What is the Shrewd, Simple Zen of Customer Support?

Does anyone actually WANT to deal with customer support?

I mean, really……

When you hear the words “customer support,” what’s the first picture that springs to mind?
  • The dreaded support phone call. Sure, a lot of support is offered over the web, via email and social media, live chat and sometimes even on-site (although that’s usually an expensive option and a last resort…).
  • Something has gone quite wrong, you are no longer able to do what you want or need to do with some piece of equipment or service, and you are utterly STUCK (and losing time on that deadline) until it gets fixed or replaced.
  • As the owner, you feel totally responsible for what happens with your product and service, but you dread the call from the customer who is having problems. You feel like it reflects on not only the quality of your business, but on your personal efforts. Besides, it pops up, totally unwelcome, in the middle of your day when you have a LOT of other things already planned out….disruption-city!
  • Oh, and you (as owner) are scared to death that this problem will end up online, and in other word-of-mouth scenarios, and give your business a black eye….

So how do you work through this? Rise above this and, as a friend of mine says, “Zen it!”

First, consider that this is a consequence of rubbing elbows with other human beings. People will sometimes need help with a product or service, and one of the ways you demonstrate your real value to them is understanding their frustration, trouble-shooting the problem, and, if at all possible, fixing it.  However, there is a higher and broader framework in which you work here.  It is generally referred to as “Customer Experience” or abbreviated CX. There are a number of components and definitions used across the industry and academia. Wikipedia describes it as “the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer’s attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase and use of a service. It is measured by the individual’s experience during all points of contact against the individual’s expectations.”  What does this mean? It means that Support is part of a spectrum of experience including everything from the first time a visitor discovers you through the relationship-building process, through engagement and purchase, and beyond to, hopefully, the relationships of loyalty and community.

Support can get separated from the entire experience if you’re not careful. Many businesses see the customer engagement as transaction-based, and so tend to hand off the whole thing to their support department, which can have a somewhat different view of the customer than sales and marketing does. Marketing and sales have, hopefully, spent untold amounts of time and effort building and nurturing these customers into a purchase, and these same customers are now in the hands of a structure that places high value on how LITTLE time is spent fixing their problem…which is not necessarily a relationship-building kind of mindset. According to a MarketingCharts.com survey of 2,403 consumers aged 18 to 65 worldwide, 47% of rated a “Fast response to enquiries or complaints” as the most important element in their customer experience. While this might seem to validate the “shortest possible transaction” concept of support, consider what this looks and feels like from the customer’s point of view. It is much more that a quick turn-around on a problem once she or he contacts you. The actual point of contact in relation to the enquiry is as or more important. Hence the rapid adoption of social media and live chat as support channels. These allow the customer to reach out at their point of need and not rely on a phone queue or the asynchronous nature of email, which can take a long time to resolve into an initial contact…frustrating at best

If your business is large enough to have dedicated support staff of some sort, monitoring these channels regularly and setting expectations for response on each is important. If you are perceived as “blowing them off” by not responding in a timely (or as promised…) fashion, the entire CX begins to sink and your reputation as a business that cares about its customers becomes less convincing. If you are a smaller business and you ARE the support staff, the responsibility falls to you. Again, setting expectations to response times is crucial (if I know that, in reaching out to you, I will hear back within 2 business days, for example, then I’m fine if I don’t hear from you earlier….although sooner will likely lift my CX and impress me with your responsiveness….).

Take a deep breath….
Realize that Support is a crucial component to the relationship you have with your customers. Not only that, but in between the visibility of these interactions online and the word-of-mouth that results offline, you can directly impact the overall CX and impress others who don’t need your product or service……yet.

It’s all opportunity, so treat it that way.

How do you you approach thinking about Support from your customers’ point of view?

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