Four and half things I’m proud of from my four and a half years at the British Heart Foundation

1. I worked with an awesome team

I’m proud of the team I’ve built, and how we’ve developed ideas about how the team should work.

When I started I was the only person on the team and now there are four of us, an Ecommerce Manager, a Senior Ecommerce Executive, an Ecommerce Executive, and an Ecommerce Buyer. I’ve always been keen that everyone on the team is a generalist and knows about all the different areas the team works in, and the other team members embraced this wholeheartedly. I’m also glad that we took the initiative to seize opportunities to do our own thing regardless of permission, and that we developed a team culture that took everyone as being on the same level (no hierarchical seniority) and supported each other whenever we needed it. A request for help from a team member was always higher priority than any other work.

2. I developed my thinking

I’m proud that I opened my mind to learn from lots of different people, both inside and outside the organisation.

I developed my thinking about digital and innovation in charities and not-for-profits, so much over the last four and half years, how changing the way we think is more important than introducing new tools and systems, and how an organisation causes problems for itself when it is always looking inwards.

I developed lots of my ideas about how teams work, how to work effectively and innovatively, how flexible working requires measuring outcomes-achieved rather than hours-worked, and how we can increase agility to be able to change direction quickly among so many other thoughts. All of this thinking has really helped me clarify my position on so many things about the present and future of digital, innovation and ecommerce for charities and not-for-profits.

3. I improved my skills

I’m proud that I learned so many things that were completely outside what I need to do my job.

I’ve learned how to write contracts and negotiate with suppliers, how to manage a team to overcome organisational challenges, how to deliver training that takes people’s thinking up into big concepts and then down into the details of processes, how marketing is really all about how the organisation sees itself, how logistics in the real world is so hard to get right but so important for the customer experience, and how providing great customer service is about fastest route to resolution, how to design and build chatbots, and how difficult designing and building large enterprise systems are, and so many more things.

4. I contributed to the cause

I’m proud that I worked for a cause that I wanted to support.

Over my time at the BHF we doubled the annual income achieved by Ecommerce. That’s more money for the life saving research that the BHF funds. I also contributed to the BHF outside of my role, donating stuff to be sold in shops., helped other teams increase their income, supported them to learn new systems and processes, built chatbots for them. Feeling that I have a purpose and am playing a small role in making the world a better place is important to me and what I love about working for charities and not-for-profits.

And a 1/2. I resisted the culture

I’m proud that I did all of the above despite the culture I existed in.

Despite a culture of no clear vision or leadership and shifting priorities we were able to become an almost semi-autonomous team and work on the things we knew could deliver value to the organisation, even if it wasn’t part of our role or didn’t show n our P & L. Despite a culture of guessing at targets, making decisions by opinion, not having much awareness of the 21st century world we live in, and not investing in future growth we were able to develop some understanding of what our customers wanted and deliver value that was out of proportion to our team size. Despite a culture of inequality of career progression I was able to support a team member to develop their skills, take on more responsibility, and achieve a promotion.

I’m only half proud of this because there shouldn’t be anything to resist.

An experiment in focused-working

The problem

Too many things that need to be done right now. Too many emails. Too many meetings. Too many distractions. Not enough time to do the bigger pieces of work. Not enough focus on the important outcomes.

As a team we want to deliver more value and do so more continuously, But, as I’ve learned about Modern Agile principles, you can’t do one without all the others. In order to be able to deliver value continuously we need to be able to experiment rapidly, but in order to experiment we have to be willing to make people awesome, and provide psychological safety. People need to feel like they aren’t going to get in trouble by deviating from normal working practices, they need to feel like they’ll be able to achieve more and show the results of their efforts. So we needed an experiment,

The hypothesis

We can be innovative about how we work. We can find ways to focus better on doing things that make the most difference and achieve the best outcomes. We can figure out how to make the team more autonomous. We can focus on achieving outcomes rather than ticking off a to do list.

The experiment

For fours days in a row, the team decided what work they wanted to focus on. We tried to avoid talking about to-do lists and focus on the outcomes we could achieve for our customers.

We agreed that we could work when, where and how we wanted to. No need to work 9 to 5 if we didn’t want to. We won’t measure our work by hours spent but instead by outcomes achieved. We wanted our measures to be qualitative rather than quantitative. We agreed to go wherever we wanted in order to be able to focus. No need to be in the office if we didn’t want to.

We switched on our out-of-office emails and tried to avoid distractions to focus on deep work. And then we got on with it.

The retro

After our four day focused-working experiment we shared our thoughts on how it went for us.

What worked well

“I wrote a list of things I wanted to work on this week beforehand. This really helped keep me on track. I tried to work on only things on the list or things relating to the list.”

“Working from home/office split – working in different locations helps you stay in touch with what is going on but also gives you time to focus on what you are doing. There were a lot of email exchanges , which in an ordinary week would probably have been strung out for a week or so but as it was my number 1 priority I had time to work on it, respond quickly and get it pushed through quicker.”

“Focusing on a product worked well. Already we can see the traffic/sales are up from work we are doing so we can see that this week as had an impact.”

“Prioritised what needed to be focused on by creating to-do lists.”

“Setting a task that was completely self-driven – i.e. I wasn’t waiting for anything from anybody else.”

“9-5 still works for me as the children are around ALL of the other hours in the day. 7 days a week. 365 days a year. Repeat. Forever.”

“As a team, we are starting to think differently about ways of working, how to focus and be effective.”

“No one has yet told me that we can’t work this way.”

“Being in an office felt like I had to respond to emails because I felt more visible, but on the days I worked at home I definitely completed bigger tasks.”

“I wonder if perhaps a different way to do focused work is to alternate people on the team doing it so that someone takes care of customer service enquiries, etc., whilst the others focus and then swap the next week.”

What didn’t work

“I didn’t really veer away from my 9-5 hours. Perhaps that is what works for me, but I couldn’t get out of that mind set.”

“I didn’t get everything completed on my list.”

“A lot of what I do still relies on emails back and forth from externals or internals – how smoothly or quickly this goes impacts the speed and focus of the task. Two tasks I had down didn’t get done due to lack of or slow response from others.”

“I worked mostly usual office hours. If that’s what works for us then that’s fine. I think the point of it isn’t to say don’t work usual hours, but that the more we think of measuring our work by the outcomes we achieve rather than the hours we work, the better. It’s about measuring quality rather than quantity.”

“I think I’d like to try working outside of office as then I wouldn’t get so distracted by emails. Even if it was working the standard seven hours a day, starting at 4pm to handle emails for the day and then working on something bigger till 11pm.”

“Can’t say that the work I did had any impact, so perhaps I chose the wrong things to focus on.”

Biggest distractions

“For me these were customer service enquiries and things from other teams that needed to be actioned. Both took me away from what I was working on at various points throughout the week and both I couldn’t really leave for the following week.

“Due to the nature of the job, responses to emails can still distract me as I am used to having to deal with emails very quickly. I find it really, really hard to ignore them, especially if I know I can answer them or help.”

“Many emails felt like they had to answered right away. I’m not sure how to ever get away from this, other than perhaps more notice to people the week before rather than just OOO emails (Although I still maintain that nothing bad happens when we’re on leave for a week).”

Other questions to think about…

How did it feel? Was it uncomfortable in any way or did it feel better than usual working?

Would you do it again? Should it become a usual way of working?

What else or different would you do to work in a more focused way? Should we run different experiments to find other ways to work in a more focused way?

What we learned

We can most definitely achieve bigger and better things by working in this way.

Saying that we were going to work in a different, more focused way helped us to do so. Being out of the office and having OOO emails on helped, but making the conscious effort to be focused had the biggest effect.

Being more disciplined with ourselves to choose work that was self-contained and could be completed within the given focus period helped to achieve things.

Getting away from the usual working mindsets of 9 to 5 and answering emails is hard. It’s really drummed into us that this is how we should work.

The future

In the near future we need to decide whether to make this way of working (four focus days every two weeks) a part of our usual working practice.

If we do move away from the 9 to 5 I hope the team gets better at listening to their minds and bodies about when and how to work, rather than looking at the clock, but we’ll need to make sure the team don’t overwork.

Even if we continue to work office hours, four days of focused-working every two weeks will help us achieve better outcomes and make the team more autonomous.

In the longer-term future, this is about moving away from ‘command and control’ management to ‘decentralised, distributed, and diverse’ leadership.

Freshdesk training for customer-facing teams at the BHF

What we want you to learn

How Freshdesk works – Key concept 1

It’s not about email.

Customer can send multiple emails to different teams and only the customer sees all of their communications, no one at the BHF does. Sometimes an email is sent to the wrong team and so has to be forwarded, sometimes to wrong team again. Loose track of who is dealing with it. To provide effective customer support we need to get out of the mindset of ‘sending emails’.

Customers can interact with different teams at the BHF over multiple channels. Those interactions come into Products, which represent the customer facing parts of the BHF and usually associated to a particular email address, e.g. dechox. Each new interaction creates a Ticket, and following interactions add to that ticket. Each Product has at least one Group associated to it, but can have many. Agents work in Groups to deal with Tickets. Agents use the multiple tools available to them to deal with tickets in the most efficient and effective way. Stop even thinking about the channel.

How Freshdesk works – Key concept 2

Those of us who work in Freshdesk are called Agents. And it’s an interesting phrase. Calling someone an Agent implies they have agency; the capacity to act independently and to make their own free choices, to originate and direct actions for given purposes. So by conferring this title on a person we empower them to . And with power comes responsibility. All of those parts of Freshdesk are designed to give agents the tools to live up to this responsibility.


Agents can look at previous tickets for the customer they are helping to see what answers have been provided before. 

Also use Canned Responses.


Discussion forums can be accessed by all agents to share information such as ‘Team X has fewer agents than usual and more tickets than usual so will be taking longer to answer customers, please don’t bother us unless it’s absolutely necessary.’


Freshdesk has automated rules that perform actions on tickets such as assigning Priority, Group, Status, meaning Agents don’t have to manually perform these tasks.


Agents can create Notes in Tickets and notify other Agents to ask them to provide information, etc.


Administrators can look at Reports to understand how Agents and Groups are working and whether any improvements can be made to help Agents.


Agents can look at a knowledgebase of questions and answers that are maintained by all of the groups using Freshdesk. Used effectively, this means that if a customer asks multiple questions in the same email and it would normally require two teams to answer independently, one agent can answer both queries in the same interaction.


Documents, images, etc. can be stored in the Solutions section and used for reference or sent to customers.

Team Huddle

Agents can ask other group members for advice or information by starting a Team Huddle for a particular ticket.

We don’t yet use all of these tools to their fullest potential but the more we do the better we’ll become at meeting the needs of our customers.

How Freshdesk works – Key concept 3

How you create views of tickets in particular states is important for seeing the right 

If we make the mistake of thinking of tickets are like emails, we can only really think of them in a binary way, either ‘Replied to’ or ‘Not replied to’.

Creating ‘Views’ allows us to filter tickets together to see the ones we need to deal with at this moment.

If you look at a list of tickets it is almost impossible to figure out which needs your attention first.

How Freshdesk works – summary

The three key concepts we need to get our heads around is that Freshdesk is not just another way to send emails, that Agents need to be able to take responsibility for helping customers, and creating useful Views helps see what is going on, what the priorities are, and what needs to be done first will help manage tickets. If we keep these three concepts in mind as we go into Freshdesk we’ll be in the right frame of mind to get the most out the system and more importantly a new way of working.

Freshdesk functionality

Customer facing and associated to BHF email address




Business hours

SLA on ticket priorities


Email address



Priority – Urgent, High, Medium, Low (times from SLA)

Status – Start as Open, want to get to Resolved. In between could be Waiting on Customer, Waiting on BHF, etc. A ticket set as Resolved will be changed to Open if the customer replies.

Agent – Assigned agent who is responsible for resolving the ticket.

Group – Group the ticket is assigned to. Useful when creating a view for a Group.

Product – Tickets will always be in a Product, if they aren’t assigned they will default to Digital Support

Tickets Templates – Prefilled fields

Replying to a ticket – Sends email to email address held in the Contact details.

Adding a note – Private notes can be used to record info about the ticket, and notify other agents.

Forwarding a ticket – Sends email out of Freshdesk. Beware of CC-ing email addresses.

Updating properties – The Properties should reflect the current state of the ticket, which are seen in the View of tickets.

Merge – Merging tickets that are about the same subject and from the same contact.

Matched in order listed, triggered when conditions met, and only one rule will trigger.

Rules need to be as specific as possible to prevent affecting tickets that match but shouldn’t be affected.

Various reports can be generated using Views.

Scrum Training

Scrum Training

I spent the day doing Scrum training with some of the teams who work on the BHF website. Everyone had different levels of experience of using Scrum and those who are currently working in Scrum approached the training in a very different way to those who aren’t. It was clear they were seeking answers to specific challenges they are facing.

For me, the interesting thing was talking about ‘Definition of Ready’, which is something I’ve not previously given much thought to. It’s obvious that a piece of work has to be ready to be worked on; clear requirements, stakeholder agreement, etc., but the idea that the more certain a thing becomes the closer it is to being ready connected with my thoughts about uncertainty and risk.

Why you should buy your Christmas cards from a charity

According to the Institute of Fundraising, two billion Christmas cards are sent every year, and 30% of those cards are charity Christmas cards. That’s 600,000,000 cards. To make the maths easier let’s say that Christmas cards are sold in packs of ten, which means 60,000,000 packs are sold each year, and that a pack costs £3, which makes charity Christmas cards a £120 million a year business. Sounds like buying charity Christmas cards is a great way to support charities. But interestingly, of that £120m spent on charity Christmas cards only a small percentage of cards are actually bought from charities.

The majority of ‘charity’ Christmas cards are sold by commercial retailers, not charities. Retailers know that many people are predisposed to buy charity Christmas cards and want to leverage people’s feelings to sell their Christmas cards. Retailers form agreements with charities where a percentage of income from the sales of their Christmas cards are contributed to the charity. This percentage is often as low as 10% of the Ex VAT sale price, meaning that for every pack of Christmas cards you buy for £2.99, the charity receives just 25p.

If retailers really wanted to support a charity they could sell the charity’s Christmas cards on behalf of the charity, but of course they are a commercial operation that exists to make money so instead they sell their own range of cards and make a donation of a percentage of the sale to the charity. Of course the charity still benefits, and in some cases benefit quite a bit as even a small percentage from the large volume of Christmas cards that a retailer sells can generate considerable income. But of course, these kinds of agreements excludes any of the smaller charities as they don’t have the resources to work with retailers in this way. I don’t blame the retailers for this, it’s just business, but there is a better way for you to buy charity Christmas cards. Have you guessed what it is yet?

Christmas cards

Why do people buy charity Christmas cards?

People buy and send Christmas cards to their friends and family to wish them a happy Christmas and let them know that they are thinking of them at a time of year when being part of a family or social group is important. But charity Christmas cards add another layer to this, a deep and often emotional layer.

People buy charity Christmas cards to raise money for a charity, show support for the cause, show their friends and family that they care about the work of the charity, and for reasons far more emotionally complex than just wishing friends they haven’t spoken to for a while a merry Christmas. As many as they are personal reasons for people buying charity Christmas cards, one thing they’ll all have in common is the expectation that a charity will benefit from their purchase.

So, why do people buy charity Christmas cards from retailers instead of charities?

Probably because it’s convenient to add a pack to their weekly shop as they walk around the supermarket, and most likely because they don’t even know that the charity they want to support is even selling Christmas cards.

Christmas cards sales, for retailers and for charities, is a rush to get there first. They are all competing to be front of mind with potential customers because Christmas cards are the kind of product you only buy once a year, and once you’ve bought them you don’t buy again until next year. But charities don’t have the marketing budgets to compete with the retailers, so you may never know that your favourite charity sells Christmas cards that are just well made, and have equally beautiful/amusing/interesting designs, and contribute far more income to the charity.

Why you should buy your Christmas cards from a charity

Charities sell their Christmas in their shops and online, so before you buy your Christmas cards from your usual retailer, try googling the name of your favourite charity and ‘Christmas cards’. With a bit of persistence you’ll find some wonderful Christmas cards that your friends and family will appreciate. And if you don’t have a favourite charity, maybe now is the time to think about what causes are important to you and what charity you could support. The charity will get far more of the profits from the sale going directly to their cause and you’ll feel better about yourself knowing that at Christmas, you’ve done something good.

This is a better way for you to buy charity Christmas cards.

In case you didn’t know, I work for the British Heart Foundation where 100% of the profits from our Christmas cards fund life saving research. If you or someone you know has been affected by a heart condition you can show your support for the work of the British Heart Foundation by buying our Christmas cards and sending them to your friends and family.

Weeknotes #36

What happened this week…

  • Reviewed the performance of our advertising.
  • Improved the product photos for the range of fascinators.
  • Analysed of clothing sales and made recommendations for product development for this year.
  • Signed up for Just Walk to better understand the customer journey.
  • Began optimising category pages for Events.
  • Finalised the new transactional email templates.
  • Replied to some interesting customer service emails.
  • Worked on our Competitor Analysis presentation for the Ecommerce Working Group.
  • Wrote the agenda for the Ecommerce Monthly Management Meeting.

Read this week…

Doing next week…

  • Adding more links to the main website.
  • Reviewing the current round of Magento development work.
  • Teaching the CSC Team how to use Freshdesk.
  • Holding the Ecommerce Monthly Management Meeting for April where we’ll be discussing our presentation to the Ecommerce Working Group.
  • Meeting with the current/third WIBI Marketing Manager to talk about integrating our marketing efforts.
  • Working on a Testing Plan for Qubit.

Interesting stat of the week…

  • Our top ten selling items of clothing (men’s cycling jerseys and women’s hoodies) are only 4.7% of the clothing we offer, but account for 22.2% of income.

In the not too distant future….

  • Email automation workshop with Dotmailer to look at opportunities for improving our email journeys.