Understanding customer support

Support plays an important role in this. At Teambox we drive product direction in three ways:

  • Breakthrough innovations proposed by our design team.
  • Data-driven tests for interaction decisions, like sizes and arrangement.
  • Incremental improvement, by listening to user’s problems and ideas.

I personally love getting involved in support. In doing so, a few anonymous users became close friends that now help me understand what people need from our software.

I find that support tickets come from users in different phases of adoption. Let me explain with the hope of helping you understand your users and perhaps helping users understand how support operates.

Support requests from new users

New users come to your product with an idea of what it should do. This judgement is built from their experience with previous solutions and by their perception of what your app does. The more innovative your product is, the more new users will be puzzled.

Let’s say you are building a completely different image editing software for photography. Users coming from Photoshop will ask how to use your software to do things they did with Photoshop. They want to achieve the old result with the new tool, and the metaphor of “a new kind of Photoshop” is very powerful in their minds.

In this period what you want to do is user education. Provide guides, tips, example workflows. Add suggestions where the user is likely to have doubts about how something should be done.

You will often get requests saying: “We absolutely need XYZ feature to use your product, it’s worthless otherwise”. You will be tempted to implement them, in an effort to please the newcomers. My advice is don’t do it. Follow your product direction, and make others buy into it. Innovating is hard.

But of course, follow your common sense. If everybody agrees that something is wrong, maybe it is wrong.

Users who know better than you

Some of your users will have a deep understanding of your tool, and they will strive to help improve it.

You will be very lucky to have them. They are fans and evangelizers that are willing to get in touch. Answer them promptly. Learn from them. They are very different from the new confused users we mentioned before. New users write you from confusion, heavy users write you from experience.

When responding to their questions, you are helping your product be more useful for heavy users. Remember they are not the majority of your userbase. Power features should be hidden from new users so they are not overwhelmed. It’s a good practice to keep them as settings or additional resources.

Angry users and quitters

Yes, no matter how good you think you are you will still get these. And they will grow as you become more successful.

When dealing with an angry user, we need to learn from what caused the situation. Maybe it stemmed from waiting for weeks in support. Maybe the user was transferred to different support people each time, and had to explain the whole situation for the fifth time.

If it’s related to the quality of support or service, you might want to set up metrics that allow you to act before it’s too late: Response time, activity of a user, etc.

Once a user reaches the point of wanting to leave your system, here’s a tip: Make it easy, be as helpful as possible. How many time has a phone company pissed you off by making it hard to move away? Maybe you went back with them after some time because you didn’t have better choices. Realize that you might not have the luxury of forcing your users to come back. So make leaving your service a good experience, and users might consider you again in the future.

Additional thoughts

Handling support by email and phone is possible, but when you scale to hundreds of thousands of users it just won’t cut it anymore.

You’ll want to turn individual requests into actionable data. Build communities for collective feedback and voting ideas, like Uservoice. Build support ticket systems closely tied to your users’ identities, so they don’t need to identify themselves every time they contact you.

Remember: Great support is one of the ways of keeping a vibrant and active userbase!