8 Hard Things about providing High Quality Customer Support

Lessons from 3 years of providing, organising, and building tools for Customer Support

Your product probably isn't perfect and that's why you need to provide customer support. This is the imperfect starting point of the whole enterprise of customer support that makes it a challenge from the get go.

I know this because I have been providing and organising customer support for one of the biggest advertising tech products in the world for the last 3 years. I've spent on average 8 hours every week providing direct chat support to our enterprise customers from around the world, and I spend the rest of the time building internal tools to make support scale with the company's growth.

I'd never done support before I started in this role, and I had always thought that providing customer support is easy. As long as you train people to know your product, they should be able to provide high-quality, fuss-free support to your customers. How hard is that?

Well, after 3 years, I can tell you at least 8 hard things I've learned about providing customer support.

  1. The product is constantly evolving. This means your supporters must not only provide support for it but continually learn how to use it. In the meantime, new questions that have never been asked before will come up, and the supporter must have direct contact with the product and engineering teams to be able to give the customer a timely answer.

  2. The support team must have direct contact with the product and engineering teams to be effective. Every layer of separation between those teams will translate into hours of waiting time for the customer who is already struggling to accomplish something with your product. This proximity means that if you offshore your customer support team, you have set yourself up to receive a mob of angry customers and, likely, a lot of them will eventually churn.

  3. Product teams ought to know how much customer support they generate, but it's tricky to attribute support load to specific areas of the product when they are interconnected.

  4. People often communicate poorly. Too much time in customer support goes into asking clarifying questions (if the supporter even knows to ask clarifying questions) so that the supporter and the user talk about the same thing.

  5. If your company uses other teams (not just the support team) to provide customer support, organising them can be extremely tedious. Problems range from penalty-free no-shows to providing continual internal training that translates only to a marginal number of support hours.

  6. Tech product bugs require technical supporters to file them. That means that every supporter hired needs to be more or less as qualified as someone who could be on your software engineering team. And most people with those skills usually prefer (and are better at) building things, not troubleshooting and communicating with customers.

  7. Product knowledge is unevenly distributed among supporters, and relying on training sessions to spread knowledge is a slow process. Trying to share knowledge employing an internal wiki helps, but it also creates problems like circulating outdated information.

  8. Customer support has various aspects, and it can be difficult to keep the teams responsible for each aspect collaborating effectively. For example, you may have a Help Centre for self-help. You would probably also have support chat, which connects the user directly to a supporter. You may also have Customer Success Managers who provide support for things like strategy. You may also have a process for notifying users when the bugs affecting them have been resolved by the engineering team. All of these are pieces to the puzzle of customer support, and orchestrating a consistent support experience is vital but complex.

Subscribe to Nick's Notes

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.