Support tickets alone are not enough – it’s time to offer conversational support

Main illustration: Axel Kinnear

Many online businesses have done little to improve our most frustrating real life customer support experiences.

Too often, they rely on outdated support ticketing models where helpdesk management, not customer delight, determines what the experience feels like for the person with the problem.

Ticketing workflows allow for all sorts of efficiencies behind the scenes, particularly when handling complex queries, but if you want to show your customers you care, they should never feel like they’re waiting in line at the DMV. Customer support should feel personal. Every customer should feel like they’re involved in a one-to-one conversation with a business, not filing a one-off support ticket that isn’t treated as part of a broader relationship. As a business, this requires responding quickly, honestly, personally, and proactively.

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How to be more than support tickets with your customer support

To help make your conversational support truly personal, we’re sharing our 10 best practice guidelines for those interactions between a support teammate and a customer.

1. You’re human and so are your customers. Talk like one.

You need to be be friendly, natural, and personal. This means addressing customers by their first name, asking how they are, or perhaps commenting on something outside the issue at hand – like the weather in their city, for example.

The great thing about talking like a human is that customers will mirror your tone. Be friendly – and your customers will be friendly right back to you. Maintain this tone, even when the issue is resolved, and customers will feel more comfortable asking for help, and keep coming back to your product. It also reinforces that you view this as a relationship and not a support ticket that you’re incentivized to close out as quickly as possible.

2. Always personalize your response

Every support query is different. Two customers might experience the same problem, but they still need a message written just for them. Nothing says “I don’t value your business” like a canned, generic response. Intercom’s saved replies are perfect when you find you’re answering the same questions again and again. But we recommend always personalizing them to the user, specific to that occasion.

3. Explain things in multiple ways

Different things resonate with different people. Be prepared to explain the same thing in a bunch of different ways – in a list, with a gif, or by chatting to them over the phone. However you choose to help your customers, make sure you show, rather than just tell. Simple Gifs like the one below are quick to make with tools like CloudApp, and are a great way of illustrating ‘how-tos’ in your product.

Simple gifsare a great way of illustrating ‘how-tos’ in your product.

4. It’s never their fault

If a customer can’t use the product you’ve built, it’s your fault – always. Customers hire your product for a specific job, and if your product doesn’t deliver, the blame rests with you. You should apologize that it’s confusing, explain what you think might help, and ask their opinion on how they feel it could be improved upon in the future. Blaming the customer is the definition of a subpar customer service experience.

5. Communicate using emoji

Communicating via emoji and gifs are often faster, richer and more expressive than with text. They break down the traditional barriers of ‘us vs them’, and reinforce the idea that your customers are interacting with a real human, not just an automated, ticket-answering machine.

6. The invitational exit

Always end support conversations by inviting your customers to ask more questions, and ask whether the issues they’ve contacted you for have been resolved. Never make a customer feel like your next support query is more important than their own. Remember, if you don’t solve a customer’s problem there and then, it doesn’t go away. You’re just kicking the can to whoever picks up the problem next time around.

7. Know your product inside out

When new features are being added, or old ones removed, your product knowledge becomes stale a lot quicker than you think. You should be an up-to-date encyclopedia of knowledge about how your product works and what it is capable of. Use your product every single day. Don’t just assume a feature is working and forget about it. Pointing your customers to a knowledge base article is easy, but incomplete. Providing awesome support is so much easier when you have a detailed level of knowledge of your own product.

8. Resolution is the goal of every conversation

Reaching resolution means that the customer is satisfied – whether you’ve solved their problem or not. Don’t avoid difficult conversations, or say no without any explanation. Saying yes to every request only leads to mistrust between customers and your business. When a customer trusts you’ve considered their problem, and given them an honest response, you’ll reach resolution far quicker.

9. Never assume anything

Don’t assume your customers have the same technical knowledge as you have. Likewise, never assume they know nothing. Either approach can come across as disrespectful or arrogant. You need to strike the right balance and pitch your reply at the right level. Intercom gives you all the information you need about your users inside your inbox, so you can skip the lengthy back and forth and get straight to problem-solving.

10. Think like the customer – be proactive with your response

When aswering support questions, think like the customer
When a customer asks a question like “Where do I go to set up a new email to my customers?”, appreciate their question actually lives inside a workflow of questions. It’s going to be followed by questions like, “Can I use my own theme or template?”, “Can I change the ‘from’ address?”, “How will I see my results?”. When you answer a customer’s initial question, don’t just answer the question they asked. Proactively include answers to some of the follow-up questions they’re likely to have.

Support ticket systems take the personalization out of support

The days where slow, disconnected, and impersonal communication with your customers was accepted as the norm have passed. If you’re not considering how you can transition to a more personal approach, be damn sure your competitors are. The days of getting by with casual responses via your support ticketing system are over. There’s simply too much to lose by not delivering the best customer support you possibly can.

Want to learn more about providing amazing support? We’ve published the second edition of our book, Intercom on Customer Support. It shares what we’ve learned as Intercom has scaled its customer support and has been updated and expanded with a new section on helping customers help themselves.