How to Practice the Art of Customer Support

I provide exceptional customer support via email for a living. I recently made some notes in a text file about the art we practice as agents. It was before I started a blog and I didn’t know why I wrote them down at the time. I’m going to share them here because I don’t know what else to do with them.

Just to clarify, a support queue is the collection of emails that need to be answered by the support team. There is a main queue out of which tickets are assigned to individual support members.

A ticket is an email.

Let’s get started!

The support queue is an evolving organism that is to be tamed rather than defeated.

It really is. It’s a living thing. The queue has an emotion – a temperment, a personality – that varies on any given day. You can feel it shift throughout the day. Some days emails are short, sweet, and easy to resolve, and other times they’re long and difficult.

You will never beat the queue, but it will beat you if you let it. The trick is keep the queue manageable from one day to the next, until one day it reaches zero. Then you can celebrate, until tomorrow when a new trend emerges.

Each queue has a range of daily emails that need to be answered.

Whether it’s a slow or busy day, there are always tickets that need to be answered. Based on the queue, there are average highs and lows. Plan accordingly.

Ideally, you want to see the queue at zero and all customers leave happy.

I guess this is obvious, but it helps to have a goal. You want to see the queue reach zero, but you want to make sure the customers are happy. You can’t sacrifice the satisfaction of the customers just to see a queue at zero, but if you spend too much time with any one customer, you’ll never get out alive.

Queue management is about identifying common issues and responding to those as efficiently and effectively as possible.

This means looking over all the tickets currently waiting for a response to see if there are any trending issues. If so, and there’s a common response, you can mass respond. This way, customers get satisfaction in a timely and consistent matter, and you can move onto the outliers.

There will always be outliers that demand more attention.

It’s easy to focus on speed and wanting to get onto the next ticket. Sometimes, you’ll come across a customer that requires further consideration. You may need to dig deeper to investigate the issue or read what appears to be a novel at first glance. Take your time with the outliers and get it right the first time, then move on. The aim is for a first response resolution and it’s especially true for the more difficult customers.

As an agent, your art is carefully balancing quantity with quality.

There is a fine balance between making sure each customer is taken care of sufficiently and meeting your ticket quota for the day. You can’t spend too much time on one customer because you won’t get through your emails. But if you don’t take care of the customer, they will write back and it will take you even longer to resolve their issue.

You need to be able to figure out the real issue, because the customer will not always tell you, and if they do tell you it could be hidden in a wall of expletive text.

With practice, you get good at filtering through the bullshit an angry customer can throw at you.  You learn to identify what the customer needs help with even if they make it as hard as possible for you to see what that is. It is benefits nobody for you to go back and forth with the customer regarding manners.

You need to rely on your teammates to be effective.

Customer Support is a team game. Use chat. Talk to your colleagues. Ask them questions. Chances are, if you have no idea what the customer is talking about or how to resolve their issue, one of your teammates does.

Understand that the developers will only resolve the big issues.

It’s often not worth the time of programmers to fix the smallest issues. They have more important tasks that need to be completed. Tasks that matter to the existence of the company. You need to empathize with the customer during these times and do whatever you can to compensate them.

That’s all I got for now, but I would like to explore the topic more going forward.

Customer support can be a thankless job, but it can also be rewarding and manageable when approached with the right state of mind and a good strategy. It’s an extremely under appreciated profession that can reap benefits for any company which gives it the attention it deserves.