Self-Help and What It Means to the Future of Customer Service

Self-help–it’s the sort of thing that everyone wants to be able to do in order to be the most efficient they can be without having to bug someone else or take more time out of their already busy day to track down assistance.  Self-help is becoming the norm in everyday customer service, across many different technology platforms.  But, the question that has yet to be answered is, will the general public accept the self help model of service?  The answer is, if implemented correctly, yes, because it will increase productivity and make customers feel empowered–able to assist themselves without having to ask anyone else for guidance and without having to wait around for answers or instructions.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people complain about having to speak to a Help Desk representative because they often sound like they’re just reading from a script, giving no real advice and providing no real insight. Experiences like these offer very little to instill confidence in a customer about the level of service they’re receive.  By giving customers the option of self-help, we’re putting them in the driver’s seat. They can resolve issues for themselves and feel the pride that’s inherent in fixing something on their own.

Support professionals need to be creative in identifying and creating opportunities for customers to embrace the self-help style of customer service, though, in order to encourage the mainstream adoption of the model. Successful self-help relies on detailed and well-informed knowledge base articles, how-to videos, and tutorials. Compiling lists of frequently asked questions is a great place to start–

If we approach development projects with consideration for where we can build self-help options into the software we’re building, we can make it easier for our customers to use and experience the benefits of our solutions. Finding opportunities to place a link or a button that provides immediate access to knowledge base articles that offer step-by-step procedures on how to fix issues are a great example: tutorials and how-to videos make it much easier for users to “see” the application in use, instead of having to read through steps which might be confusing to some. Identifying ways to incorporate both options, like the use of new “multiscreen” software built into many new Samsung phones and tablets, is fantastic because it gives the user the ability to view the help documentation while walking through the necessary steps in the app at the same time.

As developers and support representatives, we need to keep in mind that, the more we can successfully integrate self-help features into the software we build, the more value we’ll provide to the customers using our solutions and the easier it will be for our customers to stay on task without getting waylaid or frustrated. In a society where time is money and instant gratification is expected, this value can’t be overlooked.


Supporting New Software? No Problem.

One of the first stages of the software development life cycle is the roll-out of brand new software and with it comes that awkward honeymoon phase – it’s anyone’s guess as to what problems might arise during the first few weeks of use. With this comes a sense of uncertainty, but it doesn’t have to be all that scary! Since I’ve started working at Algonquin Studios, I’ve seen many old and grizzled systems scrapped in favor of bright and shiny new ones and I’ve learned a lot about piecing together a support process for when you aren’t totally familiar with the new software. Here are a few important things to keep in mind when venturing into uncharted territory:

There will be bugs. Probably more of them than you expected.

Even if you have the most fantastic software developers imaginable (like we do here at Algonquin), there are going to be unforeseen issues that pop up, so expect a sizable workload increase in the first couple months after releasing a brand new system. This leads to my next point…

Stay organized and consistent with bug tracking.

With an increase in bug reporting, it’s vital that the support team is clearly documenting all bugs reported and all team members tasked speaking with end users are kept up-to date on issues as they develop. Being diligent about your tracking will ensure that when it comes time to fixing those nasty bugs, everyone has as smooth a ride as possible.

Make sure you manage customer expectations.

As with all customer support issues, it’s important to manage expectations about bug fixes and requests for new features (Hey, I actually wrote a whole post about that here!). If there’s an issue or request that a user is anxious about seeing to resolution, let them know that you’ll be documenting the issue to be reviewed, but make no promise of when it will be completed. Not everything can be fixed or added at the same time and it’s best not to give false expectations.

Create and update a Knowledge Base from the get-go.

If you’re not keeping an updated Knowledge Base for your support team, you need to start… And you need to start yesterday. A centralized location for in-house use is crucial to being able to provide consistent answers on issues as they arise. Are you receiving the same questions on how to do a specific task in your software? Create a step-by-step “how-to” that you can send to customers quickly and easily, saving everyone a whole lot of time and confusion.

Have a simple way to escalate issues on a regular basis.

Whether it’s a weekly meeting or a regularly-sent report, there needs to be a way to let upper-level management know what’s going on. It’s ultimately not up to the front-line team to decide what gets fixed and when, but it is their responsibility to make sure the higher-ups are able to hear about the most dire issues. If there’s no process in place to communicate this, make sure you create one so the development life cycle can progress naturally.

Remember, as bleak as handling support may seem at the launch of new software, it will always get easier as time goes on. Implementing a brand new system is a learning process for both end users and support teams, so treat it as such! Look at it as an opportunity to grow your own skills and knowledge and reassure everyone involved that the process will all be worth it in the end. Every company will handle the launch of new software differently; what are some examples of procedures that your team utilizes when implementing a new system? Leave a comment and let us know!

The Top 5 Reasons I Love Our Support Ticketing System

During my time here at Algonquin Studios, we’ve made changes to the customer service tools that we use to support our clients, trying to find the best fit for our team and the best level of service for the client. Our most recent change has been, in my opinion, the best–we made the switch to Zendesk, a support ticketing system that tracks all of our emails and phone calls, almost one year ago today and the past year has been a truly productive one for our team (and our clients).

Honestly, there are quite a few reasons why I love Zendesk but today I’m going to share my Top 5, the ones that help make the most impact on our support workload every day:

1) We have exact details about our conversations with clients
There’s no more guessing about topics that may have been covered by another support rep or things that may have been promised during a previous conversation–everything’s there in black and white, for us to review whenever we need it, whether we just need to remind ourselves of where an issue stands or we need a quick way to bring ourselves up to date when we’re stepping in to handle something on a co-worker’s behalf.

2) Clients are automatically emailed whenever there’s an update
Obviously, an automated update system makes it much easier to keep our clients well-informed. No more worrying about forgetting to send important emails–Zendesk has got us covered! Plus, when we’re troubleshooting a support issue, all we have to do is create one update and we can send it to multiple people, keeping everyone involved in the loop.

3) Managers can log in to view our progress on various issues
Zendesk allows our management team to track our progress on support issues without tracking us down for information. With a quick log in, they can see where we are in the support process, determine if the proper progress is being made on the issue at hand, and ensure our clients are getting the attention they deserve.

4) Reporting!
We can track things like call volume, response rates, and most importantly, client satisfaction. Information is power!

5) Three words: Knowledge Base Articles!
We love it when our clients reach out to us, but we also want to make sure we’re giving them a resource for information they can access on their own. Our Zendesk system actually makes it easy for us to build help/how-to articles that empower our clients to find answers whenever they need them: after-hours, on weekends, or even when they simply can’t get to the phone to give us a call. It’s a win-win situation.

Do you use a system to track your support tickets?  How have your customers reacted to the detailed records you’re keeping?

Encouraging Great Customer Support

Just last night I had to call the support line for a service I recently cancelled but still had a few questions about. The call was frustrating and I didn’t get all the answers I needed before I finally gave up and ended the call, dissatisfied and unlikely to ever work with the company in question again. While the call was painful, the experience got me thinking about the support we here at Algonquin Studios offer and take pride in. As a Support Representative, I genuinely strive to be helpful to our clients and hope that their experiences with us are good ones.

My colleagues and I have written blog posts in the past about how to make your support experience the best it can be and how to ensure you get the most out of the time spent on the phone with us. This week, I wanted to switch things up a bit, though, and share some ways we can all encourage the customer service people we talk to on a daily basis, helping them continue to do a good job for us:

Support reps can tell when you’re smiling, even through the phone lines. We know you’re likely calling because something is wrong or you’re experiencing some sort of difficulty but smiling helps your voice to sound friendly, warm, and open-minded and puts both of us in a better frame of mind to tackle the issue head-on.

Give Us Details
If you’re calling about an error message you received when using our software, take note of what the actual error message says. The fact that you’ve done a little work on your own, prior to calling us, can make us feel like we’re in this together and that solving your problem is a team effort. Plus, extra effort on the front end will save us both time, help us get to the root of your problem (and it’s solution) more easily, and get you off the phone and back to your real life more quickly.

Don’t Be Afraid To Joke Around
Humor is one of our “Four H’s” here at Algonquin, so we’re definitely not afraid of cracking a joke or two, even at our own expense! In reality, most of us love jokes as much as the next guy and humor can be a great way to de-stress a situation, so my coworkers and I love talking to clients who know that, even in the face of a problem, they can make the best of the situation and crack a joke. It’s another great way to foster a team spirit and show that we’re all in this problem-solving experience together!

Say “Thank You”
Yes, they’re just two little words, but believe me, those two words are powerful! Never underestimate the power of “thank you,” even in the face of a difficult situation or issue that requires additional follow-up. It makes me smile when a client says “thank you” and helps me feel like I’m truly appreciated for the job I’m doing.

So, those are some of the ways our clients can help me feel better about my job. What insights do you wish you could share with people that could make you much happier in your work life?

Web-based Support – The Way of the Future

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the evolution of support and customer service platforms, and it struck me that we’ve come a long way in such a short time. It seems like only yesterday that I spent close to an hour listening to cheesy hold music while desperately trying to get my apartment’s heat turned on. No matter how many times the automated recording thanked me for my patience, 5 minutes into holding, I was already frustrated at the wait. If it was the utility company’s goal to annoy me before I could even use their service, they were definitely succeeding.

In many instances, phone-based support is a necessary option – if immediate help is needed in the case of an emergency, for example. However, companies are slowly beginning to realize that web-based support offers a solution that is cheaper, more concise, and best of all for the customer – more convenient. These benefits are precisely why I believe we will see more companies put an emphasis on web support and more customers begin to lean towards the web as their preferred method of getting help.

While there are typically some upfront expenses and time investments needed to implement web support, it pays for itself in the long run. The more instances where the customer is helped without the need to speak with a representative of the company, the more man-hours are saved. This can eliminate the need to hire extra employees for the sole reason of handling simple, everyday issues.

Clarity can often be lacking with phone support, especially after the call is over. Unless I’ve scribbled down every word the support representative said to me during our conversation, I’m left with only my memory afterwards. Chances are, I’m not going to remember everything and, in the event I need to review something I forgot from the conversation, I’m simply out of luck. Web-based ticket systems allow me to access all the information related to my issue at anytime and from anywhere, ensuring that if I happen to miss an important piece of information or directive, everything I need is still at my fingertips.

We live in a world where breaking sports updates are automatically sent to our phones and Chinese food can be delivered to your door in 20 minutes – convenience has become a necessity in our every day lives. It’s expected. So, why do we put up with being placed on-hold when there are better solutions out there? Nobody enjoys hearing the static-laden music or the canned “your call is very important to us” message. If it’s so important, why am I sitting here waiting and becoming increasingly frustrated?

I recently had an experience with a computer peripherals manufacturer that helped solidify my position on the subject. I had an issue with the company’s product, so naturally I visited their web site, but not to find assistance online – I was looking for a phone number, as I had been taught to do time and time again. I wasn’t able to find a phone number to call, but I did locate a “Support” button. Clicking the button led to a ticket system that prompted me to type up a quick description of my problem and submit it for review. I did so, and then went back to my routine. A short while later the representative assigned to the ticket responded and he was able to resolve my issue without me ever feeling inconvenienced or frustrated in the slightest.

I truly believe that, in nearly every way imaginable, web-based support is king, and this trend will only increase as time goes on and more ideas and technologies are put into practice. It might take a bit of convincing on the part of consumers, but I feel as the shift towards web-based support systems is an inevitability with all things considered. In what ways do support options influence your decision to use one company over another?  Do you have any feedback on web-based or phone-based support?

Getting the Most Out of Your Software

As we all progress further into the wonderful world of technology, more and more of our daily tasks are gravitating towards automation.  Whether it’s cars that can parallel park themselves (and much better than I could hope to, might I add) or garage doors that can be closed from another continent, technology can make our lives easier in seemingly endless ways and, to me, it seems counterintuitive for businesses, big or small, to resist the inevitable shift towards the technology-friendly way of the future.

Several of the software packages I support are geared towards helping companies in the service industry garner additional business opportunities and make existing business practices more efficient.  From my perspective as a software support representative, the companies having the most success are the ones who squeeze all the benefit they can from all of their software.

During my time working with companies in the service industry, I’ve learned that so much of what you get out of your software depends entirely on the effort you put into it and so, I present you with my personal list of things you should be doing to get the maximum bang for your buck. After all, if you’re shelling out good money for software licenses each month, don’t you want it to work as well for you as it possibly can?

  • DO take advantage of available training sessions.  SWRemote, for example, offers an open training session each week, completely free of charge. QuantumCMS offers free user groups, tutorials, and a community forum to all clients, as well. Not only does the training benefit new users, but it can also help users who have previous experience with the software by highlighting new tricks, tools, or shortcuts they may not know about.
  • DO keep an open mind when learning new software.  It’s easy to get frustrated and take an “the old way was better” approach but it’s important to judge if the old way was really the most efficient using facts, not just an emotional, “gut” response, and to understand that the benefits of a new systems can often far outweigh any learning curve that may exist.  On the other hand, staying open-minded will also help you gauge the true usefulness of the new software once you’ve become accustomed to it.
  • DO utilize your support team.  If frustrating issues arise during your use of your new software, you can be assured that the support team would like to hear about them. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I’ve received comments along the lines of, “I feel bad bothering you with this issue” but that’s exactly what I’m here for – helping users is the sole reason my position exists!
  • DO discuss the use of the product with other users (colleagues or others in your industry).  They’re the ones putting the product to the test in real-world situations so they might be able to offer helpful advice or tips that can help your business thrive.
  • DO make feature requests or offer improvement suggestions on a regular basis.  Making a request is one of the only ways to ensure your software development team knows there’s a feature you’d like to see; for the software that I support, the vast majority of enhancement ideas come directly from our most vocal customers.  If there are changes you’d like to see, speak up!

The obvious goal of most technology is to make things easier. If a specific piece of software isn’t working for you, it’s in your best interests to figure out why but keep in mind that “easier” doesn’t always mean that you won’t have to make an effort to learn or change. Remember this and you’ll be sure to stay ahead of the curve and get more value from the things in your life that are designed to help!

The Often-Overlooked Value Of A Quality Support Team

My team and I are software support representatives – when end users struggle with issues they can’t resolve themselves or encounter bugs or glitches, they call us.  We’re the first line of defense – being there for our customers and putting their minds at ease.  Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about why the position I hold is necessary (and I’m pretty sure the developers we help would agree).

Frustrated customers don’t remain customers for long:

This one should be fairly obvious.  If a product or service you’re using causes you more grief than benefit, you’ll probably stop using it.  When a support call comes in, it’s the support representative’s job to provide the feeling that someone associated with the product cares about the customer’s issue.  If the end user is forced to leave a voicemail and wait for several hours before hearing a response, they might begin feeling like their problem will never get fixed.  No one ever wants to feel as if they are being ignored when they have a problem; letting customers fend for themselves is bound to have them looking for alternatives.

Support representatives are the face of the company:

Support reps are frequently the first people to have contact with a customer, and first impressions can be everything. A positive experience can make the customer feel confident that their issue will be addressed quickly.  A negative experience, however, can deter the customer from calling again.  Although support representatives often make up a very small part of a company, they’re usually closely associated with a customer’s opinion of the entire organization.  When a customer hears my voice, they have something tangible to associate with their product and my demeanor can set the tone for their continued relationship with the company.  Ideally, you want the person on the phone with your customer to be caring, kind, and patient, so the relationship will be as well.

Developers often don’t mix with customers:

While it’s not true in every circumstance, there are a lot of developers who don’t necessarily want direct contact with the customer. Certainly, it’s tough to concentrate on coding if your phone is ringing several times an hour, but developers can also suffer from being too “sophisticated” for their own good (and the clients’) – since they’re surrounded by colleagues who understand complex processes, it can be difficult for them to put a description into layman’s terms for an end user. Software support provides a bridge between end user and developer; the reps have enough technical know-how to work with the developers on more complex issues, but can easily relate to struggling (and, sometimes, impatient) customers.  Plus, I know some developers who just “don’t like talking on the phone” and that’s not the kind of person who should be communicating with customers on a daily basis.

Support representatives take pressure off developers:

This is obviously related to my previous point, but important nonetheless. When a customer loses patience (and nearly everyone does, at some point), they can lash out.  Support representatives are trained to handle this pressure and work to prevent it from reaching the developers. The goal of the development team needs to be producing quality software; the goal of the support reps needs to be managing the expectations of customers and helping them resolve problems quickly and with minimal pain.

It’s no coincidence that the most profitable companies have excellent support teams to back up their excellent products.  Now more than ever, these companies have come to realize that without a strong, committed support team, there would be no customers to support.  Don’t underestimate the value of a great relationship with your customer!

Top 10 Reasons Why My Team and I Keep Coming Back to Work

Everybody has reasons for showing up to work everyday besides the nice piece of paper you receive every other week with a bunch of numbers on it, otherwise known as a paycheck. I recently spoke with my fellow Software Support team members and, together, we came up with a list of our Top Ten reasons why we keep coming back:

  1. We actually enjoy the people that we work with! We don’t just sit here and stare at our computer screens waiting for a phone call or email to come in; we interact with our coworkers to make our work environment enjoyable. Of course, we have to balance our interactions well, in order to make sure we get all of our work done in a timely manner and that all our clients are happy but we have a good time at work. That’s really important.
  2. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we can ask anybody that we feel might, even if that person is the CEO or President of the company. Having access to people at all levels of the company not only makes us feel like we’re part of a real team, it also means we’re always learning and growing.
  3. We love receiving phone calls from our clients, who are a joy to talk to and who always brighten our day.
  4. We actually enjoy digging into reported issues, figuring out why they occurred so that they can be prevented in the future. Knowing that the work we do helps make a better product for our clients is incredibly rewarding, in and of itself!
  5. That one Friday a month where we have a F.E.A.S.T. of food.
  6. We love helping to develop the new features that will make the lives of our clients easier and enable them to work more efficiently.
  7. And, we get a sneak peak at all those new features once they’re ready to be rolled out to clients! Part of our job is to test those new features, making sure they work as designed and that they don’t have adverse effects on existing items in current applications.
  8. We love the feeling we get when we’ve helped a client who called in with a support issue and she hangs up happy, because we were able to solve the issue and send her on her way. Even when the solution isn’t an immediate one, knowing that we have a team of support reps and developers looking into the issue helps us feel confident that we’ll be able to follow up with more information and the client will be happy very soon!
  9. We enjoy contributing to the Knowledge Base Articles we use when we come across questions or issues that we haven’t dealt with before. Chances are, somebody on our team has walked through the problem before and the Knowledge Base provides us another option to get to the root of the issue and help our clients solve it.
  10. The candy machine that sits on my desk. It’s just what it sounds like-people stop by my desk throughout the day feeding their pennies (or other change) into the machine and getting back a few pieces of candy to make them smile. I think candy machines make everybody feel like a little kid who just hit the jackpot.

What are the greatest perks about your job or the company you work for?

How Can I Help You?

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a project and you encounter a problem with one of the tools you use or services you rely on to get things done. Although it’s easy to immediately lose your temper, remember that there’s probably a team of highly-trained, friendly people waiting to help you, just a phone call away. Of course, talking to “customer service” can be painful in and of itself and so, I present you with some tips to ensure both you and your support representative are smiling when your phone call is over:

1. Remember – The Issue You’re Experiencing Is Probably Not The Fault Of The Person You’re Speaking With

This can be easy to forget when frustration abounds. It’s something everyone does – we hit our boiling point and start looking for someone to blame – but the first person to pick up the phone often unfairly takes the blunt of your rage. Take a step back – did this person personally decide to cause you any grief? Probably not. So, before losing it on the person asking “How can I help you?” keep in mind that he just offered his assistance. Which leads to my second tip…

2. Put Yourself In Their Shoes

It’s important to remember that, at the other end of the line, the person trying to deal with your current issue actually receives phone calls from frustrated, upset customers on a regular basis. Possibly all day long. Imagine for a moment that you’ve been put in his position – would you rather be speaking with a calm, patient customer or an angry, short-tempered one? It’s much less stressful for everyone involved if you can keep your cool at all times. Yelling at your support rep probably won’t move things along any quicker.

3. Give As Much Detail As Possible About The Problem You’re Experiencing

Sure, you might not know what’s causing the problem or even what the problem actually is, but you’re not doing anyone a favor by saying “It’s not working” and leaving it at that. Let the person trying to assist you know what you were doing when the difficulty began. Is this the first time you’ve tried to use the product or service? Or were you, perhaps, interacting with the product in a new or unusual way? Remember, the person on the other end of the line can’t read your mind (but rest assured, we’re working on it!), and while the odds are fairly good that the support representative you’re dealing with has resolved that issue in the past for another customer, the more clues he can get about the issue, the quicker he can help you resolve the problem and get you off the phone and on your way to success.

4. Let The Support Rep Know How You Feel

When you’re nearing the end of the call, give a hint as to how satisfied you are. Odds are,  the person you’ve been speaking to really does want you to be frustration-free so, if you’re happy and everything is looking up, tell him that you appreciate his help and that you’ll give a call back if you have any more problems. On the flip-side, if your problem hasn’t been resolved, or you feel like the support service didn’t meet your needs, make it known. It’s his job to put your mind at ease, even if it means transferring you to someone more knowledgeable.

5. Ask About Changes You’d Like To See

Most products aren’t perfect and there’s always room for improvement. If you’ve got a wonderful idea about how to make an existing product more beneficial for you and the others using it, let the support rep know. While he may not be directly responsible for approving or implementing changes, he’ll probably know who to refer you to or how to pass the message along. Companies should want to hear feedback from their end users – nobody knows how useful or effective a product is like the people who use it on a daily basis. If there are bugs or quirks that should be resolved, mention them! It’ll likely help create a better product in the long run.

The most important thing to remember is that most customer support/service reps really do love helping people. And, believe it or not, it really does make our day when a customer ends a call with “Thank you so much for your help!”

Love your support representative and they’ll love you back!