Main illustration: Joseph Alessio
The “voice” with which you talk to your customers isn’t about what you say, but how you say it.
Voice in a software world more often than not refers to written rather than spoken communication and has evolved to include not just words, but emoji, images and gifs. Your voice is unique to your business and developing it can be challenging.
This week, we were asked:
How do you find your “support voice”?
Ideally, you would find this voice as soon as possible. I was the fourth employee at Intercom. Starting that early means you get the full, undiluted understanding from the founders of what problem the company is solving and why.
If you’re not going to say it out loud, don’t say it.
Even if you weren’t one of the founding team, developing your customer support voice should come back to what your company’s mission is. Having a firm grasp of that mission and your company’s values means that you can talk to customers in a way that feels true to the vision your company is out to achieve.
I would highly suggest that you first write out how you would like people in your company to talk to customers. It can also be helpful listing what you don’t want versus what you do in order to bake a higher degree of clarity into your voice document. For example, at Intercom, we’re abundantly clear that we’re not going to call people by ticket numbers or use big templated responses and this helps our support team stay aligned on how we communicate.
Below are some of the characteristics of our “support voice”. These should seem right at home with our mission to Make business personal, again.
Get straight to the point. Don’t pad conversations with meaningless intros or outros. Customers don’t value that. They have a problem and your job is to help.
If you’re not going to say it out loud, don’t say it. Treat it as if you were talking to somebody you know pretty well – your mom, your brother, your friend – who you don’t feel afraid of screwing up with. Somebody who you know trusts you but you also have an implicit level of trust with them.
Have a conversation
It’s good to have a back and forth, and Intercom is really set up to do this. It’s much more collaborative to have a lightweight exchange of a few smaller messages, as if it was Slack or WhatsApp, than sending a monolithic 10-paragraph response.
Having a great style of conversation builds trust with your customers
A lot of times you find you get through the first few things and you’ve solved everything so you save yourself a bunch of time too.
Refer to your colleagues and customers by name, not by title, department, or role. It’s also okay that people talk differently and handle situations in different ways. Some people bullet point everything, some write a couple of paragraphs, and others love sending gifs back and forth.
Aim to help
Understand what job the customer is trying to get done, and try to address it in any way possible. If somebody is asking for a very specific feature that you haven’t got, is there a workaround you can offer? It’s a little bit of extra work, and may involve a couple of other products, but you can do this if you understand the product deeply.
Customer support owns everything. You don’t blame, you don’t point fingers. This is one of those really hard skills but it’s learnable. Part of the job is responsibility for all the bad stuff, no matter what it is, no matter whose fault it was.
Focus on the customer
They don’t care why a problem happened. They just want to know what you are going to do for them and how are you going to get them past this issue. That’s it. Telling them why might help them to understand the situation in a broader context, but only do it to ensure you can move on effectively.
This is about being a good writer. While casual language and emoji are encouraged, we don’t tolerate frequent typos, bad punctuation, or poor phrasing. You are representing the company, and being a good communicator is an important part of that.
Having a great style of conversation expresses your brand’s personality, builds trust with your customers and reminds them that they are working with a great company. Figuring out what that style is starts with understanding who you are as a business, and what your company and team values are.