Breaking Down the Basics of Great Customer Support

By Ian Landsman,
business.com writer
|
Jan 09, 2020
Image Credit: Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Learn how to create a friendly and helpful support experience for your customers.

Providing effective customer support seems fairly basic, right? You need a customer support email address, such as help@yourbusiness.com. You need a guy or gal who knows what they're doing and can chat with your customers. Depending on your business, you might need a phone line. There you have it: customer support!

Not so fast. As any new business owner knows, providing effective customer support isn't as straightforward as it seems. Shortly after your brand launches, your sleek, brilliantly conceived product or service gives rise to a seemingly innumerable number of challenges and questions. You're inundated – and providing support to your customer base is quickly becoming a time- and cost-sucker.

Fortunately, building a framework to provide effective customer support doesn't have to be complicated. You need a competent staff, a clear and accessible database of information, and most of all, organized communication. 

Here's a breakdown of the basics of building a great support team and an effective organizational system.

Your staff: the backbone to effective support

Your agents form the backbone of providing effective customer support. In a support interaction, they're the face of your brand and as such, exercise powerful influence over whether a customer leaves an interaction feeling enthusiastic and satisfied or disappointed and angry.

Hire support agents with people skills

When you initially think of "customer support," technical knowledge and prowess probably come to mind (we'll get to that in a second). But perhaps more important than hard skills are soft skills. If your agents lack people skills, they're not going to go very far in helping your customers. Ultimately, your brand reputation and retention rate could suffer from frustrated clients who believe they've been treated rudely or unfairly. 

When hiring support staff, look for potential team members who are empathetic, patient and especially effective at communicating. 

Empathy simply means that you're able to put yourself in the shoes of another. This quality is particularly useful when dealing with a customer who has a question or request that seems unnecessary, or when interacting with someone who is irrational or angry. Empathetic agents are able to exercise the ability to see from that customer's perspective, and effectively resolve the issue with kindness and compassion.

Like empathy, patience is also key to dealing well with people. Ideally, customer support interactions are smooth and quick. But in reality, support interactions can involve long, drawn-out exchanges that sometimes result in feelings of frustration on both ends. Like anyone who works in customer service, your support staff benefits from a healthy dose of patience. 

Finally, look for potential agents who are great verbal communicators. The ability to hold a conversation and clearly explain solutions and systems is critical to being a great support staff member. 

Train support staff on technical know-how

Now, for the hard skills: Your customer support staff need to have a thorough knowledge of your product or service and technical savvy to provide effective support.

To train your support staff, consider not only obvious problems that might arise (a feature isn't working, or a refund is required) but also any potential issue that might cause a customer to email you for support. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and walk through your customer experience as a total newbie. Are the features and capabilities of your product or service clearly described? Do you accept all kinds of payment? How does your refund/exchange process work? How would you resolve any and all problems that could arise with a particular feature of your service?

Your agents need to be able to effectively resolve any potential issue or problem that arises – or at the very least, communicate the problem to the right department or staff member in your company. 

Depending on the kind of product or service you provide, you may need agents with advanced technical savvy. If you sell a website creation tool, for example, your support staff will need to have the knowledge required to help customers customize and build their sites. Or, if you sell a SaaS tool, your support staff will need to be able to understand how to operate your service, potentially log in to customer accounts and troubleshoot any glitches.

Organize your help desk

As any new business owner will quickly discover, the most significant challenge of providing effective customer support is managing, tracking and organizing customer support requests, or tickets. 

Unfortunately, customer support emails seem to have a "multiplying" effect that makes them difficult to manage. As each support interaction requires ongoing attention, new requests pour in. The result? A flooded inbox, overwhelmed agents and management that doesn't necessarily know who is responding to what request and how or if requests have been resolved. 

Help desk software can help you tackle the challenge in the following ways.

Filter, track and organize email exchanges

Help desk software can help you organize and view your email exchanges as a series of trackable conversations. Rather than diving into a messy inbox, support staff can simply scroll through a clean, logical list of customer support conversations to identify and address a specific ticket. 

Interactions will also be filtered and tagged according to:

  • Customer
  • Support agent
  • Type of problem
  • Level of priority
  • Any other details that may be relevant 

Ultimately, being able to view and respond to exchanges this way can help both agents and managers effectively manage and respond to support requests, thus eliminating that sense of feeling overwhelmed that comes with multiple support tickets.

Spot trends and compare data

Ideally, the information you gather from customer support interactions will give you powerful insight into improving your product or service, delivering a better customer experience and ratcheting up overall satisfaction. But to gain insight, you'll need to be organized enough to spot common trends.

Help desk software will help you store and report on data in order to identify common themes in your customer support requests. For example, many of your customers may have issues with your product hardware, return policy or payment plan. Spotting common complaints can help you take action to prevent future requests, improve your product or service, and increase customer satisfaction.

Prevention is the best policy

In a perfect world, your customers have zero requests, complaints or concerns. And while that may never be attainable, you can take certain measures to prevent requests from coming in. 

The best way to reduce support requests is to help customers help themselves. One study from Harvard Business Review showed that a full 81% of customers will try to resolve their own issues before requesting help from support staff. That's great news for you! But in order for customers to be successful at this, you need to provide great self-service resources. 

To help customers be self-sufficient, create a database of self-service articles on your website. The topics of your articles will vary depending on your product or service, but most businesses will want to include information on payment, refunds, and the specific features and functionalities of your product or service. The more tech-heavy your product or service, the more service articles you will need to provide. You can use help desk software to build this portal of self-service articles.

Happy agents provide great customer support

Finally, don't forget about providing a great experience for your customer support staff. Happy, organized agents with access to the tools they need to succeed will enjoy their jobs more. Ultimately, they'll become the kind of agents that create friendly and helpful experiences for your customers (which is what great support is all about, anyway).

Ian is an entrepreneur and customer experience expert. He founded UserScape in 2005 where he’s created multiple customer focused applications including HelpSpot.com and Thermostat.io.
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