Customer service and support isn’t just about being a friendly face. It’s ultimately about being the person who delivers happiness to customers. And to do that, we need to give our customer service and support teams the tools they need to get the job done.
Adii Pienaar

Good UX starts with a good customer experience. While the product is a very important part of this experience, there are other aspects of customer engagement which you can control. Customer support is one of those. It is also one of the few opportunities when your organisation can engage directly and in a human way with your customers. As such it is a huge opportunity which needs to be taken seriously.

In an earlier post I talked about how we at Fluid UI transformed our customer support. In this post I want to look at the customer experience from a slightly different perspective. I want to talk about the experience of the customer support team.

In order to get some data for this post the support team filled in a short survey so we could get a sense of what people were thinking. I've added some quotes from the survey below.

Do you feel empathy for your users?

three elephants rubbing trunks

Everybody seems to think they are a little more empathetic than they may really be. Spending time every day dealing with user issues certainly goes a long way to raising the level of empathy in the support team.

Every support ticket does remind you that different users have different needs and different issues.

Tough one...probably on some areas slightly more empathetic as at times it can be hard to figure out how to do some things. At other times my empathy level goes way down when I think: really? it's easy! But I know the product inside out and they don't so have to remind myself of that.

Do you feel close to the user when answering queries?

two men helping each other through water

Yes, you feel like you're investing your time in helping them - I know its our job but I like to make sure everyone I deal with goes away happy and with their problem solved.

While it is important to have empathy and to create an environment where people become more empathetic with time rather than less. But, one thing that can impact on the relationship between the user and the support person is the impression both have of each other. The support team need to be a helping hand at all times even when they are dealing with difficult issues.

Yes, I always feel close to the user. Sometimes, however, I would like to put a big distance between myself and some of them.

Support can be a very rewarding job but there are times when someone probably needs a break from it. You can not underestimate the impact that a negative support experience can have on the brand. Being aware that none of the team is carrying too much responsibility is important to keep up the quality of support.

Solving problems is a nice job

a fortune cookie says you are a deep thinker

I like trying to figure out what people mean by their questions.

Knowing what a customer is asking is a very important skill. While it is nice to be able to jump straight in and answer a question. You need to be sure that you are answering the right question and solving the right problem. Once again this is fostered when the support team are given a level of autonomy and freedom to build relationships and engage with the customers. In general, this is an area that is becoming more and more important as organisations move away from the more traditional support model. Bringing in a customer is the first part of the story, the more important and hopefully longer part of the story is developing a long term relationship with them and this takes a certain level of understanding.

I do like being able to help users and it is nice to spend some time solving other people's problems.

When I think of customer support sometimes I think of large multinationals outsourcing the CS and in essence handing over their customer experience to a team of individuals who don't really care as much about your customers as you do.

This can't happen in a smaller company and it is an advantage really in that the support given is much more individual. The support team in a small company are much closer to their customers and this hopefully makes them more understanding.

Learning from customer support

child loves learning

I have learned a lot more about Fluid UI during the time that I have been doing support.

In theory every support ticket should be a potential learning experience. Problems will be phrased differently, users will have different levels of knowledge which may impact on how they describe a problem. These are only two possible examples, but it is important that these learning experiences are taken. One very simple way to achieve this is to make the support team responsible for their own learning. In other words it is important that they think outside of the support documentation. The support documentation is an ever evolving document and it is important that staff do not view it as the bible. This is probably the single biggest mistake made in customer support and an aspect that is most likely to drive customers out the door.

I've outlined some particular cases which our support team highlighted as issues that were difficult to deal with:

  • Meeting an obstacle that it is not possible to overcome in the short-term. For example, if a bug emerges which is going to take time to fix.

  • Trying to do support when trying to concentrate on some other difficult tasks.

  • Dealing with issues that customers have, but are hard to solve when/how they would like.

  • Solving the tension between the urgency that a user’s issue seems to bring and the roadmap of the company.

Stories from the coalface

It makes me sad when the customer gets cranky and rude and says horrible misogynistic things! Also I don't like giving refunds to people who just forgot to cancel the subscription and then get rude saying we are stealing from them! Things can be solved in a much nicer way if people are more respectful and courteous to each other.

Luckily, this is not an everyday occurrence. But, it is very difficult to prepare a member of your support team for an experience such as that.

All you can do is make sure that the support team have an escape route if something like this happens. You really don't want your support team to have their energy drained by people who will insist on being rude. But, you also want to get to the bottom of the problem.

I try to be as polite as possible and diffuse the situation. Dealing with nasty/abusive customers does not happen very often thankfully.

Remember that support are the face/voice of the product and if customers are having problems then it is easy for them to direct their anger towards them. It is also very easy for them to simply move on to a different product. Making and keeping customers happy is essential and one way to stop churn. It’s also important to realise that when users get angry it's not you personally they are angry with.