Tips for getting good customer support 25 May 2005

68 comments Latest by Prashant Patnaik

There are plenty of suggestions out there for providing great customer support, but there’s not much that I’ve seen on how to get great customer support. Part of being a great customer is the inevitable interaction with a customer support person when something goes wrong or when you have a question.

Being on the receiving end for thousands of support and customer service requests (I do the bulk of the customer support for Basecamp, Backpack, and Ta-da list) I’ve learned a thing or two about how you should go about putting a customer support request together. How you communicate has a lot to do with how your request is handled. Here are some tips:

  1. Remember there’s a human on the other end. It doesn’t matter if the customer support rep is here, there, in India, wherever, they’re still human. Treat them with dignity and respect. Their sole purpose is to help you so be kind and thank them in advance for their assistance. The nicer you are the nicer they’ll be in response — this is simple human nature.
  2. Don’t assume your request will be ignored. I’m always surprised by the number of people who start or end their email with “No one will probably see this, but…” Don’t assume that. It devalues the request, starts the exchange off on a negative, and puts the support agent on the defensive.
  3. Don’t start with a threat. “Do this immediately or else…” or “If you don’t do this I’ll report you to the Better Business Bureau” or “If you don’t do that I’m going to report this to my bank and other authorities” or “If you don’t respond within 4 hours you’ll be hearing from my lawyer…” It’s not uncommon to hear this on the first email from people. I don’t know if folks assume you are out to get them or they’ve been burned before, but starting with a threat never helps your cause. Given the choice to help two people, the customer service person is naturally going to help who appears easiest to help first. Plus, people will do more for others who are kind to them than they will for someone sounding bitter and dismissive right from the start.
  4. Provide useful, descriptive, relevant information. This can be a tough one since people don’t always know what’s relevant, but think it through before you send your support request. If you are having trouble logging in, don’t just say “I can’t login. Any ideas?” Instead say “Whenever I try to login, the login screen just reloads without an error message. I know my username and password is correct. Any ideas? Thanks.” That extra bit of information will help considerably and will reduce the number of back-and-forth emails between you and the support person.
  5. Don’t write overly detailed, wordy support requests. The longer your email the more of a burden it puts on the customer support person. They have to read the entire thing (I’ve seen simple support requests balloon into two printed pages), sift through to find what’s meaningful, and spend more time figuring out exactly what’s wrong. Since they’re trying to help you, you want to reduce their burden. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. So, be clear, concise, and brief. More words often confuses instead of clarifies the issue. Save the wordiness for the thank you email once the problem has been solved.

I hope this is helpful. Just as customer support folks need to learn to provide great customer support, customers need to learn how to be great customers. Got any others? Got any tips for getting better support?

68 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Adam Codega 25 May 05

Great write up. I agree with number one. Even if it is a problem being caused by the company, the support person is like a third party.

Khoi Vinh 25 May 05

Not everyone will be able to do this, but on occasion I’ve posted screen shots of the problem screens that I’m seeing (and once even a QuickTime movie capture of a sequence of actions causing a problem) on my Web site for the developers to see. It’s best to pass these along as URLs rather than attachments, because you’re never sure if the attachments will get rejected by the recipient’s server. But the times when I’ve done that, I’ve gotten surprisingly enthusiastic responses from developers/support people. I’ve never done support, but I imagine it’s a huge relief to those who do it when they can actually see the problem.

JF 25 May 05

Yes, including screenshots is a massive help, but it’s so rare (and confusing for a lot of people) that I didn’t mention it. But if you can, definitely do include screenshots.

blackant 25 May 05

Jason - I’m curious about what tool(s) you use for customer support. I assumed Basecamp or Trac at first, but with your customer volume I’m guessing you need a specialized app?

Darren James Harkness 25 May 05

I think everyone should, at some point or another, have to work in either a service job (McDonald’s, tech support, etc) or retail. You have so much more patience with salespeople and customer service workers when you know what it’s like to have been them.

JF 25 May 05

We use Gmail for all our support. It’s centralized, web-based, we can tag/label emails easily, the filters help direct and label incoming emails, and we can get to it from anywhere.

Dan Boland 25 May 05

It’s good to note that the same principles you just outlined also translate to customer service by phone as well.

jim winstead 25 May 05

eric raymond’s how to ask questions the smart way, the mozilla.org bug-reporting guidelines, and how to report bugs effectively by simon tatham all cover similar ground.

and there’s the how to a report a bug page on the mysql bug tracker, which i enjoy if only for my silly example.

mobil'Homme 25 May 05

These are great tips and help focus one on staying calm and on having a strategy. But we’ve all been in situations where an issue is not gettiing resolved or is going in circles. This happened to me most recently at SxSW when UA lost my baggage and—seemingly—had no set procedure for dealing with it. What then?

When I’ve reached one of these impasses, the approach that has worked for me is is to begin calmly “I know you’re not personally at fault here, but….” and then to get angry. Know what you’re asking for—you’re not just ranting—but express your anger in strong terms and in a raised voice. Try to keep it impersonal—you do not want to attack the service rep—but go ahead and yell.

After my SxSW experience I resolved to get angry much earlier next time. I let it go too long in that instance and I think by 3-5 calls, you’re justified. Sometimes you have to get their attention and getting angry, done right, works.

David Holtz 25 May 05

It is unfortunate that this actually customers are likely to never see this gem of an article as most of the people reading it are likely developers. I guess its up to us to find ways of relaying this to our customers.

pixelenator 25 May 05

“Don’t write overly detailed, wordy support requests” Not with lazy people, it use to take about a week to get a “satisting” reply from my old hosting company, and i noticed that i had to be wordy and over detailed with them to get what i wanted.
“Remember there’s a human on the other end” dido for them…
I’m sorry im not trying to be negative, but it all depends of who you are dealing with.

JF 25 May 05

There’s a thin line between angry and insulting. Insulting is wrong. Anger, properly applied, can help in some situations, but I’d highly caution against it as your first resort. Think about how you would react if someone you’ve never met started to get angry with you for a problem you didn’t [directly] cause. Problems happen, but try to be respectful.

Darrel 25 May 05

either a service job (McDonald’s, tech support, etc) or retail. You have so much more patience with salespeople and customer service workers when you know what it’s like to have been them.

I’ve worked in those positions, and, agree, that someone being friendly to you elicits a friendly response in return.

That said, it’s equally as likely that you learn that geting minimum wage really doesn’t motivate you to care too much about the company either. ;o)

So, maybe one tip, when you just can’t get anywhere with the support front-line person(s) is to get into the higher ups…namely someone that is actually on a salary within the company (ie, not a temp/outsourced worker). Effective use of CCing CEOs in the company works as well.

Dave M 25 May 05

…where an issue is not getting resolved…

Yeah, I can see where yelling at front line employees would cause stuff to automagically get fixed. I’m sure the UA counter agents were all like, “wait, let me write this down… head up *#%… no excuses… technology blah blah put a man in space blah… find the damn bags… two hands a map and a flashlight… Yes, sir, I’ll wake up our Chairman right now and give him your thoughtful suggestions!”

Wilson 25 May 05

I wish I could send a link to this post to every client I’ve ever dealt with without looking like a jerk.

IT GURU 25 May 05

I have to say, personally, after seeing the change from American to Indian-based support for Micro$oft call centers, I dread when I have to place a call.
Outsourcing isn’t doing anyone(except the Indian folks & the bottom line) favors.
The dialogue barriers kill me!

Dave Marks 25 May 05

Amen Daren… having worked in the holiday industry as a Hotel Porter, and Barman/Bar Manager… and now dealing with support requests for my own IT related business this is so true.

Everywhere i go, I’m constanly aware of how my attitude reflects on those around me and in turn how i feel….

Simply saying “hello, how you doing… and prehaps starting a little conersation” with the person serving you at the till sparks a completly different reaction, which then makes you feel better about yourself.. not only because you have brightened up someones elses day, but also becuase they have been nice back…

The sooner everybody realises this about everything in life, the sooner this is gonna be a nicer world to live in

Benjy 25 May 05

Some companies need to work on improving their customer interfaces because those often set a bad tone, whether in person, online or by phone.

Examples I can think of right off the top of my head:

When you select the card type at the grocery store, and then the checkout person ask Credit or Debit. Why can’t that info be passed?

Email support forms that ask too many criteria for narrowing the issue, but in the process don’t include the exact problem.

Phone systems that ask for acct. number, but then the person comes on the line and asks for the acct. number again.

All of these irk me when I encounter them, and it begins to set a tone that things won’t go as smoothly as possible. It’s like they’re going to bat with one strike already.

Brian 25 May 05

People mentioned having to work at McDonalds or on other Customer Service jobs to appreciate the other side. I did tech support after college for 3 years and worked at a call center while in college so I know what it is like to be yelled at.

However, because I did those jobs I expect more from a Customer Service person. It is sad but I do expect any call I make to be horrible, I keep my expectations low so when I walk away Im not disappointed.

First thing I do on any call is get the persons name. This is very helpful for later when they are rude to you, make promises and don’t keep them and some how forget to log the call in their system.

I tactic mentioned above is say, “I know you’re not personally at fault here, and forgive me sounding angry but here is the situation.” I do remain pretty calm throughout and if things aren’t going right like the standard script they have can’t handle what I am asking I can sense that and ask to be moved on to the manager.

Many front line people these days are people who read from a script. Go outside of that and they melt down.

Outsourcing the customer service to India is a whole other issue for me.


IT GURU 25 May 05

Yeah, I encountered a ‘meltdown’ just today, talking with a fellow in India.
He was INSISTENT the driver was corrupted, despite empirical evidence, even with his own eyes that that was not the case.
Makes for a tense IT guy……
Apparently, he just had nowhere else to go with the issue, so could only insist on the problem being corruption.

hmm

Waylan 25 May 05

Another thing to add to the list:

Don’t ramble on about how you think the companies policies/practices/strategies should be altered. This may not be so much of a problem in a small company like 37signals. However, in a large corporation, the support people have heard similar things many, many times before and while s/he may even agree with some of them, realizes that the changes will never be made (even if a channel is available to communicate such suggestions - I was never aware of one in the jobs I’ve held) and no longer cares. You have now become a waste of time in their mind and distracted them from the issue you need fixed.

Let me illustrate. I used to work for a certain electronics retailer. On occasion a customer would complain about how we don’t even try to compete with “Joe’s Electronics” down the street on a certain product or service. The thing was, all our policies/services/prices were set at corporate headquarters for the entire nation (or at least a multi-state region). The local economy had no real effect on the matter. To confuse customers even more, a few towns over was a franchised variation of the store where the owner just paid for the name and products and ran the store however he wanted. He could alter prices and set or even break his own policies on a whim and only had himself to answer to. We worked in a corporate shore and had almost zero leeway. A customer could run me through ‘Business 101’ but that would never get through to corporate no matter how hard I tried to pass it on. Instead, my eyes would glaze over as he rambled on and came to assume I didn’t care. The thing is, I did care, but wasn’t going to waste all my energy futilely trying to fix a company that didn’t value me enough to pay me sufficiently for the work I did. needless to say, I no longer work there. I now work in government where it takes a change in the law to alter things. We all know what that’s like. At least I have an easy, albeit lame excuse when recieving such complaints. “Sorry, the law requires that I do it this way” usually brings people back the the issue I CAN help them with - the reason they called about in the first place.

Oh, and just for fun, whoever guesses what retailer that was wins… umm… nothing… but the satisfaction of a good guess.

Bob 25 May 05

Don’t tell lies

josh 25 May 05

I find that getting a person’s name and calling them by it softens them up and when I get someone from another country, I ask them some questions and they seem much more eager to help. I also try to calculate time so if it is midnight in India, I will say something like “it must be tough to have to work late nights” or something cheezy, but they get enough crappy calls from people that hearing a friendly voice can go a long way. Not that it always works, but I usually go away much happier than what I expected.

Adam Codega 25 May 05

I agree that having a job in the service industry does help. Sometimes. I’ve seen some people who will get yelled at for ten minutes because of their company’s return policy, go on their break and then deal with an almost identical issue with a bank/cellphone company/other store on the phone and then begin to yell at that person.

But I’ve found it helps me communicate better, not just understand their side of the situation better. I know the limits that person has and how to go about escalating my problem and who to talk to, wether it’s the store or the manufacturer.

Either way I’m getting off topic. Some of these articles do work their way into other magazines. I’ve seen similar pieces in Real Simple magazine.

Jim Thompson 25 May 05

This formula usually works for me:

When submitting a problem report, start the report with a concise, one-sentence statement of the problem.

Follow with a paragraph giving as many SPECIFIC technical details as might be relevant - the version of your OS, the version of their software, etc. Also give SPECIFIC indicators “My cable modem’s WAN light is on, but blinking”.

In following paragraphs, give as much supplementary information as you can, such as the circumstances in which you see the error - but don’t ramble. If you can give specific, step-by-step instructions on how to repeat the error, list them here.

Try to be quantitative, not qualitative. Don’t say “My cable modem is too slow tonight.” Instead say “It took me thirty minutes to download a 20K file.”

Finally list the things you have checked “Yes, my machine is plugged in and turned on.” “I’ve tried power-cycling the modem”.

Jamie 25 May 05

My first real job was in tech support for an ISP - back when Trumpet Winsock was considered funky, groovy, and an easy way to get online. I did that for two years…

All subsequent jobs have been back-end development type jobs, and all of my subsequent employers have commented on my ability to communicate technical issues to the non-geeks, and this counts for a hell of a lot. Most coders would run a mile (and that’s saying something) before speaking to a *gasp* end-user whereas i’ll happily pick up the phone and sort something out for someone. It also makes requirements-gathering and the like much easier too…

So, you geeky coders - go speak to your end users. If you work in a large corp/gov environment, go ask your support staff to show you customer emails and sit in on some calls. Perhaps even try to deal with end users yourself. You’ll be a better geek for it.

Ian 25 May 05

Good post. The only thing I think you have a bit off is that #4 and #5 basically conflict. Since the user/customer often doesn’t know what the relevent information is that often leads to #5. So if you don’t want #5 then you need to have some plans in place to prevent it.

Of course that’s not easy to do :-)

Darrel 25 May 05

Phone systems that ask for acct. number, but then the person comes on the line and asks for the acct. number again.

Oh I hate that one.

And good points on ‘expecting more from the support staff’. I’ve had some incredibly crappy/rude support staff that insist on things that aren’t even logical (Qwest insisting that the reason my DSL is down was because I didn’t install Netscape yet…Hertz arguing that www.hertz.com/somepromo wasn’t even being hosted on their web site, etc.)

And while I would have punched those folks had I met them in person, in hindsight, it was simply that they didn’t care. Yes, they should have, but, also, their employer should do more to encourage them to care…be that more selective hiring, better wages, better work environment, customer-centric bonuses, etc.

Dennis Carr 25 May 05

The whole thing with threats as well is justified, and especially in threats of litigation, will win you a trip out the door - if you’re lucky, you walk with a contact card for a company’s legal department.

Ristir 25 May 05

That is absolutely correct! It is a simple matter that being nice to one another is they key, now only if the world powers figure that out…

Seth 25 May 05

As a CS Rep for an online retailer, I really wish every customer read this. Obviously if there’s a problem with something that costs money, frustration is expected; but as soon as a caller starts throwing out words like ‘idiot’ and ‘BBB,’ I sit back in my chair and tune out. No one likes to be yelled at, and the sooner people realize that, the soooner they will get fantastic service.

Megan 25 May 05

I have to say that having gone through this type of customer service situation lately, I found that initial polite inquiries, reminders and requests for information on when a service issue might be cleared up went largely ignored over a series of months. Unfortunately, only when I issued a warning to go public with my concerns was the issue seemingly taken seriously. It’s a very unhappy truism that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It can make you feel like the world’s biggest jerk, but persistence and pressure is effective - sometimes it’s the only thing that will get an issue resolved… :/

Ben Jackson 25 May 05

Ditto on the service job. Once you’ve spent 10 hours having people be rude to you you have a lot more empathy for the guy on the other end.

I think the same rules of professionalism one would apply to any vendor relationship apply to dealing with support staff. If things get hairy, go higher up. I prefer not to get mad, and I never make empty threats. I try to stay calm and focused on obtaining the results I need by any means necessary.

With respect to delayed responses, sometimes (more often that we’d like) support staff gets stretched thin. They might be dealing with a hardware upgrade, or an apache upgrade, or a new virus, or any number of things that can make you wish you had never picked up a mouse. Ask about response times rather than just assuming that support doesn’t care.

Jamie 26 May 05

It’s interesting to see how many people are frustrated by phone support. However, getting on the phone seems to be the most immediate way to get problems addressed.

When all is fubarred, what do you reach for first email support or phone support?

Nice Paul 26 May 05

When all is fubarred, what do you reach for first email support or phone support?

Phone, as at least then you stand a chance of geting something sorted within minutes rather than receiving an automated email reply saying they’ll try to glance over your email within 48 hours.

Darrel 26 May 05

It can make you feel like the world’s biggest jerk, but persistence and pressure is effective - sometimes it’s the only thing that will get an issue resolved…

An example of that is Handspring when they were around. I had a 12-week nightmare in trying to buy a PDA from them, getting overbilled, delayed delivery, etc.

Email after email went pretty much ignored. An email to the CEO with some explanation that word travels fast on the internet got it resolved within the hour.

Ask about response times rather than just assuming that support doesn’t care.

Again, good in theory, but in practice, doesn’t always work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told ‘a manager will call you back tomorrow’ only to find out that it was a complete lie.

When all is fubarred, what do you reach for first email support or phone support?

Email. But few companies can actually respond to email in any meaningful way, hence the need to then jump on the phone.

andrew 26 May 05

Sometimes it’s best to just cut your losses and move on. (unitedsux).

My favorite excuse I’ve ever gotten from a CSR was during my DirecTV debacle, when the guy speculated that the reason the installer didn’t show up was because maybe he’d gotten into a car accident. That was by far the low-point in any customer service exchange I’ve ever encountered.

I know it doesn’t matter to these companies, but if I can help it, I don’t fly United (which can be difficult out of Chicago). I have been a happy Dish Network customer for nearly 4 years, and if anyone asks my opinion, I always recommend against purchasing DirecTV service.

Wesley Walser 26 May 05

I would just like to say that I got great customer support from you guys last night. I sent an e-mail at 12:10 am, and had a response and fix within 20 mins.

Great job guys!

Kit Kendrick 26 May 05

I’d add “be willing to help solve your problem”. From airline snafus to product reurns to software support, I’ve always gotten a better response from “Here is my problem. What do I need to do to get this fixed fastest?” than “Here’s my problem. Make it go away.”

I recommend against the angry approach. If you come off as irrational, you’ve just shifted the rep’s priority from helping you to getting rid of you. Someone who starts off angry and abusive will probably not be satisfied no matter what you do, so why bother? There are times when you have to be forceful to get a response (e.g. from the rep who starts out only wanting to be rid of you…) but it’s always easier to escalate than to ramp down.

Scott 26 May 05

If you are using email or a web based support page, use a reasonably descriptive subject line. There’s nothing like being a support person and seeing a screen full of:
Re: Question
Re: bug
Re: Problem
whereas:
“Hardware lockup in configuration 3”
“Software drops data under heavy packet load”
“Flakey operation when WOMBAT_MODE enabled”
is much more useful, especially when you’re trying to look for or revisit a particular issue. Let’s see, was it “bug” or “problem” or “issue” or “question”?

flaime 26 May 05

How to be a great customer:

Pay your bill. If the bill is paid, the customer is always right, and the customer support better be up to snuff. If I pay money for a product and it doesn’t work, I don’t want the run around about how I wasn’t nice enought to the customer service rep when I called and said why isn’t this product working as advertised? Customers purchasing the product pays the customer service reps wage…a fact that entirely too many customer service reps forget.

Anonymous Coward 26 May 05

The customer isn’t always right. The “entitlement to right” just because you pay for something is an unfortunate myth. Customers can be unreasonable, insulting, abusive, and downright wrong more often than they think. Paying for something doesn’t make you right.

Rob 26 May 05

Scott — agreed, but you also left out a fairly typical marginally-helpful case: where the customer uses the product’s name as the subject line.

Sure, you at least know which product they’re having a problem with, but good luck finding that message again. If customers can provide both the product and a succinct description of the problem in a subject line, it’s much easier to deal with initially and come back to later.

It’s rather sad that the high point of my week is when someone with a support request actually summarizes the problem in the subject line.

Anonymous2 26 May 05

The reason so many emails start out with “I doubt a real person is reading this” or “I know you can’t help, but… ” is because too many companies use autoresponders, and too many companies don’t allow the customer service reps to do anything.

For example, I once wrote a major consumer products company to find the U.S. equivalent of a hair care product I bought in Ireland. I was told that there were no plans to introduce the product in question in Canada. And I wasn’t even complaining! I wanted to be there customer, but clearly, turning me into one was not a priority.

My pet peeves? Starting off an IVR system with “your call is very important to us” (no, it’s not; my call is costing you money and you’d really prefer that I just go away), and ending an unproductive call with “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” I know, I know, it’s a script, but if you haven’t helped me with the problem that I called about, (“sorry, sir, but that’s impossible, we can’t do that, our system won’t allow you to do that, there’s a penalty, yes, I know it’s not on the form, but the salesperson should have told you blah blah blah”) why would you be able to help me with something else?

Bottom line: most companies want to make the quarterly earnings and pay no attention to the long run. Otherwise, they would take care of customers or customer service reps alike.

Paul 26 May 05

Sounds to me like “tips for kissing my ass”. You’re there to serve the customers, not the other way around.

BryanJ 26 May 05

The real problem is the customers themselves. They want everything on the cheap (or for free) but demand top quality service, near instant responses, and completely professionally trained service reps.

Customer service is in the pits because companies have no choice. The market demands cheap products at cheap prices and something has to give.

Customers can’t have everything and pay nothing.

abr 26 May 05

flaime: “The customer is always right”. I’ve always thought of that cliché as a sort of shortening of “ACT AS IF the customer is always right”, as in “don’t make the customer feel stupid”, which, of course, you should never do.

Also, if a product has been advertised in a certain way, but doesn’t act the same, it’s not the support person’s fault. Treating him/her as if it is creates two people: one who just wants to vent anger, and one who just wants to hang up.

Matteo Fogli 27 May 05

Jason,
you seem to imply the customer service is working withing good standards, so in order to make sure everything goes smoothly, it’s the user who has to avoid pitfalls.

But the situation is very different. Call center here in Italy are understaffed, temp-staffed, numbers are rarely tool-free, deadlines are almost sistematically disattended, courtesy is not at home, calls are dropped, you are never given a common, coherent answer across calls, etc.

Wouldn’t it be better to ready a list of 10 tips managers and companies relying on customer care should do, before putting the burden on the user? There’s nothing wrong in your article, just… it does not apply here.

JF 27 May 05

I’m not shifting the burden to anybody, I’m just suggesting that both parties have a role in getting better service. Everyone needs to make an effort, be respectful, and be helpful to get problems solved.

Matteo Fogli 27 May 05

I guess a was a little annoying in how I phrased my comment. It just tells you how much customer service centers need to do here in Italy to take advantage of clients that try to help as much as possible.

Your 5 points are absolutely useful, when there is a similar approach on the other side. When it lacks, the relationship is ruined to an even greater extent.

Darrel 27 May 05

Pay your bill. If the bill is paid, the customer is always right

Not always: ;o)

http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/columnists/citizen_watchdog/11729451.htm

Customer service is in the pits because companies have no choice.

Ahahahaha! (You do have a point, but I’ve paid for PLENTY of expensive products…there is no direct correlation between the cost/profit of the product and the quality of support.)

diatribe 27 May 05

I feel, from being on the support side, that a customer should be kind of enough to at least try the suggestions we give them before telling us we’re wrong.

A guy was giving me grief because I asked him to do Step 1 of the resolution I provided him. He said he already re-installed the drivers and suggested that we skip right to Step 2. I politely let him know that Step 2 didn’t exist because Step 1 fixes the exact problem 100% of the time. He still refused to do STEP 1.

So, when contacting customer support, especially customer support your company pays for, please try the options we provide. After all, you are contacting us.

Have a great day.

diatribe

diatribe 27 May 05

Something I’ve found useful on the support side is creating a template email and making a few personalizations with each one that goes out to the customer.

Also, documenting a support interaction to its fullest is also helpful for other support reps. I hate to call support and they have no record that I called on X date with an issue. A real time web based customer contact manager is definitely needed.

later,
diatribe

Mike 27 May 05

Very good post. I work as an on-site support person, so I usually hear the tales of woes about support. I try not to get too involved because I don’t really know what happened.

Having said that, I think good support is getting harder to find. Indeed, many of the largest companies — the ones with the most visible support — are oftentimes the worst. When I do call, I try hard to follow the principles shown here, but it’s hard to stay cool sometimes, especially when the support person is simply wrong or they seem to hear the exact opposite of what you said.

Email support is even worse, I’m afraid. How many times have we seen support replies with erroneous information, responses that bear little connection to the original message, and web forms that request information so that the company can REPLY with the same form?

I recognize the author’s desire here — and I do think are LARGE part of the blame resides with customers — but which came first? Truly, legitimately bad customer support? Or customers with bad and/or negative attitudes?

I believe it’s the former.

But you’re right. It’s not the support representative’s fault.

Chet 31 May 05

“Don’t start with a threat” HAHA - I have a tendency to do this - once in a while it gets me instant results. On the other hand many a time I have gotten the person on the other side frustrated - which we then got nowhere quickly!

emily. 04 Jun 05

After reading the comments, I think a major problem is a perceived adversarial relationship between the consumer and the service provider.
This acrimony is perceived and perpetuated but by tech support workers and service workers who feel (and probably are) under-paid and under-appreciated and customers frustrated by service hindered by cost-cutting and de-personalization. Welcome to capitalism and globalization.
As a customer, I find that my most helpful attribute is patience. I have my limits, but the most frustrating thing I’ve found with tech support in India is not any sort of communication barrier but the amount of time I have to spend on hold to talk to someone. Luckily, with patience and time that’s about the worst I’ve had to deal with.

The belief of an us vs. them relationship, however, is not a problem for the author of this post—who is posting hints for what will help him help his customers best. This is not a problem for his customers who just want to help him help them. (And that was the specific point of this particular post, although it branches out in its helpfulness.)

Joe 19 Jul 05

It’s also all about the tone of your voice - a depp voice can sound threatening, a high voice, childlike and a monotone is dull and boring. A small thing you may say but still worth taking. Similarly to the new Samsung D600 which is what all call centre managers should have lol

Anonymous 29 Jul 05

As someone who often answers the phone and is asked to provide free support for people who don’t want to pay for it….

Please don’t start out by telling me how much you paid or for how many years you have been buying products, or how little you know. I give the same support to everyone, and all you’re doing is keeping me on the phone longer than I have to be. I have customers in front of me and if you were here in person, you’d be the one snarling about being kept waiting while I’m on the phone.

And please DO — do the things I suggest and don’t be doing other things (yes, I can hear you typing) while I’m trying to suggest them, and please DO be quiet and listen to what I’m saying rather than talking!

OK. Hanging up now.

Frances 13 Aug 05

please do the things you suggest? please, then, be sure they are sensible!

I have had an AOL rep tell me I had to reinstall both Windows and AOL - because he apparently wasn’t allowed by his script to tell me that the AOL software just WON’T do what I wanted. In this case I wanted to find a link to the text equivalent of a video news story on AOL’s welcome page - seems like a pretty basic task - either there is a link to such a story or there isn’t, right?

As it turns out, there isn’t any such link, but you CAN either search the entire current news archive by title, or lie about your connection quality and get a low-bandwidth video with fewer ads. But instead of the first step (admitting that I couldn’t do what I wanted, and would have to use a workaround) he was going to have me systematically destroy my computer until I was either too busy to bother him, or I could no longer get on the internet to bother him.

Is someone going to reasonably suggest that reinstalling Windows and/or AOL is going to add this missing feature - especially if corporate sees the “feature” as an undesirable way for users to avoid advertising?

I have had repeated encounters with AOL support like this - I regularly contact AOL on behalf of customers, and my experience is, if there is a simple straightforward solution to your problem, they are fairly effective (given that the problems they face include the “is it plugged in? to the right plug?” variety.

If not, though, the reps behave as if it will cost them their job to admit to AOL being less than perfect. They have no problem admitting their own ignorance - saying they don’t know something and will go research it - it’s just that if the research produces undesired results, they apparently aren’t allowed to tell you.

Any suggestions on dealing with THIS kind of customer support?

GO777 17 Oct 05


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rob 09 Nov 05

yeah right… i have worked in customer support for years and never have read such a self serving point of view as described in the original posting… a customer representative is just that, a representative of the company, to which they should understand their role as such… customer support should be there to SUPPORT the customer, not the other way around… leave the teachings of good manners to a customer’s mother… communication is the best vehicle in cust service matters, and it is not only the responsibility of the rep to derive good communication exchanges, but an art in itself… the problem isnt the customer, it is the process… maybe a more interactive or well designed customer complaint tool is necessary… i wouldnt know, but can say with every confidence that people paying for the service are not the root of the problem… although you havent stated that this is the case directly, i laughed throughout your listed tips to myself as you definately have eluded this to be the situation… i think any good customer should refute your advice with “oh, so i get to pay you money AND be taught good manners!?”

Ben 27 Jan 06

Amen to the very last post! I agree with you Rob. I am not saying you have to go out of your way to be a prick to someone who is trying to help you but you also don’t have to bend over and kiss their ass either.

With regards to all tech support reps being the same — ummm.. you tried to contact Intuit support, Dell Support, Microsoft Support, FedEX support.. and on and on… LATELY?? Talk about moronic individuals who have no business being in the industry!!!

HappyToNotBeInSupportAnymore 01 Feb 06

Rob and Ben,

You are right you are the customers, but the thing you don’t understand is when you call customer support your talking to a person. The author isn’t saying that you won’t get support or help by not following his idea’s. He’s saying that if you do follow the ideas, your generally going to have a better experience. Your definately don’t have to kiss their a$$, but if your not being polite to them, don’t be surprised when the won’t kiss yours either.

I worked as a Technical Support Manager (started off as one of the support technicians) in a WebHosting company. We had many people that we talked to on more than one occasion. In fact we knew many of them by voice. We made every effort to help every customer as best we could within the scope of our support. However, our desire to go beyond the scope was very much dependant on the way we were treated. If you were nice, we’d go out of our way to help with problems (many of which were not related at all to the business we were giving). If you were a jerk, you were told to go search on google, becuase it was outside of our support scope.

Viren 08 Feb 06

Poor support. Very bad response.

deanna 23 Mar 06

i do not agree

Soelas 31 Mar 06

I honestly agree with this post. However, I find most of the time whenever I’m calling customer support/service of ANY type the results are HORRIFIC.

I always ensure to be polite (at first) and provide short descriptives of my problem. I always have all the pertinent info on hand. I always do my homework before I make the phone call. I check FAQs, I read the instruction manuals, I read the troubleshooting guides.

I find that 90% of the time I know more about the product than the person on the other end of the phone. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that the person on the other end of the phone is usually of the mindset that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that the computer screen is right and the human on the other end of the phone describing the problem is wrong.

I do field service work and the one golden rule I do follow when providing service is. “When a customer describes the symptoms of the problems he is NOT lying. When he tells you his theory on WHY those symptoms came about he MIGHT be wrong”.

Noone ever actually thinks or tries to resolve a problem. 99% of customer service staff I’ve dealt with rely on 1 thing. Someone or something else to resolve the problem.

IN the last year I’ve had 1 person out of 15 CSR calls actually offer an alternative outside the regular policies to handle a problem. Other than that it’s been, “sorry, this is all I can do”,”I don’t know what else I can do”,”I’ll refer you to/pass the buck to”.

Managers are no different, they just have slightly better people skills. They still aren’t willing and/or empowered to do anything.

This is usually when the impoliteness comes. I’m sorry, but I am the paying customer. I’ve payed for a product/service and when it’s not performing how it should I’d like someone to be there to help out not make matters worse by confirming that I’m screwed. When someone drops the ball or passes the buck it’s a sign that they don’t care. The only stimulus at that time that MIGHT work is getting rude/angry/degrading/threatening.

Not to say that behavior is overly effective either. However, it does usually prompt the person to do MINIMUM service instead of none at all.

There are a few rules I do follow by when trying to get service.

1. Keep records of EVERYTHING. Full names of people you’ve talked to. Times you made and ended the calls. Times you got transferred to CSRb/Manager. What they’ve said/promised/answers to questions/technical data. This is most helpful when you have to actually take matters to court or the BBB. It’s true that the first few people you talk to might be in a position to be sympathetic with you. After that, you’re screwed. Upper management and VP’s, Sr. VPs, and Executive officers don’t care about anything except how they can avoid refuding you your money and keeping theirs. They are particularily good at dodging questions and putting a spin on issues (they didn’t get into their positions by being nice guys. They are political vultures). If you have all your facts together you stand a better chance of convincing them you aren’t just some disgruntled customer and that you have all your ducks in a row and are willing to go to court and actually HAVE the tools to win.
2. Be persistent. Even the laziest of lazy, deafest of deaf, most ignorant of ignorant will finally realize that you aren’t going away and they can’t get back to chatting online until they do “something” to make you go away.
3. Ask for someone who can get you what you want. If the person you are talking to can’t help you or does not have the authority to give you what you request then ask to speak to the person who CAN help you. There is no sense in voicing your requests to someone who can’t do what you ask. Most CSR staff are happy to pass the buck ;)
4. Constantly ask for feedback and documentation. Ask them to repeat what you’ve said. Ask a question about your problem so you know they fully understand what your problem is and what you want them to do about it. Tell them you want a copy of shipping docs/work orders/work order requests and contact names and numbers of the people who are handling your problem. If they don’t/can’t fufill your requests then ask WHY.
5. Know when to cut your losses. This is a really tough one for me to follow. Most corporations have set up crappy, vicious circle customer service systems. This is done for 2 reasons. 1. They’re CHEAP! Low cost. Better return to the investors. 2. They’re effective (on paper). They reduce the amount of claims and actual warranty costs. This is due to people who give up due to the crappy vicious circle customer service systems. Sometimes it’s just easier to hang up the phone and write off the whole problem and A. fix it yourself B. buy a new one C. Cut whatever it is out of your life.
6. is kind of optional. I always make sure that I follow through in what I’m saying to. CSR staff often scoff and make fun of the guy who says” IF you don’t repair my “blank” I’m gonna come down and throw it through your window!!!!”. If you say you’re going to do it. DO IT! If you say you’re gonna call back every 10 minutes then call back every ten minutes. If you’re going to take it to court then get on the phone to the lawyer and file suit. Most recently I asked a store manager if I had to drive 3 hours to head office and ask THEM for help. He called my bluff and said “go ahead, they won’t help you either.” I made the trip the next morning and you know what? He was right. They didn’t help me either, but he did start to listen a little to what I was asking.

KAREEM 08 Jun 06

Hai,

I’m trying to download the mysql 5.0 ,migrating software,workbench and administrator software. The link which you’ve mention to download is not working .Im in india and i’m trying to download last three days,I’m getting the message as “windown cannot be found”.Please sort it out as early as possible

Prashant Patnaik 06 Oct 06

Please let me know more on how to write proper professional emails as a customer support executive.

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