How Not to Ask for Help from the Support Staff
The good, the bad and the ugly of a career in support.
As consumers, most of us have at one point or another spoken to support staff. Whether it’s a software we purchased, hardware we’re struggling with, or even an insurance policy, we’ve had ideas for new features, problems with the design, understanding the intended functionality, or just needed to reset our password.
What do we do when that happens? We get in touch with the support desk, hoping they’ll fix our problem. Behind the screen or telephone, sits a real live person who wants nothing more than to solve your problem and for you to go away, hopefully happy, with a minimum of harassment. Because trust me, we experience harassment.
Nearly the entirety of my professional life has been spent behind the phone or answering emails of people with problems with something they’ve bought from the company I work for.
What’s going on behind the scenes? What does customer support really do?
Here are the types of emails or calls we most often encounter.
“I have an unsolvable problem. Please fix it.”
When we get this kind of contact from people, we generally have just one question: Did you already try to solve the problem?
Every single Contact Us page will have a link to the FAQ page. It’s for a reason. It’s because the Q you have for us is probably FA. And there’s probably a totally valid answer for it already. Give that a try first.
If you have had a look already, well done and thank you! Please make sure to note that in your initial query so we know not to point you there. Save us and yourself time.
Detailing the steps you’ve already taken to try to solve the issue on your own is massively helpful for us, so we know what’s already been tried. Plus, it means a lot to us that you’re not just firing off to us at the first instance of inconvenience for you.
“Is this problem solved yet? When can I expect it to be fixed?”
This kind of query is typically answered with a polite yet regretful, “I’m so sorry, our team is working on it as hard as we can, but I can’t provide you with an estimate yet.”
In our heads? We’re saying, “Stop asking for progress updates.”
Seriously. Once is enough. Just trust it’s in our queue and we’re working towards it as fast as we can. This is especially imperative for you to remember if you sent in your request on a weekend, and come Monday morning, you’re already demanding an answer.
Hey, just because you don’t have a work-life balance doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t.
One company I know of actually sends your requests to the back of the line every time you ask again. For real.
What’s happening behind the scenes for this?
The developers, engineers, designers, and whoever else is needed to deal with your issue, are working together to solve it. We’re not going to waste time updating you at every turn. It would annoy you just to receive an email every hour or day saying, “Hi there, not quite done yet, still don’t know when it will be.”
We’ll let you know if we run into something to cause a serious delay, or we’ve solved it.
You know what else won’t help us solve your problem? Having to stop fixing your problem to check every time you send us a new email demanding to be put at the top of the priority list.
“Please place this at the top of your priority, it’s urgent.”
When I get this type of reply, I’ll say “Thanks for letting us know, the support team will be working as quickly as they can to solve this issue for you.”
In reality? Everyone thinks they’re urgent.
I’d say a solid 90% of the emails I get about issues classify themselves at urgent. Needing to be fixed immediately. Top priority. One email actually told us we needed to put him as the #1 issue for the day.
Spoiler alert: his issue was that he’d forgotten his password and didn’t know how to reset it. Which he could have read in the FAQs.
You know how many of them actually are urgent? Maybe like 5%. Maybe even less. Unless something is badly broken, chances are we’ll get to it the same way we get to all of these issues — sussing out how long they’ll take, making sure there’s nothing more important, or someone who came before. And then slotting in the day’s work.
I don’t expect people to say, “This is non-urgent, it can wait a day or two,” but I do expect them to understand that we have multiple responsibilities we’re juggling — some of which are actually urgent.
Marking things as urgent doesn’t necessarily make us treat them as urgent. It just makes us a little annoyed, and a little less likely to consider your next “urgent” request as actually urgent.
“Hi, support, could you just speed up X? Thanks.”
I’m sorry if I’m the first one to tell you this, but we don’t have a ‘make things faster’ dial.
No, we can’t.
We dedicate a lot of resources to ensuring things are already as fast as possible. There’s been a lot of discussion about speed versus stability trade-offs that you haven’t been privy to. It’s bizarre that people think we’re withholding speed from them — for our own satisfaction? For personal gain?
I’m not sure what makes people think we have the key to improve speed, but we don’t have it. Please stop asking us.
There’s something about being in customer support that makes us see the very worst side of people, sometimes. Maybe it’s because people only tend to come to us when something’s wrong. Perhaps it’s because we’re often stuck with the job of saying there’s no quick or easy fix.
People expect that anything they pay money for (and some things that they don’t) bow to their every whim and put them first before all else, ignoring the fact that most companies have many, many clients to help.
If you want the best out of customer support, treat us like you would any other real person. We’re not bots, we’re humans like you. And we respond best when approached with kindness, consideration, and care.