Phrases to Improve Every Support Interaction
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Mastering support requires the experience of knowing just what to say and the wisdom to recognize the best way to say it.
Don’t let the thousand-mile view fool you, though. Communication is hard. It’s made harder when you’re trying to make the mundane memorable.
While the good, the bad, and the ugly of customer service gets most of the press (as with everything else), the majority of support conversations are pretty standard: "I have a problem," and "Let's fix that problem for you."
In these cases—the day in, day out—good service becomes great thanks to the pleasantness of the interaction.
Customers want to know that their issues matter to you; that you don't see them as “Complaining Person #5589.” How you communicate this means everything.
Let’s explore a few simple phrases that can be used to improve nearly every support interaction.
'Happy to Help'
Not every customer will tell you that they are walking away unhappy—in fact, very few will. They’ll just walk away.
To address this concern, think about "closing" a conversation, in a similar vein to a sales rep (after all, coffee is for closers only).
For support, closing means ensuring that the customer is satisfied. Ending your emails without a closing message can be risky, as it's not inviting the customer to share further issues. Those are issues you sincerely want to hear about.
For an outspoken person like myself, it was initially hard for me to understand why some people might just slink away without bringing up additional problems. Maybe they don't want to be a burden, or maybe they think you don't care. Whatever the reason, you need to let them know that you'd be happy to hear them out.
That's why I end 99% of my messages with, "Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you—I'm happy to help."
It's my way of saying that it would be my pleasure to assist with any lingering concerns that may have cropped up, or answer any questions they may feel are “dumb.” There are no dumb questions in support.
You should avoid: ending conversations so bluntly that the customer feels you are hurrying them out the door. Even a simple, "Are you all set?" will do.
'I Understand How ____ That Must Be'
What's with the blank?
What you use in that blank will greatly affect the tone of this message. A message that is obviously being used with an upset customer.
Here's a quick personal story: I ordered a gift for a friend of mine for his birthday from a hobby site. Usually, I couldn't care less about shipping on time—I'm patient and forgetful, the perfect customer!
However, this order was botched beyond belief. I was charged for and sent two orders instead of one, it was sent to my house when I specified my friend's address, and as the cherry on top, it was sent late.
The support person's response when I emailed in?
“I understand how annoying that must be.”
I’m sorry, I was far past annoyed. Call it a first world problem, but I was upset; she should have known to empathize with how upsetting that must be for me.
I know, I know—boo hoo. But upset customers are driven by emotion, not logic, as I was in that instance. I felt like I had let my friend down, and it made me frustrated in a situation I otherwise would have brushed off.
Use this phrase often and thoughtfully—read the customer's mood and relate with how he or she feels. Great support is defined by genuine empathy.
You should avoid: "That sucks." Any sort of communication that remotely resembles "sucks to be you" should be avoided like the plague. If the situation is minor and the customer doesn't have a problem, referencing it as "annoying" is perfectly reasonable, though.
'As Much As I'd Love to Help...'
There comes a time when the only answer is “no.” Some requests just aren’t feasible. Maybe a customer is treating you like a consulting business. While some hand-holding is fine, they've got to learn to walk someday.
But imagine answering a genuinely enthusiastic request with a blunt “no.” It can sting. Stay firm but kind by stating how you'd like to help, but it’s just not possible in this situation.
One of our readers asked about using positive language when a customer makes unscalable support requests. Our suggestion:
@helpscout What's a "positive language" way to say: "I don't have time to help you with that" when a customer asks for unscalable support?— David Smith (@spivurno) January 22, 2014
@spivurno As much as I'd love to help, your request is beyond what we're able to do for customers. Follow by pointing 2 a few resources ...— Help Scout (@helpscout) January 22, 2014
@helpscout Thanks for the suggestion. HelpScout makes me want to be a better (support) person. ;)— David Smith (@spivurno) January 22, 2014
It's never fun to say, "We can't do that," but just as you have to bite the bullet and say “no” to feature requests, you sometimes have to turn down a service request—but you can at least do it nicely.
You should avoid: "To be honest with you…" It’s a phrase that is sometimes used as a defense, as in, "To be honest with you, we don't foresee that feature being implemented." I'm hesitant to use this phrasing because it makes a subtle implication that you're being honest right now—are there times when you aren't honest? You'll also want to steer clear of corporate speak, such as "That's not our policy."
'Great Question, I'll Find That Out for You'
Not knowing the answer to a question is a difficult scenario for anyone to be in, especially if you are new.
The biggest mistake to make is turning the situation into your situation: "I'm so sorry, I'm new!" or "Sorry, I've never been asked that before!"
Instead, keep the focus on what will be done to get the answer: "Great question, let me check our documentation so I can get that answered for you.”
Only the truly crazy will mind a small delay so that you can find the solution. Believe me, those types of people had little chance of walking away happy in the first place.
You should apply the principle of refocusing to other conversations as well. Whenever you're able to put the spotlight on what will be done rather than what's happened, you've made a smart move.
You should avoid: "If I recall correctly," or any other variant of "maybe,” “perhaps,” or “I'm pretty sure." Don't guess for a customer. Simply state that you're going to find out the exact answer they need, and do just that.
'Nice to Meet You'
Forget being a customer service phrase, this should be in the repertoire of every person who isn't an obnoxious misanthrope.
Yet I can’t begin to count the number of times I've gotten in touch with a new company, only to receive a robotic response from some person replying from their firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
Let's take a look at how this might play out. Say a customer initiates an email conversation with you like this:
So many companies beeline for the most boring response ever: "Quinn, for integrations we offer..."
Quinn certainly wants her answer, but it's obvious from the language she is using that exchanging a few pleasantries would be welcome.
Using a friendly tone of voice goes a long way in creating real customer "engagement"—a word that has been undeservedly beaten like a dead horse as marketers try to convince you that tweeting more = engagement.
You should avoid: *Crickets.* Silence and brusque responses are the deal-breakers here. Our not-so-fictional Quinn character (many customers have contacted us in a similar fashion) is interested in finding out about the company she is about to invest in. It certainly doesn't hurt to showcase that there are competent, friendly, and passionate people sitting at the other end of the screen.
'May I Ask Why That Is?'
This is one to keep close, as critics and complainers on the web are all too common.
You’ll need a way to dig deeper into their criticism without stooping to the abrasive language that they tend to use.
Consider if someone tweeted this about your company:
The way Company X handles [feature] is so f*ckin’ stupid. It’s unbelievable.
This sort of person has that Twitter malice in their heart, but you might actually be curious as to what brought them to that conclusion. Approaching this situation with care is important, because you don’t want to walk away as the bad guy.
This is where “May I ask why that is?” comes in handy. While it won’t pacify every vitriolic commenter, it always puts you in the right. Who can fault you for kindly asking for additional feedback?
You should avoid: stooping to the critic’s level. People will complain about your product no matter how well it’s built, so just make sure your language is level-headed and professional.
The Language of Support
Great communication is an art. Honing it to a keen edge is a science.
If three years at Help Scout have taught me anything, it’s that improving your ability to convey information in a concise, friendly style will yield better results than anything else. There are few “hacks” for talking to customers, and nothing scales quite like consistently delightful communication.
These phrases will go a long way in helping you improve on the craft in the meantime. Whether you weave them into Saved Replies or incorporate their intentions into your own style, they have proven to be consistently helpful for our team; I hope they are helpful for yours.