What the Duck?!

NOTE: This is cross-posted from a blog I maintained while I was the VP of Customer Experience at a previous company.

If you have spent time with me in a professional capacity, have seen or heard a talk of mine, or follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that ducks are kind of my schtick. Yep, I'm a "grown" (almost 5 feet tall) woman who keeps a children's bath toy sitting on her desk. I also give rubber ducks as gifts and recently ordered a giant rubber duck vinyl "mural" for my team's office wall. It seems ridiculous, I know, but hear me out.

Several years ago, I was just a year or so into my first experience managing a customer support team. It was a lonely world of trying to figure out what it means to provide concierge-quality customer service for, and in, mobile apps. No one else was really doing this, let alone doing it well. Or if they were, they weren't vocal about it.

Moreover, customer support tools weren't yet optimized for mobile experiences. For me, it was a time of creativity and observing; I looked for people who provided amazing customer service and tried to find ways to transfer and mold their best practices to our small, mobile app world.

As someone who had spent the previous several years as a technical writer, I opted to draw on that experience and determine what I could leverage from my fellow user assistance professionals. So, I took my teammate, Kristina, with me to attend the WritersUA conference. The conference that year was held at the Peabody hotel in Memphis.

I had never stayed at a Peabody hotel before, so Kristina and I were delighted to discover that the hotel is known for the ducks who reside and perform there. Every morning, the ducks come down the elevator from their luxurious home on the hotel rooftop, perform a march along a red carpet, and then play in the lobby fountain all day. In the evening, they perform a march again and then ride the elevator up to their rooftop suite to retire for the night.

After a long second day at the conference, Kristina and I snuck out a bit early to go see the ducks march the red carpet. We stood by the fountain, waiting for the march to start, discussing the fact that we didn't quite "fit in" with the other conference attendees and that it required a lot of energy to "translate" the conference talks' content into ideas that we could use in our roles on a mobile app support team.

As we discussed this and whether attending the conference was useful for us, we watched the ducks swim laps around their fountain. We noticed how regal and graceful they looked, like quickly gliding around on top of the water was nearly effortless for them. Upon closer inspection, though, we noticed their feet paddling rapidly in the water; it turned out that this beautiful, poised behavior was actually quite intense, fierce, and nearly messy.

It was in this moment that we discovered solidarity at the conference—with the ducks. We realized that supporting users is often like being a duck: We try to display a calm confidence as we troubleshoot, despite the fact that, beneath the surface, we often feel like we're scrambling.

After nearly a year of trying to figure out where my team fit in the tech, user assistance, and customer support worlds, this analogy was surprisingly comforting. So while the ducks walked their red carpet back to the elevator, Kristina and I walked to the hotel gift shop, bought ourselves some Peabody-branded rubber ducks, and went home with a team mascot.

Fast forward a few years, the ducks have become a symbol of customer care and solidarity. New teammates start their tenure with a rubber duck on their desks. We refer to each other as ducks and say things like, "It'll be okay, ducky." We even created a company-wide award that we give to those outside of our team who go above and beyond for customers.


The duck award has become a successful program that we use to recognize our coworkers and show everyone the value and reward that come from helping customers to succeed with our products. Other companies have followed suit by creating their own version of this award, and Scott Tran from Support Driven created a graphic about the duck award that might just be cooler than the duck award itself.

So now, I ask you this: What about you? How do you unite your team? Do you have a team mascot; if so, what is it and why? How have you gotten through trying times with your team? How do you embrace the chaos that can be customer support? Do you have ideas about how we can encourage others to invest in customer care? If so, please comment and share the love!