The 5 Fs of Email Customer Support
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
FLUENT: Be sure to speak your customers' language
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
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).
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.
Diffuse a tense situation just by responding quickly.
Being nice and sympathetic really can go a long way.
Actually know just what the heck you're talking about.
Be sure to speak your customers' language, for best results.
Life is unpredictable, so be ready and willing to help with anything.
Just kick ass and be an awesome support rockstar.