What Makes Great Customer Support? Part 3

Posted by Amy Wallace Amy Wallace on .

Amy 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.

This is Part 3 in my series about what I've been learning about great customer support. Interacting with customers every day and finding the best way to provide them with a great product and support means learning more each and every day, and trying out many news (and previously tried) experiments.

This list (and the parts that came before) are not complete lists of everything that you need to think about. They are some of the areas that I've found to be especially important to think about. You can also go back and read Part 1 and Part 2.

Easy to access

Have you ever found yourself spending precious minutes of your day trying to find the email address or phone number on a company's website? Or been lured down the path of thinking you might have found an email address only to be redirected to the FAQ section of the site?

This can often be an extremely frustrating experience and can set your customer's experience with your company and support team off on the wrong foot straight from the beginning. If it takes a customer a long time to find how to get in touch, they might give up entirely and you'll run the risk of losing customers.

You'll also lose the chance to hear from people who, if they could get in touch, would send you very valuable information about confusing or poorly designed elements to your app or site. In addition to this, it sends the message that you don't want to hear from them and that's probably not an impression that you want to convey.

It can really help if you start thinking of your customers as doing you a favor rather than being an inconvenience when they write in, and making sure that they can get in touch easily is a great way to start a good relationship with your customers.

This is something that Bill Price and David Jaffe highlight in 'The Best Service is No Service':

Principle 4: Make it really easy to contact your company. At first glance this might seem strange for a No Service book, but we will argue that it's far better to open the floodgates to the needs of customers than to dodge the bullet. In doing so, you can ferret through what your customers need, and construct more comprehensive change strategies.

This lack of easy communication with large companies is perhaps one of reasons why Twitter has become such a popular solution for people who want to get in touch. Since it's public, there's a sense that companies will want to deal with you more quickly and more efficiently and, even as a last resort, it's a way of drawing attention to yourself and the problem you're having.

Of course, if you're a startup, having a great support team who can answer customers' questions on Twitter is really important. If you're looking at customer support in the right way though, it should be because you want to help your customers, not because you're worried it might look bad if you don't.

You can always try out different methods to find what's working best for your customers. At Updatey, we use an on-screen message box but we're always thinking about how to make that process easier and more evident for our customers.

Whether it's an on-screen help box or a contact-us section, you should make sure that people can get in touch with you without spending their time playing detective. Great customer support is not just about being there when your customer needs you but about providing a really easy and obvious way for your customers to get in touch with you in the first place.

Speed vs Quality and Honesty

If you're working in customer support or dealing with customers as part of your startup, you'll probably have come across a situation where you don't know the answer to a question from a customer.

It's a difficult situation sometimes because you might feel that you want to get back to them as quickly as possible to give the best service. Think about the customer's point of view though: they simply want a fix if they're seeing an issue so speed is a factor but there's also value in getting an accurate answer.

If you don't know something, it might be better to send a reply saying that you're unsure and that you'll find out, than to send something that might be incorrect or lead to unnecessary back-and-forth emails.

This isn't always easy because you might feel that it's better to give quick answer or simply wait until you find out. Often though, a customer will appreciate a quick email that acknowledges that you don't know the answer.

If you let them know that you don't know and that you'll get back to them once you've found out, or that you'll forward the email on to someone who will be able to help in more detail, then you're showing them that you're working on their question while making sure that you're as accurate as possible.

The same goes when thinking about how to write your messages and whether to use more or fewer words. It's sometimes necessary to take a bit more time, after letting your customer know that you're investigating, of course, to get understand the problem or get a bug fixed. It's not always about giving the fastest response possible.

Using some extra words or taking the time to keep your customer up to date also lets them know that you're investigating something highlights that you're a real person at company that cares about providing as good a customer experience as possible.

Happiness!

As a whole, I think the key to great customer support is to treat your customers like the real people that they, in the same way that you'd like to be treated. In my opinion, focusing more on their experiences with your app or website (good or bad) and any hassle that might have been caused by problems than on the bug or mistake itself is a good way to go.

If a customer's experience has been interrupted by a bug then you want to apologize for the bug but it could mean more to your customer if you apologize directly for the hassle that the bug caused them. This might seem like a small distinction but the more you interact with your customers, I think the more you'll see that it can make a big difference to your tone.

I think there's also a distinction between simply fixing a problem and really creating an enjoyable experience. My goal each day is to try to make our customers happy about writing in, even if their writing in was triggered by something negative. So whether they write in to cancel their account or tell you how great you are (that's always nice!), it's an amazing goal to want them to leave the conversation feeling satisfied and happy.

And that's what I think it should be: a conversation. Not a one-way struggle for your customer to try and figure out what's going on, a struggle in which they feel they need to force the issue to get some help. To my mind, great customer support is the opposite of what we might have come to understand and experience from the term.

Instead of unanswered emails, automated phone calls, and hours of hold music, I think customer support should be about injecting some personality into the interactions and making each customer feel that they are as valued as possible.

Creating the perfect customer support experience is not something that follows an exact formula and, like everything in a startup, it's always evolving. Coming up with a strategy is fantastic but remember not to let it become stagnant and unreactive to moments when elements need to be changed or improved. This means always considering ways to change the support, even in small ways, to provide the best possible experience.

Whether it's introducing small gifts to send to your loyal customers, or removing negative words and making the interaction as positive as possible, it's certainly a joy to work on ways to make any interaction better.

Of course the bottom line of all this is that customer support is there to help customers who have encountered a problem or want to suggest a change. If customers are confused, the best thing you can do to provide great support - aside from solving the issue for that customer there and then - is to fix the confusing element of your website or app so that no other customers are confused.

Listening to your customers and making the changes to the most common pain point will mean that you'll show customers that you take their opinions seriously, and beyond that, you'll make the customer experience much better in the first place for that customer and others to come.

One company's support style doesn't have to be identical to any one else's. You can take inspiration from other companies but your product, team and customers will be unique so make sure that you're putting plenty of thought into how best to create the support team and tone that's right for you.

Nothing will be perfect the first time around and even a seemingly perfect system will need to be modified over time to provide the best possible customer experience - it will help though if a customer support experience is as important to a company's success as product development (indeed, the two are closely linked).

You'll be learning new things each and every day so enjoy the roller coaster and you'll love working on ways to make your product better and your customers happier.

Have you had an amazing customer support experience recently? What made it so great? And do you work in customer happiness and have your own favorite ways to make customer happy? I'd love to hear from you about your experiences in the comments below or by email! :)

Image Credit: Rachel Kramer