How Providing Customer Support is Like Defusing a Bomb

I recently read How To Be Calm Under Pressure: 3 Secrets From A Bomb Disposal Expert (via Swiss Miss) and immediately connected its 3 secrets with 3 guiding principles for providing customer support. I recommend you read the full article, but here’s a recap of the 3 secrets along with my observations about how they connect to support:

  1. Do a threat assessment. While you may not be defusing a literal bomb, a customer in distress can make you feel like you are. Don’t panic. Assess the customer’s problem and try to think of a similar problem you have handled in the past. This makes the problem less intimidating and gives you a place to start troubleshooting or resolving it.
  2. Emphasize the positive and what you can control. Is the customer facing a bug? Did they experience a serious problem with your product? Focus on positive aspects of the situation and actions you have the power to take for the customer. That could mean providing workarounds that you know about, making small fixes you know will help, or even bigger solutions like proactively offering the customer a refund if something went really wrong.
  3. Focus on the next step. Don’t try to solve the entire problem in one shot. Focus instead on just the next step you need to take. Did you just uncover a giant bug in the product? Set that aside for a moment and focus on this one customer and how to help them first. Not sure what went wrong or how to help the customer? Focus on talking through the problem so you understand it fully. In other words, think about just that one thing you need to do next, to avoid getting overwhelmed.

These general guidelines have helped me handle any number of stressful situations with apparent ease, including the pressure of being on the front lines of customer support. I hope they serve you well!

Advertisements

Report a Bug — Start a Conversation

Today at Automattic, I gave a presentation called Life Cycle of a Bug Report. Ostensibly, it was about the elements of an effective bug report and what happens to a bug report after it is opened. Ultimately, though, it was about how Happiness Engineers fit in to the rest of Automattic (or, more generally, how a support team fits in to the rest of a company), and how reporting bugs and other feedback can lead to better communication between support and product teams.

Here’s how customer support can sometimes look:

Dev-User-HE-Brokenloop.png

  1. The product team launches a product to the users.
  2. The users use the product, and when they have questions they reach out for support.
  3. Folks in support help users solve their immediate problems.

Ideally, however, there is a complete feedback loop:

Dev-User-HE-Loop.png

  1. The product team launches a product to the users.
  2. The users use the product, and when they have questions they reach out for support.
  3. Folks in support help users solve their immediate problems and communicate bugs, pain points, and other feedback to the product team.

In that complete loop, the people who spend the most time talking with users can advocate for those users and help set priorities for addressing pain points. Support folks also get an opportunity to connect more with the people who spend the most time creating and improving the product, to better understand existing priorities and resources.

When I write a bug report, I’m not just dumping a problem on someone else’s lap or giving someone a hard time for the product they created. I am pointing out a source of pain for the product’s users and starting a conversation about how to address it, in the context of everything else a product team is working on. In the process, I develop stronger relationships with our product teams and, as a result, can provide better, more informed support to our users.

BetterCloud’s Approach to Proactive Support

With the help of our engineering team and many man-hours from the support team, we were able to do the following:

  • Identify actions or error messages within the BetterCloud app that we wanted to track
  • Work with our development team to configure logs into easily digestible chunks and feed them into our error log management system, Splunk
  • Configure Splunk to email our Proactive Support team once an error alert is triggered
  • Before a customer can even submit a ticket, our team will reach out promptly using in-app chat (Olark) or via email with Zendesk. We are literally opening tickets on their behalf.

“Why proactive support should be the new standard of IT support” — Zendesk blog

 

I love this approach. Why wait for customers to contact you — or, worse, bail on you — before trying to solve the problems they face?