Doing customer support as a developer

anand posted this on 03 Nov 2014

Over the past few years, apart from writing code, I’ve been handling customer support in varying degrees. And here are some things I learnt from all that experience.

These lessons are hard-earned. Some of them were taught to me by my colleagues and some of them I learnt myself.

There are books, resources, services recommending various types of customer engagement techniques. But helping a customer when he is in trouble, is THE most overlooked part of it all.

I have tried my best to explain all the points as short as possible but if you don’t have time to read them fully, here is one thing you can take away.

You need to develop a strong relationship with your customer. Be their partner, not just a service provider.

All the points mentioned below deals with Email support. But I’m sure we can take this and apply to other forms of Customer support as well.

Quick response:

When a customer requests help, it is very important to send a response quickly. Typically within 2 hours. Nowadays people choose to ask questions via Twitter/Facebook, to get quicker replies. Users love your quick replies.

Thank your customer:

When your customers get dis-satisfied with your product, they leave. Your competitors are already offering no-risk trial periods and it is super easy to switch to another one.

But, when they don’t leave and take their time to write to you, Thank them. Because they chose not to switch. Thank them for writing to you. Be it a hate email or appreciation email, Thank them.

Read the message fully:

In my early days, I use to start writing replies quickly without reading customer’s email fully. I overlooked it so often and end up writing replies without understanding the real question. It happens, if you know the answer the moment you read certain words in the email.

We cannot do that.

Read the email fully. Understand it properly. If they call you, wait until they finish talking. Then reply to them with a solution.

Provide a solution as soon as possible:

Back and forth emails between you and the customer is just so frustrating. It is frustrating for the customer to keep sending you one email after another. We must try to reduce this cycle.

Do your best in understanding the problem in one go. If you can’t understand it, do not assume things. Ask them to explain their problem again. Ask them to send a screenshot if possible. If you have their number, just call them and enquire about the issue. Then provide a neat solution.

Make it easy:

Make it easy for them follow the steps you mention. If you have a video explaining the steps, send it. It is very easy to record a screencast using Quicktime. Record the steps and send a .Mov file.

Use a simple language:

We all live in a network of SAAS apps. I’m also using other SAAS apps to get my work done. Sometimes when I write to some service’s support, their replies are too damn formal. Why should it be like this? They use unnecessary words that doesn’t solve my issue. Such replies simply confuse me. I don’t understand what they mean. It is necessary and sufficient to just use plain words to communicate. Don’t use words simply to impress the customer with your vocabulary. He has to understand what you say. And it is as simple as that. Don’t be formal, just for the sake of it. Be friendly in your tone.

Be polite:

It’s not a happy day all the time. Your software has bugs. It fails in various scenarios. And customers do complain about them. Few customers do use arrogant words to make you fix the issue soon. The worst thing you can do here is to be defensive. Your software failed already. There is no reason why you have to be like that. Instead, be polite in your reply. Make them realise that you have understood the issue. If its a bug, acknowledge it. And Apologise for it. Give them an optimistic ETA on the upcoming fix.

Be brutally transparent:

There are countless articles being written around the web on this subject. Such as this one. Being transparent as a company do help in keeping the employees happy.

How about transparency to customers? Customers love you being transparent about your flaws as much they love your quick responses.

If you send a late reply, apologise and give them a valid reason openly on why it took you so long. If they don’t like the way a particular feature works, take the time to explain why it was implemented in that way. If your high value customer wants a feature to be done by certain date and if you think it is not possible, explain it politely. They love you being like this.

So, be brutally transparent in your replies. Honest replies like this makes your customer look at you as their friend. This connection is important to the business.

Be their partner, not just a service provider:

Relationships are valuable. It is easy to say NO to customers. Some feel so proud in doing that. You should be doing the same, if you meet up with irrelevant requests.

But not all the time.

Your customer is paying you for something and he needs help! And he needs guidance on how to get certain things done using your tool. Your care shouldn’t just stop at the moment when you send a response. It must go beyond that.

Give them your name. and your work number if necessary. Ask them to contact you if they face any issue. This tells them that you care deeply about their business.

Treat them as your Business partner. Not just as your customer. They will stick with you forever. They will take your service along to their next product. And they will recommend your service to their network.

Customers are the very reason why we stay in business. When you are small it becomes even more important to understand all this and get it right.