Pillars of Support: Building Trust

Important: This post is part of our Pillars of Support: A document from the SomewhereWarm Manual that describes the function and principles of our support team. Want to know why we published it? It’s all in the introductory post.

At SomewhereWarm, we work to help our customers overcome their boundaries and be successful in whatever they choose to do. We are successful when our products help them put their ideas in motion. This defines not only how we build our products, but also how we support them.

We regard our products as tools: WooCommerce store owners employ them to solve specific problems, and ideally expect them to:

  • Be intuitive to use.
  • Stay in working order with as little maintenance as possible.

Any tool that lives up to this promise evokes a feeling of trust. If a feature is difficult to use, customers will reach out for help – and it’s up to us to build their trust. When a store owner gets in touch to report a bug that cost her sales, her trust in our work is already lost – and our job is to restore it.

But how do we build trust?

Listen

We are in the best position to help others when are able to understand:

  • their situation; and
  • what’s expected from us.

This is possible even if the person at the other end of the line is not in a position to clearly communicate what they need help with.

1. Take time to collect and analyze all available information. Use as much as you can to build a case, including live site URLs, system data, error logs, etc.

2. If the information you have is incomplete, make assumptions and work with them.

3. Make your first response count. Remember to:

  • summarize your understanding of the problem; and
  • ask for confirmation before offering a solution.

Doing so affirms your intention to understand and help, and gives the customer an opportunity to steer you towards the right direction. For example:

From the details you provided, I understand that… Is this correct? If yes, then…

4. Ask questions with purpose. Sometimes, you may have so little to work with that you’ll find it difficult to draft a helpful first response. It’s okay to send a reply that only contains questions, but before you do, make one last effort to uncover useful information. Ask a teammate for her perspective. She might help you come up with a good assumption.

5. Avoid asking questions that have already been answered. Pay attention, especially when jumping into an existing conversation!

Empathize

Our work has a profound impact not only on business owners, but also on their staff and customers. A serious bug or performance issue can affect many lives. In critical situations, a quick reaction from us can make a big difference to the well-being of many. Our help can make a fulfillment team’s day at work less stressful. A store owner may get to spend a few more hours with her family. A developer may meet an important project milestone or deadline.

1. Empathize with the struggles store owners or developers face, even if their tone or language leaves you with bitter feelings. We are on their team. We cannot accept mistreatment, but can understand frustration and empathize with it.

2. Always communicate progress. If you have escalated a ticket, or know a teammate is working on a solution, let the customer know. When you have an update to share, follow up quickly. Remember that waiting is stressful.

3. When you’re writing, consider the reader’s state of mind and adjust your tone accordingly. Are you offering a solution? Is the customer angry or confused?

Be Human

1. We work with people, not tickets. Most of our customers are store owners and independent developers: Have a look at their website. Share your love for the candy bars they are selling. Praise the work they’ve done if you like it.

2. If a customer says something about our work, our site, or our team that made your day better, give something back when you thank him/her! Don’t just say “Thanks for the kind words”. Share your feelings. Let our values be heard.

3. Don’t let KPIs get in the way of interacting with customers on a human level. As your technical competence increases, you become more familiar with the protocols and tools, you process information faster, and you utilize the available resources more efficiently. Productivity is great, but only up to a certain point. If your responses start to feel calculated and cold, you are going too fast. Productivity shouldn’t take over your willingness to relate with people on a human level, or your ability to process information thoroughly.

Be Honest

Ideally, we should always offer resolution. However, customer expectations are not always realistic. To remain sustainable while supporting, maintaining and improving our products, we must draw a line and avoid crossing it while supporting individual customers.

Remember it’s possible to win trust even when it’s not possible to provide a solution. If a red line has to exist, then we must be in a position to explain why it’s there: Usually, it’s to protect our sustainability and allow us to do impactful work at scale. Being honest and sharing our perspective is the best way to set limits without losing a customer’s trust.

1. Be open about the way we work. To deliver the highest value to the majority of our customers, we must prioritize work on new features and improvements. If a request is low on our list of priorities, explain why. Make it clear that we’re listening, but avoid shaping unrealistic expectations.

2. Do what it takes to offer resolution. It’s okay to recommend a competing product, suggest a developer for custom work, or point a customer to our ideas board.

Take Responsibility

1. Apologize for what we could have done better in the first place. Not for what the user failed to understand on their own.

2. If we’ve missed the mark somewhere, explain what went wrong and describe what we are doing (or did) to remedy the situation.

Be Knowledgeable

1. Use proper English. Proofread before sending a response. All of us make mistakes, but glaring language errors make you lose authority and trust. Ask a teammate to proofread, if in doubt.

2. The knowledge of our team is always greater than the combined knowledge of its members. You are not expected to know everything. If you are not certain how to approach a question or situation, or just need a second opinion, ask a teammate!

3. Let customers know when you’ve consulted another support team member, or when you have involved a developer. It makes a difference in winning trust: It shows that we are willing to get out of our way as a team to help them. You may use different levels of subtlety to do this: Subtle – use we instead of I. Direct – say that you “looked into this with our development team”. In some cases, you can even provide artifacts – a picture can tell a thousand words.

4. Remember we are a distributed company. Knowledge is the air we breathe to stay on course. Every time you start a conversation with a teammate, ask yourself:

Is there any chance someone else might want to contribute, or benefit from this discussion?

If the answer is yes, then make the discussion publicly on Slack. Let everyone contribute to it and learn from it.

5. Treat every challenge and every new piece of knowledge as an opportunity for improvement. If our team could have made it easier for you to arrive at the same conclusion, contribute: Add a new article in our Knowledge Base and let others know, or take a note and discuss your ideas in the weekly team hangout.

6. Collect and share product insight with every opportunity. Stay informed about upcoming features and limitations.

Be Kind

1. Greet in a warm, friendly manner. Always use the customer’s name and double-check that it’s correct. If no name is available, start with “Hey there,”.

Hey John,

Or:

Hi there, Jane!

2. Thank customers for getting in touch:

Thanks for reaching out!

Or:

Thanks for getting in touch!

3. Share gratitude for receiving details, or clear steps to replicate an issue:

Thanks for the follow-up.

Or:

This is really helpful! Thank you for taking the time to share this information.

4. Offer sincere thanks when receiving feedback or suggestions:

Thank you for sharing your insight with us! We are always looking for ideas to make Product Bundles work better in use cases like this.

5. Ask politely. For example:

Could you please share a screenshot to help us understand what you are seeing?

6. Never use caps.

7. Avoid using subjective, negative, or dismissive language. Here’s our Blacklist:

  • simple, easy – Make it as clear as you can and let them decide if it’s easy. If it’s not, you’ll be adding insult to injury.
  • actually – Comes across like you’re being condescending. We’re not correcting, we’re teaching.
  • to be honest – Weren’t you already?
  • ticket – We work with people, issues, or cases. We have conversations. Avoid using the word “ticket” to refer to the request you are currently working on.
  • hope this helps – Shuts the conversation down and doesn’t ensure we’ve solved the problem. Sometimes a valuable tool, but only for those of us with the authority and knowledge to make that decision.
  • unfortunately – Sometimes this is needed, but its use can easily become habitual. If you have to use it, make sure you are providing an alternative course of action. Prefer using “I’m afraid” or “as much as I’d love to”.

Beware of over-used phrases that customers perceive as empty or boilerplate:

  • thank you for the feedback – A pervasive copy/paste phrase that shows no real human touch. If you use it, support it with information that indicates how we gather and utilize feedback, for example “Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas in such detail! I’ll discuss your feedback with the rest of the team later today and…”
  • apologies for the inconvenience – An empty apology is worse than no apology. Solve the problem, or let the customer know what you are doing to help. If you agree that something looks bad, there’s no need to sugar coat it. This is much better than an apology: “This looks bad! I’m getting our developers to take a look and will get back to you as soon as I have an update from them.”

8. When closing, encourage customers to ask more questions:

Is there anything else I can help with?

9. If you have asked for additional information, show that you are eager to receive it and resume work:

Looking forward to your response.

10. Close with a fond farewell:

Cheers,

Or:

Thanks again 🙂

Or:

Have a great weekend,

Be Clear

1. Clearly and directly answer any explicit or implied questions. Quote each question before typing your answer, especially when responding to multiple questions.

2. Every phrase or piece of information that doesn’t directly answer a question, shape expectations, or cultivate trust is potentially unnecessary. Instead of pulling out a terrible, non-helpful phrase, craft a meaningful response. Think carefully about what you want to say:

  • Is it necessary to say?
  • Does the phrase you are about to use provide help or convey a genuine message?
  • Can you say something that’s better for the specific situation?
  • Have you already provided a response that could be perceived as cold, or unhelpful?

3. When giving directions, use steps or bulleted lists. Some important points to note:

  • Emphasize important actions within the text.
  • Name and emphasize important UI options/settings/titles.

For example:

  1. Log into your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Go to the Plugins menu and find the plugin you want to update.
  3. Click Delete and confirm.
  4. Once you’ve removed the plugin, Go to Plugins > Add New.
  5. Click Upload from .zip at the top and upload the newer version.
  6. Activate it when prompted.

4. Evaluate the technical competence of the person you are assisting and take this into account when requesting information, giving directions, or sharing knowledge. Avoid technical terms and explanations unless explicitly asked or expected to provide a technical response.

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