15 Tips From Professional Assistance and Customer Service

1. They Bring the Right Tools to the Job

There is just no substitute for knowing your customers. The right support tools make it easy. You’d be surprised at the number of meaningful conversations you can have when you no longer have to stumble around in the dark.

2. They Master Clear Communication

Excellence in anything increases your potential in everything. There are few positions for which this applies more than support—clarity in communication is paramount because it affects everything you do.

Styling affects communication. Tone affects communication. Common mistakes to be made are using passive-aggressive language (“Actually…”) or confusing customers with slang, colloquialisms, or technical jargon.

3. They Speak as Customers Do

Chase Clemons of Basecamp makes this point with gusto in A Brief Guide to Sending Better Support Emails, but the quick takeaway is that your customers want conversations, not “correspondence.” You’re not talking with the Queen of England.

4. They Always Use Positive Language

Positive language is a great way to avoid accidental conflicts sprung from miscommunication. While the change is subtle, the effects are drastic.

Say one of your products is backordered for a month and you need to relay this information to a customer immediately. Consider the following responses:

  • Negative language: “I can’t get you that product until next month. It is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”
  • Positive language: “That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!”

5. They Give Credence to Complaints

Harsh words are not always indicative of insight, and complaining customers are not always a sign that something is wrong. Be that as it may, sometimes great feedback is buried within the vitriol—give credence to every message.

5. They Avoid Breakneck Speeds

“What builds a stronger tie to Arby’s may not be whether a customer receives a sandwich in less than three minutes,” says Gallup researcher William J. McEwen. “Speed won’t compensate for a cold, tasteless sandwich or for rude and incompetent service.”

Make sure your service isn’t leaving a bad taste in customers’ mouths, either.

6. They Know How to Close

The ability to close improves every single interaction. This is not closing a sale, it’s closing the conversation with a customer.

Leaving an issue unresolved creates unnecessary problems. Data suggests as little as ~4% of dissatisfied customers will ever speak up. Not everyone will communicate what is bothering them—often because you haven’t communicated that you care.

7. They Save Time and Retain Delight

Inbox zero needn’t be a zero-sum game. Delighting users is impossible when the team’s morale is being crushed under the weight of a cluttered inbox.

Keep it simple, sunshine. Since basic, common questions are where your keystrokes go to waste, start by addressing them with scalable templates.

8. They Help Customers Help Themselves

Great customer support should always be available, even when you aren’t.

When done right, self-service is personal at scale. View your help content as a top-tier reply from your support team made public for all to see and benefit from. Screenshots, videos, styling and more ensure your frequently asked questions will get frequently loved answers.

9. They Make Use of Strategic Automation

“Filtering” can sound worrisome in the realm of customer support, but it more accurately serves as direction. Customers receive the best support possible when they are sent to the right place the first time around.

 

  • Make iterative improvements. Want to keep response times down to ~6 hours? Set up a Workflow to remind the appropriate user(s) so that messages don’t sit and collect dust.
  • Highlight opportunities to ‘Wow!’ By setting up a folder and a Workflow for a keyword like “Refund” in the subject line, you
  • ’ll add a streamlined way to salvage potentially lost customers. Special conversations (“Upgrading,” “Canceling my account”) let you provide superb support at key crossroads.
  • Better manage VIP customers. It’s helpful to filter enterprise or long-term customers to their own folders to ensure timely responses. They may have different needs; set them up for success by getting them out of the main inbox.

 

10. They Are Carefully Data-Driven

Why rely on “It feels like we spend a lot of time on this issue…” when reporting can easily eliminate the guesswork?

This is actually an important, often-overlooked issue in support. Too much focus is given to the frequency of issues over the average handle time for each.

11. They Give Thanks in the Real World

We’ve entered a world where retention matters in business more than ever, but web businesses seem happy to avoid interacting with customers.

They aren’t pageviews—they’re people. How would you feel if a deli owner asked you to join their message board just to talk about how the cold cuts tasted?

12. They Encourage Unique Opportunities

Memorable experiences spring from the unexpected. When your team feels stifled by red tape, remember these words from Paul Graham: “An obstacle upstream propagates downstream.” If you make ideas hard to implement, your team will stop offering them.

Frugal wows are the answer, says Bain consultant Fred Reich. Take the opportunity to guide the support team away from throwing money at the problem, and instead pour thought and effort into it.

13. They Get Everyone on the Same Page

Running support without a playbook can feel as chaotic as a pee-wee football game.

Consider the time lost manually answering frequently asked questions. The same principle applies to explanations to your staff on the back-end. Encourage autonomy and eliminate confusion by creating unity through clarity.

How?

Use a support lexicon. “Is it okay to say this?” Support should always feel welcome to ask, but you can eliminate excessive questioning through a support lexicon, a handbook on how to talk to customers. Focus on the dos and don’ts of tone and language, and outline the style of customer service you admire.

Address common objections. A while back I had a prospective customer make a “scale objection” to Help Scout. Could we handle 50 users? I knew some of our customers had over 400 unique users and replied as such, but I felt my answer would have been better with additional information. The next week, our support team made a customer objections doc, addressing things like competitor objections (“How are you different from ____?”) and pricing objections.

Outline your processes. When is it appropriate to write a piece of help content? Is it okay to set up a new Workflow without asking management? How should we document bugs and errors? Every support department will have these questions, and to best address them, give guidelines that allow for autonomy but that don’t leave people lost without a map.

14. They Take a Whole Company Approach

I’ll let our friend Mathias Meyer handle this one, from a previously published essay on our blog:

“When everyone in the company is involved in customer support, it changes the support dynamic significantly. Knowledge of issues, bugs, and features is much more widespread throughout the team

15. They Invest in Great People

The quality of your customer support will never exceed the quality of the people providing it.

If you plan on out-supporting the competition, plan on investing heavily in a team that can deliver.

Leadership has one main objective from which they should never stray: Hire who you trust and trust who you hire.