Customer Satisfaction from the Trenches


by James Wright


Every support organization is judged on how well it provides service to its customers. But facilitating a positive customer experience is equally vital, not only for the organization but also for the analysts handling incidents and issues.

Ticketing systems periodically send customers surveys after tickets are closed. Survey responses are typically considered to be measures of success: positive results are highly sought-after by analysts and highly regarded by leadership. If you’re an analyst in the trenches, you may feel you have little control over your customers’ opinions. You may even believe you have little influence over the survey results you receive. The truth is that survey results are earned, often through thoughtful preparation on your part. The good news? You can turn the tide in your favor by keying into the following areas the next time you work with a customer.

A Positive Mindset

Before that first call with the customer, it’s important to bring yourself into a positive mental state. Customers can feel your energy and charisma on the other side of the line as much as they can in person; “the customer can hear your smile” couldn’t be truer in this field. Before your call, try this brief exercise to clear your mind and prepare for the interaction: 

  • Concentrate: Focus on thoughts that conjure joy. 
  • In Their Shoes: Imagine you’re the customer calling for support. 
  • The End in Mind: Envision how the call will go and envision a positive end result. 
  • Get Happy: Smile before making initial contact.

Constant Contact

When working with customers, it’s important to address them by their first name, repeat the issue in their own words, and establish up front that you’re there to help. By making it clear that you’re partners in the resolution of their cases, customers will feel immediately reassured and this will effectively set the stage for all interactions going forward. At this point, there’s no “us vs. them” mentality; their success is your success.

The key to a great partnership and overall satisfaction is clear communication. Every customer that calls upon your services believes that his or her problem trumps everyone else’s. Though this is rarely true, you can make them feel like they’re at the top of your list by maintaining regular contact. Do you need more time to work on an issue? Do you have to escalate an issue to a subject matter expert? Will you not be able to make an appointment? Have you made a breakthrough on a diagnosis? If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” that justifies an email or a quick call to the customer to let them know you’re actively engaged in the issue (even if you’re multitasking). Establishing a partnership early on can pay dividends when the time comes for customers to evaluate the service you provided.

Create an Experience

People don’t go to restaurants just for the food; they also go for the experience. In the same way, when a customer makes contact with technical support, they aren’t just calling for support; they want a good experience. Technical support is often an all-or-nothing proposition, but by creating a great experience for customers when they call, analysts can allay their fears.

Communicating clearly and projecting a confident manner are just two pieces of the puzzle. How would you feel if your waiter made you cook your own food and get your own drinks? You’d be disappointed and the experience would be ruined. In support, embracing the customer’s issue as your own and taking ownership of the resolution can set you apart. When customers hang up the phone, they should feel that the call was painless and your service was excellent, which will ensure that they call upon you in the future.

Finally, “dead air” is an excellent opportunity to build a rapport with your customer. We’ve all been faced with long, awkward silences. Tap into your inner extrovert (real or imagined) and chat with your customer: the weather, family, common interests—anything. The best topic, however, is the customer. Ask them questions about their environment, how they like their job, your product, what other products they’ve considered, etc. Comment on areas of particular interest to you, compliment them genuinely, and make note of their technical pain-points. This will help you build a relationship, but it will also give you a heads-up as to the future needs of their company and insight into how your organization can help.

Handling Customers

If you’re in a position to receive issues directly, it’s imperative that you contact those customers as soon as possible. Why? To impress them. Imagine submitting a ticket and settling in for a long wait, only to hear the phone ring within five minutes. Nothing beats that rush when a customer starts the call with, “Wow, you guys are awesome! That was so fast!” You can’t create a better first impression than this; all you have to do at that point is fix the issue.

If you must reach out via email, templates allow you to both save time and customize your message. Many analysts use the same templates each and every time. That’s like using the same exact résumé for ten different jobs; you simply won’t succeed. Remember to keep your messages short and, again, leave room to customize the text based on the situation.

However you customize the email, these elements are absolutely required: 

  • Initial contact: Introduce yourself, take ownership, set expectations, and show that you’re looking forward to working the issue. 
  • Handoffs: Set expectations for escalations, if necessary. Explain who will continue support and why the issue is being passed on. Thank the customer for his/her time. 
  • Closure: Thank the customer, briefly restate the issue and the resolution, and notify them that a they may receive a survey after the ticket has been closed.

Impeccable note-taking is another key element when it comes to handling customer issues. Since you’ll likely be sending your customers some version of your resolution notes, you need to be detailed so that they can refer back to it. Some technical customers require clear explanations of what was done (or needs to be done) for change control purposes. If your customers can’t clearly explain to their superiors how an issue was resolved, then you didn’t keep them sufficiently informed.

Finally, remember to give the customer time to talk, particularly at the beginning of the interaction. After your short introduction, ask them to tell you a little more about the issue. Most customers want time to get their frustrations off their chests; give them that opportunity. When you respond, mirror the urgency and cadence of your customer’s voice and tone; doing so will set you both on the same wavelength while helping you build trust. This also gives your customers the impression that they’re your top priority. By doing this, you take on not only the role of a partner but also that of a trusted advisor (and you’ve probably been hammering away at the issue the whole time).

Smooth Handoffs

Unfortunately, we can’t always resolve every issue that comes across our desks. Any time you have to escalate an issue to another team, it’s important to set new expectations with the customer and provide clear direction for the receiving analyst. Thank the customer for their time and patience in this matter, but don’t leave them hanging. It’s critical that you minimize angst during the handover, which is why it’s vitally important to set expectations with the customer early and assure them of your continued support. Contact the customer via phone and confirm with them the escalation team member’s name, an estimated contact time, and the next course of action.

After doing this, give your colleagues a heads-up call/email, conferencing in all parties (if needed), and make introductions. Be sure to leave impeccable notes in the ticket so there’s no gap in service. This will decrease your colleagues’ stress-level and enable them to pick up troubleshooting without having to ask the customer the same questions all over again. You may not receive a survey for this customer, but the service you provided will be unforgettable.

Lasting Impressions

The customer’s impression of you is based on two points during your interactions: the first meeting and the last meeting. For the technical support community, this means first contact and final closure. Remind yourself that these two experiences, above all others, are highly significant to the customer.

Strong beginnings start with a positive mindset, the initial greeting email, and the phone call to the customer. A strong close entails thanking the customer, sending a closure email, and assuring the customer that your team is always there to help.

After you receive a completed survey, be sure to thank the customer for leaving it (regardless of the results you’ve received). If your results are positive, you’ve made a partner and loyal customer for the company. If your results are negative, you’ve learned something new, but guess what? You can move forward with new perspective. There are always more opportunities to provide high quality customer outcomes by delving back into the queue.

Survey results are the product of impressions formed during the call. Some customers will leave negative feedback, but the vast majority of customers are looking for a reason to leave positive feedback; knowing this should empower you as a technical support professional!

Honesty Under Pressure

Most of us try to avoid making mistakes through planning and good time management. However, overlapping schedules and missed appointments happen all the time, despite the best preparation. Bottom line: if you make a mistake, technical or otherwise, be honest. Customers are human too, and they share the same deficiencies and inefficiencies. Being forthright will win you their respect, and they’ll remember your actions when they judge your service.

If you inherited a tough case, it can be difficult to maintain your composure. Irritated customers are a guarantee in support. But armed with your positive mindset, irritated customers can provide opportunities for service recovery. Challenge yourself to turn the case around and leave the customer completely satisfied. Recovering quickly from failed service will not only win you brownie points, it also will make your entire organization shine.

Always Overdeliver

The problem with the phrase “underpromise and overdeliver” is that it sets a low bar. You’re automatically giving yourself an out and setting yourself up for failure, right at the beginning! Underpromising is the equivalent of saying, “Well, I’ll try to help you, but I can’t make any promises.” What customer wants to hear that?

Overdelivering may sound like a tall order, but it isn’t. Remember, if you can’t resolve the issue, then you can either ask a colleague for assistance or escalate the issue. Day to day, you’ll fix more issues than you escalate. But if you’re confident, communicative, and proactive, your customers won’t care whether you personally fixed their issues. The issues will be resolved and your customers will continue to see you as a dedicated partner who takes ownership.

Remember, you can escalate and still deliver a positive customer experience. Just focus on overdelivering throughout the interaction and you’ll be surprised by the reactions and response from your customers. You’ll have won them over by demonstrating your engagement and commitment to delivering great customer service. That’s how it’s done in the trenches!

 

James Wright has more than twelve years of professional experience in IT support. He is currently a senior technical support engineer at Symantec Corporation, where he focuses on delivering positive outcomes to his customers and improving processes. He’s earned two ITIL 2011 Intermediate certifications (OSA and RCV) as well as his HDI Support Center Team Lead and Knowledge Centered Support: KCS Principles certifications. James currently serves as the VP of finance for the HDI Central Florida local chapter.

Tag(s): customer satisfaction

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