Entrepreneurship

Leave the Ticket System at the DMV. Support Your Customers Through Conversations.

Treating support queries from your customers as tickets is wrong. It's the online equivalent of waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want your customers to think you care about them, they should never feel like they're just another number in a long list. All business should be personal. You want every customer to feel like they're involved in a one-on-one conversation, which means responding quickly, honestly, personally and proactively.

Related: 13 Ways to Show Customers You Love Them

For a lot of companies, it's difficult to transition to this kind of support. That’s why at Intercom, we drew up best practice guidelines to help our customers get there.

1. You're human and so are your customers. Talk like one.

You want to sound friendly, natural and personal. This means things like; addressing customers 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 be the same way. 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.

2. 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.

3. Respond immediately, even if you don't have the solution.

When you receive a request for support and you know you won't be able to provide a solution right away, write a quick, personalized response acknowledging you've got the request, and you're working on it. An immediate automated response from your ticketing system is not good enough here. We all know how they feel. It actually reduces our confidence that a human is looking after our issue -- “Great! I’m a number in a long list”. A quickly reply takes 20 seconds to write, and it buys you time along with your customers’ confidence.

4. 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".

5. Be realistic. Don't overpromise.

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 -- and that's invaluable. It also leaves you in a position to surprise and delight when you've got something great to share.

6. 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. You should apologize that it's confusing, explain what you think might help, and ask their opinion on how they feel it could be better.

7. Communicate using Emoji.

Paul recently wrote that communicating via emoji and stickers is often faster, richer and more expressive than via text. Use them in support where appropriate. Your customers will be familiar with them, and they’ll appreciate that the conversation isn’t too formal.

8. Use 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. Nate, our customer advocate, talks about this concept in detail here.

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9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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 will lose confidence in you and your company. But 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.

12. 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.

13. 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 your team 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.

14. 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 backand-forth and get straight to problem solving. Sabrina talks about this and more in her blog post entitled, " Talking Tech with Non Tech People."

15. 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 the 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.

16. Out with the old.

The days where slow, disconnected and impersonal communication with your customers was accepted as the norm have passed. If you're not considering how you can transition to a more personal approach, you can be sure your competitors are. There is too much to lose by not making these changes.

Related: Be a Team-First Manager and Watch Your Customer Service Soar