Part of the familiar ritual of eating a meal in any good restaurant is the moment the waiter asks if you’re enjoying your food and whether there is anything else they can get for you.
Now, you might not think much about that particular restaurant practice – after all, it’s just a simple follow-up question shortly after your food has arrived.
However, there are a few lessons in this simple example of customer service that are valuable for all of us who work in customer support – above all, how it makes us as customers feel about the service we’re paying for. Basically, does it contribute to a sense of delight?
Asking is what matters
Usually, we can reply that everything is delicious and quickly forget the waiter even checked in with us. Sometimes there will be an inevitable issue – you’re missing some cutlery or condiment, or the food isn’t quite what you ordered – but above all, it is the very asking of the question that shows they care about your experience.
“You’re paying for a service, despite not feeling like you’re getting much of a service at all”
Contrast that sense of care with those occasions when you can’t catch the eye of a waiter no matter how hard you try. Or worse still, you have had to ask the waiter where your food is and why it’s taking so long. Those situations are infuriating – you’re paying for a service, despite not feeling like you’re getting much of a service at all.
There are a few elements of this scenario that translates to customer support. A proactive support model, where you follow up on issues with your customers consistently, signals that you care about your customers and are dedicated to making sure their issues are resolved. It is this sort of consistent follow-up that will help ensure customers return to use you again and happily recommend your service to others.
The art of consistent follow-ups
Ensuring your follow-ups are consistent and effective, however, is as much art as science, and it involves overcoming the inherent challenges of customer support, which can be relentless (consistent inbound volume, meeting SLAs, having a constant pulse on latest product releases). Agents can sometimes feel the need to just get through it and move on.
“You need to make sure the customer is happy with the resolution, so consistent, thoughtful follow-ups are key”
Support isn’t just about resolving a customer’s first question and moving on, however. You need to make sure the customer is happy with the resolution, so consistent, thoughtful follow-ups are key. They are seemingly simple, but they have a profound impact on people’s sense of being respected and cared for.
One of the key elements of the follow-up is the timing – after all, waiters know to ask how you’re doing shortly after the food has arrived, long enough for you to gauge if there are any problems but not so long that any issues can’t be corrected without ruining your meal.
Time for a snooze
At Intercom, we use a feature called Snooze to ensure we get the timing right. It shelves your conversation into a designated snoozed folder and reopens after a day, week, month or a custom date and time that suits best for a follow-up to ensure they are happy with the resolution. Of course, the conversation automatically reopens if the customer replies before then.
(We’re pleased to notice that the Snooze feature is catching on elsewhere – last year, Gmail implemented a very similar feature, evidence of just how useful it can be for people juggling a busy inbox.)
Customers appreciate the extra effort you’ve put in to ensure their issue is resolved. But it’s crucial that your follow-ups should always be meaningful for the customer – having a generic one liner with no real goal can cause noise and interrupt your customer’s day. Give it a purpose, whether that’s updating them on a product update or a resolved bug, and keep it personal.
While it’s good to use TextExpander or a saved reply to create a “follow up snippet”, try to personalize the query where applicable.
Also, I find that setting a specific time for snoozed conversations to reopen works better than just saying “tomorrow”.
I find mornings can be overwhelming – catching up on emails, Slack, updates, retros, scrum meetings … never mind grabbing some coffee and breakfast. The last thing I need is an overflowing Intercom Inbox all requiring follow-ups, so I schedule them to reopen at a time I know I’ll be able to pay them attention.
Context is key
It’s worth noting, of course, that every conversation is different. In some cases, it makes more sense to close the conversation and trigger the valuable customer satisfaction conversation survey rather than schedule a further follow up.
This is how we currently think about the art of the follow-up, and looking ahead we’re excited to see how Intercom’s evolving product suite and technologies might allow us to introduce more automation to the process.
Above all, though, the sense of being cared for, similar to how you feel after a fine meal in a friendly restaurant, is what we aim to provide. We look forward to finding new ways to keep our interactions and support personal and authentic.