How to Create Fantastic Online Support Experiences

Software companies frequently push their reputation for providing fabulous support as a benefit they promote to potential users. As a person who signs into more than 10 software applications in my daily job effort, I've come to appreciate quality support a whole lot. 

My own philosophy for support here at TimeTap is to be kind before anything else. I've found that most users, by no fault of their own, are typically contacting me because they've fallen somewhere along the spectrum of frustration.

Either they can't figure something out or we can't do something they're looking to do. Whichever camp they fall into, I approach it universally by validating their frustration through kind words of reassurance and looking to identify their objectives to see how the software can meet them.

I've known this philosophy for myself but have been interested for some time now about other top level software providers' philosophies. I asked three SaaS companies who I heard about mainly through their crazy-good support to answer some questions about best practices: Batchbook a social CRM for small business, ShopLocket an ecommerce application that makes selling easy anywhere on the web, and Squarespace a web design and hosting platform that uses innovative tools for unlimited artistic expression. 


Question 1:

With a virtual interaction between a company and its customers, it can be really difficult to create a personal experience and really make them feel connected to you. How do you feel your support staff creates a personal experience for your company's users?

We do our best to be super personal, including the easy things like being sure to greet folks by name and answering all questions as specifically as possible. Additionally, we frequently create customer specific screencasts to thoroughly answer questions that would require a long explanation, speaking to them directly through that medium. We also try to respond in the tone of the original email. If folks are being funny or silly, we encourage the team to answer in a similar fun tone. If customers are upset or anxious, we leave silliness aside and respond in a more sincere tone.  Our goal isn't to just answer the question, but to connect with customers on a personal level and to let them know we understand how they're feeling.

 In general, it's harder to make a personal connection online compared to in-person. That being said, it isn't impossible. Rule number one is that you have to be real with people. Don't give automated answers and don't sound like a robot. At the end of the day, on both sides of the interaction are human beings. When your product or service isn't working the way it should, put yourself in their shoes to see how frustrating it is and try to relate to them on a personal level. Customers will see that and appreciate it because they don't get it from most companies.

Here at Squarespace, especially in a customer care sense, we're all about creating a uniquely personal experience for each and every customer. The beauty of assisting with website creation is the wide range of ways customers utilize our platform. Bloggers, online merchants, creatives wanting to display their portfolios... the possibilities are endless. Assisting them through the site building process gives us a chance to peruse their content, getting to know them and what they're passionate about. Ultimately, we're fans of our customers and celebrate their victories.


Question 2:

Among every user base you come across the loud complainers who insist that they should be compensated for a bug they had to experience (and sometimes it isn't a bug but a user error, and yet they can still be irate). How do you handle these types of users?

From Batchbook: We’re pretty lucky that this isn’t a super common experience for us.  However, we do always take requests for refunds into consideration and are generally happy to work toward meeting those requests either partially or fully. It, of course, depends on the individual situation but largely we feel that a customer’s faith in our ability to right what they consider a wrong by us is worth a few bucks. 

From ShopLocket: In general, you have to try to keep all of your customers happy, but especially the big ones. At ShopLocket, we try to make things right when we screw up. That being said, you have to draw the line at some point. There will always be people who try to take advantage of your business and your kindness. At some point, it's better to let these people go. Try to do everything you can for your customers, but don't get taken advantage of. 

From Squarespace:  Those who are the loudest in this sense are the ones who love what you offer the most, and want nothing more than the best experience possible. It's not about so much about "handling" as it is about listening and doing our best to make it right, whether it's directly attributed to our platform or not. An oft-overlooked step in empathizing is being the best listener possible. If we can pick up on any nuances or cues to help gain additional context, this helps us clarify any misunderstandings and more quickly bring a pain-point to resolution for our customer.

We understand that there are differing levels of tech savvy, and not only do we share knowledge of the Squarespace platform, we often guide our customers on the external elements of the web. Topics such as domain-related DNS mapping - or what SEO is and how to optimize for it - are things we take great pride in helping our customers to understand. These discussions can really benefit us as a community.


Question 3:

What do you think are the biggest advantages small software companies' support teams have over larger software companies' support teams?

From Batchbook: Being on a small team means that we’re often on a first name basis with many of our customers and can draw a clear an understanding of their goals. It’s not uncommon to hear our team chatting offline about a customer’s concerns and working together to resolve it. Perhaps most importantly, we’re able to empower our front line folks to resolve customer issues quickly. We aren’t tied to strict rules of interaction so our team has the freedom to help customers reach their goals in the time and method we best see fit.  Additionally, since we’re a small business and most of our customers are small businesses as well, we feel better able to understand what our customers are going through and looking for since we’re in a similar situation.

From ShopLocket:  I think in general, it's just the personal touch that we can give. Sometimes I email a company and I don't hear back for days or weeks. At ShopLocket, we try to respond within a few hours. Obviously this gets harder to do when someone emails at 3am, but we still try. A lot of people don't look at this as a scalable solution, but it doesn't matter. If you can do it now, do it. You'll figure it out later.

From Squarespace: Flexibility and freedom of culture are definite advantages. While we are the customer-facing voice of our company, our team is increasingly data-driven to help us adapt to our customers' needs. On a daily basis, we're analyzing the best ways to grow a customer's experience in a way that makes the most sense to them. Unlike some companies, we genuinely listen to customer requests, and their voice often lends to change as much as our internal processes.

Squarespace as a whole promotes a culture of individualism, creativity, and the freedom to surface ideas, and that has made our growth an awesome experience. Our customer care team takes this and runs a marathon with it. The ability to blend our uniqueness with the service we provide, creating the truly personal connection our customers deserve, is our daily motivation.


Rounding it off:

See what I mean? Some really fabulous responses that provide some different angles and perspectives for getting support for your online, scalable components off the ground.

As I continue to grow with my role as a customer support enthusiast at TimeTap online scheduling, I'm glad to have other companies growing right alongside us in the SaaS space. It's helpful, I think, to learn together in this budding industry best practices for getting support questions answered and keeping users on the other side of frustration. 

One thing I don't want to leave this post without mentioning is that support has often been the last role to be filled. It reminds me a lot of how we all think that because we know how to write complete sentences we therefore know how to communicate our ideas clearly over email. 

My friends have often heard me gripe about this, but there are times where I'm 24 messages deep in an email thread and I don't even remember where it got started. Not to say I always write with extreme clarity as it is a constant practice of mine, but there are times where I think, "Wouldn't it have saved us both a boatload of time to have a phone call about this?" 

Just as emailing isn't something we can be naturally good at because we know the basics of grammar, support isn't something we can be naturally good at because we know the basics of being kind and understanding. Without knowing how to put kindness and understanding into actual use in support tickets, support answers can be detractors to users in no time. 

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