I still remember when I was old enough to get a job and my Dad’s rules about jobs. Sure we had to get jobs, but not just any job. It needed to be a service job.
It had nothing to do with the money. He felt that everyone could benefit from a little time on the other side of the counter at some point in their life. Waiting tables, working the McDonald’s cash register, cleaning cars at the local Waterway…
See the thing is, customers have a habit of being needy, irrational, demanding and more. Learning to work directly with these customers teaches communication, empathy, and sales skills no school education can replicate.
I still genuinely enjoy talking to customers – probably too much so as I should be spending more time elsewhere. But it’s an activity I feel strongly about and so wanted to share how I do it.
First, Make Customer Service An Asset
Customer service can take valuable time out of your day…or it can turn unhappy prospects into repeat customers. It can create backlash against your product…or it can create evangelists. It can be a cost center…or it can be an asset.
As the leader of your company it’s not only up to you to decide, but more importantly up to you to get involved.
Without being on the front lines with your customers, user stories get misconstrued as they go up the leadership chain. We’ve all played the “telephone” game and know how this works.
Urgency gets watered down as well. A critical issue to a segment of your customers becomes a single defect in your bug tracking system with no emotion, no context, nothing other than a ticket number and a priority tag to make sure it gets the attention it needs.
Dissecting a Customer Support Email
Customer conversations happen everywhere: in person, on the phone, email, twitter, facebook, forums… Here’s an example of an email interaction and how I responded to it, but remember these tools can be used across all customer communications channels.
Recently a Less Meeting customer wrote in with the following issue:
Here’s a customer who wants to use our product. However, the risk – real or perceived, it doesn’t matter – of losing his important meeting notes now outweighs any benefit he gets from Less Meeting. With the right response there’s an opportunity to restore this customer’s trust.
(If you’re wondering, that’s Desk.com that you see there. We use it to manage all our customer service & support issues and couldn’t be happier!)
Here are 8 tools that we’ll use in our response to the customer.
1. Refer to the Customer By Name
Everyone likes to hear their own name. Refer to your customer by name to help diffuse a potentially angry customer and establish a personal relationship.
Tip: Names aren’t always in a signature. Sometimes they’re in an email address or stored in your product database somewhere. Do the legwork upfront and find your customer’s name.
2. Apologize, Always
You must get past the “who’s fault is it?” part of the problem as soon as possible. That lets you instead focus on the solution and making a the customer happy again.
Start off with a quick apology, even if it’s not your fault. Make sure this is the first thing in your response. This is a very important step to show empathy to your customer.
3. Restate the Issue
Not only restate the issue, but do so in the customer’s words. This shows you’ve taken the time to understand their problem and are not sending a generic form response. It’ll also help avoid confusion down the road.
4. Be Clear About Fixing Bugs
If the customer has discovered a bug there are three key steps to follow:
- Provide a short-term workaround
- Set clear, honest and realistic expectations around when this will be fixed long-term
- Reach back out to the user when the bug is fixed and thank them for helping make your product better for everyone
5. Don’t Call Out User Errors
If it’s a user error, keep that to yourself! The goal is not to prove who’s right and who’s wrong. Instead respond with helpful steps on how to resolve the issue.
Or even go a step further and admit to the customer that their feedback shows that maybe your product needs to be easier to use and understand.
Tip: If linking to a help article, don’t include ugly URLs. Embed the link in your response like this.
6. Keep It Simple When Asking for More Info
Sometimes there’s not enough information in the initial customer email to figure out what’s going on. If you need to ask for additional info remember to keep your requests short & simple. Otherwise you’ll overwhelm, confuse, or turn off the customer.
I recommend only including one or two questions per email you send – and make sure your questions are very clear & specific.
7. Thank the Customer
When a customer sends in a support email they’re doing you a favor.
Take the time to thank them for sending this feedback, improving the product for other customers, taking the time to reach out, and most importantly thank them for being a customer!
8. Offer Up More Help
The best support teams – the ones who truly treat support as an asset – will use support emails as an opportunity to make the customer even happier than before they ran into their issue.
Once you’ve resolved the customer’s issue offer up additional help, such as a quick demo for the customer and their team. When customers see how fast and pleasant you are to work with they’ll open up with more questions they didn’t think were worth the hassle of a support call. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the customer’s needs
Done right you can help a customer go from canceling to extending their service, entirely based on how you communicate with them.
Back to our angry customer.
Here’s the email that uses all of these tools in a single response:
Hi <customer’s name>,
I’m really sorry that you lost your notes and action items. I understand you trust your important meeting information with us so we take it very seriously when this happens.
I took a closer look into your account and I noticed several meetings that are marked as deleted but have notes and actions in them. Here is one of them – can you let me know if this is one of the meetings you lost your notes for? If so I can show you how to “undelete” these meetings.
Again, please accept my apologies for the inconvenience. Thank you so much for being a great customer and taking the time to reach out to us.
The result – this customer is still using Less Meeting and happier than ever.
I’ve developed some very rewarding relationships with customers using these methods. I encourage you to get on the front lines with your customers the next chance you get.