A couple weeks ago I did an interview with Helpshift about customer support and how we wrangle a distributed team at Automattic. They wrote everything up into a nice blog post that was published earlier this week.
The WordPress support role is one that I inhabit fully, because if there’s anyone who understands what it’s like to have a technical barrier to expression, it’s me. It’s truly wonderful to be able to help others break through their own limitations, and end their silences, using the power of Free and Open Source Software, and the open web.
To me, a successful career is one without ceilings, walls, or even a blazed path. It is not a ladder, it is not stairs, it is not a single road with milemarkers along the way to tell you how close you are to your destination.
What is a career? – Andrea Badgley.
The best in customer care are functional chameleons, becoming conversant as product managers, marketers and salespeople to bring resolution to customers.
When there has been a deliberate change though—one that is important for future development and that almost certainly won’t be changing back—then that sort of apology can be counter productive. If you know that a feature has been removed and is gone for good, it’s unhelpful to offer false hope to a customer of “recording your feedback” and “voting for that to be returned”. It will probably never happen.
Stop apologising to customers and start leading them – Mathew Patterson.
This highlights something that is really important and that is the separation of Customer Success and Customer Support. In most ways, they are not related, they are opposites. Reactive vs. proactive, case-oriented vs. success-oriented, cost-center vs. revenue-driver, etc. It’s one of the reasons that Customer Success won’t (can’t?) work if it’s part of Customer Support.
Opposites? Fuck that.
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. At a certain point, though, enough instances of something becomes a trend. And the trend I’m seeing in conversations about the customer experience is deeply frustrating.
Too many people who lead “Success” teams seek to define all the valuable pieces of the customer relationship as Theirs. They draw a line in the sand and say, “This is my fiefdom. Back off.” In doing that they push all of the labor and time-intensive aspects of the customer experience onto someone else.
Replying to support tickets becomes not about the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with your customers. It pushes support into a box that’s solely a cost-center, case-oriented, and unconcerned with helping customers successfully use your product. As part of this success-advocates elevate their teams as somehow inherently above and better than those mere peons who handle tickets.
That’s crazy! Even the most reactive, labor-intensive ticket represents an opportunity to earn goodwill with your customers. When you nail that experience you can create a ripple effect across revenue, social media, and the broader marketplace. That is customer support. It’s only an opportunity, though, if you choose to seize it. If you chalk support up as just a cost-center, that’s your loss. Good riddance.
This whole trend of customer success is a tired repetition of customer support as an entry-level-dead-end job that people simply seek to move out of. Customer support, when done well, is a career. Every conversation, whether it’s reactive or proactive, is an opportunity to learn from your customers. That is immensely valuable no matter your departmental definition. Every time you try to isolate certain elements into a single department and declare that proactive support won’t, and cannot, work with customer support you do the broader community harm. Every one of us is in this to help people succeed.
Customer service is difficult, expensive and unpredictable. But it’s a mistake to assume that any particular example is automatically either good or bad. A company might spend almost nothing on customer service but still succeed in reaching its goals.
Customer service succeeds when it accomplishes what the organization sets out to accomplish.
What is customer service for? – Seth Godin.
Support teams are frequently tasked with figuring out “what the customer wants” with some sort of pre-defined survey. As if a well-constructured set of questions will miraculously fix latent problems in the product.
My two cents: a survey is only worth doing if the product team is willing to devote non-trivial resources to what the survey illustrates as meaningful improvements to make. Without that commitment you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
People turn to customer support for help, expertise, and reassurance. However, in my experience customer support teams too often respond with uncertainty.
I find a core cause of this to be one particular way of phrasing written replies. It stems from how we try to make replies conversational and relatable. We throw around words like “should” or “looks like” without understanding what they convey to someone confused and frustrated with your product.
In certain cases WordPress.com users have to rely on Happiness Engineers to manually transfer their blog to another account. A couple years ago I found we frequently wrote back to those customers to say, “That blog should now be under your other account.” Should. If you are on the receiving end of that sentence your first question could rightly be, “Well is it?!”
It takes one step and one word change to improve that. First, trust that you did things correctly but verify to be sure. Second, rewrite the above example to, “That blog is now under your other account.” Simple, yes, but a much greater sense of certainty.
In support we are frequently the ones making a change behind the scenes. In some cases we manually fix something vexing the user. In others we let someone know we fixed an earlier bug. In all cases we should be certain in our language. Certainty and expertise is what builds trust.
If you write a support reply and find yourself unsure of something, do the work necessary to be sure everything is working properly. The extra time will build trust with the user by removing doubt. Removing doubt and illustrating that someone can trust you as an expert is one surefire way end up with happier users.
Live Chat and Lean Manufacturing. My co-worker Simon ponders the similarities between live chat support and continuous-flow manufacturing. Beyond number of questions answered the piece which intrigues me is completed problem sets. In other words, define a complete customer problem set as
ABCD. What percentage of live chats work through that complete set versus what percentage have the customer bail midway through? And, how does that compare to email support?