What was the one discovery that took your customer support to the next level?

For me, it was the realization that using smiley faces and exclamation points in customer emails increased my customer satisfaction ratings.

Everyone can point to “aha” moments in their career, but like all great lessons, these typically come after a lot of hard work, and often uncomfortable experiences. This is particularly true when you work in customer support.

Thats why we polled some of the best support professionals about the insights that helped them raise the bar — so we can share those with you!

1. Let customers know they can hold you accountable

Matt Hunter

Matt Hunter, Technical Support for Evisions

When you need to forward a conversation to another department, include the phrase “Let me know if they don't get back to you” in your reply to the customer. It shows them you're their ally in case someone else drops the ball. Once I started making sure the customer knew it was OK to hold me accountable, it ended any bad feedback when the other department forgot to follow up. Customers feel like they can contact support and get instant results, which is great. When the customer does reply to tell me they haven’t gotten a response, I always thank them for the follow up, so they know it’s mutually beneficial. Making the customer feel like they are part of the troubleshooting process and solution is huge.

2. Support is a career

Sarah Betts

Sarah Betts, Customer Support at Cultures for Health

It was a big eye-opener for me to learn I could make a career out of customer support. When I found the Support Ops Google hangout and the Support Driven community, I realized other people were trying to make support amazing in their own companies. It was incredible!

3. It’s OK to ‘sandwich’ bad news

Mo McKibbin

Mo McKibbin, Support at Help Scout

When I can’t give a customer what they want, I try to sandwich the bad news between two hopeful pieces of bread. As in, “Hey that’s a great idea, sorry we’re not going to do it because XYZ, but we’ll keep you posted if anything changes!” or “Good catch on that bug; you have an eagle eye. It might be a while before we can get that one fixed. We’re keeping an eye on other reports and will let you know if we have news!” I try to never stop at no. Instead, I’ll offer a workaround, explain the reasoning behind why we’re not working on a certain issue, or suggest another product that would be a better fit.

4. It’s not about you

Diane Garcia

Diane Garcia, Customer Support Lead at HomeMe

Most customer support professionals are genuinely nice people, so it's an adjustment getting used to people being upset. But angry customers aren't angry at you. More often than not, they're having an awful day and just need to let it out, which means sometimes customer support becomes therapy. That realization has made it much easier to deal with difficult customers, especially because I know not to take it personally. I've found I love customer support because I get to spend all day helping people out. It's a fulfilling career choice and genuinely makes me happy.

5. Show don’t tell

Denise Twum

Denise Twum, Customer Support at issuu

Instead of telling customers what to do, show them! I use Recordit for screencasts — it’s free and generates a link, instead of having to attach a bulky file to your responses. Now when someone writes in asking how to find a particular page in their account, I can log into the account and record the steps, versus typing out “1. Go here, 2. Click here, 3. Click this green button.” It’s fast and doesn’t need to be super polished since it’s not for your knowledge base or a blog post. It saves a lot of back-and-forth and has made all the difference!

6. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer

Jim Mackenzie

Jim Mackenzie, Support Programmer at Basecamp

When I started at Basecamp, I worked by myself for several hours in the morning (I’m in the UK and at that time the rest of the support team was in the U.S.), and sometimes customers submitted questions I didn’t know the answer to. I had a lot of self-worth tied up in knowing the answers, so sometimes I gave some vague, awful reply that sort of answered the question, then try to follow up later once I found out the right answer. That didn’t feel great for anyone. Once I tried saying “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you” and the first few people were totally fine with that, I didn’t look back. I realized that being fast isn’t quite as important as I’d made it out to be in my head, and that admitting you don’t know something isn’t a bad thing. It was a pretty big moment for me.

7. Ask what the expectation is

Chris Gallo

Chris Gallo, Support at Highrise

When a customer is confused or having trouble, ask what they're expecting to happen. It’s a powerful question. For example, sometimes our customers report a bug where there is no bug, because they were expecting something different from how it was built to work. By asking customers what they expect to happen, we learn what we need to make more clear.

8. You’re the customer's ally

Courtney-Alev

Courtney Alev, Head of User Operations at NerdWallet

Someone told me early in my career that “you should be the one at the conference room table wearing [CUSTOMER NAME]’s sweatshirt.” Meaning, you are the representative and ally of the customer in your company’s internal discussions and decisions. In support, we have the deepest insight into customers’ pain points and how our companies can make things better. It’s easy to get stuck on one end of the spectrum, e.g., “my company is perfect and these people are all just complaining,” or “my customers are suffering and have amazing ideas and my company is just not catering to them.” The reality is you have to walk a nuanced line between representing your company and championing your customer, and constantly strive for cooperation and compromise.

9. You get the opportunity to make someone’s day

Chelsea Stroh

Chelsea Stroh, Customer Support at Recruiterbox

I stole this from my past life as a medic — we used to say that “we have the opportunity to be the best part of someone’s day on one of their worst days” (since they were in an ambulance). That’s something I missed when I left it, but found again through customer support. We’re running a Net Promoter Score survey right now, and we had a customer comment that when they write to support, they feel like they’re our only customer and it makes their day. Having that power is pretty awesome.


Do you have lessons from your own career to share? Comments on the advice you read? We're continuing the conversation right here; join us!

Emily Triplett Lentz

About the author: Emily Triplett Lentz is on the marketing team at Help Scout, where she writes about support, company culture, and other fun stuff..