Why customer support shouldn’t be limited to one person

& How to build team empathy for your customers.

customer support

As a founder, when you sit down to solve customer support tickets, it’s often because you feel empathy for their plight.

Here is a problem that is so important, so profound, that you’re willing to give up your day job to solve it. That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily altruistic, as hopefully there is a good business opportunity there, but at the very least you can feel the person’s pain enough to want to solve it.

And, in many cases, the pain is your own or someone close to you.

Either way, your empathy with the customer is the thing that gets you up in the morning and keeps you working through the pain of startup life to solve the problem.

As the days turn into months and then, inevitably, into years, this empathy can wane. Maybe the product has diverged from the original vision, or a different market opportunity presented itself. Eventually, it’s easy to lose that empathy.

It’s not just you, it can be the entire team. Each person that joins your mission is slightly less tied to the problem, can be slightly less empathetic to the customer. Not because they’re bad people but because as the company grows, the mission gets clouded, the original reason for being, diluted.


KEEPING IT REAL

So how do you keep that empathy? How do you maintain your love for customers? Not just you as the founder, but your entire product team?

The answer is right in front of you. It’s talking to customers. Remembering that customers are real live humans.

That could mean jumping on the phone and doing demos, or it could mean arranging face to face meetings, but the easiest, most available tool is your customer support.

GIVING THE CUSTOMER A VOICE

As a developer or designer, it’s hard to hear the negative things some customers will say about the thing you’ve bled over. This is especially true when you find that the thing you held as the most important, they just don’t care about, or when they’re getting hung up on something you simply didn’t think was important.

But that customer viewpoint, that lens, is the only way to really understand how the customer uses your product, and where your product fails them. It’s why it’s critical that your entire team is involved in doing customer support.

“But my devs hate talking to customers!”

– Every Product Manager ever

Well, if they’re anything like me, they hate talking to anybody, much less angry customers. But there are ways around it. Many customer support tools (we use Zendesk) support internal replies.

Even if they’re not directly replying to the customer, just getting involved in the solution process is enough. Not only does it help them understand the problems the customers face, devs often hate inefficiency. There’s no better motivation for fixing a problem than addressing the same three support issues over and over in customer emails!

A MATTER OF TIME

The other objection is having the time – and that’s really just about forming habits.

If the first thing you do in the morning is to help someone, it sets you up for a good day. If each morning you read how happy you made someone yesterday, that’s an even better start to the day. It’s not only a good feel-good opportunity, but it’s also often a great mental warm up to face the day’s challenges.

Of course, this means that your product managers and other team members need to be understanding that customer support is as critical a part of the business as that next feature or next release. A happy customer is always priority number one because after all, that’s why you’re releasing the features in the first place!

Before releasing new problems, make sure you fix the old ones!

A WORD OF WARNING

Passing on angry customer emails to your product team can be harmful to team morale. If you’ve been slaving away on a feature only to hear a customer hates it, or that they think your product sucks, that can be really hard for anyone to hear.

In cases like this, it might be best if your customer support team distils the nature of the problem down to something that the devs can handle, without the venom. These customers can present huge opportunities for your team to create product champions, but the initial visceral reaction to a “hate-filled” email can destroy the empathy you’re looking for. Those passionate customers are often just as vocal about how awesome you are for solving their problem than they were about the problem itself!

Giving your team the opportunity to build empathy for customers is one of the best ways to ensure they are focused on the real problems, the problems of your customers, rather than their own desires or urges. Keeping your team focused on things that improve the lives of the people that pay your wages is better than letting them wander off on to their own missions and dreams. There’s simply no better way to prioritise internally than talking to customers, and customer support is the easiest place to do it.

Ultimately, we’re all in business to solve our customer’s problems, and the best way to do that is to make sure we all talk to them regularly.


5 TIPS TO GET YOUR TEAM ON BOARD WITH CUSTOMER SUPPORT

  • Regularly communicate positive and negative comments from customers with the team. Whether it be a snippet from email, a social media mention or something said over the phone.
  • Build a process in where the team at least has visibility over support tickets coming in. This could be as easy as having a Slack bot hooked up to Zendesk.
  • Set aside 1 hour in the morning (even if it’s only once a week!) for a different team member to sit alongside customer support and view, be guided through support interactions.
  • Build empathy with the customer by understanding how they really use your product, not just how you think they use
  • Don’t forget to shield your team from the worst of the worst, nothing hurts morale more than an angry customer venting their spleen!
About Alan - Alan Downie has been working in web for over 20 years. Alan was the founder of Fivesecondtest, UsabilityHub and BugHerd. He participated in the Startmate (Australia) and 500 Startups (US) accelerator programs, before becoming a mentor at partner at Startmate. He recently launched Splitrock Studio, a startup studio based in Melbourne, Australia.

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