Andrew Nater

Customer Support Principles

One of the most underrated jobs in any business is customer support. It's the frontlines. You aimed to solve a problem but happened to create a new one. You make up for that with customer support. It's not glamorous work, but it is essential.

Recently, we had some hiccups with a big release of Wellness. There were a couple nasty bugs and customers were quick to alert us. We do our best to take the time to understand each issue, assure our customers we'll have a speedy fix for them, and then actually deliver the fix. Most customers appreciate this and, while inconvenienced, are happy to cooperate with us. Others, not so much.

Instead of railing on a specific customer or recounting horror stories, I'd like to lay out a few principles. They aren't rules as much as they are guidelines. They help me make the best of every customer interaction and stay sane.

Don't take it personally

This can be very difficult. Especially if you built the product. Nobody likes to hear people trash talk their work or express disapproval. It sucks to hear, but it is not personal. It's important to remember that on the other side of that support ticket is a human being. Someone who took a chance on your solution. Sadly, your solution has not lived up to their expectations but they just want things to work and live up to their expectations. It's not personal.

Lead with empathy

Like I just mentioned, there's a human out there who needs your product to work for them. They trusted it would and either it didn't or it stopped and now they're trusting you to make it right. Don't forget that! Try to feel where they're coming from. This should be easy for you since you built the product well enough to align with them already. Keep their perspective in mind and you'll be able to transcend their expectations.

Make it right

We all mess up. We're all human. Most people understand this and are willing to let you save face. Your customers are no different. They want you to fix things, they want things to go well in the end. Do what you can to make things right for them. If you need to discount or pro-rate - do that! This has a lot to do with empathy. Ask yourself what you would want in a similar scenario with a different company. What would you expect from Apple? Or Disney? Or some other company you associate with exceptional customer support? The point is to accept the mistake and commit to a solution that is right for your customer.

Prevent it from happening again

Most issues customers encounter don't affect other customers, but they could. It's your duty to shield your customers from that. Whenever you commit to resolving an issue for one customer, take the initiative to solve it for every customer. Not every issue is so easy to solve for and this mostly depends on what your product is.

With software we can make sure a bug gets fixed and doesn't affect other customers the minute it's deployed to production. We can write tests to make sure we never have a regression. Whatever your product category, find ways to resolve customer issues and prevent them from happening to other customers. This will save you hours of frustration and customer support.

Conclusion

If you find yourself struggling with customer support, see if these principles can help you. Again, they aren't really hard and fast rules. Think of them as guidelines. Remember, your goal is to earn loyal customers. In my experience, some of the most loyal relationships are born out of unfortunate situations. Every opportunity to improve your product is an opportunity to earn a loyal customer. Seize it.