Everything flows from empathy: And other thoughts on stand out customer support

December 19, 2017

The most important thing for us is making our customers happy. If customers have a poor interaction with support, they’ll associate our company with feeling bad – no matter how many improvements we make to our product. This seems obvious, yet it’s something few companies get right: tech support rage is real.

At Hosted Graphite, we know our support is one of the reasons why people sign up, and stay with us for years. That means even the mediocre, "that was fine" interaction that other companies aim for isn't enough for us – we don't stand out.

What follows is an experiment in getting our thoughts in order before hiring. It's our way of fleshing out what stand out support looks like, why it’s important to our business, and what qualities we’re looking for in our next hire.

What kind of support person are we looking for?

I guess we need someone who actually cares about other people’s experiences. Everything else flows from there.

True enough. But why do we as a company care about people’s experiences?

Well, part of that has to be because we’re humans who care what people think about us, right? We don’t want to be part of that cliché of the cut-throat business. We care about our employees too!

But we’re still a business. How does empathy help us as a company?

Empathy – the ability to demonstrate empathy especially – makes people feel good about their interactions with us. They feel like time talking to us isn’t wasted, like we’re really listening and we understand their problems. It reduces customer pain, so...

Wait, what’s that? Our customers are in pain? How did that happen?!

Not physical pain! The psychological pain that you feel when something is hard for no reason, you know? Like a poorly designed website where you can’t find the link for something, and when you finally reach out for help, there’s no explanation given for why the link was on some obscure unrelated page. You wasted your time, and the company doesn’t seem to care.

What if you don’t know the answer?

An answer with no content is no answer at all. There are two main routes to avoiding this scenario. First of all, support isn’t alone. The developers and SREs are all available to help out. There will be times when you can’t know the answer because it’s to do with an obscure system somewhere, or it’s because of a specific edge case behavior that’s just never come up before. That’s why the ideal support person is happy learning about technical systems. As you answer more questions you’ll accumulate more knowledge.

It sounds like someone in that situation would be great for gathering ideas for improvements and new products?

They would. Support generally acts as on behalf of the customer within the company, pushing for features and changes that will make them happy. They’re the voice of the customer inside the company. But they’re also the voice of the company outside.

So support is in a kind of middleman position. Isn’t that a difficult balance?

It definitely is. Communication skills are absolutely key as a result. The teams internally all have their own priorities, and invariably when support talks to them it disrupts those priorities, however briefly. Everyone is on the same side, and we need to work together to make the customers happy!

Alright, so you have this theoretical person, they’re empathetic, they work well with other teams, they communicate well with customers, they learn quickly and have a good head for technical concepts. Why are they going to come work for us?

Because we value those traits. Because as a growing company, support has a big say in how the company grows. Also this role is a great opportunity to be challenged regularly. The service is growing and changing all the time, so the responses are never static. You always have to keep learning, keep working with the teams, keep modifying and developing your knowledge of how it all works. And you get to have real input into how things change and why.

Shevaun Frazier

Technical Support at Hosted Graphite.

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