Support is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get. One day you might get a delicious bunch of caramel filled bonbons, and the next you’ll get something that’s hard, and kind of ashy and tastes vaguely like a sweetened cleaning product on the inside. It can be a bummer, but at least you’re expecting it because people who work in support know it is never going to be one of those jobs where things remain the same.
For many support people, this variety is what keeps it fun. There’s something challenging in honing your skills to the point that you can deal with any and all questions that might come up. But, it can also be difficult. People that are excellent at support are also, by their nature, incredibly empathetic and often take on the emotions of the people around them. So, in the case of an angry customer who emails back and forth with an agent for a day, it can feel like carrying a ton of weight in a sack on your back at the end of the day.
This user guide will provide support agents and other customer-facing folks with some guidelines on the best ways to respond to specific scenarios or questions that can be notoriously tricky. We’ll even toss in some common ones that might not be so tricky, but could be useful to have a response up your sleeve for. Let’s go!
There are plenty of scenarios when this might come up in your day-to-day work. It’s almost impossible to know everything about a product unless you’ve worked with it for many years, so it’s likely you’ll come across a question from a customer that you don’t know the answer to. Rather than giving the customer an ill-researched, incorrect answer, do a little due diligence first.
If you’re interacting with the customer via chat, a response along the lines of:
— How many users does the Enterprise plan support?
— I’m not sure if we have a maximum limit on that plan, but give me just a moment and I’ll find out.
Your customer will appreciate you being straightforward and honest, as well as setting expectations around being silent for a few minutes. If you hadn’t said that and had just gone hunting for the answer, they might have assumed that you’d just left and end up leaving the chat without an answer.
If you are answering this question via email, you have a little more time to get a good response. In this case, go and do some searching in your documentation. If you aren’t able to find your answer there, then go and talk to your colleagues and see if any of them know the answer. Once you’ve finally gotten an answer, either on your own team, or on another team within your company, make sure that you document it internally and externally if you were not able to find a doc, and then respond to the customer giving them the answer to their question.
When the customer’s question or issue is beyond your ability to handle and you need to send them to someone else within your company, it can be pretty difficult and painful. You have already worked hard to gain the customer’s trust and they might even be wary of the company if the conversation has gotten to the point where it needs to be transferred or escalated. So, it’s important to tread carefully, and reassure the customer that you are doing what is best for them, and not just passing them off. If you are using chat, one way to do this could be to write:
That’s a great question! I don’t think that I’m the best to handle that, so I’m going to send your conversation along to my colleague here. I think they’ll be able to assist you with this issue much more quickly than I would. They’ll respond shortly.
Doesn’t that sound so friendly in comparison to “I’m just gonna transfer you to the marketing department. They’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” or any of the other typical responses that people use when transferring?
In support emails, it’s a bit more important to set appropriate expectations because it can take other teams significantly longer to respond to emails than the support team does. So, if you are passing a ticket from support to, say, engineering, the regular response time SLA that your support team upholds might not be the same as what engineering is able to commit to. This is especially true if the reason that you are sending the ticket to another team is domain knowledge or something that the support team can’t handle — it’s probably slightly more technical or requires a specialist to do it, which usually takes more work. Here’s an appropriate response that you could send via email:
Thanks so much for your patience here. I’ve done a little bit of digging, and it seems like I might not be the best person to answer this question. I’m going to send our conversation along to one of my colleagues on the engineering team so that they can take a look, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. It may take a little bit longer for them to respond than you’ve gotten used to with support, but that’s because they’re digging in deep with specialty skills to get your answer resolved.
This lets them know that you are passing the ticket along and that they can expect a response but it might not be immediate.
With so many people in the world and so many products on offer, it should not surprise you that occasionally you will receive a request to add something to your product or to create a whole new product entirely. While it’s very flattering that customers care so deeply about your product that they want to see it improve, it can also feel frustrating if the feature request is coming from a comparison to another product or competitor. When responding, answer with grace and acknowledge their issue, then align with them and let them know you understand the value, and assure them that you will pass on their request to your product team. Both for chat and for email, the interaction should look something like this:
Thanks so much for emailing — that’s a great question. We don’t currently offer anything like that within our product, but I could certainly see it being valuable. I’m going to talk to our product team about this and let them know that there is interest. While I can’t say that we will be adding anything like this in the near future, we like to track requests like this internally so that we can make shifts. Please let me know if you have any additional insights that you’d like me to pass along as well.
The reason that this is the same for both chat and email is that there’s no real additional immediate dialogue that needs to happen after determining that this is a feature request. Whereas normally with chat there will be some back-and-forth with debugging a specific issue, this does not need debugging and will most frequently be a one response conversation, unless they have additional insights to provide.
This accomplishes a few different things: it lets them know that you care about what they have to say and that you value their opinion. It also prompts them for even more information that you can track in your feature request logs. Your product team would likely love as much information as they can get, and as much detail as you can provide will be useful.
If you’ve worked in support for a while, maybe you’ve heard something like this: “Can’t you do it just this once?” Usually, it’s around a product feature that you don’t have or something that the customer perceives as being straightforward an easy to do. Usually, these things are not straightforward and easy to do, but even if they were, doing something for a customer that they can’t do for themselves is a surefire way to get more emails or chats back from that same customer in the future asking for your team to do it again.
While it can be difficult to say “no,” sometimes it’s important for the good of the whole. Take, for example, this story from Gregory at Help Scout:
I can give you a very candid story of when this really mattered to me: I was checking in to a very tiny beach hotel with a few of my friends, one of whom had a severe allergy to cats. I vividly remember watching this older couple at the desk while we were checking in, pleading with the employee to let their cat stay (the policy was “No Pets”).
If the front desk employee had given way to their request, he would have (unknowingly) made our group upset, trading one potentially unhappy customer for an even bigger problem.
I remember being really impressed with how he handled the situation:
“Mr. and Mrs. ______, as much as I like fulfilling our customers’ requests, I’m afraid that the ‘No Pets’ policy we have in place is too important, as it deals with the safety and comfort of other customers. Can I perhaps call around for locations where your cat might be able
A stellar response to a pretty wacky request.
Greg’s example and the front desk employee’s response is so good because it really emphasizes the why behind the policy, rather than the no that is being given to the customer. Here’s how you can do that for yourself:
Thanks so much for emailing about this and for your great question. I can totally see how you would want me to make an exception here, as it seems like this is really important to your workflow. While I do see the value in it, we don’t currently have anything like that built into our system. I’m going to talk to our engineering team to see if this is something that we can offer in the future, but in the meantime, can I recommend [workaround xyz].
Let me know if that works for you, or if I might have missed the mark.
This can be used both for chat and for email. If sending via chat, this would likely be broken up into a few separate messages. If sending via email, it can be sent as-is with the workarounds specific to your company typed in.
There’s nothing that feels worse to the customer than depending on something and having it not work as expected. That could be either a physical product that is broken or malfunctioning or a virtual product that has a bug, either known or new. Either way, the customer is expecting your product to work, and instead of doing so, it is causing them trouble and they have had to reach out to you. No good.
This is another email or chat conversation where acknowledging the customer’s strife, aligning with them to let them know that you agree with their opinion, and then assuring them that you’re going to find a resolution is going to be the most valuable response. Something like this should do the trick:
Thanks so much for reaching out about this — I’m sorry to hear that you’re having trouble. It sounds like [your product that is defective for them] might be having some issues. That’s definitely our bad. I, personally, know how much of a bummer it can be to expect something and then have it not work as expected. I’m going to [refund you the money, send a new product, get the bug fixed, etc] right now. I hope that helps, but if it doesn’t please let me know and I’m happy to dig down further.
While this sample email takes a more colloquial tone, you can make it less casual and more formal as suits the needs of the conversation or customer. For example, if the customer seems really angry or uses formal language in their original email, try to match their tone and style with your own.
The important aspects to include in this response are that you let them know that you acknowledge the issue and that it’s on your company to own it, and then what you’re going to do to resolve it. Depending on your product, the resolution may be a few different things. You may need to:
Insert whichever of these options works best for you or the use case with the customer into the template above.
After a hard interaction with a customer or a long string of emails back and forth, it can be a really nice finishing touch to close out the conversation and make sure that all the questions the customer had have been addressed. This also remains true after a long or difficult chat interaction.
Closing out a conversation with a customer shows that you care about getting it right and that you want to give them the opportunity to follow up on anything that they aren’t totally sure about. It helps to start to rebuild some of the trust that you may have lost either via your company or via your own mistakes. It’s a simple and easy way to get back in the good graces of the customer and start to further repair the relationship if you haven’t already.
A great few sentences that you can use to do this are:
Great! I’m glad we could get that sorted out for you today. Please let me know if you have anything else that comes up, but otherwise, have a great rest of your day.
It’s simple and straightforward while also addressing that they did have an issue and that you want them to reach out if they have another one. Use this at the end of a chat or email to close out the back-and-forth with customers while still reassuring them that you’ve got their back.
As we mentioned above, support people have to prepare themselves daily to take on the whole range of human emotions from the customers that they interact with. Unfortunately, sometimes that emotion is anger, and the support person must greet it head on. Working with an angry customer can be especially difficult because, as empathetic humans, support people can start to feel like it is their fault and take personal blame.
The first thing to do when dealing with an angry customer is to take all personal feelings out of it — they don’t know you as a person. The anger that they are feeling, while directed at you, is actually about something being out of their control and it frustrating them. Keep that in mind as you move forward, as it may help you to keep a clear head when responding to them, especially if they are saying things that could get under your skin.
In your actual response to the customer, whether it be via chat or email, start by acknowledging the issue, aligning with the customer’s frustration, and then assuring them that you’ll find an issue. It’s also likely that 9 times out of 10 you will be apologizing to them for whatever situation has happened. A genuine apology can go a long way for a frustrated customer. So, a response for a customer might look like:
Thanks so much for emailing about this — I’m so sorry to hear about all of the trouble that [product or problem] has caused for you. I know what it feels like to have something not work as expected, and it sounds like we really let you down, here. I’d love to try to start making this right. Here’s what I’m thinking might help: [type in your proposed resolution for the problem here].
Can you let me know if this would meet your needs, or get us going in the right direction? If not, please let me know where I misunderstood. If so, awesome! I’ll get started on that right away.
Thanks for your patience.
This acknowledges the customer’s problem and apologizes right in the first sentence. After that, it goes on to align with a personal share about the customer support agents own experiences and then states that they’d like to fix the issue. Lastly, it double checks that the path the agent is going down is the right one before they start heading off. If a customer is already aggravated and is offered yet another incorrect solution, they’re likely to grow even more frustrated.
Take, for example, if you ordered a beverage at Starbucks and the wrong one came out. If you were in a hurry, you might be a little frustrated by this, as you have to go to the front register and reorder. If your second drink came out and it was still wrong, it would amplify your frustration considerably. The same goes for your customers. So, double check that the answer you’re giving them is on the right track and if it isn’t, offer them to the opportunity to tell you so.
Money can be tough. It’s tough to spend, make, and talk about and, given that, you’re likely going to run into customer conversations either in your inbox or chat where they just don’t want to pay. At face-value, especially if you are a subscription-based service, it could surprise you if someone doesn’t want to pay. You might be thinking “but you’ve already used the service?” And while that is true, that doesn’t matter to your customer. According to a study at Wharton, there are three types of customers:
The people who are unwilling to pay are the “tightwads” and generally have trouble seeing value in individual prices. If a customer reaches out to you about your pricing or threatens cancellation based on pricing, the best tactic is to try to appeal a rational, numbers-based side of their brain. Here’s a response that we’ve found to be helpful:
Thanks so much for emailing about this — I can definitely see how that might feel a little pricey to you. $1000 upfront can seem like a lot of money, but when you think about the month to month budgeting, it’s actually only $83.33. It looks like you’re using our service pretty frequently, so I just wanted to reframe the financials for you slightly in case it made a difference in your mind.
If that pricing doesn’t work, we do offer our free plan, or a slightly lower plan than the one you’re on at a lower cost. That being said, neither of those two plans offer [x and y features] that I notice you’ve used a lot.
If you do not want to continue to pay, that’s totally cool and I’ll go ahead and cancel your billing and shift you to a free account. Just let me know!
If you aren’t on a subscription-based model and are instead selling physical products or one-off purchases, a great way to do something similar to the above is to focus on the lifetime value of the product. For example, if someone were to be complaining about the price of a coat that you were selling in your store, you could say something like
I know that it seems like a lot of money for a coat — I totally get it. But, [xyz brand] coats have been known to last for around 30 years, and offer a 7-year warranty and free servicing. That’s a pretty high value-add on top of the coat itself.
When you can help tightwad customers see the value of their purchase and move past their anxiety, they’ll be more willing to pay you the money you’re keen on.
While it’s never something you hope for and it’s possible you’ve done everything in your power to avoid it, it’s inevitable that someday a company crisis will come for you and your support team. There are a few different types of crisis that you are likely to experience:
Responding to a customer in crisis is very similar to dealing with an angry customer. You acknowledge their concerns, usually by speaking more specifically to the crisis; you align with them and let them know that you understand why they are nervous, and then you assure them that a resolution will be coming soon.
For anything related to a web-based product, the first step would be to create a saved reply that your customer support team could use to quickly respond to the high volume of tickets that might be coming through. That could mean for a DDOS attack, product outage, buggy product release, data breach or a pricing change. For most of those, beyond the pricing change, it would also be good to update your status page to reflect the issue. Here’s an example response that would work for these issues:
Thanks very much for emailing about this — I’m sorry to hear that you are having trouble. This is actually a known issue and something that our engineering team is working on right now. If you’d like to follow along with up to date progress, you can do so here at our status page[link]. That’s going to be the best place to see what’s happening and what progress we’ve made.
I know it can be frustrating when you aren’t able to use a product as you would like to, and we’re hopeful to get everything back into shipshape as soon as we can. Please let me know if anything additional, beyond what you’ve reported, starts showing up for you.
While this is for an outage or something that would affect people being able to use an application, it can be shifted to work for people frustrated with a pricing change or publicity issue for the company. For example:
Thanks very much for emailing about this — I’m sorry to hear that this has affected you so much. This is something we’ve actually been thinking about a lot, and wrote up a blog post about here[link]. I hope this helps you to understand some of our motivations behind this choice.
I know it can be frustrating when you expect a company to behave one way and it shifts to another. It can feel like a loss of trust, and that’s definitely not what we’re aiming for. Please let me know if I can answer any questions for you personally that might help you feel better or make this easier.
With these types of responses, it’s always good to acknowledge that the company has put your customer out. They didn’t make any choices to bring them into the situation where they currently stand — it truly is all on the company and not doing well enough to plan, communicate, or prepare themselves. Responding with that in mind and acknowledging it will help assure the customer that you still have them in mind and still have their back. Without that, you may even lose a customer.
Because crises are usually high-volume for your support inbox, using saved replies is key. If you can use a workflow or macro that automatically applies a tag to the ticket as well, that can be a really helpful way to track the impact of the outage or issue as you move forward. Having data around how many tickets a botched product launch causes, for example, may push your product team towards making a cleaner, more well-established process than they had before. Take all difficult things as learning opportunities before you let them frustrate you, and you’ll be much better off for it.
Every company has a customer that every support person knows. At one company, we had Walt, and he would reach out to us almost every day about a very specific part of the product that he used more than anyone, and that we hadn’t really developed into anything fully. It had started as a test product that we opened to a few customers, and he was one of them. He continued to use it far longer than we anticipated anyone would, and he loved it. But the thing that he loved wasn’t fully-baked, and so he emailed frequently about bugs or issues that only a super-user would have found…and we never fixed them.
We didn’t think about this at the time, of course. We would just see Walt email in, roll our eyes, and ask “Who wants it?” because we knew it would be yet another frustrated, disappointed email that never came to anything.
In our case, using root-cause-analysis, or the 5 WHYS Approach could have helped us get to the bottom of the situation more rapidly. It would have eased Walt’s frustration, and saved the support team numbers of hours talking to Walt on the phone, via email, and sometimes through chat. Going through this root-cause-analysis with a customer probably takes around 15 minutes or so, if done via phone.
So, for Walt it might have looked something like this:
There is the root cause. We, as a company, build this part of the product as a hackathon with the intention to never build it out fully. In order to get Walt to stop emailing so frequently, we needed to set those expectations for him clearly. This would create a better experience for him, as he’d have a more upfront view of what to expect (though there would likely be some pain to start), and a better experience for us as we’d be receiving fewer emails.
Some companies totally slay the social media game — their brand voice is strong with their responses to their customers, they do an excellent job at responding in a timely manner, and their feed is entertaining and informative. If you’ve got a really active social media presence for your company, you should expect that customers are going to reach out to you with both the good, the bad…and the ugly.
One of the quickest ways to get a response from a company is to tweet about it. I know I, sitting in a cramped airport waiting area, have tweeted my share of Angry tweets, and so has this angry customer of Proposify:
Len, from Groove, wrote an excellent commentary on what happened from this tweet that I will paraphrase.
After receiving that first tweet, the Proposify team responded:
While much of this tweet is great, they apologies and offered support for the issue, it’s possible that some would have taken issue with some of the tone in the “publicly shame” portion of the tweet. But, as we said above, companies that have strong brand personalities on Twitter do better with their followers, and it seems that Proposify is no different. After writing that tweet, the team at Proposify also followed up with an email:
This is an amazing email that covers all of the key elements of working with and addressing the issues of an angry customer. Not only that, but it also emphasizes the importance of being able to switch between channels. For complex issues, Twitter’s character limit can be a killer. It’s important to be able to transition away from Twitter into a better venue such as email, phone or video chat. One great way to do this, in the case of Proposify, could have been:
Sorry to hear you’re having trouble. We’d love to help more. Can you reach out at support at proposify.com, or let us know in a DM where is best to reach you?
This puts the ball in the customer’s court again, and they can let you know if they prefer email, phone, video or nothing at all.
Just to close up this section, how about this amazing response to the Proposify team from their original angry customer:
Legal issues abound in the modern world and, though you wouldn’t expect them to apply to support, they sometimes do! You will occasionally receive messages in your inbox requesting or requiring legal action from your company. This is especially true if you are a company that serves as a note-taking service or has the potential to hold a lot of user-generated content. In that event, you’re likely to get court orders or requests for information. It’s also possible that you’ll get the occasional legal threat from an angry customer about something like downtime or being charged a recurring charge.
Support agents should not be handling this request. Instead, it should be sent to your company’s legal team, or whichever team within your company is responsible for legal requests. The message that you send to the customer should be similar to the one you use for escalation:
Thanks very much for reaching out about this. I can appreciate how important this is to you. I apologize, but I’m not the best equipped to handle this request. I’m going to talk to our legal team, and they should be responding back to you shortly. We really appreciate your patience while we get this sorted.
It’s pretty short and to the point — because there’s no troubleshooting that you could do, even if you wanted to, it’s best to just set entirely clear expectations and let your legal team handle it. After all, it’s what they do best.
Researchers at UC-Riverside did a study on whether people preferred to receive and deliver bad news first. While most people were more likely to respond favorably when bad news was delivered first, and good news delivered after; most people wanted to perform the latter. That is: more people (70%, according to the study) wanted to say the good thing first, and then deliver the bad news later.
In customer support, we must overcome our instincts, and deliver the bad news at the start in order to get the hopefully best response from our customers.
So, take for example that someone is asking for something that you know is never going to be built into your product. That’s rough news to share and is a little bit more difficult than the typical feature request response. A great way to do this, following the bad-news-before-good-news formula is:
Thanks very much for emailing about this — that’s a great question. I could certainly see how this might be useful for you, but this isn’t something that we have planned on our product roadmap. I know that’s probably hard to hear, but luckily I do have a workaround I can recommend. Check out [documentation] and you can read a little bit more about how it works.
I hope that helps, but please let me know if I might have missed the mark or you have any other questions.
As you can see, it follows a similar format to the feature request template but does have some slight tweaking to adjust for introducing your workaround. If there isn’t documentation for the workaround that you are telling your customer about, replace that sentence with information about how to do the workaround that you are recommending — maybe even make a saved reply for it if it’s something that you do frequently!
When you write the response in this way, instead of leading with the positive and ending with the negative, your positive workaround will be the last thing in the customer’s memory.
Everyone has had an abusive customer before. They might even be a similar (or the same!) person to your repeat emailer from earlier on. But that doesn’t mean that your support team or company deserves to deal with them, and you most certainly should feel enabled to “break up” with them, if what they are saying to you becomes abusive or problematic.
Lance of Raven Tools has a great example of this with his customer Dwight. Dwight would send in emails like this to Lance’s team:
“Tell me, what am i actually paying for! At least your company is consistent in it’s failures to provide anything close to acceptable levels
While this email seems pretty harmless, eventually Lance realized that the volume of tickets with a similar, or even more aggressive, tone coming from this one customer was increasing, as were the level of threats contained within them. So, they determined that Dwight should be fired. There are a few reasons that you should consider firing a customer for:
Dwight met all of these criteria and more: he had sent numerous emails with increasingly aggressive language. He had started threatening individuals on the team, and he had done so consistently for a long time, despite Lance and other team members attempting to coach him out of it. It was time for him to go.
After you’ve decided to let someone go, it’s time to get leadership involved. You’ll need to have documentation of your cause and be able to prove to them that it is important and financially viable to make this decision. In Lance’s case, that was easy:
The last step, once you have buy-in from the people in charge, is to actually take action. In this case, we’d recommend involving a manager or someone with slightly more tenure to write the ticket, as their title may serve to assuage some of the customer’s concern. From there, the response might look like:
Hi there Dwight,
My name is [name] and I am head of support here at [company]. I recognize that my reaching out to you like this might come as a surprise, so I wanted to explain that we’ve decided that you aren’t the best fit for [company] any longer. While we really appreciate the [amount of time] that you’ve spent with us, we’ve seen a number of incidents from you aggressing our support staff as well as sending in a [large number] of tickets for a relatively small number of incidents. Here are some examples of language you’ve used that we deem inappropriate:
We’ve canceled your account effective of the end of the week, and have issued you a [number of months] refund to your card on file.
Please let me know if you have any questions about this, but otherwise thank you again for being a customer with us, and we wish you the best of luck moving forward elsewhere.
This keeps everything very clear in regards to reasoning: the customer understands exactly why and what is happening, and also what action is being taken. There is nothing left up to imagination or question, but the response is still courteous. Offering a refund is very important, in this case, as it helps the customer understand, as Lance puts it, that this is a business transaction and not a personal offense.
There’s a whole case on how customers will interact more flirtatiously with customer support representatives with a female avatar. Given that, it should come as no surprise that there is no shortage of customers willing and able to cross boundaries when it comes to support team members.
If a customer asks for a date or suggests something inappropriate, you should gently tell them so, and then also notify a manager so that they can keep an eye on the situation. You do not have to be direct or aggressive with the customer, but do let them know that there are penalties for behaving inappropriately. Here’s an example:
Thanks for your response. While I am going to respond to your request, first I wanted to address your comment about [whatever they said that was inappropriate]. This is a professional conversation, and I think it’s important to continue to focus our efforts on getting your issue resolved. In the event that we aren’t able to work together to resolve the issue without further inappropriate comments, I’ll have to have you talk with my manager instead.
With that being said, [insert resolution to their issue here].
I hope that all helps, but please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.
This keeps the conversation professional without being too accusatory, and also lets the customer know that there will be escalation if the issue persists.
There are so many languages in the world it is practically impossible for a company to support all of them without a little help. Luckily, there are many options when it comes to supporting people in different languages, and none of them require you to hire any additional people or have a huge, remote global staff.
If you have a customer that emails in in a language that no one on your team speaks, but you still would like to support there are a few steps:
The most important point is that you let your customer know that you are using a translation service and that it’s because you don’t have any native speakers of their language on your team. This will make them much more understanding of any potential errors that Google Translate might make, and also may encourage them to speak in English instead. Many customers, especially if your product has excellent localization, won’t even think twice about writing in their native language.
That being said, they may still speak English, and be willing to do so if that is their main way of getting support.
Customers know how to do a lot of things well, but not always how to help themselves — that’s what you’re there for! Unfortunately, they don’t always know how to ask for help well, either, so sometimes your customer support agents can be left grasping at straws when it comes to what your customer needs. Remember: just because you know all of the terminologies in your product like the back of your hand doesn’t mean that everyone that uses it does, too. It’s possible that they’re referring to something that really exists but just using the wrong language.
There are a few ways to get to the bottom of a vague request if you don’t quite understand it:
When customers are invested in your product and using it frequently, they are also invested in your product’s timeline and when new features are going to be released. This kind of investment is great because it means that your product is sticky and people care about it, but can also be problematic because it means you may have to spend some time communicating with those same people what you will or won’t have in the future and why.
Luckily, not all of the conversations will be won’ts and you’ll have the opportunities to make some people’s day…as long as you do so carefully. Revealing a deadline to a customer when letting them know that something they’re looking forward to is indeed coming can be dangerous: it’s almost like if you were to show your child on a calendar where Christmas is, and then have to push Christmas back because Santa wasn’t ready to deliver presents. Don’t deny the delight of your customers! Instead, keep timelines loose and don’t specifically tell them when they can expect what they are looking forward to. Here’s a great example response that you can use:
Thanks for reaching out about this — I agree; it’s super exciting! While we are all really excited here, we don’t have a set deadline for when this is going to be released. I can tell you it’s within the next few weeks, though, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’d like to be notified as soon as it is released, we offer a sign-up form to do so here: [insert form link]. If you fill out your information there, we’ll send you an email as soon as [the product or service] becomes available.
Thanks again for your enthusiasm! It’s always great talking to people like you.
This response assumes that there’s been some kind of announcement about the product to be released either written on the blog or sent out to customers. The most important piece of this response, though, is the timeline that is provided. Even if you know that the product is going to be released the next day, say “weeks.” If the product manager says that it’ll be done in a few weeks, tell your customer that it will be a few months. That way, your customer will be surprised and delighted when it’s ready early, rather than being irked and frustrated when they expected something and it’s delayed.
Everyone makes mistakes; we are all human after all. But while it’s easy to make a mistake, it can be incredibly difficult to admit it. Especially when it’s professionally, and it’s something that all of your other colleagues can see — and the customer. If you’ve responded to a customer and made a mistake or given incorrect information in your last email, the best policy is always going to be honest: admit to the mistake and be transparent about why you made it.
It will make the customer see you as slightly more human, and defuse any of the potential anger than they might have been feeling towards you. Here’s an example of what you could say to someone reaching back out to you to let you know you’d messed up:
Thanks for reaching back out. I looked into what you mentioned about [whatever you said that was wrong], and it turns out you’re right! I’m sorry that I provided you with the wrong information; it seems like we’d had some switches in policy here and I wasn’t aware. I’m glad that you found the right answer!
Either way, I know how frustrating it can be to have your time wasted, so I apologize for being a cause of that. Thanks for giving me a heads up, and let me know if there’s anything else that I can help you with.
This exhibits a level of humility while still also obviously trying to let the customer know that you are there for them in the event that they need help in the future. The customer knows you are wrong. If you admit it gracefully and with tact, they’ll take it better than if you tried to cover it up and blame it on them — plus, that’s just bad support!
Sometimes a customer will ask to speak to a manager right from the get-go but sometimes, after a pretty extensive back and forth with you, they’ll ask to be escalated. Speaking to a manager helps people feel as though they’ve actually been heard, instead of just getting lost in the sea of customer feedback. Similarly, people that ask to speak to “higher ups” usually are doing so because they care. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be spending even more of their time to speak to a manager and vent their frustrations; they would just be walking out.
So, when a customer asks to talk to a manager, we recommend that you either directly let them talk to your manager, if you have a policy in place already, follow that. Otherwise:
If you’re letting them know that you are escalating to someone else, whether that be an actual manager or just your colleague, here’s a great template to use:
Thanks for expressing your thoughts here. I can see how that would be frustrating for you and you’d want to get a second opinion from someone other than me. I’m going to send your ticket along to [name], who would love to hear a little bit more about what’s been going on and how they can help.
Just so you know, I have provided some context and explanation to [name] so that they have a bit of an understanding before speaking with you. If you would like to provide additional insights that you think I might have missed, please do.
If you are moving forward by telling the customer that you do not currently have a manager available, the best tactic here would be to do something similar that you would when sharing bad news:
Thanks very much for following up about this and sharing your perspective here. I can see how that would be frustrating for you and you’d want to get a second opinion from someone other than me. Right now, though, I don’t have a manager available, so we will have to keep working through this together.
So, given that, I was just wanted to reiterate what I perceive the issues to be: [list out the issues as you see them, and your proposed solutions]. Does that all sound right or is there something that I’m missing? I want to make sure that we are on the same page moving forward, because I know this has been frustrating for you.
This is somewhat similar to when a customer asks for a timeline on a feature, or when you are sending something along to another member of your team. Giving the customer some transparency into what the timeline looks like can be helpful, but avoid giving them a set date and time — otherwise you set yourself and your customer up for failure. Here’s an example response that you might use for this:
Thanks very much for your response here. I’ve been digging into this problem a little bit deeper on our end, and I’m going to need a bit more time to work with this. I apologize for the delayed response thus far, but hopefully, we’ll have this issue resolved within the next few days. Let me know if you have any additional insights that you’d like to share that might help, but otherwise, I’ll read out to you with any updates I have.
Be sure to set expectations within days, weeks, or months, rather than saying “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” It’s always better to extend it a little bit longer and surprise and delight them by responding early than frustrate them by responding late.
It can be hard to tell someone “no” (or at least “not right now”), but doing so artfully and with care to help them feel like you are on their team and are working on their issue can help turn what could be a deeply negative experience into a truly positive one.
Every once in a while you’ll have a situation where a customer reaches out angry about something that’s in your product that, upon deeper digging from you, actually isn’t your fault. How do you tell the customer that what they’re so frustrated by is on them? This can be super tricky, especially if they already appear to be angry and agitated with your brand. Here’s one template that you might be able to modify to work for your needs:
Thanks so much for emailing and for level detail you used in explaining your case. It was super helpful in terms of pinning down what was causing this issue. As I dug a bit deeper, I uncovered the situation was actually due to your [explain what was going on] not being set properly. If you go in and shift the [setting] from [a] to [b], it should work as expected.
Could you let me know if that helps?
The important thing to note is that you didn’t say that it was the customer’s fault or that they
had done anything wrong. Instead of saying something like “It looks like you clicked on the wrong
button. If you just unclick that, you should be good to go!” say “I went and took a look, and
it seems like the [x] button is checked. Would you mind trying to unclick that button and see
if the issue is resolved?”
This takes the ownership out of the customer’s hands and into your product’s, thus helping to reduce the chances of them being aggravated or feeling frustrated by being accused of doing something incorrectly. That being said, it also teaches them how to do the thing that was giving them grief. While you could just as easily go about changing something for your customers, you do them more of a service if you teach them how to do it. That way, they don’t have to reach out to you every time, and they feel empowered the next time they run into trouble.
Most SaaS companies have names that can read like a jumble of vowels — they aren’t actually words that most people can interpret, and so are easily rewritten or misspelled to fit something else. It’s probable that your company isn’t any exception. Given that, if you haven’t already, you’ll probably soon get a message from a customer asking you about a service that has nothing to do with what you offer. For example, maybe you are a company that sells organization software, but you receive a message asking you about lighting equipment or a phone answering service. How do you answer these without being rude or condescending? Here’s a guide:
Thanks so much for emailing about this — that’s a great question. I’d love to help with this, but it sounds like you might be asking about [similarly named product, that you found via Google]. You can reach out to them at [email that you found on their website], and they should be able to help you directly.
If I misunderstood and you did mean to reach out to us at [product] where we [describe what you do], then please let me know and I’ll be happy to help further.
This kindly resets the expectations for the customer while also letting them know that they might not have reached out to the best place to help them. Similarly, rather than leaving them high and dry and making them feel silly for reaching out, you also provide them with the information that they need to move forward. So, while you can’t help the customer with what they’re asking about a specific product, you are still able to help them by guiding them in the right direction towards what they need. They’ll remember that.
And, if that was the wrong company, and they were looking for something else, you have the opportunity to shift and help them again when they reach back out.
This happens with us a lot: our tool is used on many different websites, and the chat box contains a small grayed out “We run on Chatra” link. Sometimes visitors on other websites mistakenly click on it when they try to send a message. This redirects them to our website, and they continue the conversation, thinking that we are connected to the website they just came from.
Using saved replies is a great help: we can politely explain the situation to the customer and ask them to go back to the previous website, without having to type it everytime.
Join thousands of other users that already use Chatra on their websites to reply effectively and empathetically to every incoming customer message — whether they meant to talk to you or not!
You’ve done what you can, though, by iterating who your company is and what you do as a means of helping them help themselves if what you do really isn’t going to be a help for them.
In modern business, as we’ve discussed above, there are so many different competitors to every single product. It’s not because products are original, it’s just that there is such an abundant market for each that there are enough buyers to go around. People are able to differentiate themselves to niche markets, and it makes it easy to create a new product that is super similar to an old one.
With this comes the fact that customers may ask what makes you different or more valuable than a competitor. A frustrating question, to be sure, when you’ve been working on building and structuring something wonderful that you’re deeply passionate about. The important and first thing to remember is that imitation is the best form of flattery; then, take into consideration that this is a way to gain insight and feedback into what you can shift about your marketing strategy or the product itself to make these even clearer to your customers.
From there, instead of a template for you to follow, our friends at Drift have a few excellent guidelines on the things to consider when you are responding to a customer who asks something like this:
By remembering these few things as you respond, you should be able to write your email in a conscientious way that wins you a customer, rather than one that pushes them away. Remember: never try to schmooze or over-promise a feature-set that your company doesn’t have. It’ll only land you with frustrated, disappointed customers in the future.
Security is no joke. Especially not for people whose whole company is depending on you. Occasionally in the pre-sales portion of a customer’s experience with you, they’ll reach out to ask about security on your site, or what specific features you offer that might be able to help.
While it is always best to focus on what the actual answer is to a customer, if the response you have to give doesn’t sound as appealing as you might like, an excellent tactic is to focus on the features that you do offer, rather than what you don’t. Here’s a great example:
Thanks so much for reaching out about this — it’s awesome that you’re concerned about online security! It’s a crucial topic that many people fail to recognize as important.
I hope that helps, but please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.
If they persist, or the question is a bit more technical than you think you can handle, perhaps consider sending it to a support engineer if your company has one, or figure out a better process for escalation amongst the team. Having one person to run point and be the source of knowledge for tickets like these can be valuable — the answers can be technical and nuanced, and it’s a lot of pressure for everyone on your support team to know exactly the right answer every time.
At one of the companies that I worked for, the absolutely worst-case scenario was if someone emailed in about forgetting their email and had also never saved their back-ups codes for two-factor authentication (2FA) and had since changed their phone number or method for two-factor authentication. We had a workaround that would sometimes work to get them some of their content back but, for the most part, it was lost and gone to their access. Somehow we had to find a delicate way to tell them that both conveyed that we understood how painful it was, but that they needed to save those backup codes in the future.
It was easily one of the more difficult emails that we had to write.
Most customers responding asked for us to bend the rules a bit or let them into their account temporarily, so in our tactic, we focused on why 2FA was valuable and how implementing it was meant to be an act of security. We then went on to explain how letting someone into their account without the information needed by 2FA would be doing exactly the opposite of what they had set it in place to do. We also worked hard to let the customer know that we understood how painful this was, and didn’t want them to feel high-and-dry — that’s when we introduced the workaround that would at least help them get some of their content back.
This is a fairly complex situation like most password reset emails are, but if you are lucky and just get an email from someone who has forgotten their password and needs to reset it, you can either reset it for them or teach them to reset it themselves. An example of what the latter email might look like is:
Thanks so much for emailing about this — that’s a great question!
You can reset your password by heading to [insert instructions for where they need to go and what they need to do to reset their password here]. Once you do that, you should see a confirmation notice in your email that it’s worked.
Let me know if you run into any trouble, but otherwise, have a great rest of your day.
While we, as support people, know our product and our documentation better than anyone else, we can’t expect our customers to say the same. There’s a lot of information in a support knowledge base, and it isn’t always organized in the most intuitive way. Because of that, sometimes customers will ask questions that there are already answers to, or that might seem like second nature to you and your team.
Instead of using it as a moment to eyeroll in frustration and mutter something about “googling properly,” be thankful for a conversation that you know you’ll have an opportunity to knock out of the park on your very first try. Here’s a quick snippet that you can use if someone has asked you a question that can be more easily answered by documentation:
Thanks for emailing about this — that’s a really great question.
I can certainly see how this would be confusing, so much so that we actually wrote up a standing guide about it for our customers. You can check that out here: [link]. There’s actually a bunch of pretty useful stuff there, so if you find that link helpful, you might also want to take a look down at the “related docs” section in the bottom, too.
I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.
This assuages any concerns that they might feel about being silly or not knowing the answer while still sending them the documentation, and teaching them that other docs might exist if they have further questions. It’s a win-win!
There are all types of people in the world, and so it should stand to reason that you can’t expect every single one of them to use your service or product in the “right” or “proper” way all the time. Sometimes people will violate your terms of service in obvious or egregious ways. Other times, it will be an accident and they won’t even know they are doing it. Either way, though, if it comes to the attention of your company, someone will have to handle it, and normally that someone will be the support team. So, what’s the best way to do it?
Being bureaucratic and explaining your terms of service, rather than accusing a customer of knowing and making the choice to break them is always going to be a better route. Rather than assigning blame to anyone, instead try to find out what the customer was looking to accomplish and how you can help them do that in a way that falls within your terms. Here’s an example: at one company where I worked, we would occasionally have people that would use the API to create hundreds of items within our product all at once.
This kind of hammering at the API would actually slow the whole infrastructure down as it tried to handle the bandwidth. There were, basically, only two things that could be happening when this occurred: first, someone could have made an incorrect API call and not realize what they were doing or, second, someone is trying to spam someone by completely incapacitating their account. One of our tenets of good support was “assume positive intent,” and that was no different with things like this. Here’s how we’d answer, so maybe you can take it and run with it:
My name’s [blank] and I do [blank] here at [company]. I wanted to reach out because I noticed that you had some unusually high activity via the API which actually exceeds our usage guidelines. Could you share a bit more information with me about what you’re trying to accomplish? I’m wondering if I might be able to help you find a way to do what you’re looking to do while still staying within the boundaries of our terms of service.
If I don’t hear back from you or the activity doesn’t stop within the next 24 hours, I will, unfortunately, have to take action on your account by creating a temporary freeze on your API keys. That will mean that you will not be able to do anything via the API or programmatically (including using Zapier) until I remove the freeze.
Hopefully we can chat soon! Thanks!
While it might be slightly different for you and whatever the main issues with your product are, the important pieces are:
While it may seem like bullying when receiving an email that tells them bad news or that they’ve done something wrong many people won’t respond. That gives them an incentive to explain things so that you can get a dialogue started.
Whenever I think about explaining something to a customer, I first think about explaining it to my father. He doesn’t have a solid grasp of technology, and calls me frequently about how to do things like set up Outlook on his computer or troubleshoot something happening with a file on his desktop. It is especially difficult to troubleshoot on the phone without the assistance of screenshots or video.
Luckily, with your customers that aren’t super tech-savvy, it’s likely that you’ll have at least some technology at your fingertips that can help you make your explanation helpful and clear. There are a number of different types of questions that you might have to answer in this scenario, so instead of an example, here are some guidelines on how to make an interaction with a less-than-then-savvy customer easier:
First, provide screenshots and tutorials. Point the customer to the crucial areas that you think are going to help them most — for example documentation or long-standing resources like webinars. If chat and email don’t seem to be working or the customer is growing more agitated, turn to the phone, which allows for more detailed explanations, but less visual representation.
Second, adopt the mindset of a total beginner and rephrase your explanation without technical jargon. Use the ELI5 technique (explain it like I’m five years old) and guide the user through your fix in little, comprehensible steps without using any jargon. This is especially good if you can break it down into smaller steps, which they can read bit by bit. These should be maybe a sentence or two in length.
Third, if your product allows for it, ask the customer for permission to log into their account and do the changes for them. This is the last resort as, likely, you will need to continue doing this in the future if they run into the problem again. Only do this if you are sure that, otherwise, the interaction will take up much more of your and the customer’s time.
If you’ve followed these three guidelines and still are having trouble with the customer, it’s possible that you may need to express to them that they should get outside help, because what they’re asking for is outside the scope of your support team’s role. If you are open to escalating to a manager, now might be the best time.
It is possible that in your career in support you will come across a customer who questions one of your policies. Normally, this is pretty straightforward as the policy is in place and known to be good and valuable for your team. Occasionally, though, a customer will ask about a policy that might not actually make that much sense, or do service to your customers. If your company is flexible, you may be able to change the policy on the fly, but the likelihood of that is pretty slim. So, how do you get back to a customer when you know that they’re right and your policy is wrong? This is very similar to how you would go about delivering ba d news:
First, explain why your policy is what it is. You can get really deep and historical with it, or just explain it at face level, but give the customer a little context into how it got to be where it is, and why it has stayed there. This may help to assuage their concern that you are telling them that you can’t do what they want. Acknowledge what they have asked for and that it is valid.
Second, express compassion and alignment for the situation with your customer. Agree with them that the policy maybe doesn’t necessarily make sense but that you aren’t in a position to change it immediately right now.
Lastly, offer some assurance that you’ll bring this up with the team, or start looking for a workaround with the customer in the moment. They’ll appreciate feeling like you are on their team and you care about them. It’s also possible that it is time for your policies to change, so move forward with intention to make an impact there as needed.
Not everyone on the planet is inherently good, but it is up to us to assume the best and then if needed, course correct for the worst. In support, sometimes we will have people reach out that don’t align with our own values and will still have to hold our tongues for professionalism’s sake. Other times, though, we may run into people with beliefs that are actually bigoted or wrong: people that use racist, sexist, or ableist language, for example.
While racism has some legal condemnation, there are still call centers that allow it to run rampant towards or around their employees. Sexism is similar: often times it is dismissed as “locker room talk” or something that was more meant to be playful than serious.
Ultimately, how you handle these policies is up to your company and team. But, rather than ignoring them or making a passive comment, it’s usually better to directly address the situation and let the customer know that it’s inappropriate. By giving this kind of direct insight, there is no question in the customer’s mind as to whether it can continue, and you’ve saved yourself some headache by no longer needing to deal with something that is inappropriate in a professional space.
With billions of people in the world and probably millions of products, there will never be a shortage of questions to answer. While this is a fairly exhaustive guide of some of the trickiest ones you’ll come across, there are probably heaps of others that have more nuance and more technical difficulty. With some of the tools in this toolbox, like acknowledging, aligning and assuring, or presenting the difficult news prior to good news, you should be able to tackle anything that comes your way.
Support is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get: the customer that’s going to send you Bridesmaids GIFs, or the one that’s going to scream at you for one of their features being shut off for misuse. No matter what, though, you’ve got this.