How to Kick Ass at Customer Support

I’ve never been one to shy away from discussing my weaknesses on this blog, particularly my complete ineptitude at marketing, but today I’d like to talk about one of my strengths - customer support.

As Saber is just me, and has received no outside funding, I had to find a reliable way to differentiate myself from the large and well-funded competition. It turns out being awesome at customer support is a great way to do just that. Here’s what I’ve learned from 6 years at providing kick-ass customer service:

The five minute rule

Whenever I receive an email, I employ what I call the five minute rule - If I think I can find the answer to their question or fix their issue within five minutes, I’ll do so before responding. Otherwise I respond immediately explaining that I’ve received their email and I’m currently looking into it.

This means I reply to every single support email I receive within five minutes of my reading it, and often the reply will have exactly the information they need, or even a fix to their issue.

Make sure the customer knows they are important

In situations where I think it will take more than five minutes to offer a satisfactory response, my immediate reply will often include the phrase “I’m looking into this as my top priority”. And I mean it. I only use that phrase if I’m prepared to drop everything else to address this particular query.

I also sign off with “Matt Bearman, Saber Founder”. Of course I’m the only employee at Saber, so all support requests are handled by me, but it still emphasises how important customer service is to Saber. I think bigger companies can learn from this, by making sure even the more senior staff spend some time answering support requests, especially for the more complex issues.

No lies

This relates to both the previous points - never knowingly lie when responding to support queries. Don’t tell someone their issue is your top priority unless it really is. Don’t change your signature to say “Founder” if you’re front-line support staff. One thing I’ve learned is customers really appreciate honesty and humility from companies, which leads me on to my next point…

Own fuck ups

You are gonna fuck up, we all do. Believe it or not, customers understand this. So when (not if, when) you fuck up, admit fault, and offer customers a genuine apology. No excuses, and no weasel words. This is something big companies really seem to struggle with.

I like to ensure my apologies include the following three parts:

  1. Explain in detail exactly what went wrong.

  2. Say sorry and mean it.

  3. Give details of the steps I’ve taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I’m not afraid to say I’ve made plenty of mistakes running Saber. I always issue genuine apologies, and so far I’ve not lost a single customer because of it.

No auto-responders

Auto-responders suck, they provide about as much value as an automated message saying “Your call is important to us” when you’re waiting on hold. Don’t be tempted to use an auto-responder for the initial response, your customer will know the email wasn’t written by a real human.

I always feel disappointed when I receive a fast response to a support request, only to discover it’s an auto-responder. If you adopt the five minute rule, you’ll have no need to auto-responders anyway.

It works

It amazes me how often I receive responses from customers expressing surprise and gratitude for handling their issue so quickly. It really goes to show how bad most companies are at customer service, when people are genuinely shocked to receive a timely response. Customers have even told me the level of customer service I provide is the reason they chose the Saber Feedback Form over the competition, so never underestimate the value of awesome support.

It reminds me of this excellent scene from the US Office (which is inexplicably better than the original UK series):

There’s a lot of ways bigger companies can outdo us little guys, but customer support is one arena where we smaller companies have the advantage.

Thanks for reading

- Matt