Friday, August 30, 2013

Opposing Viewpoints: The Helpdesk and Support Team Take on Self-Service

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on

The helpdesk and support team play very different roles within the contact center. As such, they approach and see things differently.  We want to explore those differences in a featured article each month. In keeping with our August editorial focus, this edition is focused on self-service.

ICMI: Do you consider self-service to be a necessary customer service channel?

Jeremiah: Yes, if done properly, self-service can reduce support volume to the point where only truly difficult problems require a support call. It also allows you to cater to a wider personality base of customers. While some customers prefer to have a live person on the phone to walk them through issues, others (myself included) prefer to figure things out on their own if at all possible and would rather use the phone as a last resort. Self-service allows that to be possible. That said, even if your self-service system is fantastic, companies should avoid using that as an excuse to offer less than outstanding support through other channels.

Brooks: From a Technical Support/Customer Service standpoint, ABSOLUTELY.  In this day and age, people expect to be able to search the web for anything and everything.  When it comes to Support, we need to offer a similar option.  While there’s something to be said for human interaction, the ability to search a knowledge base can save time and money.  Articles and video tutorials can be created for anything, from the most basic Support inquiries to the most technical.  There will always need to be the option to get in touch with someone if needed, but if you can exhaust all other options quickly and easily beforehand, it can save you the time of calling, waiting in queue, and explaining your situation to a support rep.   

ICMI: Do you think self-Service customers expect a higher level of customer service than those from more traditional channels?

Jeremiah: I actually think that the standard is less than for traditional channels, though I’m not sure that it should be that way. My impression is that while it’s great if a customer can figure out something through self-service, contacting a support rep (whether through phone, email or chat) is still when a customer has the highest expectations. If they contact you and you can’t solve the problem, then where does the customer turn next? Whereas with self-service, the customer can still contact a live human if they get stumped. Again, I don’t know if that’s the way that it should be, but my impression is that’s the way most companies and customers operate.

Brooks: I think they expect more accurate support since the content has been written, edited, and published.  I think they also expect to have a fairly vast selection of help articles and video tutorials.  An extensive knowledge base with easy accessibility and accurate searching is key to making it an ideal channel.  The combination of articles and videos should create a great first line of support for customers. 

ICMI: What self-service options do you currently offer?

Jeremiah: We have an in-app help system that explains the different features of our app and answers some frequently asked questions. I think our most exciting self-service option is our video tutorials, which can help demonstrate the application in a way that a text-based help system simply can’t do. For our Salesforce integration, we also offer weekly webinars for new customers that help get thim started with the application. We also provide a comprehensive user guide PDF that covers all aspects of the application while covering some standard troubleshooting tips as well.

Brooks: We currently offer online resources in the form of blog posts, knowledge base articles, and video tutorials.  We also offer live and recorded webinars that customers are free to sign up for or view online.   These are easily accessible within the application under the “Help” tab.

ICMI: How do you measure satisfaction with self-service channels?

Jeremiah: Right now, it’s largely indirectly. We do measure how many times different help articles are viewed as well as how frequently certain video tutorials are watched. Beyond that, it’s indicated by the questions customers are still calling in about. If customers are frequently calling in about questions that are covered in our in-app help system or in our user guide, then this may be an indicator that we either: a) aren’t explaining something well enough or b) aren’t doing a good job making our customers aware of the different ways they might be able to find the answer to their problem themselves.

Brooks: We provide a Feedback button for customers to provide their feedback about the Help system.  Based on the feedback that’s received, we update, remove, or add additional article/videos. 

ICMI: What impact does self-service have on your traditional channels?

Jeremiah: Certainly, our self-service channels reduce our phone/chat/email volume. It stands to reason that if a help article or video tutorial is able to answer a customer’s question, then they won’t need to contact support through other means. We also use our self-service to help define the scope of support. Typically, our support team does not provide full application walkthroughs over the phone. Instead, we will point customers towards our video tutorials or weekly webinars in order for them to first learn the application. The presence of these tutorials and webinars allows us to focus our live support efforts on troubleshooting problems rather than teaching the application from scratch.

Brooks: The self-service options have a significant impact on the number of interactions we take through traditional channels.  Without self-service, we would be taking more and more calls for fairly basic inquiries.  In my opinion, this keeps agents off of back to back monotonous calls, and helps to keep them engaged in their daily responsibilities. 

About Brooks Webb: Brooks Webb is the Manager of the Premier Support team, where his team handles all second level support inquiries, including Billing Support, Level 2 Technical Support, and Support for all Top Level Managed Accounts. Follow Brooks on Twitter @WBrooksWebb


About Jeremiah Methven: Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for the Tier 3 Support team. The Tier 3 Support position is a specialized role requiring both technical expertise and outstanding customer service skills. We handle phone and email support for our API and Salesforce integration, manage an internal ‘hotline’ where Tier 2 agents can call for assistance, document software bugs and their impact on customers, and respond to any inquiries from customers on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter @methvenj.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Providing Excellent Customer Support through Social Media

by Jeremiah Methven

One of the latest innovations in the customer support world is providing support through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These avenues afford exciting opportunities as they can be a great way to showcase your company’s customer service. But if handled unprofessionally, they can also have a much more negative impact than a phone or chat interaction gone awry. Based on my own experience from being on the ground for implementation of social media support at my company, here are some tips for those new to the world of social media support:

1. Keep it timely
In my experience, customers’ expected speed to answer for social media is significantly faster than for other channels. It’s generally acceptable business practice to answer support email inquiries within one business day. But a customer tweeting at your company Twitter account or writing on your company Facebook page expects a faster response. Although no single guideline is correct for every company, we recommend responding within 30 minutes to a tweet and 60 minutes to a Facebook post during business hours.

2. Remember, it’s public
It’s always important to be professional and customer-focused. Yet it’s even more imperative when responding to a social media inquiry to give an excellent response because literally anyone can see it, something that simply isn’t the case with a phone interaction. We recommend that the person who writes the response writes as if they are the CEO of the company, because anything written under the company name will be viewed by the public as exactly that, a statement that represents the entire company. This also leads into tip #3...

3. Take the conversation offline if necessary
It’s often appropriate to steer a social media conversation offline unless it’s a very straightforward question and answer response. For example, with any complex technical issue, the 140 character limit of Twitter will often prove to be insufficient to explain how to resolve a problem. Offer to direct message the customer on Twitter or private message them on Facebook, at which point email addresses and phone numbers can also be exchanged if needed. This is all the more imperative for a serious customer dispute. Even if you are standing by company policy, it’s rarely going to look good for your company if you wind up in an escalating argument with a customer over social media. Move the conversation offline. The customer won’t mind as long as you work with them quickly and professionally to reach a resolution.

Have any other tips on how to provide excellent support through social media? We'd love to hear from you! Please leave a comment or tweet us at @CallCntrWeekly

Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Agent Perspective: Tips For Making Every Customer Interaction a Positive One

by: Kristin Beaver

This post originally appeared on

As customer service reps, we’ve all had the experience of dealing with unhappy customers and we’ve all had the experience where, in the end, that same customer left happy. Unfortunately, we’ve also had the experience of having the customer leave angry, and that’s never a good feeling. How can we prevent this from happening?  There are many things that can be done to ensure every customer call is a positive one.  

Listening is the first thing you should do, and I can’t stress that enough. If you don’t listen, you can’t get to the bottom of the problem. Most times, customers just want us to listen and they want to know that someone is there to handle their problem, no matter how big or small.

Understand the Problem
When we understand the problem we are able to provide a solution. If you don’t fully understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t ask questions and don’t understand what’s going on, you’ll never find a solution and you and the customer both will be going in circles. Along with understanding the customer’s problem, you must understand their frustration and apologize. Apologizing is key, in my opinion, as it helps calm things down. I normally start with ‘I am so sorry to hear that, I know that’s frustrating as that would frustrate me as well’.

No one has all the answers but don’t be afraid to put the customer on hold to find the answer. Consider that a learning experience for you and the customer. They will appreciate it much more if you are giving accurate answers. Also, point the customer toward your Knowledge Base and let them know they will find tons of useful information including tutorials, but let them know they can always reach a live person just by calling or e-mailing.

Be personable
One thing that I have learned in my years in customer service is to find a way to connect with the customer on a personal level. For example, if you get a call and you notice that they’re calling from California (or any place for that matter), you can start by talking about the weather or some sports teams in their area. This will at least calm them down from being angry and they will realize you are there to help them and you are a real person and not just rushing them off of the phone.

I truly love working in customer service, because I feel that I make a difference with each call and e-mail that I handle. I am helping make someone else’s work flow a little easier even if they are just calling for a quick training.

Customer service isn’t always easy, but keep in mind, we have the power to turn any call around and make it a great one!

About Kristin
Kristin is a Support Coordinator for Citrix ShareFile. Kristin’s been working in customer service for about 10 years and got her start in the hospitality industry prior to coming to Citrix ShareFile. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems and is currently working on her MBA with a concentration in HR.

Monday, August 5, 2013

When Angry Customers Go Social

by: Sean Hawkins

At some point, we’ve all heard that the customer is always right. Whether you agree or disagree  is a matter for debate. What can’t be debated is the customer’s belief that they are always right. Now more than ever, the customer is challenging businesses to live up to this standard. Often, this is done through social media. As social media has matured and become an integral channel in communicating with customers, one can expect to have upset customers via social on a regular basis.

For the most part, customers are intent on expressing their feelings in an effort to find a quick resolution. These social interactions are performed countless times each day and for the most part become mundane and redundant. However, there are certain customers who have determined that damming tweets are their best course of action in getting the desired resolution they want. It is at this point you must be very cautious in how you respond to these “angry customers.”

It should be quite obvious when the customer is attempting to publicly embarrass your brand. It should also be just as obvious how to handle such interactions. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. We not long ago witnessed an epic Twitter meltdown by a Phoenix eatery that made the rounds on morning news shows, blogs, and social media. To avoid embarrassment and the alienation of customers, I suggest taking the following approach: 

Remain professional- This is a tried and true approach. Most often a customer’s anger can be diffused by professionalism and kindness. 

Show empathy- Empathy is not about being sorry, rather it is about acknowledging a customer’s frustration and giving importance to it. I advise agents to put themselves in the customer’s position and feel their frustrations. Customers want to know they matter. Most of all, they want to know they matter to YOU. 

Be honest- Let’s face it, we don’t get things correct 100% of the time. Mistakes happen and accidents are inevitable. Your customer wants the truth, not the excuse. Friedrich Nietzsche said “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” If we fail to be honest with our customers, they’ll lose confidence in us. Much worse, they will leave us. 

Move offline- Depending on the need of the customer, social may not be the best channel to assist them. Determine what channel is and engage the customer there. Not only does this move the hostility out of the public spaces, it allows you to connect with your customer in a more effective way.

Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter- @SeanBHawkins