Humans of Support: Stories from the Other Side of the Screen

Mo McKibbin | September 1, 2016
#HumansOfSupport is a storytelling series by Help Scout featuring support professionals sharing their experiences working in customer service. Inspired by Humans Of New York, we post a new #HumansOfSupport story every Friday afternoon on Facebook.

By the time most people contact customer support, they’re likely to be frustrated. As far as they’re concerned, things are already broken — whether it’s an order gone awry, a software bug, or a question they can’t find an answer to, they are looking for help … from a real person.

We talk a lot about creating a more human customer experience at Help Scout (that’s why our product calls interactions “conversations,” not “tickets,” for example), but what about the human on the other side of the screen? That’s what #HumansOfSupport is about — championing the fixers, the problem solvers, the people who advocate for customer needs every day, sometimes giving up weekends and holidays to do so.

Every support professional has a story from their career they’ve never forgotten — often about a person they impacted in a positive way who ended up leaving a lasting impression on them too. These are a few of the more memorable stories we’ve captured from professionals working in customer support.

The pet sitter’s boxers

Emily at Help Scout

“While I was working at Basecamp, a woman wrote in upset that she couldn’t sign in to her website. I told her I could help her sign in to Basecamp, but not her website -- that wasn’t our tool or our product. She didn’t understand and left negative feedback for me, so I tried explaining a couple more times before I got frustrated and told her it was like she was contacting her vacuum manufacturer when her dishwasher was broken. Finally it occurred to me that I could still help her, even though it wasn’t for our product. I went to her website to see who built it, so I could tell her who to contact. She ran a pet sitting business, and her homepage showed a photo of her with her two boxers. Well, everyone who knows me knows that I have two boxers and love them to death. I felt terrible about scolding this poor woman about vacuums and dishwashers instead of empathizing with her and doing everything I could to help her from the get-go. So I resolved to approach situations with frustrated customers by concentrating on their humanity, and I’d like to think it made me better at support (and hopefully life).”

Bonus: Vooza parodied my original post about this story in this hilarious video. At first I was kind of hurt (“I put myself out there and people made fun of me!”) but then I was like “Vooza spoofed my blog post! I’ve made it!”

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A new thesis on support

Michael at Trello

“I ran a help desk for a university, and we had a student come in who was clearly in a bad life situation. She was going through a rough time with family, then her laptop died at the very end of the semester and her final thesis project was on that laptop. She was bawling in our office, crying her eyes out. And this was a little out of our normal realm of services, but we did everything we could to recover the data on her laptop. I ended up getting her thesis paper back. The look in her eyes when I told her was something I’ve never forgotten. That’s the first time I felt like ‘I don’t know you, and I don’t know what’s going on in your life, but right now my job is to help you, and I can solve your problem today.’ I was able to take one care off her list, and I make her life a little bit easier in at least one way. This was a defining moment for me and what shaped my support philosophy, and really the importance of the job that we do.”

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The high stakes game of support

Giovanna at Soomo Learning

“One time a woman called with some basic questions about using our product (we make interactive textbooks for online college students). After the first few interchanges I realized that what she was struggling with was scrolling and clicking - things that are really basic to me, but to her it was a huge challenge, because it was the first computer that she had ever purchased. She bought it so she could go back to college. She was really trying, and I realized how high stakes this was for her. Both in learning to use her computer and our software. Think about it: you invest a lot to go to college! You put all this money into tuition and this new technology, and then you discover that you can’t use it easily. That’s a make or break moment for this person. I spent a half hour walking her through basic computer use, things that weren’t even my job. Then we moved onto the things that were my job, like exploring the product. At the end of the conversation she said, ‘Thank you. I was going to drop this class tomorrow.’ It turns out, she hadn’t been able to get the help she needed from anyone at her school - not even her instructor had the time. But I was there! And I could help her! And then she went on to take more courses and graduated that semester.”

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The wrong natural disaster

Katie at Cozy

“One of my first big support mistakes happened when I worked with a school in Italy that had been hit by an earthquake. I emailed them to offer help setting up offsite resources since their campus had been destroyed. In my email I accidentally wrote ‘I am so sorry your campus has been effected by a hurricane.’ Then I sent it without noticing the error. Someone else in my company DID notice it, and went to my boss saying, ‘Katie did this terrible thing, we’re gonna lose this account, they’re going to think we’re idiots.’ My boss then came to me and asked how it happened. But I didn’t know why it happened, I just….wrote the wrong natural disaster. I was mortified, wondering how I was ever going to apologize. Then I got an email from the school, and they were really thankful! They didn’t even notice my mistake. They simply said ‘We’re so glad you helped us out with this, you really saved the day.’ They were just delighted that we helped them and didn’t care that I called it a hurricane. My biggest takeaways from this were, of course, pay attention to detail, but also remember that what you do helps people. If you do the right thing and give them what they need, they will be human and less critical of your mistakes.”

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The teachable moment

Kevin at Magoosh

“I left college and started teaching. I was a teacher for 10 years and I thought of myself as a teacher, I loved working with students, I loved being an educator, and I started with Magoosh, in customer support, but as a teacher. Magoosh does online education. So I was responding to student’s questions on like Math, Reading, but I didn’t think of myself as a customer support person. But as I started to work in this role and meet other people in customer support I realized that I AM a customer support person. When I hang out with other people who do customer support, I’m always stunned by how excited they are, how empathetic they are. I am one of the few people at my company who is just super stoked about just general things in life, but when I come to customer support meetups or I’m at a conference for support I’m surrounded by hundreds of people who feel the exact same way. Now I feel like customer support is the place for me. These are my people. I’ve found my people. My community.”

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Have a support story of your own to share? Send us your support story and you could be featured in our next post!

About the author: Mo McKibbin is a product marketer at Help Scout. She enjoys surprising and delighting customers with feature updates, and spending time with her cats.