There’s two types of blogposts I write; sharing experience I have been chewing on for a long time or a sudden rant about an annoyance. Today you get the two in one! Throughout the last 15 years I have been involved with many technical support teams as a customer, partner, or building them internally. Although there are great platforms out there that help you organize your customer support in the likes of Sparkcentral, ultimately it still boils down to your internal procedures! Today I’m sharing my 3 simple steps to succeeding in customer support;
- define the problem
- plan a course of action
- communicate progress
Although this seems extremely basic, there are some fine-print details in all 3 steps that make or break your success.
Step 1: Define the problem
There are two problems that need to be defined; the technical problem and the business problem. They are rarely one and the same. The former is actually not that hard and most support people will learn this early on. You start with basic troubleshooting to isolate the problem to its core.
The latter is understanding the impact of the problem on the activities of the customer. Your customer probably wasn’t really looking for a bug for example, they were trying to do something. Failing to understand the impact of the problem result in a non-efficient course of actions!
Solve the business problems first, then solve the technical problem!
Step 2: Plan a course of action
Every support team knows that solving a problem means planning for it. But there are some key elements in this planning process that are sometimes (mostly?) overlooked. The first one is to make room for plan B. Making your course of action one of one-step-at-a-time is a guaranteed failure more often than not.
The second detail is plan a timeline. There are always more problems coming your way and priorities will always shift. So if you haven’t set a timeline on every step in your plan, you are doomed to get a backlog of problems that take waaay too long to solve. Nothing annoys a customer more than a lingering support case.
What happens if your plan B fails and/or your planned timing is broken? What is going to happen if you can’t solve this on time? Make sure you have an escalation plan! A golden rule I learned from a great sales guy; NEVER LOSE ALONE! The sooner you get a second pair of eyes on the problem, the sooner you’ll get it fixed.
Lastly and most importantly; engage your customer in your planning! They have the right to understand what is going to happen in which timeframe. They will tell you if the timing fits their business problem or not. Helping your customer to agree on the course of actions helps them provide trust in your job.
Step 3: Communicate progress
Nothing is more harmful to a customer relation than bad or no communication when it comes to their business problems. Here are a couple of bulletpoints when it comes to communication during the support;
- Keep your customer in the loop, even if there isn’t really that much news. No news is bad news!
- Reiterate on that course of action with your customer when things change!
- “we’re on it” is not an answer, that’s something you say to your kids if you want them to shut up
- never look for blame before all problems are solved! evaluation is always done after closure
- the truth is in the eye of the beholder! in this case the customer
- above all; be honest at all times! never underestimate or insult the intelligence of your customer
Even the best products/companies have failures from time to time. Everyone gets that. It’s the communication during support that sets your company apart from your competition.
Here are a couple of ideas to go above-and-beyond when it comes to customer support;
- Align your customer engagement procedures to the lowest barrier of collaboration (article I wrote last year).
- Give your support people super powers. Allow them to go off script where possible if they deem that necessary (without damaging the business off course).
- Special support programs are very much appreciated by customers. I remember a company I worked with over 10 years ago by their “co-pilot” support program. They would not leave you hanging on the phone if you weren’t satisfied.