Introducing Dean Burton
Dean has been working with WordPress as a customer success lead at WP Buffs. He works alongside the team there to make sure that their clients and agency partners are successful.
Preferred Pronouns | He/Him
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 127.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Dean Burton. Dean has been working with WordPress as a customer success lead at WP Buffs. He works alongside the team there to make sure that their clients and agency partners are successful. We’re glad to have you here. Welcome, Dean.
Dean: Hey, thanks for having me. Thank you.
Liam: Hey, Dean, nice to meet you. Thanks for joining us out here. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
Dean: Yeah. Thanks. I’m Dean. I’m from the UK, currently living in Spain. I work for WP Buffs. We’re a WordPress maintenance care and support company. I’m the customer success lead over there. So I get to do all the fun stuff like keeping customers happy alongside the team.
Tara: How did you discover that position? Were you were already working with WordPress before you started doing that?
Dean: Yes. This is a really good question because my journey was kind of all over the place before I came to WordPress. I was freelancing, so I was building websites as a freelancer kind of half successfully but also struggling because I was learning WordPress at the time as well. I think most freelancers start out that way with WordPress. I was exploring free WordPress before I began working with it officially. I followed that usual path of I guess discovering WordPress and then eventually working with it. And then eventually I found WP Buffs and spoke to Joe and Nick and then became part the team eventually. But it took quite a while to get to that point definitely.
Tara: Joe was one of our very first guests on Hallway Chats. I’ve known him for a long time and it’s been great to see his company WP Buffs expanding and to have a team of great people like yourself. Have you worked on a team like that before or is this your first…? As a freelancer, we often work alone a lot. So what’s it been like working on a team?
Dean: Outside of WordPress and tech world, I’ve worked on teams before. For me, working in a team like this is not new. The one thing that was new was working with free WordPress and working 100% remote. So I did have to make a big switch when I came over to WP Buffs. Of course, as a freelancer, I was working remote as well, but you’re so distracted by the hundred different hats you try to wear as a freelancer or an agency, and you kind of almost forget you’re doing it remotely, I guess. I think one of the big switches for me was really settling into the remote work and how the communication worked in a remote team. That whole thing was kind of brand new to me really. I have little maybe work experience, it was just kind of coming into a team that was already set, and I was like, “Wow, this is just like a brand new world to me.” But it was fun.
Tara: That’s interesting. We were talking before we started that you live in Spain but you’re originally from the UK. So you’re remote working from your expat life. Are you feeling like remote times two there or is there a good WordPress community where you are and do you interact with them as well?
Dean: Normally, I work with from a co-working space. I’m really lucky because I live in Seville. I live in the city, so it’s quite a vibrant place to live. There are a lot of co-working spaces around, so you get to meet a lot of different business owners, maybe freelancers or contractors as well. And some of them do work with WordPress, maybe they have a business that run a WordPress website or they’re kind of working with WordPress themselves. So co-working spaces are just a really great place to just accidentally meet somebody and just start talking about WordPress. But there’s also a really good WordPress community here as well.
They have meetups here. And also WordPress Seville is held there as well. I’ve not actually been to that. I’ve actually only lived in Seville for the past year I’ve kind of been around Spain. But yeah, there’s definitely a totally vibrant community WordPress people here in Seville.
Liam: You’ve talked about freelancing and kind of making websites and getting into WordPress that way. Talk about how you decided to or how you stumbled on or drifted into making websites in the first place. Was that a career choice? Was that you just have to learn it as a youngster? Walk us through that.
Dean: Well, what happened originally was I had always lived in England my whole life. From my early 20s, I was just working in either customer success roles or customer success-oriented jobs, and never really found a career that I would say, this is my career and I’m really passionate about. I jumped to a few different companies, a few different positions, and roles, and I think a lot of people do in England – at least I can only speak from myself. And I guess in a sense, I was really lucky that I was able to.
From there, what I did was I actually ended up working with homeless. I ended up in homelessness support. So the Social work sector. And that was what I was set on. I was like, “This is my career. This is what I’m going to aim for. I love this job.” Just working with the most amazing people, colleagues as well as the clients I’ve worked with as well. I was actually completely set that that was going to be my life. I did that for actually three years until I moved to Spain, which I thought would be a temporary move. I taught English in Spain. That was going to be just kind of a temporary sort of relax to get some headspace back. It’s been quite an intense few years working within the socialist sector. I never went back to England. I discovered WordPress while I was here in Spain, and everything spiraled so fast. I just stayed.
Liam: Talk about getting your first clients then. Where those mates from Spain who said, “Oh, you make a website?” and you went from there, or were they contact back home who said, “Hey, Dean, we hear you’re playing around with the internet. Can you help us?” What does it look like?
Dean: It was actually a mixture of those two things. To begin with, as I started to explore WordPress and dig into little bits of code here and there, I didn’t have any experience doing any of this stuff. So it was really me just learning and exploring for my own sort of curiosity and interest to begin with. I think what happens to a lot of us is that when people hear that you work with websites, whether it’s WordPress or not, people go, “Oh, so you can fix this, right? You can fix that, right?” And so people start to just know you as the IT person. So you kind of filter through those things. And occasionally, people will come to you with their WordPress sites and you just start collecting this almost portfolio of troubleshooting things for people. And I really did just kind of go from there.
I remember one of my first projects was a school. It was a school in Spain run by an English lady from London. She was running like a preschool and she needed a new website. And it was built on Genesis, but I remember wasting kind of so much time. I got paid very little for that website. But yeah, it was a mixture of people knowing people who needed help with WordPress, and also just kind of little jobs here and there to maybe fix something that I knew how to fix just to gain experience. From there, I just worked with very few clients as a freelancer, but I learned a ton. I learned a ton.
Tara: We’ve all started out there getting paid not enough. But we’re getting paid to learn in a lot of cases. So after many years, then you kind of feel like you’ve done so many different things that when somebody has a question, you have a reference point for that. Like, “Oh, yeah, I had that happen on a website. I know how to fix that now.” It gets to be more satisfying the more you learn.
Speaking of satisfying, I’m wondering in your current role as a customer support person what the satisfaction level is of that. Because I think for me, I like to live out of my inbox a lot in terms of that being my to-do list because I can go in there and a client asked question, and I can fix it and solve it and it’s very satisfying versus writing a blog post or coming up with a business plan or something that requires a longer period of maybe focus and less satisfaction at the end. Talk a little bit about that, about what it’s like to solve problems for people.
Dean: It is very satisfying because I think actually one of the best things for me is when I see our team and our developers all kind of communicating in Slack together. Maybe a client contacted us and I’m following the thread. I don’t necessarily need to be involved at this point but I can see it’s kind of becoming a bit complicated to them. And I’m thinking because I don’t have developer knowledge as such, so I’m looking at it from a customer success point of road, if you like. And so it’s really good for me when I see the team come in, and that we’re working together in Slack that or communicating together just to whiz through this problem that to me just seems so such a mountain. And then at the end of that, to see this client so happy that this monumental challenge has been solved within 24 hours or however long term. That really isn’t me. That’s our team. I think that’s one of the most substantive things for me to put on job.
Of course, I get involved in just making sure our agency partners are successful. So we white-labeled for agencies and freelancers as well. A lot of the time, I’ll be on the call with a freelancer or an agency and sometimes they’re sort of brand new, and they’ve seen our white label program. And it’s just really exciting to see what stage they’re at to want to hand in the work to us, and kind of free up their time. So I can kind of see it from where I am in customer support, and I can see where they are. It’s just so exciting for me to be able to jump in, and like, “I can help you. I know how you can transition this.” That’s a really fun part. That’s a lot satisfaction with kind of guiding freelancers and agencies down that route to work with us.
Liam: Oh, I just had a thought and it just went right out of my head. Right out of my head. Tara, tag.
Tara: Dean, we ask everyone on the show about success. And I guess you kind of touched on a little bit of that feeling of satisfaction from being successful in helping someone solve a problem. But maybe in a more broader general term, how do you define success and apply that definition to your life?
Dean: I think for me to define success, I would say, again just talking from my experience in kind of the decisions I’ve made of I’m going to say jumping from job to job in the past to really find what I really love to do, which is, of course, now WordPress. I think you have to make really hard decisions sometimes and be a little bit brave and probably a little bit stupid sometimes. I had the privilege to be able to jump between customer success jobs, if you like, and really find my happy spot within my work life.
I think for me to be successful is to really, as cliché as it sounds, is to be happy with what you do. I don’t feel like I come to work. I feel like really kind of like I’m with friends in Slack and on Zoom. And of course, working with our clients as well. For me, I think success is really just not being afraid to continue moving, keep making decisions for yourself and pushing forwards until you do find that happy spot in your work. That takes up a lot of our time, you know, and life is short if you can make action, whether that’s a really tiny piece of action, if you’re not happy in your spot to just do something to push forward a little bit. I think that’s it. To me, success is just to be happy with what you do with your work and…It sounds maybe simple, but…
Liam: Simple is good. In an age of chaos, simple is good. Dean, how does that definition transfer to things that aren’t work, that are life or personal or outside of the virtual office?
Dean: It’s not always easy. I mean, if I take, for example, one big decision that I made in my life was to leave my job in England to move to Spain. And what in my eyes would have been a break, it was a gamble because in my eyes, I was thinking I would go back to the work that I loved. I didn’t have that security. I was on sabbatical. I just took a gamble and thought, “I have to do this.” Had I not done that and made that decision, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I really wouldn’t. So that fear led to that change and ultimately my success now really. I wouldn’t have found WordPress, I wouldn’t have found this whole community that I’m now involved in if I hadn’t made that seemingly simple decision to kind of just go, “Okay, I’m going to have a little break now,” and by giving myself that kind of period of rest, if you like, to come to Spain and experience something new, I wouldn’t have found WordPress. I think the game just for me making those decisions, whether they’re quite tough decisions sometimes that can lead you down really good paths.
Tara: What do you do for fun? It sounds like you enjoy working with your team and that’s fun. What else do you like to do for fun?
Dean: Well, living in Spain, where do I start? Spain has amazing outdoor life, especially in Seville. When I’m not at my computer, I just love to be outside. Whether that’s eating in restaurants because food is really cheap here which is so dangerous because you just end up eating out all the time.
Tara: And good too, I’m sure.
Dean: Yeah, it’s amazing. So just hanging out, meeting people. There are so many meetups outside of the WordPress community as well. Hiking and literally cooking courses on meetup. Like everything here. I mean, learning the language as well as is such a big thing. So just generally being outdoors, I love that.
Liam: How well did you know Spanish before you moved to teach English? I mean, obviously, in the classroom, you’re good, right? Like, “We’re going to speak English in this classroom.” But once the class ends, then what happens? What was that like?
Dean: It still is a really interesting journey for me because when I was accepted for the job to teach English in the academy over here, I had done teacher training which was fairly short. But it meant I had to learn English grammar. Quite honestly, in school in England, we don’t learn English grammar. We just don’t. And so, looking back, that really helped me when learning Spanish. Because if I hadn’t learned my own English grammar, I would have no idea what these tenses meant in Spanish. But yeah, to answer your question, I knew zero Spanish when I came here.
I remember watching the Spanish news in Bristol in England and just thinking, “Wow, I’m never going to be able to speak this language. I was never going to be able to speak Spanish.” But I look back and those moments just really helped me. But definitely learning English grammar before Spanish, that helped.
Liam: I love that just kind of jumping off the cliff of “Let’s see how this goes.” You just don’t know where it’s going to go. It can all go pear-shaped and go south in a hurry. But to some extent, you can just grab your backpack and go back home and call it a lesson. It didn’t work out that way, which is wonderful. I like that you got to be a little brave. You got to be a little stupid. I like that.
Dean: Yeah, like you said, it doesn’t always work. But definitely, be being brave. And if you have the opportunity to make that move, make that decision, take that challenge on, definitely, don’t skip it.
Liam: What’s been the biggest challenge then? And maybe I’ll ask it in kind of a work environment. So you moved to Spain to teach English and you talked about the challenges of learning Spanish and learning English grammar. But as you transitioned from that teaching job and do more of a web focus WordPress, what’s been your biggest challenge in that area?
Dean: That’s been, of course, technical challenges. In my role now, luckily, I don’t need to be too technical in my role. The biggest challenge for me, I began working with WP Buffs as a happiness buff or customer success buff is what we call maybe kind of happiness engineers, I guess, is the most common term. I think the biggest challenge for me was moving into a leadership position – actually leading the customer success side. I’ve never been in a leadership position before and I think some people kind of feel like you’re, you know, some people are born with leadership skills, some people learn them, some people…I think leadership was the biggest challenge for me, and still is. I’m still always learning how to be a good leader. It just feels like quite a big responsibility. You’re kind of trying to move your ship, your boat forwards with all these people. It is a challenge. You learn from other people, you learn from what other people are doing, and you take what you’ve learned along the way and just try to apply that. But leadership is definitely a challenge.
Tara: Would you say there’s something that’s surprised you working in success customer support in terms of challenges that people have using WordPress? Is there something that stands out as a recurring issue that you never had encountered or that’s surprised you?
Dean: Not particularly on technical level. But one of the things that I do find quite common is how people will communicate their challenges, and how we as a team work efficiently to help with that challenge. As customer success, our aim is to make sure the customer or the partner are successful working with us. And a big part of that is communication, especially as a remote team. I think that’s probably the most recurring challenge that we see, especially with businesses that are technically minded. We tend to kind of sometimes fall into a trap of we work with WordPress day in day out. And so for us this lingo, this language is just so second nature. Sometimes I can come across an email to a client and they’re not as technical as us. And so we have to kind of check in and again remembering that how can we help the client help us basically. And to me, that’s helping the client be successful working with this whole team.
Tara: Yeah, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that before. I know when I submit support requests for plugins or products, I have maybe more knowledge, but I can tell sometimes in responses that they’re used to working with people who don’t. I mean, in your case, you’re probably working with a combination as well because you’re working with agencies also. But knowing how to approach your response without knowing how much knowledge the person asking has, right? Because you might annoy them if you talk to them like they don’t know anything and if you assume they know something that they don’t.
Dean: Yeah, it’s hard to get the balance sometimes for sure, especially if you haven’t had that much interaction with a particular client, and you’re not quite sure. So you have to judge kind of level on the same sort of language that they’ve used on that simple ticket. But I did use to be quite intimidated by maybe agencies or developers who were so much more technical than I was because I’m less technical. But I think over time especially in the WordPress community, you understand that everybody brings some big amount of value regardless of what involvement they have, technical or not. There’s always something you can learn from somebody else.
I just think that it’s just one of those challenges that we keep battling through. But I think the main thing is to maybe mirror the languages of a client, especially if they’re the first person to communicate with you. That’s kind of probably your safest bet. Try not to go too technical in trying to undermine if they are a developer.
Tara: Yeah, that’s interesting.
Liam: That’s a good bit of advice, Dean. Speaking of advice, I want to ask you one of our other signature questions about advice. And it’s what’s the best advice that you’ve ever received, read, found, stumbled upon and successfully implemented in your own life, whether it was at work or outside of work, or maybe you do it both at work and outside?
Dean: I don’t know who this came from. This is something I generally tend to remember. I think we probably use it as well within our Slack conversations at work. But it’s just to remember you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, I think, either to be successful or to solve a challenge. Just don’t waste the time. Somebody’s already done it. Somebody has already solved the problem. Even if I’m coming across kind of the biggest challenge either at work or my personal life, I’ll always try and use even the smallest resource I can probably find, a resource somewhere, to lead you to solve that problem. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and overthink things.
I think that can get you probably pretty far in the workplace and your personal life if you just remember that, you know, you don’t have to reinvent this and overthink it. It’s a challenge, but somebody somewhere has already solved it. You just need to find these resources. I think that’s probably the best bit of advice that I’ve read or seen.
Tara: It’s very true for WordPress. I always think when you Google the problem you’re trying to solve, somebody else has had that problem and probably solved it. I love that.
Dean: The amount of times it’s saved me as a WordPress freelancer just the support forums, Google, just speaking to WordPress users.
Liam: The trick is finding the correct word or phrase to look up because otherwise, “I don’t know what I’m looking for. I kind of one needs to do this, but that. What’s the word for what that is?” I’m a big fan of using Twitter for search. “Here’s what I’m trying to do. Can you point me in the direction?” I find that’s really, really helpful. “I don’t need all the answers, but if you could just point me in the plugin, point in the blog post, point me in the forum answer, please.”
Dean: Yeah, Twitter is such an underused resource I feel. Definitely. I’m not saying that everybody go and spam Twitter with support. But absolutely.
Liam: I don’t mean support requests necessarily, but of our network and especially in a WordPress environment. It’s not impossible or overly difficult to build a global network of friends, even if we’ve never met in real life. We’re all kind of striving to solve the same technical and design challenges and, “Hey, has anybody dealt with this before?” “Oh, yeah, I found it. It looks really complicated but if you get this plugin, it handles about 93% of it, and all you have to do is that last bit.” “Oh, it actually helpful.”
Dean: Yeah, absolutely.
Liam: Dean, I was just going to kind of make light of the obvious, maybe not make light but mentioned the obvious, that we are recording this conversation, and it’s the first time certainly I’ve met you. I think you and Tara might have bumped elbows at a previous WordCamp. But as of this recording, there are no WordCamps. We’re all in Covid-19 isolation. You’re somewhere in Spain and I’m somewhere in my house and Tara is somewhere in her house and we’re all remote. Tell us a little bit about how you’re getting on with that. How’s that working for you? Maybe another way to ask it is how are you working that? How are you coping?
Dean: I’ve kind of started to hate the word “lockdown,” but I think it’s the most familiar word to use that everybody will recognize. Spain has been in this lockdown isolation for the past…We’re into our third week now. We were into isolation before the UK was. For me, I just love to be outside. So this is quite tricky for me. Also, I’d love to be around people like when I’m working, so to be focused on and co-working and I’m around the hustle and bustle of stuff. So being trapped in, it’s not great. But you do make the most of a bad situation. I guess you kind of have to.
Especially for Spanish, Spanish people, they live outside. That’s the lifestyle. So people are finding it very hard. But the good thing to come out of this I’m seeing in a lot of countries and a lot of towns is that it really is bringing people together probably more than we ever have before. The amount of people I’ve spoken to on like apps or Zoom that I just probably wouldn’t check in with that often, I’ve spoken to so many people. And it’s great to see the neighbors come out and clap for the health service as well. We would do that every night.
Tara: I’ve watched those videos and they just make me really emotional. It’s neat to see. We tried to do that. I live in a sort of suburban area and we had a clapping at 8 o’clock the other night and there were maybe three people that got the word. It was a quieter clapping. I think that’s amazing. And I think that trying to find the silver lining in a really awful, unprecedented situation is helpful for us emotionally to try to see those things. Somehow it feels like we have more time now because we’re not scheduling things, but yet I also feel like that’s almost deceptive because we are spending a lot of time now on Zooms and doing things. But there just seems like an opportunity to sort of reset in a way. But it’s been interesting to see the WordPress community responding to this with all of the WordCamps that have been canceled including WordCamp Europe and transitioning to online which is not at all the same.
Our podcast is called Hallway Chats because it’s based on that sort of casual conversation you have for a little while with people in the hallway have a WordCamp and doesn’t really exist in the same way when you’re on a virtual platform. But we’re glad that we got to chat with you in this hallway, this virtual hallway today and to get to know you a little bit. We really appreciate you reaching out to us to connect and tell us your story a bit. I love hearing about what life is like in Spain and the story of you kind of picking up and going there to reset and then never leaving is a magical novel in the making. It sounds pretty cool. Some things we all have but many do not act upon. So good for you for acting upon it. Where can people find you online, Dean?
Dean: The WP Buffs is wpbuffs.com. That’s the same across our Instagram, Twitter. And also me personally, Burton Dean across Twitter, Instagram, everything. It’s all the same. Burton Dean.
Liam: Dean, what a pleasure to meet you and spend time with you very much in our virtual hallway. Thanks for stopping by. Great to meet you.
Dean: Thank you for having me.
Tara: Thank you so much. Say hi to Joe for us.
Dean: I will do.
Liam: Bye for now.
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