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Tips for Customer Support

As you can read in the blog post about The Balsamiq Mantras, Customer Support is something really important to us.

During the 2014 Balsamiq Retreat, Peldi asked Ben to teach his techniques for excellent customer support with the rest of the team.

Here's what he taught us; we hope it will come useful for those of you who do support!

The Perfect Support Interaction - Par 3

Ben started the workshop with our mission: Balsamiq exists to help rid the world of bad software.

Inspired by Kathy Sierra, we have realized that our goal is not to create awesome software, but to create awesome users. If our users are successful, they will create awesome software and other awesome users.

In other words, support for us means helping our users get unstuck so that they can go back to work on ridding the world of bad software.

One of the core principles for us in doing support is the concept of Par 3, borrowed from golf. Here's what we consider an ideal support interaction:

  1. customer writes in
  2. we reply with the perfect answer
  3. customer replies "Thank you, that's exactly what I needed"

That's it! No need to follow-up, they get enough email as it is.

The rest of this post explains how to craft that "perfect answer".

Canned Responses: Yes or No?

We believe canned responses are both helpful and dangerous.

They're mostly helpful for repeated requests (though an FAQ on your site will remove the need for people to write you in the first place), but they're also helpful for those days when you are not 100% happy, but you still have to talk to people. 😉

The dangerous side is this: if it’s not your tone, if it's not your voice, it’s going to sound fake. You just copy and paste something that someone else wrote that doesn’t match the rest of what you wrote. So it can be dangerous, but that danger can be solved: just write a collection of little pieces of canned responses written by yourself, in your style, with your tone, that you can pull together as needed.

Anatomy of a Perfect Reply for a Bug Report

Crafting the perfect answer might feel intimidating, but don't worry, anyone can do it, it's not that hard. Here's a formula to help.


Note: this formula is infinitely adaptable, the order of the sections is highly contextual.

1. Greeting

The most important thing in support is to be yourself: first of all, we say “Hi” or "Hello": it's more familiar compared to other greetings. You may have noticed that we are not very formal; we are relaxed and comfortable and we want to be that way with our customers.

Tip: Be natural but also be friendly: use their name almost every single time.

2. Thank

The support interaction is just beginning, but we recommend you thank the person who is writing, probably upset, to tell you that you have done something that has caused them pain.

Part of the reason we feel this "thank you" section is so important is because it's very natural and common, when someone is attacking you, to get defensive; this "thank you" section changes everybody's mindset. You let them know that you are both on the same path now, trying to solve the problem together so that they can get back to helping rid the world of bad software.

Tip: Write something that says "I know you have taken time out of your life to share this problem with us, without which we might not know about it and be able to fix it."

3. Empathize

Once you have thanked them for what they're doing for us, you have to show them that your understand their pain.

It can be a simple apology. What an unusual thing that is, in today's world, for a company to say: "It's our fault, we're sorry!" It's about taking responsibility. You do care, right?

Tip: Try to really put yourself in their shoes. I bet you'd probably be upset too! 🙂

4. Identify

When someone is writing you with a support question, it's often much more emotional than logical. They're writing in a certain emotional state: they've lost time because there was a problem, they're now losing more time to tell you about it and share their experience.

They need to feel like you understand both their emotional state and what has happened technically, in order for them to trust and believe that what you are going to tell them will help. If they don't feel like you understand them, they will resist whatever you're telling them, they're not going to listen to the solution that is going to fix their problem; so this Identify phase is very important.

So: clearly identify the problem, give it a name. For example, "I can help you with sharing images," or "This is what I think is happening," or something like that.

If they are not clear enough about their problem, you need to tell them your assumptions. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out what's happening, but with the goal of Par 3, your first response should not be "What product are you using?".

Sometimes that's all you can do, but you should first try to figure it out. For example, we might say: "Let me know if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you're using Mockups for Desktop."

Tip: Your reply back needs to be a mix of emotion and logic. The logic will help engage different parts of their brain, and calm them down. But if your reply only contains logic, you will come across as cold, impersonal and uncaring.

5. Resolve

The single most important part of a perfect response is to resolve the problem. Without this part, your response fails.

One of the most effective resolutions that you can and should have, is: "This is all you need to do, follow the instructions on this link: {link to support article}."

This is more and more of our answers in Balsamiq support, especially with beginners, also due to Leon's work on writing the support documentation for Mockups, which makes everyone's life easier. 🙂

If you have a website section dedicated to FAQs and Support docs, this kind of resolution is very helpful also because it exposes users to your massive support knowledge base - I'm sure you have one, right? 😉

Once they see all those articles, they'll understand you've taken time to think about this problem and think: "Maybe next time I have a question, I'll start here instead of tweeting, calling, or emailing." Bingo! 🙂

Tip: Sometimes you have to tell them a workaround, such as another way to do something until the bug is fixed. This is often painful: the resolution is not always a happy thing.

6. End

Our favorite ending is one that leaves the interaction open.

"Please let me know if you run into any trouble or have any more questions": even if your goal is Par 3, you shouldn't shoot down further interaction. You want them to feel like you are here and available when they get stuck.

I hope you enjoyed Ben's Support School! Here are his slides: 

In case you want to learn more about Customer Support, we recommend this book: “The Customer Support Handbook” written by our friend Sarah Hatter, CEO of CoSupport.

The book is full of good advice for those who intend to have a career in Customer Support; some chapters are written by people who are great at it, and the book contains a large number of possible support cases, each with a proposed solution. In the "Best Practices" chapters you can find tips to write better emails, apologize to your clients and admit mistakes, deal with feature requests, do Social Support, etc.

And remember, the best support is no support: it means that you're doing a great job with your product. 🙂

Hope this was helpful. You may also want to read Finding The Human: The Customer Support Starter Pack.

Any questions, post them below!

Francesca for the Balsamiq Team

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Comments (2)

  1. Hi Mike, thanks for sharing both articles!

    “The philosophy of great customer service” is very interesting, and there is a lot in common with our philosophy. So thank you again for bringing this to our attention!

  2. Hey Francesca (and Ben), great article! I’ve shared it with some people who work directly with customers.

    By coincidence, today a friend shared with me this other great article on customer support: