3 How to support customers through conversations

Ever fight over a misunderstanding? Or see people break up over poor communication? Then you know it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it.

And if trust is the foundation of a solid relationship, then communication is what builds a structure that lasts.

Real world translation: start thinking about how to talk to your customers.

Let’s start with your channels.

Pick the right communication channels

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling apps or apples. People always have bugs and bruises to report. And when they come knocking, customer support needs to be there.

Remember: customer success is not customer support. But world-class support is still a huge part of success. The question is, how should you offer it?

And that how depends on how well you know your customers.

Are they tech savvy or technophobes? Do they need in-depth technical instruction, or just a sympathetic human voice? Figure that out first. And then start thinking about your channels.

Here are your options:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Forms
  • Forums
  • Live chat
  • Chatbot
  • Social networks
  • Help center

It’s a lot to chose from. And all support channels have their plus and minuses.

Just remember that when you offer a new support channel, you offer new touchpoints. And that means more experiences to manage. So before you add another channel, ask yourself these questions:


Think speed: How will it affect user expectations?

Here’s the first thing a user thinks about when asking for help: when am I going to get an answer?

The channel sets expectations for speed and personalization. So make sure you meet these expectations. Exceed them if you can.

The channel also affects your automation options. An automatic message saying “Got your message, back to you soon” might work for email. But not the best way to answer a live chat.


Be realistic: What kind of resources are needed?

The channel defines how many support people you’ll need. Considering real-time support, like phone service or live chat? You’re going to need a lot of hands on deck.

And be careful: channels come in unexpected places. Thinking about allowing users comments on your help center articles? Then you’ll need someone to monitor for comments that need a response, or trolls looking for attention.


Use common sense: Does this match my customers’ needs?

With so many channels available, it can be tempting to think that you need to be everywhere all the time. Think again.

Before you open up another channel, ask yourself: Is this channel something my users want and will use? If you provide health monitoring products to senior citizens, do you really need support staff monitoring Twitter feeds full time?


Be selective: Not all customers are equal

Talk’s not cheap. And the reality is that not all users are created equally.

If you have a freemium model, prioritize support for higher value customers. And direct free users to an email address or contact form embedded in your website.

You could also offer enhanced support to your ideal customer personas, no matter what plan they’re on. This way you’re focused on the highest converting users at all times.

The general rule is: the more valuable a customer, the more touch they deserve. So when Google signs up for your service, don’t put them hold.

Ever wonder where customer support teams get their support?
Here’s some great resources when you’re looking for a compass, or a crutch.

Remember the rules of conversation

No matter what channel you’re on, treat customer interactions like conversations. Here are a few guidelines that apply to any conversation:

Listen to understand.

Imagine you’re with someone who hung on every word you said. They asked questions to clarify their understanding, probe deeper, and prompt insight. This creates empathy, and a space where people feel comfortable expressing themselves. The same applies to customers.

Be polite and respectful at all cost.

You may not agree with what you hear—and the customer may actually be wrong (gasp!)—but stay calm and professional.

Read, then mirror your customer.

Are you talking to the 70-year-old board member of a multinational corporation, or the 20-year-old founder of the Valley’s newest startup? If the former, don’t fill your response with loose language and exclamation points!!! Have a customer who likes to use emojis? Don’t be afraid to drop in a smiley face. 🙂

Perform an emotional analysis.

You run into a friend who’s clearly not as chipper as usual. Do you still greet them with “Hey Bob! Wanna hear the most depressing story in the world?” I hope not. Conversations ensue by gauging the others’ feelings.

You can do this with a quick question to gauge emotional analysis before beginning the conversation:

How are you today?

Hope for this:

Dancing with unicorns
That’s great! Let’s get started.

But be prepared for this:

My hamster died
Oh, sorry about that. Let’s see if I can help.

If in doubt, err on the side of polite and professional.

Know where they are in their journey.

Are they still onboarding? Regular users of your product? Already pledged their eternal, unconditional loyalty to your brand? Know this before you engage in conversation.

Write like you talk.

Ask for their name, and use it in conversation. Drop the corporate speak, but don’t sound like a teenager either. Aim for something between: “I’m happy to have the chance to serve you today” and “Dude, spill your probs and let’s sort this sucker out.” Something like: “Hey, sorry you’re not happy. Tell me a bit more about the problem.”

Have a personality.

Ever felt the pain of talking to an automated voice system? Right–don’t be a robot. Find your own voice, be authentic, humanize the conversation with one-sentence small talk: “How’s the weather in Kansas today?” Whatever. Just don’t be overly chatty.

Make every engagement valuable.

Everything you do—from emails to campaigns—should be aimed at providing value to your customers. Before you click “send,” ask yourself: “Is my customer gaining something from this?”

Never sell when someone needs help.

This is one of the easiest ways to f— up a relationship. If a customer calls to report a bug, don’t respond with “You should try our Pro Plan, you’ll love it!” There’s a time and a place to upsell—timing is everything here.

It basically boils down to general humanness with a touch of empathy. Or as Gary McGrath, Customer Success Team lead at Kayako, put it:

Curious how Marvel App grew their support team to handle 1,000,000 customers?
Here’s their inside story.