This is meant to be a sort of manual and help to customer supports all around. I have been working as one-man customer support department for close to 3 years and almost second that as a head of department varying from 3- 7 people. Maybe that is not much to some, to other it will be a lot. I feel it is not enough to be a guru, but enough to be able to advise some on basic stuff, basic behavior and reactions.
While being a customer support employee I have also been a client for other services and I have to say that I do my best to improve my performance based also on observation of other similar departments employees. Sadly, that experience is mostly not very positive. It is possible that those feeling are result of living in Poland, but I have used services in the US, the EU and also in Asia. And the impressions are not best all over.. not just here in my country.
The part where 90% of costumer support department fail.
Not everyone can work in costumer support and it is not as easy of a job as it may seem.
It is a demanding job and psychology is prime aspect of it. Pretty face and log legs might look nice, but server for nothing if there is cunning mind and intelligence hidden behind them. Not all are cut out for it, and sometimes I doubt if I am… but being called a perfectionist kind puts me in position when I have to do what I have to do and I have to it to my best ability and will.
Costumer support is the 1st line of defense or of representation (depending on angle of looking at things) of a company. I believe it is a mix of both. We have to do our best to present company in good light and our demeanor is strongly reflected on its image. But we do not only represent it, we also serve as a filter. We filter users issue into those that can be attended to immediately by us (but that requires a set of tool and knowledge base), those that need to be taken care of by the tech department and those that need to be put on the wish-list of users. About the most demanding aspect is the attention paid to immediate matters. Solutions to users have to be provided in simple, clear and elegant manner. No matter what client’s tone is…we have to keep on smiling and be well-mannered.
This is also where this job takes the biggest toll on those who perform it. Being primary defense force and at the same time representation squad is not something many military forces practice, yet customer support does on daily basis.
Mindset of a costumer support employee.
Majority of costumer support-ees I have met throughout the years forget that they INDEED serve the costumer. It seems that especially younger generation forgets who really pays their salary…. the client. This approach slowly changes, but it will still be years before a major improvement is seen.
How to handle a costumer
It is a very delicate matter. I will try to spell out here in plain and precise manner how, I believe this should be done.
- Your Behavior
No matter what is the tone of the message you have received. No matter what names you have been called by a costumer. No matter how bad and dirty you feel after reading/hearing their message…. you have to contain yourself and answer in elegant and peaceful way. If you need to, step away for a second take a deep breath, look at the wall. but when you are back to speaking to them you have to be calm and patient.
- Always thank them for contact
This should be the 1st line of any response. The fact that a person is taking their time to write/call you means that your service is important to them. Do appreciate it! Without their contact you would not have a job.
- Express you feeling about their issue
Be it an issue or opinion about the service always say how you feel about the matter. This adds a personal touch and allows them to see that they are attended by a real person and not a machine. Machines are all around us. How often have you felt that there is none to talk to because you would get automatic generated response? or the person reading your message would not stop to think and would just copy-paste a response? DO AVOID THAT at all cost. If a user has a problem, do say that you feel sorry about this. If they are happy about something, do tell them that you are happy to see them content.
- Read the emails carefully. Don’t copy-and-paste just because it’s faster.
Before you answer an email, make sure to read it carefully and understand.Sometimes you will need to do so several times.
When contacting customer support of companies like Ebay, PayPal or others, I usually first get a copy-and-paste answer that completely irrelevant to what I’m asking.
They don’t bother to read my email – they see a keyword “invoice” and they reply with a pasted email “To find your invoice, click on the search…”.
And my inquiry was on why I actually CAN’T find my invoice using the “search” feature. Ergo such response is NOT helpful.
So, make sure to read the email carefully, paste the answer and customize it for the customer when necessary. Make sure his answer is complete.
5.Do not be afraid to ask for time
If you do not know an answer, if you are unsure of it, if in any way you might mislead a client and you know or feel it… do not be afraid to ask for time to consult. It is better to consult and provide user with accurate response then to mislead them and the go on correcting your mistake. Although it is sometimes unavoidable, we are humans after all.
- Do not be afraid to provide users with links to help page or database
This is important as it does save time. Main aspect here is to handle the links correctly. If you just copy-paste a link and say ‘hey, here is link for you’ … what would you feel being on the other side? Wouldn’t it feel like being disregarded and treated as an idiot? Do think about that… What I usually do is explain to a costumer that since their question has been asked frequently we have created a Help Page to assist them and the link will provide him with clear solution to the issue. I also finish the letter with invitation to future contact. This way users do not feel they have been mistreated by you and that their issues are important not only to you but also the company.
- Be precise and brief
In one of the Productive! Magazines I have read a very interesting article. The main thesis of it was simple – if you can’t explain what you have in mind in 5 sentences you probably do not have it clear in your mind. I have to state I do agree with this. Writing long messages (true, it is sometimes necessary) for most part show lack of consideration for other person’s time and that you do not really know what you wish to relay to them. Keeping it short and clear allows users and you to save time and also to communicate faster. The clearer and shorter you can convey your message the better you will be at serving users. The times of writing 10 pages to say that you need a new pen are past… in today’s world none has time for that.
This does not mean telling the user absolutely all details you now (unless really needed). Do not promise something you are unsure of. But do it in mild manner. Do not say flatly ‘no’, because you never know if the company approach won’t change later on and something he/she has been asking for won’t in the end be implemented. It is better to state that at this point such a thing is not foreseen. Even if they might not be happy to hear your answer, most will appreciate being told truth instead of being mislead.
9.Be willing to help
This is one of most important points. Do state your readiness to help and invite user to contact you whenever they feel the need. Make them feel welcome and important, as without them there is no point in costumer support.
10.Always be the last to write/answer
Even if a costumer contacts you to say that all is fine.. do tell them you feel happy it has been solved. If they thank you for your assistance, do thank them for being such a wonderful client. If they contact you to say they are disappointed, do tell them how sorry you are and ask if there is anything you or company could have done differently for them.
11.Take feedback seriously
Hearing constructive criticism and building on it is key to success. You will learn more from negative feedback than from positive. Thus take it seriously and take it in. Learn from it.
I trust this manual/post will come to aid of those embarking on the trip to becoming valuable costumer support.
- Disclaimer: Please excuse grammatical/spelling mistakes I might have committed in this blog. Should this post resemble something written by someone else, please keep in mind that similarities were not intended. I have been reading a lot on the topic prior to my own post and I might have been influenced unintentionally by others. My intention in writing this was simply to spell out what I have been thinking on for past year and what has been drawn from my own experience in this field.