Tips From Customer Service

This past summer, I had an internship with Shareaholic – a small (less than 10 person) startup that provides a free app you can add to your blog. The app allows viewers to share a webpage to many different social media services across the globe and provides the viewer with recommendations for other pages on the website they might also join. About 1 month after I started, Shareaholic released an “upgrade” of this app in their Word Press plugin.

You all know the burning wrath of change. Innocent people are suddenly swept into a raging panic. Where did their app go? How were they supposed to edit things? Why was nothing working? Why did we ruin a perfectly good plugin?!?! So when the customer service inbox shot from 20 to 200 emails in just one night, Shareaholic stuck me on customer support duty. For two months.
Imagine answering emails for 7-8 straight hours per day from people all over the world. I have never met them before, nor will I likely ever come in contact with them again. Some speak English, some barely speak English, some send you emails in their native language, requiring “Google translate” before I can continue.

If I am lucky, the problem is just a caching issue. This is roughly 40% of the cases, depending on the day, and now my fingers will auto complete if I do not pay attention. How is that lucky? Because it is quick. I can reply in 5 minutes. Person shoots a message back saying that it works, and showers me with gratitude. Boom.

“Awesome! If you have any more questions in the future, do not hesitate to ask. :) Best of luck! – Kai”

Case solved.

Other lucky cases are the wonderfully informative: “It doesn’t work.” End of message. Some people are kind enough to add a second sentence informing us that “It used to.” These also take less than 5 minutes to answer, with me asking what they are even talking about.

Making a single step forward on all other cases can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a full 2 hours. For each of these emails, I have to check: their website, their pages, their API key, their version, their front end, their back end, the console, their website in different browsers, etc. How much I check depends on how extensive the reported “error” is. The ultimate goal is to replicate what the user reports. I have had to access people’s website accounts, intentionally break our testing site with various other plugins, hack CSS settings, write lengthy emails on how to debug, explain reasoning for design decisions and how the internet actually works – and then, after having the user try everything conceivably possible, discover there actually is a bug which is passed to the working engineers to fix.

Communication between myself and the user can last for days. Sometimes I will just ignore “open cases” (after the user replied to my email) for 24 hours – because I have to. As quickly as I wrote emails, even more came in. But…that is not even the hard part.

People are people. There are roughly 3 types of emails you can get in customer service. The first are grateful, understanding, and cooperative (i.e. “I know I am doing something wrong here… ><”). The second are stoic, straightforward, and serious (i.e. “Hi. It is not showing.”). The third are raging, insulting, and entitled (i.e. “Great, you broke everything!”). No matter what, I must always be cheerful and clear, exemplify the utmost patience, and speak to the level of the user (aka, words they can understand without being demeaning). My goal is to keep them happy and a user of the service. Smilies are used quite often. It is a persona I adapt, a face I put on to be the kindest and most friendly person I can. Personal feelings do not matter. While this may be a redundant task for me – it is a “one time” interaction for them.

I do not think much about the emotional strain working customer service can cause the average person – I can be in the middle of a war zone and not be bothered. However I know it exists. And I can honestly rant about the whole social psychology behind people and this interactive process, but that is for another time. One thing to note, though, is that rage is passing. Many people are genuinely grateful. They can be shouting at you one minute, but then showering you with eternal gratitude the moment everything is resolved. Compliments included.

“Awesome! If you have any more questions in the future, do not hesitate to ask. :) Best of luck! – Kai”

While I did not do what I was expecting to do this past summer (i.e. programming), working in customer service did teach me a lot about the internet. And social media sites. And business. And what is popular. And people. And hacking. And blogs. And WordPress. And that people really like my name.

Oh – and FYI, next time you report a bug to someone – please provide screenshots, relevant urls, your browser and OS, anything you already did to resolve the issue, and a clear description of what exactly is going on. Thank you.

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