Customer Support Best Practices From the NYC Support Driven Meetup

Every American child has heard of the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s a nice message, but it really misses the mark – everyone has their own idea of what being treated well means.  

At the Support Driven Meetup: Customer Service as an Engagement Opportunity, panelists dug deep into what “good” customer service means for their teams and customers. 

Panelists included the Customer Experience Manager at Slice, Rich Lorenzo; the Director of Community and Support at Tumblr, Kimm Alfonso; and the Customer Experience Supervisor at Harry’s, Nick Martin.  

The key takeaway was that “good” can mean very different things – customers want to be treated differently depending on the service that the company offers, the business model, the nature of the product, and the platform on which they’re reaching out.

In life, love, and customer support, we should throw the golden rule out the window, and start treating others the way they want to be treated. Here’s what the panelists had to say: 

Q: How do you think about support, in a general sense? 

At Harry’s, the support team is just a group of humans connecting with other humans. Their North Star is to create positive customer experiences through listening to customer preferences.
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The support team at Tumblr is the glue that binds marketing, product and engineering teams to the customer. They are the front line of customer communication, and they pipe customer needs back into the rest of the company. 

Q: What’s the difference between your company and the status quo version of your company? 

“Do you think you could ever get in touch with ‘the other guys’?” This drew laughs from the audience because it touches on a common experience – some companies are more reachable than others, and some might not even want to be contacted. 

Meanwhile, Harry’s wants to be contacted by their customers – they even use a proactive strategy, where agents reach out to customers when they might be due to restock a product. 
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Tumblr’s core customer support audience is quite young, mostly in their teens. Sometimes they write to support just seeking connection, and looking for someone who they can talk to. In these instances, Tumblr agents are encouraged to engage in this conversation even though it's not about fixing a specific issue. They view it as an opportunity to connect.
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In every case, the support leaders are encouraging even if the interactions are not exactly efficient, or aren’t driving metrics that a traditional CEO will care about. What they are doing, is creating real value for the customer. So, non-traditional as it may be, they continue to encourage the conversations that cost money. 

Q: Examples of proactive support and non-automation: 

Order confirmation is a really big deal for hangry Slice customers. Slice sends proactive text message if orders are taking longer that they should. Customers can then decide if they want to order their dinner (Lunch? Breakfast? Just me?) from another restaurant.

On the flip side, Slice proactively lets restaurants know if they notice order or food delivery patterns so that they can improve their customers’ experiences as well. 
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When Harry’s comes out with new products or features, the support team reaches out to all the customers who requested that product – even if it was two years ago. 

Q: What matters to your customers the most in terms of driving loyalty?

People use Harry’s because they want effortless, no-nonsense experiences. Harry’s customer service team works hard to create effortless experiences, and believes that if the customer forgets the interaction, that could be a good thing – because it means it went smoothly. They do have a “customer wow program,” but these aren’t the moments for which they operationally optimize. It’s the everyday ease of interaction that drives customer loyalty. 

Q: How do you think about soft skills like empathy in terms of hiring and coaching?

Empathy is hard to rank, but is a baseline requirement in customer support. At Harry’s, it goes beyond being friendly. It’s about being able to keep the conversation controlled, and making the customer feel like you’re on their side. They also have a technique at Harry’s where they never tell a customer, “No.” More on that here
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Rich, the Customer Experience Manager at Slice, believes that empathy isn’t about apologizing, it’s about fully understanding the customer. 
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Tumblr hires mostly based on technical acumen, and then coaches agents on soft skills. 

Q: How does the digital age and the social empowerment of customers change what you do?

Ratings and reviews on app download sites are a huge customer engagement opportunity for Slice. Half of the people who rate the app also leave a review – it’s a gold mine of useful feedback about the app that they process and distribute internally. 

Q: How do you work to change the internal mindset about customer support being a service?

Rich, the Customer Experience Manager at Slice, has been working to position support as a partner to marketing and product for his entire career. He communicates the value of his team by sharing biweekly blog posts across the org, highlighting customer insights from support. For example, he recently shared that five issues account for 50% of customer outreach. This drew attention toward fixing these problems.