Customer Support is Marketing

In this post, I’d like to discuss some simple ways to improve the way you can support your users. Although we are a software company, these tips will apply to any domain where you have to deal with clients and customers on a regular basis.

In a world where a single individual can reach just about anyone, anywhere, it is vital to keep your customers happy. It has become too easy to spread a bad word about a product, a company, or even a person; your reputation matters more than ever before. Delivering great products is as important as making sure you bring satisfaction to your users.

At Realmac Software, we care for those two aspects, and aim to build great products to delight our users and provide them with outstanding customer service.

Know Your Product

There’s no secret to success: if you want to be good at something, you need to do the work. In terms of customer service, this means knowing the products that you sell, inside-and-out. If there is a new version or a new feature, try to plan ahead of time for the type of questions you might receive, and be ready to train users with simple instructions. For example, while preparing for the launch of OS X Mavericks, we set up a post on our Help Page with answers to questions we believed would likely be asked about one of our apps.

Simple Directions

When talking with your users, keep it simple and break it down. If you require the customer to follow a certain procedure, make sure that every step is explained clearly (and don’t be afraid to use those bullet points). A good rule of thumb when dealing with users is to assume the person is not familiar with the product, unless stated otherwise. The easiest your instructions will be to understand, the more likely the customers’ experience will improve.

Remember the Details

If you’re unsure about something mentioned by a customer, don’t make assumptions: just ask them. It might be one more exchange, but understanding what the user is doing is the most efficient way to identify what’s wrong. If something is not obvious to one of your users, it can be a clear indicator that we need to improve something in our product. In this case, knowing how to replicate the error will help your engineers to outline and fix the issue. You need to help them help you!

Ask More Questions

One of the many inspiring posters we have at the office is a typographic piece from Anthony Burrill with the inscription “Ask More Question” on it.

If you’re not 100% sure about a solution, the best thing to do is to double check with one member of the team. In my case, and depending on the context, I know I can ask our QA Manager, our Product Manager or even one of our Engineers. No one is going to blame you for asking questions and trying to be better at helping customers. However if you tend to forget things, make sure to write them down somewhere.

Let your team help

Having a dedicated support team helps to make sure users get the assistance they require in a timely manner. It also helps to keep an eye on how these users are doing and outline specific issues or bugs within the products we ship. However an app will likely be built by a team, and as such, you should encourage all members of the team to respond to the users every now and then. It’s easy for your coworkers to login on Twitter and save a search with your app’s Twitter handle, or even a hashtag. This way they can keep a finger on the pulse of the product they helped build.

Empathy

One of the quality that you must develop to become better at supporting customers, is empathy. This means taking the time to see the world through your users’ eyes. It can be hard to assume someone else’s perspective. But it’s important to try to be unbiased and understand that the way your user sees the situation is different then yours. You probably have much more context and knowledge about how the product was built, and why it takes a certain way to use a specific feature. So try to be understanding: if you can educate your user in the process of helping them, you are much more likely to get some great feedback and for them to spread the word about their good experience with your company.

If you’re in a business-to-consumers venture, it is also very hard to outline a product that will appeal to many different people in different ways. Being able to step out of your own shoes to see the bigger picture will help you much more to understand other perspectives.

Don’t take it personally

Finally, it’s vital that you don’t take things badly. Customers will often see the end-product and it’s impossible for an outsider to understand the consequences and the context in which a product was built. So if someone just doesn’t get it, leave your ego at the door, and try to be as clear as you can. The more efforts you put into growing a thicker skin, the more unbiased and subjective you will be to try and help your users. It’s one of the most important —yet overlooked— things when dealing with customers. It’s even harder if you’ve put a lot of effort on a project with a very small team.

Hopefully this gives a better idea of the responsibilities when supporting customers. A lot of it boils down to paying attention, and taking the time to understand your customers’ perspective. If you have any addition or subsequent question, I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to contact me on Twitter.

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