really great here at HQ. So there’s like no barrier and/or communication problems between the developers and us. We’re all in the same boat, so that’s really helpful.
15:56 CR: It is summertime. Well, it’s summer time in the northern hemisphere. I always have to remember to say that. [laughter] But it’s Mega event season and there are folks from HQ that are going out to the various events around the world. And your team does that too, right? And that’s very valuable.
16:14 Martin: Yeah. Everybody on my team will go to a Mega event as well and it is just really great meeting the community face-to-face. You hear like nice anecdotes. People bring up some problems they might have had. So you get a fresh feel and we always try to be diverse where we go, so that we get like, geocaching is slightly different in not the game itself, but the culture around it, and how people play the game can vary a little bit depending on which country it is. So we try to send people, like the people on my team that speak French, well we sent them to a French Mega event, so they can connect deeper with the French community. Or I for example will go to a Mega event in Germany, which I’m really looking forward to, so I can reconnect with the German community, who is often… The German community is often surprised, when we show up at a German Mega, that there is actually German people working at HQ and it’s not just all Americans. So it’s always nice to reassure them. It’s like, “No, you’re a big community, we care about you. We actually have Germans on the team that know the culture, and have an understanding for what you guys are doing. So…
17:22 CR: Yeah. And quite a few, not just one or two, but quite a few folks here that speak German, which is really good. Okay, so if a person has an issue, something they can’t figure out, a question they wanna contact Geocaching HQ, how can they make the process go as smoothly as possible, so they can get an answer as quickly as possible?
17:43 Martin: It is always really helpful, if the person tries to describe the actual problem in as much detail as possible. I know it’s sometimes really hard and not everybody is necessarily tech-savvy and that’s fine. We can figure it out, but to get to make it faster like if the initial contact with us includes as much information as possible about what is the actual problem, and even what is your user name, and maybe your email address, that might not be the same you write from, so that we can quicker look up which account it is. That is definitely helpful. So let’s just say, if we get a ticket, it says, “The app is not working”. That just means we have to get back to the customer and say, “Can you please provide more detail?” which means it’s another step, it will be another delay, it takes longer. But if it’s like, “Hey, whenever I use the app, whenever I click on a cache that is on the map, the map crashes,” then that is something much easier for us to go on, because we might have seen that case before, we might already know the fix for it and so that would expedite the solution. So if you write in to us, the more detail you can provide up front, the faster and smoother the process will be.
18:54 CR: So if somebody has an issue, they go to where, on the website? If they have to contact us and try to get a solution for something, if nobody’s done it before, how do you go about doing it?
19:07 Martin: If you just have access to email, you can just shoot an email to contact at Geocaching.com. That will get to us. If not, you should go to Geocaching.com/help. That will lead you to the Help Center, where you can first see if there is already an article that might solve the problem. Or if not, then you use the section called “Contact Us” where you can then specifically pick up which part you have a problem with. There’s some categories that you can choose, so the email we get is already categorized correctly.
19:36 CR: And then it sounds like if somebody wants to contact you directly, they can just come see you at a Mega event.
19:42 Martin: Yep, show up here at HQ. We have a lot of visitors coming by in our Visitors Center, so whenever you’re in the area, swing by, I might come out and give you one of my Trackables, so…
19:54 CR: And which Mega are you attending?
19:54 Martin: I will be at the Märchenhaft in Kassel. So there’s a chance that when you listen to this podcast, I will be actually at the Mega and you might meet me there.
20:05 CR: Alright. Well, this was educational for me. Hopefully, people enjoyed it too, so thank you.
20:12 Martin: I hope so too. Thanks, Chris.
20:14 CR: That was Martin from Geocaching HQ Community Engagement Team. Hopefully you enjoyed that. Keep an eye out for Martin at that Mega event over in Germany, or if you visit us here at our offices in Seattle, he is often out there in the Visitor Center, so hopefully you’ll get a chance to meet him.
20:34 CR: If you have something you would like to hear us talk about on the podcast, you can send us an email. Podcast at Geocaching.com is the address. That is Podcast at Geocaching.com, we would love to hear from you and try to answer your questions here on the podcast. Until then, from all of us at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.
We chat with Martin (aka SnowstormMK) from Geocaching HQ’s Community Engagement Team. How many questions do they receive from the geocaching community each day? What do they hear about most commonly?
A full transcript is available here.