Principles of Successful Tech Support
This text was conceived as an attempt to structure the basic principles of successful technical support and communication in general. By “successful” in this context is meant a positive reaction of the client directly to the quality of service, i.e. his specific subjective opinion on the basis of the appeal to tech support.
A little bit about the author: I didn’t receive any psychological education, I didn’t take any communication courses with clients, so all conclusions are based solely on personal experience. I started working in technical support more than 8 years ago, at Acronis, which was then quite small, and the technical support staff did not exceed 10-15 people. Today, more than 250 people participate in technical support, supporting customers in nine languages of the world. Over time, I went through all the stages - from working in a small team with an almost zero level of personal responsibility to controlling and interacting in a large infrastructure, including the automatic collection of statistics for each employee to measure his personal KPI (key performance indicators).
Thanks to long-term communication with users (usually English-speaking), manners of successful communication have crystallized by themselves - what exactly needs to be done and how to behave so that the client is satisfied. These rules are equally applicable not only to technical support of software products, but also to communication with customers in any other industry, so I hope this opus will be useful not only to narrow specialists, but also come in handy in everyday communication. Personally, it helped me a lot.
Start with yourself
If you are a specialist, you will occasionally come across elementary (from your point of view) questions that, in addition to annoyance (after all, the answer has already been given 100,500 times), do not cause anything. This attitude needs to be changed - people who reach out to a specialist are waiting for help and really do not know the answer to any questions, even if the answer is displayed in the first line of Google search. It is necessary to clearly realize and understand that the client came to you not in order to annoy or provoke, but in order to receive qualified help.
Respect for the client is a fundamental principle, following which you can successfully conduct dialogue with people of any level of education and competence (even with gopniks on the street at the level of “E, hear, come here yes!”). This respect comes primarily from the inside, even if you do not show it directly, by indirect signs (intonation, turns of speech), the client will always feel a real attitude towards himself. Each appeal is a dialogue of individuals, so if you think that any client is just another suffering guest in a psychiatric hospital who can hardly connect a few words and cannot clearly explain his problem, then the dialogue will not work.
Life example: On Sunday at 8 a.m. after a sleepless night I was driving a car (I slept for 3 hours, so it looked appropriate), and I was stopped by a comrade in uniform with a red and blue flasher on board. Says, they say, something you look bad. Let’s open the trunk, make an external inspection and, if you don’t mind, we will go for an examination. What were my options?
1) Refuse, insist on the presence of witnesses (in general, climb into a bottle and go on the escalation of the conflict)
2) Allow an external inspection, even if not entirely legal, without the presence of witnesses.
Having entered the position of an officer of our valiant police, I could understand him - some strange person behind the wheel, all dented, eyes red, hands trembling. And I tried to convey to him my respect and understanding.
- Yes, I understand you perfectly, I don't look very much - I slept too little, but I had to go on business, no matter what. Now I'm going home to sleep. If you want, I can go with you to the medical center for an examination, I do not mind, because indeed my appearance is suspicious.
To which he received the answer:
- Indeed, you do not look too good, but you communicate quite sensibly, so I will let you go. Go home, sleep. Happy road!
Events, depending on my answers, could go according to a completely different scenario, leading to unnecessary nerves and loss of time. But, avoiding annoyance at the police officer (respecting his decision and conclusions), understanding his “problem”, I managed to avoid the escalation of the situation and reduce the dialogue to a successful conclusion. This dialogue followed, including several communication principles, listed below. But back to the topic of everyday communication with customers.
Understanding and acknowledging user concerns
Customer trust needs to be earned. The easiest way to show this is to understand what the problem is. You should not constantly interrupt the user's story with clarifying questions, but at the end it is worth briefly explaining the essence of the problem - this is necessary in order to make sure that you understand the client correctly. It is important to have experience working in a specific field (knowledge of a product supported by a specialist, its features, subtleties of customization, etc.) and over time you can identify the problem (translate it into the developers language) by indirect signs mentioned by the client only in passing.
In addition to understanding, you must admit that the problem is really a problem (acknowledge, so to speak), even if it is a slight shift in the user interface, noticeable only with a tenfold increase in the magnifying glass on a fifteen-inch monitor, every third Thursday of the month in a leap year.
Recognizing the importance of the problem means for the client that there is no need to prove this fact and focus directly on the solution (the dialogue will immediately be directed in a constructive direction).
Let me remind you that the client does not call technical support because he wants to scold or shout at an unrequited specialist - he first needs to solve his problem. He needs to be sure that he will really get help. Literally from the first words, it becomes clear to him how competent the person is on the other end of the line, and if the client has a feeling that the specialist is inexperienced, does not understand the issue, then the problems begin with all the possible consequences. An angry customer can apply arguments and requirements from absolutely any field that is not even related to the field of his original problem: “connect me with the manager”, “what nonsense are you talking about,” “your products are terrible”, etc. Even if you are not completely familiar with all aspects of the issue under discussion, this is not a problem, because impossible to know everything. The problem is,
Example : A novice sits on the phone and receives the first call. The client asks a technical question to which the beginner does not know the answer. Incorrect scenario (one of the typical mistakes): A
beginner says that at the moment he does not have this information and will ask for advice from a more experienced specialist.
What happened from the point of view of the client: “Yeah, so he does not know the answer and wants to find out information from a colleague! Why don't I talk with this particular colleague who will give me the right answers first hand? Why do I need some newbie to train with me? ”
In this dialogue, the support technician loses the trust of the client (even at a subconscious level), which results in a biased attitude to everything that will be discussed later.
Correct option : A
beginner says that at the moment he does not have this information and he needs a little time to get an answer in his database.
What happened from the client’s point of view: “Um, well, the question seems to be quite complex and specific - let it look and give me information.”
The reaction is certainly not the best, but neutral, and this is the best that can be obtained in such a deliberately losing situation. Nevertheless, the specialist does not lose dignity before the client and can continue to conduct a dialogue with him at the same level of trust. Note that I do not urge the specialist to lie (the correct option is 100% honest) and simulate competence. It is only necessary to formulate the answer in a different way. It must be remembered that first of all the user expects psychological support from you, and your language should not deceive his expectations.
User Wave Tuning
Imagine the situation: you are an admin, and a tragedy has occurred - an important server has fallen, every 5 minutes the boss and all employees call you one by one to find out when everything will be fixed. In this stressful situation, it suddenly turns out that restoring backup to new hardware does not work. You call technical support of the program responsible for the recovery, and quite emotionally and quickly (time is running out) to explain your problem. At the other end of the wire, you hear a slow measured voice of a specialist who phlegmatically follows memorized patterns and asks for your client identification number (support is paid) and very slowly begins to find out the details of the problem. But everything is on fire with you! Need a solution here and now! You start to get nervous, break down at a specialist and drop the phone in your hearts.
What happened? The client called with an extremely important problem for him, he is excited and he needs an appropriate attitude. The specialist did not try to get into the situation and simply followed the standard patterns, pronouncing all phrases slowly, measuredly, as he was used to, without taking into account the mood of the client. What is important here is the intonation of the voice and the general mood. For example (K = client, C = specialist):
K: Please help urgently, my server has crashed and it needs to be restored very quickly!
C: Please provide your customer identification number. I need to put it in the database for the correct handling of the call. If the verification is successful, then we can begin to solve the problem.
The client immediately notices that for the specialist the problem is not important, but the formal process is important first of all. Plus, the client draws attention (subconsciously) to the fact that, despite the obviously critical problem, the specialist continues to communicate in the same neutral tone, as if he doesn’t care. The client, as a result, immediately loses confidence and begins to get nervous (nervousness will increase like a snowball as you communicate).
S: Okay, I understood the urgency of the problem, and we will try to solve it as soon as possible. I will need your customer identification number in order to correctly process your request, but we can skip this step given the importance of the problem. Please tell us the symptoms.
The specialist immediately makes it clear that he cares, and he shows this not in word, but in deed. It is important that this phrase is again pronounced not in a neutral tone, but following the intonation of the client. Of course, you don’t need to immediately shout excitedly and beat yourself with your left heel in the chest, but a shift in intonation towards a more emotional side is vital.
Escalation of the problem
There are situations when the client already had poor experience in communicating with technical support (they did not provide assistance, did not understand the problem, the specialist was incompetent, etc.) and asks to escalate the problem above. What should a second specialist (usually a manager) do when the situation is already tense and the client is unhappy at the very beginning of the dialogue? From my own experience I can say that almost always there is a way out of such situations - it all depends on how you build the further dialogue. It is important here first of all to listen to the client and acknowledge the problem: “Yes, I understand that you had an unpleasant experience in communicating with our specialists, and my task is to fix this first priority. I am on your side. ”
Nevertheless, the picture cannot be corrected in simple words and it is necessary to have a proper way of solving the user's initial problem, which in these cases is a priority. When he sees that the problem is really starting to be resolved, while with the previous specialist the solution was not visible even in the future - it instantly sets in a positive mood. Perhaps the problem is so complex that at the moment there is simply no solution, but you should always have a plan on how to solve it (not now, but later, by involving developers, testers, and whoever you need).
Such dialogues bring excellent experience, allowing you to understand how you can "drag and overcome" an unpleasant discussion, turning it into a summer walk with conversations "for life", instead of the intense skirmish of fans of two rival teams.
There are still situations when the solution turns out to be quite trivial, and this only upsets the client: “How so, you checked one box and it worked after 2 minutes, and the previous specialist talked with me for an hour empty ?!”. Here it all depends on your competence - how can you explain this fact. In these cases, you can tell in more detail about the product, how this checkmark relates to the problem, why you put it. In other words, you need to tell the details of your decision. The more details you tell, the more the client will trust you (“This specialist really knows his product - you can trust him”).
An important point: in no case should you discredit your colleagues by telling the client that the previous specialist was not experienced enough / we have only been working for a month / we will dismiss him soon. This path leads to nothing but a loss of trust in the company as a whole and in you in particular (Russians do not abandon their own in the war)
I'll start with the obvious, but nonetheless extremely important thing: if you tell the client that you will call back on Tuesday at 12 noon, then you should call back at the appointed time, at all costs, or warn in advance that you will not be able to objectively reasons. There is nothing worse than a missed call or remote support session - this is extremely demotivating the client.
If you tell the client that the problem will be solved in the next product update, then you need to be 100% sure that this will be so.
You can’t hide bad news as well: you know that a certain feature requested by a client will be included in the product no earlier than 2020. You can say the hackneyed phrase: “Thank you for your feedback, we will definitely consider it in the future”, giving a false hope and having formed the wrong wait. It’s better to answer truthfully: “This feature is on our list, but it comes with a low priority. Unfortunately, it should not be expected in the near future. " Honesty is highly appreciated by customers as they can trust the company, knowing that their expectations will be met.
“If we have not met your expectations, these are your problems” - this is definitely not our slogan.
To summarize the above points in short abstracts:
- Start with yourself: respect for the client / interlocutor comes first
- Remember that you are a specialist and you can solve _ any_ customer problem
- Customer problem is your problem
- To feel the mood of the client and match it is priceless
- Talking with an upset client is not stress, but an opportunity to get a good experience in resolving conflicts
- Meeting expectations is the key to the heart of the client.
I want to add on my own behalf that I successfully followed these principles myself and tried to instill them in the Acronis technical support team (yes, no ads here :)), which I love immensely and respect for the constant pursuit of the best.