Update, April 2020 — Well, it finally happened. We moved up market and role specialized enough that we no longer use the term “Hugger” in titles and departments. Although we knew the day would come, we also knew that an imagined future state wasn’t a good reason not to try something new in early days. We still believe every word we’ve written about Hugging.

In fact, our Hugging philosophy has paid dividends over the years and continues to evoke a certain culture at FullStory. We grew our product and our brand around the beliefs that empathy wins the day, product led companies need a very close connection with their customers, and customer facing success and support roles should be highly empowered and garner great respect and influence internally. Check, check, check. And so, we lovingly lay our Hugging title to rest and thank it for it’s impact on our approach to work and business.

Original post:

A little over two years ago, I was sitting across the table from my future CEO and COO. Over coffee we discussed our various theories of customer relationships, sales, and product. As the conversation became more animated, they threw out the first crazy idea (of what would become many) that I wasn’t sure if I should take seriously.

It went something like this:

“We just really want our customer facing role to be different. We want to help customers feel like they are truly dealing with people, not just some faceless corporation.

“Like, what if when you reached out to FullStory you were talking to a Hugger?”

In retrospect, this may have just been a working title — a flight of fancy meant to conjure all the right feels at that moment in our conversation.

When I eventually joined the team, I probably could have just as easily signed on as an Account Manager, a Support Agent, or even a Product Manager.

But I leaned in.

I wrote a draft of The Hugger’s Manifesto to bring to my next interview and we never looked back.

I found out quickly working at FullStory that nothing is ever done without a good reason. And although the “Hugger” title may ultimately have been optional, I’m confident that Bruce and Scott knew exactly what they were doing when they coined the name. And they likely let out a sigh of relief when I agreed to the moniker.

So then, why Huggers?

Ego, what ego?

The first reason while not primary is certainly a big plus — imagine the type of person who would raise their hand to be a Hugger.

We have consistently found that people who who are interested in the Hugging position are thoughtful, thorough, and entrepreneurial. They take the time to really read the job description and grok the meaning. They are excited to be a part of something that positively impacts customer experience and they understand that the playbook for doing this may not yet be written.

Case in point: Google “Hugger job description” and the results can’t exactly be applied to the FullStory role … unfortunately.

Not a FullStory Hugger. Seriously, Google Image search for “job hugger.”

Plenty of folks might tolerate being a “Support Ninja,” a “Marketing Evangelist,” or even a “Happiness Hero.” At least those have a map-able alternative in most people’s minds. (And heck, you can probably sneak a different title onto your business card to avoid complete embarrassment.)

But when you’re coming to a job with your MBA or 5+ years experience directing a success department and you’re still willing to call yourself a Hugger, it is a clear signal that you’ve checked your ego at the door.

Which is great. It means we can get down to the business of improving customer experience without self-importance getting in the way.

Services department? What services department?

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. And ultimately the Hugging team was created to fill a void in the marketplace. Even as all of the blog posts were saying that customer experience was the future, it didn’t seem like companies were setting themselves up to win at “CX.” Departments and specialties weren’t evolving to ensure that customer experience was at the heart of an organization. Noticing the discontinuity, we wondered precisely what need we were trying to satisfy with a customer-facing role?

It wasn’t exactly Customer Success.

For every customer you are able to talk to, how many do you miss? For those you don’t talk to, what are they saying to their friends and coworkers? How do they remember you? If you had been able to chat with them on the phone for 20 minutes, would perception of your product have changed? Should it?

We were confident that the number one driver of success for your product is your product, since the vast majority of customer experience is direct interaction with it. We didn’t want a “Customer Success department” to become a crutch or a buffer between the product team and the customer.

Creating a team to be the keepers of the customer feedback keys felt like the wrong move.

It wasn’t exactly Customer Support.

We knew that most customers would experience the product for what it was — a usually delightful but sometimes buggy (Or other times downright frustrating!) tool. For those exasperated few who had the courage to raise their hands and tell us they had an issue, we certainly wanted customer support to be a happy and seamless experience. But what about the silent majority who never reached out? We wanted to serve them better, too.

There was concern that a siloed support department might begin to optimize for how fast they closed a ticket or how satisfied a customer was with their support experience. Yet what we really wanted was to be actively trying to prevent support tickets from ever arriving in the inbox. Shifting priorities here required an agent who felt empowered to provide direct feedback and suggestions to the product and engineering team. After all, it is only if the product is less buggy, more intuitive, and always delightful that the goal of receiving fewer tickets can be achieved.

Plus, we believed in all hands support and we wanted our developers to continue to feel our customer’s pain firsthand.

It wasn’t exactly Product Management.

We wanted a great product. You could say we’re a product-driven company. Weren’t we just looking for a Product Manager? Someone who could talk to customers, get feedback, and work that feedback into the product roadmap?

PM was close, but this role had a similar fatal flaw — what if the PM optimized for metrics and throughput of product features? If you chose the wrong person, they might have the wrong motivations and lose sight of the customer’s interests. Too often the product objective becomes efficiency and strategy rather than delight.

And there was still that buffer problem. At the end of the day, would our designers know how much Suzy Customer disliked the search UX? Would our engineers truly understand the disruptive nature of a slow-to-load graph for Allison McUser after reading her persona document? Alas, a shared persona document does not equate to shared understanding.

We still weren’t quite there.

We needed a way to infuse empathy and feedback into every process in the company, and we needed a department that was accountable to that goal without being solely responsible for its achievement.

Everyone and every feature is customer experience.

When you have a startup, one of the perks is not having to pick up the standard business playbook. You get to do things your own way and then figure out how that scales. We knew no matter how big we got, we needed people whose main focus was to work with customers. But we also wanted those people to be directly involved in the product development cycle.

Not a buffer between customers and the product team, but a bullhorn.

Not a long-suffering broker of non-actionable customer feedback, but an active participant in translating customer’s needs into a fantastic product.

Meet Huggers.

A screenshot from Brené Brown’s popular short on Empathy.

If Nate had written his blog post two years ago, we would have thrown up our arms and shouted, “We’re not crazy!” The product development deficit he describes is exactly the mental journey we took before landing on “Hugger” as a full-time position at FullStory.

Most importantly, a “Hugger” was not a cute replacement title for a role that already exists. It was the manifestation of our quest to fill the gap that process-oriented systems had left in their wake.

After some consideration we had an outline of our need. We were, after all, building a pretty sweet tool that had all of the same goals:

  1. Customer experience as the lifeblood of the company, not on the sidelines or siloed.
  2. Solving customer experience as a company, not with a single person or department.
  3. Deeply embedding the folks talking to customers most regularly in every company process.

What do you call the person in your company who offers an empathetic embrace when everything in the product seems to be going wrong — and then pats you on the back and helps you to find a path forward based on what is best for the customer?

We call them Huggers.

(You can call them whatever you want.)