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During a period of 17 months between June 2013 and November 2015 I provided email support, where I solved over 17,000 tickets. I guess that's an average of 1,000/month! I began the job by wanting to offer the kind of support that I would want/expect when I submit support tickets. Here are my 5 Fs of email customer support.

The 5 Fs of Email Customer Support

FIRST OFF

During a period of 17 months between June 2013 and November 2015 I provided email support, where I solved over 17,000 tickets. I guess that's an average of 1,000/month! I began the job by wanting to offer the kind of support that I would want/expect when I submit support tickets. Here are my 5 Fs of email customer support.

FAST: Diffuse a tense situation just by responding quickly

Let's be honest — we all want (and deserve, dammit) speedy service when we contact support teams. Scratch that. We deserve INSTANT support, whether we're paying for the service/product or not. Right?

In the age of live chat, Twitter and Mayday Buttons, it sometimes feels like email is extremely archaic and downright slow. Even though anything under 24 hours is widely accepted as a minimum standard for first responses, when a customer has an urgent problem (but they're ALL "urgent" problems) that can feel like an eternity to them. 

Then, consider that the first message that customers send very often does not offer enough information for support teams to provide anything actionable.

Messages like "it's not working" or "I don't understand how to use this" are typically followed up with a "can you elaborate, please?", which only serves to delay the entire process even more. To top it all off, many companies offer email support during the traditional business hours of 9 to 5, and that's often just for a single time zone. To truly blow your customers away, shoot for an average response time of 6 hours. Heck, why not 2 hours? Get in there!

FRIENDLY: Being nice and sympathetic go a long way

Often times, customers are frustrated or annoyed and honestly just want someone to respond with a friendly tone, some sympathy and a genuine desire to help. Even when a solution doesn't exist, or it takes a lot of troubleshooting to arrive at one, just being a nice person can give your customer the warm n' fuzzies. Think about it — how many times have you gone into a situation pissed off and out for blood, then someone friendly and helpful totally turned the situation around.

FUNCTIONAL: Actually know what you're talking about


As great as it is to respond quickly and to be super friendly, customer service does require that you know how to do your job — and be better than just satisfactory. Strive to become an expert and know the product/service inside and out. There is nothing more frustrating than contacting support (whether by email, chat or by phone) several times, only to get different answers. Try to be that beacon of awesomeness and accuracy, instead of just scraping by with the minimal knowledge to do the job. Your customers will thank you, if not with written words at least in sentiment.

FLUENT: Be sure to speak your customers' language

I don't mean that you should pick up extra languages, but rather that you have to know your audience and how to write in such a way that they'll get it. When you know a product/service inside and out it can seem impossible that anyone on earth would have a hard time grasping fill-in-the-blank-with-something-relevant! Use the appropriate tone, which will often be conversational yet knowledgeable. I appreciate it when I email support and I get someone who actually writes more than a sentence, and treats me like a real person. It's OK to have pre-written and scripted content, but it shouldn't sound robotic and cold.

Consider the difference between "It would be my pleasure to assist you with the technical difficulties you have been experiencing" versus "So sorry about all those problems you're having. Let's take care of those so you can be up and running again!" You get the idea. It's typically best to err on the side of NOT sounding like a 12th grader trying to impress his teacher with formal and complex words that only serve to obfuscate and encumber (yes, that's irony).

FLEXIBLE: Life is unpredictable, so be ready for anything


When all else fails, you should be able to roll with the punches and do what it takes to serve the customer. As prepared and experienced as one can be, there's always the chance that business as usual isn't good enough (or doesn't work). Or, you could be asked to do something that's a little outside of your wheelhouse. While doing this job I was FINALLY validated, seeing the definite advantage of being a jack of many trades. I'm not necessarily an expert in any one focused area but I know how to do a lot of things (and quite well), and that comes in handy all the time! Be a quick learner, an avid explorer and willing to tackle things that you think are too difficult.

So someone asks you to convert a file or to help format something, and you're not really sure what to do — or that's not really in the job description. Ask around, check out Google (or Bing…if you must) and see if you can find an answer. I've gone to pretty great lengths to find the answer for customers, even when the problem wasn't technically related to our product at all. As someone in technical support, surely I was as capable as the average customer, so why not flex that muscle and do a little extra work to save them potentially hours of aggravation and searching online?

Fantastic: Just kick ass and be an awesome support rockstar

This one should be straightforward. Just be the best damn support person that your customer/client has ever dealt with. Or, at least the best one in a long time. It doesn't take much to provide a better-than-average support experience, but don't settle for just being better be the best! That all but guarantees that they'll tell someone about the amazing support that you/your company provided them. In many cases it will be somewhere public-facing like Twitter or Facebook. And then before you know it, you've earned a reputation for giving stellar support and customers will come pouring in (hopefully).

FINALLY...

Take this for what it is — just some guy's opinion. I'm not claiming to be a guru, a ninja, a rockstar or a thought leader. I've just had quite a bit of experience doing email support and think this list does a pretty good job of summarizing the basic building blocks necessary to provide kick-ass customer support.

to recap

Asset 1

FAST

Diffuse a tense situation just by responding quickly.

friendly

FRIENDLY

Being nice and sympathetic really can go a long way.

functional

FUNCTIONAL

Actually know just what the heck you're talking about.

fluent

FLUENT

Be sure to speak your customers' language, for best results.

flexible

FLEXIBLE

Life is unpredictable, so be ready and willing to help with anything.

fantastic-icon

FANTASTIC

Just kick ass and be an awesome support rockstar.