Katerina Solomanjuk managed a customer support team at Bolt before leading one at Veriff. Her mission is to build a team that wows Veriff’s customers. Here are her tips for breaking out of the vicious circle of mediocre customer support.
Katerina Solomanjuk, October 7th, 2019
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I have heard many adjectives used to describe work in customer support. Stressful, low-paid, and important were a few, but one time a friend of mine upset me by claiming that “anyone could do that job.” Naturally, I started arguing. But after a while, I realized that my friend only dealt with bad customer support. That anyone can do.
It’s doing a good job that’s tough.
Take a moment and think about the last time you interacted with a customer support rep and said, “Wow, I got all issues solved and have already forgotten about the issue I had”. Frankly, I have never felt this way. I had acceptable and even good conversations, but they were never good enough for me to forget about the problem addressed.
Before joining Veriff, I led a customer support team of 15 at Bolt. Now I lead a smaller team at Veriff, and because we are a young company I see it as my mission to develop a team that will “wow” our customers. Would you like to have an awesome support team at your company? Here is how I learned, through plenty of challenging cases, how you can break out of the vicious circle of mediocre customer support.
That’s the opening to many of the customer support responses I get. Every time I see it I think, hang on a second, I just told you I couldn’t get what your service is there for, so it did caused me more than an inconvenience.
For me, an inconvenience is when you forgot to bring me cream with my coffee and I had to stand up and ask. For you, it is when you didn’t bring me a coffee at all until I reminded you. Just like me, your customer would be much happier if you acknowledge the real thing you are apologizing for without hiding behind ambiguous terms.
So what should you say instead? If you ever worked in customer support or had any service job, your manager has most likely mentioned the importance of empathy. When I gave feedback on this important element of communication to team members and colleagues in the past, I often see it misinterpreted.
Being empathetic doesn’t just mean starting every message with “I am truly sorry for this”.
As a child, when I did something wrong and gave the same “I am really sorry for this” response, my mom would immediately ask what I was sorry for. She made it clear my apology was not sincere before I even tried to acknowledge what has gone wrong. The same goes for you with your customers.
If you see what their issue is, you go acknowledge how it is upsetting and start offering a solution. So, when you apologize to the customer, start by asking yourself what it is that you are apologizing for. For example, if you are apologizing because the customer couldn’t find a clear answer in your company's Knowledge Base or didn’t even find your Knowledge Base all together, you should be apologizing for it not being accessible or visible enough.
Don’t apologize for the sake of apologizing, always put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Once you realize that, not only you have acknowledged something can be better and the customer sees that you care to improve, you made the first step to fixing the root cause. This goes for every other problem, once you do you will see that empathy and desire to fix it will come naturally.
I bet at least once in your life you have heard a customer support representative say this. The reason being that for years companies considered support teams to be the clean-up crew of their enterprise. Support was an afterthought and usually entailed a team with no involvement in decision-making and no say in the company policies.
Unfortunately, companies with this reactive approach still exist. Luckily for me, Veriff is not one of them. At Veriff, we are all empowered to solve issues, and what better way than taking advice from the team that listens to our customers!
In addition to responding to issues, customer support reps at Veriff are also responsible for delivering solutions. Because of this, we can confidently start our message with I will help you, and can be transparent about what we will do to solve the problem. No redirecting to other departments needed.
That’s right, mate. Don’t tell me you don’t know what bexor is. Everyone knows that.
Yes, I did make bexor and surrey.fs up, but now you get an idea of how your customers feel when you use technical terms that non-geeks on the other side cannot decode.
Don’t get me wrong, if you are good at what you do, bexor and surrey.fs are the terms you use to understand each other and it works. But your customers have their bexors, surrey.fs’ and probably other terms that they use internally. You don’t speak their language of bexors, so don’t try to speak yours with them.
When you talk to a customer, you need to make sure the language used is understood by both parties. How? Try and explain how to use a phone to a person from the Middle Ages, who has never seen one. Now, will you start by saying “press the On/Off button to start it” or “press the little red rectangular button on the right side of the phone”? They probably have no idea what the On/Off button is, just like you still have no idea what bexor is.
Sorry if Kitty Oneone is somebody’s name, but I will just go ahead and assume that it isn’t.
If a customer messaged you saying, “Hey, I can’t log in, could you help me?” and you made them feel like they got an automated message, it’s likely that they won’t read your response. Robotic responses are hard to engage with, and overly formal communication often comes off as a generated message.
When I studied English, my post-soviet education dictated how to write formal letters, e-mails, job applications, which was supposed to offer some practical use later on. Maybe you were taught this way in school, too. If so, then I will be a rebel and tell you to forget the communication rules you were taught.
The way we talk to our customers depends on two factors: the general communication style of the business we represent and the communication style of our customers. Here at Veriff, we strive to be friendly when speaking with our potential and existing customers. We avoid corporate jargon while we also don’t treat customers as a childhood friend.
We are clear, polite, friendly, straight to the point, sometimes funny, and honest. This works well for when you don’t know who is on the other side of the screen or when the person on the other side is upset.
Now, we have some customers we speak on a regular basis to and some are just very casual, so, if they address us with “How are you?” or “Hey”, we are free to do the same, as this will only keep the dynamics on the same level, instead of making us more distant.
If however, we receive a formal email, we respond in the same way, with similar salutations and wishes, using similar terms and notions, so again, we end up speaking the same language, not two different ones.
EEK or Estonian Kroon was the currency used in Estonia up until January 2011. Let’s say the reply above was the result of getting a wrong answer from a colleague, and sending it away without doing any due diligence. Naturally, the customer is confused and desperately trying to find what this currency is and why we are asking for a million of this mysterious EEK.
This situation could be avoided by having a reliable source of information, be it company documentation or a system in place that makes asking a colleague who works directly with the problem easy. Even more simple, just make sure you always ask for a second opinion.
Remember, you can always admit to the customer you need a bit more time to find out what the answer is instead of just giving an incorrect one. At Veriff we want customers to be able to efficiently find answers to their questions without our help and we would like to find answers to our questions somewhere too.
Having an up-to-date Knowledge Base solves both problems, and when done right it reduces the ticket workload for your team.
I don’t think it is that rare. Most companies do alright at providing some kind of answer to you right away. After all, speed is considered to be one of the most important elements of good customer support. However, here is why I did not start this article talking about it.
If on your first day at a new customer support job you are told to be fast, then you are likely to fall into panic mode. Sometimes you can also get fixated on the idea that it is the only important aspect of support. For example, read the message below and see how you feel afterwards.
You might think this is an absurd example, but I have seen very similar things before. The impression I get is that somebody has typed this without looking at the screen or the keyboard, and my next step is to drop it and find a more reliable service.
That said, it is important to understand that as a customer support representative, you represent the company in the same way a CEO does. So how do you give the right information, avoid mistakes, stay personal, and be quick at the same time?
You need to invest a bit of time in advance by creating awesome personal templates, learning how to use shortcuts or text expanders, have well-written support articles handy, getting to know the product in-depth, knowing who to turn to, having proper escalation procedures, and making sure you know your Tech Support team.
To deliver fast and high-quality customer support, you need to do a lot of work beforehand. Today I talked about speed, speaking human language, giving appropriate solutions, taking a personal approach to customers, and being empathetic while taking responsibility.
The tips in this article can help you improve on each of these elements in your team. I do hope some of you are rushing to share this with their people already but remember, things don’t change overnight.
Katerina leads Veriff’s team of customer support specialists, and mediocre customer support is her kryptonite.