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It’s time to start treating support as part of the user experience

4 min read
Lade Tawak  •  Aug 2, 2019
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In an ideal world, our products would be so usable and understandable that users would never have to contact support.

But we all know better.

Users have questions or problems all day and night, and they will call, email, or DM you for help. While this is happening, we can be so focused on designing pixel-perfect screens and “optimizing the user experience” that we forget that the experience encompasses more than the product we’re building. 

Support is the underutilized tool in the product design toolbox. It’s a chance to make the entire experience better while gathering key insights to improve the product.

In this article, I will talk about how customer support can improve the user experience and what steps you can take to provide the best experience through support. 

How customer support is linked to the user experience

The user’s experience encompasses all their interaction with your organization. You want to ensure that at every point in their journey, their needs are met and they come away satisfied with their experience. Furthermore, humannegativity bias means that we’re more likely to remember the bad stuff than the good stuff.

For example, if I go to a restaurant and I really enjoyed the food (“the main product”), but experienced poor service, I’m likely to rate my general experience as poor. As a UX Researcher and Consultant, I have worked with various startups and have seen how people’s treatment with customer service can positively or negatively color their entire experience of using a product or service. When there is great customer support, even the most irate customer can become your best promoter.

How to provide the best experience with customer support

I’ll provide some guidelines for responding to customer complaints and inquiries whether on social media or on whatever customer support software you use (Zendesk, Freshdesk, Salesforce, SmallChat, Intercom, HelpScout, Drift are some of the best in class with varying price points and features).

Providing the best customer support starts with having the customer at the center. You have to prioritize your users, listen to them, and apologize when they’re dissatisfied. Good customer service can make users more loyal and more willing to recommend the business to others, and according to the same report by New Voice Media, 42% of people have stopped using a business as a result of experiencing poor customer service.

“The user’s experience encompasses all their interaction with your organization. You want to ensure that at every point in their journey, their needs are met and they come away satisfied.”

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While you may intellectually know support can contribute to the experience, it can be hard to know where to start. So below, I outline some of the main principles to keep in mind: 

Be proactive

When you know that something is wrong, don’t wait for multiple users to angrily contact you. Take the first step and inform your users about what’s happening, what you’re doing to resolve the situation, and what they have to do on their own end.

For example, if you are a financial services provider and are experiencing some unplanned downtime where your users can’t successfully complete transactions, send an email or notification to inform them of the issue and when you expect to resolve it. 

If you’re moving a customer ticket somewhere else, let them know who you’re handing it off to and give them a timeline, but remember to keep it realistic.

Never make a promise you can’t keep

Whenever there is a situation, don’t just say something to get the user off the line. In the bid to keep the customer happy, you might be tempted to just say anything and make all kinds of promises.

“When you know that something is wrong, don’t wait for multiple users to angrily contact you.”

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If you make a promise to a customer, you have to fulfill it. If you don’t, you only risk making them more upset and worsen their perception of your business.

Always respond quickly and politely

Always start responses with greetings and introduce yourself to the customer. Remember to do this whether the customer contacts you via chat, email, or social media.

Customer: “hello”

Support: “Hello [customer name], good [time of day]. My name is X, how may I help you today?” OR “hello [customer name], good [time of day]. My name is X, what can I do for you this [time of day]

Please note that you should only ask how you can help if they haven’t already stated the issue. In this case, you can apologise, then ask them to clarify or provide whatever information you need to help them resolve it.

Customer: “Hello, I have been trying to do [X] from the app but it’s not working.”

Support: “I’m sorry about that. Could you please provide [Y] so I can [Z].”

If you get a customer support message in whatever chat software you decide to go with, but for some reason, can’t respond to it quickly enough, send the user an email (if you have their information). 

If the complaint or inquiry wasn’t already stated:

Hello [Customer Name],

My name is X and I’m contacting you from [Organization] because you contacted support. We apologize for not getting in touch immediately. What can I help you with today?

If the complaint or inquiry was already stated:

Hello [Customer Name],

My name is X and I’m contacting you from [Organisation] concerning your [complaint/inquiry] about Y. In order to resolve this, I will have to [Z]…

If the solution or answer is something you can answer immediately, then include it in the email and add “is there anything else I can help you with?” or something similar.

Be consistent

In order to reduce the risk of sending mixed messages or leaving support staff stuck, it’s best to have scripts and guides that your staff can use. The examples in this article are formal but aim to create something that works for your brand and industry and fits into your own tone and style. For more on how to create guidelines for your support team, you can check these links

How to deal with the messy stuff

1. Apologize to the customer.

If the customer makes a complaint, apologize for the bad experience. “I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience with this.” If you need them to provide details, you can ask them in such a manner: “Could you provide the following details so I can look into it.”

Never tell a customer to calm down. Nothing is more annoying than being told to calm down. You want to show that you understand their pain and you want to help them resolve whatever issue it is. You can say something along the lines of: “I understand how frustrating this must be for you. Please give me a moment while I try to [action].” This example was shared with me by 

2. Be kind

Ask questions that will help you understand the customer’s context. Remember, a key principle of design is understanding your users, another is empathy. Customer support is a great avenue to implement these principles by asking relevant questions and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.

Be careful not to ask questions in a way that could be seen as condescending. The best way to approach a support issue is from the perspective of centering your user and making them as happy as possible. 

This also extends to when you’re done speaking with the customer. After a usability test, you wouldn’t call your participant an idiot for not being able to complete a task, so don’t do it with a customer who needs help. How you talk about your customers is just as important as how you talk to them.

3. Let the customer know you’re working on a solution

Don’t be silent when you’re working on the solution. Tell them what you’re doing and how long it might take to sort it. Don’t exaggerate the time or give an unrealistic time frame. “Give me a few minutes to check … so I can confirm …” OR “I’m checking … please give me a few minutes.”

This way, you’re carrying them along with whatever you’re doing and ensuring them that their issue is being attended to.

4. Say thank you

Once the issue has been resolved, say thank you to the customer for bringing it to your attention. Then continue the conversation by asking if there’s anything else you can do for them: “Thank you for bringing this to our notice/attention. I hope I’ve been able to satisfactorily resolve this for you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

5. Follow up

Especially with recurring issues. Send an email to the customer following up on the issue they complained about to find out if they’re still experiencing it or if they have any new complaints or inquiries.

Hello [Customer name],

I’m contacting you from [Organisation] support to know if you’re still experiencing problems with [issue]. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you are or if you have any other questions. We’re more than happy to help you.

How to deal with inquiries or feature requests

When customers ask for information on how to do something or request features to be added, you should guide them to the right place with a course of action they can take.

When such features are not available, you should politely tell them that it’s not and, when appropriate, give a reason.

This feedback can also help provide direction for user research into existing features and services, and even help you identify new features to add to your product. You can add this feedback to an existing repository under the tag “customer support insights” or whatever works for you, or you can create a new repository focused entirely on feedback gleaned from customer support. This can be a simple Dropbox document or Google Sheet. 

From this repository, you can follow the same process you use internally to determine how you handle new feature, product or service ideas. This can be an internal workshop, a sprint or conducting primary or secondary research.

Scenario A: Customer inquiries about a feature that’s not available or no longer supported.

  • If the feature is not available, express regret that it isn’t.
  • Provide alternatives: “However, if you have/do [Z], you can do [goal/action] by [steps 1, 2, 3].” If there’s an article or video with instructions, link to it.
  • If you’re working on making the feature available, let them know. Do not say you’re working on making the feature available if you aren’t.
  • Once the query has been attended to, close by asking if there’s anything else you can assist with.
  • For a feature that’s no longer supported, let them know why the feature is no longer available: “Unfortunately, X is no longer available because of Y…” And then launch into some of the other features that they might find useful. 

Scenario B: Customer inquiries about an available feature

If a feature is available or still supported and a user contacts you to ask about it, don’t just say “Yes it’s available” and end it there. This is an opportunity to provide more value to the customer.

Tell them it is available and provide the steps they need to take to access it and share any links that can help them in using it or setting it up. For example, in a recent conversation with customer support for my domain provider, I needed to provide some information that could only be found on my Profile. Instead of just telling me to check my account, the customer support representative sent me a link to the specific part of my account where I could find the information.

Always provide the user with directions and next steps.

Scenario C: Customer makes a feature request

Whenever users make a feature request or suggestion, always give them feedback and let them know you appreciate the fact that they gave you this feedback.

Customer: can you guys add X?

Support: Hello [customer name], thank you for this suggestion. We are currently working on how to make it possible to do X. We will send an email to update you when X is possible.

As a designer, ask your manager and/or the head of support if you can spend some time listening in on support calls or even handling some yourself. 

Interested in exploring the world of support further? Here’s some additional reading: