How to design a customer support process

[caption id="attachment_302" align="alignright" width="300"] Design your support system[/caption]

When you build a website or app, you design it.  This means making sketches and getting feedback, building prototypes and having debates on what will be really important to the customer.

You have a great product; you've thought through, designed and tested every feature.  But when it comes to customer support, did you take the same amount of time and attention? Or did you just slap in a contact form?

A great customer experience = great product + great support

That's the equation that works. Great product, but poor support? Your customers will love you until they reach out for help (at which point they will become bitter and resentful). Even worse: a bad experience will have the customer questioning why they pay you money.

Offering great customer support costs money

It costs money to plan and design a good support interface. It costs money to set-up high quality communications channels (phone, email, support documentation).  And, most of all, it costs money to get (and retain) great people that can deliver a high level of support. The software company I work for always tries to hire the best, especially when it comes to the staff who will be interacting every day, every hour with our customers. If a bad support interaction has the potential to turn a paying customer into a non-paying "former" customer, then we need to invest in creating great support interactions.

How to design a customer support process

  1. Create a plan for each support channel: 

    1. Phone: Where will the customer find your phone number? Do you want someone to answer right away, or to have a touchtone menu? What will your hold music sound like? Do you want phones to ring (at the same time) in your eastern and western offices?

    2. Email, Live Chat: Where will the customer find your email? Will you use Gmail to process email requests, or support software like Charm, Assistly or Zendesk? How will you customize the macros? Will you use automatic "robo-replies" when a customer emails you?

    3. Documentation and Support Forums: Will you have online documentation? Who will write it? How will it be organized?

    4. Feedback mechanisms: How will you know if you're doing a good job? Will you use surveys, agent rating tools, or random user testing?

  2. Design your support site: based on your plan for each channel, now it's time to start designing the support webpages, and the interfaces the customers will be using when contacting support. The key with support UI is to make it easy: reduce the number of clicks, and the amount of time, a user needs to take before getting an answer.

  3. Build your system: now it's time to build what you've designed. Manage the project the same way you build software. You need to think of the whole process in the same way as building your next killer feature.

  4. Launch

  5. Test it: This stage is important. Just like any other feature, you need to test your customer support system. Use and have anonymous testers try to contact support, and rate their experience. Upload a screenshot of your homepage to the ClickTest, and ask testers to click where they would look first for support. Have customers rate their support experience, similar to 37signals' Smiley program. Send a follow-up email to a customer and ask them what you could do better.

  6. Refine: Based on your testing, it's time to refine the system. Go back and redesign the parts that aren't working well.

Published on September 30th, 2011
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