Words matter

As a people manager of customer support teams for quite some time now I am obsessed with giving feedback. Feedback that’s actionable and can help folks improve and grow. I enjoy reviewing responses and finding opportunities to discuss them. The goal is to raise the quality.

Here are a few things I am obsessed with:

  1. Short and sweet responses
  2. Addressing all points
  3. Acknowledging how a person feels
Be kind, not right
Be kind, not right

Short and sweet responses

I have a consuming passion about being laconic. I am uncertain that’s always good. I still love the properties of being succinct in a setting such as a customer support discussion.

It can be dangerous. Sometimes a quick response may come across as rude. You have to work on avoiding that.

For example, our customer asks:

> Will you do something about this unexpected behavior?

Here are three different responses:

A1
> Yes.

A2
> Yes, absolutely. I have already shared the feedback with
our team. They are going to check it out. Thank you so
much for taking the time to share your feedback with us!

A3
> Yes, we are going to share this with our team. Our team
is not always able to review everything our customers share
with us. They do their best. They are going to check it out.
Hopefully they will find your feedback interesting and
implement it in one of our future updates. Thanks!

A1 is very short and it comes across as rude.

A3 is too long. Yes, it shares more details. It may even be closer to how things work internally. But, it’s more work for your customer to read it. And you lose the opportunity to use the space for more important things.

A2 is shorter. Does away with unnecessary detail. Focuses on making our customer feel important. Notice how the word “absolutely” helps. We also leave room to thank them for spending the time to craft the feedback. We are acknowledging the value of their communication. We make them feel appreciated.

A3 is not bad of course, but I prefer A2.

Address all points

Addressing all points is a preoccupation of mine. I can’t grasp how many times support teams get that wrong.

Here is our customer asking about a problem that is not always happening. They are not sure whether that’s normal, but it’s clearly not an ideal behavior of our product. It’s also out of the ordinary compared to other similar products out there.

Our customer writes:

> This does not always happen, but when it does it does not
let me do X. I expect to be able to do X, since other
products allow me to do it, and your product allows me to do
it in some cases. Is that normal?

Here’s a response that does not address the points:

> Hi! Here's a workaround. I hope that helps. Thank you.

Note: The workaround is not an ideal solution.

The response seems helpful, but it’s not. It makes our customer feel we have ignored almost everything they have said.

Yes, we are suggesting a workaround, and we believe our customer will appreciate it. But we failed to address three points:

  1. The problem is not always happening. So there’s something we should investigate.
  2. Our customer is asking if that’s normal.
  3. The proposed solution is without a doubt not as ideal as what the customer is expecting based on their experience with other products.

Three major points the customer support person ignored. The result is our customer feeling brushed aside.

Here’s an attempt at a better version:

> Hi! I am not sure why this happens sometimes. It may not
be normal. I will investigate this and get back to
you. That's without any doubt not ideal, but if you do Z you
may achieve what you need. I hope that helps. Cheers,
Petros!

Acknowledge how a person feels

Our customer has sent us an email. There is no doubt what they are reporting has influenced them. There’s no question of whether that’s true or false. Quit trying to prove the customer wrong. It’s not about you.

In fact they may be wrong! But that doesn’t matter.

Here’s the thing. If something frustrated them, you can’t change that. For a split second, something hurt their feelings. It does not matter if it was their stupidity.

Face plant
Face plant

So you have to choose your words in a delicate way.

Here’s an example response to a customer who didn’t have a great experience with a support team, and sent their feedback about it:

> Thank you for your feedback about your interaction with
our team yesterday. And sorry if you didn't get good support
from us.

That’s an excellent answer. Except you can do away with one small word and make it outstanding:

> Thank you for your feedback about your interaction with
our team yesterday. And sorry if you didn't get good support
from us.

Removing the word “if” doesn’t leave the slightest room for a misunderstanding. We have to acknowledge how our customer felt. All the way. There’s no question of whether they didn’t get good support from us. They felt they didn’t and that’s all that matters.

One may argue removing “if” may be disrespectful to the specific person in the support team. Especially if they are not ones sending the response. I still insist it’s not about us as customer support people. That’s an opportunity to be the bigger person in a situation.

TL;DR

  1. Write shorter and sweeter responses. Check your first attempt and remove anything not needed. Check it again and make it polite and compassionate. Check it again and count the words. Remove some.
  2. Address all points. ALL. Don’t leave anything. If you are not sure what to say, say that. In a sympathetic way. Promise you will find out and let them know. Check it again. Did you address all points?
  3. Accept the feelings of your customer. It may not be your product’s fault, but it does not matter. It does not change how they have felt even if it was for a split second. Recognize that fact. Be tolerant and understanding.

Words matter. Be wise when you choose them.

What are you up to Petros?

After 9 years at GitHub Support, I am now building Supportress. A simple customer support tool at an unbeatable price, to help teams stay calm and productive. You can always check what I am doing now and where to find me online.

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