Customer Service 101: What No One Ever Tells You

While customer support is one of the most intensive and demanding posts in pretty much every organization, it’s startups that give it its fearsome air. When you’re getting started with customer support and it’s one of the many hats that you wear, it can be kind of difficult to go out of your way and provide exceptional support with every single interaction.

Most people also make the mistake of forgetting that it takes more than a support software to show you the light; you need the right people and you need to go about it the right way. The Internet is rife with literature on the first topic but the second one? Not so much.

Here’s a list of tips that no one’s ever going to tell you when you’re getting started with customer service:

It’s not about the channels in your service but the service in your channels

The road to customer service hell is paved by good intentions. Everyone wants to provide exceptional customer support on every support channel there is – the real question is whether it’s feasible to do so.

So, before you enthusiastically declare that you are available on every social media network and start creating a MySpace page for yourself, take a deep breath, and deliberate on your choice of channels.

What you really need to consider is:

  1. Do you have enough people to staff all of these channels in a manner that will be useful to your customers? For example, if you’re going to have  phone support for about an hour each day, you might as well not.
  2. Is this a channel that your customers frequent? Sure, Pinterest is a nice addition to your portfolio but if your customers aren’t on it, there’s no point in trying.

So, based on the roadmap ahead, figure out which channels are actually feasible to support. If it looks like a lot of complicated features lie ahead of you, a knowledge base backed up by a real-time channel is advisable. Poll your customers and find out what channels they’d prefer you be available on.

Compare the two lists. If the lists are in sync, excellent. You’re on the right path.

If their top choice is undoable (like if you don’t have the staff for the 24X7 live-chat channel), tell them why. They’ll appreciate your honesty and they won’t waste their time trying to get in touch with you on channels that you don’t have the capacity to keep an eye on.

Once you’ve made your choices, don’t forget to advertise what channels you’ll be available on so that your customers will know where to send their cry for help.

Expectations, both internal and external, can make or break your support

Most Customer Service Hall of Shame stories are born because companies fail to make sure that everyone’s on the same page. When a customer sees that you’re on Twitter, they’re going to expect you to be active 24X7 unless you specify otherwise. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the other side of the world or not; if you don’t specify your working hours clearly, they are going to assume that you’re active whenever they are and will be pretty disappointed if they don’t get a reply immediately.

So, take a leaf out of Zapier’s book and set clear expectations.

Zapier, setting the right expectations like a boss

We’d also recommend that you specify your hours for each channel on the ‘Contact Us’ page or Home page so that customers can figure out which channel will get them their answers asap.

It’s also important to set the right expectations internally. Of course, your customers would love round the clock support on all your channels but that’s no reason to drive your agents nuts trying to meet those exacting demands.

Remember, it’s about the service in your channels, not the channels in your service. You don’t want to overburden your agents and reduce the quality of your service in an effort to meet sky-high expectations.

Take stock of resources and your team’s capability, and set internal expectations for response time before you set external expectations. Once you get started, you can adjust your resourcing, processes and expectations as you go on to hit the right notes.

Personalization can take you places but it’s self-service that most customers want

To automate or to personalize, that’s the real question.

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of customers tell us that they prefer not to have a knowledge base on hand because they want to have conversations with all of their customers, not just the ones who couldn’t find answers on their portal. This, they insist, will not only help them build a more intuitive product but it’ll also make sure that they’re always in harmony with their customers.

There is something to be said about truly personalized customer support, when every interaction is with a real live human being who cares. But if only 45% of support interactions involve a human intermediary, that’s a pretty strong indication that this self-service bandwagon is here to stay.

As beneficial as direct interaction might be for you, customer support is all about catering to customers’ preferences.

If customers want self-service (and it seems like they do), then you better knowledge-base up.

Customers don’t expect steaks at the airport, they just want to be treated like people all the time

Ever since the advent of social media, businesses have been trying to one-up each other with grand declarations of love, in an effort to win more PR points. Steaks at the airports, extravagant Christmas presents and a truckload of tacos…the list just reads on. And that is fine! Your customers deserve all the love you shower them. However, they’d prefer it if your affection was showered in a more consistent manner.

Before you set out to hit the high notes, establish a baseline of customer love. As Peter Shankman put it, “I don’t need you to go out of your way to surprise me. I just want to be smiled at. I want to get a “Hello!”, a “Welcome to our airline!”. Something that tells me I exist in your eyes. That’s all you need to propel you into the stratosphere.”

Bonus: Keep your whole team on support for as long as possible.

In most startups, supporting customers is everyone’s job which is brilliant because it makes sure that everyone is on the same page about customer concerns. However, as teams grow and a dedicated support team gets formed, businesses forget the importance of the whole company being on support.

So, if you have to, beg, borrow, lie and steal to get your fellow teammates to stay on support for as long as possible. This includes everyone from the CEO to the lowly interns. You wouldn’t believe just how beneficial it can be.

On that note, we’d also recommend that you hash out a tone guide as soon as possible. Not everybody’s going to be a support prodigy so, this will be of great use to them.

As is the case with most fields, there will be several unwritten commandments you will learn only on the job. Learning is a continuous process and we’re still on the curve. What are some unwritten rules about support which you think are important?