Sarah Hatter on Humanising the Web

Are you saying ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ and ‘Thank You for the Feedback?’. Is your customer support leaving your paying customers feeling more exasperated than fulfilled?

Stop worrying about being professional, and worry about being human in your customer service. In this short but sweet talk from Sarah Hatter of CoSupport, she explains how.

Find Sarah’s talk video, transcript, and more from Sarah below.

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Business and software and everyone here has built business or working for amazing businesses. I did a whole presentation that’s charts and graphs and percentages and it’s a lot of science and a lot of math and about a year of research that we put into this great presentation and I didn’t bring that one. Instead, I brought one that has a lot of animated gifs in it, and a lot of pictures and it’s mostly because, I have a lot of fun doing what I do, which is consulting people on how to be better on the web and be better with their customers. To speak better. To write better. To Tweet better. All that kind of stuff, so, I figured, it’s exciting. Let’s be excited about it.

So, the first slide is going to be a little bit of an introduction into how I support customer support. You’ll notice that I don’t call it customer service. I call it customer support. Derek and I have had a, we’ve come to blows about this last night, it was very unpretty, we hate each other. He’s suing me, just kidding. [laughs]

The reason we don’t call it customer service, is because those words to me conjure up visually, experiences that aren’t fun, right. And I think about these people who typically run customer service departments of big enterprise software companies, or maybe Heathrow Airport, or some horrible place that you have to call.

I think about this comic from The Oatmeal called, why I would rather be punched in the testicles than call customer service. [laughs] That is pretty popular; I think you should Google it. I think about this situation. I think about horrible, horrible experiences that people have with those two words, customer service. [laughter]

So, by tweaking the language that we use, by just using one different word, service versus support, already we set ourselves, against, away from those horrible experiences, right, and we kind of step into this place where we realize that one of these things is relational, helpful and thoughtful and the other one is just a transactional experience where, I have a problem, we walk away from each other.

Transaction versus relational is the big theme about what we’re going to talk about today

We want people to have relational support, care, help, whatever you want to call it. As long as you’re not calling it like, customer ninja, success, loyalty or whatever. The cutesy names really bother me. Like, you ever hear of anyone, like, you don’t have, like a cardiovascular surgeon isn’t like a heart success ninja. [laughter] Or like, there’s the, you never hear someone being like, you know, I don’t know, like a perpetrator defence guru. You just don’t hear it. So there’s no reason for cutesy names. That why I don’t think, I think it’s a little bit different than calling it customer service versus customer support.

So what really got me thinking about this theme was this quote from Sydney J. Harris, The real danger is not when computers begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers. I’ve been ruminating on that quote for the past couple of years because I see people approaching customer service as a profit centre. As a sales lead, as an on boarding situation, and not as a way to have great relationships with people who spend money on products that you build. That’s really like, the end of the day, it’s not that they spend money and you make money and you get a big company and you grow a big company and you build the best pier in Sweden. Although that’s like the ideal situation. At the end of the day these are still human beings that we want to have great relationships with.

So, if we think about the small tweak of customer service versus customer support, we’re going to go into three other small tweaks that everyone can start using. You can just choose one or you can choose all three. I would recommend maybe probably all three of them.

The number one thing that we’re going to tweak today, is saying, no.

How many of you guys have heard the statement, say no by default? Does that ring any bells? Derek? [laughs] Say no by default. About five or six years ago, this became a mantra for people building web apps. The implication is, when people write you and say, I love your app but I wish it did this, or, I need it to do this, or, it doesn’t have this. The implication is that when customers say I want this in your product and please try to do this, and I would love it if you do this, you just say, no sorry, and move on with it. I don’t like that because I think the implication beyond just no is that you’re saying, I don’t really care about my customers.

So, what we do every year with my company is, we secret shop large online retailers, airlines, people like Paypal, Comcast, Apple, Amazon. All of these people, a little bit over a hundred, and we send them the exact same email. We do it every January and the email is essentially a feature request for a new user, do you have this, I would love to use it. And then, we pull who writes us back and it’s maybe a third of those companies. So some of these are really big names that you don’t expect them to write you back. Some of them are smaller names that don’t write you back and that’s surprising, right.

So, here’s what happens, we take all of those responses that we get. Maybe about thirty-five or so, and we average out the responses to see how people are replying to customers on a regular every day, sort of basis, and this is the email that we end up with.

First of all, it starts with, hello. How many of you guys start emails with hello? Hands? Few of them. OK, this enrages me when I see this. This is like the worse thing in the world that I could ever see in an email. Second thing worse thing in the world that I can ever see in an email. The reason I don’t like this is because, there’s nothing personal about saying hello, whatsoever. It’s removed and it’s static. I have a lot of LG appliances in my home and every time I turn them on they say, hello, and it sounds like a little robot voice and I hear a little robot voice writing me an email.

So the next part of this is the averaged out answer. Thank you for contacting our customer service team. Unfortunately, we have no time to add new features to our products at this time. We appreciate your feedback and hope that you continue to enjoy using our product. Reply to this email if you have more questions or comments. Sincerely, that’s another one. I don’t know why people are using sincerely in customer support emails. Product team. In a continuing effort to provide our customers with the best product experience, we randomly select customers like you to participate in surveys. Your fee- this is gross, I can’t even look at it anymore. It’s really like some of the worse stuff ever. We go back to it. I started picking out all of the terrible things about it and by the end I just started crossing everything off.

The reason is, is that these are not, this is not an email that I would write to my friend if they asked me, hey that thing that you guys built is really cool but, what if it did this. I wouldn’t write them back and say, no we have no plans to add that but take my survey about your customer experience. I hope you enjoy my product more. Like, that’s just, you wouldn’t do that.

So instead, what we would say is something like, Hi Mark, we’d actually use the person’s name, and we’d add an exclamation point or we’d make it a little more friendly and informal so that people know that there are other people at the end of the line writing this email. We’d say, thanks for the great idea. It’s one we’ve heard before; we’re definitely going to consider it. It may not be something we’re able to add right away, but since it seems like it’d be a great addition to the product, I’ll make sure the right people have it on their list for later, and my name is down here with my actual help team, my title.

No, shuts down conversations. It’s completely impersonal, it’s formal, it’s professional, it’s unenthusiastic, it’s completely disinterested and to actually have the balls to ask me to take a survey about your product when you’ve written me an email like that is enraging to someone who’s trying to get a great relational experience from who I’m spending money with, right. [outside of presentation Q&A]

The big point of this is that you’re deciding what message to send that’s not necessarily the words you’re using, although those are important, but it’s the tone that comes across through those words. So, we get into this idea of like, just like you asked, say no without saying no. It really doesn’t matter if you’re going to add the feature. There’s no promises in that email that we send. There are no promises that said, there’s no guarantee, but there is a guarantee that we listen to you. That we read you email. We read your email enough to know your first name and to give you our name, and to tell you, we have a relationship now, right.

So using all of these other words makes it a much better interaction with the person who took the time out of their day to find your email address to write you, to ask you a question. You have to remember too, when it comes to feature request, it’s not just always someone bugging you because they don’t like your product, it’s someone actually wants to use your product more and so they’re trying to make it even better for them to use, so they can use it more and probably tell more people about it. There’s nothing for us to get annoyed about in that scenario.

So, pictures, good? Good on pictures? OK, next one. This is the second tweak we’re going to make to our language and this is a big one for me. This is an apology I guess is the word we’re going to use for this although it’s really not, it’s just a statement of fact. It’s sort of like when you compliment people. Like if I were to see Mark in his butterfly shirt, and if I were to say, I like your shirt. That’s not a compliment. It sounds like a compliment but all it’s doing is stating a fact in my taste in shirts. If I were to say, you got great taste in shirts Mark. [laughing] That’s a compliment on Mark, right. So, it may not be true all the time, but it is a compliment on Mark and necessarily on me. So we’re going to talk about apologizing in that kind of thought life. Is it an apology, or is it a statement of fact.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk, we just talked about email, we’re going to talk about Twitter now, which is gross in so many ways but it’s essential in customer support these days. You can’t really avoid it. This is one of my favourite quotes in the world from my business partner. Twitter is the small claims court of customer support. It is, you can’t get away from it. People know that they can go to Twitter and complain and you have to do something about it because everyone’s seeing it. It’s a historical record, it’s a historical record of your response to problems, and it’s a historical record of people’s problems with you.

So we’re going to go through, I know you guys got my book in your little gift bag or whatever. This story is one of those chapters in the book. It’s about Richard Lawson, the comedian, who had an issue with Time Warner Cable, terrible cable company in the U.S., and took to Twitter to vent about it. He wasn’t actually seriously venting about it. He was just jokingly venting, because he said, Thanks Time Warner Cable, or whoever, for completely failing to do a service I pay you $200 a month to do. Great doing business with you. This isn’t necessarily a, great, I hate you, I have a problem, fix it for me, it was a vent, but Time Warner Cable and all of their enterprise conglomerate smarts came back with, I apologize for the DVR trouble. Can you please DM your account information and we can assist. Probably a robot wrote that. Richard Lawson replied, DM you my account information? You have my name. Find my account and give me a call. I pay your $2,400 a year. [laughter] They wrote back; we would be happy to assist you resolve your issue. In order to do so we would need some account information please. He wrote back again; does a robot run TWCables help? Is that the problem? If that’s the case, I refuse to apologize to robots. My parents taught me better. [laughter] Time Warner Cable wrote; we are not robots. We are here to help and he’s like, not robots, just incompetent humans.

So, I don’t like this interaction either, because there’s this weird sense of like, Time Warner Cable thinks that they are doing what they should be doing. Someone complained about us on Twitter, we replied to them on Twitter. We need information, we asked for the information, but they’re not getting the nuance of human behaviour in the social media structure, right. This person was frustrated and the funniest part about this story, was that he wasn’t frustrated over something like, my flight was cancelled and I can’t get to my daughter’s wedding. He was frustrated because he’s a TV critic and they didn’t record American Idol for him.

The problem with the response was starting with this insincerity and lack of humanity from this huge company. Where if this was maybe a startup or a smaller company, they might have the know how to be like, let’s talk to this person like a real person and say, gosh, that sucks, I’m so sorry about that. So then we can tweak our language when we’re talking about apologizing in any situation, email, Twitter, whatever you want, but mostly social media because these are public historical records. We say things like; I’m so sorry this happened! I’ll look into the issue and get back to you. I know this was a huge disruption for your day. I’m sorry you ran into this trouble. These are not, we apologize for the inconvenience. They say the same thing, just like, customer support and customer service may seem to be the same thing, but they’re vastly different in the way that they’re taken from the customer and the way that they’re portrayed. So, any questions on that one? So you’re good? [laughs]

OK, next one, and this is the last one we’re going to talk about. I know I’m blazing through these but it is after lunch. My favourite one in the whole wide world,

So, “thanks you for your feedback”

Has anyone heard about me talk about this before? I know Mark has. Actually crossed off the word feedback from the bags, and feedback forms. [laughs] This is how those words make me feel when I read, thank you for your feedback. [laughter] It literally puts me, if anyone says this to me ever, it puts me into such a rage, and I’ve talked to my therapist about this. I think I have anger issues right now, right.

So, the reason I don’t like this is because of the word feedback. Feedback is not someone taking the time to tell you how they feel about your product or your business. Feedback is the sound that my microphone was making. It’s the sound that a guitar makes when it gets too close to a hot mike and everyone ducks and covers their ears. That’s the visual image of what you’re saying to customers when they take the time to write you, that their words to you make you duck and cover, right. So, what can you say better. Thanks for telling me how you feel about this. Some sort of message, very, very different reception. So that’s what these three things do right. We’re saying no in a different way. We’re apologizing in a different way and we’re thanking people for taking the time in a different way.

The reason I don’t like, thank you for your feedback, again, is because it’s this old standard, just like, we apologize for the inconvenience. I was in, I’ve been in London for most of the summer and I hear it on the tube every hour. We apologize for the inconvenience. It’s like this robotic thing that they think sounds professional, but it doesn’t and the thing is, you don’t want to just mimic this professional image that you’ve heard from other people or seen on websites. If you’re building the next big, you know, I don’t know, tinder for dogs using Facebook messaging, and you know you’re going to make a million dollars and you’re going to sell it to whomever and whatever. You’re going to build the best website and it’s going to be the slickest website, and you’re going to have a button, and your help button is not going to say, for help, send us a fax and we’ll reply to you by carrier pigeon.

If you’re not okay using old, outdated, irrelevant technology, why are you using old outdated language to talk to your customers? These people who are investing in what you’re building. These people should really be treated like royalty, like VIPs when they come to the door, when they take the time to talk to you. And using empty words like this doesn’t tell your customer we care about you. We’re humans. It tells your customers, we’re robots, this is automated. We’re using a script. It’s a template. We didn’t even read your email. It’s just an auto-reply. Using big full words actually shocks people because they realize, someone just read what I wrote. Someone’s listening to me. Someone is actually thinking that they’re going to spend the time listening to what I have to say and I know it’s weird. I don’t know how this is going to be received by a strictly European, or UK audience, but I always tell people, I know it’s going to be weird when you start writing this way because they’re not your words but your words are crap, and that’s one of the bigger problems that we have, and you don’t have to go overboard, you don’t have to be cheerleader, you don’t have to be, like, you know, this guy. [laughs] You have to find a balance that works for you, right. You got to find a balance that works for you, that sounds comfortable for you, but that gets you out of the rut of just thinking that customer support or customer service is this burden of complaints that you have to slog through. It’s really not. If you flip it around and realize that we’re all human beings here. A human being took the time to write me an email, I’m going to take the time to be human back to them. It’ll really change everything about the way that your business is perceived from customers.

So, quick references, how do we start? This is it. You can pick one of these, or you can pick all of them. You can pick one of those three tweaks to do, but starting now, I would just really, really encourage you guys to think about little tiny words that you’re saying. Anytime inconvenience or unfortunately pops up, try to replace it with something else.

This is another one of my very, very favourite quotes because I think it speaks to where we are right now, and the funny thing about these quotes is that both of them are like sixty years ago. We’re still struggling with this thing weird thing with technology about how do we be human beings behind the robots right. How do we not let the robot zombie speak take over. I think it just has to come down to what our intentions are with people. So, that’s it. Quick, quick, quick talk. Lightning talk almost.

Any questions? Any other questions? Yes?

Q: What if you would get an email from somebody who just completely misconfigured their email client and you just don’t have their name?

A: I would say, hi there. In the U.S., what we typically do, we would say, Hi there, like hi there, hiya, whatever, cheers mate, I don’t know what the equivalent would be, but it would be something other than a formal introduction. Some other thing. If you don’t know their name, and you can’t figure out their name, it’s got some weird email address, I would just try to still substitute that with something light and fun and informal. Good, yes?

Q: Hi, I’m Anna from Redgate Ventures. I was wondering how this works in an international context where you don’t know how it’s going to be taken by the person on the other end. If it might seem really rude to use their first name.

A: Well, it’s funny that you should say that because most of what we find in America is, we’re very casual in America, we’re extremely informal and very casual, so something like, we apologize for the inconvenience enrages us, like that’s considered very rude. I would say, think about who your audience is, ’cause your audience is going to change. You’re not going to always have strictly American, strictly European, strictly English people. You’re not going to just have that. I would say figure out a way to know your audience in that context and tweak it so that you’re not completely going overboard. Remember, this is the big thing right here, is that there’s balance to this. There’s balance to this, right. So, if you know that this specific culture that you’re writing to is going to offended if you use their first name, don’t use their first name, but you can still say hi, right.

Q: [inaudible]

A: That digs into a bigger bit of consulting because you should know you demographics on every single incoming email. You should be using an email client that shows you their demographics or has a user case string at the bottom of the email. So, that, you can hire co-support and we can look into that for you but by then…[laughs] I would say that gets back to using outdated technology that’s not helping you know your customers better, right. Over here, yes?

Q: Sarah, so the question is, how far is too far? What we see here is we insert words that are more personal. So, OMG, LOL, all these things is too far I guess. How do we strike a balance between a communication that you would have, and a communication that’s too formal?

A: Start with one thing. Start with one thing that tweaks it just a little bit. So it was like I was saying before, you can pick all three, you can pick one of these things. You can pick one of these words, or you can pick one of these words, but just try one thing and go from there. It will be shocking to you in your culture if you just replace all these things you’re saying and replace them with all these other things. It’s not going to sound sincere, but if you’re worried about overdoing it, or not knowing the culture or not knowing who your audience it, start with one thing. What you’ll really see very quickly, is when you’re in communication with customers very often is, they’ll come back and mimic that tone to you. So you can very easily read an email from someone and know where they’re coming from, and bring it back and make it a little more casual. They’ll mimic it back and be even more causal for you. So you don’t have to include gifs and links and funny pictures in every email that you send, but start with one thing. Yes, yes? Hi.

Q: Hi, I’m Bridgette from You Can Book Me. I just wanted to get your views on, so far you’ve been talking about email communication, what about the new, things like online chat and having online helpers, what do you think about that?

A: I, should you use them, or what should you say about them?

Q: The minute you have it, you have an informal interaction with people. So also, do you think that you actually get better outcomes with people if you’re using online chat?

A: I do. We also ran a lot of analytics in my very scientific presentation, I didn’t bring, ’cause it would be boring, we ran a lot of analytics on online chat and we found that over the course of a year with our customers, who are large enterprise customers, our customers are like the Googles and Facebooks and whatever, online chat, 82% of people who initiated online chat, the very first thing they said was, are you a robot, or something of that. Is this a person, are you a robot. Something of that sort. That’s 82% of people, you know, it was hundreds of thousands of interactions on chat. So, chat is a really great way, the problem with chat is that it’s mostly outsourced, and if you’re going to outsource it, you need to train those people to have a less formal, little bit more normal English speaking conversation. If you’re going to do it in house, it’s a great way to start with having very informal interactions, because people want to get off live chat as soon as possible, and it’s typically more web savvy people. It’s people who just want a quick answer from you and they’re not going to be offended if you say hi or cheers or whatever. So, it’s a great place to start, like you were saying, where do you start with this, if you do live chat, it’s wonderful to experiment there, but just keep in mind that, because of the people using live chat, they’re more apt to be frustrated by professional, formal communication. Does that answer your question? Yeah, okay.

Q: Okay, regarding your, say no to your customer, so we don’t say no. We are on the enterprise market, so instead, what we say is, the future is definitely coming, six months, eight months down line.

A: Wow, you did!

Q: I haven’t finished yet, but we use it as a premium feature, if you want it now, you can pay for it.

A: Wow. OK, so what he was saying, is instead of saying no, they actually reply to customers saying that it’s coming six to eight months down the line. So they put almost a guarantee in there, or they offer it as a premium feature for that person for a fee. [laughs] Which I think is pretty bold. It would scare me to put a timeline on something like that because, these are very open and kind of vague, and all they do is tell people we’re listening to you, we hear you, we’re there, but saying it’s coming is…

Q: I think yeah, it’s not every feature but most of the time when somebody’s taking time to write to you, they know the product and they know exactly what’s missing, and that’s something a nice feature to add to a product anyway, so.

A: One over, how many more, how many more do we have? Right here? Hi.

Q: How much variation have you seen between the different context that people get in contact with you through? So, do you see a difference in how casual, if you like, or how human the communication is, or how human they want to be, between say, email and telephone. That video, you can see someone’s face, that’s also going to be a very personal communication. Do you see any noticeable variation in terms of how human you should be depending on the channel and depending on why they want to get in touch? Like it was a billing thing, maybe they want formality, if it’s something else, maybe…

A: Billing things they don’t notice, OK, so let’s say it’s a billing email, it’s not necessarily formality that they are looking for, and its competence. And competence can be casual, and it can be quick. It doesn’t have to be a, dear sir, we looked into the transaction and your question per your email, data, da, da, da, da, da. It can be, sorry you had this trouble. I looked for it for you, here’s what I found, bullet point, bullet point, bullet point, right. It’s competence that people are looking for, not necessarily this professionalism. Twitter, social media, Instagram, Facebook, whatever you want, people want a quick reply from a very casual, very human sounding person. Live chat, pretty much the same thing, I would say. Phone support is really different. It’s hard to say on phone support. I’m not the biggest fan of phone support. The reason, because people don’t do it very well. Phone support, I guess my only tip would be, speak English very clearly, right. Next one?

Q: I’m Mike from X Capital. The question is, you were sort of saying it has to be very personal, very direct, and at the same time, there’s an implied lie, in some of this is lies, right? A: well, no. I won’t agree with that.

Q: The point is that, maybe you can go in to explain, because you were saying, even if I have no intention whatsoever, of actually introducing that feature, I will still say, thank you, we’re definitely thinking about it, I’ll make sure I get my team, blah, blah, blah.

A: No, that’s not what I said.

Q: OK, so the point is that, how far do you think that it’s more important to also be trying to be truthful to the customer and actually say the truth, or push it a little bit and say, well, it’s very important and we’re thinking about it and we will try to do it, but just not right now.

A: No, so that’s not actually what I said. It’s a little bit different interpretation of what I said. What we said was that, we heard about this feature, we know people want to have this feature, we’re going to look into it and keep it in mind, but we don’t make any promises or guarantees. In the book that you got, the great thing about you guys having that book is that there’s answers to that exact question in the book, and it’s based on, what’s the scenario, right. If you know you’re not going to add a product, you know you’re not going to add a feature, then your response should still be, thanks so much for sending this in, it’s great to hear people’s ideas. I don’t think that we’re going to be able to add this, and here’s why. This isn’t something that’s going to work for our app and here’s why. We don’t have any plans to add that at this time, but we know of this other app that has that functionality you should check out. Those are three options for that. None of this is templated for that and it’s not just like, they ask that, you say this. It should be honest, it should be truthful, but it doesn’t have to be, flat, no, go away. That’s the big point of it, right. Next one?

Q: Hi, so you talked about replacing the words. So for example, for the cheap trains as opposed to saying, we apologize for the inconvenience caused, they could say something like, and I’m so sorry, thanks for bearing with us. So, for me, my concern would be that, overtime, users would just get accustomed to your new words…

A: Yeah, and then you change them again.

Q: But do you not worry that that’s kind of a race that you’re in? So the talk from yesterday by Derek was actually, changing your customer service to instead, give them the refunds or stuff like that, and to me that has a much, would be much better than just tweaking the words every so often.

A: But you should always be tweaking your words. That’s the thing. You should always be tweaking your language to keep up with the language that people are coming to you with. Remember, when we are talking about, this isn’t transactional where, you make an announcement, I hear the announcement, this is relational so, I’m writing you a question or you’re writing help documentation, or you’re doing a tutorial, or your talking to me on Twitter, your language should evolve all that time so that you’re not cut and paste, cut and paste, right, and the other thing I told you too is that when you get into this idea of replacing your words, people are shocked. They actually are shocked to hear these different words. So if you’re sick of saying, I’m sorry, then say, I really apologize, but there’s no reason to just keep it on a loop. Anything you keep on a loop is going to sound bad after a while, right. Next, last one?

Q: Yeah, so what do you do in a situation where someone is openly abusive in a public forum, regardless of whether they got a valid point or not?

A: Yeah, yeah. On Twitter, or in email?

Q: So I’m thinking specifically of support forums, but it could be Twitter or anything.

A: Oh, support forums?

Q: It’s public, but, you know.

A: support forums are weird because you have an opportunity to ban a person and shut them down. So let’s talk about Twitter because it’s a little bit easier, you don’t have control of the medium. With Twitter, what we see, is you make one attempt, to very kindly, politely humanly understand their problem, and offer them a way to help it right there. See if you can cool them down, because a lot of customer support is letting people vent. That’s, a big part of the job is understanding people are frustrated and you’re the one who’s going to have to fix it, right. Let them vent, see if you can cool them down. If you can’t cool them down, second phase is to try to take it offline. Say, why don’t you email me, or email them, remember this whole thingamajigger with the, find my information, do that, try to take it offline so you can kind of diffuse it. If you still can’t diffuse it, our standard is, on the third try, after those attempts, we let them know, we really want to help you, but we can’t if you’re being abusive, and I usually use that word. We’ll still contact them offline just to say, we’re going to try to do this thing, but, shut it down as much as you can. The thing is, with Twitter especially, ranting and raving and crazy people like that, make themselves look crazy. So you don’t have to worry about them going crazy and affecting your brand, if you’ve done what you can’t help them and they’re not reciprocating. So, you can sort of let them burn themselves out after a while. Where am I going next?

Q: This might be interesting because I was looking at an email sent from Keith from You Can Book Me, a few days ago…

A: He sent it to you, he’s the customer?

Q: No, I’m the customer. And as you’re speaking I handed him my laptop to read his email that he had sent to me and he said I should read it to you.

A: OK! Read it to me and let’s see how you did. Wait, you have to read your email.

Q: Yeah, yeah, so it’s You Can Book Me, it’s a program that allows people to book appointments in your calendar.

A: That sounds so scary to me.

Q: It’s very convenient for me, I quite like it, but then I misconfigured it and a lot of people got a message saying that the meeting was at the wrong time.

A: So it was your fault.

Q: It was my fault; there was a misconfiguration that I didn’t understand. So, I forwarded this thread and I say, seems the person booking the appointment with me got a message with my time zone rather than his. Any way to fix that? And he said, Hi Salim, sorry to hear you had this problem. I think the issue comes from a mix match on your You Can Book Me settings. Your booking profile is set to your blend-in, and he goes on to explain what’s happening. Of course the system will still detect London users and adjust the times accordingly. Let me know if this doesn’t completely fix it for you. Regards, Keith Harris.

A: Other than regards, [laughter] that is a brilliant email. It’s true, that’s a really beautifully, beautifully written email. Yes?

Q: Can I ask a follow-up, because we have, we deal with hundreds of tickets every month, and often it’s things like these where people don’t quite understand it and we’ve been taking on board a lot of feedback in the last two days, it’s, people feel like it’s their mistake, it’s their fault, their an idiot, and actually it’s are fault for not explaining ourselves correctly, or our settings are too complicated. I really struggle when somebody, I always answer a ticket to say, thank you for contacting us, I totally understand why you got this issue, we really want to help you. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry, all the rest of it, but the word that I would struggle with is, problem, because they think they have a problem. Or I kind of don’t want to call it a problem, or that it’s a mistake or it’s a bug, because it feels very negative. I want to call it an issue and I always feel like it’s a bit of a cop out saying, thank you for contacting us about your issue, because it sounds like a personal health problem.

A: That sounds mental health to me, so. [laughter]

Q: What word can I use, so like, there is something here that we can fix for you which…trouble. But if I say thank you for your trouble that sounds quite…

A: No, no, no, no, no. If anyone’s writing you a problem, you shouldn’t say, thanks for contacting us. Just stop that, because you’re wasting time. What you should say is, hey Betsy, I’m sorry you’re having this trouble, let me see how I can help.

Q: When I said that, I wasn’t terribly happy with you. [bantering]

A: The other thing I would say too is, you guys, if you’re having that issues, or you’re having a hard time keeping up on other people misunderstanding how to use your tools, you’re really not doing a good job of servicing them with the self service options. You shouldn’t be having issues like that where you anticipate people going to write me about this problem ’cause we get it every day. Spend ten minutes to write a help documentation about it and you won’t deal with it anymore. Next? Yes, hi.

Q: Hello, I work with product support in X Company. So we have couple of customers who pretty much call us, twice or thrice in a week, so you know, sometimes it’s like, even if they have a very small problem and they just want us to do something about it. How to politely say, enough now?

A: I used to work for this software company and I was the only person that did support for like, five million users, and I went crazy there. I had a total nervous breakdown. It was terrible. But, one of the reasons I went crazy is because we had customers like that. We had this one guy, I still remember his name, Rich A., I did the math one time and over a calendar year, and you wrote me 2.5 emails per day for 365 days. And every single one of his emails ended with, please advise. The problem was, we didn’t have great documentation. We didn’t have video tutorials. We didn’t have classes, online classes, and we didn’t have any limits to what people who really weren’t spending that much money, could get from our team. So what we ended up doing, was saying, especially with this guy, my trick with him was, seems like you have a lot of questions and I’d really love for us to do an intensive support situation for you, so how ’bout, every week, just write your questions on a notepad, send them all to me in one email, I’ll get all through them, right. In the meantime, if you have a big crisis, let us know, but for all these little questions, let’s put them all, let’s condense them. There’s no harm in doing that. Secondly, ramp up your self-service options as much as you can, and start writing help articles and putting them in your emails, because you start to farm people off that way. All of a sudden they realize, oh we can get out of this medium I don’t have to bother this person, right. There are going to be people that just want to talk to you because you’re there to talk to them. [laughs] The problem with that is, you setting your own limits on what you’re going to deal with, right. Which is hard to do. If people are writing you all the time because something’s broken all the time and they need help all the time, then you need to work on fixing your product and having better documentation. If it’s them, you’ll know when it’s just them. My trick with that, is just reply a lot slower each time. Each time take more and more time to reply. They’ll get bored and find someone else to harass.

Anymore, no? Let’s cut it there. Thank you guys! [Applause]

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Sarah Hatter

Sarah Hatter

Sarah Hatter was once a famous blogger before she became even more famouser working for 37signals.

After 14,000 years running the 37signals support team, she went all Jerry Maguire and started CoSupport, a way for small web and mobile app teams to provide amazing customer support for a small fee.

She dropped in to Business of Software 2013 to explain why you underestimate customer support at your peril and we instantly became enormous, stalker-ish fans.

More From Sarah.

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