The Three Hats Worn by Great Support Teams

Paul Jun | April 28, 2015

Great support teams don’t just attract potential customers; they earn them.

After spending time in the queue and studying examples from the archives, it dawned on me that customer loyalty and happiness are built little by little, effort after effort.

Even if we didn’t have a feature that a customer desperately needed or there were issues with the server, candid conversations with the right tone and attitude ultimately resonated with our customers (most of them).

In short, they were willing to be patient and were open-minded to alternatives or ideas.

Why?

Before I began working in support—as a customer with zero understanding of support and nothing but high expectations for it—it was difficult to be empathetic. I only grew to understand the importance of good support as I experienced good support and began to provide it to others.

For example, a year ago I ordered a pair of shoes. Someone stole them from the lobby of my apartment building, and the company didn’t send another pair, but they alleviated the situation with a discount and a concerted effort to keep me interested in their products. The second time I ordered, the package arrived at my door instead of the lobby, with a friendly note from the team.

I could have easily written a bad review, flamed them on social media, and gone to another company. Instead, something about that email made me stay.

In working at Help Scout for six months, all these experiences and newly learned skills started to connect: the best support teams are a combination of roles, like wearing three hats at once.

They’re friends, teachers, and students.

Friends

What do we expect of our friends?

We expect them to be there when we need them. To be attentive and understanding. To be empathetic, honest, and kind.

Whenever you deal with a great support team, you feel like you’re speaking with a friend, regardless of whether you’re a customer or not.

They care about your questions, they listen, and they provide candid feedback or suggestions. They don’t waste your time. A fast response time is like texting a friend who responds quickly.

In a time where being more human is demanded but difficult to achieve—too much and it seems forced; too little and it’s not enough—assuming you’re speaking to a friend instills a mindset that should facilitate the tone and words you use.

Read your email response out loud, or if you’re talking with a customer on the phone, act as if you’re talking with a close friend. The conversation should flow naturally, and your response should be something you would want to hear if you were on the customer’s end.

Teachers

When it comes to software, the best support teams are made up of teachers.

Software products in particular are always growing and changing, so everyone is riding the learning curve. A good support team understands new features and tools because of their experiences with the product, and they seek to know the methodologies of other companies. They simply connect the dots much more quickly.

A great support member must be a teacher because she must transfer her understanding to the customer—she’s teaching a practice or a skill to make the customer’s life easier. A teacher explains better ways to use the product and provides alternative strategies that make up for anything the product lacks.

And what do we expect from our teachers? Patience, clarity, and guidance.

Some personalities are more naturally suited for this style of communication because of a deep-seated desire to help people become better.

This isn’t to say that you can’t master a tone and attitude where you help people learn and encourage them to try things they normally wouldn’t—in fact, if you do support, you’ll exercise this skill daily.

Student

The defining trait of a good student is an unquenchable desire to learn. Good students are open-minded and curious, they think critically, and they take initiative.

The best support teams are always intent on improving their efforts, their product or processes, and ways to serve their customers. They consistently seek to learn more and do more. They don’t get comfortable because comfort leads to stagnation.

Student-filled support teams are eager to understand their product and their customers; they’re always discovering different ideas or tactics that will help them do better work. When a novel situation presents itself, they’re enthusiastic in finding the most effective solutions.


How different our lives become when we wear different lenses through which we view our work.

A student-like mindset, combined with the traits of a close friend and infused with a desire to educate and provide clarity, is the tri-fold foundation of a great support team.

These are attitudes that can be adopted and honed; not everyone is natural in all three mindsets. Perhaps adopting an identity will keep the motivation alive, which is why I love the concept of wearing hats.

To get to a level where these attitudes become second nature takes deliberate time and practice. Each conversation with a customer should be seen as an opportunity, not as a widget that gets passed down the assembly line.

When I deal with great customer support, I feel seen, heard, and appreciated. The feeling is so simple, yet unfortunately so rare.

When a support teams masters these components of service, perhaps they shouldn’t wear different hats; they should be given crowns.


About the author: Paul Jun is on the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.