No product or service – or end user – is perfect. This is especially true when it comes to hardware and software. That is why companies, if they want to stay in and grow their business, need to provide help to customers when things go wrong. And while no two products or problems are exactly alike, the best tech support departments share the following eight traits.
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1. Offer multi-channel tech support, including live chat.
“The ubiquity of instant communication channels has meant that people want to get the support they want, whenever they want and through whatever method is most convenient,” says Amir Farhi, vice president, strategic alliances & business development, WalkMe. “Rather than relying [just] on email and phone communications, businesses should provide [tech support via] social media channels, [live chat] and messaging apps such as WhatsApp.” They should also “make sure [tech support representatives] are readily available and trained to use all channels.”
[ Related: 10 ways multichannel companies can build trust with customers ]
2. Don’t keep customers waiting.
No one likes to be kept waiting, or feel ignored, especially when they have a critical (or minor) problem that needs fixing. And when you have an issue, even an hour can seem like an eternity.
So to keep customers from becoming upset (or more upset) and potentially taking out their anger online, make sure your tech support channels are properly staffed. If you don’t have someone available to “speak” to a customer right away, give them the option of leaving a message or having someone call or email them back when someone is free, within 24 hours or a business day.
Similarly, if a rep can’t provide a customer with an immediate answer or help to a question or problem, make sure they get back to or follow up with the customer the next business day.
3. Provide FAQs and troubleshooting help online (self service).
“It may sound counterintuitive, but the best tech support is when the end user is not asking for help [or can help himself],” says Farhi. “If you give people the tools… to be self sufficient, then you’ve been effective in supporting their tech needs.” And “there are lots of self-service options.”
“Build a knowledgebase and utilize videos to show customers how to resolve the most common issues,” suggests Ali Din, general manager & CMO, dinCloud. You can also create an online forum, or forums.
“Allowing customers to perform self-service reduces their frustration of calling in or submitting an online ticket,” says Din. “It also improves turnaround time and serves them in the channel that is most often preferred.”
4. Hire well and train representatives properly.
“The value of putting [the] best people into support roles can’t be understated,” says Brent Sleeper, customer experience champion, SparkPost. “Nothing is more frustrating as a customer than feeling like you know more about a product and problem than the company’s own support [staff].”
His advice? “Hire experienced people, train them really well and reward them appropriately. Whether you’re talking about front-line reps or more senior account managers, they’re the face of the company to a customer.” And as a business, you always want to put your best face forward.
As for training tech support reps, “whatever you think is the minimum effort and time to onboard new agents, double it,” says Terry Clearkin, head of support, Twilio. “Assign a senior member of the support staff to help your new hire, and give them sample problems to resolve internally, with the rest of the team evaluating their progress. There’s no reason to risk the consistency [or quality] of your support by throwing in new agents too quickly.”
5. Use software to keep track of customers and take care of routine tasks.
“Thanks to customer support software, [customer] data is easy to collect and store, providing a comprehensive profile at your agents’ fingertips,” says Robert C. Johnson, CEO, TeamSupport. Just “make [sure] customer data [is stored in a] central system where your support team can access it.” This way, agents can “save time and provide a better customer experience.”
Companies can also use customer support software to “automate routine [tech support] tasks, such as problem identification and information gathering, while moving other routine support functions to self-service models to empower your customers,” says Clearkin.
“Support teams should spend more time resolving the needs of customers rather than gathering the necessary information to address it,” he argues. “For example, Twilio sees report requests come through Twitter, so we developed a tool that automatically alerts the Support team of those tweets, conserving the time and effort generally required for Support or another team to surface the customer issue.”
6. Make sure reps know how to listen and be polite to customers.
Tech support agents need to carefully listen to “customers and understand their issues,” says Kean Graham, CEO, MonetizeMore. “It’s easy to start blurting out answers because you assumed what they meant instead of actually listening.” Instead, train representatives to listen to customers before responding.
And, no matter what, reps should treat customers cordially, even when – or especially when – the customer is angry or upset. Encourage reps to put themselves in the customer’s position and to practice patience and politeness.
7. Empower reps to better help customers (without having to escalate issues).
“Empower your frontline [representatives] to make decisions in real time in the customer’s best interest,” says Vineet Misra, CIO, Lifesize. “Often frontline employees feel trapped by the ‘red tape’ of approval processes.” Instead, managers should “trust [their] tech support’s instincts and intuition to make decisions that are right for the customer and the company. This helps in making sure the call is closed and ends in satisfaction for all parties involved.”
8. Leverage visual communication.
“Explaining an issue over the phone can be inefficient,” says Mark Notarainni, vice president, customer care, Intuit. “At Intuit, customers would spend as long as 15 minutes just trying to explain the problem. To address this, Intuit implemented a solution called SmartLook, which leverages video technology to connect customers with a live representative, who can answer their questions in real time.”
In addition to providing video chat, the technology allows representatives to see the customer’s screen, so they can actually see what the issue is and come up with a hands-on solution.
“Implementing SmartLook has enabled Intuit to resolve customer issues quickly and also to deliver a superior customer experience,” he says. As a result, “contact resolution [via the web] immediately jumped 12 percent after we introduced SmartLook.”
But you don’t have to develop a special app to work with customers.
“Sometimes a short screencast can say more than a thousand words,” says Robert Brandl, founder, EmailToolTester.com. “Technophobic users will understand a video or an annotated screenshot much better than a text-based email. My favorite tool to create short screencasts is Jing, which is easy to use and also free.”