Three types of support

When you’re working through a queue of support threads it can help to identify what type of question the user is asking. Doing this helps set the tone for how you approach your reply. In my mental model there are three broad types of support questions.

Users typically ask educational, technical, or transactional questions. Knowing which bucket their question falls in to helps guide your actions.

Educational questions boil down to unfamiliarity with the product. Your goal is to help the user connect the dots. You’re teaching them about how your product works and how they can use it to meet their project’s goals. Take these questions as an opportunity to point users to best practices, existing documentation, and ways they can get continued help.

Technical questions happen from a breakdown in expectations. A user knows what they want, but your software is hampering their ability to get there. Your goal is twofold: help the user get around the issue they’re facing and fix the root cause so it doesn’t happen again. These questions represent an opportunity to dig in to bug details. Maybe it’s an edge case. Maybe it’s widespread. In any case don’t just dismiss the question as a one-time error without verifying that it won’t happen again.

Transactional questions happen any time there’s an issue with purchase-related actions. When you accept payments you will get loads of questions in this bucket. Customers will want refunds, their cards won’t process correctly, they’ll want to pay by purchase order, and more. The goal here is to get the money issue sorted out as quickly and smoothly as possible. There’s no faster route to losing a customer’s trust than making payments and refunds difficult.

At its core, support is requests in one of these areas.

Before you reply to someone it can help to find what area they fall in to. The appropriate language, personality, and content all changes based on that. If someone’s question boils down to a transactional issue you’re better off handling the issue directly. They don’t likely want to read documentation about how to get a refund, for example. Next time you’re working through a queue of support threads ask yourself what type of question you’re answering. Doing so can help ensure you match your response to the user’s primary goals and concerns.