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Hey, wow, I'm working (AND you get polls! With tickyboxes and everything!)

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Hey, wow, I'm working (AND you get polls! With tickyboxes and everything!)

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gothic alley
So I am currently designing a customer support center for a web-based product. Why am I telling you? Because I'm curious what you, Gentle Reader, think works in online support- or does not work!

Be as brief or as verbose as you like. Reference things in comments, tell stories. Anything my savvy readers can tell me about what's sucked or rocked as far as support goes online is something I would love to know.

Poll #1432445 Customer Service Dos and Dont's

I want to talk about

My best customer support experience
1(25.0%)
My worst customer support experience
3(75.0%)

This experience was great/horrible because:

Attentiveness / Inattentiveness on support personnel's part
1(25.0%)
quick/tardy response time
0(0.0%)
Issue solved quickly/slowly
0(0.0%)
condescending/empathic support rep
0(0.0%)
easy/difficult to reach support
0(0.0%)
FAQ solved/did not solve problem
0(0.0%)
professional/unprofessional behavior
0(0.0%)
other (please specify in comments!)
0(0.0%)

The website whose support section I most like is:

The website whose support section I least like is:

  • I'm a gonna think about this and then come back and answer with some seriousness. But I wold LOVE to pick your brains at some later point about CS for webapps ... since I'm going to probably be wearing that hat (among many others) for quite a while.
    • Interesting to me that we both prioritized a fair bit of the same things, too.
  • Well, I think as long as the damn things work with Safari .. that's a HUGE plus in my book. When the dialogue boxes and whatnot are skewed all over the bloody place because of fonts or stylesheets .. it's bad. Just give me a few buttons and a box without limited characters and I'm happy. :)
  • Designing and admining Customer support centers is what I do for a living! If you want to get together for drinks and talk about the various issues, I'm open for it.
  • I can't remember very many online customer support experiences, really, because I avoid them like the plague. In most cases I would say I would rather abandon an online product than have to go through their online troubleshooting stuff. Obviously that's less the case if a) the service is essential or otherwise awesome or b) I paid money for it. If the service is also entirely web-based then I'm more likely to look into their web-based support, too, I guess; especially if there is a very obvious Help button integrated into the app environment -- or even better, if my error is captured by the system and appropriate troubleshooting steps are proactively suggested.

    But overall I would say the most important thing for me in an online service environment is how quickly I feel like I am engaged with an actual person. Note that this person does not need to be a customer service rep. -- most importantly, another person who has the same problem as me totally counts.

    This is part of why I tend to use Google to start any troubleshooting, rather than seeking out the branded product support (see note above about this probably being different for a web-based app) -- because the first thing I want to know is whose problem my problem is (mine? the product's? my hardware?), and the easiest way to do that is to see if anyone else is having this problem. If Google turns up a bunch of forum hits, FAQ questions, random bitching, etc. that relates to my difficulty, this is important information in terms of how to move forward. Even better if some of those hits include a solution that someone else has already tested and tried out and reported-on.

    As such my favourite customer/tech support environments tend to be the high-user-participation forums/wikis/issue trackers that seem to most commonly sprout up around open source projects. I don't care if my customer support comes from an actual rep. or a committed user or contributor -- usually the latter is better, but of course such people do not grow on trees.

    In terms of 'encountering an actual person', a strong 'actual person' voice in a FAQ can count -- or at least it can count enough to make sure I read through the FAQ thoroughly. I want my FAQs to sound like they were written by a human being with a vested interest in my problems and in their product.
    • Sorry I'm late getting back to ya here- I've been a bit swamped.

      Engaged with an actual person is a definite plus. I know people got very irritated @ Hotmail when they'd waded through 2 tiers of people c&p'ing answers to them, and generally the first thing I had to do was talk them down a bit. I definitely intend to encourage the support team to modify their boilerplates and personalize them just a smidge: speak in their own voices, as it were.

      I love the wiki/forum open-source model: it's a delightfully transparent means of dealing with customer concerns and of building communities. We're definitely on the same page with that!

      There's going to have to be an FAQ: I'm hoping to set it up to prop directly from the 10-biggest-issues tracking, so all I have to do is peek in now and again rather than think about what's going there. ;) That may be a Frequently Sent Support Responses list (which would get a better name than that): an FAQ would exist alongside that.
  • I tend to avoid contacting support because it's hardly ever helpful. Generally when I'm trying to fill out the form to send off explaining what my problem is the options don't apply to me, or I find them to be so similar that I can't interpret which one I'm supposed to pick. Then you get your generic 'we got your feedback form' email which is almost always tl;dr which gets me all annoyed before I've even attempted contact with a real person.

    The best idea I've seen in a long time is having someone discuss the problem with you live using MSN Messenger where you don't have to fill out a form beforehand, you just click on the 'talk to a person live via chat' and off you go from there. If the site I'm visiting doesn't offer that I ring the phone line because I find emails are just too slow and easily open to misinterpretation. I mean you contact these people when you have a problem you need fixed, not when you want a confusing chat to take place over the next week or so.

    Oh, one other thing I like is when people do a bit of a resolution summary. Sometimes I contact support and then they send me an unhelpful email back and it's like they think that's the end, but I like it when I've confirmed that fixed my problem (or didn't and we continue until it's solved) and then I get an email or some sort of notification saying 'this was your problem, it was resolved by this on this date' so at least I know from their end that they are not actually paying attention to me any more, so if I feel there is still a problem I can go 'Oh no wait, not resolved actually'.
    • I tend to avoid contacting support because it's hardly ever helpful.
      Amen.
      Then you get your generic 'we got your feedback form' email which is almost always tl;dr
      This, I very much would love to avoid: if it's just a webpage that says 'thanks for asking for help! We've gotten your request and we'll be in touch shortly, your tracking # is foo', I would prefer it.

      you just click on the 'talk to a person live via chat' and off you go from there
      I prefer this too- it's a bit manpower intensive, though. And I sincerely doubt I can run 40 IM conversations by myself without getting wires crossed! ;) Definitely was on my radar for down-the-line, though.

      an email or some sort of notification saying 'this was your problem, it was resolved by this on this date'
      ...oh that's a great idea. Thank you!
  • My bests and worsts are both bits and pieces of various online support experiences.

    One of the best: Dell's tech support, whom I contacted via email detailing symptoms and memtest86 results, who overnighted me new memory for one of our desktop boxes no questions asked.

    A worst: Whoever the data provider is for Google maps, whose online problem reporting required page after page of selecting one category/whatever at a time from a menu, with no space for 'other'. After going though several selections, there was no route to properly report the problem I was having, so I crammed it into the wrong box. I then got a reply telling me they couldn't fix it because it wasn't really a problem (of the type I'd been forced to select from their predefined menus).

    A phone number, with a human being at the other end who has the power to solve problems, is always a plus. I know our customers appreciate that and it nets us a lot of business we wouldn't otherwise have. Schwab has always been good with this too. A phone number with a human being who speaks broken, eavily-accented English and can't actually do anything about anything, not so good.

    A list of "FAQ"s that no one has ever actually asked, just skip it. Don't tease me with the notion that a solution to my problem might be in your seemingly vast (at least, going by the number of specifics I have to specify before being allowed to conduct a search) knowledge base, when all of the articles in there are things like 'If the pop-up box says that you need to enter a licence key, type in the license key printed on the back of your CD case'.

    And for the love of everything that is good, do not re-invent the 'message center' wheel. Everyone has email. Everyone already checks their email. Don't make me go four clicks into your website three times a day to see if anyone's bothered to get around to answering my support request. Marginally better is an email telling me I have a new message, but geez, if you're going that far just drop the info into the message, don't make me play clicky-cliky games unless you are dealing with my financial data or something else that should be passworded.
    • I really appreciate your suggestions- thank you! I doubt we'll be going with a phone route: there're difficulties involved there (including which language my second language is) that aren't going to make phone support an effective solution for us.

      And I definitely agree that you shouldn't have to get an email to tell you you have a message. Just give the message in the email (Marshall Macluhan would approve).
  • (no subject) -
    • Re: Customer Service

      Sense of humor deeefinitely pays off, oh heck yes.

      Any websites you can think of that have especially useful features, that you've had to deal with as a customer? I'm thinking about how our portal oughtta look, and it sounds like this is decidedly an issue that is near and dear to your heart. ;)
  • I am going to mention a few wacky things from my own adventures:

    * A good search function for searching the FAQs is imperative.

    * Likewise, categorize the FAQs. That way I don't have to read the whole damn list to find the section on whateveritis.

    * Build the whole damn support site with full accessibility. The more your product targets the elderly, non-power users or the like, the more imperative this is - but it's always imperative, if nothing else because the courts have ruled the ADA does apply to the Internet.

    * Consider screenshots or illustrations, if at all applicable, in the FAQs and troubleshooting stuff. (Admittedly the images are less than blind-accessible, but a huge help for everybody else. Particularly if your FAQs have not yet been translated.)

    * Make sure the Web process works for text readers (it may also be a good idea to make sure it works on phones, and are sometimes the same thing anyway).

    * Make sure the FAQs and contents are updated when changes are made to the app. I hate it when an app adds a new feature, new feature breaks, and there is no support info whatsoever *and* the support tree doesn't even have a category for said problem.

    * Don't tell me to try thing X in the software if my problem is "the software crashes instantly on startup". First-tier support should be better than the FAQs, even if they do spend most of their time copypasting the FAQs.

    * Disabled folks hate CAPTCHA like hatey things. Blind and dyslexic and non-native-English speakers can't read the damn text images. Even non-cripple folks seem to hate them. CAPTCHA has recently added an audio version, which is garbled and hard to hear. Don't make the user jump through this hoop when they've already gone through pages of FAQs. Sort the spam out on your end, not theirs.

    * Respond via actual emails, not just a post on a messageboard.

    I note that lots of folks here prefer phone support; I am so not one of them. Email or messenger-window style interaction is preferred. Ideally, *more than one* option for how best to get support is ideal - and don't force me to use only one of those options if stuff gets escalated.

    I'm also seeing a lot of "I want to feel as if I am communicating with a real human being rather than a bad script". Personally, I want the most *efficient* solution. I don't want Chatty Cathy, I want a solution. But a too-technical page with no way to respond does make the user feel as if the support provider doesn't give a fat damn (cf. Microsoft Knowledge Base for a good example; covered in info for developer or internal use, nearly useless to the end user fairly often, written in thick technicalese style).

    I have no idea what good "Did this FAQ help you? yes/no" buttons are if no data is collected on why the FAQ sucks. I suppose it may let the user vent about how sucky the support system is, but that's not something that should be addressed by such a band-aid.
  • Upon getting a response to my issue via a support ticket email notification, it was apparent that the customer help person was just c/p'ing from a checklist, telling me to do everything I had already STATED I had done without even a brief 'please do it again' acknowledgement. Staff then told me basically 'this solution solves your problem so you must be doing it wrong.'

    When I get talked down to I stop using your product, dumbass. :/
    • Support's definitely gonna C&P, unfortunately, no matter where you go. The 80/20 rule (80% of your work can be performed using only 20% of the tools at hand) ensures the perpetuation of copy-pasta, & also means that it's very easy to fall into the trap of imagining that everybody is part of that 80%. I am planning on designing boilerplate that essentially admits to being boilerplate, and which at the bottom gives clear directions about how to say 'this isn't the problem I'm having, it's something else', 'I've tried this on 40 computers on 20 networks, I sincerely doubt it's my machine' & so on.

      While I don't want every support request to wind up as an involved personal dialog, t'would be nice to allow that I might make mistakes in the initial response- and to allow people to actually get something of a feeling of 'human touch' out of it.
  • 7 years of CS/tech support hell

    You've gotten very many good suggestions so far. I'd like to second the comment about Dreamhost.com from a customer perspective: the 'file a support ticket' flowchart reminds you to check the wiki or discussion boards, then leads you through a series of checkboxes/dropdowns to narrow the actual problem area (offiering tips to common problems along the way), before dumping you into essentially an email form. But the stroke of brilliance is the two dropdowns at the bottom -- one for selecting exactly how urgent the problem is (from 'just a casual question/comment' to 'OMG PEOPLE ARE DYING') and the other for selecting your level of expertise ('please explain everything to me very carefully' to 'I know more than you').

    This last lets the customer service rep better tailor their response, which is a win-win situation all around. Nothing irritates me more than a CS person talking down to me, and nothing irritates a customer more than being baffled and confused by an explanation they can't understand.

    If/when you do live online chat support, make ABSOLUTELY SURE that your CS people can type decently fast. And spell, with good grammar. I once sat online with a rep from HP about some bizarre problem with my printer (which still hasn't been resolved), and he committed every cardinal sin I know of. Asked me for information I'd already given, c&p in a series of steps that did not match the menu in the printer I had (brilliant, dude), didn't believe me when I explained the precise problem and error message, three times, and worst yet was the SLOWEST TYPIST IN THE WORLD. I mean literally it took him 5 minutes to type "okay what operating system do you have" (I timed it).

    On the CS side, obviously a huge database of answers and/or a lot of knowledge is a good thing. Make it easy to constantly add/edit canned answers, in such a manner that the other CS reps can find and use them just as easily. It's tempting to put all of that on the web in a big knowledgebase, but that tends to lead to clutter that customers don't want to dig through, particularly when 80% of it doesn't address the most common problems they have.

    If there's some mechanism to pass email support from agent to agent, for goodness sake don't lose prior emails and force the customer to start from square 1.

    Beware of email systems that can end up with the customer replying to an agent that has just gone on vacation for a week.

    • Re: 7 years of CS/tech support hell

      I agree, I've gotten a ton of useful feedback- and a ton more, from you!

      For the live online chat support, that's probably going to just start out being me, so I imagine I'll be typing a hell of a lot. But hey, I'm quick, at least!

      a DB of answers is going to be something I intend to propagate: it'd be far easier on me than waking me up when someone's having a problem and I'm mysteriously the only person who understands it.

      The ticketing system will be nice and transparent from the back-end side, so it'll be quite easy to keep track of what's been already said, so long as the customer doesn't do something silly like yank their CS ticket # from the email thread.

      Thanks a bundle!
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