A great support person is an angel and the devil in one package

3 minute read

Companies are discovering that hiring people to mollify critics and disappointed customers is cheaper (in the short run) than changing things, learning from the feedback or even wasting the time of people who do the ‘real work.’
Seth Godin

I borrowed this quote from a post by Seth Godin called Chief Apology Officer. The author claims that there is a kind of employee whose whole purpose is easing the customers into believing the software works well and there are no issues on our side. You’re using it wrong (or as the famous Apple reply said: You’re holding it wrong). I’ve been in this situation more than once, where people would persuade customers that they are idiots who are using the software wrong. We have to accept that some people are (in the words of my friend) “technically challenged” but that’s no excuse for treating them bad.

Disclaimer/Apology: I will be using the word “support” in this article to describe the people that work directly with customers. Sometimes we call them “customer success” sometimes it’s “support”. There is a difference when and where they take part in the implementation process. Both roles are indispensable and they are a single person wearing many hats in most small companies.

I used to work as IT support when I started my career and I am amazed how people can do that job for years. There are a few great support agents I dealt with in my life, I even had the pleasure of working with some of those awesome people. I know what they are going through and what kinds of requests they deal with every day. That’s why I try to provide as much data as possible when I’m submitting an issue to someone’s support email.

I never had the nerves or the calmness to deal with these repetitive requests and this post is also an ode to those wonderful people of IT support. The best support person is an angel to customers, the chief apology officer, as Seth calls them. Making sure all customers are as happy as possible, regardless on how annoying they are, or how rude they get when they get mad. It’s someone who can assure the customer that everything will be okay, be a great psychologist when talking to them.

But, a great support person is the absolute devil towards the IT department, requesting that issues get fixed. Doing all this by providing great feedback (with data, screen recordings). The best people that I worked with never gave up on solving the issues the customers had. Considering support is the wall between (sometimes angry) customers and the rest of the company, we need to enable them to behave like this.

It’s not only the IT department that can use feedback from the support department, it’s the whole product and sales team. If we set up a continuous feedback machine for the whole company, we can improve those processes beyond recognition. To achieve that, we need to enable everyone to provide radically candid feedback to everyone in the company. And we need to praise this behaviour in public (like I’m doing right now).

It is hard keeping unsatisfied and scared customers without being an angel support agent. It’s impossible to improve the product without honest feedback from the people who are using it. There are cases where the sales department of company “A” sells something to the procurement department of company “B”. This situation then makes all “issues” go through a one person filter. These are the worst thing that can happen in the world of modern software development. Since in this situation the buyer of your software isn’t the user. You have to work harder to appease the buyer (since these are pretty lucrative contracts we are talking about) and they are paying for it. Since you have limited resources, you can’t appease the end user as much. Great support helps level those out and making the end users at least as happy as the buyers.

Huge praise goes out to all the support (and customer success) people I have worked with. I’ve learned a lot from you about engineering, operations and dealing (with much respect) with other humans.