If you’ve ever worked in a large corporation or were somehow insulated from the day-to-day support operations, it can be a little hard to understand why I’m always beating the drum about customer support. While it’s not algorithms; database design; code structure; or the countless other things that were drilled into us in college, caring about customer support might be one of the most important accelerators in your career.
“Why do you care about customer support? You’re a developer”
I care about customer support because it’s about respecting other people. Practically speaking, basic professionalism includes caring about the impact of your work on others. So I’m acutely interested in the defects in my work, because that means there’s a problem somewhere along the line. You can’t fix every single problem, but you have to acknowledge them. Otherwise, you stop caring, and the tiny problems culminate into a bunch of really major issues.
By choosing to not care about customer support, you’re actively risking the integrity of your work. It shows you don’t actually care about the end result, because you clearly can’t be bothered when someone’s trying to tell you that there’s a problem.
“But what if it’s a stupid request, or not actually a problem?”
Ignoring it shows you don’t care about explaining the rationale behind your decisions or are unwilling to take the heat for a decision you’ve made. Good products are built on strongly opinionated, well-researched, solutions to a problem. You have to trust them and be able to articulate them to your detractors.
“I don’t like dealing with angry customers”
Spoiler alert: no one does. It sucks. Honestly, I hate every time I have to. But that’s part of doing business. You can’t just shy away from it because it makes you uncomfortable.
An angry customer is usually the result of one of the following:
- You actually, majorly screwed up. Sorry, but you gotta own up to it.
- There’s a misconception about how your app behaves, and someone has Opinions™ on it. Maybe that means you should (re)evaluate the use case.
- They might just be having a bad day. It might not even be about you, or even your product. It happens and you just have to roll with it.
“Customers are stupid. 99% of the time, it’s PEBKAC”
sigh. This is for another blog post. But to be super passive-aggressive while driving the point home, I’m going to let Benjamin Franklin do the talkin’ here:
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain — and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
“So what does good customer support look like?”
Good customer support recognizes that a problem costs someone their time and effort, and great customer support is actively fixing the problem to make up for your mistake.
Does that mean you always bend the laws of physics to fix a customers problem? No, if you expect that then you’re setting the team up for failure. What it does mean is that you’re always looking at the things your company could be doing better, and championing to actually fix the problems. And when you can, you go the extra mile to fix a problem on your own.
Worried that only occasionally fixing the problem on your own isn’t enough? You should be, it’s easy to slack off. The best way to prevent that is by improving your baseline effort. Continually practice giving great customer service, and eventually it becomes habit. Then you can start focusing on the more challenging and fun parts of customer service.
“How do I get better?”
Excellent question! I’ve put together a reading list that will give you strategies and tactics for how to become better at customer support:
- Customer Service Phrases is all about tiny changes in your phrasing that will change your approach to customer support
- How to Handle the 7 Toughest Customer Support Challenges: an amazing, actionable guide from Zapier. Keep this on handy, it’s great for templates
- The Chatroom Survival Guide has some really good lessons about empathizing, asking for more info, teaching while fixing a problem, and working in high-pressure environments
- Stop giving shitty emergency support: my coworker had an atrocious customer support experience at the worst possible moment, for entirely unnecessary reasons. All about how to handle the worst-case scenarios as best as possible
- How to Win Friends and Influence People is the book that cemented a lot of the opinions I have about customer support and business in general.