Tips for Handling Website Support Requests

I recently received a support request for one of the websites I help develop. As I was formulating a response, it got me thinking about my internal thought process for helping customers.

  • Identify the Problem — When responding to support requests it's important to understand the issue. Are they looking for information? Is something on the website not functioning properly? If so, where on the website does the issue originate? What browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) are they using?
  • Attempt to Duplicate — It can be easier to fix an issue if you're able to experience the problem first hand. Of course, it may not always be that easy. For example, you may have some back-end code that doesn't function properly in all browsers. It may work perfectly fine in Internet Explorer, but breaks in Firefox.
  • Don't Assume — Even though the reported issue may seem self-explanatory there's always a chance for a curve ball. If someone mentions that there is a broken link on your website, for example, it doesn't necessarily mean the link will be found on your website. Maybe the link they are trying to view comes from the printed newsletter. Or maybe they are looking at someone else's website; one that you don't control.
  • Disarm the Situation — Every once in a while I'll get a call or email from someone who isn't in a good mood. Maybe they have been struggling to resolve the issue on their own or maybe they're just having a bad day. It's important to let them know that you empathize with their situation and that you are there to help.
  • Customer is Always Right — When helping a customer, it can be tempting to let a customer know that they are doing it wrong. In the end, the customer's goal is to complete a task; they don't usually care how it's done. So be sensitive about their time especially since they chose to contact you. A lot of people will just take their business elsewhere.
  • Provide a Clear Solution — Work to provide simple and clear directions that guide the customer toward the solution. And learn to recognize the best way to deliver those directions. For example, if a customer is looking for information on your website, it may be best to send the direct link to them via email. For a more convoluted path where the customer could easily get lost along the way, it may be better to walk them through the website over the phone.
  • Avoid Technical and Internal Jargon — When using terms like Web browser, operating system, main website navigation, etc. you are likely to run into customers who don't know what they mean. So to cover my bases, I'll usually include extra information, as necessary. For example, if I need to know what browser they are using I'll ask "What browser do you use; Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.?"
  • Be Patient — The most important thing that I've learned over the years regarding support requests is to be patient. Your customers will usually appreciate the fact that you took the time to listen to them and hopefully you were able to solve the issue they may have had.

My Support Nightmare

When responding to a customer about a complaint or a request for assistance, I usually remind myself of the horrible support call with my Internet Service Provider (ISP). A few years back my power went out at home while I was browsing the Internet. When the power came back, I was unable to get online. After running some tests to make sure the phone line was working, I called my ISP to see what I needed to do.

The details of the call are a little fuzzy, but I remember them saying something along the lines of "What is the DNS number associated with the account?" Since I didn't know what he was talking about I asked what a DNS number was. He replied that it is a DNS number in a slightly snarky tone. With no clue on how to proceed, I asked him where I could find the number to which he replied that it might be on my billing statement. After looking for a minute or so for something labeled "DNS number", I asked if he knew where to look on the statement. He said that he didn't know and proceeded to ask me for the DNS number a few more times. After getting a little more frustrated, I asked him again what a "DNS number" is. He then said it's my phone number. Now keep in mind, I'm already on edge due to the power outage and running through all the tests to find out if the phone line was faulty. Now that anger level has been elevated, but after taking a deep breath and counting to ten, we continued with the support call.

The support representative then asked me to visit a website to check how the modem is set up. When the website finished loading he asked me what I saw. Of course, I had no idea what he wanted to hear so I started describing everything; "I see a website with your logo in the page header across the top, there's text under that with some links, …" but after a few seconds I stopped and said there is a lot of things on the page what should I be looking for? He then clarified in a slightly snarky tone "What do you see in the middle of the page?" Well at this point I was boiling inside and I finally said that I have no idea what you are looking for. I see lots of things in the middle of the page; what do you want to hear! The language was slightly different but the point was the same. He then dropped the snarky tone and asked if I saw the form fields in the middle of the page?

From this point on the call went fairly smoothly, but it could have been a lot easier if he would have just kept things simple and direct. What is the phone number associated with your account? Do you see a form in the middle of the modem setup page?


If you would like to share your customer support stories or if you have any additional tips, please enter them in the comments section below. I also welcome your feedback on the above post.


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