Forget Happiness, This Is the Top Emotion for Customer Support

The webinar software picked the wrong time to get wonky.

My online training class started in less than 30 minutes. A client was paying good money for its employees to attend this session. Schedules had been rearranged to make it happen. There was a lot on the line.

Everything was locked and loaded just minutes earlier. Suddenly, I couldn't log in. I placed a frantic call to technical support.

The technical support rep must have been super empowered. She skipped all of the usual items on the support checklist ("Yes, I've tried rebooting my computer.") and quickly diagnosed the problem.

Now came the surprise.

The rep offered to stay on the line with me until my webinar started. She wanted to make sure everything was OK. 

I went from feeling frustrated and anxious to feeling relieved. For support teams, customer relief is much more important than happiness.

Why Relief Matters in Support

A survey of 1,345 consumers conducted by the Temkin Group discovered that relief was the most common emotion experienced after a technical support interaction.

Let's break it down a bit.

Most technical support interactions start with some form of distress. Customers experience a problem that causes anxiety, frustration, or even anger and are counting on the technical support rep to help them fix it.

Now consider the definition of relief. My favorite comes from the Oxford Dictionary:

A feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.

It's a big emotional swing to move from distress to reassurance. The peak-end rule in psychology tells us the emotional peak is often the most memorable part of an interaction. Ending on a big positive further cements good feelings in the customer's memory.

So how can support teams bring more relief? Here are a few steps.


Improve the Pre-Call Experience

Many technical support teams, particularly start-ups, are guilty of intentionally making it difficult to reach a live agent.

The phone number is buried behind a wall of self-service options. Sometimes there's no phone support at all. Even then, customers must wade through a series of questions and menus just to initiate a live chat or send an email.

This is all based on a calculation that self-support is cheaper than live support. It's also a tactic that can backfire.

Customers are already experiencing negative emotions due to their technical issue. A struggle to get live support at a time of need only serves to amplify those feelings.

This puts relief even farther out of reach.

Now here's the secret. Most customers don't want to connect with live support! They too want to solve the problem on their own.

Customers look for live support when they try self-service and it fails or they believe their issue is too complicated for self-service. Smart companies get this and make it easy for customers to choose between self-service or contacting a live agent.

Quickly connecting with the help you need is a form of relief in itself.

You can still deflect unnecessary service contacts if you do it right. For example, customer service software provider Zendesk takes the live agent or self-service option to a whole new level of awesome.


Allow Agents to Build Rapport

Friendliness and empathy aren't just nice-to-have elements of a support call.

Remember, customers contact support when they're experiencing negative emotions. Research shows that people in that state of mind are more judgmental and less open to ideas.

That's a toxic situation for effective support. So a support analyst who can build rapport can quickly set the stage for faster problem resolution. Which, in turn, makes it easier to bring relief.

Here are a few tactics to try:

  • Start the conversation with enthusiasm.
  • Learn the customer's name and introduce yourself before asking for account info.
  • Listen to yourself and note times when your tone isn't friendly.


Give Agents Space to Listen

Customers are notoriously bad at telling their story.

This causes two problems when it comes to listening. First, large support queues can make employees over-anxious to hop to a solution. That shuts down listening, which in turn can create friction.

The other problem is instinctive. Our brains naturally shut down listening when we start hearing a story we think we've heard before. 

Veteran agents have heard it all before, so your more experienced employees can have an even tougher time listening than your rookies.

Agents need coaching and feedback to develop effective listening skills. Try monitoring interactions to see obvious missed opportunities. Here's an example from a written interaction.

Help get agents get listening right and you'll speed up support resolutions and make customers feel better in the process.



The webinar software functioned normally during my client webinar.

I continued to experience other issues afterwards, issues that caused me to think about finding another provider. The only thing that kept me loyal was the memory of that outstanding support interaction.

All told, experiencing relief that day bought my webinar provider two more years worth of renewals it wouldn't have gotten if my webinar wasn't a success.

New Report Reveals Big Challenges From IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing our lives.

IoT refers to everyday devices connected to the internet. Our appliances, door locks, thermostats, vehicles, and many other items are suddenly "smart." For example, my wife and I enjoy watching out of town games streaming through the internet thanks to an app on our television. 

Only now we ran into trouble.

We couldn't get the game to play on our smart TV. There was no in-application support. An internet search proved fruitless. This prompted a call to support, but the agent had very little information.

The support rep ultimately wasn't able to fix the issue.

This isn't an isolated case according to the Next Generation Service report from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and Oracle. A survey of 354 contact center leaders revealed companies are struggling to keep up with IoT support. 

Here are three of the biggest challenges.

Good Data is Hard to Find

A recent IBM Watson commercial depicted an elevator technician arriving to fix an elevator. The elevator wasn't broken, but Watson's sensors indicated the elevator would malfunction in two days. The technician was automatically dispatched as a pre-emptive measure.

Self-diagnosing problems like this relies on the device sharing relevant data. This is a struggle:

47 percent of contact centers are unable to use data from connected devices.

One reason the agent struggled to help my wife and I fix our smart TV app was she couldn't access any diagnostic data. She had to guess at the problem using her limited experience and training.

Arming agents with more data is an obvious step towards better support. It's much easier to solve an issue if you can see what's causing it.


Agent Training is Changing

Supporting IoT requires new knowledge, skills, and abilities.

67 percent of contact centers have to train differently to support IoT.

Joseph Kolchinsky knows these challenges first-hand. He's the Founder and CEO of OneVision Resources, a company IoT device manufacturers and installers rely upon to provide support to their customers.

"There are two incredibly difficult components to supporting IoT, especially in the home environment. The first is that when technology fails it usually affects some time-sensitive life moment—family movie night is ruined when Netflix doesn't work, or the kids can't do homework when the internet is down—which means that the first 15 minutes of any tech support issue is really about providing human support with a listening ear and empathetic approach. The second is the broad and interconnected nature of IoT—when a symptom appears on your Apple TV, the issue could be any number of unrelated problems with your ISP, credit card, the streaming provider, or even the HDMI connection with your TV—this requires broad training across many technologies."

Let's go back to the support agent who tried to help my wife and I watch the game. She wasn't empathetic, so our frustration about not watching the game remained. The agent also lacked training and information to sort out whether the problem was with the app or our TV.

Customer-focused contact centers are training agents to listen with empathy and solve issues holistically. These centers are also agile enough to quickly update training as technology rapidly changes.


Complexity is Increasing

IoT devices are making support more difficult.

37 percent of contact centers have seen live agent contacts become more complex.

This follows a general trend in support. As noted in this post, customers increasingly solve simple issues on their own. When they contact a live agent, it's usually because issue is too complex for routine self-service.

Let's go back to the agent who tried to help my wife and I watch the game. She clearly lacked the skills to solve our issue, which created a frustrating encounter for everyone involved.

Smart contact center leaders are changing the profile of their support agents. Kolchinsky emphasizes hiring the right people and then putting them in a position to succeed.

"Our solution to this is to hire creative, take-control individuals who genuinely enjoy helping people, removing the burden of having to follow scripts, and giving them the freedom to create a positive support experience in their own way."

You can download the report from the ICMI website to learn more about the future of IoT support.

Back from the "ID10T" brink - wrap-up of the Adobe story

Last Friday, I was finally able to get my technical support problem resolved with Adobe's Connect Pro web-conferencing service.  My goal was to continue using the service, so I'm glad I didn't have to cancel. At the same time, Adobe's customer service was exceptionally poor. This epilogue highlights the costly effects of an "ID10T" customer service philosophy: I'm frustrated, Adobe looks bad, and we've both wasted time and resources.

I'm Frustrated
On Friday, I received a phone call from Rahul, a Technical Support Consultant at Adobe. He asked me a few questions, put me on hold for just a moment, then asked me to try logging in. Shazam! The problem was fixed.  Total time = <5 minutes.  Why am I frustrated? Because it took so much of my time to finally get connected with the person who had the solution.

Adobe Looks Bad
Taking an "ID10T" approach with customers is never a good policy. If you didn't catch my earlier posts on the subject, "ID10T" is technical support slang for user-error (or, the customer is an idiot). Dealing with obstinate service reps who insist on walking through a protocol that takes 30 minutes to complete, but brings us no closer to resolving the issue, is infuriating.  And, furious customers like to share.

Everything else was waste...
Adobe and I both wasted a lot of time on what turned out to be a 5 minute solution once it got to the right person. 

  • Six different Adobe employees communicated with me via phone and/or email at some point in time.
  • Total phone time = more than 60 minutes (with 4 Adobe employees).
  • Total email messages = 7
  • Total angry blog and message board posts from me = 7

What can we learn?

This situation highlights a few key lessons for any customer service operation. First, never assume your customer is an idiot. (Although some are -- it's not up to us to point that out.) Second, your customer service operation should rapidly funnel customers to the person who can help, rather than setting up obstacles and roadblocks erected in the name of "efficiency" and "cost containment". Third, make sure the left hand and the right hand get together once in awhile so each knows what the other is doing. While I was on the phone with Rahul getting my problem fixed on Friday, I received an email from Matt that simply said "Are you still experiencing this issue?" Thanks, Matt.  That email was super-helpful... (Insert sarcasm here.)

I found the 4th level of "ID10T" hell

I heard back from my new "friend" at Adobe via email today. His message revealed the 4th level of "ID10T" hell.  To re-cap, here are the first three:

  1. Brush off my inquiry with a non-answer so I have to inquire again.
  2. Try to prove the problem is a user-error, essentially an "ID10T" problem.
  3. Promise to respond, but don't, so the customer has to send a second inquiry.

The fourth level of "ID10T" hell:

Respond to the customer's second message and ask for the customer's login and password. What?! That's right, my "buddy" Deepak at Adobe has informed me that he needs my account login and password to resolve my problem.

I'm surprised nobody threw me a party yesterday to celebrate my birthday. After all, according to Deepak, I was born yesterday!! Is this an ID10T Squared issue?

Seriously, does anyone know anyone at Adobe not named Deepak that can help me with Connect Pro?

Not every technical support issue is an "ID10T"

Technical support people have a term for user-errors: ID 10 T. Mushed together, it spells out ID10T, or idiot. Sometimes, they're even right. A great many computer problems are resolved by simply rebooting, checking to ensure the monitor is actually attached to the computer, or making sure the thing is even plugged in. I get that. What I don't get is the assumption that every problem is the result of a user-ID10T.

I'm spiraling through the depths of Technical Support hell with Adobe at the moment. This isn't a rant on Adobe per se (I generally really like their products), but it's a great example of how so many companies get it wrong.

First level of technical support hell: brush off the inquiry. I emailed their technical support folks to ask about a problem I had experienced with their web-conferencing program, Connect Pro. The gist of my email was I had followed their directions to the letter to set up a web-conferencing template, but it wasn't working. What should I do now?  The brush off came via a long form email that essentially said, "We're so sorry you are experiencing a problem.  Here is a link to our directions on this topic."  Uh, I'm emailing because the directions DON'T WORK!

Second level of technical support hell: try to prove the ID10T theory. I sent a follow-up email today to ask for additional assistance since their first message missed the mark.  I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call in response to my follow-up email, but soon grew frustrated. The person on the other end of the phone used unfamiliar idioms that made him very hard to understand. Worse, we spent 30 minutes going through a checklist of trouble-shooting ideas that I had already been through. How many times do I have to tell this guy I've already done that?! Finally, we got to the end of his list and he told me he'd have to do some additional research and get back to me. By now, I'm wishing it really was an ID10T issue so I could get on with it already.

Third level of technical support hell: promise to respond, but don't. I'm sure there is some study that shows if you don't call the customer back, he will just give up.  I was promised a follow-up response within about 30 minutes. That was about three hours ago and I'm still waiting.  I'm not giving up though!

Stop the madness!

Admittedly, these technical issues are sometimes difficult to resolve, but there's got to be a better way to handle them. For starters, the strategy of assuming the customer is an idiot has got to go. Secondly, the strategy of having an inexperienced (and presumably low-wage) person wade through an endless checklist before passing the issue along to someone who is actually competent has also got to go. The whole system smacks of their time is more valuable than mine. Meanwhile, I'm frustrated, I'm blogging about it, and my problem isn't resolved.

I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, please let me know if you know a good tech support person at Adobe!