Since the early days of Intercom we've worked hard to maintain an exceptionally high standard of customer support. Along the way we've learned a whole bunch of tips and tricks that we'd like to share with you so that you can give your customers the world-class support they deserve.
Part one of this article outlines our fundamental beliefs around why support should be a conversation, and how using Intercom for support lets you achieve that. Opening up a direct line of communication with your customers, where they have an expectation of a response from another individual, can be intimidating. But we've learnt some practical tactics to help with that transition. In the second half we'll share some of the customer support best practices we've picked up along the way.
Conversations. Not tickets.
Treating support requests as "tickets" is wrong. Internet business should be personal. To achieve that your customers should never feel like they're just another number in a long list. None of us enjoy being treated that way. Instead, you want every customer to feel like they're involved in a one-on-one conversation. This means responding quickly, personally, and pro-actively.
You're human and so are your customers. Talk like one.
Your customers will be acutely aware of the tone you adopt in your messages - so just try and be yourself. It doesn't take much to get this right - it's actually easier than speaking more formally. Avoid all business-y robotic-type language like "Dear customer". You just want to sound friendly, natural, and personal. This means things like; addressing them by their first name, asking how they are, and perhaps commenting on something outside the issue - like the weather in their city, for example. The great thing about this is that your customers will then mirror your tone. If you're being friendly and reasonable, your customers will too. If you maintain this tone all the time, even when the issue is resolved, your customers will feel more comfortable asking for help or providing feedback in the future. Talking like a human will even help you retain customers.
Respond immediately, even if you don't have the solution.
When you receive a request for support in Intercom, and you know you won't be able provide a solution right away, write a quick, personalized response acknowledging you've got the request and that you're working on it. This puts your customer at ease as they know you're on it and it also buys you time.
Always personalize your response.
Every situation is different, so each customer needs a message written just for them. Plus, stock answers are easy to spot and they make you look bad. Intercom's saved replies are perfect when you find that you're answering the same questions again and again. But we recommend always personalising them to the user, specific to that occasion.
Be as helpful as you can. Explain things in multiple ways.
Different things resonate with different people. So be prepared to explain the same thing in a bunch of different ways, like; in a list, or with a gif, or by directing them to your docs, or even by chatting with them on Skype or over the phone. Keep trying until you've solved the problem. Des talks about this over on the blog where he recommends that we all "stop wasting time telling people where to click and start showing them".
Be realistic. Don't over promise.
Always be honest about what you can and can't do for your customers. Overpromising will lead to you under-delivering, which makes you look bad and your customers unhappy. If the feature is broken, tell them that and apologize. If you screwed up, admit it and work towards making it right. This kind of transparency feels real. And over time it will lead to solid trust and a respect from your customers - that's invaluable. It also leaves you in a position to surprise and delight when you've got something great to share.
It's never their fault ...Ever!
If your customer can't use the product you built, it's your fault - always. That's the attitude you need to take when you're dealing with a customer who is finding a particular feature confusing. Apologize that it's confusing, explain what you think might help, and ask their opinion on how they feel it could be better.
The invitational exit.
Always end support messages by inviting your customers to ask more questions and to let you know if they feel their issue hasn't been resolved. The last thing you want them to feel is that they're being shut down and that you don't have time for them.
Regardless of what you use to run your support operation, these tactics should inform everything you do.
First and foremost, know your product inside out.
It almost goes without saying. But when new features are being added, or old ones removed, your product knowledge will become stale a lot quicker than you think. If you can't give your users an answer, or worse still, you give them the wrong answer, you're not supporting them. Become an encyclopedia of knowledge about how your product works and what it is capable of. Use it every single day. Don't just assume a feature is working and forget about it. Providing awesome support is so much easier when you have that level of knowledge of your own product.
Provide the experience you'd like to receive as a customer.
Go the extra mile to make sure you're knocking it out of the park. Read over your response before sending it and make sure it's the best it can be. Treat every response as if you were sending it to your most valuable customer, every time. If you can't stand over each and every response and say "yeah, I did my best here", then don't send it. This high standard is most difficult when you're busy, but it's what will set you apart from the rest.
Resolution is the goal of every conversation.
Reaching resolution means that the customer is satisfied - whether you've solved their problem or not. It does not mean that the customer always gets what they want, or that you're just saying what they want to hear. Don't avoid difficult conversations, or say no without any explanation. This leads to mistrust and customers lose confidence in you and your company. If your customer believes that you've taken the time to listen, consider their problem, and given them an honest response, you'll reach resolution far quicker - whether the issue is solved or not.
But the ultimate goal is never inbox zero.
Don't look for reasons to close conversations. Rather, look for ways to solve problems. Being able to move quickly through support conversations is key, and Intercom is the ideal tool for that, but moving quickly is not more important than reaching resolution. If an issue needs a lengthy investigation, then that's what it needs. Don't let your desire to have a clean, empty inbox dictate.
Patience and calm are key.
When we're hiring new colleagues onto our customer success team, one of the key attributes we look for is an infinite supply of patience.
Patience is what will keep your support team ticking over during busy periods. Sometimes conversations can build up quicker than you can reply. Throw a few irate customers into the mix, some lengthy investigations, and a couple of broken features to keep those requests piling up, and anyone's patience will be tested. But it is exactly then when you need to remain calm, collected, and as helpful as ever. Your customers do not care how busy you are, so normal service should not be interrupted.
Never assume anything.
When you're replying to a customer, never assume they're tech savvy. Likewise, never assume they know nothing. Either one can come across as disrespectful or arrogant. You need to strike the right balance and pitch your reply at the right level. This is hard, but luckily 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. Sabrina talks about this and more in her blogpost entitled Talking Tech with Non Tech People.
Think like the customer - be proactive with your response.
When a customer asks you a question like "Where do I go to set up a new email to my customers?", you have to appreciate that question actually lives inside a workflow of questions. It's going to be followed by questions like "Can I use my own theme or templates?", "Can I change the from address?", "How will I see my results?", and many other questions. So when you answer the customer's initial question, don't just answer the question they asked. You should also include answers to some of the follow up questions you know they are inevitably going to have.
Want more tips and guidance from support experts?
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After appearing here, a version of this article was featured in Entrepreneur.com