The 3 Customer Service Skills of Brilliant Support Teams

The 3 customer service skills of brilliant support teams

This is a guest post by Lindsay Willott, founder of Customer Thermometer.

I recently read the unputdownable The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, famed founder of tech VC Andreessen Horowitz.

In one chapter Ben describes how, during his time at Netscape, he became frustrated with his product managers.

So he created a document called “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager” which crisply laid out the behaviours of good product managers, and juxtaposed those with the behaviours of bad ones.

I thought this was a fantastic idea.

It’s so much more meaningful than a job description. It struck me that it would be a really useful way to train customer support people and help them understand what “good” or “great” customer service skills look like.

Our customer support team at Customer Thermometer is called The Ministry of Magic.

Given what we do as a business – customer surveys – we need to demonstrate effortless and excellent service. I decided, in conjunction with our Minister of Magic – our Head of Customer Support basically – to create a version of this for our Customer Magicians, (our customer support folks.)

It lays out the key customer service skills and behaviours of great support people.

Having shared it with a few customers, they all mentioned how incredibly useful it has been to them. So in the spirit of sharing, we’ve released it as free resource.

Here are the top 3 takeaways…

1. Brilliant support teams know that they are just as important as sales

It’s easier to grow through word of mouth, referral and your customers loving you than through any kind of hard sell. McKinsey research shows that 70% of buying decisions are based on how a customer thinks a company has treated them.

Kevin Hale, CEO of the very successful SaaS company Wufoo, once said that sales and marketing spend is a tax companies have to pay because their product and customer support aren’t good enough. This is a bold statement, but one that is incredibly useful for training customer service skills. It helps them understand where they can make a huge difference to the business.

Rather than being a back office function, the customer support team is right at the front of the action. Brilliant Customer Magicians use whatever intensity is required to help customers succeed and care deeply about their success. They do so in the knowledge that their efforts are growing the business. Every day.

2. Brilliant support teams make memorable interactions and experiences

A brilliant support team acts like and is viewed as a team who has an innate understanding of, and care for, customers.

A brilliant customer support team believes that even routine of customer interactions can be made more useful, more special, more remarkable and more memorable. They understand that great service is part of the product – that they are the voice of an online product and the human face of everything we do. They understand that their service is infinitely more important than even the product itself.

Brilliant support teams are viewed by the entire business as people who can delight customers and suggest ways that the company and the product can do even more for them.

Bad support teams think of themselves as simply response providers.

Bad support teams think they are simply there to provide a response back to the customer, to maintain the ticketing system or to update customer enquiries. They seek to avoid the strategic element of the service they can provide, and they often write terse, short or sloppy responses to customers that provide insufficient information and/or are misspelled giving a negative view of the company.

3. Reduce customer effort everywhere

Brilliant support teams listen to customers but they probe deeper into the underlying problems to get at the nature of the real problem for the customer, thereby reducing customer effort.

Brilliant support teams understand that by adding masses of value, enlightenment, help and friendship they are extending beyond the initial support query and understand the wider context of the customer’s problem.

They then proactively try and remove all the roadblocks and go the extra mile to help.

Brilliant support teams know that if a customer sends in a query, they are sparing time out of their day right NOW and want a response as swiftly as possible rather than having to wait, when they have inevitably moved onto another task. Brilliant support teams will create and share helpful assets where they don’t already exist.

Bad support teams send back ‘bare minimum’ responses.

They respond with the scantest of information or point customers at resources that they know to be ineffective.

They don’t think about the problem and they don’t look for inspirational workarounds, or give more ideas to help the customer succeed. Bad customer support teams say that there is not enough time to give longer, thoughtful responses.

Their overriding view of the emails and phone call responses they undertake is “that’ll do” rather than “this will be one of the best responses they will ever get” (correct this with some customer service training activities).

How will you know when you’ve got customer service skills right?

In summary, great support teams understand that they are the front line in customer retention. Their efforts can make the ultimate difference between winning and losing a customer.

In our experience, you know you’ve got it right when customers try and poach your staff! Whilst it can be a challenge, as the old saying goes, ‘it’s a nice problem to have’.

Want more? Here’s the download of the full Customer Thermometer customer support handbook

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About the author
Lindsay Willott

Lindsay Willott is the founder of 1-click customer satisfaction survey app, Customer Thermometer. We integrate Kayako so your customers can give you real-time feedback on your ticket responses.

  • Jack Plantin

    Hi guys!

    #2 is a great point.

    Sometime customer support agents get so stuck in the rut of grinding out support tickets that they forget how powerful stepping out of the box can be. If you really want to be a brilliant support team, you’ll make crazy experiences happen whenever necessary.

    Awesome post Lindsay, shared on Twitter!

    Best, Jack

  • Thanks Jack! Really appreciate the comment there.

    It’s true, support can be extremely hard work – a lot of grind is always involved – and yet businesses expect a great deal out of their support teams. Customer experience, customer retention, up and cross sell (and a whole lot more) are laid at their door. It’s good to step outside and look back in as much as possible.

    Best wishes, Lindsay

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