What Makes Great Customer Support? Part 2

Posted by Amy Wallace Amy Wallace on .

Amy Wallace is the Customer Happiness Worker Bee at Updatey. This post is one in a series about the joys and challenges of building customer happiness at a startup. You can take a look at the other posts here. These are her thoughts and experiences as she considers how to provide the best customer support.

As part of my job at Updatey, always working to improve our customer support, I'm learning new things about providing great customer support every day. The following is not a complete list of everything that makes great customer support but they are a few of the elements that I think, as someone who is on both sides of the customer support experience, can make all the difference. So here is part 2 of I've learned about providing great customer support so far. You can see Part 1 here.

The Importance of the Individual

If your goal is to provide an excellent experience for your customer then you should make sure they feel that they have your whole attention at the time when you're writing. You'll probably have a very full inbox to deal with but each of those customers deserves the time, thought, and attention that is needed to help them.

So if a customer has had a terrible experience with your product, you'll want to do everything you can to remedy the situation. You really should value your customers and their experiences with your product and learn from each interaction with them.

Of course, sometimes the only thing you can do after a terrible experience is to apologize for hassle caused and ensure the mistake doesn't happen again. This is itself a very important part of building a better relationship with your customers, to show that you aren't above admitting to your own mistakes or slip-ups.

On a general note though, there are definitely things you can do to make your interactions with your customers better by putting them first. For example, you can personalize your emails to a customer. So, just like matching your tone to the customer's, make sure to use their name if you know it.

Rather than simply saying 'Hi' to a customer called David, you can say 'Hi David' - it shows that you are taking the time to write to that particular customer rather than another nameless person in your busy inbox.

You can even use their name again at the end of the email if you want. If you're saying thank you to a customer called Anna, you could write 'Thanks, Anna' instead of just 'Thanks'. Again, it shows that you've taken the time to see who they are and type out the message yourself.

Echoing the problem or feature that they've emailed you about can be a great way to show that you've really read and understood their email. This doesn't mean copying and pasting their exact language but simply acknowledging the particular feature request they mention and why you think it might be a great addition or the specific bug that they ran into.

More important than echoing the particular issue in the email, however, is to apologize to your customer for the hassle that has been caused for them. If an important feature is not working and this really disrupted your customer's day, your apology should be aimed more towards the hassle or worry that they've felt as a result rather than the problem itself.

You might be very sorry that, for example, the calendar in your project management app wasn't working, but it should be that you're showing your customer that you're most worried about any interruptions it might have caused in their day, especially if your app is there to help people stay organized or make their job easier.

As part of your customer support philosophy as a whole, remember that you want to emphasize that you understand their email and that you're taking the time to fix the issue, answer the question, or listen to the suggestion, and that their happiness is the most important focus.

Who's doing who the favor?

A small change in your mentality can make a big difference to the way you address your customers. For example, thinking about any support emails or tweets that come in to your inbox as a customer doing you a favor, rather than the other way round can create more empathy and kindness in your emails.

While that idea might strike you as a little odd at first, think of it this way: imagine if no one bothered to write in when there was a bug, missing feature, or particularly confusing pain point?

You'd never learn how your customers are using your product or what can be improved (beyond your own, subjective, ideas of how the product could be made better) and customers might be more likely to abandon the app there and then, never to return.

In the case of a feature request, where you don't need to apologize, you can show your customers that you're really excited they took the time to write in with their suggestion. Remember, they are taking the time out of their day to write to you, so why not be really grateful for any email or tweet they send in? You really will begin to see how helpful it is to get new suggestions from the people who really use and love your app.

Of course, you won't be able to guarantee the inclusion of every and all feature suggestions, but neither should you say that anything is never going to be included. You can definitely let them know that a particular feature is not on the current plan but remember that most likely, you really won't know the exact future of your app so making a definitive judgment to your customer about whether or not a feature will be included might be premature.

In fact, that suggestion might be one that you'd not really considered before, or something that you thought no-one would have a use for. If you continue to get frequent requests for it though, you can start making the changes necessary to include it, and you'll feel very grateful to those customers who did write in to tell you.

By writing in with feature requests, notifications about bugs, and questions about confusing elements, your customer really are doing you a favor and keeping you informed of how you can improve your business in both the long and short term.

More or Fewer Words?

When you're writing to a customer, you usually want to answer their question or solve an issue as quickly as you can but that doesn't mean that you should automatically use as few words as possible. Sometimes more words or slightly longer sentences will help make the solution much clearer, even if it does add to the length of the overall email.

Of course, you don't want your customer to have to read an essay when all they want to know is how to resolve a problem, but adding a few extra words can be worth it if it means you're anticipating potential issues or breaking a slightly confusing task down step by step.

The same goes for the opposite: you shouldn't be afraid to reply with a quite short email to bring the conversation to a close, and remember to let your customer know that you're always there if they need help, have a question, or want to send in a feature request.

You can always read your email back to yourself out loud or ask a colleague to read it over if you're unsure, but think about the way you might like something explained to you and go from there.

The most important thought when it comes to composing your emails, especially if you're ever worried about length, is that your end goal is to make the customer happy and show that you're always there if they ever want to get back in touch.

It's more than just fixing a problem

As I wrote in my post about why great customer support is so important for startups, if your revenue is dependent on monthly subscriptions from your customers, part of your job should be to provide excellent customer support. That, along with your app itself, is what your customers will be paying you for each month.

This is because there will always be bugs to be fixed, mistakes to be corrected, and questions to be answered, no matter how well you design your app or website. Of course, part of providing great customer support is about fixing a problem in a particular moment but there's more to it than just fixing a problem there and then.

There's also the slightly higher horizon idea that you should be showing your customers that you are putting them and their needs first. You want to show them that you'll be there to help or listen if ever they need anything in the future, and that you take their experiences with your app - positive or negative - seriously.

Replying to questions or suggestions in a helpful and positive way shows that you value your customers and emphasises that you will be a great resource for them throughout their use of your app. You probably don't want to be thought of as just another account number or user in a particular segment when you contact a company, so making sure your customers don't feel that way either is a great step in the right direction.

Great customer support today will help you establish a much more solid relationship for any future mistakes or problems, and your customers will understand that they can rely on you to help them whenever they need it.

I'd love to hear what you think makes great customer support, both from the customer and the startup side. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or send me an email. I'm also on Twitter. :)

Photo Credit: Dave Crosby