One part of my job has always been customer support. If you're a co-founder of a customer support software company then you should do customer support right? Having done every other job in the company, I think customer support is the hardest and after answering more than 10,000 live chat queries for over 6 years using Intercom I've learned a few things that I've summarised below.
What makes customer support a tough job?
There's a video of a CEO who comes to work in the contact centre for a day and it only takes two callers to send him into a state of anxiety. The accompanying support agent tells the CEO that the caller was actually relatively calm.
Customer support is tough because each day you'll get someone who is either confused, angry, worried or has a difficult question to ask.
There are plenty of other perfectly normal queries but there will generally be one that feels like having a primed mousetrap hidden in a box of gifts. It makes you scared to put your hand in.
In my role across 2 SaaS companies I've done some element of coding, marketing, sales, administration and hiring. Customer support is the only one I don't look forward to each day, even when people are nice.
I don't even like it when they say something nice. It makes me worry that they'll run into a problem later and I suddenly have to reply back under the previous nice comment. It feels like it cancels it out.
I have not found any magical trick to change the above, I simply dive in and use some of the methods below to reply as quickly as possible while remaining accurate.
Why we know fast and accurate replies matter
It's not always possible but a fast reply has more impact than I imagined.
There was a point, early on in my startup journey, where I had my alarm set to go off if there was a customer query. If it went off at 4am, I'd answer them back at 4am. That helped get to the first $1,500 in MRR back then. Fast effective replies matter way more to sales than we may give them credit for.
We've had people accidentally cc us on emails where we can see them discussing our company. Twice we've seen them say 'they get back to us quickly' and we've won those deals.
The main advantage some newer companies have over their larger competitors is getting back to customers quickly and going over and above in seeing their needs met.
Why start with saved replies early and use them heavily?
Intercom let's you create multiple saved answers which you can insert into a chat as a standard response to a query.
It's best to start creating those very early on and refining them. I found that it takes weeks or months to refine those saved replies before they can be consistently used across chats.
The dumbest thing I did (and still do sometimes) was not creating a saved reply for 'occasional queries' and I found myself typing out a full reply once a month. Even creating saved replies for occasional queries saves minutes of typing it out, and over years that adds up.
Insert articles when saved replies won't do but be careful
Intercom also lets you insert help articles into chats when there are many steps to follow and you'd expect the customer to click the article and follow the instructions inside.
The danger is when you get lazy and start writing a one line response like "Hey, please see this article...." and the customer then has to read through 800 words. There's something rude about that. I've done it in the past and it doesn't feel right.
It's better to create a saved reply for this, which you edit and customise for that customer, and which has the article attached for reference.
People always know when you've been lazy in replying.
How many times have you asked customer support 2 questions and they've answered the first and somehow ignored the second?
How many times have they given a standard generic answer which is not quite the question you asked?
Both of these things are more often due to laziness than anything else and customers recognise that.
Whenever I've given a lazy reply it felt off and whenever I've given a thorough reply to their questions they've replied back and genuinely appreciated it. They always know. We always know.
It's uncommon for people to be thorough with replies including consideration of steps to take that the customer had not considered but needed to.
That's why the saved replies need editing at times. It's also why it's rude to dump an article on someone without some extra thought.
Give them a date you'll get back to them on
Over time, consistently, I've noticed people don't mind waiting as long as you tell them how long they'll be waiting.
If the developers don't know when they'll have a bug fixed by, then tell the customer you'll get back to them by the end of the day and make sure you do.
I don't like it when someone says "I'll get back to you when it's fixed". I prefer "I'll update you by the end of the day today" and then, if it's not done by the end of the day, they say "I'll follow up with them tomorrow morning and message you by 1pm UK GMT" or whatever.
I've seen chats where they're expecting a solution and the chats left open for 8 days and I'm wondering why no-one has given them a deadline on getting back to them. I'd be damn annoyed if I was the customer.
How to work with the angry people? Stick to facts. Don't answer when pissed off.
When I contact customer support I need to be very careful if the issue is about food delivery. For some reason the hangry hits me hard and I think customer support people in the food delivery industry must work in hell. I hear the same is true for money related matters.
When someone is angry, specifically when it's seemingly out of proportion or unfair, it does set me on edge. I find that answering logically and with facts helps. If I don't feel like I'm going to do that then it's best to wait until I've cooled off.
Angry or passive aggressive replies are the worst. I think out of the 10,000+ live chats I've done, there has been one incredibly bad response to someone and dozens of the passive aggressive responses. I regret the one very bad one on a regular basis. The passive aggressive ones? I have no real solution to that yet. Sometimes that's how I am.
Why seeing screenshots within Intercom helped a lot
Ever had a conversation like this?
Customer: "It's not working"
Support agent: "Hi, can you please give us a few more details. What part of the app is not working for you?"
Customer: "It's not working. When fix?"
Over time I realised a lot of live chats didn't need to take that long if I could just see why they started a live chat.
We ended up building Upscope Screenshots for Intercom where we could see screenshots of the pages someone was on before they opened up Intercom live chat.
It means we didn't need to ask them 'what do you see' or 'what were you doing before' or 'what error was on the page'. We can see it in the screenshots of their journey and reply back to their "It's not working" with "ok, I understand, I can see there's a problem with the file upload. You need to....".
It saves them time and energy and makes us look like we're on our game.
If you're using Zendesk, LiveChat, Intercom or Front, then you have the option to enable those screenshots in your settings (you need to be the account owner or have permissions, to enable them).